Word Count 500
By Terry Rainey
“Death!” SisterX said the word abruptly, to get me focused and a bit scared. Thomas Kepler called death a worm festival, throngs of earthy crawlers fondling my defenseless body. Before I fell asleep each night, I’d look at the picture of Susan Timberlake taped under my clock radio, and hope, if I didn’t wake up, that she’d give the eulogy, but be too weepy to speak. She’d take a vow of silence and dedicate the rest of her life to good works.
I prayed continually for grace. I looked up all the patron saints that could help: Eustace, patron saint of difficult situations; Ulric, patron saint of dizziness; and Felicity, patron saint of childhood death. Felicity it was, and I said Hail Mary’s to her. But the end of the Hail Mary, “”Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” stuck in my head. The clock over Sister’s head ticked away, closer and closer to my hour of death.
SisterX went on, “After death, you’ll go to Heaven or Hell! We’ll find out what it will be!” I didn’t feel qualified for heaven, but hell? I’d amassed venial sins, but I’d never murdered anyone or coveted my neighbor’s wife. Was there a place midway between the two extremes? Thankfully, there were two.
Purgatory and limbo. They seemed to be near each other, like North and South Dakota, and more like rental apartments than houses.
Both carried a sentence shorter than eternity, and didn’t seem to involve too much suffering. Neither was too nice, but better than Hell, which was everlasting and crammed with reptiles and sweaty Protestants.
FatherB had talked to us about purgatory, the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of eternal salvation, but who still need purification to enter into the happiness of heaven. In purgatory, FatherB said, we’d expiate our sins, but he explained it nicely, as if we’d spend a few hours a day expiating, but with leisure time to reflect, and the weather seemed tolerable. FatherB reminded us that we were a broken thing hoping to be mended in purgatory.
SisterX was a Limbo advocate. “Limbo” she said, “is a state of oblivion to which persons or things are relegated when cast aside, forgotten, past or out of date.” I envisioned a large body of dark water, where I’d be dog-paddling 24 hours a day, hardly time to do any expiating, just hoping that some kindly angel would rescue me. Salvation in limbo seemed random and arbitrary.
Every time SisterX said “Limbo,” my palms dampened. My mind skittered. I prayed for happy thoughts, which led me to picture the limbo dance, bending backwards under a horizontal bar, maybe on Gilligan’s Island, and that took me to Ginger or MaryAnn, and how I’d ever explain that desire to Susan Timberlake. SisterX hadn’t noticed my fidgeting, but I knew that God hadn’t missed it. I offered up a prayer to St. Felicity, and went back to waiting around to die.