- Corruption of the Body
My sister was eleven when she learned that the Blessed Mother Mary had been taken up to heaven. Ellie was obsessed with bodies and what happened to them, so it’s strange that she hadn’t thought about the Blessed Mother’s body until then, but anyway, once Ellie started thinking about Our Lady being lifted up, she began wondering if Mary was even dead when she was taken.
“Sister Francis told us that the Blessed Mother had finished her earthly mission,” Ellie said. “But that doesn’t tell us if she was dead or not.” Ellie was in the closet with her knees hooked over the clothes bar while her hair swept the floor.
“She was dead,” I said, sounding sure of myself though I hadn’t given much thought to the Virgin Mary’s Assumption since Sister Francis was my teacher. Still, just then something loosened in my brain because I got a clear picture of Mary stretched out under a palm tree. Her long blue dress touched her sandals and the white veil that framed her face was crisp as an altar cloth. Waxy-looking lilies stood in a clay pot next to her head while men in brown-and-gray striped robes nodded and looked down at her. “And the Apostles were there,” I said in a bossy voice.
“Oh,” Ellie said. “The important thing is that her body wasn’t corrupted. Maybe she died on earth the minute before she was lifted up, or maybe she didn’t die until she got to heaven.”
“You’re so weird,” I whispered.
“de-com-po-si-tion.” Ellie practically yelled, booming out each syllable so it made me sick at my stomach.
“She dropped something,” I blurted out, because now that my brain was loose I remembered Sister Gemma, my fourth-grade teacher, telling us that Mary dropped something onto the heads of the Apostles when she went up.
“Something soft. It was her sash or her handkerchief. Maybe it was flowers. Anyway, something fell onto the Apostles’ heads, so they were definitely there.” [End Page 59]
“You must be thinking of Saint Teresa. The Little Flower is the one that dropped down flowers from Heaven when she died.”
I blew air from my lips. I’d given up bickering with my sister for Lent, and now, even though it was past Easter, I still wasn’t arguing. It had been hard to hold myself in at first, but then I’d figured out how to think about my anger as a ball of smoke behind my eyes. When I blew air through my mouth it turned the ball into a plume that trailed off and disappeared. Sometimes I didn’t even need to blow. Just opening my mouth and shaking my head was enough to let the anger out.
Ellie dropped down from the clothes bar and stood between our beds doing toe touches. My lips stayed in a silent whistle as I moved my head from side to side.
Mom said there’s nothing the matter with Ellie, but I’m not sure she’s right. I don’t have any friends with sisters who are as weird as Ellie. Besides Mom doesn’t know the full story because she doesn’t have to share a room with Ellie, or watch her hang upside down when she decides she needs more blood in her brain. Mom didn’t watch Ellie drag the ironing board to the room so she could iron tree leaves between sheets of waxed paper. Mom didn’t watch Ellie glue the bones of a chicken into a cat-sized skeleton. And, I know for certain, Mom never heard Ellie sing to the worms.
All through March, Ellie kept two worm buckets in our room. One bucket sat on the pink rag-rug that Nana had made for me when I was a baby, and the other bucket was squeezed behind the bureau. Twice a day, for five minutes each time, Ellie sang to the worms in the bucket on the rug. But she never sang to the worms behind the bureau. Every...