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Spring 2011


- R. Baldasty
Beloved Albatross
- D. Bastianutti
From Trã Bãn
- K. Cain
The Current (La Corrente)
- L. Calio
Down with the King
- M. Cirelli
May Mass – 1957
- L. Dolan
- G. Fagiani
Persephone’s Devotion to Her Mother
- M. Fazio
- V. Fazio
- D. Festa
L’Amour, L’Amour on Summer Afternoons (L’Amour, L’Amour D’estati Filuvespiri)
- M. Frasca
- S. Jackson
- W.F. Lantry
Little Swift
- R. León
Since You Asked
- M. Lisella
Dublin 2010
- V. Maher
39 Fifth Avenue
- C. Matos
Sunrise in Sicily
- A. O’Donnell
Watching Monzú at Work
- F. Polizzi
L’incontru (Rendezvous)
- N. Provenzano
Propriu Quannu Sta Scurannu (When the Day Is Almost Over)
- N. Provenzano
Bones (Le Ossa)
- D. Pucciani
- E. Swados
Mount Etna
- G. Syverson
Poet Jack Foley Says, “We’re Not Writing for Eternity
- J. Wells
Lord of Winter
- A. Zanelli

Darci Schummer

The Bearded Woman of Inis Mor

      I am a bearded woman, though I haven’t always been so.  I can remember when my chin was bare and then how the hair started coming in, strand by strand.  At first, I shaved it off, ashamed, as though the hairs told my secrets.  It wasn’t until after I left Minnesota for the place I was born, Inis Mor, to live in the house of my dead sister that I let it grow.  And then I watched it in apathy, finally understanding there is little else to be done when it comes to matters of the body.  It’s more work to fight against it.  And so I’ve come to accept the hair and then how the hair itself even changes.  First it was black, and now it’s white as fresh Minnesota snow, and coarse, too. 

      Today is New Year’s Eve—two weeks before my 67th birthday.  This morning, like many other mornings, I will walk up to Blackfort.  My first night on the island, since my last when I was too young to even walk, I was told by a local at Joe Watty’s to go to Blackfort.  For whatever reason, I took his suggestion to heart and the next morning, I went.  He was right about Blackfort.  When I saw it, I knew I would never leave Inis Mor.

      This morning is clear; the sun is shining though clouds occasionally roll overhead.  I ride my bike past the Duchathair sign and I then begin my ascent, careful not to twist these old ankles on the uneven limestone path.  I have come to respect each day that I am able to make it here because I know I will not always be able to.  I could be angry about that fact, but I try not to dwell on the future too much.  It’s risky, worrying about all the things that could happen.   I pass cows; I pass miles of stone fences.  I stop every so often to catch my breath and relax my muscles.  And then finally the path opens up and suddenly I can look out over the ocean.  To my left are the slate-colored stone semi-circles of Blackfort and to my right, fences cut the cliffed-coastline into small grids.  A few cows and goats wander in these pastures.  My favorite place on the cliffs is just before the fort—a partially unsupported overhang that curves in landward.  Below, the Atlantic laps against rocks.  I shouldn’t walk out to the edge, especially now that I’m not as steady as I once was, but I can’t help myself.  The light coming up off the sea is too pretty, its color somewhere between aquamarine and emerald and just as clear as a flawless stone.  Sea foam swirls up and it reminds me of the birds I used to see riding thermals above Loring Park in Minneapolis.  When the sky is clear like this and the water so bright, I can’t help but think about jumping off these cliffs—not in the macabre sense, but for the love of beauty.  How could you not want to rush into this scene? 

      I find a rock and sit down.  My fingers reach for the pendant hanging between my breasts.  When the sun hits the silver, it looks almost liquid.  It’s the piece I made for the New Year, just like I make a piece for every New Year.  But I won’t replicate this design to sell at the shop in Kilmurvey.  This one is just for me:  it’s a mourning dove perched on a tree, the branches of which are barren, of course, curving and rolling smoothly. The bird is small and thick breasted; her one visible eye is made of onyx.  I have been thinking often of birds lately, and so when I sat down, this pendant spilled out of me.  I carved the design in wax first, sitting at the kitchen table and stopping once in awhile to look at the rain.  I was thinking of the past, something else that I try not to do too often.  But that day, the past was there with me and I thought of waking in St. Paul and hearing the mourning doves perched on the oaks across the street from the house I grew up in.  It was that memory that guided me through the whole process of lost wax.  And when the piece was finally done, what I had first had in my hands was gone and something entirely new was in front of me.

