Amanda’s sin

Amanda considered donating the silver ring to the church. She thought it might be used to upgrade the church bell, perhaps paint the altar anew, or purchase pillows for the front chairs, where the old women used to sit during mass. There were a million uses for the ring, she thought, but as she stood in front of the donation box, peering down at the black void-like slit where people dropped coins, she felt nauseous. The ring, loose around her thumb, was tainted with sin, and she was afraid that the sin might contaminate the church and unleash God’s wrath upon her.

Her mother had spent three months’ salary on the ring.

“It is worth every penny,” she said as she showed it to Amanda. “It is a demonstration of my strong and never-ending love for him. I know he will understand once I show it to him.”

Amanda remembered how her mother had sat at the kitchen table, eagerly wrapping the ring up in a pink napkin with yellow dots. The cheapest napkins at the store. The light from the kitchen lamp had been cold white, intensifying the deep rings under her mothers’ eyes. That night, Amanda had dreamt that she sat in a car, driving down a twitchy road while the rain was pouring down. Her mother had sat in the back seat, eyes glazed and mouth half-open,as if she was in some sort of coma. The rain splashed against the window, and Amanda could hardly see where she was driving, but she kept speeding, because she felt an intense urgency. It felt as if the world was falling apart, and she was in charge of escaping the apocalypse itself.

That dream was the final manifestation of a looming omen that she had felt for a long time – ever since her mother started talking about the new inmate at the prison where she worked. It had been a few months after her fathers’ death. Amanda’s mother was practically non-present in those months – she just lay on the bed, cried and slept. Amanda had cooked and cleaned the house. She had taken out the dirty paper rolls, she had made sure that there was always tea and wine in the kitchen counters, she had collected and washed her mothers’ underwear that lay spread on the bed. Then came a day when her mother’s boss wouldn’t let her stay at home anymore, threatening to fire her if she abstained from work any longer. Even with Amanda working at a café during daytime and cleaning offices during the evening, they both knew that her salary wouldn’t make ends meet. Her mother dragged herself back to work, and that’s where she found John.

She talked about nothing but the thick-muscled, fallen angel for weeks after. She would sit at the kitchen table with Amanda and take every opportunity to say things like; “that’s exactly like something John said,” or “that reminds me of one of John’s tattoos”. That’s when Amanda started feeling as if something bad was about to happen.

Amanda had attended her mothers’ funeral four days after she had been wrapping the ring into pink napkins wtih yellow dots. She was buried alongside her father in the holy ground she believed so firmly in. Amanda had questioned the Lord whether the feeling of coming disaster was a sign from him – whether she had been supposed to do something. The Lord had answered by letting a nut fall onto her forehead when she returned from the graveyard, and Amanda thought that was God’s subtle way of punishing her. She picked up the nut, brought it home and thought that God had given her an opportunity to make amends. She would swallow the nut whole, she thought, and if she choked on it, God would have taken her life as a punishment for not having done more to help her mother. If she didn’t choke, God would have forgiven her. But as she put the nut in her mouth, tasting the bitter, mud-like soil and feeling the rough nutshell against the back of her mouth, she lost courage and spit it out. Once again, she had disappointed those she cared about.

That night, Amanda thought a lot about whether she was more or less helpless than her mother.

“My mother,” she thought, “was the kind of woman who only possessed two properties: good looks and a kind heart. They are properties often sought after in women, but they are hopelessly dependent. Good looks and a kind heart need other people to recognize them. Some qualities are independent, like being hard-working, strong, lively, creative and intelligent. They exist even though nobody are there to acknowledge them. My mother possessed none of these independent qualities. She had only good looks and a kind heart, and thus, to feel as if she had any sort of value, she had to have somebody in her life, and when she had that person in her life, she desperately tried to keep him there. And I am no better. I would kill myself because God told me to, if only I had the courage.”

The white-painted altar was cracked from years of usage without renovation. Amanda carefully walked up to it and felt the peeled paint. It came off in chunks as she stroke her finger over it.

Her mother used to enjoy church.

“It’s the only place I feel truly calm,” she had once said.

Amanda would smile and pretend like she felt calm too, but in reality, she felt as if she was on trial every time she entered the church. God said that you shall respect your mother and father. But even though she had been tending to them as best she could, she had failed. Would she be showered in nuts if she gave him the ring? What if she didn’t? The ring was supposed to convert the prison inmate, instead it stole her mother’s life. Killed by a man who wouldn’t accept God.

The ring felt loose around Amanda’s thumb. She imagined choking on the ring, imagined swallowing it and having it stuck in her throat, gasping for air. And then, her thoughts drifted to John, his cracked lips, the vulgar tattoos on his arms, how he would look with a ring pushed down his throat, face turning purple, eyes strained in red. She rejoiced in this thought for a brief second before she became aware of herself. Shocked by her own imagination, she whimpered and unintentionally pulled a large chunk of painting off the altar. She felt God’s blazing gaze on her soul, as a looking glass about to set fire to her and make her go up in flames. With the ring loose around her thumb, she quickly hurried out of the church, once again lost to irresponsibility and cowardice.

Joanna and the swan

The windows in Billy’s house had been dark and the curtains had been shut for several days now. When Joanna looked at the house, she wondered if somebody might have walked inside and vacuum cleaned all the light up. Maybe light was a bit like dirt, she thought. Your house stacked up on light, the light got old and dirty, and then you had to clean it up so that your house could gather new, fresh light. She had wondered what it must be like for Billy to live in that dark house, waiting for new light to gather in. Probably very scary, she thought. Had it been her living in that dark house, she would have gone outside as often as possible. But Billy never went outside anymore, and as weird as that was, Joanna kept staring at the dark, neighboring house whenever she walked by it. A week passed before Joanna’s parents finally told her that Billy’s house was dark and Billy didn’t walk outside anymore because Billy no longer lived in that house. His family had moved to a different country. Continue reading