Saints in San Francisco

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
CW: sexual assault

Submitted: June 20, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 20, 2017



I keep seeing a boy in my sleep. Not in my dreams, I can’t find him there. He appears when I’m still half awake, eyelids fluttering on subconscious, the tip of my

nose a black smudge in the narrowing darkness, red fuzzy diamonds floating on my eyelashes. I breathe in Ben’s stale breath and feel the stubble of his chin rub through the shoulder of my thin T-shirt; I lie still on my back because I can’t lose the image of this boy; he’s struggling against the tangle of incongruent shapes in my mind, waiting to disappear once my breath is under all my layers of skin and deep enough to funnel me into fitful dreams.

It’s the same boy every time, the same matted curls and bitten lips. Pale eyes blink over dark skin, like day and night mixed in one small, stubby-nosed, bright- cheeked face. The boy is always naked; I don’t know where his clothes are. His body is streaked with dried water and smudged dirt. Sometimes he has treasures that he holds out for me to see – a starfish covered in sand, a locket around his neck –always showing me with a smile tucked away in the corner of his thin mouth. He asks for me to hold him, and sometimes I am too far away, but a few times I’ve been able to reach him. He is always warm, apparently immune to cold, and he smells of salt water. I wonder who’s been taking him to the beach, and why this person can’t remember to pack a bathing suit.

“Delia! Delia! DELIA!” 

“What,” I say; the skin under my eyes is burning. Light filters through the darkness, first through my periphery, then slowly through all the black, erasing the boy completely.

“Toaster’s not working,”

I roll over in bed onto Ben’s side, feeling his warm imprint in the nest of sheets on my stomach. “Is it plugged in?” I unlock my phone. I always check to see who didn’t make it through the night and into the next day.

“Yes. But I push the lever and it won’t go down.” I’m not in the kitchen, but I can see Ben now, in only his boxers, staring bleary-eyed at the toaster, scratching his head with one hand and tracing imaginary circles on the granite with his other.

“Can you make something else for breakfast?” The obituaries are short today, and now I have nothing to read.

“But I just bought those new pumpkin spice Pop-Tarts.” Ah, Ben at the grocery store – bypassing the produce aisle completely and swinging the cart into aisle four at full force, immediately swiping anything that says ‘NEW!’ in a childish frenzy and grinning all the way to check out.

“You can eat Pop-Tarts cold,” I say.
“Only if you’re insane,” Ben calls back, and I hear sticky feet on linoleum. “Did you sleep?” Ben asks, now at the foot of our bed, putting my cold feet on

his thighs. I will myself to sit up toward him, and he drops my feet and cups my chin in his clumsy, warm hands. He smells of Witch Hazel, and looks at me as if trying to see two people toasting champagne in an inkblot which, spoiler alert, is just a stupid inkblot. 

“No,” I say, burying my face in his bare chest, away from his stare. The hair on his chest is soft on my cheek, and his heartbeat twitches against my jaw.

“Did you take your medicine?”
I shake my head. “You know what I want,” I say quietly.
“I’m not driving you to Minneapolis, Delia. Those people are quacks.” “Please,” I let my hands fall heavy down his chest, but he grabs them before

they drop completely at my sides. “Please help me feel better.”
“It won’t be any different from before. They’re just gonna pump you with

more useless drugs than you need and rob you dry.”
“So let them rob me!” I yell, feeling the force of a prickly heat creep into my

cheeks, leaving my limbs cold and my stomach deflated, airless.
“Let’s just not have this conversation now,” Ben rubs his eyes.
“No,” I say, grabbing a pair of jeans slung over the chair and forcefully

shoving them onto each leg. “I’m going myself.” Ben’s already down the hall and at the front door, and I imagine the doorframe caving in and swallowing him whole, all six feet and four inches of him.

“Why?” He asks, and I gulp hard on something sharp and metallic. The shapes in my head are dividing into squiggles, bouncing between the insides of my closed eyelids. It’s chaos. The keys are above Ben’s shoulder, hanging on the crooked nail he drove into the chipping plaster years before while I did the crossword in the next room and called out to him that he was doing it wrong.

