Small Saints

Small Saints

Small Saints 1242 1244 Melanie Czerwinski

When I was in elementary school, I drew red marks on my palms and told the teacher I had stigmata. I didn’t keep wounds open with phenol like Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina or claim visitation of the angels like Saint Francis of Assisi. The scribbled circles on my hand in RoseArt Red were hardly convincing, but damn if I wasn’t adamant I had the markings of Christ.

I was sent to the principal’s little office at the front of the school. She made me scrub my hands in the first-floor girls’ bathroom while she watched. No matter how hard I scrubbed, my stigmata remained. Look, I told her, it’s real!

It faded by the end of the week.

Now I see you, hands and arms bloodied. I’m not sure where the blood originated from. I don’t ask. Around your neck, a rosary—Christ nailed to a pure silver cross. If you look close enough, you can see the pain in his face, you told me before. I wonder why people put such details into the smallest of things, things hardly anyone will notice.

Your dorm is dirty. I feel sorry stepping into it, as if I’m tearing open a personal secret and burying my head inside it. Exposed are all articles of clothing, homework from three weeks ago, and black bananas. Fruit flies lie on the peels, occasionally taking flight around the fruit. The room smells like rot and sweat.

I take you to your bathroom and wipe the blood from your skin with an old stained dishrag as you sit on the toilet lid. I rinse and repeat. I didn’t see the offending instrument in your dorm when I first walked in, but if I were you, I would have hidden it, too. The rag sucks up your blood, adding a massive stain over the old, smaller ones. It smears across your skin, the towel heavy with pink bloodwater.

The dishes are piled up in your imitation marble sink. Foggy cups from the dining hall cascade out of red and green bowls filled with dirty spoons and forks. I can see the remnants of food and drink spilling into the drain. The flies are in here, too.

I just haven’t had the energy, you tell me, noticing me staring. I haven’t, either.

Once you’re cleaned up, we shuffle out to the dumpsters where no one else will be. A moment away from that pit of depression will be a much-needed reprieve. The walk down the stairwell is devoid of conversation, just the clunking of my boots and slapping of your slippers against your heels reverberating against the off-white cinderblock walls. Outside, it smells like shit and garbage, but my recoil at the stench convinces me both of us are still alive. Thank God for that, I think. I hope.

We lean against the metal chain-link fence and watch the small drops of rain turn into thick flakes, the sky turning from gray to a deep, oppressive blue that dyes everything it touches. It’s cold enough I can feel the hair on my legs standing straight, almost painful against my tight leggings. The snow lies stark against my black leather jacket.

I tell you not to worry about the paper you have to write about postwar Japanese literature, tell you your professor will understand. In response, you pull two cigarettes and a royal blue lighter out of your pocket. I know you wish it was weed, know you wish you could get high and forget this happened, but this is the best either of us can do.

We stand in the dark as snow dampens our brown hair and the tips of our cigarettes. You quit smoking last year, and you’ve been good about it. I don’t reprimand you, though.

It happened to me, too. I don’t want to say the word. It wasn’t by the same person, it wasn’t under the same circumstances, it wasn’t at the same point in my life. But it happened. I consider how different this experience can be, the varying degrees and the differences in offenders. I think you wonder this, too. You use it to pretend your experience wasn’t as traumatic as it was. We all need time to grieve for our past selves, some more or earlier than others.

I crush the butt of my cigarette under the heel of my Docs. I expect an I’m sorry, but that’s not what I get. You hand me another cigarette and light it for me once it’s between my lips. It’s the most intimate gesture I’ve allowed in years, and I’m sure it’s the same for you. We can’t give up yet. There’s still so much more to seek.

Header photograph © Icy Blu Daniel.

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