Click to download The York Street Muse Spring 2012 issue.
I’m excited and honored to present you the Spring 2012 issue of The York Street Muse—the official literary and arts magazine of Davenport College at Yale.
Our second issue asks that you “open up”—not only that you engage with the words and images between the front and back covers, but that you use them as a jumping-off point for self-reflection.
I’d like to thank my creative and hard-working staff for their time and dedication to the Muse this year, as well as our contributing writers and artists for allowing us to feature their outstanding content.
This is my last issue as Editor-in-Chief of the Muse—i’m graduating this month—but i leave the magazine in the capable hands of the Muse staff. i can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Lindsay Gellman ‘12 Editor-in-Chief
by Ifeanyi Awachie
I see you Rose Period out of bed
You flirt with the mirror
All good hair day, all confidence
Bright as morning
I see you early to class
That question about Picasso? You got this, I see you
Chalkboards ringing at your touch
Satisfaction swinging in your hips all the way back to your seat
I see you after class, life of the dining hall
All Champagne throat, words bubbling up and spilling just faster than the speed of the conversation
I see you stoking their laughter
You laugh brave warmed by the admiration flickering in their eyes
You walk fierce, Amazon-tall
You stumble and write forgiving letters to your missteps
Later, you’re back in front of the mirror—still a tease
You’re alone and smiling, diary in hand
Lines and lines of melo-tragic narratives turned sentimental nothings in this happy ending afternoon
I see you recasting everything as beautiful: roly-polys, life, you
I see you Blue Period back to bed at night
Today, I saw you peak too soon
Left waiting for the next miracle that never winged its way down
I saw you post-anticipation, wasted by the always waiting. Grades, mail, boys.
The lips collapsed into a quivering line
The infant crawled into your voice and face
I saw you cry shy, hiding it even from the mirror I see you always hiding it
You try to talk yourself out of it
You offer promises like I’ll never set my hopes so high again
I saw no peace treaty
I saw you giving in
Violent, wordless submission
How much you hate this hideous life and you hate this hideous you
I saw you self-assess—your work, your art, all meaningless
Dark lines under bad words in your diary
I saw you sham happiness, self-doubt wallpapered with a cosmetic façade of content
Smiles hung from your jaw with clothespins
Days checked off on autopilot
I saw you mouth ‘fine,’ throat thick with not fine
You won small wars, found the right syllables for someone else’s blue day
But you swallowed swords for every time you stumbled into class late
I saw you do violence to the last part of yourself that you could hold up
You will wake
Clear sky eyes
Gray clouds in the distance
But you always liked this shade of pink
Stay here awhile
by Max Ehrenfreund
When my grandma bought the condo, Lincoln City wasn’t a casino town. Like other little towns on the Oregon coast, it was just a Safeway, a McDonald’s and a strip of sodden storefronts along U.S. 101. The condos were at the north end of town in the woods, a short walk from the beach at a state park called Road’s End. Number 47 was a second-floor unit. I slept on the floor of the living room and woke to the creaking of the baseboard radiators. There were only a few yards of mossy lawn between the condos and the woods, and some mornings a doe and two or three fawns tiptoed across them.
I didn’t like going to the beach with my family. At home I was usually on the computer. But in Lincoln City, I could only daydream of the extraterrestrial campaigns I’d lead from the cockpit of a humanoid war machine 11 meters tall. Bored, I tried to read the tide charts my grandma kept in the basket on the kitchen island among agate pebbles and limpets. I ran my finger along the edges of the knobby, uncomfortable Mission-style furniture, invented mazes in the geometric designs of the Indian bedspread and counted the grains in the sand painting above the coffee machine. I poked through the games in the octagonal cabinet under the living room window. Whenever I opened one of the cabinet doors, I smelled pine resin and salty, wet sand.
