Female Education
  Flash Fiction by Rita Ciresi
  Four Ways of Looking at a Wife Some Things You Can Ask Me Burned Lowlands
Disposal Bargains Office Party Old Flames On His Way to American History
Through the White & Drifted Snow Imaginative Writing Notes for a Very Long Love Story Female Education Maybe the Mermaids

  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  Summer 2019 Fiction Issue

On His Way to American History

I set my purse on the glass coffee table and perch on the brown leather couch. Psychic Leila takes the matching armchair and places her hands in her lap. In her stretch pants and comfort shoes, Leila looks more like a clerk at J.C. Penney than my portal to the other world. Yet her intense green eyes seem to see right through me.

Thankfully, she closes them.

“I see a man,” she finally says. “Who’s not quite a man.”

I close my own eyes, as if I can will him back into being.

“He’s wearing sneakers and jeans,” she says. “Carrying a backpack. And holding his hand over his heart. Something metal presses against his chest. It’s a. . . . ”

I hold my breath.

“Saint,” she says. “Christopher.”

“That’s him,” I blurt out and open my eyes.

“He says don’t worry. He’s safe now. On the other side.” Psychic Leila remains silent for few moments, eyes still closed. “There’s a yellow car. No, a bus. A long hallway. And. . .”

I shiver.

“Flowers,” she says. “Purple flowers. In front of a house.”

“Tell him—can you tell him?—I’m sorry.”

“He knows what’s in your heart.”

“But I want to tell him. I want to say—”

Oh, why hadn’t I rehearsed what I would say? Now it would only come out in a rush: I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you goodbye that morning. I’m sorry I yelled at you because you didn’t cut back the Mexican petunias in the front yard like you promised. I’m sorry the last thing I ever said to you was, Try thinking about someone else beside yourself for once in your goddamn life!

“Did it hurt?” I ask Leila.

She shakes her head. “It was like being born, all over again.”

They said mothers forgot the pain of giving birth the moment after it happened. But I had never forgotten the intense pressure at the base of my being that made me feel as if I were giving birth to the entire world. Then came a slick slide, a gush of blood, and there he was.

Until he was not.

“Why did this happen?” I ask.

Leila remains still and silent. Maybe she—and my boy—are running through all the if onlys with me. If only he had given me some cock-and-bull story about having a sore throat that morning. If only he had missed the school bus. If only he had been scheduled for algebra at that hour. If only the boy I had come to think of as The Other Boy had waited five more minutes—or four—or two—to enter the building. If only my boy hadn’t taken my admonition—try thinking of someone else for once in your goddamn life!—to heart. If only when he first heard the rat-a-tat of the assault rifle he hadn’t pushed that tenth-grade girl out of the way, if only he hadn’t played the hero and taken the bullet meant for her, if only—like in a Hollywood movie—the bullet had ricocheted off the Saint Christopher medal I’d given him when he got his learner’s permit to keep him safe behind the wheel of the car, little dreaming he’d need it just to walk down the hall to American history.

“What if—” I say.

Leila shakes her head. “He says: No what-ifs.”

“But what—”

Leila holds up a finger to shush me. The light leaking through the Venetian blinds fades. The room darkens.

She opens her eyes. “He’s gone.”

“Can’t you bring him back?”

“He wants you to know—” Leila says, “—he wants you to accept—he’s gone for good.”

How to make a graceful exit? Was I supposed to shake Leila’s hand? Palm her a twenty? On my way to the car, I remembered that even though I had booked the appointment online using a false name, I had prepaid using PayPal—which was registered in my real name. Which meant Leila only had to Google me to find out why I had turned to her.

Unlike some of the other parents, I hadn’t achieved celebrity status. I didn’t take the microphone. Or megaphone. Didn’t picket. Didn’t testify before the state legislature wearing the signature T-shirt that read ONE TOUGH MOTHER across the chest and WHO LOST HER CHILD TO GUNS on the back. Nor did I intend to testify at the trial, wearing a photo of my son in a heart-shaped locket around my neck, so I could turn tearfully to the judge and jury and tell them that the gunman had as good as put an end to my life as well as that of my only child—and then look at The Other Boy, slumped over in his orange jumpsuit—and voice my sole consolation: At least I’m not his mother.

But my name had been printed in the newspaper. And my boy’s photo—along with the rest of the victims—was posted everywhere. So was Psychic Leila yet another party—like the attorneys who sent me letters offering their services—who sought to profit from my situation?

If so: how dare she pretend she’d been talking to my boy. And yet she had seen the Saint Christopher medal. As for the purple flowers—who else but my boy could have told her about the petunias?

Only inside my hot, stifling car—behind the tinted windows and the silver sunshade—do I let myself weep. Then I blow my nose. Start the car engine. Blast the AC on high and turn the vents so they’ll dry the tears off my face. As I fold down the sunshade, I see it’s gotten cloudy. I’ll have to gun it to get back before the afternoon rain starts to fall and the road home becomes jammed with a long line of bright yellow school buses, their headlights turned on like cars in a funeral procession.

  © Rita Ciresi, 2019

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