Visiting the Local Greasy Spoon with an Actual Saint
The following story was chosen by Nicole Chung as the winner of the 2020 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize. The prize is awarded annually by Selected Shorts and a guest author judge. The winning entry receives $1000, a 10-week writing course with Gotham Writers Workshop and publication in Electric Literature. In lieu of a live performance at Symphony Space in Manhattan, Selected Shorts has arranged for the winning story to be recorded by Emily Skeggs, which you can watch here.
Prayer for the Ides of February
Winters, my hands become geological. First they chap, then fissures open in the webbing between each finger, then granules surface from within. This year, the granules have begun aggregating into complex structures. I sand down the pale, coral-like extrusions with a nail file or discreetly snap them off. In the privacy of my apartment, I tweeze out the roots. It’s hard to keep up, and leaves my hands prone to bleeding and my mittens bloody.
What do I do, I ask my mother. From far away, she consults the Harvard pathophysiology guide that’s always lived on her nightstand, thousands of pages thick with all the very best ailments. But that’s no help, so she dredges up her catechism and suggests petitioning Saint Lucy.
Although I’m thoroughly agnostic, ambivalent to the bone, you descend from the heavens right away, halo blazing. You gently take my hands in your own, diagnosing it as a bad case of longing, something within me yearning beyond.
Can you make it go away? I ask.
Are you sure you want me to? you ask. It’s really quite lovely.
I’ve fallen behind on pruning, and latticework, admittedly charming, now encircles my knuckles. I imagine letting it grow out, myself as art installation. Then, when no gallery can contain me, lowered to the seafloor, generating much-needed habitat for eels and cephalopods.
But it’s rendered my hands useless, I object. And I’m too young to become a full-time monument to my own solitude.
With an air of approval, you loop your immaculate arm carefully through mine for a stroll to the famous local diner. They’ve decorated with red cutout hearts and cupid garlands. You get the grilled cheese, I get an egg cream, we share a platter of fries. I couldn’t remember which one St. Lucy was; you are, of course, the one always depicted with her eyes both in her face and on a plate, which we make space for by the jams. You also doff your halo, wedging it between the ketchup and the napkin dispenser, where it dims. You seem much more approachable now that I can stop averting my eyes.
After we’ve finished, the waiter sweeps up my sloughings and clears the dishes as well, we realize belatedly, as your eye-plate. I rush to save the eyes before they get thrown out, but you catch my elbow and pull me back. We never learn what becomes of them.
I do not ask if you regret your virgin martyrdom, if wedding Christ was really an excuse to rebuff mortal men, if you respond so readily to all your supplicants. You do not point out my hypocrisy, resorting to religion only when science fails me. We linger long after the bill is settled, speaking of thoughts and feelings and other womanish trifles, voices low, for no one but each other. “Only the Lonely” plays on the jukebox but for once does not apply.