The List by Catherine Schratt
“When I was seven, my mother got a job working nights as a waitress. For that she needed a babysitter for me. Mrs. Wilson, the landlord’s elderly mother was willing. She was an old woman with thin white hair—I could see her pink scalp through it—and paper-thin wrinkly white skin on her face and hands. That, and a little bit of the skin under her jaw, was all I ever saw of her because, no matter how hot the day was, she wore a dark, high-collared, long-sleeved dress and black lace-up shoes with thick support stockings.
She always brought her well-worn Holy Bible with her, and I wasn’t allowed to turn on the TV or the radio while she was reading because that was “The Lord’s Time.” Judgment Day, when “the quick and the dead”, as she put it, would be called to account for their sins, was her favorite topic.
The list of what she called sins was a long one, and it included some stuff that had me plenty worried. Things I did all the time, like wearing shorts, or watching movies where there’s dancing, girls wearing what Mrs. Wilson called “revealing” clothes, shorts were on that list.
The penalty for being a sinner was horrifying. She spelled it out for me—eternity in a burning fire. And, The Fateful Day, she swore, would arrive in about five years. She was quite sure about that.
I’d never even been to church! Every night I’d lie in bed for hours, thinking about what she called “The Lord’s Judgment”, and all things I’d done that were “sins”. I was terrified. Totally. Heart-thumping, hands-sweaty, sick-all-over terrified.
When school started, I asked my new second grade teacher how many days there were in five years. I watched while she figured it out for me, but when she asked me why I wanted to know, I made up some lame excuse.
Anyway, it’s one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days. I’ll never forget that number. And each night, alone in my bed, in the dark, I’d figure out how many days I had left before I dropped into Hell.”
–Catherine Schratt, a gently borrowed excerpt from her novella-in-progress.