Mother Superior in Hell | Katie Farris

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Katie Farris is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and translator. She is the author of the hybrid-form text boysgirls, (Marick Press, 2011) and the chapbook Thirteen Intimacies (Fivehundred Places, 2017). Most recently she is winner of Fairy Tale Review’s Flash Fairy Tale Prize, the 2018 Anne Halley Poetry Prize from the Massachusetts Review, and the 2017 Orison Anthology Prize in Fiction. She is also the translator of several books of poetry from the French, Chinese, and Russian. Her translations and original work have appeared in anthologies published by Penguin and Graywolf, as well as literary journals including Virginia Quarterly ReviewVerse, Western Humanities Review, and The Massachusetts Review. She received her MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at San Diego State University. 


How It Started

Little Mother Superior sat with the other members of her fourth-grade Catechism class, hands in their laps, lined up in neat rows. While someone prayed, in front of God and everybody, Mother Superior leaned forward and embedded her front teeth into the pew in front of her. She left two big tooth-marks behind. She hated the Our Father, hated the smell of the sacristy, hated the red-headed priest and the smoke and the alter boys and the little button they pushed to make a fake bell sound during the Consecration.

When the time came for their first Communion, Mother Superior stood with a group of girls in a small room off the main nave, paneled in dark wood and lit in magenta and green and mustard from the stained-glass windows. The school janitor stood a little behind them; he was there for the sacrament as well. Though he’d already sweated through his shirt, his collar still creaked with starch, and his pants were too high on the waist. He held his arms tight to his sides, his wrists flexed hard so his fingers splayed out, and ducked his head from time to time as if someone were about to strike him. Mother Superior jumped every time he did and tried not to breathe in through her nose.

After the prayers and the kneeling and the standing and the blessings and the singing, and the “This is my body, take from it and live,” the priest approached the janitor with the host, and the janitor stuttered with fear. The priest held out the wafer, and the janitor opened his mouth wide to accept it, but the acceptance turned into a moan, then a wild-eyed wail as the priest got near his lips. The priest stopped and spoke softly to him, then tried again. The man cried out. His purity was like a brighter lamp. Mother Superior watched, and learned.

Mother Superior still prays for a glimpse of what he saw; what she has tried and failed and tried again to see. Holy Miracle. Transubstantiation: the bread before him smeared into flesh and back again. The scent of incense. The priest, the girls, Mother Superior, and he, who they had been ashamed to see. Mother Superior remembers thinking holy.