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Confession

Jesus didn’t have toes. I don’t know how many times I had run my fingers against his silver body before I realized that, pinching protruding ribs and suffering arms between my thumb and index finger. I stopped in the middle of “pray for us sinners” and glanced down at the crucifix. My bare lips hung open as I twirled the necklace in red candlelight. That was when my senses swarmed back and the weak warmth under my ribs slipped out, smooth as the ends of Jesus’s nailed feet. There was a dull ache wrapped around my skull and any moisture left had been sucked from the surface of my eyeballs. I closed my mouth, licked the cracks in my lips, and straightened up, crossing myself as an after thought. The confessional door swung open and I could see Father O’Brien behind the grate. My toes flattened against the sole of my heels and I rocked forward without moving. His eyelids were reredoses, seeing even when they were closed, but I zipped my Salvation Army coat and slid outside before they landed on me.

Katie followed me out, goose bumps splashing her bare legs as we ducked into the subway. I stared up at colored lines on the map and thought of the diagrams of veins they had given us in health class last semester. Veins, popping and purple; veins, bloody and pulsing; veins, thick and hard. Katie traced the routes with a red index finger, slumped against the map on the wall, and asked me where the hell we were going. I shrugged and flopped down on the bench. Six BU sorority girls hovered a few feet in front of us, snickering and cursing when they had to take leather gloves off to text on their iPhones. Sweat swelled behind my teeth but I ground them down and swallowed hard. Brian would’ve done it, I told myself, and bile clogged my throat instead of saliva. Katie waved a hand in front of me and called “Aaaaaannieeeee” until I blinked back at her. “I lied,” I said. My voice was hollow and foreign against my gums. There was no shift in my gut, no flow of emotion like in the movies. Maybe there should have been, but maybe Brian had taught me too much. Katie asked me the inevitable; what I meant. I scrunched dark eyelashes shut and reeled back memories, but there was no first time, and no last time either.


Two weeks ago, I had snuck down the fire escape in stilettos and torn skinny jeans. My parents had always hated me seeing him; he was twenty-one and I was seventeen, and he hugged street corners with his tattooed arms besides. They had always said he was trash, but we were trash too, and that was the part they wouldn’t say no matter how well we all knew it. It was 10:21 when I had knocked at his apartment window, and I remembered the way he had smiled. That was how I knew he loved me, because a smile in any direction but mine was a smirk that never reached clover green eyes. He had shoved the window up with one arm and pulled me in with the other, and I had tripped into his chest and kissed him as we fell into the scratched table. Ryan and Aiden were there too, and they had brought their girls, who were both older than I was by at least two years. Brian asked me if I wanted a drink and I had grabbed two, holding one out to him before I downed my Johnnie Walker Red, but he had waved it off. He pulled a Ziplock bag of smack out of his pocket and shook it above my head. I smirked and took another drink, willing the macramé in my gut to unfurl, but it was like trying to flatten burned pages. I sank into my hip and remembered him telling me a few months back never to get drunk and try anything with a needle. “Whiskey’s good, golden brown’s better,” he had said, “You can’t mix something good and something better. Too much of a good thing and one’s bound to stop your heart.” We kept drinking until Brian had to carry me over to the couch, my legs like rubber bands and heels kicked off. He eased my spine into the cushions and his stomach sealed on mine, his neck curving and swerving to kiss my lips, ears, neck. I wrapped my arms around him, pressing him close and inhaling Johnnie and Marlboros. The floor world tilted under us, spinning like a merry-go-round, and I couldn’t remember after he peeled my shirt off and flung it onto the lamp.

Johnnie Walker Red comes up fast and hard, and it scalded my tongue when I woke up that night. The room was dark and blurred around the edges. I stumbled up, wiped vomit on my sleeve, and called out after Brian. My ears were numb and stuffed, but I heard the groan from the corner. Brian’s back was curved like a lobster’s against the wall. Vomit oozed from his chin to his belt buckle, and his eyelids fluttered shut. The belt was still fixed around his left bicep, and my pupils darted between the empty needle and drained bottle. I’d whispered his name first, then yelled it, shaking limp shoulders under yellow-white knuckles. Too much of a good thing and one’s bound to stop your heart. His lungs sputtered under my palm and I remembered the way his kisses had been urgent, almost violent; the way he had held me like I would evaporate under his fingers; how frantic he had been to strip me and hold me.

When the ambulance came, the medics wouldn’t let me ride with him. I had sat in the waiting room with Ryan and Aiden, whose girls had wandered home tipsy hours before, and slumped against a picture of Saint Jude. I twirled Jesus between my fingers, whispering Hail Mary’s until my lips cracked and the words ran together. I prayed to every saint I knew and hated the whiskey aftertaste on my breath. Father O’Brien came at 3:06 with a Bible and communion kit, and he pulled me aside with a wrinkled hand on my shoulder blade to ask what had happened. I had stared at the tiles and lied. “It was an accident,” I slurred, “Overdose.” Father O’Brien’s eyes had dug into mine then, but I kept them blank. I had done the same at the funeral, when I had tossed a rose in over the casket as Father O’Brien made the sign of the cross. My voice was like cold syrup, too thick and heavy to crack, and I had kept my swollen eyes dry until I locked the door to my bedroom. Father O’Brien had told me that Brian had been dead by the time he had gotten to the hospital, but in kinder, longer words to keep me from collapsing. There had been no last rites, no absolution. For suicides, I wondered if it mattered. That night I had dreamed about fire, and every night since, watching it lock over Brian’s head like ice over the bay.


Katie called my name again and I blinked fast. She took out a pack and offered me one, which I took and lit with the lighter Brian had bought me for our six-month anniversary. He had always been horrible at remembering dates, but told me that if he was going to remember them, he wanted me to do the same, so he had bought me something practical. “Let’s hear the confession then,” Kate said. She set the Marlboro’s end on her knee and rolled her eyes at the pretty BU girls as they stepped onto the bus. I took a long drag and let my eyelids flutter shut, snapping them open a moment later. I ran my finger through the grime and slid it along my leg, making a jagged cross of slime on my thigh. “Never mind,” I said, “None of this matters.” I stood up and we hopped the turn styles, running between closing doors without looking where they were going.



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