Rosalia was one of the Bridgeport kids. That meant that she could hardly read the simplest passage aloud without stumbling, and she had an accent that made me cringe, like all the other kids in Sunday School class. My parents had moved out of Bridgeport while I was still a toddler just so I could attend better schools. We all had parents who immigrated from Portugalor we wouldn't be attending the Sunday School run by Our Lady of Fátimabut I was practically the only one who didn't say "yous" or just generally sound like a Puerto Rican.
I was 10 years old. For a few years I had been attending weekly classes with the same cohort, but in all that time I hadn't made any friends. The teacher liked to pick me to read aloud from the watered-down Bible stories in our newsprint workbooks. The other kids could tell it was easy for me; I made them look like idiots by comparison. They didn't really say anything, didn't tease me or bully me. They just listened in silence when I was forced to read, and otherwise acted like I was invisible. I was fine with that. I thought of the Bridgeport kids as vaguely dirty and definitely dumb.
Still, I was flattered when Rosalia, taller than me, plump, coarse dark hair clamped into barrettes, looked over at my loose-leaf notebook and whispered, "So pretty." The sheet was filled with bodiless profiles of women, each of them with long hair flowing out behind them. Occasionally I drew an eye. Just an eye, dead-on, large, with long lashes and a deep lid. Sometimes, several pairs of disembodied lips, either closed or slightly parted, but always full and luscious. I was working with only a regular graphite pencil, but to me those lips always looked pink or red, and I knew which eyes were blue, green, or gray.
That SaturdaySunday School was held on SaturdaysRosalia kept watching me draw, while some chubby kid mumbled his way through the story of the loaves and fishes. My skin prickled with pleasure under her gaze. I turned the page in my notebook and drew more profiles, with longer, thicker hair, fuller lips, even earrings. One earring, since you could only see one side of each woman's face, as if they were imprinted on coins. When class finally came to an end, and we were gathering up our belongings, Rosalia stuck her hand into my notebook before I could close it. I glanced up at her in surprise.
"Can I have that?" she asked. I must have looked dubious, because she began to wheedle. "You have so many."
"Okay," I said with a shrug. I snapped open the three rings of my binder and handed her the most recent sheet of drawings. She folded it twice and slipped it into her fake-leather purse, which had fake-leather fringe all around the edges.
"See you next week," she said, and we pushed through the swinging doors at the front of the school. My father was waiting in the Buick near the front steps, ready to drive me back to Huntington. My sister was in the back seat, drawing her own comic book with colored pencils, ignoring me as usual because she had just started high school. I tried to lean over and look but she pushed me away, so I hit her and she yelled at me, which caused my father to assign me stair-vacuuming duties when we got home. The stairs were the worst.
I stared out the window fuming as we accelerated down the street, and I caught sight of Rosalia tromping down the sidewalk by herself, heading in the wrong direction, which is to say, toward the projects. I remembered she was the one whose brother had died, shot by a stray bullet in some kind of gang warfare that happened on the outskirts of Father Panik Village. I knew this because when it happened, the Sunday School teacher made us all do prayers for Rosalia and her family, even though she wasn't there that day and probably never even knew we did it. The teacher said she was alone now except for her mother so we should be nice.
At least she didn't have a stupid sister who always ignored her and got her in trouble.
The next week, Rosalia made a point of sitting next to me again. Before class even started, she pulled out the drawings I had given her and unfolded the sheet on the table in front of me.
"Can you finish them?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" I was afraid she meant that I should draw the bodies. I was terrible at drawing bodies. Besides, there was no space. I crammed a lot of profiles, eyes, and lips onto a single page.
"These ones," she said, tapping her finger on the blondes. "They're not colored in."
The teacher was ringing a bell. "Everybody, quiet!" she said. "We gonna start." The teacher was a Bridgeport girl too, probably just 20 years old. But she was known to pull hair or pinch ears if you didn't shut up when she said to, so I stopped talking and turned my eyes front.
Class got started. The teacher told us to do a Word Search puzzle in our workbooks where we had to circle words related to the seven sacraments. Before long I noticed Rosalia flapping her hand at me. She was urging me to get going on finishing her drawings. I sighed and slid the paper toward me. She didn't understand that the ones with hair that was only outlined (with wavy lines to indicate lushness and texture) were blonde. Obviously she wanted all the women to be brunettes, like us. So I dutifully filled them in, some darker than others, since some women have black hair and some have medium brown. Also sometimes red.
When I was done, I tipped the sheet up to show Rosalia. She beamed at me. The teacher was still reading a fashion magazine. I found all the sacraments in the Word Search and watched a spitball fight that was silently developing down the row.
