Devil’s Lake

Fall 2011 Issue

Traci O Connor: Buried

My mother pulls a comb through my hair and tucks a strand behind my ear. “Well,” she says, but then all the things she wants to say pile up behind her teeth, like when somebody in line stops walking but nobody else is paying attention.

The comb goes up and down, and this white dress that I am wearing, this white tile on the floor, this huge white everything of now crowds up big and fat around me, like breathing inside a Halloween mask, or mud between my toes, or like the whole world is just one sweaty white sock and I’m trying to fit all of me inside it.

My mother leads me down the hall and into a room of smiling people. I sit in the first row next to another girl in a white dress and we listen to the piano and look at pictures of John the Baptist and Jesus. The primary teacher talks about receiving the Holy Ghost, which is something like wearing a special kind of glove, and then she gives me a cake frosted to look like The Book of Mormon.

The Bishop presses a button and the wall opens. The baptismal font shimmers beneath the lights. My father takes me by the hand and we step one, two, three steps down. Warm water swirls around my chest; my dress winds around my legs. My father holds my arm and bows his head. When he pushes me under and holds me down, all I think about is how my mother was baptized four times in a row because she couldn’t keep all of herself beneath the water at once—first her toe escaped, then her hair, then the third time her hand came thrashing out.


One Sunday my father sinks a putt and wins twelve giant red BUDWEISER mugs that keep everything how you want it, cold or hot depending, and I fill them up with hot chocolate, or breakfast cereal, or one time with boiling soup. The skin inside my mouth peels off in sheets and I sip on coldest milk and my father packs the mugs into a box and puts them in the garage with his golfbag. And then he fasts and prays and repents, he says, and now we keep these Sundays holy, and my father drives us to church, which is not really a church but someone’s old house where we listen to sacrament meeting in the living room or from the dining room on gray metal chairs. Then my father, in a brown suit and a brown striped tie, shakes the hands of other brown-suited men, their faces serious and stiff, like they’re lifting heavy boxes or fixing some kind of broken machine, and they close the doors and the mothers, their rustling skirts and hands, their pantyhose legs, disappear into a bedroom at the end of the hall.

My Primary class meets in the bathroom. We three kids line up on the tub and our teacher, balanced on the edge of the toilet seat, holds pictures of John the Baptist on her lap. We learn about being accountable and worthy and total immersion and then we sit on the pink tile floor and color pictures of Jesus and the river with broken crayons without paper wrappers.

Outside the church house, the yard is mostly clover and when Primary is over, after all the singing, after the other kids have all gone home, my father has important meetings in the kitchen and my mother shelves books in the library, which is really just the linen closet, and I look for the tallest clovers. I break the stems close to the ground and tie them into chains—long lengths to loop around my neck like the stories I tell: like Hawaiian leis, or Hollywood furs, or sometimes a flowery noose and then I stretch out dead in the grass.

a photo of the author, Traci O Connor TRACI O CONNOR is the author of the short story collection Recipes for Endangered Species (Tarpaulin Sky Press). She’s published her writing in many journals and is currently at work on: a collaborative film/book project about her Mormon childhood (based on Shell-Shaped Pieces of Bone, a finalist for the Marie Alexander Poetry Prize), a series of art dolls, a novel titled Miss Burlesque, a live storytelling series, and the formation of a collaborative artist group called The Box Salon. She lives in Athens, Ohio, with her spouse—the writer Jackson Connor—their four children, a labradoodle, and a “cat”. More from this issue >