Sunday, May 14, 2006

"May Altar"

By Maryanne Stahl

My friend Maryanne Stahl is one of the most gifted writers I know. She can sift the pain and beauty from nearly any moment, and cast a luminous light on it. Witness all she does with this very short but very full story ...

May Altar
by Maryanne Stahl

May is the month of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, my namesake. May is flower beds blooming and tree branches greening and warm breezes through open windows on Saturday morning when my mother tells us it is time to air out our house. May is the buzzing of bees and lawnmowers; the cucumber scent of new-mown grass. May is sunlight on the sidewalks long beyond the afternoon, light still when he walks the streets from the train, light when he comes through the door, and I think that maybe light will make a difference.

I decide to make a May altar on top of the dresser, beneath the mirror, in the room I share with my sister. We don’t have a garden because my mother doesn’t have the time, what with five messy children and the stuff she does for the church and my father, but we have bushes that blossom, blood red azalea and lilac dripping purple.

I cut branches from the inside of the plant where no one will notice. I find a peanut butter jar in the trash; it takes forever to wash clean. I find an old torn slip of my mother’s in the bottom of the “poor bag” in the basement and carefully cut the lace from its hem. I take white candles from the junk drawer in the kitchen. Birthday candles. But we are done with birthdays until August.

My sister doesn’t question me when she comes up from watching cartoons. “That’s pretty,” she says. She likes everything I do. That’s why it is my job to protect her.

He has been taking a nap but suddenly we hear his roar. “What in blazes is this crap?”

There’s a place in my stomach that falls into the place where I pee, and that happens now.

My sister looks at me with animal eyes. I realize she must have left a mess of dolls or coloring books in the living room. We hear something crash, a shoe against a wall, maybe. My sister reaches for my hand, and I pull her to kneel with me before the bursting colors of our May altar.

This story first appeared in In Posse Review


If you're as taken with Maryanne's writing as I am, you'll want to read both of her published books, The Opposite Shore and Forgive the Moon. They go deep inside the human heart and you will LOVE them! Maryanne is a true artist. Visit her website at

Happy Mother's Day to all!


Myfanwy Collins said...

What a gorgeous, gorgeous story.

katrina said...

It's beautiful, just like she is.

Stephanie said...

Love this!

Ellen said...

So glad you ladies like it. Maryanne is amazing.

David Niall Wilson said...

I found it I always do when I read stories of siblings drawing a man, and father, it hurts to see, so often, that we are the villains in fiction and to wonder if it's because we are more often the villains in life - or if it's because the honesty in creativity is more often displayed by the ladies...

Time to sit and think...


RobinSlick said...

Ohhh...I'd never read this.

I miss reading Maryanne's work! This was a real treat. Thanks, Ellen.


Ellen said...

Dave and Rob ... I agree. Maryanne's work is a gift.