This is a short list submission for the ROSA Award.
Helen Rose Schneider
I wake up far too earlier than my alarm to rustling in the dark. I flip on the light and blink the back the urge to fall asleep again. The first thing I see is a face peering over me, framed by a crown of thorns and lank, black hair. Blood drips from where each prickle punctures the skin, and flows between greasy locks to a face that was once beautiful. It catches in the hollows of a starved face and drips on the lashes, giving a ghoulish effect to a pale complexion, which should be sun-kissed and vibrant.
“Ah!” I recoil, “Saint Rose, I thought I wouldn’t see you again. I mean, I stopped seeing you and the others after Dwayne died.”
“You’ve come to a crossroads in your life. We often come back for these occasions.”
Her thin frame shuffles around the room in a too-big, tattered peasant dress that has faded to bone-white. Her hands are stained red from sporadic bleeding on her palms; stigmata, a holy sign reminiscent of the Crucifixion. I watch her finger a handbill from my most recent performance.
“Don’t stain that,” I mutter.
Her hand slowly floats back. “An interesting character for you to play,”
“A perfect character for me to play,”
“A cross-dresser? Why would you think that?” She sounds hurt. “Why would you reject the gender God gave you?”
“What does God care? It was just a fucking play!” The vulgar language is more an attempt to get on her nerves than out of anger. It works. I watch her bristle and whirl around to another section of my room before I continue, “Why are you here?”
“Gluttony, lust, sloth,” With each word she picks up a piece of clothing from the floor or out of my closet and flings it in the air, “Wrath, avarice, envy, and,” She picks up an especially garish dress, “Vanity,” she spits, “You’ve fallen prey to all of them! And now, you’ve refused to be confirmed a Catholic! You don’t even attend Mass, anymore.”
“I disagree with what that bureaucracy at the Vatican has said recently. It affects me as a woman. It affects me as a woman who likes women.”
She steadies herself, and I wait for the word that should accompany the look on her face.
But that word never comes, because she is more than human and is beyond that. I am not a slut, I know that. But her expression is almost enough to convince me otherwise.
“Where are the others?” I ask, in order to break the silence. I draw my knees to my chest and think about Saint Francis of Assisi, who created Christmas carols, and had once came in with our cat in his arms and my sister’s parakeets on his head. I was going to take his name as my confirmation name, had I been confirmed. It was the saints like him that made me accept the Church. Saint Rose had only existed to chide and correct me, and she was part of what I was pushing away in the Catholic Church.
“It’s just me for now,” she says, “Maybe the others will come later.”
“I hope so.” I rest my chin on my knees and glare at her.
“Well,” She dryly looks up and down at the t-shirt and underwear I had worn to bed, “You already know what you’ve done wrong, so we won’t go over that.”
“What have I done wrong?” I explode. I leap out of the bed to the unabashed saint. Her lack of a reaction calms me down. “Look, your entire religion-our entire religion-is based on a man who refused to live by the rules dictated to him, who went against the grain of society. Why are you trying to change me for standing up for something I believe in, if Christ did something not so different two thousand years ago?”
She blinks a little, like a woken owl, but is silent. Then, she angrily opens her mouth, but stops, and then, a few minutes later, continues in a different tone.
“You don’t have to be confirmed a Catholic, if that’s your choice. I won’t, none of us will, come back to ask you about that again. You may…live this life according to what you believe in. But just remember to stop once in a while, stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing-whatever you’re doing-is right. That’s what a God, a religion, is for. You’ll have to do it yourself, instead. It may be harder, but please, just try to do that for me, for all of us.” She smiles suddenly, “We share the same name, you know.”
Rose is only my middle name and nickname, and a name that was also only endearingly given to the saint for the beauty she tried so hard to suppress, and I remind her of that.
“Not really, just what we’re called. Your real name is Isabel, and mine is Helen.”
“Of course; why don’t we call each other that,” she responds, “To spare the confusion?”
“Yes, and because of the resentment.”
“Yes,” She looks down at her feet sadly. She’s leaving now, I realize.
“Will I ever see you again, any of you?”
“That’s your choice.”
I stare into the black pupils of those blood-teary eyes until I see nothing but blackness. Then, I realize I am staring at the back of my own eyelids. I open my eyes, gaze around the empty room.
“God damn it,” I smile reminiscently at my swearing, “No way are you going to make me believe that was a dream. I’m not falling for that.”
Only in the movies, or in some Biblical tale, I figure, would it logically work out that way.