I jump up to swipe the keys, and dive under Ben’s awkwardly fumbling limbs; a sleeping serpent drunkenly awakening from some comatose slumber. “Fuck –Delia!” He yells through the open apartment door, but he doesn’t come after me, and yet I keep running, my heart beat banging rhythmically down into my spine and charging the life back into heavy, numbed feet. The boy runs next to me, spluttering to keep up.

She’s at the end of a thirteen-hour shift, and Dr. Sanders has spent the last twelve hours and twenty-seven minutes ignoring her. That’s all the better; she prefers to work alone. It beats running up and down cold, achingly bright halls to grab something that’s on a shelf too high for her under five-foot stature, getting a stepstool to compensate for the deficit, dropping down to her hands and knees to pick up everything she’s knocked over, only to come running back with a thin line of saliva hanging from the corner of her mouth to learn that the doctor has changed his mind, he’s doing a biopsy instead.

Blue, blue, red, green, blue, green. It took her years of nursing school to become a factory worker on an assembly line. Dr. Sanders tells her this work is crucial, that it couldn’t get done without her, and she believes him. Blue is for restlessness, green is for depression, red is for memory suppressant– or is that for multiple personalities? No, that isn’t right, that’s yellow. Maybe.

The colors take different forms too, gelatinous goo, ice crystals, Pixie dust powder... “It’s all a science, Maria,” Dr. Sanders tells her, as she stuffs orange tacky reminiscent of her son’s Play-Dough into plastic jars. There’s nothing that can’t be cured.


Fifteen minutes before her shift ends, Dr. Sanders pushes in through the swinging doors that clang out of sync, the wisps of hair he clings to askew, his face pulled up in a wild, caricature-like expression.

“I need three greens, a red, and a blue, I have a last-minute patient.”

“Three greens, a red, and a blue? That can’t be right, Doc.” Dr. Sanders lurches slightly toward her, as if he is about to lunge but something stops him at the last second. He lives on an endless conveyor belt, and Maria is the blockage that is going to make him late to the opera tonight.

“Yes, yes, it’s right, I know what I’m doing,” he says without pausing for breath. “Three greens, a red, and a blue.”

How convenient that the world can be broken into primary colors and elementary shapes, Maria thinks, handing over the pills and the powder, and throws in a little goo for good measure, so the doctor doesn’t have to come in again.

She steps out of her Winnie-the-Pooh scrubs before Dr. Sanders is out the door. She ends her shift like every one before; she puts a little yellow under her tongue and sprinkles the lining of her pocket with a cascade of red before stepping out numbly into the night.

I sit on the antiseptic bench, pumping my legs against the wooden cabinets underneath me. I unstick my ass from the wax paper and go over the obituaries in my head while I wait for the medicine to kick in. Robert Edgars, 87, heart disease, Edina. Suzanna Billings, 76, stroke, Saint Paul. Grace Ngyuen, 68, pancreatic cancer, Woodbury. Mariah and Phillip Siegel, 44 and 45, vehicular manslaughter, Minnetonka. Craig Littman, 19, drug overdose, Brooklyn Park. Megan Wolff, eight months, SIDS, Minneapolis. I pull the paper gown away from myself so my tits don’t chafe. Megan Wolff...I try and remember the rest. I think about how there is about a one in two trillion chance that if all my particles are primed for tunneling through this wall at the exact same time, that I could actually move my body through the wall to the other side, through the doctor’s tacky painting of two anthropomorphic rabbits stuffed in tutus practicing releves, through the blood pressure monitor and the poster about getting colonoscopy. I laugh, imagining Ben on the phone tonight with the police. When was she last seen? Who was she with? A headline the next day comes out: MAN’S WIFE WALKS THROUGH WALL AND DISAPPEARS INTO BLACK HOLE. Poor man they’ll say, and they’ll forget about the wife part.

I feel the ice-blue liquid begin to fill my lungs, burning at first, then tight, the stiffness radiating down my spine. I gasp, my eyes expanding with ice, making it impossible to blink, the ice following a tangle of networks down to my toes, making my chest burst with a cold fire.

The light in front of my flashes white-blue, and it’s January at the beach. The water is gray and reluctant to wash over the frozen sand. Lumps of the shore get caught in my bare feet, squeezing between my toes and rubbing them red. Something glitters under my walk, but I can’t tell what’s underneath the swelling.

“Delia!” I walk toward the sound, drifting on air, not even the clatter of the waves breaking the voice. “Delia! Delia!”