There aren’t many cloudless evenings at Road’s End. When the weather is especially bad, beachgoers splash through rainwater on the sand or feel the quartz grains whipped up by the wind stinging their shins. All the same, my family and I spent most of our days down on the beach. ‘Layers,’ my mom would say, and before leaving the car we would put on fleeces and vests and windbreakers. My brother and I would kick around a soccer ball or jump over incoming breakers in shallow water until our ankle bones ached from the cold. My mom and my dad walked along the beach, my mom filling her pockets with beach rocks until her pockets were full, then giving more to my dad to carry back to the car. She would explain that each rock called out to her from the sand in its own way, or something like that. Yet her obsession seemed absurd to the rest of us, since the rocks were all one shade of grey and identically smooth.
Once, I brought a discovery of my own from the beach back to the condo. In the old days, the fishermen along the coast used spherical glass floats to buoy their nets. Lincoln City commissioned several glassblowing studios to produce a few hundred ornamental floats to celebrate the new millennium, and volunteers hid them up and down the beach. Months later, I found one tucked in the roots of a tree that had washed ashore. The float swirled with color, like a planet.
After the casino was built, my grandparents would go for breakfast at the buffet there on rainy mornings—but they rarely gambled. I’d like to imagine that my grandma ordered a mimosa. If it was springtime, they’d then drive down 101 to Spanish Head, a bluff that jutted into the Pacific, and watch for the silent splash and spume of a distant whale. If the weather cleared after dinner, they’d watch the sun sink into the ocean at Road’s End. And after my grandma became ill with bone cancer, when she could no longer walk the steep, muddy path to the beach from the parking lot, she and my grandpa would sit in the car with two glasses of cheap red wine instead.
Lincoln City started to sprawl out from the casino. Developers cleared the vacant land between 101 and the condo and built about 30 one-story vacation homes with garages. Their front walls had false stone façades on the bottom half and yellow or cream vinyl sidings on top. Even brand-new, they looked ugly and sad.
The Grand Ronde, who own the casino, are now building a shopping complex and a golf course in a development that will loop around where the condos stand in the way of the town’s northward expansion. Several acres of forest behind the condos were already clear-cut and the ground leveled to prepare for construction when my mom, my brother and I walked up a logging road to the check out the site. It was surreal to step out of a leafy alder forest into sudden sunlight and soft earth that took footprints an inch deep. We were trespassing—the only time my mom has condoned or shared in her sons’ lawbreaking. She went to the city to get plans for the Indian development, trying to figure out how far into the woods the condo association’s land extended. We walked out under the firs, looking for spray-painted bark or fluorescent plastic flags planted in the ground, anything that might mark the property line.
When my grandma passed away and left my mom and my aunt joint ownership of the condo, my mom refused to sell it, buying out my aunt’s share for around $80,000. Had the condo been his, my grandpa might have sold it. Soon after my grandma’s death, my mom told him he was welcome to stay there whenever he wished. ‘I can’t, sweetie,’ he answered. ‘That place is just too full of memories.’ Her straw hats in the closet, her handwritten instructions on the refrigerator for turning on the water heater. The score from a rubber she played several years ago, the winning couple’s total neatly circled.
We didn’t talk about my grandma’s death much. I never heard anyone in my family cry when my grandma was dying, except for my brother. He was much closer to my grandma than I was. I was probably playing a computer game when I heard a howl in the next room. It lasted for less than a second, and at first I did not think it was someone’s voice. I ran to see what had happened and saw my brother and my mother embracing by the front door. It took me a moment to remember that my family was grieving.
Recently, my grandpa has driven down to stay in Lincoln City a few times. When my family goes back to the condo now, I stay in the smaller bedroom, where the float I found sits in a blue dish on top of the dresser. At night, after a day at Road’s End, I still hear the surf in my ears, and its roar lulls me to sleep.
by Finola Prendergast
I didn’t notice the girl on the curb till I had already pulled up beside her.
