Waiting on the Floor for God

“Joan of Arc Sits Naked in Her Dorm Room” by Rachel Engelman, the prize-winning story selected by Jess Walter for Selected Shorts

Waiting on the Floor for God

The following story was chosen by Jess Walter as the winner of the 2018 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. The winning work will also be performed live on Selected Shorts at Symphony Space in Manhattan on June 6, 2018.

Joan of Arc Sits Naked in Her Dorm Room

Joan of Arc sits in her dorm on a Saturday night. Joan of Arc is always home on Saturday nights. She does not go out for pizza or beers, or to the movies, or even the theatre, though she would probably enjoy the theatre, for Joan possesses a theatrical heart. When she speaks in class, she thrusts out her chest and focuses her gaze high in the air, as if on some floating orb of light. Though her answers are often wrong. The teacher feels badly having to correct her, though in all consciousness, he cannot show favoritism — not even for spirited and stubborn girls with charmingly ugly haircuts.

The truth is, Joan struggles with school. She usually sneaks a recorder into class so she can listen to the lectures again at night. But Joan is prideful, and will only do this when her roommate is out. Fortunately, Joan’s roommate has a boyfriend and is often out. This boyfriend’s name is Max. He is from Quebec and speaks a beautiful, whispery French. Sometimes, as he waits for his girlfriend to change her clothes, or finish an episode of The West Wing — he and Joan will speak in French. He is very polite and always asks Joan about her classes, or the book she is reading, or the fish she keeps in a wine decanter. He says, How is your little friend? And Joan says, Still alive!

Max has a head of luscious chocolate curls and sometimes Joan dreams of pulling them taut. Of peeling off his wool sweater and kissing the delicate bones at the base of his neck. She does not understand why Max is in love with her roommate, who talks too much, and is a slob, and lacks cursory manners. But oh, is he in love! He kisses Joan’s roommate fervently at the door, and stares at her in awe, as if she is not his girlfriend at all, but rather, some fantastic, complicated woman he’s only ever seen from afar.

On Saturday nights, when her roommate is with Max, Joan takes off all her clothes. She lights a candle and sits cross-legged on the carpet, which scratches her buttocks in a pleasurable way. If anyone asked — though no one ever will — she would say she was waiting for something. Or rather, for someone. Waiting for the candle to go out in a gust of wind, for the smoke to curl into the air in the form of letters.

Joan has always thought of God as a secret friend. When the wind ruffles the back of her shorn hair, or she finds a five-dollar bill on the ground, or when she wakes in the morning from a dream of indelible lust with moisture slick between her legs — well, that is God. Her friend. Her only friend.

And because she likes to give God a face, she often pictures Max. He will come into the room where she is sitting, and kneel before her. She will ask if he wants to take off his clothes, since the room is warm, and it’s strange to be naked alone. And God-who-is-Max will say, D’accord, in that whispery voice of his. And Joan will reach forward and pull his hair very gently. And he will say Joan, how is your little friend? Is he still alive? And she will say, Do not talk to me about fish, not now, and he will say, You’re right, and she will say, I’ve been waiting for you, and he will say, I’m here.

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