I’m running now, and the light is changing from blue to orange to purple to red, bright red, and the waves arc forward so now the ocean surrounds me on two sides, plunging in and out with my heartbeat. The waves creep forward, pushing me backwards, and a tug on my dress from behind forces me to turn around.

I look and the boy is there again, naked as ever, a fistful of my dress in his hand. He says nothing, pale eyes roving across my body, chewing on lips that aren’t swollen or blue or frozen at all. I reach out to grab his caramel colored hands, but I miss his tiny fingers, and all the color from the sky blots out and turns into a muddled gray.

“Touch me! Touch me!” He screams, but he is running away from me. I scramble to keep up, tripping over broken shells and the glowing blisters of jellyfish carcasses. Beads of blood break from my calloused feet and spread into the sand, and I fall backwards, a yell getting trapped in my throat. The sky is completely overcast now, and the boy gets engulfed into the swarm of gray clouds.

An electric pulse of green snaps across my closed eyelids, and I sit in Fisherman’s Wharf, bare feet dangling over the water. Seventy-five cents gets me three, fat pieces of salt-water taffy. I sit next to the old man who stares past me and out onto the bridge with a squinted gaze. He doesn’t even avert his eyes when two gulls start to squabble over a piece of old muffin three feet from him. I wonder if he can hear at all.

Max is late, and when he finally shows up, he reaches silently into my open Tupperware, collecting the last remaining shriveled blackberries, purple slithering down his wrist. We walk to the church, a dog-eared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in the crook of my arm

We never go into the church; we just sit on the steps while Max sketches the lifeless, creepily transfixed stone carvings of various saints that stand guard. I watch, sweating into a half-filled training bra, flipping idly through pages of Lee and Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, occasionally resurfacing to say something critical.

“And that’s Saint Jude,” Max says, hand stained with charcoal. I don’t know if he’s talking to me or to himself, or to someone or something else. He points to one of the looming figures with unseeing, gray eyes. “Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Actually, although he was named Jude in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, the name ‘Jude’ gets roughly translated to Judas, which is weird.”

“Why is that weird?” I ask.
“Well, cause Judas was a traitor, and Jude was a saint.”
“Maybe they were the same person,” I shrug. “I mean, Jude could have been

this saint but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole. And Jesus was a lost cause anyway, they were gonna crucify him with or without Judas’s help, he was dead meat from the start. Jude, or Judas was just helping the inevitable move along.”

Max stares at me. “You’re wild, Delia.”
“Who’s that?” I point to another saint emerging from the charcoal shadows. “This is Saint Dymphna, the saint of emotional and mental illnesses,” Max continues, going down the lopsided line on his page. “And this is Saint Rita of Cascia, the saint of impossible dreams,” he snorts a little. “That’s a little bit of a vague title, and I don’t really know what she does for anyone.”

“I still think Saint Jude’s title is the stupidest,” I say. “I mean, the point of a lost cause is that it can’t be saved, it’s lost. So basically, Saint Jude is sitting on his ass all day while we’re suffering and he’s shrugging saying, ‘well, I guess it’s too late. They’re all lost causes anyway.’”

From the steps, we can see much of the city poking through the gray. We watch the purpling sun dipping in between the neons of Chinatown, tumbling down through Bayview, and unfolding out onto Haight-Ashbury. The skyline is getting darker now, sharp slants traced in navy blue. I feel a fat raindrop burst in my face and roll down into my eye.

“Shit,” I say, and we run to the back of the church where there is a little overhang of shelter, and the rain starts to come down viciously, snappy bullets breaking in ruptures against the mud.

I look down to see Max’s drawings melting into dirty water, pooling at the corners, smudging every exact line, and sliding down his arms, gray-black.

“It’s ruined,” I say.
Max shakes his head. “It’s ok, I had a really nice time with you.”
“You’re really pretty, Delia.”
“Oh.” I think of something else to say, but his lips are on mine, his tongue

coming in and moving over my teeth like conveyor rollers in a car wash. His sweaty palms are rolling up the thighs of my jeans. He’s skidding across the humid friction, thumb and forefinger clumsily bending the denim forward to undo the button. He shoves four fingers inside of me and I can feel the jagged edges of his fingernails scarring my pulsing tissue, ripping me. 

