Order of Poor Ladies


By Caroline Gioiosa Waring

          On the television, Saint Clare of Assisi speaks with Meredith Vieira’s voice. The January 4, 2011 Today show recording plays in saturated colors, the oranges bleeding out of the news tickers, bodies outlined in red. Saint Clare, wrapped in Meredith Vieira’s voice and careful crow’s feet and rounded parakeet nose, crochets a brown and blue blanket.
          An empty bottle of Lexapro lies on the glass coffee table. Saint Clare of Assisi laughs softly and says, “This feels quite a bit softer than I imagined it would. What is this thread made of?”
          A girl lies on the couch—in a Freudian way—and watches the needlework, Saint Clare’s Vieiran hair burning in halation. The voice comes from all sides of the room.

          She has this dream where she can’t move her eyes. Her father whispers in her ear while she stares at the ceiling, paralyzed, her eyes stuck on the dim lamp above her. Her father moves his hand down, down, downwards and she blinks, wakes up with a leftover pain and a thin red line along her neck, like a thread wrapped itself around her and pushed itself into her skin.

          “What are you doing?” asks the man she lives with, a camera strapped around his neck.
          “Watching Saint Clare of Assisi knit on TV.”
          “Why would you watch an old Today show episode?”
          She shrugs as best she can with her back on the couch. “Forgot the news.”
          He goes to pick up the remote control and switches the television off. “Y’know, Steve Jobs wanted to call the Lisa computer ‘Claire’ after the saint.”
          She says nothing. All along the walls of the living room hangs her face, printed in faithful strokes, framed photos with titles like The Post-Abortion Wail, featuring her fingers clutching a rosary’s beads. Her confessionals and his commodification in small collection.

          On the bedside table, hidden under Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he has a picture of himself in dirty orange Hare Krishna robes, mouth open, chanting: Hare Hare.

          In the laundry room she watches the clothes orbit each other, whites pushing and tumbling. She can’t get away from the glassy pictures of herself, empty reflections watching her watching the laundry.
          In between the vibrations of the washing machine she can make out words, quiet cadences, whisperings. The room looks at her wrong, bile under her tongue. She leaves her shoes in the laundry room and drives out in the cool two a.m. air, following the barefoot tracks before her: a naked woman dressed in bruises, hunched into herself; a lace-clad shivering prostitute, mouth stained with spit; a ribbed and convex Eve, crawling out of the Garden of Eden.

          The parking lot, overshadowed by the massive, jagged rock, stands empty; she parks her car in the third row back. The cement gravel digs at her feet, rocks bury themselves in her soles; she walks, closer and closer to the jagged rock, barefoot and warm in an oversized anorak. The night sky wrinkles and stretches, turned inwards, domelike. At the base of the mountain the dirt slips between her toes, itchy molecules dotting the skin.
          She begins her ascension, up the brown, desiccated mountain, washed in black, shifting past tufts of grass, intermittent like the novelty of hair on a bald spot. Her body drags. She thinks about a time when she finishes climbing, the inevitable future point when the uncomfortable hike falls behind her; she thinks about her body dissolving, time splitting away. She wears a jacket and jeans but the cold air still prunes her skin in scales, in horripilation. She leaves faint prints of blood on rocks.
          It’s three in the morning and she’s halfway to the peak and her phone won’t stop ringing, vibrating in her pocket. She thinks about staying on the mountain until the sun comes back up. Until the snow melts away. Until she’s declared a High Risk Missing Person after thirty days and everyone says Well, she’s an adult, isn’t she? She stops walking for a moment and closes her eyes and feels warm blankets up to her neck, her head horizontal on a pillow, where gravity asks for it to be.
          Almost to the top, she can see tiny lights in the far out distance, a congregation of lamps, yellows and oranges blurred into each other, bokeh in the ground.
          At higher altitudes wind develops a tendency towards slapping, rushing in distance howls, rippled and echoed through a cave, conducting dust and dirt into stained eyes—squeezing her own shut, she enters a relieving wetness. The wind pulls her hair back, tugged and sharp at the base; cool steel rushes against her naked neck, a metallic tang sits in her mouth. Walking blind and unbalanced, she trips, hands splayed and lying in the dirt, jeans caked in grunge. She sits on the top of a mountain with bestial, perpendicular muscles, hands and knees pressed into the ground like a crawling infant.
          Her fingers grope and slip, tracing an outline in stone, feeling for hieroglyphs, braille stamped into the ground. She opens her eyes to the dust, reads the etchings: HERE LIES THE VENERABLE SAINT DYMPHNA, BLESSED HEALER OF MENTAL ILLS. The wind asks for her name, dry mouth choking on her words, whispers coming out garbled and uncomfortable, answer caught between the lips.

          Saint Dymphna, a thin-limbed fifteen-year-old in Irish dress, can’t move her eyes. Her father whispers in her ear while she stares at the stained glass, shattered in reds and blues, illuminated by the dim lamp above her. Her father moves his hand down, down, downwards—he wants the parts she took from her mother, in her nose and her eyes and belly—and she blinks, pushes back, legs kicking, a boot tip cracking his skin in reds. A leftover pain and a cool steel sword swings down her neck, a thick cut, like chopping a hard, plastic pillar, and she tastes iron blood in her mouth—momentary.

          The ground shakes, down in the parking lot, in the vibrations of her washing machines, underneath the Freudian couch. In the tilting house, framed photos of herself fall to the floor and split in cobwebs.
 

Originally from Richland, Washington, Caroline Gioiosa Waring is currently an undergraduate Angier B. Duke Scholar at Duke University. She has been recognized by both the YoungArts Foundation and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, with previous publications in Polyphony, H.S. and WOLVES, among others.

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