I knew Lucas would be the most difficult of all my children. He’s eleven now and almost as tall as I am. When he went through a growth spurt, I knew I’d have to do something soon because he’d be bigger than me and totally unmanageable. It took me a long time to figure it out because I have trouble focusing for any length of time. But then the idea came to me the day the pharmacist handed my medication to my husband rather than me.
I got really good at not swallowing my pills. In the morning, my husband gave me three: a yellow one, a blue one, and a white one. At dinner, I got another white one. Just before bed, I got two blue ones. I could hold them a very long time, in my jaw, without swallowing. I even taught myself how to drink water or eat without ever swallowing the pills. It’s not as hard as you think. All you need is a little practice. I’d spit them out when I went to the bathroom. I hid them in a box of tampons. I took the tampons out of the plastic applicators and I used the tampon applicators to store my pills. I’d slip them back in the pink paper wrapping they came in. If you looked in the box quickly, it just looked like a box of tampons. I was getting quite a collection.
It is important that you know this really wasn’t my idea. It was Takey’s. I know Takey is an odd name for an angel, but they have their own language, you know. I know we think of angels as Gabriel and Michael and nice names like that. But those names are the human names for angels. Angels aren’t human. I’ve been able to talk to angels since I was seven. I’m special. I was chosen.
Anyway, according to Takey (and the Bible), we must be purified two ways, first by water then by fire; one for our body the other for our souls. It’s in the Bible. Real Christians believe in total immersion baptism. That means when a person is baptized they are sunk all the way under the water, head and everything. But I think they are doing it wrong. I’ve seen a number of baptisms in my day because Jim and I belong to the Southern Independent Evangelical Church of Jesus Christ. They just quick dip people in the Kinnetunk River and then lead them out. I have to tell you that even if you are dunked like that not every single part of you can be touched by the water. There has to be an air bubble of some sort somewhere. What about the roots of your hair? Or inside your ears? Or your belly button? That unbaptized part of you spreads like cancer.
This leads up to Takey’s idea. Takey says my kids need to be baptized to get into heaven. Jim says they don’t need to be baptized until they are adults, until the “age of reason” as he says. You tell me a child can’t reason? I am a mother of five children and us mothers, we know children reason. They’re lying by the time they are two. I don’t care what my husband says; those kids need to be baptized. What if something happens to them? Things happen to children all the time. I’m not sending my kids to hell, no way. But Jim has kept me on a pretty tight rope, ever since the flying lessons with Takey and the baby, Elizabeth. I told Takey that the bridge wasn’t a good idea. Too public. But Takey insisted.
I took the opportunity as soon as it came up. Jim’s mother, Margaret, called about five minutes after Jim left this morning. Margaret comes over every day. She helps me around the house. She’s been coming since the flying lesson, the one I told you about with Takey and the baby, but I don’t like to talk about that anymore to anyone; it seems to make them crazy. She wanted to talk to Jim. I told her he had already left. She had woken with a terrible case of the stomach virus and said she just didn’t think she could make it. I told her I’d be fine. We chatted a little bit. She said she’d call me at lunch.
The first thing I did after I got off the phone was to make hot chocolate. Not the powdered stuff, mind you, the real thing. I melted the chocolate in the double boiler and then added whole milk—not that watery two percent crap—cream, sugar, and some vanilla. I went to the bathroom and took all but one of the tampon applicators filled with the pills out of the box. The pills had smashed together and looked like the candy you find inside a Pixie Stix. I went back into the kitchen and whisked the powder it into the hot chocolate.
“What are you making, mommy?”
“Do you love Jesus?” I asked them as I poured the liquid into mugs, sprinkling it with cinnamon.
“Yes, mommy, yes mommy!’ They sounded like chirping birds; chocolate mustache’s on their faces.
“Finish your chocolate,” I said, “we are going to do something really fine for Jesus today.”
I filled the bathtub with water. We have one of those marvelously deep clawfoot tubs. Not easy getting in and out of but wonderful for a hot soak.
“Lucas, it is time for a bath.”
“I took one last night, mom.”
“I want you to take one now.”
“I don’t want to. I don’t feel well.”
“The bath will make you feel better. Please do as you are told.”
He doesn’t like me in the bathroom now that he is older so I had to wait until I was sure he was in the water. I came at him from behind. He slipped under quickly, but he was stronger than I thought. I had to climb in the tub with him and hold him down. Looking down through the water at his face, I was surprised at how much like Jim he looked.
When Jim and I were first married we lived in an RV so Jim could dedicate himself to preaching full time. He won a lot of people for Jesus, you know. We lived on the donations Jim received. I tried very hard, I really did, but social services tried to take the kids away. It was right after Miriam was born. I took her and Lucas to see Santa. It had just snowed and everything was pure white and beautiful. But I forgot to put my shoes on. I’m impervious to cold. Anyway, someone called social services. Jim had to get a job and move us into a real house. I like this place fine. It’s bigger than the RV.
Lucas struggled and scratched at my forearms. Satan is a powerful force. My clothes got soaked. I had to press down very hard on Lucas’ shoulders and pray very loud. I thought about Jacob in the Bible struggling with the angel. He struggled all night. It only took me a few minutes. Finally, Lucas was still. I got out of the tub and sat on the bathroom floor. I was wet and felt totally exhausted.
“Mommy, you’re all wet.”
It was Sarah at the door.
“Sarah, what are you doing here?”
“I got sick in my bed.”
“Go back in your bedroom. I will be there in a moment.”
“Mommy, where’s Lucas?”
“He’s in heaven, Sarah. He’s in heaven.”
I took off my clothes and brushed my hair. I pulled my robe off the back of the door. Lucas looked so peaceful, so very peaceful. He floated near the top of the water; his eyes closed his mouth partially open. Getting him out of the tub was difficult. He was all dead weight. But he was near the top of the water so I put my arms under his armpits and pulled.
“Mommy, what’s wrong with Lucas?” Sarah was in the hall with Miriam. They both had on their matching footie pajamas. It was then that I realized they’d have to be together.
“I am putting him to bed. Get ready for your baths.”
Miriam had her thumb in her mouth.
Miriam and Sarah were much easier. I let them play in the water awhile then I just pushed their heads down and held them together. Like Lucas, I let them lie there just a bit, soaking, fully immersed, baptized. By the time I got to Elizabeth she barely made a stir. Of course, the baby was the easiest. I laid each child in bed, tucked in tight. As I looked down at them I realized I had turned them into angels. My children were angels now. I sat down and had a good long cry because I was so happy.
After my cry, I went out and found the can of gasoline in the garage that Jim used to mow the lawn. I emptied it into the sprayer he used on the weeds. Inside I carefully sprayed all the carpets, walls, and furniture. The fumes started to make me light-headed so I had to hold my breath. When I was done with that, I went into the bathroom and started my bath. I had one tampon applicator left. I mixed it with water from the tap and drank it quickly. It was bitter and made me shudder. I went to the kitchen, found the matches. I went to the phone and dialed Jim. He never answers when he is at work, but I know he looks down and sees that it is me. I waited for his voicemail.
“It’s all done. It’s time to come home, now,” I said as I lit the match.
Marianna Boncek is an author and teacher. Her books The Spooky Hudson Valley and Gone Missing in New York, published by Schiffer Books and her young adult novel, Ajar, published by Mélange Books. Her plays have been featured in venues in the Hudson Valley. Her poems and short stories have been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals. She is a regular reader in Hudson Valley poetry venues. Her hobbies include hiking, traveling and searching out the perfect bookstore. She currently lives in the Hudson Valley with her partner, Dave. They spend time researching lost local history: a passion they both share.