The Rape of Conversion* - Fiction by Randall Brown

      How, I wondered, could the Devil enter the little girl in The Exorcist, twist her against the world, violate her inviolate body? But God did the same thing to my mother, entered her against her will, fumbled with buttons and zippers, and then parted her red hair like Moses. Jesus, what a mess he made of her.

      Her living room’s a monument to stasis, white Hummels of children frozen on swings, in mid-throw, mid-leap. A mustyless, dustless stillness, crisp like Saran Wrap stretched taut. Flowered patterns on the couch and pillows and drapes. Wood chairs nailed to the floor so they cannot rock; windows nailed shut. My mother doesn’t know what God wants of her so she sits in perpetual stillness.

      I sit across from her on the piano stool. All the dirt of the house must congregate in the piano’s innards, around its hammers so that it must be full of dust and discords—but I’m not allowed to press the black and white keys. Boozy songs once played from it, and I’d fall asleep and wake up to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” being belted out until my mother collapsed, completely hammered, onto the floor atop the pedals.

      “How do you know he wants you to just sit there? I mean isn’t choosing nothing choosing something?” She hasn’t left the house in three years, ever since her middle of the night conversion in the basement, reaching for some kind of green liquid to drink because that’s all the liquid left in the house. She drank—and there was God pawing to get inside her.

      “I didn’t ask for this, Ben.”

      I bring organic fruits and vegetables and juices sweetened with Splenda. I didn’t ask for this either.


      I’m fast about it—just stand up and pick my mother’s bones up and carry her into the sun and the grass and the breeze and she cries her silent slow tears. I set her down and she stands still and small.

      Isn’t it only the Devil who steals souls with signed contracts amid dark desperate circumstances? But God desires souls, too.

      “Take me in, Ben. I can’t bear it.” She closes her eyes.

      “What do you see?”

      “Black and white. Like a silent film.” Her eyes unclose. “I used to live to drink.”

      “Yeah, Mom, I know.” Forty years of it I know.

      “Don’t you think He should have replaced it with something, not just took it all away. I’m waiting for something, Ben. Something else. Nothing’s coming to me.”

      “You don’t want anything?”

      Her eyes, unaccustomed to natural light, open only a little. Her tongue circles her lips, as if parched. “That desperate desire, that need, like clawing for breath.”

      I don’t know what to say. God did this to her. There must be reasons.

      “Let’s go in, okay?”

      I take her pointed arm and lead her in. She’s converted. I can’t say I like the old mother better, babbling and hysterical. This mother’s restful, at peace. She weighs nothing. It’s as if air walks next to me.

      She sits on the couch, blinks and smiles. The Hummels twist toward her, mouths open in a silent yell. They are frozen, hollow, alive and dead. I imagine they, too, desire that which they can no longer do. You’d think they’d dream of the snowball thrown, the lake skated across. But it’s a silent movie instead, black and white and nothing in between.

      * In her biography of Emily Dickinson, Cynthia Griffin Wolff uses the term “the rape of conversion” to describe such a transfiguration.

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