SmokeLong Quarterly
top menu
by Susan O'Neill

The blood that dribbled from Alexís palms smelled ever-so-faintly of roses. She showed them to me in the girlsí 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. Iíll confess it Friday. I confess all of them. Scrupulously, in the literal sense of the word, as Mr. Epstein would say. Itís a sin to ask God, Why Alex? When Iím the one who goes off to St. Sebastianís every morning, the 5:30 Mass, while sheís 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 saintís stained-glass heart on fire, just me there with a scattering of old ladies in wool babushkas. When Iím the one who wears the scapular between my breasts, which are a lot smaller than Alexís, and I donít 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 canít really ever get bloodstains out of cotton.

Sure, she says prayers. Or so she claims. But theyíre not real prayers. I seriously doubt theyíll get her to heaven. Iím 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 theyíre not for me to know. But really. Maybe Heís testing me? Itís hard, and I have to pray for grace to keep that Why Alex? from lurking, dirty and seductive. Itís 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 Maraís question—New perfume?—hangs in the stale, rose-tinged air. And thereís this pause, then Alex gave that little fake smile she can do and whispered back, "Yeah. Like it?"

And I know Iíll 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 itís not even what-do-you-call-it, halal?

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.

Susan O'Neill has had a lot of fiction and non-fiction published in lit magazines, web zines, professional journals, glossies, newspapers, spoken word sites, blah, blah, blah. She's also published a collection of short stories, Don't Mean Nothing, and throws an essay now and then on her Amazon Blog, which can be reached through her site, She's a Libra, enjoys long walks on the beach and travel to exotic places, and she recently fixed her toilet with plumbers putty.

Read the interview.
Issue Eighteen (September 15, 2007): When the Toasts Stopped Being Funny by Steve Almond «» Nailed by Robert J. Bradley «» Raymond Carver by Dan Chaon «» The Sound of Success by Terry DeHart «» Ethnic Lego Girls Carry Spears by Heidi W. Durrow «» Mole Man by Stuart Dybek «» Party by Emily Fridlund «» From Halliville To Grice's Town by Jason Jackson «» Starfish by Jeff Landon «» Insomnia of an Elderly French Designer by Sean Lovelace «» Display by Davin Malasarn «» Little Bones by Kuzhali Manickavel «» Stigmata by Susan O'Neill «» Inroads by Dominic Preziosi «» Bachon by Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Voc Rehab Vignettes by Jessica Schantz «» Neighbors by Curtis Smith «» Caging the Thing by Beth Thomas «» Interviews: Steve Almond «» Robert J. Bradley «» Randall Brown «» Dan Chaon «» Terry DeHart «» Heidi W. Durrow «» Stuart Dybek «» Emily Fridlund «» Jason Jackson «» Jeff Landon «» Sean Lovelace «» Davin Malasarn «» Kuzhali Manickavel «» Mary Miller «» Susan O'Neill «» Dominic Preziosi «» Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Jessica Schantz «» Curtis Smith «» Beth Thomas «» Cover Art "Repression of an Open Mind" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
bottom menu