“The Audition,” by Beth McCabe

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

When Peg walked into the Recreation Center, Leila McCoy was standing by the old upright, eyes squeezed shut, warbling “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” like some hip hopper on American Idol. Peg waited until Leila finished and James Hickey, the choirmaster, spotted her.

“Hello, Peg,” he said. “Are you here to audition?”

“I am.” Peg felt the heat come to her face. James was bald now, and his belly hung over his belt, but he’d once been the sharpest boy at Our Lady of the Blessed Sorrows.

“Your mother must be pleased, what with her being the soloist back in the day.” Mam didn’t even know Peg was there, but it hardly mattered; she hadn’t been pleased about anything since Vatican II. Peg walked to the front of the room. Behind the piano, grinning, sat Colleen Finch, her nemesis from Sister Charlotte’s ninth grade class.

“Peggy Riley, what a surprise,” said Colleen. She raised her brows archly at the choirmaster. People had been whispering about the two of them ever since the Finch’s husband had gotten hurt on the tunnel construction downtown. Mam said she’d heard his leg wasn’t all he’d lost the use of.

“Let the lady sing, Col,” said James.

“Have you ever heard Peg sing a note?” the Finch demanded.


“She has never once opened her mouth in song. When we go caroling for the orphans, she lip syncs.”

“I’m ready to try,” Peg said stoutly.

The Finch rolled her eyes heavenward. “Where’s your music?”

“I imagine you know the ‘Ave Maria’”. The “Ave” was Mam’s go-to song when she was in her cups and yearning for her glory days, familiar to Peg as the Rosary.

“That’s not exactly a beginner’s ditty.”

“Hit it.”

Later, people claimed that the birds in the trees went silent. Teenagers plucked out their earbuds and cried for their mothers. A homeless woman on the church steps swore that the sky parted and angels sang harmony. When the last perfect note died away, the Finch looked as though her winning lottery ticket had just fallen through the sewer grate. James hugged Peg, and the choir members gathered round, patting her and smoothing her cardigan.

“We practice Thursdays,” said James.

“Oh, I’m not joining,” said Peg airily. “I just wanted to give it a go.” She walked out, her hips still swinging to the celestial rhythm.

Back at the apartment Mam was studying the Kardashians. “Can you believe what those whores spend on a handbag?” she said. “I fed a family of eight for three months on less.” Peg walked past her and into the kitchen to fix supper. Mam muted the sound and twisted around in the La-Z-Boy.

“Say, James Hickey just called to ask if you’d think again about joining the choir. What’s that about? You can’t sing.”

“I suppose not.”

“Let’s not forget who has the talent in this family.”

“Not a chance of that, Mam,” said Peg, and she whacked the head off a codfish.


Defenestration-Beth McCabeBeth McCabe is often geographically confused as she is based in New Hampshire with roots in New York City and ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a graduate of the Barnard College Creative Writing Program, where she placed second in the Elizabeth Janeway Fiction Prize. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Denim Lit, Blue Monday Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Highlights for Children, Latchkey Tales, the LinkedIn Short Story Anthology, and other journals. Other than bragging about her writing, she is much too shy to talk about herself.

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