      More clouds are starting to roll in and it’s time to head home.  Rain comes up fast here, and I have learned the hard way to avoid getting stuck in it.  As I head back down and toward home, I think of my sister, Anna.  I pick a small purple flower from the tall strands of grass.  Whenever she would talk about Inis Mor, she would always say she needed to live in a place where she could still pick a wild flower in December or January.  I always think of her at this time because she died between the New Year and my birthday.  Anna was my older sister, and now she’s dead along with my parents.  It’s strange—I no longer have anyone to answer to.  The only ones left of us are my younger brothers in Minnesota, and they’re busy with their wives and families.  When I call them, they talk about their children, and I listen, of course, interested in my nieces and nephews.  But as they talk, I always sense arrogance in their voices.  Like they have never understood why I am unmarried, why I am alone and now on Inis Mor, why I never tried to have what they have.  But they don’t actually ask, and now that I am across the ocean from them, I am content to let my beard grow instead of trying to hide the fact that it exists.

      Anna’s house, my house, comes into sight.  It’s more of a cottage really, and it faces the ocean on the west side of the island.  I love the little place.  The ceilings are low and I keep a fire stoked in the winter.  It’s solitary here, but not lonely.  There is contentment beneath the solitude and solitude is really what I came to the island for.  My life before Inis Mor was spent in the city listening to cars and sirens and loud voices on the street.  Here there aren’t billboards or shopping malls or highways.  It’s just quiet.  Anna knew that I loved the island and I’m sure that’s why she left the house to me.  My brothers have never had much interest in returning to where they came from.  Their lives are anchored in the hustle and bustle of St. Paul and Minneapolis. 

       I’ve never had anyone to hold me to a place.

      As night falls, I’m anxious to get out of the house.  I don’t believe in celebrating the New Year alone, and Watty’s on New Year’s is good.  I put on my favorite black sweater, my new necklace, and some comfortable blue jeans and head to the pub.  The weather is cold and wet, but I don’t have far to walk.  Inside Watty’s, the boys are setting up in the corner for the night’s session and I settle myself in at a table near them so I can be close to the music.  I brought a flask full of Powers.  I’ll buy a couple bottles of Coke and mix my own drinks.  Craig, the bartender, knows I do this sometimes, but he never says anything.  One other good thing I’ve found about getting old is that people say less about what you do.  This is why I have come to love my beard:  when I was young, I had one kind of power.  Now I have another.

      As I sip my drinks, two young women—probably in their twenties—walk in.  They don’t sound quite Minnesotan, but similar.  Then one says “Winnipeg,” so they must be Canadian.  Of the two, the blonde stands out to me.  Her hair is coiled up and pinned to the back of her head with a black scarf wrapped around it.  She wears nearly all black—unevenly hemmed skirt, tights, leg warmers—except for a deep green cotton tunic that almost completely covers her behind.  Silver bangles line her wrists and she makes music everywhere she walks.  She sits down and pulls an accordion from a black case.  Her brown-haired friend pulls out an acoustic guitar covered in stickers, well-worn right where it would be strummed.  They lean in, talking to the musicians, who will undoubtedly welcome them to sit in on the session, as they do all the tourists.

      The blonde is familiar to me, though I can’t pin down exactly why.  Something about the way she carries herself reminds me of when I was young.  The session starts and she begins to play her accordion, at first struggling to match the rhythm of the musicians.  But then, they hold back a little and she falls in line with them.  When that first song is over with one long note from the pipes, she starts singing a song she has brought.  She sings in French, her friend occasionally joining in.  I close my eyes and concentrate on her voice, and then I watch her face as she sings.  Her eyes are round and wide, like she’s surprised her own sound.  She sings from her gut, this much I can tell.  I don’t understand the words, but from the way she sings and the rhythm in which she stretches her instrument, these songs have to be about sinking, about sinkholes, about things that are lost and are never found.  Nothing, not even the tourists’ ridiculous dancing takes my attention from the blonde.  She is beautiful, but it isn’t her beauty that attracts me.  Voices and pictures flash in my mind, brief recollections of someone I used to know and then everything begins to make sense. 

      The past begins to plague me. 

