Her feet are swollen. Her skin, hot to the touch. The whole place is so hot that there’s sweat dripping down her nose and the sides of her face, running down the length of her calves. She can tell that the man up front is talking about something important. Her mother calls him Pastor. His hands are whirling through the air and he’s pacing back and forth across the stage, but she isn’t listening. Instead, she’s imagining glaciers and icebergs like that big one she read about that left a scar along the side of the Titanic and sank it. “Sit up straight,” her mama hisses and jabs her in the ribs. The bones of her back go stiff, but as soon as her mama looks away again her body melts back down into the seat.
Her mama’s attention is on the man at the front. Her face is red, and her breathing is heavy and wet sounding, but she’s smiling and nodding so enthusiastically the bench beneath them vibrates. If the man were to call her mama up to the stage, as he does sometimes with his parishioners, the bulk of her would be up the minute her name left the man’s mouth.
Her daddy refuses to come with them anymore. He says, “It’s too hot in there. Suit jacket’s soaked clean through the minute I step in the place.” But, she knows the real reason he’s stopped coming is because of the way her mama looks at the man, the way her mama’s eyes go bright, her muscles quiver. Her mama never looks at her daddy that way. Whenever she looks at her daddy, her mouth puckers like she’s sucked a lemon rind. You can see all the wrinkles around her mouth, the deep rows of them across her forehead.
In the car after service, her mama always talks to her about the man’s charisma, the way he moves across the stage, the way he shouts and the congregation volleys back his words, the way he laughs with his whole body. She tells her how the man has a presence, an aura around him so pure it brings tears to her eyes. She knows that her mama loves the man. She’s seen how her mama holds out her hands to him whenever he walks past them. The way her hands rise up involuntarily from her sides as if she’s waiting for the man to place his own hands against them. Her mama doesn’t notice that she does this, but she does.
Once, after her mama had made her way through the crowd to speak to the man, he had touched her mama’s elbow, bent his head towards her with one of his giant smiles. Her mama had blushed such a shade of crimson that she had been afraid that something was wrong with her heart. It had happened before. Her mama was always talking about her funny heart, and she was always on the lookout for signs, little warnings from her mama’s body. But then the man had walked away, and her mama had laughed and fanned her face and glanced around the room see who had been watching, who had seen the man bless her with his favor. During service that day, her mama hadn’t once told her to sit up straight or to stop pulling at her hair, and afterward, she had even slipped her a handful of those peppermints that melt in your mouth. She’d forced herself to save them and them one at a time, stretching them out to last almost a whole week.
Today, after the service, her mama makes her way towards the man, elbowing anyone who gets too close to her. She’s almost there when a woman cuts her off, stands so close to the man as they talk that their noses almost brush. The woman has shiny black hair and shiny black shoes with sharp heels and delicate, golden chains wrapped around the base of her throat. Her mama stares and stares at the woman watches as the man brushes his hand along the length of the woman’s arm, as he touches his big hands to her shoulders. The man smiles and smiles at the shiny woman and her mama grabs her hand and marches the two of them to the car.