Shuffling socks down to the kitchen. Mindlessly pour coffee, stir in cream until it’s a burnt golden brown, like that will soften the fact that I don’t like coffee and have never been able to acquire the taste. Wince at the bitterness.
The world is quiet outside the house. Beyond the kitchen window, the neighborhood stretches out endlessly, squat and sunbaked in the Georgia summer. Alphabet houses. Neat hedges. It’s the same house, the same neighborhood I grew up in, but it feels different to live here alone. Gillsville is a small enough town that it can shrink down all around you.
A bicyclist drifts down the road. Lazy. Slow, like the motion of a great cloud.
Breakfast. Two eggs rolling on the countertop. Place a spoon crosswise—stop them from falling to the floor. Turn the burner up.
I should wait for it to sizzle hot, should wait for it to heat more than the lukewarm sun as it pours through the window, but I don’t have the patience. The omelette will be damp and floppy, but it will be fast.
Crack one egg against the side, thumb against heating metal to keep yolk from dripping down into burner. Watch the egg pool and congeal, yellow like a child’s drawing of a sun in the center of the pan. Sunday school coloring books. Crack the second.
A strange noise, one that doesn’t belong to eggs or kitchens. It could possibly belong to a hospital’s birthing ward, raw and wet and vital.
I look down. It looks up.
An eye, swimming in the egg whites that surround it. Yolk clumps thick and yellow at one edge. A bit of blood is seeping out into my breakfast.
Vomit tastes acidic and rotten on my tongue as I bend over the trashcan, sweating palms pressed against fuzzy pajama pants. A glass of water filled by the sink tap. Swish it and spit.
The longer I don’t look at the pan, the longer I can pretend there’s only poorly cooking eggs in it. But something is hissing like bacon on the stove, and the smell of cooking flesh hits my nostrils.
I turn the burner off and look back at the thing in the pan.
A slow blink—no eyelid, but a slimy film, not unlike the egg whites surrounding it. It bobs, rotating and rolling in the pan.
I think it’s looking at me.
Not looking at me like someone might look at me across the street. Looking. The way the priest looks at you after you say something awful in confession. When you don’t even need to see a face to feel the eyes.
Breathe in, push nausea down. Tell myself it’s some poorly formed mutant chicken, a tragedy of factory farming. Blinking because the heat of the pan is creating some expansion or burning that simulates motion. Grab the pan and tip it over the trash can.
I take the spoon, scrape metal against metal. Watch eggs slump down into garbage on top of sick, the eye lost. Folded in with the mess.
It’s been years since I prayed, but I consider it now. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Eye In My Trashcan. I wonder if the words would still come on reflex, summoned up from eighteen years of godliness.
My mouth still tastes like vomit.
Slippers are soft under my feet as I slide them on. Trash bag crinkles as I haul it up and sling it with me out the door. Not quite full yet; plastic sags. Why take out the trash when it’s not full yet?
Because the sun is nice on my shoulders as I step outside. Because I was already going out to grab the mail. Because the garbage truck comes tomorrow and what if I forget to do it later? Because I don’t want it in my kitchen. Not when it could be staring back, every time my eyes dart that way.
Take it out to the big trash bin, swing it over the edge and scrunch my nose at the smell as I close the lid down. Grab the mail and go back inside. Slow paces. Not running.
Not running. Not running when I press my back against the coolness of the fridge and slide down to the kitchen floor. Blood into egg yolks slammed in front of my eyes. Hug my knees to my chest. Not running.
It’s on the television when I get home from work the next day.
I’m curled up on the sofa, hands warmed by the plate of my microwave burrito. Fingers sore from hauling around the big canned soup crates at the grocery store. I’m thumbing through channels when I see it, and my burrito goes sour.
The story is this: A local woman was taking communion, and a piece of bread was a fat lump of flesh in her mouth. Everyone is talking about miracles.
They say it’s a sign of God in the modern times.
Father, Son, Eye In The Trash, Flesh In The Mouth. Holy Spirit.
A week later, they’re having a big party at the church down the road. The church I went to every Sunday as a child. To celebrate. I put on a dress that feels foreign and scratchy against my skin, eggshell blue like I used to wear when I stood between my parents and my sister Mary during mass. Mother, Father, Mary. Judith. Picture perfect, every week.
I haven’t been to this place in two years. I think I could probably walk the way with my eyes closed. It looks the same as it always has, from the simple white chapel to the wide green lawn to the smiling faces.
