By Martha Kay Salinas
Sixteen Years Old
I tell my mother that my friend Janice and I plan to visit Holy Family Catholic Church on Sunday morning. I’ve been interested in becoming Catholic, or better yet, a nun, ever since seeing the movie, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. Of course I’ll be the kind of nun who falls in love with a handsome priest just before taking her final vows. He’ll leave the church for me, and we’ll live the rest of our lives in a state of holy, mystical, pious bliss.
My mother accepts my story without question. Janice spends the night, and we get up in the morning and put on church dresses. Mine is white cotton sprigged with little green shamrocks, handmade by my mother. Thank goodness she followed my instructions and put in a hemline not one millimeter below the spot where my fingertips graze my thighs. Any longer than that and I’d end up a social pariah, or even worse, an old maid.
My mother uses bobby pins to attach the chapel veil I borrowed from our Catholic neighbor. That’s the best part about going to the Catholic Church—that little veil. Southern Baptists don’t show such reverence, unless a straw Easter hat with a pink satin ribbon counts. Sadly, that only happens once a year, and a wide-brimmed Easter hat doesn’t look nearly as religious as a veil.
Janice and I say goodbye to my parents and climb into their brand new, 1972 Mercury Marquis, which is roughly the size and weight of a bulldozer and just about as maneuverable. “Y’all be careful,” my mother shouts as I back out of the garage.
I fight the urge to tell Janice I don’t want to go, but she’s my best friend and nine months older than me. So in the most world-weary voice I can muster, I say, “My mother would have a cow if she knew where we were really going.”
Janice says, “Yeah, she’d shit a brick.”
Some of Janice’s sayings are quite impressive. She also calls girls she doesn’t like “heifers.” A few weeks ago I called someone a heifer at the dinner table, as in “That old heifer is gross.” My father got really quiet.
The second time I used the word he said, “That is a vulgar word to use for a person. Don’t say it again, especially at the table.”
I guess he also wouldn’t approve of Janice’s mother making shit on a shingle for dinner. That’s what she calls chipped beef on toast. Janice’s family is a lot more fun than mine.
I steer the Mercury onto 183 and head toward downtown Dallas with my foot bearing down on the accelerator. Eight cylinders make a car fly, and before I know it I’m driving 85 miles per hour. We sing along to Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues and then lower our voices to accompany Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Too soon the city skyline comes into view, a thrilling sight to a girl raised in tiny, west Texas oil towns. I turn down the radio and open my mouth to suggest a change of plans, but I close it without saying anything.
Peering ahead, I spy the flying red horse, the symbol for Mobil Oil Company. It revolves on top of the Magnolia Building, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Pride stirs in my heart. My father works for Mobil. He’s done everything from shooting wells with dynamite to working in the “Lab” in Dallas.
I take the Commerce exit and find the parking garage for the Dallas County Jail. My stomach twists into knots. “I’m not sure we should do this,” I say.
Janice snorts. “I’ll swear, Martha, we’re not going to get caught. Sometimes I wonder why I hang out with you.”
Sometimes I wonder why I hang out with you too, I think. “Are you sure they didn’t do it?”
“Yes, I’m sure. That little whore lied. Now let’s go.”
I unpin the borrowed veil and fold it into fourths, swallowing hard and smoothing the fabric with my palm. We aren’t visiting Holy Family. We’re here to see five boys, friends of Janice’s who’ve been accused of gang raping a girl from another school and beating her boyfriend unconscious a month ago. I want to believe they are innocent.
But when I hand over my driver’s license and sign in at the visitors’ desk, I know. I lied to my mother so I could visit rapists in jail. I’m wearing a white cotton dress with little green shamrocks and Kelly green panty hose and white sandals so I can impress rapists. I want to vomit.
And on top of that, I lied about church.
I’m going to hell for sure.
Copyright 2018 Salinas