Glass House

Small heartbeats
bruise like plums
in the darkness of a closet
where a child hides
from the eyes
of a god-fearing woman.

Momma says she’s about blind.
She can’t notice one plate.
One broken plate.
Does she count her plates?
Stop. I’m fine. She can’t notice.
She won’t notice.

In the smallness of the closet,
under the arm
of a pure, dry-cleaned dress,
he can feel the padding of cat paws
and the steam of a tea kettle
breathing through the floorboards.

She sits in the parlor all day,
by the fireplace mantle
in that rocking chair
under the cross of…

The floor dropped from under him.
The cross above the mantle.
Oh God. My God. He saw me.
He sees everything.
Every time I groaned.
Every time I argued.
Every time I cursed
under my breath.
Every time I wish
Grandma Angela were dead.
He can see me
and my little blackened heart,
that’s what she says,
and he knows about a broken plate.
She says keeping secrets
is hellfire
and lying
is hellfire
and I’m so deep in it
I may as well be burning.

He opens the door
to an empty room.
His legs won’t move,
but they need to move.

Should I tell her?
I can’t tell her.
No.
I need to tell her.
I need to tell her now.
It’ll be hard and it’ll scare me
worse than anything
but I need to tell her,
because another bruise,
another red tear,
is better than hellfire.
He bled for hours.
He died for me.
I’d bleed from my cheek
again and again
to be free.

Dusk settles in rain
on a yellowed window.
He can see rows of corn
and soybeans –
the smooth head of a silo.
A long hallway of paintings –
women with simple dresses
and flat mouths.
Elegant men he didn’t recognize,
their eyes fully alive,
great wooden ships
carrying sworded men
and the word of the Lord
to dark corners of the world –
past a sitting room
of high-shouldered furniture
sheathed in plastic
to the parlor where the cross
hangs above the fireplace
like a white flame.

She sits in an arched chair,
her hands folded over her lap.
Her brown eyes meet him.
As if a window opened
to the weeping summer,
she speaks.
“Is there something you need?”

It comes out of him like water
drawn violently from a well.
“I’m really, really sorry ma’am…
I’ve hurt her.
I tried to fix it…
I can barely hear myself.
it was an accident…
She’s going to kill me.
I’ve never felt more ashamed.”
You’re nothing but a liar.
You’re disgusting.

She follows his wet eyes
to the cross on the mantle.
“I want you to pray.”

Is my head nodding?
Can she notice?

“Kneel before the cross
Of our risen lord and savior
and ask forgiveness.
Only then can this be mended.
Only then can you be free.”
His throat is welted.
The floor is wax.
The fire breathes
and he thinks he can hear,
faintly,
the choir of lost children
who forgot their Lord.

“If I ask him, he’ll forgive me?”
Will she forgive me?
“Will you forgive me?”

“All you need to do is ask.
My child,
you will not burn.
You will not drown in guilt.
Your heart will sing.
I forgive you,
and he will too.
Just kneel.”

He feels something wrap
across his heart
like a blanket.
He feels as though everything
he had ever done
and ever will do
were written in a book,
already forgiven.
He almost can’t stand
how good it feels,
and kneels before
an ivory cross,
hanging between
the whispering fire
and the sky
like a bridge.

Sweet Lord Jesus
I’m sorry for the wrong
I’ve done to you
and my grandmother.
I’m so sorry for hiding from you
and lying to you
and being a sinner.
If you’ll find me in your mercy
I’ll live for you,
I’ll die for you,
I’ll sing your songs
forever and ever,
amen, amen,
amen.

A warm, bony hand
holds his shoulder,
but he doesn’t fear it any longer.
He fears nothing.

The paintings nod in recognition.

Andrew Lance is a senior at Purdue University, studying English Literature. He is the President of the Purdue Student English Association and the Editor-in-Chief of the undergraduate literary magazine, The Bell Tower. His work has appeared in Tributaries: A Journal of Creative Arts from Indiana University East.

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