Saturday Morning Mass

After a brief burst of creativity in early February, I’ve found myself facing something of a writer’s block. As such, I’ve been digging through buried folders, unearthing and blowing the dust off of old pieces of writing, which is fun and also a little terrifying. I’m fond of the quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” attributed to both da Vinci and E. M. Forster, according to Google. The following is a story I started back in May 2007. Like all my stories, it was unfinished and abandoned.


You are new. Today’s the first day of your life.

I tell myself that today, like I’ve been doing every morning since Misha, even though it probably doesn’t work. I tell myself that as the water splashes on my face, as the drops tumble from my chin. You are new. Every night you die, and every morning you’re reborn. I open my eyes and look through the steamed mirror. Behind the thin film of vapor and between crystals of uncorrected vision I can see my almond eyes blink back. Good morning. Still here. I scratch the side of my face where no hair grows.

I bury my feet into my docksiders and pull my bag from the floor. I grab my keys from among crumpled receipts and lonely quarters and clip them to the belt loop of my jeans.

Tim blinks at me through bleary eyes as I cross the living room, wiping my glasses on my shirt. He’s slept on the futon, blanketed by potato chip confetti.

“Where you off to?” he drawls.

“Just to the library to drop off an overdue book.”

“Yeah? Pick up some toilet paper, wouldja? We’re out.”

“Sure thing.”

The morning sun is bright, and I pull on my solar shields, my grandpa shades that cover my glasses. The girl next door who never notices me is reading on her porch. Some glossy magazine. Her toes are curled, the nails red. She may or may not be looking at me through her sunglasses.

Let go of your past. History is gravity. Soar beyond it to fly.

These are words from a life class that my mother made me attend that may or may not have worked. It’s really too early to make such evaluations, isn’t it? Only deathbeds can produce such verdicts.

I try to shake my head free of my neuroses, of falsely firing synapses, and it works for a few seconds, before poison thoughts refill my mind. It’s springtime, but Tennyson’s not fully correct. My fancies aren’t turned to thoughts of love per se, but to thoughts of all the things I never said to the girls I should have said them to, and thoughts of all the things I did say that I shouldn’t have whispered through whiskey breath.

Last night was a mistake, like so many others. The things I say to charm silly girls, things that never work. By the end of the night there was a redhead I had my eye on touching a buddy I’d arrived with, and then I was hailing a cab alone. And so it goes.

I make my way down slanted sidewalks, past bottle shards, diamonds in the concrete. There’s a kid pedaling her three-wheeler. Every time I walk by, she tries to race past me on the narrow pavement, always coming dangerously close to my ankles. This time is no different.

“Watch out,” I holler as she flies by. She scowls at me through missing teeth, and I smile. It’s a well-rehearsed ritual, our Saturday morning mass.

It’s only a few more blocks to the library, and I’m there before I’m quite ready for it. I walk in through the double doors and take off my sunglasses. There’s just one person working at the librarian’s desk, so I get in line and look around. The girl working at this branch is pretty cute, with olive eyes and hair like a shampoo commercial. I’ve never seen anybody my age working at the library. I recognize her from somewhere, like so many others in the city, but I can’t quite place it. When I walk up she smiles but shows no sign of recognition.

“I need to return this. I think I owe some money.”

“Let me check. Annie Proulx, huh? Did you like it?”

“I, uh, don’t know. Didn’t get a chance read it.”

“Oh. Well, do you want to renew it? It’s really good.”

“Um, I guess so. I don’t know. I probably won’t read it. You should just take it.”

“No prob. You owe $16.”

“$16? Jeez. Let me check. Do you guys take credit card? Oh wait, hang on, I should have enough here.”

In the recesses of my duct-taped wallet, tucked between an expired metrocard and ATM receipts, I find a worn and greasy twenty. I tug at it, and a folded photograph flutters out and lands on the floor. I bend down and snatch it up and stuff it into my pocket.

It’s a picture I took senior year of high school. We were at the beach, Joe and Rena and Remy and the whole group. Misha had waded into the water away from the game of touch football. I only followed her to the edge of the surf, watching her climb up on a large boulder in the sea. The breeze wrapped her hair around her face, and the sun behind her darkened her face, but I took the picture anyway. When I developed it and showed it to her, she told me that I was talented and that I should become a photographer. I told her that my dad wanted me to study medicine. She laughed and told me to stop being so Chinese.

I give the girl the twenty, and she hands me four wrinkled singles. I give her a slight nod and make my way back out through the double doors. I consider looking back, but I don’t, and I don’t feel eyes on my back either.

On my way back from the library I pass the girl on the tricycle again. I steady myself to avoid her wheels. This time, however, she raises her index finger at me and yells, “Bang bang!” I clutch my chest and tumble to the sidewalk, my head nearly hitting the pavement.

“Get up! Get up,” she says. She laughs at first, but a hint of worry creeps into her voice.

“I can’t,” I croak. “I’m dead.”

“You’re not dead, you’re still loveable!”

She runs over and kicks me. I laugh and get up. “See, told ya,” she says.

“You’re a miracle worker,” I tell her. I watch as she hops back on her tricycle and pedals back up the block.

I didn’t cry when I heard the news. I didn’t cry until I saw her brother cry at the funeral. The two of us never happened. I had nothing to give her but rides home and quiet glances. I never said goodbye—never knew I was supposed to—before she was gone. She’ll always be eighteen, hair held gently by the breeze, silhouetted by the sea, captured on fading film. I was much younger then, but I don’t feel much older now.

It isn’t until I arrive at home that I realize I’d forgotten the toilet paper. Tim is sprawled out on the couch, silent, chest slowly rising and falling. I guess he’ll have to wait.


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