He’s unbuttoning his own pants now, and that’s when I manage to lift my knee against the searing between my legs and push him back two paces. His mouth detaches itself from my own, his eyes staring comatose and stupid.

“HEY!” I surprise myself with shouting, but I have no more words to fill the damp silence, so I put both hands on his chest and push him back farther. Three squares of granite of the church’s exit are between us.

“Delia, I’m so – I didn’t mean – “

“Get away from me,” I say low, my front teeth scraping the top of my lower lip. The sound vibrates against my mouth, sending shivers down my shoulders. “Delia, I didn’t realize,” his pants are still unbuttoned and his drawing is dripping, black liquid creeping down his hands, pooling at his feet, black blood.

“GO!” I scream and turn away before I get to see him leave, running back to the church’s entrance, heaps of rain falling through the tangle of my hair and getting underneath my fingernails, leaving them white and numb. I sit crouched on the steps at Mother Mary’s feet, her head bowed low toward me. I can feel Saint Jude’s marble eyeholes at my back. I look down, wondering if I’m going to pray or just let my t-shirt stick to my skin, when I see blood, my own red, pulsating, warm blood leaving my body and flooding out onto the stone steps, mixing with rain and turning rosy pink. Mary’s bare feet bathe in a stained puddle.

The doors of the church fling open; it’s the end of a funeral progression. Four men come out, carrying each corner of the casket, their heads titled down toward the rain. I scurry down the steps before they can reach me, kicking up pink water toward Saint Jude, whose lifeless eyes follow me all the way home. 

Red, now everything’s in red. Red glares from the monstrous neon Target sign on the corner of 9th and Nicollet and breaks into floating dust particles over the rain-slick street. I close my eyes but the red sting from the towering Target bullseye still teases the backs of my eyelids. I open my eyes again and the boy is there, and he has put his hand on my knee, but all I can feel is the reminisce of an old cigarette stuck in my throat, ashes burning my nostrils.

The boy reveals his other hand, which is a fist wrapped around a little wooden figurine. I bend his fingers slightly to release his grasp; I’d recognize those blank eyes anywhere. My thumb rests on the cross, tracing my index finger along the bumpy ridges of robes, the smooth convex ovals where eyes should be.

“Where did you get this?” I ask, when I feel a sharp pain in my stomach, seizing, hot pain, forcing my bellybutton inwards, stomach acid churning on emptiness. I fall to my knees, taking breaths that barely get past my neck, and the boy puts a hand on my face and I taste sticky air pressing down on melting concrete, it’s my street in the middle of August.

“Why haven’t you looked for me?” He asks, and then a flash of yellow, then nothing.

“She’s having trouble remembering a lot lately, and it’s upsetting her,” Ben speaks slow to the rhythmic chirp of the heart monitor, and I can smell the caked, artificial pumpkin sugar stuck under his fingernails from reaching into the bottom of the bag for the crumbs. 

“That’s a common side effect of most memory treatments,” Dr. Sanders speaks as if his words are all being strung on a singular clothesline between two, third story windows. I keep my eyes shut, but I feel his tiny hands on my thigh, his fingertips sending wiggling worms up my veins.

I hear the door shut behind the doctor and I open my eyes, the sterile, bright white walls stinging.

“Delia!” Ben says, “How do you feel?”

I pull off the sheets, swinging my legs to one side, heavy socks brushing the ground. “I have to go,” I say.

“What? Where?”

“San Francisco,” I’m at the door when Ben grabs the back of my hospital gown.

“San Francisco? To your parents?”

I shake my head. “No, I need to find someone,” I realize I’ve dragged the IV stand all the way to the door, so I yank out the needle to stop the flow of rainbow sludge, which looks like someone’s regurgitation of carnival sweets. He keeps his hands on my thigh, following my paces toward the door.

“Del, the doctor says you need that,” Ben comes over to me to fumble with the IV. Beads of blood swell at the crook of my arm, tiny sparks popping from a frayed cord.

“No, no more drugs,” I say. “It’s not working, I was all wrong. I don’t want to forget everything.”

“But – “ 

“I don’t care what I said before. I need some real answers,” I take up my bunched sweater and walk into the hospital hallway in just socks. I unlock my phone out of habit but I don’t check the obituaries, I want to know who’s alive today.


© Copyright 2018 Melissa F. All rights reserved.

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