Paul Maliszewski

The priest asked if I would like to light the candles. There was a holder near the altar with several candles and then one large candle standing to the side. The large candle was decorated with crosses and doves and other things I can’t remember. It lasted the wholeyear, melting just a bit during mass. We were early, my father, mother, brother and I, and we sat in the second pew. There was some? thing about not sitting in the front, a family rule. My father’s rule. I think it had to do with the first row being too in-the-open, exposed. Either that, or it seemed overly eager. I forget.

I told the priest no. I wasn’t rude. I just said I’d rather not, and then I said I was sorry. The priest looked at my parents, but then he smiled and walked away. My father, at the end of the pew, gave me his stern face. We would talk, he said, when we got home. His jaw was pulsing.

I had never lit the candles before. I’d never been asked. I was young, maybe in fifth grade. Fifth or sixth, I’m not sure. We were living in the place we moved to when I was in fifth grade. I know that. And the church was a temporary church, a metal building, with metal sides and a metal roof that roared when it rained. The door was like the door to a store. The temporary church stood next to a site where the parish planned to have a real church one day, a permanent church. They had the drawings. It was to be named for the only American saint, or the only female saint at the time, who happened to be American. Something like that. They’d broken ground, I think, but that was about it.

At home, my father told me to go kneel in the entryway. The floor was tile. Mexican tile, I think it was called. It had designs on it. Things that looked like flowers and things that looked like leaves. I had burned myself every time I tried to light a candle. Like when we were going to eat in the dining room, when there was some special occasion, and my parents said I could light the candles. I think I must have asked them. I must have wanted to try. This happened a few times. I lit a match, but then, when I held it to the candle, to the wick, the flame came back on my fingers, burning me. That was why I told the priest no. Because I didn’t want to do it wrong, with everyone there watching. I explained all this to my parents. And I kneeled, and my knees hurt, and then my father came and told me to go directly to my room. He wanted me to writes lines, like in school. I will not talk during class, that sort of thing. My father wanted me to write, I will do as the priests and teachers ask me to do. I will respect my elders. I wrote out pages, back and front. I don’t know how many. I just remember sitting at my desk, my lamp buzzing. And I remember how I made all the I’s first. I drew a line down the page and then I put in the cross marks, working back up. It looked like a row of stitches. When I wrote the l ’s in will, I drew two long lines, like a road, straight mostly, but wavering here and there.