What She Wanted
Kissing Anselm is the last thing I want; the candles along the sidewalk are my gold start of trying.
The Holy Saturday sky blisters overhead, above the secluded path leading away from church. Wax stubs in candle bags light the way out and back, all homogeneous shades of yellow and blue, spilling into a nebulae too clustered for this city. Anselm walks ahead of me, full of zeal and the stolen Blood of Christ, arms sprayed at her side in pseudo-wonder. Her feet are subtle and skipping beneath her skirt, too ambitious for forward movement.
“It’s beautiful,” she says.
“It’s sad.” I stay behind, flustered and petty. “And these bags are left over from vacation Bible School.”
In the distance, we come to a nearsighted face with the cross at the edge of the clearing and the adjacent fire still smoldering from the service of the light. The Easter festivities go on behind us, the clatter of flute music and nearly baptized chatter trying to draw us back into its masses. I don’t mind sitting through the service; I do so every year since my father is a deacon. Anselm couldn’t stay put for a procedure we endured yearly, and wanted to get out, just to talk, at night.
She knows I’ve been avoiding her, and I figure that’s why she wants to talk, even if she’s too innocent to know the reason. I don’t know the word for it, even if my mother assures me it’ll pass
I want to kiss my best friend, and that makes it hard to face her.
No one else is around, so we sit on the sidewalk, thigh to thigh, starring in a vague direction.
“My mom doesn’t know I’m out here,” she says. “She gets mad when I leave mass.”
“Well she can suck on walnuts, because I hate them.”
Anselm should giggle, but she doesn’t, uncharacteristically glaring at the ground. “Cassilda, what’s going on with you?”
I shrug. “Nothing more than usual.”
Bits of grass poke through the lanky cobblestone. Anselm picks through dirt until she’s pulling up roots. She doesn’t believe me; says she has no idea why I’m so distant.
My words are ruffled, too acidic for my mouth. “It’s none of you goddamned business.”
She looks at me, eyes small and hurt, both at my outburst and blaspheming the Lord’s name. I wait for a confrontation that she’s too fragile to give. Instead, she says, “Thanks for cursing.”
It’s chilly despite the April temperament, and she rubs her arms to keep herself warm. Absentmindedly, I hand her my cardigan.
I grumble in response.
The air smells of melted wood and burnt wax, lights clinging to the ends of their bags. A couple odd people pass by and go around us, not bothering to tell us to go inside. It’s not exactly quiet after that. A muffled bass tries to burst through the chapel brick, crickets and mosquitoes buzz a somber medley.
“It’s freaking cold,” I say. “Shouldn’t those bugs be dead?”
She looks at me with weightless words. “It’s Easter.”
I want to ask what that has to do with anything, and point out that it isn’t Easter until tomorrow. Then I realize her gaze isn’t fleeting, and she is intense as she can manage.
“It’s Easter,” I repeat, not sarcastic or mocking. “The renaissance of living in the death.”
She doesn’t know what I mean.
“Yeah,” I say. “Neither do I.”
I reach out and touch her cheek, like my fingers can brush back the freckles behind her ears. Her muscles tense at my touch, shifting under skin too tight for discomfort, and shug hugs my shrug closer against her chest. I’m sure what I’m doing, but know full well she looks perfect baptized in the makeshift blush of resurrection.
I kiss her. My brain thaws inside my skull, and spills down onto the arches of my face, or maybe hers; I can’t tell which of us is crying. But I still kiss her, soft and saccharine.
She doesn’t know what I’m doing, but she doesn’t stop me either.
There was plenty of chance — I stall my mouth over hers, keep my body distant, hands going nowhere below the neck. My motions play themselves out until I am extinguished, and I keep my eyes shut to tinker with my imagination much longer. Me in front of the cross, her ordained with candles, and no one is around, because they are all in church.
When I do pull away, Anselm’s eyes are still closed. She doesn’t open them before whispering, “Cassilda.”
I say that I’m sorry, that I tried not to do it. When I finish speaking, she’s already on her feet. There are no questions or affect for what happened. With a sideways glance, she turns and walks away.
Returning to church, she leaves me there by myself in a diadem of a condemning glow. Her bare feet repeat on the granite, and I can tell that she is dragging.
And then she’s gone, the blows of my efforts keeping me nailed tight in the ground.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty isn’t something that can be created, but instead appropriated for the sake of an artistic aesthetic. I try to approach my writing experiencing this small world in as many angles and cohesive forms I can, but the source material is always me listening. My biggest writing secret is eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, because even doing everyday things like working, going to school, riding the bus, can incite an idea that turns a banality into something engaging. It doesn’t take a doctoral degree or a rigorous course of study either; most people have a hint of lyricism in them, whether they realize it or not. If not lyricism, then humor, intellect, even an insight foreign to anyone else not inside their head. Doing this, I’ve heard some winsome things, some weird things, the term “on fleek” used in way too many contexts’.
Most of all, I’ve learned that no one can ever agree.
I’m not sure if it’s elitism or just a matter of taste, but some are so biased in their view of beauty that it makes them inaccessible to anything or anyone new. Even in the literary community, the attitude towards ‘literary’ and away from avant garde, neo-modern, experimental, and pop culture essence makes them close minded. This isn’t a problem exclusive to art, but it is one that is prominent in displaying biases; against race, social class, sexuality, and gender identity, without failing to realize that beauty comes in different forms, even deviating from “the canon.”
Beauty does not exist in just one of these things. It is found somewhere between the obtuse and the expected — not in mutually exclusive terms, but in synchronicity. Things and concepts (even people) that don’t go together on the surface can have some connecting link once dissected and put through the lenses that are looking for cohesion.
I believe in beauty but I don’t, because it’s a concept that isn’t completely tangible. Beauty to me is like God — I have my own relationship and interpretation, and I can try and make people see my perspective, but their views on his power or absence can’t be fundamentally changed by little old me. We all, in some way, suffer in relation to beauty: in spite of, alongside, because of, or for its sake.
If I had to call beauty one thing, I would call it an aesthetic; a lenient appreciation that is malleable in each creator’s hands, because what’s graceful to some is pure jive to others.
Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction writer living in Winter Park, FL. She is the assistant editor for The Chaotic Review, and was the 2016 recipient of the Arden Goettling Academy of American Poets Prize. Her work has been published or is upcoming in Cleaver Magazine, The Writing Disorder, The Yellow Chair Review, Black Scat Review, and more.