by Mark Foster
These Sundays when Ordelia comes to church, we wince. Anemic milky blotches spot her chocolate skin, like someone shook over her a half-cup of bleach. She must have been years without a bath— unless you count her baptism eight months ago. I remember when the plug was pulled that day— the font drained slick as sin, left her as residue. Now she sways out of rhythm in the back rows, where she hisses and spits during prayers. Bird-like, she scavenges the sacrament first, then the fast offerings. She laughs hysterically at odd times and perpetually praises Jesus. Sweat congeals in the worn rivulets of her evangelical dress. She can hold no calling. In public, she screeches and scolds the missionaries, then scares their investigators away when they walk for the first time on a sacred Sunday morning into the true and living welfare system, where her pew reeks like a sump; her rags and stench, squeaks and snorts, broods of dusty children squealing like mice in the aisles. Mildew seeps from the ceiling. Every solid man sits with me behind the pulpit. These Sundays when Ordelia worships, we remember that each baptism is a child who outlasts a hundred transfers. But what true church is this? This pure religion that fills its pews with the helpless, with the widows and the fatherless.