     They take a break from playing after while and I roll myself a cigarette.  It’s nearly the New Year.  I lean against the wall underneath a fluorescent light and stare at the trees across the street.  A few others have trickled out, and as I was hoping the blonde and her friend have made their way out, too.  The blonde looks at me and I smile at her.  She smiles back, her expression comfortable and familiar.  When she walks over, I stand up straighter. 

       “That necklace,” she says, bending toward me, “is so beautiful.  Where did you find something like that?”

       “I made it.”

       “You made it? You’re a jewelry maker?”

       “Yes, I make silver jewelry here on the island.  I sell a lot of it over at Kilmurvey, the craft village.”

       “She made that,” she says, turning back toward her friend.

       Her friend comes over, inspecting my necklace as well.  Finally, the blonde picks up the pendant off my chest, her fingertips grazing my sweater.

       “It’s heavy,” she says.

       “Yes, I made it sturdy.  I like my jewelry to wear well.”

       “It’s just so beautiful.”  Her friend nods in agreement.

       “Thanks, dear.” 

      I call her “dear” because she is young and I am old, but still I have a hard time remembering that she is likely looking at me as a curiosity or maybe a dusty old encyclopedia.  In my mind, she is part of a past never fully lived.  And so with her in front of me, all I want is to right history. 

       The conversation goes dead for a second, and then I return her compliments.  “I liked your playing and singing.  Have you been playing long?”

       “About four years or so.”       

       “You have such a pretty voice.  Are you going to play more?”

       “Yes, I’m sure we will.  Well, if the boys don’t mind letting us, anyway.”

       “I’m sure they won’t.  They’ve all been playing together for so long.  It has to be nice to have someone new in the mix.”

       “Yeah, I guess you’re probably right.”  She turns to her friend. “Shall we?  I need another Bulmer’s.”

       “After you.” 

       She turns and waves before going in.

      The celebration continues on.  More songs are sung; plates of hot, fried foods are passed around; pints are filled and emptied.  The blonde keeps playing along, her confidence bolstered by alcohol and the smiles and winks of the musicians.  They already adore her.  She throws an arm around them and they throw theirs around her, swaying back and forth to the music.  She does it all so easily, reaching out and receiving an arm.  I am envious of her ease with touch; it’s something I had only once and then never again. 

      At two minutes to midnight, they stop playing and Craig makes sure all their pint glasses are full.  Soon, the countdown echoes through the bar—everyone is still, just waiting for the numbers to turn over.  “5…4…3…2…1…Happy New Year!” rings out, my voice included, and I hug Craig and Mary and Terrance and then look around, hoping to feel a new touch on my shoulder, my arm, my back.  The blonde walks into my frame of vision.  She isn’t looking at me yet, but I am sure she will end up in front of me.  A moment later, I am right.

      “Happy New Year!”  She says, putting her arms around me.  She smells like apple blossoms; she kisses me on the cheek; her lips are dry, but not cracked.  They remind me of old fabric:  taffeta, chiffon.  I return her kiss, gently, on the opposite cheek that she kissed me on. 

       “Happy New Year, dear.  I hope it’s better than the last.”

       She looks in my eyes at arms’ length, smiles, then turns away. 

      The night wears on and the pub feels cozy.  I try not to think of the walk home just yet, or of the wind rattling the cottage windows while I try to sleep.  The pub has more promise.  It’s filled with New Year’s resolutions, with that sort of pure hope.  I sit back and watch all the dancing, laughing at the swirling colors and wondering just what it is that I hope for.  What is my new year’s resolution?  What have they been in the past?  To be a better silversmith, to read as many books as I could, to be more compassionate, and—and yet there has always been something hollow in those promises.  My resolves have always been for what I thought they should be for, not for what I actually wanted.  I never let myself have what I truly longed for in Minnesota.  So many years have passed now, and I wonder if it is simply too late for me—there are no prospects on the island, a fact that makes me feel tired and old.  I shake my head and concentrate on the blonde; in her face, there is a certain light.  The light tells me that maybe it is not too late for this old woman. 

      At bar close, I follow her outside, watching as she stands and smokes, talking with the other musicians.  She tells them about first coming to the island, how the power was out and she went into the first pub she saw, how the taps in the place were running on a generator and the fire was warm, and then she knew she was in the right place.  Obviously, she is taken with the island.  Not everyone feels that way about it.  The fact that she is one of those who likes it, endears her to me more. 