The sun had yet to rise. Night blacked the glass of the car windows except where the snowdrifts were glowing. Behind me the 7-Eleven glowed like a squat idol in forest green and orange. The girl was standing inside the streetlamp’s cone of light and giving the road a thumbs-up. The light had a theatrical effect, leaching reality from her. Her neon lipstick printed a sexy cartoon mouth, two-dimensional as a vintage poster, on the air before her. Her thumbnail was a perfect oval. But a thin rim of dirt split that oval where nail met quick and she was dressed wrong for the cold: grimy sneakers, jeans thready at the knees and cuffs, a thin white tee. A cut of uneven width, sickle-shaped, curled across her temple. It had missed her eyeball by millimeters, snagging the fleshy edge of her lower eyelid and pulling it down. The asymmetry made her face melancholy, clownish. Breath ghosted between her cartoon lips and vanished.
I came to a stop and she gave me the side-eye as if to say: You asshole, are you going to pick me up or what?
I rolled down the window. ‘Where are you going?’
She bent over to peer at me. Somehow I knew she was deciding whether I was dangerous—a rapist, for instance, or a serial killer with his last victim still cooling in the trunk. I sat up. I had never had the opportunity to find out if I had the face of a rapist or serial killer. It seemed important. I used to think that our purest perceptions of other people came when we first glimpsed a stranger. Without preconceived notions of his personality or history, we would see a glimpse of his face as the thing it was. It sounds like pretentious bullshit, I know. I came up with the idea during my sophomore year of college, back when I was smoking too much pot and propounding materialist philosophy.
But variations on the idea had come back to me several times since then. Last time it recurred was the first time I met Duncan. I had been lurking outside Maggie’s apartment building. We had had a fight at dinner the night before, about our father’s funeral. We had escalated nearly to shouting before Maggie shot to her feet, laid her napkin beside her half-eaten Cornish hen and left the restaurant.
When handing me the check, the waiter, a teenager with a discreet eyebrow stud, told me to buy her flowers. ‘Don’t dismiss it because it’s a cliché. My girlfriend says that’s why it works. They know that you know that flowers are for when you fuck up big-time.’ I told him I wasn’t sure the gesture would translate, because the woman who had just left was my sister. He blushed enormously.
Outside the apartment building the next morning, I had just decided to buzz Maggie and apologize when Duncan knocked into me. His shoulder clipped mine as I waffled in front of the videophone. It knocked me forward; I slammed my forearm into the brick wall, to prevent my head from doing the same. I had seen photographs of Duncan on Maggie’s Facebook page, candid shots that lopped off an arm or an ear and made his face oily and sunburned. He was in a few posed pictures as well, in which he and Maggie and their friends from the construction firm clutched one another’s shoulders and grinned out from the rigid center of the frame. He hadn’t struck me particularly, though. I’m not sure I recognized him right away.
‘Sorry, man,’ he said when I had righted myself. He had turned his face toward mine and I saw him entirely. A broad and lineless forehead beneath hair like straw. Dark eyes so widely set he seemed to look in two directions at once. Flat cheekbones. A large nose with large nostrils. A lantern jaw. Each feature of his face taken individually seemed designed to indicate masculine strength of the superheroic kind. But the lantern jaw hung a little slack, the dark eyes a little unfocused; his thin lips had a complacent looseness. Immediately the beige head of a bull, blunt teeth working over a moist bolus, superimposed itself on his shoulders: It had the same pleased bestiality.
‘No problem,’ I said. I turned away from the videophone, from Maggie’s apartment building, thinking meat, meat. … Eventually I apologized to her, over the phone so I wouldn’t have to see her face.
So when, after a long moment, the hitchhiker girl shrugged and walked around the hood of my car to open the passenger-side door, I felt something like relief unlock in my chest.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked again.
‘Wherever,’ she said. The word came from her chest rough and vibratory, as from the chest of a chain smoker or jazz singer. No doubt she had practiced the voice.
‘Buckle your seat belt,’ I said.
During the first hour of driving, she asked me two questions:
‘Can I have some coffee?’ I said yes. Her lipstick left a faint stain on the lid. The next time I took a sip, I flicked my tongue against the stain before tilting coffee down my throat. I was thinking about her cartoon mouth, how frankly unreal it seemed; I tasted a trace of wax.
