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Her Fleece Was White as Snow MAG
Never had a room been so quiet as when Mary Singer told the class she had
One week to live
Like an eleventh-grade fog,
Her red-colored cheeks and half-turned smile
Made us all think maybe she was kidding
She was always one to kid about everything;
The set of her eyes sparkling like the age
Yeah, three weeks ago she and I went out to her favorite coffee place
Brimming with capitalist, red-cheeked decay
You might say I hated the place
Maybe it was too prominent,
Maybe too contrived and too fake,
Or maybe it was just too real for me to appreciate
She grew up in the straightest of conservative homes:
Church of Christ philosophy,
Dinners at home,
Three prayers a day,
Dad at the head of the table
Her parents gave her a Bible name hoping it would give her some padding
Still, there in that moment, sitting with her in that
Latte mocha hell;
Her legs sprawled out over the arm of the chair
So that the eminence of the room cradled those same
Deep green eyes, the windows to her world,
Same raised brow and half-cracked smile,
I don't know that love is exactly the right word but,
Same foggy Mary
She had that way of pulling me in,
Even convincing me to buy some iced chocolate coffee,
Pretending we were actually there to grind up coffee beans,
Like we didn't see something more in each other,
Like we didn't see through that fog.
She had just told me about how she puts on this facade for so many people she surrounds herself with
And how she was so happy she didn't have to around me.
She said she was so glad to finally be honest with someone,
Not to have to impress me.
She said, “I just don't know about this religion stuff anymore.”
Still with that crooked smile.
And such was the shift I felt from how I remember her from my childhood
I can distinctly picture that afternoon
She came running up to me in the hallway after school
When we were ten.
She had with her a white card, extended arms, a hop in her step, and that same half-turned smile.
It was all made to show God's love for me
No more, though no less, love
I don't think love is the right word exactly
Such was the shift of how I placed her on my
Preeminent scale of family dinners,
Measured in prayers per day times religious propaganda per person
They were kings and queens of
Pure, white motive
And she held
Grayscale on the salted throne of independent variables
There when we were ten, she held my hand and walked away
Stepping backwards, becoming more full in my eyes,
Backing into the snow outside the building
Sinking through any footstep or shifty eyes
In the cold, light floor
We would not break lights,
Mine gray, hers white as snow
So when she told me
She no longer played in the snow, kissed her mom,
Believed in Santa, God, or the Easter Bunny
It saddened me to hear that she didn't
Play in the snow anymore,
She didn't channel the white playfulness of the
Occasional winter snow day
Like I had so thoroughly etched into my stories
My best memories of her were in the snow
At the pond by my house
Sitting in the white forest
Watching geese slide across the frozen tracks that winter chills
Had all but breathed for us on the water
And here, now, I knew that the breath of our childhood had ended
Soon we would forget about our coffeehouse chats
Like we had forgotten how to play in the snow
We would forget our broken homes like we had forgotten how to breathe,
Forgotten how to love.
I don't think that love is the right word, exactly, but …
It's weird, almost every day after she told me what she believed,
We always ended up talking about religion
How she kept Bible verses on her wall to make her parents feel secure,
Never closed her eyes during prayers,
Wrote poetry during church services.
Sometimes it was hard to tell why she did everything she did.
Just fed up with pressure, I guess.
She always talked about how it really upset her that she never saw her dad cry in front of her.
Said he was too prideful.
I don't really know, I usually just sat there and listened to her.
Within a couple of days, I went over to her house
She introduced me to her parents as her boyfriend and
I found myself smiling her half-cracked smile
I immediately found myself putting on my own little facade
White-collared, chin up, tie my shoelaces,
These are penny loafers
Yes sir, it's true I played shortstop on the varsity team in high school,
Yes, ma'am, the mission trip to junk town, BFE, insert third-world country here was an incredible success
I had learned all of my lines from Mary and she grinned at me from across the table as I sat over my salad and peach cobbler.
You could say that courting her in her front parlor on this warm autumn evening was a capital triumph
She would have said the same, I'm sure
In that same sarcastic manner
She had such a way with words but she would never admit that she did.
I think that's what made them so beautiful
Even as she told all of us in class that she was going to die in less than ten days, she said it in such a way that would have made you want to die too
You know, her parents weren't half as bad as she would have told you they were
I kind of had this backwards respect for them, to be honest
Felt bad sometimes after we had been making out in the basement while they thought we were playing hearts.
Maybe we were.
So at her funeral, when they had me stand in line with the family and shake hands with every friend, relative, and old couple from church who came up to me forcing back tears;
When her youth pastor told me what a model Christian she was;
When I looked at the picture of her and me on top of her closed casket;
When her parents said that they were just happy she was in a better place,
I just couldn't bring myself to tell them that she didn't believe in that
That she believed her better place was rotting in the ground with what was left of her body
To her parents, I would be telling them that their daughter was burning eternally in some lake of sulfur and the white-collared, Protestant boyfriend I had become to them had done nothing to help.
It hit me there in that moment that she was gone.
And I wanted even then to wake up next to her again, take her back to that snow-covered lake where the geese sang to her, call her voicemail to hear her voice one more time, rip off the lid of that casket and see that glowing white face and heavy green eyes one more time, wonder where in this eternal discourse she actually had ended up
I told everyone I was crying because I realized she was gone,
But really I was crying because I was afraid, somewhere, she was still alive
Her mom held my hand and her dad put his hand on my shoulder
He said if I ever needed anything to let them know. That I was part of the family.
I couldn't tell them.
Her mom was praying. Her dad was already past the point of fighting his tears. He said he wished he had cried in front of Mary. He felt like she didn't know him. His tears fell like drops of a 17-year-old champagne. Saved for the right company, opened and emptied alone. He said that she would see him cry when he saw her in heaven.
I couldn't. I just couldn't.
Her mom gripped my hand tighter and smiled at me through her glossy, hopeful green eyes.
She said she knew that Mary loved me.
She said she knew that God loved me too.
I don't know that love is the right word exactly.
Her dad felt me tense and squeezed my shoulder.
He said that he was honored that Mary was with such an honest and genuine person as me before she died.
His words – honest, genuine, died.
They stung like green eyes falling pale.
They stung like the thought of lying in the ground forever.
He said I was like a son to them.
I had completely deceived them. I am disgusting. I felt sick.
The sun was shining through the window and the glare off our picture frame had blocked out my eyes
Everything here looked as white as snow
I saw our picture, casket, mom, dad, cross, love, people, people, white discoloration
I could feel her half-cracked smile behind me now
Never had a room been so quiet as when I realized that Mary Singer had no more time here with anything.
No static noise,
No more snow-covered lakes,
Or geese, or religion, or memory, or family, or funeral
Still there was nothing that lit up a room
Like that half-cracked smile she always had
Her mind, her words, her body,
Her fleece as white as snow.
It was beautiful,
And nothing for which to be ashamed.
“Mr. and Ms. Singer,
I think I need to talk to you.”