She didn’t really believe in God,
she said, she was just hedging her bet—
who knew? On lucky Sundays, she took my sisters
and me to Mass at noon. (Our parents went at nine.)
She never remembered her chapel veil.
“This will have to do,” she’d say,
bobby pinning a lipsticked tissue to her blond hair.
She used the seated interval of the sermon
to organize her purse
on the pretext of searching for loose coins
for the collection basket. In light from windows dimmed
by the lives of saints, she rummaged.
The unclasped mouth of her purse, the black cavity
of its interior was as mysterious to us
as the tabernacle. We never knew
what she might pull out, toss on the pew between us—
nail polish (she wore a color called Fire),
an eyelash curler missing its rubber half-moon,
a TV Guide, pages furled,
a can of Slimfast, cinnamon balls twisted
in red cellophane, a doorknob, one high-heeled sandal,
a bent spoon, a boar bristle hairbrush
(the only kind that didn’t split your ends, she said),
sunglasses like Sophia Loren’s.
One Sunday she drew out a girdle, stockings snapped to it.
“You should’ve seen Jimmy and me last night,”
she whispered, “dancing…” She twirled the girdle,
silk legs swayed in midair as if moved
by the Holy Spirit. We always left at Communion.
It was the moment at which, according to her,
we had fulfilled our weekly obligation.
As others rose and filed to the altar, hands folded
at breastbones, we stole toward the back door.
“What’s the point in staying,” she’d say,
“we know how it ends.”