I turn around too fast and quickly we’re laughing; in a room of low-tide silence, our eyes ignite with the insight that they’ve told us all the same can’ts, though you’ve heard them differently, and not at all.
From Peru you bring Español, a little Quechua, Amaya, the Lengua de Señas Peruana, de Inmaculada, de Sivia, though all that gets you nothing except a seat in the special needs work program. Beside you I’m inspiringly bilingual, but English crushes fat atop everything here—not quality nor quantity, just specificity.
Your hands say mouth-tap-W, with agua on your lips, mine answer back water, mouth-tap-W.
Alone at night on the #66 home, my eyelids start open by another’s hot breath. The man is angry that I haven’t listened, but when he hears my voice, his changes. Sorry, his mouth says, hiss of sympathy. I push the color from my self-conscious cheeks, and think about the morning we spoke three languages at once, understood one perfectly.
Sticks and stones may break her bones, but words make easy work of it: thigh gap, wristbone, collarbone necklace, and other lessons she learned at school. That body would be perfect with a little less body, conscious uncoupling, brittle by design.
She is to be seen not heard, unless she says what we need to hear: she already ate, she ate a late lunch, she’ll eat later, she’s not herself. She’ll feel more herself with a little less self. Mind over matter, matter discarded.
Self-inflicted (if you don’t count the ones who cheered the infliction, nursed the affliction).
Detoxed, flushed, returned to the soil, splay of twigs on the forest floor.
“There is no mourning on Shabbat,” the Rabbi said, and a feeling like a laugh came up in my throat. I tucked a stray hair behind my ear; I had not seen myself in a week. The Rabbi didn’t look away, superior the partition. He strode the aisle between our benches and said it with such certainty all I could think was the nerve, to walk across the shul and lie to our faces like that. As if grief could be governed by calendar squares.
I began to fear the ease with which the words fell from his lips. History of falsehood latticed through the floorboards, or running beneath them like a subterranean river, contaminated wellspring. I wondered what other lies we’d built ourselves upon. But, of course, that’s how I’d ended up here—there was no one on earth left to ask.
The realization sent the room back underwater: chandeliers’ refractions white-hot and writhing, temple contained in the globe of a tear, the tears that do not exist on Shabbat.
So I fought flood with flood. And there was evening and there was morning on the eighth day.
Sara Nović is the author of the novel Girl at War, nonfiction anthology America is Immigrants, and another novel forthcoming in 2022, all from Random House. She has an MFA in fiction and literary translation, and lives in Philly.