By Kylie Goetz
Hail Mary full of Grace, Our Father who art in Heaven, in the beginning was the word, forgive us our sins…Oh please, forgive me my sins…what the hell am I doing back here, she thought. Years of wild parties and drugs and an abortion and God only knows what else later, and yet, here I am. Here. Back where I began…If they could see me now. If Chris could see me now…That’d be a laugh.
Her knees creaked and ached from the thinness of the padding. Her back ached. Her heart. She stood and sat and kneeled when the old crone up at the front with the black lace mantilla did. She couldn’t follow the liturgy. Her Spanish was pitiful. Donde esta el Dio? Dusty light filtered through the ancient, warped windows, draping her in a saturnine glow. The old woman down the front stood up again. Thank Christ. How did her fucking knees stand it? They must be callused, at her age. Although I should mind the pain, God knows I have a fair amount of penance coming my way, Maggie thought.
It started with a phone call.
Maggie. Maggie. Michael’s sick. You have to come home.
Michael. Michael, the robust boy always first in his class, first in everything. Michael of the strong shoulders and hulking chest. Michael, the oldest, the protector, slayer of dragons and bullies. Michael was sick.
Margaret could picture it. Didn’t want to.
The years and opposing views on everything from politics to sexual orientation to personal grooming had separated them, dug a ditch which the occasional family gathering had only deepened.
She would have to get a flight. She would have to get money for a flight. There was that bar in Madrid where she was owed three weeks pay. She’d skipped out of town after she’d had a fight with her lover, the owner. Said “Fuck the money,” and ran. She’d have to call him now. Get what she was owed.
She’d have to call home again. Get the rest from her father. She could hear it now. The disappointment and anger in his voice. But she’d do it. Michael was sick. Michael the golden boy was sick and they all had to rally around his bedside. Watch him closely. Jostle him along the road to recovery.
Why couldn’t she just send flowers? No. Not in this family. You were called and you reported for duty. Like the military.
If Chris were still with her, maybe. If she knew where Chris was, she could borrow the money. Chris had always nagged her about the breach in the family wall. The great dividing range, she called it. But Chris had buggered off to Rome or Russia, God only knew where.
God. That was it. Margaret would go to God. The Lord doesn’t make deals, doesn’t bargain, her mother always said. But that wasn’t true. God tossed the dice just like any gambler in Star City. God played the odds.
She’d be a good bet. She was clean now, had been for a while. Wasn’t even drinking these days. Not so much fun since she and Chris fought, since Chris deserted her in this place with nothing but a Spanish phrasebook and forty euros.
Las Ramblas was beautiful though. The flower markets in particular. All the color and odor swirling together. It was like walking through a Monet.
Maybe in France she could scrape together some money. There was that guy in Nice. That singer she’d dated. What was his name? He was loaded. Floating around Europe on his trust fund. She had his name somewhere. A number too, she thought. God, let him give me the money. He’ll just blow it on dope. Let him help me, God.
Jude, Saint of Lost Causes. You too. Help me out here. I have to go home. I’d never forgive myself. Michael would never forgive me. Dad would disown me. Mum would cry. I have to get home. Just get me home. Please. I’ll settle down and find a job. Find a man. Go to church all the time. Everything.
Michael had saved her life. Three years ago. She’d ODed. He hadn’t told anyone. Not Mum. Not Dad. Not even her asshole ex-boyfriend who would have beaten the shit out of her for getting caught like that, on his smack, no less. Michael had come to collect her for a meeting at Centrepoint. She hadn’t wanted to go, but he made her promise. Clean living Michael disliked having a junkie for a sister. Bad for business. Bad for the family. Bad for Maggie. “Get a job. Do something with your life. You’re too young, too bright to throw it all away like this.” He’d sat with her and called. Made the appointment. She wanted to clean up. She did. She secretly hated this crack den lifestyle. This dingy apartment in Darlinghurst with ten people living there under the good graces of several parents unwitting dollars. He’d shown up and she’d been on the floor. Out of her mind. Deleriously happy. Sweating like a stuck pig. Needle in her arm. Spoon on the floor. Cigarette butts and empty beer bottles all around her. He’d pulled out the needle. Picked up her waifish form and carried her out to his car. Drove her to the hospital. Signed all the forms. Watched her through rehab. Cleaned her stuff out of the flat. Told the asshole he’d be charged if he came anywhere near her. Maggie owed him everything. He helped her out when nobody else in the family would talk to her, take her calls. He needed her.
God. Let me get out of here. Get me home and I’ll do anything you ask of me. I’ll join a convent. I’ll become a nurse. Just get me home, she thought.
Margaret was the flighty one. The bad girl. The baby. No one had minded for years. No one noticed. They looked the other way when she’d stayed out too late, come home drunk. She’s a wild child, they said. The artsy one. The painter. It was okay to be different when you were the baby. When you had someone older who was a shining example for all. You could do what you wanted and almost never get caught. They’d be at his rugby game on Saturday. You could sleep in and hide your hangover. Or sneak out and start on a new one. Days at the beach with friends, smoking weed in the dunes. You had to look older to get in the clubs but once you’d been there a few times, the doormen stopped guessing your age. Just let you straight through. It was fine. Then the pingers. Then the coke. The heroin. It snowballed. It happened. It was what it was. In the beginning there was the word…
The mass ended. The old cone at the front raised her withered body from the pew, inched her way to the aisle, genuflected and started trudging towards Margaret. Margaret stayed in the pew. Rested her head against the oiled wood and stared up at the cross. Jesus, stripped bare but for a few rags, bloodied and broken, with his eyes on the heavens. God, Our Father; Mary, mother of God; Jesus; St. Jude; St. Agnes; St. Peter; Gabriel; anyone at all. Let me go home. Margaret felt the tears welling up in her eyes and streaming down her cheeks. She made no effort to stop them.
The old crone inched closer. Sat down beside her. Margaret’s Spanish was pitiful, but she understood. God hears all prayers. But we don’t always hear the answer.
When Kylie was five, she wanted to be either a nun or a lounge singer. Luckily (for the church and lounge patrons everywhere) she discovered a love for storytelling around the same age. This eventually translated into a B.A in theatre from Florida State University and a MA in creative writing from Macquarie University. You can buy her book here and follow her Word of the Day Poetry Project