The church is crowded this morning. There are faces I have not seen in months. There are faces I have never seen. The mass of faces blur together like one giant hive of angry bees on a garden of flowers. I am sitting next to the empty seat where Francis usually sits. Mom is sitting on the other side of that empty seat. Both of us feel the emptiness. The choir is singing Alleluia, but a voice cracks here and there. They're fidgety. Mrs. Farmer keeps blowing her nose. Her nose is red like a tomato. Mr. Johnson keeps clearing his throat. His shirt is buttoned all the way up and his tie looks like it is way too tight. My clothes are uncomfortable too. Mom ironed this skirt/vest combo that she made for me last year. They're too tight even though I've lost ten pounds in the last month. According to the scales, I weigh one hundred fifteen pounds. The vest won't close in the front. It is pink with tiny purple and blue flowers. The skirt is plain purple: Mom's favorite color. I'm wearing a white blouse under it that I've never worn before. It is itchy. My little, black shoes hurt my feet. I look over at Mom. A frozen, tight smile sits on her lips like a stranger in the room. Her hair is loosely curled and the only make-up she wears is a soft mauve lipstick. I think she looks beautiful. Dad has not said a word to us all morning. The air is thick. I want to wave my church bulletin like a fan, but I do not want to cause any more attention for myself.
The music stops abruptly. Dad walks up to the podium. His hands are shaking. He takes a slow sip of water. The whole auditorium is silent. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Dad clears his voice and taps the microphone.
"Fornication is an abomination!"
I bite my lip so hard I taste blood.
"This house must be cleaned of the filth of the Devil!"
Mrs. Walker in the front row whispers "Amen" and waves her handkerchief.
"Our children are in danger, my people. Our children are not safe, my people."
I see a tear roll down Mom's cheek. I hand her a tissue.
"I have failed you. I have failed my children. I brought Satan into the house of God. And I have been punished. I ask for your forgiveness." Dad's voice cracks. One of the elders walks over and lays his hand on Dad's shoulder. Mrs. Farmer begins bawling. Another elder comes forward as my dad begins to cry. No one moves toward Mom. I feel the blame reach us like a wave of electricity. I wish I were invisible.