Devil’s Lake

Fall 2015 Issue

Gabrielle Montesanti: A Bayou in South Texas

I once felt something like God on a bayou in south Texas. Flat on my back, I propped up each of my legs on the edges of a kayak. My toes drank up the water like roots; I ignored three pairs of alligator eyes glaring from the hollow weeds. I go back to the bayou not for that strange holiness but to rock until I am calm.

I’ve taught many people how to swim: a pregnant woman with a swollen belly that kept her afloat, a little Hispanic boy with waist-long hair and arms that bent like pipe cleaners, and a black student from St. Louis who called himself a believer. I told him I was raised Catholic and he asked me if I knew anything about nuns. “My mom used to be a cleaning lady at a convent,” he said. “She stripped the nuns’ beds while they were out and found dildos underneath their mattresses, discarded and still damp.”

I invited him to a Catholic mass one Sunday, not because I wanted to converse with God, but because I wanted to sit in a holy place with him and imagine those nuns masturbating on creaky twin beds. I had hoped that when the service was over, he could better understand the trials of a Catholic girlhood, but instead he just said, “It’s a miracle you Catholics don’t all get sick from drinking out of the same cup.“ On the walk home, I asked him if he thought God hated fags. “Of course not,” he told me. “God loves you even though you’re gay. Remember those nuns I was telling you about? A lot of them had sex with each other. A couple even had threesomes with the priest. I think we all need touch to survive.”

Often, I wondered where the nuns went to do it. Were the showers private enough? I imagined their habits in a pile on the bathroom tiles and crucifix tattoos on their round asses. After the sex, did they wrestle with the same guilt I did and stand naked under the water trying to scrub themselves clean? I imagined them braiding their damp hair while refusing to look at their own reflections in the mirror.

The bayou was too cloudy to look down and see myself, but that pleased me. Rocking in my kayak, I thought back to sitting on a hard pew beside my mother in church. When she sang the hymns I pretended she was singing them to me. I could feel the heat from her body, which almost felt like being touched.

GABRIELLE MONTESANTI, a new writer and an old soul, is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College. As an undergraduate, she studied mathematics and studio art. Her senior thesis was a nonfiction piece about her experience working for visual artists in Rome, and the project received honors from the college. After graduation, she tamed chickens and befriended a donkey at Sundress Academy for the Arts, which is where she wrote and revised “A Bayou in South Texas.” She will begin an MFA program this fall in creative nonfiction. More from this issue >