‘What’s in the crib?’ She jerked her thumb toward the back seat. There indeed sat a crib, massive and delicate as stratocumuli. The pale blue bars were touched with gold at the edges. I had picked this crib from a dozen with the same heavenly coloring. Good parents keep their infants trailing clouds of glory for as long as possible, I suppose.
‘I’m bringing it to a baby,’ I said. I intended the answer ironically, but she nodded as if she had suspected as much.
I placed the girl in her late teens. Once you got past the starlet’s makeup and the sickle-shaped cut, you could see the baby fat rounding her cheeks. Her hair must have been dyed: It looked like black licorice. There was a circular scar above the cut on her temple, from chicken pox, maybe, or a bug bite whose scab she had picked. I could hear her breath over the whir of the car engine. It came irregularly, as if every few rounds she forgot to inhale and then had to catch up. She smelled like snow, deodorant, cereal, oil, sweat.
We had been driving down I-84 a while when she said, ‘I like your car. Bold color.’
The sun had risen. It floated, blood orange and fat, over the spears of pine. The light throbbed in my eyes. I wanted badly to crawl into the dark of my own bed, where I could close my eyes and leave behind the world of people and objects, the body that forced me into a series of actions and an identity that I didn’t want to accept, didn’t want responsibility for. I resented her artificial voice.
‘It’s a rental,’ I told her.
‘Too bad,’ she said absently. She was staring at something in front of her. The cartoon mouth contracted.
‘What are you looking at?’
She stretched out an arm and trailed her fingers down the windshield. A greenish bruise swelled the webbing between her thumb and forefinger. ‘Rental company didn’t clean it too well,’ she said. ‘You’ve got streaky wiper fluid all over the place.’
I squinted. She was right: Dried fluid shot the glass with veins, like the capillaries that appear behind your eyes when you close them against a too-bright light. The windshield seemed to advance on me. Focusing on a roadside tree, I blinked it away.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
Drawing a knee to her chest, she planted a dirty boot heel on the lip of her seat. The leather squeaked. She cut me a canny glance through her eyelashes. ‘Alice,’ she said. Liar.
She laughed. The neon lips slid back to expose her teeth, which were off-white and slick with spit. ‘I will. I think I’ll call you Mister Sarco. I had a substitute teacher named that once. The school hired him after our real biology teacher got pregnant.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘He got fired,’ she said, with relish. In her mouth ‘fired’ had two long, singsong syllables: fiiii-yerrrd.
Alice stretched, back arching, arms rising over the headrest. Her knuckles bumped the ceiling. I could see the rib cage beneath her thin shirt straining out and up. Her ribs, spread like that, looked like wings in search of wind. The scant curve of her abdomen islanded the fabric near the hem. The pattern on her bra (leopard-print) pressed through the white. Did she intend this display as an answer?
Like a rubber band, she snapped back into her slacker’s hunch. Hugging her knee, she said, ‘Some Christian parents got him fired. He was teaching us stuff like, people are just the chemicals in their brains. Neurons firing. One time this girl—her name was Carmella Bradley—she asked him if we had souls. He said no. He said that, effectively speaking, we were just meat.’
‘Do you believe him?’
‘Sure.’ She smirked thinly. ‘I’m an animal. Genus Homo, family Hominidae. I remember that much from class.’
We were passing into New Hampshire. Snow bunched over the dirt along the highway guardrails. Up ahead, a lumber truck turned a curve and disappeared behind a stand of leafless ash. No one had appeared in the rearview for miles. If I turned on the radio now, I wouldn’t find voices through the static. The sun had paled as it climbed, winter daylight bleaching the sky, the road, the flesh of my hands on the steering wheel. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’m Mister Sarco.’
Alice watched me with irises so dark they each seemed one huge and blooming pupil. Her arms tightened around her knee. For a minute we listened to the muffled engine and the air parting and streaming around the body of the car. I was waiting for her to correct me, or tell me to let her off at the next exit.
‘Yeah,’ she said, solemnly as if making a promise. ‘You’re Mister Sarco for sure. But you don’t teach science, not anymore. You’re a …’
‘I’m a foreman,’ I said.
