In the Fellowship Hall, I stand behind my mother.
She is talking to one of the nursery ladies. I can’t remember her name. They discuss how big I’ve gotten, how pretty. My sweaty hands grip at the skirt of my lace-edged lavender dress. A new slip glides beneath. I am careful not to let it show.
The woman moves forward, swivels away from us to take her paper plate and plastic cutlery, divided and stacked into Styrofoam cups. We move down the line of Tupperware and red-striped buckets of chicken and towel-lined baskets piled with biscuits. I get a cup of too-sweet tea, a chicken leg, the familiar-looking macaroni from the green plastic bowl, creamed corn, a biscuit. I allow nothing on my plate to touch.
The pastor waits at the end of the line, big hands behind his back, greeting each churchgoer. He can see inside me, knows Jesus plucks my heartstrings each week during the altar call. What else could explain the quivering in my chest, but the firm, nimble fingers of my Savior?
Yet I do not come down the aisle. Even as I sing in my small, uneven voice, Oh Lamb of God, I come. I come.
I do not come.
I fear his dark eye will turn on me, drag me into the light.
My mother says hello. His tall voice booms. He, too, remarks on my growth, prettiness. With plate and tea, I have no hands to grip my skirt. I nod and hope my smile serves.
We find a spot at a table draped with a crepe-paper cloth, dents still visible from its unfolding. It is Homecoming, the whole family gathered.
All of my cousins are boys. Instead of lace-edged dresses, white tights and Mary Janes, they wear Oxford cloth button-downs, creased khakis, navy blazers. Gold buttons skim their wrists. Snake-like, their discarded ties dangle over the table’s edge. They crack jokes I don’t get, laugh at my dress. My mother says don’t mind them. My uncles smirk along.
The macaroni is cold rubber. I tear into my chicken leg.
Mandy Shumaker appears, asks my mom if I can go to the swings. Her big sister will watch us. She points to her mom at the other end of the Fellowship Hall. Mrs. Shumaker waves, my mom nods. The plan is made, their kids will be safe.
Mandy’s sister hangs by the fence talking to her boyfriend as we swing.
Did you know, asks Mandy. When the Rapture comes, bees will fly down from Heaven and sting out the eyes of the unsaved.
I pump my legs and focus on the skies.
I never heard that, I say.
Mandy says, That’s what my Papaw told me.
Tonight, I will not sleep. I will lie in bed and listen for the holy hum of insects. The roar of Jesus, coming to tear the sky in two.
Boys arrive then. We abandon the swings so they don’t look up our skirts.