By Michelle Bellman
Bernie was buying a pregnancy test when she saw a pack of candy that reminded her of the Eucharist from church. They were the Necco candies that used to be at the checkout of the drugstore back home, where she would go on Sundays after church to buy candy and magazines. She pretended to be the priest as she served the body of Christ to her brothers. They would play along and pretend to be the deacon, the altar boys, the members of the parish with their hands clasped together in prayer. Her mother gave them iced cold Kool-Aid as the blood of Christ and thought it was simple fun. Bernie, however, had taken it very seriously. She was always the priest. She would wrap herself in colorful blankets, like the priest’s robes, and hold the little candies high in the air as she mimicked their movements of blessing the host. She always swore she felt the holy spirit move through her, down from heaven and into the Necco candy.
After paying, Bernie took her bag into the public restroom and locked the door behind her. She set her bag on the tiny counter and went to the toilet with the pregnancy test. Her hands shook as she took the directions out and read them. They were simple: pee on the front part of the stick and wait for a beep. Plus means pregnant. In a moment of bravery and desperation, she stuck the test between her legs and peed. If she closed her eyes, she could pretend she was somewhere cleaner. This is not something she ever saw herself doing, especially by herself in a public bathroom. She felt judged by the Necco candies sitting on the bathroom counter, a memory from a time when she didn’t worry about these things.
The test needed a few minutes. Instead of waiting for it to beep, she got up and set it aside. After washing her hands in the sink, she took out the candies and unwrapped them. The powder coating stuck to her fingers. She was reminded of her youth and her time pretending to be a priest with all eyes of the parish on her as she brought the Holy Spirit down from heaven and blessed the Necco candies. She didn’t understand why she, or any other girl, couldn’t do it for real. She didn’t know her pretending to be a priest could only ever be that: pretend. Her questions would get her in trouble in Sunday school. She’d be put back in the room with the kids who threw things or had tantrums.
When she learned the stories of Mary Magdalene and the other women Jesus seemed to like more than his male disciples, she was angry. Did everyone else forget that Jesus appeared to three women before he did his male disciples? Did they not listen to the stories they were telling? At the time, she didn’t know what to do with all that anger, so she ignored it. She went on with her life and eventually gave up on her faith. She stopped going to mass. She didn’t tell people she was named after Saint Bernadette and felt comfortable with the label of “agnostic” rather than “Catholic.”
But then, in that bathroom, she felt that anger come back up like bile in her throat. She began breaking the candies in half, one by one, and tossed them into the sink with the running water. The water turned all different kinds of pastel colors and started to fizz. She placed her hands on either side of the sink and started to cry. Suddenly, she felt twelve years old again, stuck in the back of the classroom with the bad kids, with no words to describe how she felt.
She heard the beeping of the test telling her it was ready. The anger and sadness in her were like electricity, and she imagined this is what those women must have felt, when they saw Jesus die and come back to life and no one believed them.
She heard a knock on the door. She grabbed her things, threw the box away, and wrapped the test in toilet paper. It was still warm from her pee. When she was ready to look at it, she would. She’d figure it out, just like she always did. She hoped she’d feel it in her heart what to do with whatever the answer was, like when she held the Necco candies up in the air and felt the Holy Spirit enter them. She wiped her eyes and opened the door. She left the drugstore behind with the body of Christ still bubbling in the sink.