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Out, Father

By Kristin M. Distel

The wood creaked beneath our knees, as I, amid a procession of the faithful, ascended the steps inside St. John of Lateran Church, where the ancient marble staircase—too holy to trod with human feet and tourists’ dirty sneakers—is covered with an exoskeleton of oak, so each penitent can slide their hands in the carefully carved-out slits and touch the steps that once led to Pontius Pilate’s palace, but when I reached the convex glass circle that, a pamphlet I’d picked up at the front door insisted, protected droplets of Christ’s blood, I heard myself wince when I bit my tongue; an old woman next to me, the creases in her skin so deep that her tears formed little rivulets on her face, mumbled prayers and rubbed her knee, groaning quietly with pain—sia fatta la tua Volontà she repeated, saying it twice on the twentieth step, and I wondered whether it was a mistake, whether her pain had distracted her while she slipped her closed fist, full of rosary beads, into the wooden crevice and searched for remnants of Christ, as we all did, and I listened to my coarse and empty hand slide over Pontius Pilate’s marble and realized I’d forgotten to pray, that I’d forgotten the language for speaking to god: “Reciting the pater noster prayer on each of the twenty-eight steps will liberate a soul from purgatory,” my pamphlet claimed, but in 1510, Martin Luther climbed these steps on his knees, and standing at the top of them, counting the souls now loosed from purgatory, asked aloud, “Who knows whether this is true?” and as my tongue throbbed and pulsated, and as I tried to speak the prayer and release a soul from limbo, the not-hell of heaven, I accidentally said “out, Father,” and a bead of blood spilled out of my mouth, staining the wood beneath me.

Kristin M. Distel holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Ohio University; her work has appeared in Glass, The Broken Plate, The Stockholm Review of Literature, The Minetta Review, Juxtaprose, and elsewhere.

Art by Jeff Kallet.


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