by Rae Theodore
Writing is the holiest thing I know. I have baptized myself in words. Been born again in story too many times to count. The one with the happy ending. The one with the sad ending. The one where I play the hero. Heal my broken heart. Take a different path. The one with no ending at all. I offer to read a few lines about a favorite uncle before my birthday dinner. A kind of grace, even though my family never prayed to any deity. I pull out my cellphone. Clear my throat. Testify. I am my words. Mom sits straight. Laces her fingers, folds her hands in her lap. Someone talks. Dad? Mike? Mom laughs in the middle. I lose my place. Plow on. Reach the part where the words spark, leave a trail of light. “Nice,” Mom says at the end. No amen. I wanted to give them the little lemon tree with the dark green leaves that sat in my uncle’s dining room all those years. The tree never bore any fruit, but there was always hope. The lemon tree is gone now. The house, too. I wanted to give them that back. A magic trick. A shiny lemon pulled from thin air. I am all regret. I pray for a machine to take back what’s been said. Delete. Delete. Delete. Only through writing have I been able to forgive myself for my sins. We eat. Buttery sea bass. White as a sheet of paper. Click of fork. Clack of knife. We chew, swallow. Mouths full of nothing that belongs to us. After dinner, dessert. I open gifts. Mom can’t find the card. “Not there?” she asks. I paw through the tissue paper. Red. Yellow. Green. A magician’s silk scarves. Nothing inside.
She pulls out her cellphone. Offers to read a few lines about my brother before we eat her birthday dinner. A kind of grace, I guess, even though we haven’t prayed before dinner since my mother was alive. She clears her throat. Testifies. Still a drama queen. She is only words now. I sit straight. Lace my fingers, fold my hands in my lap. Someone talks. Her father? Her brother? Not my problem. Amen. I laugh in the middle. She plows on. “Nice,” I say at the end. The story was about my brother’s house. Gone now. A magic trick. She acts like writing is the holiest thing she knows. As if she birthed herself in a story. Baptized herself in words. What about my story? The one with the happy ending. The one where I get to play the hero. Heal my broken heart. Take a different path. The one that never ends. Of course, I have regrets. When will she forgive me for my sins? Delete. Delete. Delete. We eat. Buttery sea bass. White as a clean sheet. Click of fork. Clack of knife. We chew, swallow. Mouths full of the food I’ve put on the table. After dinner, cannoli. Her favorite. She opens her gifts. I can’t find the card. “Not there?” I ask. I paw through the tissue paper. Red. Yellow. Green. A magician’s silk scarves. All my words disappeared.
Rae Theodore is the author of My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys: True Stories for Gender Rebels and Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Her stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars, Bureau of Complaint and Barren Magazine. Rae serves on the board of Creative Light Factory, a nonprofit in southeastern Pennsylvania that supports writers, and is CLF’s chapter lead for Women Who Submit, an international group that empowers women and nonbinary writers to submit to literary journals.