When Meg took hold of my shirt one afternoon, iniviting me and two other sorority housemates to join her for a secret prayer circle in the basement, it must’ve seemed to her the perfect pretense. After all, the basement of our sorority house, lodged in the quad of a private Christian college, doubled as laundry room and the site of our weekly prayer meetings. We prayed there for upcoming exams. For mission trips. For our personal relationships—most of all, with Jesus, whom we asked to watch over us in our daily activities.
The basement stayed dark, save for the glow of a single candle Meg had lit, and around which Autumn, Hailey, and I all sat. We knew our place. Of all the sisters in our house, Meg was considered the most beautiful, with corkscrew curls that framed her heart-shaped face and made her a dead ringer for Rebecca Gayheart, the face of Noxema Skin Care. But more appealing than her beauty, Meg was bored and proudly a little bad. I loved her. I feared her more. And so, like Autumn and Hailey, I followed her orders, no matter how strange it seemed to circle up and pray in the basement in the middle of the day.
“I hereby open this Secret Prayer Circle,” Meg said, waving a hand over the candle, “uniting these sisters in spirit, mind, and body.” With the last word, her dimple flashed. “Autumn?”
Even at her poutiest, Autumn’s lisp undercut her protests. “Don’t look at me. Hailey had Mr. Happy last.”
“No, I didn’t,” Hailey cried. “You insisted he had to be disinfected, remember?”
A pre-nursing major, Autumn issued her favorite scolding (“It’s called hygiene, bitches”), before bounding up the stairs. She was back in under a minute, one hand hidden behind her back.
“Thank you.” Meg closed her eyes, instructing us to do the same. “Let the unification begin.” A low buzzing filled the room, slightly louder and more shrill than my electric toothbrush. “No peeking,” snapped Meg.
But my eyes were open just enough to see Mr. Happy, shuddering like a freshly caught perch, white and slick in the palm of Meg’s hand. And then I felt her press it against the taut inseam of my jeans—a warm current traveling up the length of me, all the way to my stomach. It launched me to my feet.
“Aw, Pridgie,” Meg cooed, ignorning Autumn and Hailey’s cackles. “You don’t want to break the Secret Prayer Circle, do you?” I looked down at Autumn, Mr. Happy’s last beneficiary, to see her now laughing, gasping for air.
I’d like to say that I sat back down. That I stayed and enjoyed the mutual charge, our shared circle of pleasure and shame that, I see now, was always at the crux of this Christian sisterhood. But I don’t remember how it ended, only that the circle knitted back together without me after that, without much, well—climax. But the tension took other forms: a black light party in white panties. A porno about pirates. A midnight craving for brownies, baked in the nude. And in every case, the shock seemed to be its own end for Meg. She’d tilt back her head with her lips slightly parted, never making a sound.
Or maybe I’d misjudged her. One night I heard her weeping in her room, right after her boyfriend (a quarterback reputed to be a genius—who knew?) had come and left, again.
“Meg?” I tapped at the door, my weight shifting.
“Just leave me alone.”
So I did. I finished my homework, retreating to the basement to do laundry, studying atop the machine. Waiting for the cycle to end. For the final kick through the jeans.
holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Ohio University, where she specialized in the lyric essay and prose poem. Her chapbook of prose poems, Muck Fire, won the 2010 Robert Watson Poetry Award at Spring Garden Press. More recently, Peckham was a finalist in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award; the National Poetry Series Open Competition; and the Pleiades Press Robert C. Jones Short Prose Book Contest. She teaches at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, where she lives with her husband, poet and essayist Joel Peckham, and their son, Darius.