saint cecilia's day
It is really only a black and white photograph, but I know that lies are hidden in the absence of color. My mother looks at it and smiles. “Look what I found,” she says.
Suzanne and Cecelia and Diana and I, sitting at the kitchen table, books and potato chips scattered before us, a pile of school blazers in a dark heap. Cecelia’s cheek is pressed against mine, her arm is around my shoulder and her hand has made a dark rope of my hair and looped it around, binding her child sized hand with it. Suzanne leans against my other shoulder, smoking an ink pen like a cigarette. Diana wears too much eyeliner. I wear four rings on one hand, and sixteen gold bangles decorate my wrist. I close my eyes to see the color of the false stones in the rings pale green lavender ruby what was the last one?
“Look at all of you, “ me mother says. “Aren’t you sweet?”
“That’s right,” I tell her, “We aren’t.”
I hide the picture in the pages of a book, and it will fall out years later, when I am cleaning the basement.
I see Diana in the city, and she is pushing a stroller. I tell her how pretty her baby is. It is a lie. He looks just like a seal. Diana blinks a lot. blink blink blink.
“Whatever happened to Gino Francisco?” she asks. blink blink.
“Nothing,” I say. “He married a girl that looks like a chicken. Not a roasting chicken. A soup chicken.”
She laughs and it makes a nervous sound. She pushes the expensive stroller back and forth to quiet the seal boy’s barking. Maybe he wants to go back to the sea.
“You’re blonde now, “ I say. I find this sad and awful. Streaks of crunchy ash and brittle gold. I see her for a moment as she used to be, laughing as she pressed a joint between her lips. Her dark hair across the pillow mixing with mine. Her eyes were huge and wet and black in the dark.
“Pretty ring,” she says and I hate that blink blink blinking thing. What is this, this blinking thing?
“Is it platinum?”
What are we talking about?
Come by sometime if you ever get back to the neighborhood I say I’d love to she says darling baby I say looking for your next book she says and everything is bullshit. blink.
Oh, Suzanne Suzanne.
She drinks beer until she stumbles over her long baby colt legs and falls into the bonfire at the beach. Somewhere in the flames Jesus finds her. Purifying blood of the lamb in her screams. She marries a man in a polo shirt and he doesn‘t fuck.
When I see her, she says our lord holy father jesus jesus jesus born again until I break.
“Hey, Michael,” I say, “Did Suzanne ever tell you that she wanted to move to Paris and run a whorehouse and write books about it?” Choke on your tuna casserole, fatty. For a moment, Suzanne becomes real again, hiding behind a gold Veronica Lake curtain of hair. Hey. I know you.
Bitch, she says. I have pictures, I say.
Suzanne was really baptized in Five Mile Lake on an August night in warm black water with the moon making white patterns where we swam, and the water sounds like our voices, splashing and overlapping and flowing together. Diana and I wrote the incantations and we each take a ring from our finger and place it on the next one’s hand. Suzanne’s stone is pale green and Diana is amethyst. Cecelia is ruby and I am deep emerald green. We each whisper a promise to the moon, and we seal the secret communion between us with soda pop wine that tastes like peaches. We swear that we will always love each other. We exchange kisses that taste of lake water.
Cecelia is the greatest liar, even though she has the sweetest face. We were the small ones. We divided four by two like that. The tall ones, the small ones. I meet her for lunch because she has asked for my stories. When she takes them from her bag I want them back. I don’t want her little bird fingernails tap tap tapping against my words. I hear the tapping like a code spelling out bullshit. Bullshit behind her botoxed baby face.
“I guess it’s artsy, or something,” she says. Bitch.
I hate that word.
“You don’t really see ghosts,” she says, and her laugh still sounds like water.
Hell, yes I do, Cecelia. One just ordered the chicken picatta.
“My God,” she says, “Did you see that dress that Gina Castrelli was wearing? She still thinks she’s Stevie Nicks or something.” giggle giggle bullshit. She is really telling me that she doesn’t like my new skirt with the ragged hem. She is telling me I should straighten my hair because that’s what’s being done this year. She is telling me that I don’t match her Prada bag.
I take my words back, I take my stories from under her pretty pink nails.
“You know,” I say, “I’ve decided I don’t love you anymore. That’s all.”
It is fun to watch her face reveal itself, bile bitter green under the pale pink.
You’re a bitch, she says. You’ve turned into a crazy bitch.
Yes, I say. But I always keep promises made to the moon.
So here it is, tapping against your perfect forehead. Swim in it, stoned on a dark August night. Words made flesh held against your tongue taken into your body. It is communion.
© amy muldoon