By Thea Swanson
On Saturday nights in Washington, Orthodox Christian priests wear black dresses to their feet. They have smooth ponytails and scraggly beards. They have many children and one modest wife. They hold vigil in dark churches lit with candles. Lord Have Mercy, they chant. They say it over and over. When they walk into the altar, past the icon of the Archangel Michael, the angel slices their chins with his sword.
For hours on Sunday mornings, women in long skirts and covered hair rock from foot to foot, switching babies from arm to arm. For hours, men, wearing whatever they want, stare at the altar, wishing they were clergy and thinking of porn. For hours, small children scoot in circles like pinwheels on the wooden floor. For hours, pre-teens come of age and cut themselves in the back of the church. In the final hour, Orthodox Christian priests in Washington hold chalices up to the sky. Take! Eat! This is my body, which is broken for you, they say. Drink of it all of you! This is my blood, they say.
Alexander, Anna, Sarah, it’s time, the mothers say. Stand in line. The children go first. Thank you for dying for me, they say. You hung on a cross so that I don’t have to, they say. They stand and wait for something good to taste.
The Orthodox priests exit the altar, gripping the vessel that holds blood and body parts. Small children walk up two steps with their arms crossed over their hearts and open their mouths wide. The Orthodox priests spoon blood and body from the chalice, emptying the substance into the little mouths. The deacon wipes the little mouths hard with a red cloth. The children turn and walk down the steps. God’s blood taste good, they say. God’s blood taste good! they scream. Their mothers yank them by their shoulders and pull them outside in the sun. The mothers crouch down and stare in their little eyes, getting a good, hard look at the devil.
Thea Swanson holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University in Oregon. Her independently published novel, The Curious Solitude of Anise, received excellent reviews from Kirkus, Switchback and others. Thea’s stories can be found in Anemone Sidecar, Camera Obscura, Crab Creek Review, Danse Macabre, Dark Matter Journal, Image, New Plains Review, Our Stories, The Sonder Review and forthcoming in Black Denim Lit, Fiction Southeast, Toad Suck Review, Gone Lawn, The Capra Review and Dirty Chai. Thea has taught English from middle-school through college, but she can’t afford to teach anymore, so she does other things.