It Made Him Stronger

Kevin Catalano

Pastor was in the attic scribbling the sermon, the screech of his interminable pen cussing the house.
…..Pastor’s wife drifted down the hall open-robed, leaned on the doorframe of Boy’s room to find him Bible-reading in his muddy playclothes.  Her eyes told it’s time.  Boy stood and followed her into the bathroom, waited naked and elbow-gripping as she sat on the edge of the tub and ran water.  He knew when to retrieve the minty herb oil, how much to drizzle in; he got the candles from the third drawer, placed them on the vanity perfectly spaced.  Left the matchbox out for Mama to make this right with dreamlight.  The spookish giggle of water and steam wisping the dusk like ghostthought, mother and son submerged in the bath, and their skin found its silk.
…..Squeeze washcloth heavy with heat at the nape of his neck, he humming at it.  Scoop out soil from his nails.  Work soap into foam and lather his twiggy body, but at the armpits tickles squirm him.  Sshh.  Tip his head back onto her sternum, pour a drinking glass of water rinsing shampoo, suds thrilling line from between her breasts to between her legs.  And pray.  Her forehead on the middle of his back, lips to his birdie ribcage, tears lacing his spine she’d beg, Make my boy strong.  It was a prayer she forced the Lord to keep, spoken everyday twice a day until one day, after years of persistence, it began.  His body swelled between her legs, the wings of his back became halfmoons of rock, and his chest thready with muscle.  But Lord had yet to answer it all.
…..Bashing at the door until the door splintered at its hinges, florescence dashing dream, and Pastor was standing before them, crunching knuckles.  She was still.  Boy scrambled out the tub, bones knocking porcelain and tile, fleeing on all fours creaturely.
…..She shouted after him, and he halted just at the door.  She stood to meet his wide eyes in the defogging mirror, then pushed her breasts into Pastor’s dusty sweater and told, “You’re not man enough.”
…..She held Boy’s mirror-gaze for as long as she could sustain Pastor’s fists, and then a blow to the jaw crashed her.  In the gloaming of half-consciousness, she glimpsed the furious blur of thrashing arms and heard both grunt and moan, but felt no more pain.  There was peace, and hovering above was the shadow of a man.  And in the water licking her wounds was blood swirling the tub pink like squid’s ink.  It was hers, but now, mostly, it was Pastor’s, and she soaked in its glorious sermon.

Kevin’s fiction has appeared in PANK, Prick of the Spindle, Keyhole Digest, Denver Syntax, and others. For two consecutive years his stories have made StorySouth’s Million Writers Award Notable List. Kevin lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter, and teaches at Rutgers-Newark where he is also pursuing an MFA in fiction.