Every Sunday right before July 20th—or July 20th itself if it fortuitously fell on a Sunday—Marcelo and Carlos and Lexie would gather at Mamá’s house early in the morning. They would all bundle into one car and drive the few blocks to her church. There was always a debate as to who would drive. As Lexie usually had the worst car, she mercifully was excluded. Carlos preferred larger SUV’s, so the family normally decided on his car, which he took with a resigned equanimity, being used, as the oldest child, to doing the yeoman’s work in the family. Marcelo never understood why there was such a hubbub every year. Oftentimes he would offer to drive, just to keep peace; their mother, however—who had never owned a car nor in fact had ever learned how to drive—always preferred going in Carlos’ truck, both for the roominess, and because customarily he drove slowly and carefully when she was in the car, figuring that the past of least resistance led to Paradise, or at least to peace with Mamá. Marcelo, also customarily, though he never drove more speedily than normal, also never changed his driving habits simply because one person or the other was in his car. This included Mamá.
“You’re going to give me a thrombosis,” she would say almost always when she would get into the car with him. Marcelo would meet that with the frustrated grunt and the eye-roll he had perfected as a teenager.
On that day, or near about it, they had their yearly appointment to hear a Mass for the dead. Every year Mamá would arrange for Papá’s name to be mentioned in the Spanish 10 a.m. Mass when the priest asked the congregation to remember the recently and not-so-recently deceased. Carlos—father, ex-husband, all-around decent fellow despite his torture of Marcelo when younger—would bow his tall, slightly stooped frame when that portion of the Mass would arrive—not so much out of religious conviction, but out of filial duty. Lexie always glanced discretely at Mamá to make sure that her eyes were cast down, and then allow her gaze to wander, taking in the parishioners, some dressed in Sunday finery, others in backwards baseball caps and shorts reaching down below their knees. Mamá would let out a phantom sob at the point in the Mass when the priest read Papá’s name. Marcelo would stare straight ahead throughout most of the service, normally not glancing left or right, his eyes fixed on the priest, the altar-servers—no longer altar boys as they had been as recently as his youth, no, girls could now serve the Mass, which, while he considered it to be commendable, he also considered it to miss the broader point of sexual politics in the Church—the altar, the looming, bloody crucifix that seemed to always exude a pain and suffering that taunted the worshipper, diminishing him or her to the kind of insignificance one sometimes feels upon considering the vastness of the universe and the minuteness of the self. That morbid iconography always left an impression on him that nothing anyone ever did would quite measure up to that sacrifice on a gnarled tree, and he resented the fruitlessness it suggested. Of course, that was the point, wasn’t it? He had concluded that any religion which posited that salvation was available only through adherence to a beaten and bloodied figure was not one for him. Yet, every year, there he would be, in the pew, kneeling, sitting, standing, genuflecting, even going up to receive the Host. As with his driving, it was a hard-wired habit.