Valiant Girls
Bella Bravo


from THE UNPOSITIONED PARTS

 

preface

The parents of Lacey Palmer and Carol Reyes are raising their children in the Mormon Church, and consequently, every week for three hours these girls attend Sacrament meeting and Primary School. For an eleven year old the tedium of church services can be agonizing, but that makes socializing all the more redeeming. The children’s groups in Mormon services are divided in age groups and subdivided by gender. The eight-to-eleven-year-old bracket is named Valiant.
 

Despite the reverence commanded by Sunday school, Lacey Palmer whispered in my ear. She leaned to the left and nearly put her lips against my ear, my fingers reflexively stretched around the edge of the plastic blue chair, my hair follicles stimulated by her exhale at the end of her shared concern. He’s lookin at me.

She insists, Carol, he is

I lean just a little over the threshold demarcated by my seat into the small opening between our chairs. I am agonizingly aware that there are no more than four-fingers width between Lacey Palmer’s left thigh and my fingers, which have found a most preferable resting place on the far side of heaven where I can only guess at their intentions, since she whispered in my ear. Out of the side of my mouth I ask, huh, who? I see Sister Delaño picking a children’s hymn, but I feel her eye on us. Now sweating a little under my white cardigan, I half regret sitting next to Lacey Palmer in Sunday school, out in the open and all. But she sat down and her smell pervaded the open seat next to her, and the other open seats farther along in our Valiant class row, well, they didn’t smell like Lacey Palmer. And so, that’s how I found my eleven- year-old self damn near bearing witness to my sin before Sister Delaño and all the congregation’s children: my feet and nose deposited me at the celestial cup, and now, my fingers are playing in the water at the edge.

Him. What’s his name in the painting

I glance furtively down the row at the painting of three men, Who, Joseph Smith? I lean slightly again, and we don’t touch shoulders, though that was a consequence I was open to. What are you talking about? My eyes stay on the sister’s hand now leading the children in 4/4, actively avoiding eye contact with the sister. I wonder if Lacey Palmer knew she was pulling me into her recklessness. She must know rolls around in different permutations.

Sister Delaño finally locks eyes with me at the top of the measure. She knows. I mouth a few words to entertain her, and I think briefly, I’ll wait to steal a look at the painting until the end of the song, when the sister would be caught up in finding another hymn. But that’s when Lacey Palmer slid her fingers between my fingers that had been waiting with their own consciousness at this cusp. Without a thought, I tuck my crossed feet under the chair for leverage and lean forward to get a clear look down the row. I would do anything for Lacey Palmer in that moment, including risk damnation to quell her fears about some obvious fiction.

And that’s how I met eyes with John the Baptist. He was looking at us. From the end of the row he was alight: it wasn’t just the oil paint reflecting the overhead fluorescent lighting. His light emanated and enwrapped each child and chair to end at Lacey’s feet. The song had ended, and my lithe neck bowed for the sister’s closing prayer. The knot in my chest tried to undo itself, beat, whimpered, then limp. God had reached down to pinch apart the synaptic chain. And I watched sadness reshape my fingers into my lap; they stirred against my skirt in the simple regret implied in permanence.

The question of whether He put this feeling inside of me expanded in my chest. Regardless, I thought, eventually it comes out.

You know, not moments ago Lacey Palmer and I were somewhere else entirely. We were sitting in the coatroom during Sacrament Meeting. We had both separately excused ourselves to use to the restroom, and while wandering back to the Chapel for the third Sunday in a row, we took a small detour. I would like to note here that on the floor under the coattails our hands were touching, well, not quite touching, but the sides of our palms rested within a centimeter of one another, and it was glorious. Our pinkies massaged the same loose string on the carpet. Inherent in their geography was the other, the idea of affection transcended the pathetic centimeter and bridged all time and space as far as I was concerned. You know how things are better when they come from that which is to suggest toward that which could be, like pregnant pause and deep breath moments when you realize breathing is better than not breathing?

I suppose that’s why Lacey and I sat together in Sunday School burning up before Sister Delaño, the congregation’s future, and God’s emissary John the Baptist. Our hands weren’t touching, but in less than one movement they could be and the entire moment was heaven.