‘A foreman. I’m in charge of a construction crew. We’re building a gym.’
Alice tilted her head and, reviewing this, nodded. ‘One of those swanky places, with a sauna and masseuses and shit. They’ll give yoga classes. None of your constructions guys could work out there.’
‘You’re right. But they don’t need to.’
‘They don’t need a gym to stay in shape, not with the work they do—the physical labor dumbbells and treadmills are aping.’
‘They don’t just take their bodies out for a spin twice a week. They live in them.’
Alice snorted. ‘Yeah, like everybody else. But OK.’
We had reached the stand of ash. Up close, you could see thick curls of bark peeling from the trees. They looked chapped and old. Even so, they had a bony grandeur, like the fossils of whales and other huge, accidental creatures. I took the curve around them easily.
‘I’m the daughter of one of your construction worker pals,’ she told me. ‘Wait, no. You’re not old enough. I’m his sister.’
‘Is that so?’ I said.
‘Uh huh. I don’t think he knows you drive me places, though.’
‘He knows. In fact, he asked me to give you a ride today.’
‘Oh, yeah? Where?’
‘To your audition.’ She would enjoy that. ‘He’d have driven you himself, but his car is in the garage. It won’t start, he has no idea why. Remember?’
She snickered. ‘Yeah. Can’t believe I forgot. I sure hope the mechanics can sort him out. And in the meantime, you’re driving me aaaall the way down to NYC so I can get my big break on, like, Broadway. Sure you’re not wasting your time?’
‘I’ve heard you’re talented.’
Sputtering laughter, she kicked the dashboard. ‘Fuck you, I’m so talented. What I mean is, Mister Sarco, you don’t seem to be getting much out of it.’
‘I was headed this way anyway.’
‘And you brought me along out of, what, the goodness of your heart?’ Her cartoon mouth curled in scorn.
‘No, I guess not.’ I saw no point in insisting otherwise: She would never believe me. Worse, she would find the lie contemptible and hate me. It meant something to me that she didn’t hate me. This game of make-believe we were playing—it felt, strangely, like the camaraderie of two children who had broken their father’s vase and were telling each other the fictions necessary to keep from crying: He won’t be mad, he never liked it anyway, we can hide it. I hoped to God, actually prayed, that her cut was an accident and she had somewhere to stay where she was stopping.
‘Pull over at this exit,’ she said.
It didn’t sound like a time-out. I guess that’s all it is, though. I turned the wheel, hand over hand.
The night before, I hadn’t slept—suffering from an unease that kept me pacing the cracked linoleum floor of my apartment’s kitchen. As I paced, I ate stale marshmallows from the bag and wished I could stop believing in God.
I had tried to stop, had closed my eyes and imagined my body unintentional, soulless—soul a myth the ignorant used to explain the evolutionarily contingent phenomenon of consciousness. The thought resonated in my mind at the same frequency as other intriguing and obviously counterfactual propositions. At the same time, something in my body—a tension in my head and back and stomach—always heaved the thought away against my conscious wishes. I was as unable to deny God as I was to deny my own inadequacy, but He was unbearable so I kept trying. I had performed the thought experiment a dozen times in the past few years. Each time it left me exhausted, eyes gritty and smarting, but too restless to sleep more than three or four hours before waking dumbly in the alienated gray light of predawn.
Inside Saint Catherine’s, the temperature dropped 10 degrees. I hadn’t entered a church in three years, but the chill air, heavy with frankincense, produced its effect: Guilt and jilted resentment settled in my stomach like a stone.
At the far end of the anteroom, a woman was examining the pictures of old parish priests hung along wall. Her boyish haircut bared a white neck. Though small, she was well proportioned, like a mannequin built not quite to size. She wore a long monkish dress that swept the floor, but under its hem winked orange Converse. Startled, I laughed.
She turned and it was Maggie.
