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At a parish council meeting, some women clustering together
decide, whispering so as not to be overheard and hurt his
feelings, that the priest’s shirt, decidedly dirty (for God’s
sake a smear of fast food and the brown burn of cigarette on
one pocket) is but the latest sign of domestic disorder, and
that it is time for a good soul with nothing but time on her
hands to finally take over his housework. And, so, now, there
is the woman who does the priest’s laundry although her name
is not listed in the church bulletin of course. She is, as
everyone says, the salt of the earth, or, at least, the knees
of Our Lady of Sorrows, this old woman who, for years, kneels
in a back pew although the more hurried parishioners claim never
to have seen her, which does not prevent them from asking her
to take the job, even before they recognize that no one else
will do it. And, the woman accepts the committee’s appointment,
of course, although her motivations would surprise them, having
little to do with devotion to the priest and even less to
parochial duty. She also does not look, although her visitors
offer this as payment, for spiritual rewards in humble service.
Instead, in the priest’s mildewed basket spilling rumpled sheets
and dirty tablecloths, she sees images on a silver screen, the
possibilities of blank canvases. The laundry clutches at her
wrists with steamy surfaces, harder to shake than the toddlers
in the nursery who weekly tug at her balance as if demanding
a last look, some rough stroke of recognition before the familiar
strangers take them home. Without softness, she gathers them:
the soggy towels and soggier infants. No call for humility,
nor pride in her work; she simply knows what she sees and that
her vision is a poem whispered in an old lover’s foreign words
which only she can translate and then swallow like a coded
message in a child’s mysterious game. Massaging her arthritic
hands to a new morning’s work, she steps to the line and takes
the pin from her mouth closed against spills, closed against
loss. Weak eyes water against the strong winter sunlight.
She wipes the tears and lifts her arms into the whiteness, the