      I roll a cigarette and wait anxiously for the musicians to leave her side.  The whiskey has made my head feel heavy, but focused and pleasant.  That’s why I have always liked drinking: it makes everything seem so simple.  The musicians leave a minute later, and I am there alone with the two girls. 

       “Do you know Paul?”  the blonde asks.

       “Oh, everybody knows Paul.” 

      “He told us a story about a Japanese tourist who sat with him at the bar and told him she wanted to drink whiskey.  So they drank whiskeys.  And more whiskeys.  And then he said, ‘Now there’s a blue-eyed lad running around in Tokyo!’”  Their laughter erupts.  “He also told me that he’d like to be caught on a sinking ship with me.”

      “Well, I’m sure he’s not the only one, dear.”  I pause, afraid I have said something transparent, then quickly resume the topic, “That’s Paul—he’s quite the flirt, but he’s harmless.  He’s a good man.”

       “I have to pee,” her friend says, “Can I still go back in?”

       “You should be fine, just tell Craig you only need to use the toilet.”

      She walks back in and I am alone with the blonde, and all I can think of is that I want to call her by the name of a dead woman.  And I want to be close to her because then I would be close to Willa, how Willa made me feel.  Willa:  30 years dead.  Suddenly, the blonde is close to my face, running her fingers through the hair on my chin.  My eyes close before I know I am closing them.  Her touch is as light and soft as I could have imagined; it has been a long time since I’ve been touched.

      “My friend that’s with me, Sarah, always wanted to be reincarnated as a bearded woman from Turkey.  She’s talked about it for years.  Some movie she saw when she was little or something.  I don’t know.  It won’t bother me if I ever grow a beard.  I would wear it, too.  Just like you do.  Fuck it.”

      She lets her fingertips linger in the hair.  I can feel her breath, smell the scents of Guinness and cigarettes on it.  I smile at her lack of shyness.  Willa was like that when she wanted to be, too.  They both had an audacity that I lacked in my youth.  I put my hand on her shoulder and I cannot stop myself; she is not Willa and I cannot stop myself.  I pull her toward me.  She feels natural in my arms and she rubs her palm across the middle of my back.  Her hair smells sweet.  I push her back gently so I can see her face.  Her cheeks are flushed and her blue eyes are slightly glassy in the florescent light.    

      “Please,” I say.  She looks confused, but doesn’t speak.  “Please.”  And then I do it because I am tangled up in memories and hope.  I do it:  I put my lips on hers.  She doesn’t pull back.  She just stands there—though when I push my tongue against her lips, she refuses to part them.   And so after a moment I pull away.  Her cheeks are redder now and I can tell that I have gone too far.

      My eyes fill and I remember what is true about this moment:  I am not young anymore, this girl is not Willa, and everything has happened years too late.  I am an old woman, and I have made myself into a fool in front of this girl.  She steps back from me and looks down at the concrete.  Her friend walks back out and I’m sure the blonde is relieved to see her.

      “Hey, Sarah,” she says hurriedly, “I think we should get going.”

      “I still have half a pint.”

      “I know, but I’m getting a headache and I really want to get some sleep.”


      “Just take the pint with you.  You can return the glass tomorrow.  No one cares out here anyway.”  I add.

      “Are you sure?”

      “Yes, of course, dear.  Take it.  There’s only one Garda on this island and I can guarantee you that he’s probably pissed himself.”

       Sarah reaches up and hugs me.  “Thanks!  And Happy New Year.  We’ll probably see you again, right?”

       “When are you leaving?”

       “Morning ferry in two days.”

       “Sure, you’ll see me,” I say, avoiding her eyes. 

       “Okay—bye then!”  They say together.

       “Safe travels, girls.”

      They turn and walk out toward the trees and back toward the rest of Kilronan.  The blonde turns once and looks back at me.  I put a hand in the air, holding it up for a second before letting it fall to my side.  She looks at me, but doesn’t return my gesture. 

      I remember that I never asked her name.

      And then I am standing alone.  To break the silence, I say a name: “Willa,” I say to the night and fluorescent light and trees.  There is nothing to do but start the walk home.

      I start down the bumpy road, the whiskey sinking in further.  I empty the flask into my mouth and ask myself why.  Why now am I thinking of Willa?  Maybe because I never saw her again before she died.  Maybe because it’s a new year, maybe because I have been thinking about birds, about mourning doves, she has begun to surface in me.  I can feel her with me now on this island, the one place that I thought I could escape from everything.