As always, she disoriented me. Not that we looked so much alike—she had darker hair than anyone in the family, and lighter eyes, and her face was cheekily round. But she cocked her head at my angle, and stood with her weight in her heels, with my attitude of digging trenches. Only her birdlike grace, something I’d always lacked, kept me from believing that I could inhabit two places at once.
In a few quick steps, kicking her long skirt forward, she had reached me and flung her arms round my neck.
‘Hey, bro,’ she muttered to my sternum. ‘Long time no see.’
The church had infused her hair with its ambient incense, which mixed strangely with her coconut shampoo. The smell tickled my nose and I suppressed a sneeze.
‘I’d forgotten how short you are,’ I told her.
She snorted. ‘You’ve been waiting to say that all day.’
She stepped back to examine me. Her hands still gripped my shoulders, holding me literally at arm’s length. I became sharply aware of the differences in her. She had gained weight from the pregnancy: Her face was fuller, her collarbone softer. In high school, counselors and doctors used to drop hints about Maggie’s potential anorexia; some guys told her she looked like a little kid, others that she was stunning. Now that there was more of her, her aggressive bones hidden, she looked paradoxically smaller. Like any young mother, unnoticeable.
When we had finished examining each other, Maggie and I had identical deflated looks, like twin soufflés left too long on the counter. It seemed as though three years of faceless phone calls weren’t enough to efface my anger or to let Maggie forget how to see it.
‘Well, do I pass muster?’ I asked, not without an edge. I couldn’t have said whether I was fishing for reassurance or trying to provoke her.
She hesitated. For a panicked second I thought she had smelled something on me. ‘You’ve looked better.’
‘Yeah, you too.’
She began to giggle. After a second, I joined her. Our overlapping laughter unlocked the tension between us. It acknowledged the necessary truth: We were angry and tired and in some interminable adult fight about God-knew-what and we didn’t know how to fix it. But here we were anyway.
‘At least I have an ass now,’ Maggie said. ‘Did you bring the crib?’
‘Yeah, it’s in the car.’
‘Thanks.’ She let out another giggle. ‘You should see the one Duncan tried to assemble. By the time he gave up it looked like one of those wretched public sculptures no one understands. He’s hopeless sometimes.’
I could imagine. ‘Where is he?’
‘Inside with Mom. It’s about time to join them, actually. Game face?’
She grabbed my hand. Pulling me up the nave and into the side aisle, her sweaty fingers gripped mine with the same complicity as, when we were kids, we had crept from our tight-mouthed, kneeling mother into one of the side chapels, where we hid among the foldout chairs and talked to God out loud.
The church looked identical to itself three years ago, a few months after the funeral, when Maggie was getting married and I was giving her away. The kneelers were still upholstered with thinning red velvet, the pews stippled with wax from a century of Easter Vigils. Stained-glass martyrs loomed large in every window. Behind the altar, Saint Catherine, head reattached with spiritual glue, surveyed the nave with calm, distant eyes and patted her broken wheel.
Mom had pitched camp in the fourth pew from the altar. Beside her, Duncan was presiding over the baby, which gurgled into his chest. I dropped Maggie’s hand to wave her into the pew, so that she could stand between him and me. I didn’t want to speak to him, or to my mother, particularly. But I hadn’t seen Duncan since the wedding, and my mother in almost as long. Maggie was stabbing me with little glances. In a moment she would elbow me in the ribs—hard, and obviously.
I leaned over, affected a whisper. ‘Hey, Mom, Duncan. How’ve you been?’
‘My construction team just finished the gym, which is good, because we’ve had our hands full with the baby,’ Duncan said immediately, in a stage whisper louder than my speaking voice. ‘She’s great, but she likes to pee herself in the middle of the night and wake up screaming. Did you bring the crib?’
‘Like I said I would.’
‘Great,’ said Maggie, patting Duncan’s arm.
‘Did you use the back parking lot?’ Mom asked. ‘Because we share the front lot with Murray’s, and if they have too many customers you could get towed.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’ve been here before.’
“You knew this Father Colin guy, right?” Duncan asked me.
‘He’s been our parish priest for ages,’ Maggie said. ‘Since Father Galvin died. I was—man, how old was I?’
