The Case for the Child Saint of Indiana
The girl is petitioning for the sainthood of another girl who has died. She did not know this girl personally, which, in her opinion, makes her a more impartial and trustworthy petitioner. Anne spoke with her just once, though she had seen her plenty of times. The dead girl went to her school. In life, the saint was only two years older, though now Anne is catching up, since the dead do not grow older and must eternally remain their age at their death-date.
Anne writes impassioned letters to the local priest, the bishop, and Cardinal Maida, who lives in Detroit. These letters outline the candidate’s virtues and accomplishments: She was a straight-A student. She gave free piano lessons to one of his sister’s friends. She was pure of heart. She occasionally read books out loud to old people at the retirement home. She wanted to be an optometrist, to help people see.
There has also never been a saint from Indiana, a fact Anne points out to bolster her case, politically.
There are many available library books about saints, but only one about how someone is made a saint. Its cover shows a flock of monks and nuns soaring above clouds, each with a fat yellow halo.
Should a candidate show promise, the book tells her, he is assigned an Advocate for the Cause of Sainthood, usually a cardinal, who makes a case for the candidate’s beatification. Until that cardinal is assigned, Anne will be this advocate. She will gather the evidence. She will compile the accounts of the saint’s supernatural deeds.
In order to get someone beatified, you must to prove they’ve caused miracles by way of intercession. This means, as far as the advocate can figure, they are a kind of answering machine for God.
And so Anne prays to her, hoping she might intercede on her behalf. So far she has answered several of these prayers, including a request for the smooth recovery of his aunt after her hip replacement. Anne includes this in the letters.
In addition to the letters, she keeps a manila envelope containing a copy of her obituary, notes from interviews with her friends, a newspaper article detailing the accident on the freeway, and a list of possible miracles.
Anne saw her perform one of these last summer, at the parish picnic. She made a dollar bill levitate between her hands. Seated at one of the card tables near the dunk tank, she took a dollar, crumpled it up, and then gently cupped it in her palms. After a few twitches, the bill floated three, four inches above her hands.
Anne’s sister said she could see the string in the right light, like spiderweb. She had looked it up later and found out you could buy this kind of string online. You put one end in your mouth and taped the other to the table. But Anne didn’t see any string.
“Was that real?” Anne asked the girl later that night, the one time she spoke with her.
She smiled. She had very large teeth.
“You saw, right?”
When she learned the girl had died, she thought of that balled-up dollar bill bobbing in midair.
The advocate could never be a saint herself. She is far too evil. She entertains evil thoughts. She watches forbidden TV shows in the basement. She soaks paper towels in hand sanitizer and watches them burn up in invisible flame. She has wished terrible things would happen to her teachers (tiger pit, amoebic dysentery), or to his sister (mustache, Madagascar hissing cockroaches in bed). The advocate has lived a selfish life, she knows it. She is not some magical person. But if she saints the dead girl, she will have done some good in the world. Even if Anne can’t be a saint, getting the girl beatified could make her better.
This is another sign of the saint’s sainthood.
She needs more evidence. This is why she has not heard back from the bishop or Cardinal Maida. To this end, she has written to the family, begging for their cooperation in her mission, but they have yet to respond.
One afternoon she walks to the dead girl’s house to interview them. (She found the address in the parish directory, opposite a family portrait in which the girl, her older brother, and her parents stood in front of a gray backdrop that looked like the bottom of a storm cloud.)
The advocate walks along River Road, where he sees a heron snag a minnow from the soupy brown water.
She imagines a spring erupting from the saint’s yard upon her arrival. Or a flock of white doves roosting on the roof. A blue flower that never wilts its petals. One hundred crumpled-up dollar bills floating like little green clouds above her head.
The house is four miles away. By the time she gets there it is much later than she’d imagined. Inside she can see the girl’s parents watching TV. Law and Order, is her guess.
She wants to interview them. Do they recall any instances of bilocation? Stigmata? Did their daughter corporally mortify? Experience visions?
The dead girl’s father changes the channels during commercials. The advocate can see the gold watch on the man’s thick wrist. On the wall is a framed painting of a kiwi.
Spying on them, watching them watch TV, she feels like she is dead herself. She cannot bring herself to ring the doorbell or ask for an interview. She cannot think of how to start the conversation.
A dog barks at her through the skinny windows on the stoop, and then the door opens. It is the candidate’s mother. She wears a large pink robe.
“Can I help you?” she asks.
“Can I use your bathroom? It’s an emergency. I’m sorry.”
“Um. Sure. That’s fine I guess.”
The house smells like cooked fish. The dog leaps up and puts his paws on her shoulders like he is trying to dance with her. The saint’s mother leads her to a bathroom near the front door.
Anne does not have to use the bathroom, so she says a quick prayer of apology for lying to the saint’s mother, flushes the toilet, and runs the sink.
She has plenty of time to interview them, she tells herself as she scans the bathroom wall for any blobs resembling Christ or the Virgin. Maybe she could call the girl’s brother, who’s in college in Bloomington.
She tries to sneak a glimpse of the living room before she leaves, but all she sees is the painting of the kiwi.
Before returning home, she takes a few blades of grass from her yard and slips them into a Ziplock sandwich baggie. They’ll go in the envelope.
A saint is anyone who goes to Heaven. It should not be so difficult to prove the girl is up there, sitting on furniture made of cloud, watching a TV made of cloud. Why shouldn’t she be counted in the Communion of Saints?
The advocate walks the long way home in the dark. She has not told her parents where she was going, only that she was taking a walk. They will be worried about her.
It occurs to her that the amount of time it will take to get the candidate sainted is much longer than the girl had to live. It could take the advocate’s whole life, or longer.