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Mary When You Follow Her

ISSUE:  Summer 2018

Illustration by Sergio Garcia Sanchez
In the autumn of Maria’s eighteenth year, the year that her beloved father—amateur coin collector, retired autoworker, lapsed Catholic—died silently of liver cancer three weeks after his diagnosis, and the autumn her favorite dog killed her favorite cat on the brown, crisped grass of their front lawn, and the cold came so early that the apples on the trees froze and fell like stones dropped from heaven, and the fifth local Dominican teenager in as many months disappeared while walking home from her minimum-wage, dead-end job, leaving behind a kid sister and an unfinished journal and a bedroom in her mother’s house she’d never made enough to leave—deepening the community’s collective paroxysm of anxiety, which made them yell at their daughters and give out abstruse and nonsensical advice about how to avoid being a victim and boosted the sales of pepper spray and Saint Anthony pendants, and also prompted no action from the police, who said that the girls were likely runaways—the same autumn she finally figured out how to give herself an orgasm, right after the summer when she broke up with her boyfriend of two years, Ira, who had for their entire relationship been attempting to make her come with the grim resolve of a pioneer woman churning butter and failing 100 percent of the time, and she got herself one of those minimum-wage, dead-end jobs because she was saving for a bus ticket to Chicago, and she was finally hired at Phil’s Outlet, where she folded cheap T-shirts and shelved overstock home goods and learned quickly to evade Phil’s hands (which always seemed to brush against her body when the two of them passed each other in the bowels of the store), which is also the same autumn that Maria had started taking a shortcut home at night—in spite of her mother’s warnings—through the unlit parking lot of the bankrupt, half-gutted strip mall where she’d once bought her coppery quinceañera dress with its magnificent, animal flounce, and listened to the leaves rasping over the pavement and watched an owl dismember a mouse in the shadows and then slipped her Walk-man’s headphones over her ears even though her mother had warned her that music would conceal an attacker’s approaching footsteps, and felt her ponytail bouncing against the back of her neck even though her mother had warned her that a ponytail was little more than a handle for rapists, and felt thrilled to her trembling core much in the same way she felt when her orgasms ebbed away, and after she had gone to a party held in a foreclosed house and drank deeply of syrupy, mysterious liquids in paper cups and talked about the missing girls with Dolores and Perdita, whose own parents had forbidden them to walk alone or go out at night, and after her mother’s shitty station wagon broke down twenty miles away from home when she’d been on an errand to refill her brother’s asthma medication and she had to hitchhike back in the passenger seat of an 18-wheeler while chatting manically to fill the dangerous silence, and after she went home with a coworker who sort of looked like Ira and smelled a bit like him too (because even though Ira’d been bad at sex and kissing and so many other things besides, she’d found his presence comforting and stable and missed him a little), and after that coworker turned out to have a foot fetish and wanted to rub his erect dick all over Maria’s boots and Maria let him because she didn’t know what would happen if she didn’t, and after she tried to clean the faux leather with fallen leaves in that unlit parking lot of the bankrupt, half-gutted strip mall and while hunched over her project heard the sound of someone walking toward her with exquisite patience and so she didn’t look back but bolted like a deer and in her socks, leaving her boots (her favorite pair!) behind, and after Perdita showed up at her front door on a Sunday morning because Dolores had gone missing, too, and they’d searched and searched and eventually found Dolores’s keys in a ditch next to the road next to the elementary school but never anything else, and after Phil handed her a paycheck with his other hand shoved deeply into his pocket and didn’t let go right away when she tried to take the envelope, and after Maria told him to go fuck himself and he shoved her against the OSHA poster and called her a bitch and told her he’d let her keep her job under one condition, and after she ran home through the unlit parking lot of the bankrupt, half-gutted strip mall and looked up as she ran hoping to see a cathedral of stars but instead just saw a terrible darkness, and after she snapped at her mother that she was fine and collapsed in her bedroom wheezing and crying and then overturned her father’s old cigar box and counted her money, but months before a white girl from a rich neighborhood also disappeared and suddenly her pale, thin-lipped face was fluttering like a flag of surrender on every telephone pole and the police were combing through the snarled streets in full force and Maria’s mother said that she wished Maria was around to see them finally doing their jobs, and before the town was buried under four feet of snow, which no one could deny gave them a strange sense of relief, a sense that time’s terrible, ticking advancement had been stilled for a spell, and before a snowplow operator accidentally uncovered the shallow graves and their bodies near the unlit parking lot of the bankrupt, half-gutted strip mall, and before they arrested the high school chemistry teacher and the community demanded answers, and before they learned that they would never, ever get them, Maria left a note for her mother on the fridge telling her that she loved her and was sorry and missed her already, that Papa was watching out for her and she’d be all right and she’d write when she got there, and as she sat on the bus to Chicago, her backpack in her lap and her rosary coiled in her coat pocket and the windows smeared with someone else’s face grease, she imagined that the missing girls were all living in the city in brick row houses on a single block, a well-lit block with gardens and parks and cafés and a sidewalk, where they all laughed and made art and dated and dined and fucked and danced and aged and married and had children, and at night told stories to each other about the last, long-ago time they’d truly been afraid.  




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