by Lizzie Lawson
The church kitchen. I’m at the rolling table surrounded by Catholic women my grandmother’s age. They peel and mix and roll and crimp. I flatten greasy dough into circles and throw them over open pies heaped with spiced apples and thick pats of butter. “Sometimes it feels good just to sit,” a tall woman says, slumping her shoulders forward. “To do nothing but just sit.” Clip-on earrings poke out of hairnets. I try to keep up with their hands. My mother rushes after beeping timers, opening ovens, flooding the kitchen with heat. “Can you believe the deacon asked me to be in charge of all this?” my mother asks as she passes by. She ticks through all the details—the supplies, the cleaning, the volunteers called in advance. “I felt bad saying no, but at least I run the nut sale.” A pink-sweatered lady whisks away my topped pies, and empty pans appear in their place. Every year, people complain the pies sell out too fast. The chatty woman next to me asks what grade I’m in. “Oh no,” I say. “I’m a working woman now.” I’m twenty-three, and I just started a corporate job that, I think, sounds impressive. I inhale the smell of buttery dough and resist the urge to eat some. “She’s also newly married,” my mother cuts in, and everyone turns to look at me, mouths open in excitement, as I shrink back. I answer their questions about the ceremony and the priest and my husband’s graduate studies in as few words as possible, staring down at my rolling pin until finally I’m left alone. I’m twenty-three, and I don’t know what it means for me to be married. I saw a Catholic blog post about how boring life could be as a wife and mother with nothing but domestic chores to look forward to. “But it’s good,” the blogger wrote. “Boring makes us holy.” I brush floury crumbs into a clump at the edge of my area. I feel fragile in this church. I spent every Sunday of my childhood in the front row, hands folded, faced forward, listening to the priest who sighed when I said my confessions and always found something to criticize when I did the readings. I struggle and sweat over my next piece of dough, and a white-haired lady touches my elbow. She shows me a better way to hold the rolling pin. That’s much easier. “It’s hot in here,” says a woman with strawberry earrings. “Better stay away from me then!” the white-haired lady responds, a finger to her chin. They laugh, and I feel myself smile. The women talk about casserole recipes and their mothers and how anti-Catholic the world is becoming. I think about how easily this could be my life. I could raise children, organize fundraisers, grow old with family and faith, and be satisfied in the knowledge that I am doing everything exactly as I am supposed to. Or I could do something else, build a life that’s unknowable and selfish and full of secret plans and leave my hometown and not care about the important things until I’ve disgraced my family and it’s too late. I take my time rolling, really try to get it right. “You know, they use real lard in this dough,” the tall woman says to no one in particular. “No vegetable shortening, this is real pig’s fat.” My mother grabs a rolling pin, saying she’s got three minutes to spare. She forces a too-small, too-thick piece of dough into a tin and asks me about my husband. “What do you do while he is busy studying?” she asks. “Whatever I want,” I snap. I sneak a bite of raw dough, and the grains of sugar crunch and melt on my tongue.
Lizzie Lawson is an essayist and fiction writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she’s working on an MFA in creative writing at The Ohio State University.