The only differences: the fervor living on everyone’s tongue, and the fact that the lawn is decorated like it would be for a birthday party. Picnic tables all laid out with paper plates and pot luck Tupperware, balloons tethered in bunches. The smell of hot dogs cooking somewhere.
I see my sister and her husband hand in hand as she speaks to some of the other women of the congregation. I want to gravitate her way out of sheer awkwardness, but she’s deep in conversation. Father Lowe is shaking hands near the front stoop of the chapel, and I avoid his eyes as I navigate my way through the crowd. I take a plate and sit between two women who used to pinch my cheeks when I was little.
“It’s been so long since we’ve seen you, Judith,” one is saying, and the other is saying “I’m so glad you’ve returned to the flock,” and I wonder why I came. The small talk is like cardboard and the food is the same.
There’s a little girl pouring lemonade on rice crispy treats a few seats away from me, fingers and face sticky. Any appetite I had is long gone.
I would say I only came because my sister invited me, but then, she’s invited me to a thousand community cookouts and block parties on this lawn, and I’ve never come before. Maybe I showed up because the trash collector missed my house this week. The bin is still standing at the end of my driveway.
“Judy?” My sister calls when she finally spots me. Her voice is warm and excited, and I feel my grimace turn into an actual smile. “I didn’t think you would come! I haven’t seen you in ages, you should really come around more often.”
I disentangle myself from the picnic table, and Mary is hustling over the lawn to me—I say hustling, but she’s not actually moving that fast with her eight and a half months pregnant belly weighing her down. She’s smiling wide, though, and she pats my back fondly when she wraps her arms around me.
“We had lunch together last week,” I remind her.
“Still!” She insists. “I’m glad you came. I mean I suppose you’d have to be crazy not to come back for this. Even out-of-towners have been driving by to have mass with us. Though, I think most of them probably just want to see the Bishop when he comes. A Bishop! Here in Gillsville! I wish Mom was here to see it, you know?”
She’s right that our mom would probably cry if she heard about something so big happening in our little town. Gillsville has one newspaper, and the biggest story we’ve ever gotten here was a particularly big cabbage. Now, we’re showing up on national news networks.
She would probably throw a whole party of her own at me going back to church, whether or not I was going to mass or just eating the stale hot dogs.
“We should have lunch again,” I say to change the topic. “I could make—”
A retching noise, and conversations pause. Heads swivel.
The little girl with the sticky face is doubled over, mother fussing and holding her hair back as she throws up onto the fresh mowed grass. Her mom pets her face and swings her up onto her hip, expression turning exasperated when she glances to the table and sees the awful junk her daughter was combining on her plate.
The crowd moves away from the vomit, and some of the regular volunteers are getting cleaning gloves and trash bags to handle the mess.
I’ve turned back to my sister, and they begin to cry out.
A wordless shout.
Then: “Lord, Lord! Oh my Lord!”
Look back. People are on their knees.
They’re crossing themselves.
Words are falling reverent from Father Lowe’s mouth. “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end—”
I look down at the grass. At the vomit they’re kneeling for.
A strip of meat. Pink. Alive, twitching.
Around it, pearly teeth gleam in the sick.
I turn around and I walk home. Down the street and past the trashcan still sitting at the end of my driveway. I guess I was right that I could do it with my eyes closed, because I don’t remember a single step of the way.
The party was meant to go from noon ’til six on Friday, but it doesn’t even slow down until Saturday night. I can hear the noise even from my kitchen, can see the fervor growing as the news coverage lasts all day.
Everyone is talking about miracles, but I’m thinking about that eye floating in my eggs. My mom always said that when angels appeared, they said ‘Be Not Afraid.’ Because sometimes what’s wonderful terrifies us.
But when I think about that little bit of blood mixing with yolk, I can’t help it. My gut feels queasy and my hands sweat like mad. I’m afraid.
Plastic gloves. An hour shifting through the bin. A plastic bag inside a paper bag inside an empty snack box. Bury it and mark it with a stone.
They canonize the First Miracle of Gillseville on the same day that my sister calls crying. She was supposed to have her baby. Only, instead of a baby it was just a man’s left foot.
At first I think she’s sobbing, but when the phone static dies down I realize she’s saying grace, again and again she’s saying grace.
