by Kate Sheckler

I'm going to Hell. Really. This is a subject that I know something about. I sat through the weekly sermons of the pious (and pimpled) Reverend Joseph to good purpose; so I am very clear about just where it is that I am heading when I die.

Those sermons were detailed—and long. By the time I was five years old I had memorized the good Reverend's descriptions of the torture inflicted on those who did not follow the unforgiving terms set out by our Baptist deity as completely as I'd memorized the swirl and flow of the grain of the wooden slats that reverently clasped the hymnals against the back of the pew my family's seats faced. By the age of six I could describe the face of a demon just as accurately as I could trace the shape and texture of every worn spot on the wine colored velvet cushions upon which we sat (wine colored to hide the grape juice stains). Even now, at 51, I can close my eyes and see the woeful face of Jesus looking down from his extravagant portrait in the stain-glass window above me.

I always assumed that his woe was for my repulsive proclivities—because at seven I knew that I wasn't supposed to want to kiss Joey Clemens. I wasn't supposed to want to kiss anyone, but if there was any kissing hovering about my budding self it should have had Laura Stickly's pale rose cheek as its object, not the grubby neck of my best friend Joey. But it was Joey's brown skin that drew me and filled my thoughts. I would sit in church listening to Reverend Joseph's thunder and, while looking down at my Sunday-best, brown gabardine pants, think of the way Joey's lisping words pulled his mouth into a lopsided grin. As those descriptions of damnation showered down from above, I would concentrate on keeping my dangling feet still and remember the way Joey's arms had looked on the previous day, when he had stretched them towards me in an effort to tag me out at second base. I would sit, remembering his smell, and feel slightly dizzy in the brilliant sun that shone through the window portraying Jesus on the cross—drops of blood and all. Sunlight that, by the alchemy of those images, would color the skin of the hands I clasped before me a liquid and shifting red.

No one knew. I am not now and was not then effeminate. Joey may have attempted that tag out at second, but I plowed him over and left him in the dirt as I made third. By the age of eight, the very least I required of my turn at bat was a double and if I was the one carrying the football, players scattered. I'm built on a large scale; and even then my body and I had an understanding. Our high school cheerleading squad would scream my name in ecstasy with each touchdown I produced. One of them was wont to fall to her knees in tears when I soared past with the ball tucked tight under my elbow.

I heard that she wept again when, years later, news got round that my taste in companions ran to those who—in words of Reverend Joseph and the attitudes of my tiny, Midwestern hometown—were "approved by the devil."

Yes indeed, arriving at 18 on the campus of my history-ridden, eastern University was a relief—and a revelation. It was on the green, manicured lawn of the quad and within those dignified, ivy-covered bricks that I learned the codes of communication and the rules of engagement of a game I had instinctively known existed. It was there, behind the locked door of my frat room, that I first felt the thickening in my throat and rapturous twisting in my bowels produced by a recognition of the desire in my roommate's eyes; it echoed the yearning in my own. It was there, in that first touch, that I was introduced to the only heaven available to me—heaven obtained through living my life as I was formed to live it.

It has been a pungent, concentrated, cascading life, this earthly paradise that my urges for Joey had hinted at and that I looked forward to through the window of that fraternity building, watching as my first lover crossed those brick-laid paths. The first of what could only be considered an extravagant number of lovers, because I have lived thoroughly and with appetite. I have appreciated God's creations; I have touched, tasted, imbibed, engaged with, and occasionally loved my lovers. I have rubbed myself across the texture of the world and will recall the resulting sensations until the day I die.

I'm told it will be sometime next month. And now I find myself wondering: do memories exist in Hell?

Kate Sheckler is a Montrealer who accidentally spent her first 28 years in New York. Somewhat confused about the order of things, she wrote four novels before attempting her first short story, which was published in the second issue of carte blanche. In 2005 she was awarded a position in the QWF's mentoring program (for which she is still very grateful!) Kate recently returned to university and co-teaches creative writing at the Thomas More Institute.