      She was my best customer at my family’s jewelry store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  My designs were her favorite out of everyone’s.  And so I designed things just for her.  Rings and pendants made of bright silver and onyx.  Designs with birds because she loved birds of all kinds, even pigeons.  I made her a whole set of peacock jewelry, which she wore with her cotton dresses in the summer and black wool suits in the winter.  Eventually, almost every piece of jewelry she wore had been made by my hands. 

      I was 20 when Willa first walked into the store.  She was 24 and an English teacher at Central High.  I was still an innocent then.  I had few close friends, and I had never had a boyfriend.  But, even before then I knew I felt differently about boys than the few girlfriends I had.  Boys’ presence didn’t elicit the same excitement in me.  They were handsome, funny, kind, but I did not want them.  They were friends to me, but the idea of kissing them, of letting them touch me, seemed strange.  Instead I wanted to be like them.  I wanted to do things the way boys did them—with swagger and a tip of the hat.  I kept my hair cut close and my fingernails short.  The clothing I wore was plain and only vaguely feminine.  I fantasized about walking down Grand Avenue with a beautiful woman on my arm, smiling when I imagined the pride I would feel escorting her.  I wanted to make women blush the same way my brothers did their young female customers.  By the time I met Willa, I was terrified of these thoughts, though I couldn’t help indulging in them.  I knew there must be something wrong with me.  And had the outside world known, there would have been:  Willa could cause a stir in me, but boys could not.

      The first time I saw her, she was wearing one of her wool suits with a round little mink fur hat that sat off to the side of her face.  It was winter and the glass door of the store was frosted over.  She wore a thick scarf over her mouth and nose and so all I could see were her eyes:  it is those eyes that I see now in my mind, how they always looked warm and inviting, as though she was just waiting for an opportunity to give out a kind word.  The door shut behind her and she sighed loudly and stood there for a moment.

       “It’s too cold to be out walking this afternoon.  I don’t know why I’m out shopping when I should be in my apartment curled up with a book and a cup of coffee.”

       “That’s a good question, ma’am.”

      “Call me Willa.  I get enough of that ma’am talk at school.  I’m an English teacher, over at Central.  And as such, I have to make the best of my Saturdays—rain or shine or freezing cold.  So, dazzle me, young lady.  I’m in the mood to buy.”

      I had never been the most outgoing person, but something about Willa made me want to talk.  The fact that she was friendly made me feel safe—even in those first few minutes of meeting her.  I took her around the store, first showing her designs made by my father.  Most customers liked his best.  His were tried and true designs:  gold crosses, round cut stones set in plain bands.  They were simple, well-made, and elegant.  She tried on a few different pieces and nodded at them politely, but seemed taken with none.

       “Do you design anything or do you only sell the jewelry?”

       “I do design, but I haven’t been designing that long.”

       “Can I see some of your work?”

       “I only work in silver.”

       “I prefer it.”

       “You do?”

       “Yes, I certainly do.”

      I led her to the small case at the back of the shop that held my designs.  I had begun experimenting with a variety of subjects:  trees, flowers, animals.  I made rings, pendants, earrings.  It was what kept me going in those days, making things.  I filled my time with sketching and molding.  When I was working, I wasn’t thinking about my personal life—my lack of friends and lovers.  I didn’t worry about what I was going to do with the rest of my days.  All I concentrated on was the work in front of me.  All my time and energy funneled into that metal.  It was enough for me then; it was enough before I met Willa.

      Immediately, she was taken with one of my rings.  The band was thin and in the middle was a single blossom.  In the center of the blossom, I had put a small, round amethyst.  She tried it on.  It fit perfectly. 

       “This one.  I want this one.”

       I shined the ring for her and packaged it up, all the while feeling a flutter in my stomach.  With my jewelry, I had made a woman smile, just like the boys did. 

       “How long have you been doing this?  Your designs are beautiful—unique.”

       “A few years.  But, I grew up around this shop.”

       “How old are you?”


       “Well, you certainly are talented, miss.”

      She was out the door too soon and for the rest of that day, I thought about her.  I tried to stop, but she wouldn’t leave me alone.  Each time I thought about how our hands had touched briefly over the display case, I felt a warmth spread from my stomach to my thighs.  As I lay in bed that night, I thought about how I would like to run my hand down her cheek while her face was lit up in a smile like it had been when I handed her that ring.

