Cotton Alms (Story by Risa Peris)

Before my father taught be about cotton alms, he spoke of the Devil.

“Get thee behind me, Devil,” said he.

And then he would laugh in that merciless way. No joy in it. Mother would become rigid even as she was pounding doughy dough on the kitchen island. I could see her arms straighten like ice picks.

“You see the Devil son…he plays with you. He entices you. He draws you towards his supple body. His body is supple. He welcomes all his acolytes with the baby softness of his skin. He has no scales. No horns. Just an inviting body. Like a whore. You know what a whore is son?”

I blushed and tugged at my Dodgers baseball shirt. I was ten and noticing girls at school. Some were pretty and some were awkward. I liked a girl, Adrian, who wore glasses. She sneezed a lot from allergies but I liked her long, dark hair and her sweet smile that revealed crooked teeth.

I was ten and noticed women in tight clothes and terribly high heels walking down Sunset. Dad would point them out.

“You gotta pay for that ride.” Laughter. Again. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The day father lectured me on the Devil we pulled into an In n’ Out parking lot. Father drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Gotta watch out for the Devil.” He scratched his graying hair. “Have to avoid the embrace.”

“What about God?” I asked.

“Ahhhh, fluffy words. But God is harsh. Believe me. Let his only son get tortured and killed. Real bastard he was. But pay attention to those fluffy words. It is only envisioning the cotton of heaven that you reach heaven. Just don’t expect any softness from God despite all the cotton. Never. Ever. God judges. The Devil accepts.”

Someone knocked on my father’s car window.

“You got it?” The man was black and wearing a hoodie. Father opened the glove compartment and withdrew a white block of something.

“Got the money?” Father asked.

The man dug in his pocket and shoved a wad of cash in father’s hands. Then, as if the sky opened and poured rain, police descended upon the car with guns. Father just laughed.

“I’m going to greet the Devil.” He gripped my arm. “You learn those cotton alms. You learn God. He’s a jerk, but he will save you. He won’t be kind though. Anyhow, take care of your Ma. She loves you. Kindness ain’t crap though. But stay away from the Devil. I can tell you have the toughness for God. Be good.”

They took father away in handcuffs. A lady police officer got me out of the car.

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“God is tough. The Devil is soft.”

“Not where he’s going,” she said. Then she dialed social services.


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