I Hope God Was Watching TV by Mike Mulvey

‘I Hope God Was Watching TV’

by Mike Mulvey

 

One night during supper the phone rang. It was Miss Tobin, principal of Elm Street Elementary School. “He did what?” my mother yelled into the phone. I got caught trying to sneak out of school by my teacher, Miss Cropper.  It was a sunny day and I wanted to play on the monkey bars. When Miss Cropper tried to drag me back into our classroom, I yelled at her using words I learned from my Uncle Bob.  One day he got mad at my Aunt Mary and told her to, “Kiss my ass, ya miserable bitch!”

Monday morning I found a pair of gray pants, a white shirt, and a blue tie with a white SJS embroidered on the front lying on the chair next to my bed.

“These aren’t my school clothes,” I protested.

“I’ve enrolled you in a new school. This is the uniform,” said my mother, helping me into my new pants.

“What does the ‘SJS’ stand for?” I asked, looking at the tie.

“Saint John’s School. It’s a parochial school,” she answered.

I wanted to ask what a parochial school was and why I wasn’t going back to Elm Street School, but I could tell by the look on her face that she was in no mood.

Down Atlantic Street we went, past the town hall and up one block to Saint John’s Catholic Church.  I didn’t care for church much. The place was dark and had a weird smell. And my mother was always telling me to shut up and stop fidgeting.

As we stood on the sidewalk in front of the church, I leaned back and looked up. I was sure one of the puffy gray clouds that slowly drifted by would get caught on the steeple and pop, but somehow they all escaped.

Behind the church stood a three-story brick building. It didn’t look much like a school to me. More like a prison. “That’s your new school,” my mother said. Three large crows bounced around on the lawn in front of the school. I could swear they were laughing at me.

“Haw, haw, haw!”

“Haw, haw yourself,” I answered back, looking for a rock to throw.

Still holding my hand—she probably thought I would try to make a break for it—my mother led me up the steps and into the school. Inside was dark, like a cave.

In the school office we were greeted by a tall, skinny nun dressed in black from head to toe. Without the white bib that covered her chest and framed her pale pruney face, she could have passed for the grim reaper.

“Good morning. I’m Sister Perpetua Immaculata,” she said through tight lips. “Welcome to Saint John’s.” When I failed to answer, my mother, still holding my hand with a firm grip, shook my arm and hissed, “Answer Sister!” I looked up at my mother, then to Sister Perpetua and mumbled “Hi.”

Suddenly I had to pee.

Sister Perpetua led us upstairs and down a dark hall to a classroom where another nun greeted us at the door.  She was built like a wrestler I saw on TV, with big shoulders and a pushed-in mug for a face.

“Good morning. My name is Sister Bertilla.”

My mother smiled. She was probably thinking, ‘Here’s one of those no-nonsense nuns  who’ll smack some discipline into this kid of mine.’ I wanted to make a break for it, but my mother held onto my hand with a vise-like grip.

My mother handed me off to Sister Bertilla, said “Behave,” and walked away, disappearing down the stairs at the end of the hall. I wanted to run after her and say, “I’m sorry. I won’t ever swear again!” But she was gone.

Sister Bertilla led me by the hand to my assigned seat, the last desk in a row next to the windows. The seat farthest from the door.  Unlike Elm Street School, the desks at Saint John’s were screwed to the floor. No more bumper cars like in Miss Cropper’s room. And Sister Bertilla’s classroom was on the second floor, so there was no chance of escaping out a window when she wasn’t looking.

While Sister Bertilla led the class in morning prayers, I got the feeling I was being watched. High up on the front wall hung a large wooden cross with an almost life-like Jesus nailed to it. His head was tilted slightly to the right and his sad eyes looked down on Sister Bertilla. I don’t know how I missed him when I walked in. He was huge.

A sad-faced girl sitting next to me introduced herself. “Hello, my name is Helen, Helen Burns,” she whispered.

“Hello Helen Helen Burns,” I whispered back, wondering why her parents gave her the same first and middle name.

As Sister Bertilla droned on, I felt eyes poking into the back of my head. High up on the back wall, a picture of an old guy in a pointy hat wearing a fancy bathrobe watched over the room. He held a tall hooked cane in one hand and waved with the other.

“That’s the Holy Father, Pope Pius the Twelfth,” whispered Helen.

“I knew that,” I lied.

I felt other eyes.  When I looked to my right, I found more pictures hanging on the wall.