      The next Saturday, she came in again.  For months, she would come in every Saturday and we would talk about what new designs I was working on, or she would tell me about her students and her family.  Soon, everything opened between us and we started talking about books.  She drew a passion for literature out of me.  We talked about Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck.  She gave me As I Lay Dying and I gave her a pendant with a crane whose eye was made of amber.  It didn’t take long for our friendship to move outside the store.  We started having lunch together regularly at a café down the street.  I went to her apartment for dinners.  After awhile, I couldn’t imagine what life had been like before meeting her.  With her by my side, everything felt possible.  She taught me so much, getting me interested in politics and civil rights.  Kennedy had just been inaugurated, and the world suddenly seemed to hold so much promise for us.  It was a happy time, and through all of it we never even kissed, though we often hugged at length in her apartment.  And sometimes when we walked, she would loop her arm through my elbow, and I would pull her in toward me just a little—close enough so that she knew, but not close enough so that anyone else could see.

      The wind is picking up now as I near the church that burned many years ago.  There is no roof, but the brick walls are still standing.  I stop in front of it.  How odd it looks caught between darkness and street light, shadowed and half lit.  It’s filled with rows of aged and undulating gravestones:  like the dead won’t lie still.  I manage to open the door to the fence and walk in.  The entrance to the church is boarded up, and I wish so badly that I could go in and lie down in the remains of the sanctuary.  But I’ll have to settle for the yard, for sitting amongst the stones.

      Willa is somewhere like this now.  Somewhere back in the United States, down south —Georgia, wasn’t it?  Somewhere there is a stone like one of these with her name on it.  I try to picture the letters of her name carved in stone and just below that the completed parenthetical.  I wonder if she was buried wearing any of the jewelry I made.  I wonder what inscription is carved into her stone.  I can’t stop thinking now of Faulkner, of the passage she read out loud to me the winter afternoon we ate sandwiches and drank coffee at Mickey’s.  And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you.  And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not.  And when you are filled with sleep, you never were.  But she was.  I know because I touched her.

      The last time I saw her was a few days before she headed south.  It was a Saturday night.  She bought wine and invited me over to her apartment to drink and listen to records and talk.  When I got there, she had put fresh flowers on the table—lilies maybe, I think they were her favorite—and poured glasses of merlot.  I don’t remember what she was listening to, though I can still here pieces of it in my head.  It was something dark and melodic.  She was wearing my favorite dress of hers, black with a v-neck front and a slit up the back.  Normally she wore a little jacket with it, but she had taken that off.  She looked sophisticated.  The dress fit her waist and hips perfectly and her calves were slender, but muscular below the hem.  I can still remember the feeling of the material:  a heavy, textured cotton blend.  I felt so inarticulate every time I showed up to see her wearing only slacks and a cotton button-down while she wore one of her dresses.  But, then she would smile or laugh, and pride would swell in me and my clothes didn’t matter anymore. 

      I cannot remember the details of the conversation that night anymore; they are lost to time.  But what I can remember is how we moved the coffee table out of the way in her small living room to dance.  I put my hand on her waist, the curve was so small in my palm.  I remember the sound her high heels made on the kitchen linoleum and then their silence as she walked back into the living room, the happiest silence I have known.  The wine made us light, and we grew careless about our laughter, about our hands.  And it was then while we were sunk into her green low-backed couch that she said the words I would never forget.     

      With a fingertip underneath my chin, she lifted my face to hers.  “I love you,” she said, “I really love you.  Did you already know?”

       “No.”  I said no because I did not know for sure, though I knew something was different about us.  I just didn’t yet know how to express that difference.      

      “Well I do.  I am in love with you.”  And then she leaned closer to me and took the back of her hand and traced the side of my face from forehead to jaw.  “Do you know that you’re beautiful?” she said.

      Her touch made me shiver and in that moment it didn’t matter if I had thought I was ugly; I was beautiful.  I closed my eyes and soon her lips were against mine.  They were full and soft and they parted and so I parted mine and let her breath fill my mouth.  When she pulled back, she was smiling.  I didn’t know what I was.  Frightened. Warm. Nervous.  I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.  A panic rose inside me and I headed for the door:  what I had feared about myself was true.  I knew there was no going back.  I could handle the idea when it was only a seed inside, but when it was there on her lips, I fell apart. 

