The blood that dribbled from Alex’s palms smelled ever-so-faintly of roses. She showed them to me in the girls’ room after Algebra, dragged me into the handicap stall and shoved her hands in my face—”See??”—her puffy lips tight, frightened or maybe angry. “Here, too”— she lifted her sweater, and I had to stopper the scented ooze below her bra with a kotex from the machine and a piece of duct tape from that little roll I keep in my backpack.
I hope God will forgive me that quick, sweet taste of satisfaction at how it would feel when she had to pull it off. Envy is a sin. I’ll confess it Friday. I confess all of them. Scrupulously, in the literal sense of the word, as Mr. Epstein would say. It’s a sin to ask God, Why Alex? When I’m the one who goes off to St. Sebastian’s every morning, the 5:30 Mass, while she’s still in bed drooling on her pillow, so I can still catch the school bus, kneeling in the pew with my head bowed over my missal as the brand-new sun sets the little daggers in the saint’s stained-glass heart on fire, just me there with a scattering of old ladies in wool babushkas. When I’m the one who wears the scapular between my breasts, which are a lot smaller than Alex’s, and I don’t stick them out like she does, by the way. The one who drops half my babysitting cash in the collection basket.
When I gave her my gym socks, even though I know how you can’t really ever get bloodstains out of cotton.
Sure, she says prayers. Or so she claims. But they’re not real prayers. I seriously doubt they’ll get her to heaven. I’m not even sure she knows what heaven is.
So when Mara leaned in across the aisle to Alex and whispered, “New perfume?” I reminded myself that the ways of God are mysterious, that He has His reasons, and they’re not for me to know. But really. Maybe He’s testing me? It’s hard, and I have to pray for grace to keep that Why Alex? from lurking, dirty and seductive. It’s just so hard.
That moment still dogs me, even now, as I sit across from Alex in McDonalds. I picture her back in English class: her face cardboard gray, wads of Kleenex clutched in both fists, Mr. Epstein droning on about dangling participles, and Mara’s question—New perfume?—hangs in the stale, rose-tinged air. And there’s this pause, then Alex gave that little fake smile she can do and whispered back, “Yeah. Like it?”
And I know I’ll have to confess how I feel even now, as I watch her fiddle with that butt-ugly pink headscarf, and then she picks up the Big Mac in her hands, which the nurse wrapped in gauze during lunchtime, and gives me that smile and takes a big bite, and it’s not even what-do-you-call-it, halal?