The light stays late in the Montana Valley. It is midsummer. We are at the farm playing Dare Base. My five brothers and sisters and the Tartarkas make nine cunning competitors for this fast-paced sweaty game. No one wants to be the first one caught. They will have to be IT for the next game. I like Kick the Can better; it is more secretive and scary. It fits the slow darkening into the summer night. Besides, I have found a hiding place behind the bales of hay, in the cattle lot, where no one will ever find me. It is so quiet there that I hear the rush of the Gallatin River where it bends, heading west.
The sun shifts, the Spanish Peaks purple as Dare Base gets more vicious. Every one has been caught except that mean pair, my older brother, Bob, and Tom Tartarka.
“Rosary.” Dad loud in the doorway, a dark silhouette framed by the stark kitchen light. This word called into the fading flame of the day, stops the game. He never calls twice. The Tatarkas pick up their shed sweaters and put on shoes for their graveled walk home, a mile east, over the hill. We mumble fast good-nights and something about the following evening. The six of us file into the house, some wet with the sweat of exhilaration, some sullen with frustration. The valley behind us is drunk with a red and peacock blue sky. The white tops of the eastern mountains are icy tender pink. No one stays for the sunset’s finale.
At the door of the kitchen we go silent. Mom and Dad are kneeling in the dining room. We drop to our knees too, as we enter the room, our elbows on the table or leaning into a chair. Dad starts with the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth … “
We all answer, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting … “
Dad leads again with the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name … “
He is kneeling by a chair, rough hands clasping the worn black rosary beads, as he strings out three Hail Marys and hands the rosary to Marg.
It is Wednesday. Wednesday and the rosary mean the Glorious Mysteries. Marg says, “The first Glorious Mystery, The Resurrection.” Voice chanting, no inflection. “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou … “
We all answer, the older boys’ voices low. “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” She leads again with the next Hail Mary. Again we answer with the Holy Marys until her 10 Hail Marys are done.
This is the nightly ritual of our home. No one escapes it. No excuses are accepted. Last year, when I was 9, I tried to be an exception to that rule. I never tried it again. Dad knocked me off the chair when I didn’t kneel down. What’s more, I impressed, by my example, all my brothers and sisters. They’ve never tried to test the rule again.
Marg prays slow, slower tonight than usual. At last she passes the beads to Clo, a relief, as Clo is much faster. She starts, “The second Glorious Mystery, The Ascension.” We are propped up by chairs, or the table. I am getting sleepy. I should not kneel next to Clo, she always hands the beads to me. I don’t feel like leading tonight, or ever. I turn away from her only to face Mom kneeling by the dining room table. No leaning. She kneels straight, sometimes not even putting her elbows on it. I think it is a penitential act. Dad leans, and sometimes even uses a chair to lean. Mom is more holy.
Clo, seeing me turn away, gives the beads to Bob. Another reprieve, he says the Hail Marys faster than anybody. He starts, “The third Glorious Mystery, The Descent Of The Holy Ghost Upon The Apostles. Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with Thee … “
We are only halfway through the rosary.
When we are done, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin will be led by John. He has the long incantation memorized. Our part is easy. We answer each of his 43 salutations to Mary with, “Pray for us.” John says that he is going to be a priest. Mom will lead the last prayer, Hail Holy Queen, so neither one of them has to lead the decades of the rosary.
Bob has noticed my reluctance. He gets even for my tagging him in Dare Base. I lead the fourth decade. I start out, saying, “The fourth Glorious Mystery, The Assumption Of Mary Into Heaven.”
After I slip the beads to Rosemarie, my eyes keep closing. I try not to doze. When we say the rosary, Dad listens, so my mouth keeps having to make sounds. I’m in a stupor of sleepiness.
Marg pushes her fingernail into my arm and silently points to the corner of the room. A mouse is coming out of a hole. The mouse doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to our droning. It starts out running along the mopboard, its legs like two pairs of fast little scissors carrying its sharp black eyes and twitching nose, until it disappears behind the shadow of Dad’s shoe.
We are awake now. The rosary never flags, not a word is missed. The momentum picks up. That alerts Dad. We are rounding toward the fifth and final Mystery. Only the Litany and the Hail Holy Queen will be left.
The mouse hesitates in the shoe’s shadow, then turns and races back to the hole. Facing us it cleans its mouse face with a tiny claw, bending each whisker. It stops and watches us. It scratches an itch on its belly.
“The fifth Glorious Mystery, The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin in Heaven.” The mouse starts out again, scurrying fast along the mopboard. “The Lord is with Thee … and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.” The chanting of the rosary floats over the mouse as it makes its whiskered dash. The words pour, forgotten, from our mouths, as we watch it make its final run under the dark shadow.
With one swift and accurate movement, Dad kicks backwards, slamming his foot against the wall. When he removes it the mouse hangs in two separate pieces on the white wallpaper. The legs and whiskers are still twitching, eyes closed, held up by its own blood and Dad’s swift slam.
It hangs there, as we continue our evening prayer, “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy our life our sweetness and our hope, to Thee do we cry, poor, banished children of Eve, to Thee we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears … “
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
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