Saint Monica and the Devil’s Place

By Mary Biddinger

At school they were too polite to call it hell, though she heard the word on her
mother’s eight-tracks, seeping between damp towels in the bathroom, hover-
ing in the silver of the old hall mirror. Monica knew who went there and why,
regardless of time spent fluffing the chrysanthemums outside the rectory. She’d
go to the Devil’s Place herself if it meant one hour alone with Kevin McMillan
in the falling-down barn. Sister Rita said it was hot, but Monica could live
with that. Mrs. Dettweiler next door crushed cigarettes out on her daughter’s
back. She was on her way to the Devil’s Place, along with the Simmons twins,
and Monica’s uncle who thought he could piss out an electrical fire, ended
up burning down the Kroger instead. There were, of course, exceptions. If he
was mean enough you could take a cinderblock to your husband’s head in the
middle of the night, as long as you called the police afterwards, produced the
notebook of grievances when officers arrived. You could sign your husband up
for a war, then dash your face with mauve lipstick on the night they handed
him a gun. If you were married to one of the Simmons twins you could toss
the car keys down a sewer grate, sprint to JC Penney for a white sale bonanza
with the charge card, knowing you’d be safe until Randy or Ricky made it
out of the sludge. Monica would not go to the Devil’s Place over shoplifted
Raisinets or hair gel, but she would sign away her soul for an afternoon swim-
ming with Kevin McMillan in the pond at Raccoon Park, as long as they could
both be naked and the water above fifty-five degrees. Perhaps there was hope
for Monica’s uncle, provided he sold the Firebird, wheeled the recliner to the
curb and found a job. If they ever married, Monica would never torch Kevin
McMillan while he read the newspaper in his slippers and flannel boxers, or
dig a six-foot three-and-a-half-inch hole in the backyard while the children
planted daffodil bulbs. She would not include the Devil’s Place on her college
application list, as Rhonda Phillips did the day she broke her sister’s arm play-
ing darts. When the Simmons twins winked at her, Monica looked away. When
Kevin McMillan winked at her, Monica unbuttoned her shirt, showed the hot
pink swimsuit underneath.

Mary Biddinger’s most recent book is Partial Genius (Black Lawrence Press, 2019). She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Akron and NEOMFA program, and serves as poetry and poetics editor for the University of Akron Press.

Originally appeared in NOR 5

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