‘Third grade,’ I said.
‘So you would have been 6 or 7. Father Galvin, wow.’ Maggie looked up at Duncan. Did she ever get a crick in her neck? My mind flitted to the logistics of their sex life and flinched away, as from a hot stove or pictures of a donkey show— too painful and vile to consider. ‘You saw his photo, babe. It’s on the wall in the anteroom.’
‘Oh, he’s the one that looked like a skeleton.’
‘He probably still does,’ I said.
Duncan snapped his fingers and whispered happily: ‘See, that’s where I was going. The man looked like a real priest, you know—bony, no lips. A real sackcloth and ashes guy. Whereas this Father Colin—he has a belly, and one of those florid faces. It won’t look as good in the photos, hey, honey?’ Duncan beamed, pleased with his wit.
‘He’s baptizing our daughter,’ said Maggie.
‘I’m just kidding around. It’s a baptism no matter who dunks her, right?’
‘We just pour water over their heads, these days,’ I said.
‘It matters that you take it seriously,’ Maggie told him.
At the end of the pew, Mom was screwing up her mouth. She disapproved of Duncan’s spiritual airiness. He was a perfect son-in-law for her otherwise.
‘I take it seriously,’ he was saying, cow eyes wide.
‘Go easy on him,’ I said. ‘He didn’t practice much growing up, right? You can’t expect him to have learned all his lines yet.’
I nearly recoiled from the envy and rancor in my own voice. Like me, Duncan was sealed in a world of blind flesh and sin and failure. Unlike me, he didn’t suffer from it. He didn’t even notice.
Of course, he thought I was taking his side. He winked at me over Maggie’s head. Maggie just whispered, ‘And you’d know all about practice.’ Then she turned her face from mine.
By now parishioners were rustling and murmuring into place. As the sun shifted, the nave filled with grainy light and the rose window washed us in color. I began surreptitiously to dye my hand with green, with blue, with red.
Father Colin processed down the aisle with his ministers; the organ rolled. And also with you rolled from my mouth and all the mouths around me. As the Mass progressed, I saw rites performed and I seemed to be seeing every performance of those rites that I had ever attended. I felt as if every second of my life were folded inside my ribs like the pleats of an accordion. Maggie wrapped a cold hand round my wrist. She hadn’t forgiven me, but she felt it too, and she wanted me to know.
Mom and Duncan stood up.
‘Come on,’ Maggie told me.
The four of us walked down the main aisle to the baptismal font. The font was a block of granite, 3 feet high, carved into the shape of a squat chalice. Maggie and I had been baptized over it. Mom claimed it was impossible, but I had always remembered my baptism: the rough nail of the priest’s thumb scraping a cross on my forehead, the cold splash of water, the dark ceiling, the noises ghosting over me.
Father Colin walked down the aisle to join us. He had the same straight back and advancing belly, the same labored breathing that had replaced dying Father Galvin’s two decades ago. What in his jowly face could still summon a phantom of awe?
‘What name do you give your child?’
Maggie was nearly levitating. Duncan’s paw on her shoulder seemed the only thing preventing her from floating up and bumping the Gothic Revival arches like a freed balloon. ‘Alma Brooke Adler,’ she and Duncan chorused, a little out of sync.
The accordion in my chest sucked shut. Its pleats flattened, back to back to back. I was back inside the bathroom of that Exxon gas station. A light bulb was buzzing above my head. The floor smelled of urine and air freshener. The fronts of my thighs bumped the lip of the sink. The girl’s heel was digging into the small of my back. Our foreheads touched, gently, and when she cursed through her locked teeth, her breath struck my face. I had never felt so close to anyone, so understood. It had felt like a blessing.
‘Hey, hey,’ Maggie was whispering, there at the font. She had never released my wrist. She was squeezing it now in a clammy grip, which felt not so much like flesh as an incarnate reminder.
Duncan turned nervously to us, as if he sensed a mistake.
‘… by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?’ asked Father Colin.
‘We do,’ Maggie said.