“That’s Saint John the Baptist,” whispered Helen, pointing to one of the pictures. “He was beheaded. And that one,” pointing to a picture to the left of Saint John, “is Saint Paul. He was beheaded too. That one is Saint Peter. He was crucified upside down.” Wow, I thought. I wonder what they did wrong?

Right behind me, in a corner next to the window, stood a tall statue on a short pedestal.

“That’s the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus,” said Helen Helen Burns.

“I knew that. Ya think I’m some kind of dope?”

I was surrounded by just about everybody who was anybody in the Catholic Church. Even though they were just pictures and statues, I felt like they were there, in the room, watching me. I wanted to go back to Elm Street School and Miss Cropper’s class where there weren’t so many people looking over my shoulder.

After lunch Sister Bert told us we were going to have a Catechism test on Wednesday. That night, after dinner, my mother made me get my shiny-new Baltimore Catechism and open up to “God and His Perfections.”

What do we mean when we say that God is all-knowing? -

When we say that God is all-knowing we mean that He knows all things,

                     past, present, and future, even our most secret thoughts, words, and actions.

          Does God see us? -

God sees us and watches over us with loving care.

We may not be able to see God, but his friends and family are keeping an eye on me at Saint John’s.

Wednesday morning I walked to school like I had an appointment with the dentist.  Having spent too much time reading Superman comics instead of studying the catechism, I’d memorized only a few of the answers to the questions. I was especially worried about the one that asked, Does God see us? I was hoping he’d be watching The Guiding Light or some other soap opera this morning.

“Did you study?” asked Helen Helen Burns.

“Of course,” I lied.

While going over the questions in my Catechism one last time, I heard two kids arguing in the front of the classroom. Fat Jimmy Hogan and Tony Malatesta were at it again. Sister Bert was across the hall talking to her tag-team wrestling partner, Sister Helga.

Tony hated Fat Jimmy and would start on him as soon as he saw the big guy waddle up the stairs into school, tugging at his baggy pants with one hand while carrying his briefcase in the other.

“Hey, Jimmy, that you? I knew I smelled something. I thought maybe I stepped in dog crap.”

“If you don’t shut that big mouth of yours, I’m gonna flatten your big guinea nose,” warned Fat Jimmy. But Tony kept yapping away.

“Hey, Jimmy. How come you eat mashed potato and baked bean sandwiches for lunch?” asked Tony.

“Cause I like ‘em,” said Jimmy, getting nose to nose with Tony.

“What I don’t understand is how you got so freakin’ fat,” said Tony. “Beans make you fart but they don’t make you fat.”

How Fat Jimmy got so fat eating baked bean and mashed potato sandwiches was one of the mysteries of the universe—along with the mystery of the Trinity:

How many Persons are there in God? -

In God there are three Divine Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

Maybe Jimmy was his own Trinity, all rolled into one fat kid.

Fat Jimmy had had enough. He took a swing at Tony, but Tony ducked. Tony knew he was overmatched by at least four inches and maybe a hundred pounds, so he did what all little kids with big mouths do when they’re about to take a beating, he ran, taking off towards the back of the room, running down the aisle next to the windows.

Jimmy was right behind him. For a fat kid he could move, but the big guy took too wide a turn going around my desk, the last desk in the row. As he took the turn, Jimmy’s big butt bumped into the pedestal that held the Virgin Mary. Mary teetered back and forth a couple of times, then fell to the floor, shattering into God only knows how many pieces. A hush came over the room like you hear in church on a Tuesday afternoon when business is slow.

Sister Bert stormed into the room. Either she heard the crash or one of the guys on the wall had squealed. Or maybe God wasn’t watching The Guiding Light that morning.

Sister Bert saw Fat Jimmy and Tony in the back of the room, and Mary scattered in pieces at their feet.  I thought I heard her mutter “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Probably not. That would be a swear, and my Aunt Mary said swearing was a sin and that you could go to Hell.

Sister Bert didn’t bother to ask how it happened. With Fat Jimmy and Tony standing there and Mary in a thousand pieces, she figured it out for herself. She was ugly, but she was no dope.

“Come with me, you two,” she ordered. Sister Bertilla grabbed each by the arm and dragged them away, Fat Jimmy sobbing and Tony whining, “I didn’t do nuthin’.”

Word on the playground after lunch was that the two were taken to Sister Perpetua, who then took them to see Father Cavanaugh. I prayed Sister Perpetua didn’t even think I had anything to do with the breaking of the statue. But if God really does see everything, I was safe—or should be if the Catechism was right. I was starting to have my doubts, though.

