Butter-drenched Fingers, Clasped Tightly in Prayer

By John Adams

Dear God, I am very much sorry about three things.

First, I am very much sorry for not praying recently. That is Petunia’s fault. She sleeps in the next cot and teases me for praying. I am glad you did not put me on Earth to judge others. I would very much judge Petunia.

Second, I am very much sorry about the thing I did that made one person die and another person go to jail and another person say a naughty word meaning “bottom.” That is also Petunia’s fault.

Third, I am very much sorry I stuck my fingers in the butter at Fancy Lunch. That is my fault.

Let me tell you more about the second thing, which is Petunia’s fault.

We had just served Fancy Lunch to Matron Malloy’s lady friends from the Gentlewomen of Johnson County. (They are much friendlier than her grumpy man friends from Kansas City.)

We were in the parlor of our orphanage—Malloy’s Girls Home—in the godly community of Mission, Kansas.

“Bewildered Belinda, the yellow-belly!” Petunia sang. The other girls cackled.

“I am no yellow-belly!” I hollered. “I am brave, like the Christians who enforce Prohibition across our nation. And stop calling me ‘Bewildered Belinda’!”

“I shall call you whatever I please, Bewildered Belinda.” Petunia pushed tiny, hobbled Emma aside and loomed over me. “Now, go wash your hands. They’re still buttery.”

Matron Malloy stepped into the parlor, thwapping her cane against the wooden floor. “Girls! Time for your performance!” We scurried outside. (I went last so I could lick my delicious fingers in private.)

Now, let me tell you about our performance.

Last month, Matron Malloy took us via locomotive into Kansas City to see Daisy Daydream’s Farm—my first-ever moving picture. I laughed when Daisy stomped on the bottom of the rake. The handle shot up and knocked her noggin! (You should see it, God!)

The only part I did not like was whenever Daisy talked, because the screen showed words I could not read. Petunia called them “title cards.” She teased me that Daisy was telling the whole theater what a yellow-belly I am. (Petunia fibs!)

Matron Malloy goes to Kansas City often, but never before with us. This was a special night. When we returned, she announced we were to perform a play based on the very picture show we just watched—for none other than the Gentlewomen of Johnson County! If we delighted them, they would “take us up as their cause,” which Matron Malloy said was a good thing.

We rehearsed our play in the garden every afternoon for weeks. Each day, I cried to Matron Malloy, begging her to let me play Daisy Daydream. She chose Petunia instead and cast me as Pig #2. (That made me cross, which is why I took your name in vain that one day, so I guess that is a fourth thing I apologize for, God.)

The day of the play, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County arrived in sleek motorcars. We served them what Matron Malloy called “Fancy Lunch.” (The butter was very fancy, indeed!) The ladies wore crepe dresses and felt hats—even Matron Malloy brought her nicest cane!

During Fancy Lunch, one of Matron Malloy’s grumpy Kansas City friends visited. I very much did not like him. (Nor would you, God.) He had a crooked nose and crossed arms. Matron Malloy glared at him, the way she once glared when tiny, hobbled Emma slurped applesauce.

After Fancy Lunch, we performed Daisy Daydream’s Farm. It was horrible. The crooked-nose man just scowled, arms crossed. The society ladies called me “piglet.” Worse still, when Petunia stepped on the rake, she dodged! It didn’t knock her noggin—not even a little! (I now agree with other Christians that acting is sinful.)

Afterwards, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County left, cooing of “temperance” and “temperament.”

But that crooked-nose man? He didn’t leave. When Matron Malloy ordered us girls to bed, he stayed.

In the parlor.

With her.

Arms crossed.

I lay in my cot, thinking about that spooky fellow. And about something else, too: Petunia’s teasing. “I’m no yellow-belly, Petunia,” I muttered to myself, throwing off my blanket.

“Belinda?” croaked tiny, hobbled Emma.

“Hush,” I whispered, racing down the hall.

I quietly opened the parlor door, peeking inside. The crooked-nose man clenched Matron Malloy’s bony shoulders. “Boss Pendergast says you’re skimmin’ off his booze money out here in the boonies,” he hissed. “Time for retirement.”

My very frightened throat squeaked.

“Huh?” The crooked-nose man twisted around, releasing Matron Malloy.

She sighed, yanked her cane forward, and thwapped his crooked nose.

14 times.

It only took six.

He lay before her, bleeding. He twitched… sputtered… stopped. Matron Malloy casually shrugged dirt from her nice dress, smiling at me. But not a nice smile. “Good girls stay in bed, Belinda. Naughty girls… get punished.”

She lunged across the parlor. I scampered back, ducking as her bloody cane whooshed by my head. I dashed out the front door, Matron Malloy close behind. Shrieking, I ran across the garden, hopping over set pieces from the afternoon’s performance.

Something wooden thwapped behind me. I was certain it was the cane, sending me to heaven.

But instead of angels… I heard tiny, hobbled Emma’s victory cheer: “Her [naughty word] is clobbered!” (I won’t repeat Emma’s actual word, God, because it is naughty and means “bottom,” but it also means “donkey,” so if you want to pretend she meant “donkey,” I will share that the word was “ass.”)

Thank you, God. Thank you for leaving that rake where Matron Malloy would stomp, knocking her noggin into deep sleep. Thank you for sending us Mrs. Salisbury, our new matron who is not (as the Gentlewomen of Johnson County whisper) “enmeshed in moonshine, murder, and that ghastly Kansas City mafia.” And thank you for finally stopping Petunia from calling me “Bewildered Belinda.” I very much prefer my new name: “Brave Belinda.”

Please forgive my four trespasses. In Jesus’s name, amen.

John Adams (he/him/his) is a writer, improviser, and producer from Kansas City. He primarily writes the genre he’s coined “inclusive absurdist speculative melodrama” – which means “monsters, aliens, and ridiculously huge emotions.” His fiction has been selected for publication by Dream of Shadows, Siren’s Call, 101words.org, and The Drabble and shortlisted in The Molotov Cocktail’s 2019 Flash Monster Contest. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions, 2018, 2020) and the 6×10 Play Festival (The Barn Players, 2016) and selected for readings for the Midwest Dramatists Conference (Midwest Dramatists Center, 2017, 2018, 2019). He performs at comicons and comedy festivals across the United States with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: http://JohnAmusesNoOne.com. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

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