An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2004

Appearance of Scandal

Erin McGraw

Erin McGraw is associate professor of English at the Ohio State University. She is the author of “Bodies at Sea” (1989), “Lies of the Saints” (1996), and “The Baby Tree” (2002). In June of 2004, “Appearance of Scandal” will be published in the short story collection “The Good Life” by Houghton Mifflin as a Mariner Original.

After the screaming and the poisonous accusations, after the broken vase and rib, after the gonorrhea, waking up to find Anthony gone was not the hardest thing. It was not the hardest thing to sleep on the fluffy clown rug between the girls’ beds, or to come to school to pick up Stephanie the day a rash bloomed across her chest. It was not even so hard to forward Anthony’s mail and to review the bar association’s list of divorce lawyers, so many of whom Anthony had gone to law school with, and mocked.

The hardest thing was sitting in church, where the scalding sense of failure shot from Beth’s hairline to the soles of her feet. Surrounded by intact families with husbands who looked proud of their wives– Anthony had not looked proud, ever– Beth read the ads for funeral homes and CPAs on the back of the bulletin, leafed through the hymnal, distracted herself in every way she could think of until the hour was over and she could race to the parking lot, always one of the first to gun it out.

“You don’t know how hard it is,” she said to Father Marino. “If it weren’t for the kids, I wouldn’t come back here.”

“Then thank goodness for the kids,” he said.

The easiest thing after Anthony left was Beth’s talks with Father Marino. Every week he made room for her in a schedule filled with Social Justice Committee meetings and intramural soccer and the daily hospital visits–needs more legitimate than her small loneliness and sorrow. Every week he opened his office door and produced his cracked-tooth grin, and she saw the sort of boy he must have been, round headed and cocky, sure of the world’s affection.

He had long ago captured the affections of everybody at Holy Name. After cranky Father Mestin had retired and nervous Father Torbeiner had been whisked away with so little explanation– people still murmured about him– parishioners recognized their good fortune in Father Marino. He had a friendly habit of snapping off his Roman collar in mid-conversation. “Enough of this. Let’s talk.” People confided in him– guilty teenagers and angry mothers and the whole Men’s Club, which took . . .

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