~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
Whenever I went to Sunday School, it wasn’t because I wanted to; it was because I was made to go; I had no choice. (As a child, I never had much choice about anything.) I was in the twelve-to-fifteen age group, so I was herded into an upstairs room in the “educational building” with about twelve other boys. I knew some of them from school, but some of them I had never seen before. At no time in my life have I ever enjoyed being closed up in a hot room with a lot of people I don’t like or don’t know.
We were supposed to be on our best behavior. We were supposed to sit and listen to the lesson of the day, whatever it was, always something from the Bible. We were wearing suits or other clothes we didn’t usually wear. The educational building wasn’t air conditioned. It was as hot in the building as it was outside on the pavement in front of the church. It was a small slice of hell.
The Sunday School “teachers” were volunteers. They thought they were serving God and mankind (it looked good on a resume), but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it. On one particular Sunday in August, we were just beginning the lesson when there was a knock at the door. Our teacher, Mr. Mahoney (a fat insurance salesman) nearly turned his chair over while he was getting up. It wasn’t much of a chair to begin with. It’s what used to be called a “bridge chair.”
The person knocking at the door was Mr. Lightsey. He and Mr. Mahoney were the best of friends. They could often be heard laughing and joking together, as if they knew something that nobody else knew. Mr. Lightsey was taking Mr. Mahoney away from the class, for some reason that wasn’t divulged to us.
“Sit quietly and read over today’s lesson,” Mr. Mahoney said. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
With no adult present, the boys said what they were thinking.
“Where’s that fat son-of-a-bitch going?”
“He and Mr. Lightsey have some unfinished business to attend to.”
“I hope he stays gone the whole hour, and then it’ll be time to go home.”
“Not if you have to stay for church!”
“I hate church!”
“You said it, brother!”
“It’s so hot in here, I think I’m going to vomit!”
“If Mr. Fatty isn’t back in five minutes, I’m going home!”
“I can’t go home until after church is over.”
“I’m going to set off a stink bomb in the church today. Then they’ll send everybody home.”
“No, they won’t! Where would you get a stink bomb?”
“I made it myself.”
“Let me see it.”
“I don’t have to show it to you if I don’t want to.”
“You’re too much of a pussy to set off a stink bomb in church!”
“He’s right! You don’t have the nerve!”
“Does anybody have any cigarettes? I’m having a nicotine fit!”
“You can’t smoke in here, Dumb Ass. It’s a church!”
“I don’t care. If I had a cigarette, I’d smoke it.”
“When Mr. Fatty comes back, he’d be able to smell it.”
“I don’t care. He can go stuff it.”
“He might not come back.”
“That’s fine with me.”
“Let’s all leave. When Mr. Fatty comes back, it’ll be to an empty room.”
“Screw him! He makes me sick!”
“They all make me sick!”
“Do I make you sick?”
“Sitting here like this, waiting, is worse than school.”
“Sunday School is always worse than school. It’s so lame!
“Did you ever have to go to Vacation Bible School?”
“Every year I go! My mother thinks every time the church opens its doors, I’m supposed to be there.”
“Mothers make me sick!”
“I wish I had never been born. If I had never been born, I wouldn’t be sitting in a hot church right now.”
“I don’t think Sunday School is doing any of us any good.”
“How could it? This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”
“It’s so lame!”
“I get sick of always having to do all the time what somebody tells me to do.”
“You said it!”
“We have to go to school because it’s the law. We don’t have to go to Sunday School, though.”
“Yeah, it makes me sick.”
“Church is for lame old women. It’s not for younger people.”
“They love to sing hymns. It reminds them of when they were young.”
“I don’t think they can remember back that far.”
“They’re afraid of dying and going to hell.”
“Aren’t you afraid of dying and going to hell?”
“No, I’m not! I don’t believe in hell. I think it’s just a fairy story to scare people. Somebody thought it up a long time ago.”
“If you really think about hell, it just doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
“Yeah, it is kind of cruel, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, isn’t life cruel enough!”
“Apparently not for some people.”
“Maybe some of us should go looking for Mr. Fatty.”
“Why would be do that?”
“Tell him we don’t like to be kept waiting, and if he doesn’t come back and teach his class we’re all going to leave. Screw him, man!”
“Yeah, he makes me sick.”
“I’ll go. He’s probably outside running his big fat mouth. I’ll bet he’s smoking a cigarette, too. I’d like to cram it down his throat.”
“He’s a piss-poor excuse for a Sunday School teacher. I will say that for him.”
“We don’t have to take his shit!”
“Let’s wreck this room!”
“Wreck it how? It’s already wrecked.”
“We could start by tearing up our lessons and strewing them on the floor!”
“That’s so lame, man!”
“No, watch this!”
One boy was as tall and broad as a grown man. His clothes were too small as if he had experienced a recent growth spurt. He stood up from his chair and punched a hole in the wall with his fist.
“Now, that’s more like it!”
“Let’s all do it!”
Two or three of the others stood up and punched holes in the wall, and then we all did it. It was like a party. Even I did it and I usually never defied authority. It wasn’t that hard to do. The walls were soft and cheaply made. They were probably done around the time of the First World War by a church volunteer.
“I think I hear Mr. Fatty coming back!”
We all hurried back to our chairs, but it was a false alarm. It wasn’t Mr. Fatty. It was somebody looking for the toilet.
A few minutes later the bell rang, signaling the end of Sunday School. The church service for the day would begin in five minutes.
“Halfway through,” I said. “I can go home in about an hour and ten minutes.”
I sat on the end of the pew so I could get away at the last “amen.” I wasn’t going to let some fat son-of-a-bitch hog me out of the way. It was as if I was glued to the spot.
During the sermon, I was so bored I thought I was going to be sick. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back.
When I got home, my mother was in the kitchen fixing sandwiches for lunch. My father was sitting in front of the fan in his Bermuda shorts. He looked so silly with his hair blowing I could hardly keep from laughing.
“How was church today?” my mother asked.
“Hot,” I said.
“What was the sermon about?”
“I don’t remember. I fell asleep.”
“Didn’t you get enough sleep last night?”
“I guess I did. I don’t remember.”
“What was the subject of your Sunday School lesson?”
“Punching holes in the wall.”
“I don’t think church is doing you much good,” she said.
“Does that mean I don’t have to go anymore?” I asked.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp