SPOTLIGHT: White Knight Escort Service by Leah Holbrook Sackett (a coming of age short story collection)


She watched Father Thomas Keating scrupulously, armed with a little flip notebook where she recorded the rituals of the altar boys. Nadine wanted to be an altar boy more than anything; ultimately, she wanted to be a priest. Nadine meticulously poured over the argot pantomime of the altar boys. She knew these boys. Dirk was a bully, Robbie ate his boogers, and Todd stole food from the lunch bags at the back of the classroom in the coat closet. Why was it they were allowed to be closer to God, and she was not? Something about her female gender was akin to a diabetic’s open wound that it would not heal. Was her vagina a festering sin? Her Health class by Sister Mary Allen introduced a slathering of ideas about her body, sometimes accusatory claims that she was charged with her own and the boys’ purity. Did her genitals threaten contamination of the sacrament of the Eucharist? Was this an extension of the sin of Eve? Was there no end in sight? Could she not be judged by her self-standing thoughts and actions? Didn’t Christ absolve the whole Eve thing? Nadine resented Eve more than anyone in history, except for Hitler, of course. All of humanity, even the psychos, hated him above all else, hands down.

It didn’t start out as a plot. It was an act of desperation. Kneeling in the ambulatory of St. Jude, located in the hollow of Sweetgum county, Nadine prayed for intercession to be an altar boy, girl. Nadine couldn’t bear to be denied that one step closer to God in the grace of the sanctuary. Then it came upon the Carter family. It was supposed to be a moment of pride. Her younger brother, Marty, was becoming an altar boy. The opportunity was passing her by. Soon, she’d be too old to be an altar anything. Nadine started making excuses to sing in the lofted choir. Instead, she sneaked down to the ambulatory, edged her way as close to the sacristy as possible, and here, Nadine chartered the sacred relics stored in the sacristy. Ducked down on a kneeler, she inched forward and lifted her Dad’s binoculars. There were her coveted Sanctus bells. They shined and twinkled like the wings of Tinker Bell. Nadine was nowhere near enough to identify the embossing at the rim of the bells. She tested fate three weeks in a row to get a closer perspective on the altar boys’ tools of the trade. The paraphernalia that only the altar boys and priest could touch.

It was the last Sunday in July. Nadine had promised her little brother, Marty, a month’s allowance to change places on the altar. Marty was satisfied. He was going to use his newfound funds to pay the entrance fee at the Taxi Compound for a tour of the living dead across town in West Sweetgum County. Nadine and Marty rode their bikes to get in early for Mass. Their parents made the most of the free time they had suddenly thrust in their hands. Nadine had brought a pair of peeking shears from their mother’s sewing basket and handed them over to Marty. Tucked back in the sacristy, before anyone else was scheduled to show up, with shaking hands, Marty took a great clump of his sister’s hair in his left fist and cut across. He did this three times. It was short enough but unusually ragged. She held up a shiny paten and used it as a mirror to see how bad the damage was to her looks. It was terrible, but she was thrilled. She was going to debut as an altar boy. If Nadine could pull it off this one time, she didn’t see how they could deny her a repeat performance. For Marty, a tightness in his pre-pubescent chest melted away as he scooped up loose strands of hair and put them in the trash.

Nadine kept her face down as she recited the vesting prayer. Her heart was racing, and her palms were sweating with holiness. She anticipated dressing the altar. In her excitement, she had to restrain the desire to let loose with little yips. Nadine continued to peer into the patens, the gold plate on a stick and trespassed about the sanctuary. She was taking in the gold, the crosses, the smells, the sleeve of unconsecrated Eucharist, Nadine became heady . She started following the lead altar boy out, bent in the much-loved genuflection. Her excitement began to outpace the lead altar boy, the bully. Only the priest noticed something amiss, but he was not able to investigate this new boy. He didn’t remember sanctioning a new boy. When it is was time to deliver the Eucharist to the congregation, the priest gained a look down the back of the suspicious altar boy’s neck. Loose blonde hairs hung to the back of his neck, on closer inspection, he looked into her face. It was Nadine. Father Keating was acquainted with Nadine’s lofty pursuits. The priest grew hot, blushing as he continued to give the Eucharist.

While the recessional hymn was still playing, the priest swept Nadine to the sacristy. Where all things church are often hidden, and he held Nadine by the shoulders forcing her to look him in the face.
“Did I do a good job?” she asked a tremble.

“You did a boys job,” he said.
The priest was gruff in his language as he paced the little room. He used words Nadine had only heard from her Dad when he was untangling and hanging the Christmas lights. Father quoted scripture while also giving rhetoric on the contemporary discourse of girl altar boys.
Nadine was not afraid. She felt something yield and loosen, breaking free of the moors she never knew were planted deep inside her. Nadine wanted something more than the church seemed willing to give. Instead of lacking, she felt emboldened to continue her spiritual journey, just not here. At this turn, Nadine didn’t want to be Catholic; she wanted to be normal.


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