by Alicia Bakewell
Carl sits beside the locked bedroom door. Behind it, his sister Louisa is by turns drowning or being burned alive. He daydreams about performing an exorcism, casting the addiction out of her that way. If this was a movie he’d be qualified, but it’s not part of the seminary training in real life.
After a quiet spell, a sliver of shallow sleep, Louisa begins to shriek and gurgle again, just like the girl in that film. Carl wonders how she manages to emphasise each letter of a monosyllabic curse with such perfect weight. He whispers the word, trying it out. It is surprisingly satisfying.
Louisa knows she is at the rectory. She is vaguely aware that a hushed conversation took place, that she was sent here straight from the lock-up. Carl is the only one who hasn’t given up on her. She needs a drink. Her whole body screams. The whitewashed walls warp and tilt, trying to swallow her, as her little brother sits vigil outside and Jesus laughs from his gilt frame. She swears at them both, using a word Carl has probably never heard before.
Carl still remembers the first time he saw Rodrigo. Their eyes met across the refectory table, a cliché with a difference. When Rodrigo smiled, Carl felt a jolt go through his body. God’s work, he thought. Finally he’d felt a moving of the spirit, like they promised would happen if he prayed hard enough. Later, in Rodrigo’s tiny room, Carl realised that the jolt had been absolutely human. Often, then, they retreated to that secret place, their faces turned away from their creator and toward one another. Body of Christ, he would whisper to himself when skin touched skin. It was a kind of communion. Not the kind they had been taught, but somehow they knew what to do.
Every fibre of Louisa cries out for wine. Her skin burns and prickles with need. A drop of it, just a drop, maybe spilled onto Carl’s robes in church and unwittingly brought home. She imagines sucking it from the heavy cloth, like a starving baby seeking the last dregs of mother’s milk.
Louisa hates her brother. She hates all of her family, but she hates Carl the most. His smugness. The way he smiles at everyone like he thinks he’s Mother Teresa or something. Must be nice to be perfect, Carl, their mum says when he gets too full of himself.
There’s a soft knock at the rectory door. Rodrigo is there with a plate of sandwiches and a pot of tea. Shhh, Carl points to the bedroom door and Rodrigo nods, pads in without a sound. A vow of silence is easy to uphold when you have secrets. They eat, drink, sit for a while outside the bedroom door, hands entwined. They pray for this wayward sister of Carl’s, whom Rodrigo will never meet. A little kiss, the barest scrape of lips, and Rodrigo is gone.
Carl creeps into the quiet bedroom, retrieves an untouched bowl of soup, rinses out a bucket. He presses the back of his hand to his sister’s hellfire forehead. Louisa wakes suddenly, grabbing his arm and pulling him to eye level. The family resemblance is a mirror and Carl turns away.
‘Just one more,’ she begs, ‘I can’t do this, I need a drink. It’s just like communion, Carl, blood of Christ or whatever.’
‘What you do is not communion.’
‘Well let me do it anyway. What do you care whether I drink or not? I guess you’re going to say that someone’s watching.’
Louisa pulls herself up, stumbles to her feet and pulls Jesus off the wall, letting him fall face down. Carl feels something snap deep inside as the glass shatters. The painting was a gift from Rodrigo.
‘There, he can’t see us anymore. We can do whatever we like. What would you like to do now, Carl? Fuck someone? I’d highly recommend it.’
He hates her, the ugliness of her need. A body that can’t say no. A mind too weak to contradict it. The audacity to act on her desire.
‘I can’t look at you,’ he says, slamming the bedroom door and shoving the bolt into its hole with a force that frightens him.
He pours her a glass, and one for himself.
Alicia Bakewell is a short fiction writer based in Western Australia. Her work has been published online by Reflex Fiction and Flash Frontier in 2017, and has appeared in several Australian short story anthologies. She was the winner of Reflex Fiction’s Spring 2017 competition.
She tweets nonsense here https://twitter.com/lissybakewell.