When we came in from recess, Jimmy and Tony’s jackets were gone from their coat hooks and their desks were empty. No one had to nerve to ask Sister Bert where Jimmy and Tony had gone. We sat quietly for the rest of the day, stunned.

After school a bunch of us stood around on the sidewalk in front of the church wondering where Jimmy and Tony had disappeared to. “My Aunt Joan told me the Church can take you away from your parents and send you to an orphanage if you commit too many sins,” said a wide-eyed girl named Margaret O’Meara.

“That’s a crock,” yelled Eddie Hanlon. His dirty white shirt hung out of his pants and there was a jelly-stain on his tie just below the SJS.  “A crock of shit,” he added when I gave him a puzzled look. He must have learned that from one of his uncles.

“You swore,” yelled Helen Helen Burns. “I’m telling Sister Bertilla.”

“You do and I’ll punch your friggin’ face in,” yelled Eddie, nose to nose with Helen.  Helen backed away, holding her briefcase up in front of her for protection. Eddie was hoping the rumors about sinners being taken away to an orphanage weren’t true. He swore almost as much as my Uncle Bob.

“Breaking a statue of the Virgin Mary isn’t a mortal sin, just a venal sin,” said Jane, a red-haired girl who sat next to Helen Helen Burns.

“I heard it too. You can get sent to an orphanage, but only if you commit too many mortal sins,” added Annie, another smarty pants who sat next to Jane.

“It’s venial not venal, and I’m not sure breaking a statue is even a venial sin,” said Helen. “Besides, it was an accident. Jimmy didn’t bump into Mary on purpose.”

I didn’t know if breaking a statue was a mortal sin or just a venial sin, but whatever it was, Jimmy and Tony were gone. I wanted to ask Helen that if God really does know all things, past, present and future as the Catechism says, then why didn’t he move the pedestal before Jimmy bumped into it?  Maybe the Catechism was a crock. How could God be everywhere and see everything? Not even Superman was that fast.

“What are you guys talking about?” asked Tommy, walking up to our group.

“Fat Jimmy and Tony,” said Jane. “We’re wondering if they got sent to an orphanage.”

“I was sitting in the office and I heard Father Cavanaugh tell Sister Perpetua he was going to expel them for breaking the statue of Mary. They’ll both have to go back to a public school.”

“So all this stuff about orphanages is just a load of crap,” said Eddy, giving Margaret and Annie a hard look.  Margaret backed away and Annie hid behind me.

We all stood there, shuffling our feet and staring at the sidewalk until Helen sighed and muttered, “I have to get home.” She turned and headed down Atlantic Street, lugging her heavy leather briefcase. After a few moments, the crowd broke up and headed home, all carrying the same heavy leather briefcases.

My head hurt and I had to pee. I was wishing I was back at Elm Street School. I’d tell Miss Cropper I was sorry for calling her a miserable bitch and that I’d never do it ever again. But there was no way out. I was stuck at Saint John’s with Sister Bert. A nun with a mug like a wrestler.

And then I thought of Jimmy and Tony.

I turned around and walked back into school, up the stairs, down the long dark hallway and into my classroom. Sister Bert sat at her big desk correcting our papers.

“Sister, I tripped Jimmy as he ran by my desk. It was my fault he bumped into the statue. It’s all my fault.”

Sister Bert put down her red marking pencil, folded her hands and frowned.

I smiled.

 

Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below

 
Mike Mulvey

Bio:

Mike Mulvey, the illegitimate offspring of a gin-addled Dorothy Parker and a Guinness-stained Brendan Behan, is an instructor of English at Central Connecticut State University.  He’s been published in over a dozen literary magazines and journals, print and electronic, based in the United States and the UK, some of which you’ve probably never heard of.
 

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Photo by Anjumon Sahin

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7 Responses to I Hope God Was Watching TV by Mike Mulvey

  1. Ha! I enjoyed this – some great characters and I loved the twist at the end.

    • Roadside

      Helen Helen Brown!

  2. Hey Mike, enjoyed the story! That kid should go far in life. One of the best parts of the story for me is the conversation between the kids after the two boys disappear. Wild, awful rumor and speculation are hallmarks of childhood and you render that beautifully.

  3. garreth keating

    I find this story very easy to relate to, I love the title and the opening, and it keeps the reader’s interest, thanks!

  4. Great child’s POV Mike – really liked it a lot!

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