My nephew was going to be named Joey, after his dad. He was going to wear little pajamas I knitted for him. He was going to have a nursery painted green. Not blue, because my sister hates all that ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ crap. Not pink, because that’s for girls.
But grief isn’t mine to have here, and my sister doesn’t seem to want any. I go to see her in the hospital and she’s still smiling and weeping and saying grace.
They’ve wrapped a baby blanket around the foot. I almost ask her if it’s still going to be called Joey, but instead I just pat her hand and smooth her hair from her face.
I’ve never heard of the Consulta Medica before, but apparently they’re a big deal. They swarm around my sister’s bedside running tests and asking questions. They’re here to see if it’s a miracle. They handle the foot so carefully you would think it was the second coming.
I don’t know why they go through all the tests. They could’ve just gone home after seeing that the foot had a pulse. But it takes three days before my sister is on the news talking to a Bishop and holding up the swaddled appendage like a proud mother.
I guess they had to check to see if it was the real deal.
It turns out it is, because the next one that comes to town is the pope.
News vans swarm when the pope comes to Gillsville. Streets are crowded. Everyone’s renting out their spare rooms for all the tourists. They all wish the place was bigger, or that we could move it a town over. But it’s not happening a town over, it’s happening here.
I go to mass with my sister and her husband. The chapel is so crowded that they set three extra rows of folding chairs behind the pews. Any other time, and I would have to endure all the smug satisfaction from the community at my return, but everything is hectic and there are so many new faces that no one looks my way as I take a seat to Mary’s right.
When people hear I stopped going to church, they normally think I stopped going because I stopped believing in God. They’re wrong. I stopped going to church for two reasons. The first is that just because I believe in God doesn’t mean I believe he’s good. The second is that there is something wrong with me.
The altar boys walk between the pews, hands laden with incense and censer, bread and wine. Father Lowe follows after, head bowed. Then the visiting Bishop.
Guess the big man’s too big for our little church. I’m not surprised, though some people look disappointed. The pope has bigger fish to fry than our small town mass. He may be here, but he’ll be some fifteen miles out in a hotel and surrounded by his own secret service.
The congregation settles back down as it begins.
Stand. Hands raised. Sit. The Liturgy of The Word.
Everyone is talking about miracles. That includes Father Lowe. Proof of God on earth. Father, Son, Foot of The Womb. Hail Mary, first and second.
I knew about my sister, and I knew about the teeth and tongue. What I didn’t know about was the hands they found inside a butchered lamb, the growth that turned from a tumor into a man’s arm, the right foot that doctors found in the place of some poor girl’s appendix.
Then the Bishop. Word from the pope, he says.
We’re supposed to put Him together.
Stand. Sit. Hands clasped together, raised to the ceiling. Watch as Mary takes communion and stay in my seat. I don’t want any bit of holiness in my mouth. If I did, I would’ve eaten my omelet.
Hug my sister goodbye after pleasantries. Walk home. Pick up the stone, move the earth. Look into the eye, gunky and caked in blood. Still looking right at me. Same way Father Lowe looked at me when I left confession wishing I could jam words back into my mouth. When I told him about a girl I met at summer camp, and the fact that there is something wrong with me.
Tuck it back into the paper bag. Place it between my heel and the earth and crush down. Back into the box, back into the ground.
Who He is, I don’t know. What I do know is, He’ll be missing an eye.
A Pope, a bishop, and a disembodied hand walk into a church service. It sounds like the start of a bad joke. Maybe it will be, one day, and I just haven’t come up with the punchline yet. Only the hand doesn’t walk so much as twitches while they carry it. A little white box and it’s lain out like in a bed.
A sharp inhale to my right, and my sister is clutching me. I don’t look her way. I watch as they bring the hand to the altar, as they remove it from the box and place it at the wrist. It’s not the last piece, not by far, but—
But there He is. The shape of Him.
Set out like for an open casket, a funeral in reverse. The torso is there, the legs set carefully beneath. There’s little Joey at the ankle, alongside his twin. There’s a head, still strange and misshapen. Hairless, a mouth but no lips.
Father, Son. Foot of The Womb, Flesh of The Mouth. Holy Spirit. They said Jesus would come back to us, but I guess they never said he wouldn’t come in pieces.
Gretchen Gormley (they/them) is a writer based in British Columbia where they are studying creative writing and literature. They were a semi-finalist for the 2020 North Street Book Prize under the pen name Celia King, and they were the winner of UBC’s 2023 ESA short story competition.
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