May Altar
    Maryanne Stahl
May is the month of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, my namesake. May is flower beds blooming and tree branches greening and warm breezes through open windows on Saturday morning when my mother tells us it is time to air out our house. May is the buzzing of bees and lawnmowers; the cucumber scent of new-mown grass. May is sunlight on the sidewalks long beyond the afternoon, light still when he walks the streets from the train, light when he comes through the door, and I think that maybe light will make a difference.

I decide to make a May altar on top of the dresser, beneath the mirror, in the room I share with my sister. We don’t have a garden because my mother doesn’t have the time, what with five messy children and the stuff she does for the church and my father, but we have bushes that blossom, blood red azalea and lilac dripping purple.

I cut branches from the inside of the plant where no one will notice. I find a peanut butter jar in the trash; it takes forever to wash clean. I find an old torn slip of my mother’s in the bottom of the “poor bag” in the basement and carefully cut the lace from its hem. I take white candles from the junk drawer in the kitchen. Birthday candles. But we are done with birthdays until August.

My sister doesn’t question me when she comes up from watching cartoons. “That’s pretty,” she says. She likes everything I do. That’s why it is my job to protect her.

He has been taking a nap but suddenly we hear his roar. “What in blazes is this crap?”

There’s a place in my stomach that falls into the place where I pee, and that happens now.

My sister looks at me with animal eyes. I realize she must have left a mess of dolls or coloring books in the living room. We hear something crash, a shoe against a wall, maybe. My sister reaches for my hand, and I pull her to kneel with me before the bursting colors of our May altar.

Maryanne Stahl is a writer and folk artist who lives on a lake in metro Atlanta with her husband, son, dog, cats, ducks and other wild creatures. Her work has recently appeared in Sunscripts, Snow Monkey, Mindkites, Vestal Review, The Paumanok Review, and Salon. Her first novel, Forgive the Moon, will be published by New American Library (Penguin-Putnam) next year.


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