      “Please…” she said, “Please wait—I have something else to tell you—Please…Katherine…”  But I didn’t wait.  I left because I didn’t know how to love her yet.  And I didn’t know how to tell her any of it—that I had cared for her when I began making her jewelry, that I had loved her even then.  And that I was scared enough of loving her to walk out of the room right while she called out to me. 

      I was so foolish that I couldn’t imagine a time when she wouldn’t open her door at my knock.  I thought there would always be time once I had sorted my thoughts and found the courage to go back to her house and tell her everything.  I hardly slept after going home that night, and didn’t eat the next day.  Even drinking water made me feel sick.  All I could think about were the two choices before me.  I knew the consequences of both.  I could risk my relationship with my family and, hence, my job—my life as I knew it—for love and Willa.  I knew how my family and the world would view us.  I knew the score.  Or, I could bury my feelings and keep going along as normal, never knowing if I would meet someone as amazing as her again, never allowing myself to be honest about who I was.  I agonized over these paths, imagining both scenarios playing out over and over again.  When I did sleep that week, I dreamed about Willa.  I dreamed about being estranged from my family.  I dreamed about the looks that Willa and I would get when people figured out the truth about us. 

      And I waited.  I hoped she would come to me.  I hoped she would show me what to do.  But that didn’t happen.  In eight days time, she would be gone.  That is what she must have wanted to tell me when she said, “Please…Katherine.”  The words that I ignored, the words I never even watched come out of her mouth. 

       I would never hear her say my name again. 

      On the morning of the eighth day after our kiss, I opened the shop to find an envelope with my name on it stuck in the mail slot.  In her neat penmanship, she explained that her mother was ill and she would be leaving that day for Georgia.  She said she was sorry about the other night.  And she also said she wasn’t sorry.  She said she loved me still.  I held the card to my breast and sunk down to the floor.  Like a satin ribbon, she had slipped right through my fingers.  The decision had been made for me and life would resume the monotony it had before I met her.  But I would never be the same again. 

      I heard nothing about her again until a few months later.  She mailed a piece of jewelry that needed repair to the store with a note saying her mother was dying and she would stay in Georgia for at least as long as her mother was alive and then she might just stay there anyway.  She had found a good job in Savannah.  I fixed the jewelry and sent it back to her with a note containing nothing but surface information about my life working at the store.  I didn’t tell her that I had slept with the pendant around my neck before.  That was the last time we corresponded.  Years passed before I heard anything about her.  Finally, one day a customer who had worked with her at Central, told me she had died of cancer in Georgia. 

       “You were friends with her, weren’t you?”  The woman said, leaning over the counter like she could hardly wait to tell the news.

       “Yes, we were friends,” I said, “good friends,” my eyes moving past her and out the window to a little boy carrying a bag of groceries down the street.

       “Well, I’m so sorry.  The lord has his plans for things and we don’t always understand them.  She was a sweet woman.”

      “She was amazing,” I said, looking her right in the face.  I turned away quickly and went out the back door of the shop without any explanation to my brothers or father.  That afternoon, I walked the streets of St. Paul thinking of nothing but her.  How I hated myself for walking away from her that night!  There was no way to undo what I had done.  That day was the last I ever heard of her and the last I ever spoke of her, though I spent days thinking of her.  I dreamed of her often, her mouth always moving, but my ears always deaf.  Over the years, I longed to find the closeness I had shared with her with someone else.  I made a few attempts—a discrete cup of coffee with a pretty woman I had met at an art show, dinner with an older painter who came into the shop.  But, whenever the borderline was approached, I felt myself tighten inside until I was as closed as a fist.  I shaved my chin when the hair started to grow and claimed my work was the thing that completed me.  Keeping up the façade just seemed easier.

      It is misting and the ground is damp between the stones.  I am thinking of that last dance with Willa.  I imagine her body next to mine again, the feel of the fabric of her dress and the way her neck smelled.  Full of the sound of her old record player, full of the feeling of that wine though I’ve been drinking whiskey, I hold my arms out, clutch the air and spin around and around.  The grass is slick with the year’s first shower and I slip, falling flat on my tailbone.  I groan with the pain, then lie back on the ground, resting my head on a flat gravestone, waiting for the ache to dull and fade.  Overhead, clouds move across the sky.  First I see only stars, then just the moon.  The clouds shift and then it is only stars I see, the moon shrouded again.

       In my smallness, I begin to laugh.