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Ash Wednesday MAG
They don’t look at each other.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” he says at last.
She shrugs, and exhales quickly. She twists the thin brass ring he once won for her at a carnival.
“I won’t do this anymore.” She continues thrusting things into a trash bag.
He stands too close, smelling of dust and something melted, twisted, burned.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that, you know that, it was just –”
He reaches to touch her, but she whirls on him, recoiling.
“They were kids, little kids!”
“We didn’t think they’d be there, it was … an accident.”
It is not yet noon. The remains of their breakfast – milky tea curdling, oatmeal congealing – is still on the table. Their bed is unmade, visible from the small kitchen. It was only hours ago that he kissed her and slipped out of bed, leaving quietly.
“It doesn’t matter – I’m done. They’ll make you a martyr, but leave me out of it. I don’t want any part of it.”
She snatches things out of the basket of clean laundry, stuffing them into the bag. She shakes his T-shirts and shorts violently from her blouses, jeans, and underwear.
He had hoped he might be able to tell her what had happened, in his own words, skipping the worst bits. But when he returned, sweaty and dusty, his jacket torn, she already knew what had happened. She had heard on the radio. She had thrown a shoe at him; a gesture so childish he almost laughed. Almost.
He watches as she shoves some records into the bag, puts a pack of cigarettes into her coat pocket, and casts around the room for something else. Satisfied, she knots the bag.
“Where are you going?” His eyes widen.
“I told you, I’m leaving. Don’t follow me.”
He shuts the door and steps in front of her.
“Damn it, Danny!”
She can see blood pounding through his jugular, under his unshaven throat.
“You can leave if you want, but let me speak my piece. You owe me that much.”
He holds her by the shoulders, speaking slowly. She shakes the hair out of her eyes.
“I don’t owe you a bleedin’ thing,” she says, her gaze level. They have already taken everything, she thinks. There’s nothing left.
“Listen anyway. I never meant it. But Doyle – he said we could drop the thing in the bus station and leave the rest to him. We figured he knew what he was doing, and it all happened so fast. Before we knew it, it was over.”
He’s earnest, wearing the same face as when he first told her he loved her. They had been sitting in the car they’d borrowed from a friend, waiting at a toll, a year ago. They had drunk cheap pink wine on the beach and walked into the surf, feeling the velvety kelp snake around their ankles. It was high summer, but the water felt like pins piercing her feet and legs.
“They’re going to be after you, you know. They’ve a dozen witnesses.” She wants to be sick.
“I know.” It’s still a lie. Something salty, bitter, and viscous roughens his breathing. He remembers little except the rushing emptiness that filled his ears like water, the muddy red haze that clouded his eyes. On his shoes cement dust clings to dark blood and what looks like vomit, maybe his, maybe someone else’s. He stares at the linoleum instead. It is buckled at the edges, stamped to look like brickwork.
“I’m done with you. I’m done with the whole sorry lot of you. My father,” she makes the sign of the cross, “and Mike, and you. All of you,”
“Please – just – wait.”
“Stop it!” She wrenches away from him so hard that she feels something tear in her wrist. She holds it next to her, wincing.
“I don’t want anything to do with you. I won’t become my mother.”
She is fighting back tears. She hasn’t let anyone see her cry in nine years. Not since the year she buried her parents eight months apart. Not since the year that Mike … She pushes that thought away, swallowing her tears.
“We’ll get out of the city, disappear for a while until this blows over.”
“People died,” she howls. “If it helps you sleep to think that something like that just blows over, then –”
She wants to strike him, to scream sense into him.
“I told you it was –”
“Do what you want, have your goddamn honor or whatever the hell they’re calling it, but you’re not taking me with you.”
She bursts, finally, into angry tears.
“Please just let me go.”
He lets her go. Before she has walked more than a few steps down the hall, he re-emerges.
“Mary?” Her name is a question. Is this milk spoiled? Sugar in your tea? “You wouldn’t … You’re not going for the police, are you?”
Some part of her, some reflex or memory as deeply ingrained as a smell or taste, is offended.
“I’m not a squealer.”
Though it goes unsaid, they both think of what happened to Jack Garrity – the badly repaired slash through his cheek, still a swollen burgundy two years later.
Outside it begins to rain. The slate-colored Belfast sky has been threatening all day, and now it comes, like the relieved release of a long-held breath.
He nods. She waits in the hallway a moment until she hears the heavy bolt slide closed behind her. It is Ash Wednesday, she thinks. She ought to be at church.
By the time she reaches the bus station, she is soaked. The bag with her belongings is cumbersome and slick with rainwater, and as she boards she wedges it under her feet, folding her knees to her chest. She takes her mother’s rosary from beneath her shirt, the mottled mother-of-pearl beads like fair, bruised flesh. She holds it for a moment, and then slips it back, the cold silver crucifix settling at the apex of her ribs.
She rubs her face with both hands, smearing her makeup even more than the rain did, then she catches sight of herself in the window. A smile passes across her lips, so quick that only she knows. Her hands left a dark smudge of mascara across her forehead.
Not ashes, but close enough.