Right then the door to the classroom opened and Padre Caldes stepped through. Usually his visits were announced at the beginning of class, and we were drilled on prayers so that we could be discovered reciting the Act of Contrition in unison when he arrived. This time, the teacher almost fell out of her chair trying to get her feet off the desk and hide the magazine.
"Hello, children," Padre Caldes said. He was probably in his mid-fifties, with a paunch, clothed entirely in black and gray except for the gleaming white of his priest's collar. Though Padre Caldes smiled readily, we knew him to be the tougher of the two priests at Our Lady of Fátima. He was the one who would ask questions about your sins when you were in the confessional trying to get through your deliberately vague list as quickly as possible.
We didn't reply. We just sat there, frozen, even the boy who had been reaching up to knock a spitball out of his hair.
"Good morning, Padre Caldes," the teacher said, waving her arms like a band leader, so we all said it too.
"What are we learning today?"
The teacher looked panic-stricken. Nothing, that's what. We were learning nothing today, and if the priest called on any one of a dozen kids in that room, this would immediately become apparent.
"Jorge? What have you learned today?"
Jorge, whose midnight hair was parted severely on one side and plastered down against his skull, mumbled something incomprehensible.
"Speak up, Jorge!" Padre Caldes had his hands clasped behind his back and he was smiling jovially. Relentlessly.
"I don't know," Jorge said. He sounded miserable.
Behind Padre Caldes, the teacher rolled her eyes. "We are reviewing the sacraments," she said.
Padre Caldes ignored her. He turned to Horacio, who wore a striped velour shirt, extremely fashionable at the time. Horacio was very handsome for a Bridgeport kid, with long full lashes, smooth cheeks, and hair the color of honey combed back in a pompadour. He also had a smart mouth on him.
"What have you been learning?" Padre Caldes said. "Hm?"
"Mother of God," Horacio replied. He meant it as an expletive. He slumped even lower in his chair when he said it, and his tone was vaguely defiant. We all held our breath for the reaction. But Horacio was sitting on the opposite side of the room, and Padre Caldes either didn't pick up the tone or chose not to notice.
"What about the Mother of God?"
I saw the teacher desperately waving at me from behind Padre Caldes. It had suddenly occurred to her that I could save her, with my superior manners and education. All I needed to do was volunteer. And then answer every single question the priest asked after that, until he went away.
"What about the Mother of God?" Padre Caldes repeated. His voice was taking on a dangerous edge.
"We were learning about the various forms the Mother of God can take," I blurted. It was a phrase I remembered from my science class. I substituted "Mother of God" for "water."
Padre Caldes turned his wet blue gaze on me, peering over black-rimmed glasses. I was sitting up at attention, having discreetly closed my binder full of profiles. I even had my hands folded in front of me.
"And what does this mean?" the priest said, after a long pause. All the kids were holding their breath. What did it mean? Was it a joke? Was I about to rescue Horacio, or betray him?
"It means that…the Mother of God once was solid, and now she's a…spirit." I almost said "vapor," but that wasn't right.
Maybe the awkward phrasing worked in my favor. Maybe I sounded just like a Bridgeport kid trying to remember what the teacher had explained diligently and exhaustively, without once checking her makeup in the mirror inside the closet or ruminating on purple eyeshadow and sequined tube tops.
"It is true that Mary, Mother of Jesus, was a human, on earth, and now she is in heaven. But let us not confuse her ascension with the mystery of the Holy Trinity," Padre Caldes said.
The Holy Trinity was that thing where God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all one and the same even though they were separate and different, which never made much sense to me. I chose to stay away from it. Padre Caldes was still focused on me, waiting for more proof that we had actually learned something lately. I suddenly remembered a story my mother had told me.
"But she sometimes visits us on earth," I said. "Like in Fátima."
"Ah, I see," Padre Caldes said, turning to the teacher. "You have been explaining our namesake to the children."
"Yes," the teacher said, still a little nervously.
"Well," the priest said, directing his question to the class in general, "someone remind us what happened in Fátima."
The class had relaxed a little, when they perceived the direction I was taking, but now they tensed up again.
"What is the matter?" he said. "Cat got your tongue? Cat got your tongue?" It was probably an idiom that had made a big impression on Padre Caldes when he first arrived in America. This was not the first time I'd heard him use it.
The teacher gave me a pleading look. I waited a moment, hoping someone, anyone, would answer, but no one did. I took a deep breath and dove back in.
"The Virgin Mary appeared to three children in the city of Fátima and told them some secrets."
I hoped he would not ask me what the secrets were, because all I could remember was that even though the Virgin had made her appearances way long ago, during the First World War, she had insisted that her third secret only be revealed to the world in 1960. The secret had been entrusted to the Vatican, but once 1960 rolled around, the Pope refused to share it. I thought this was super annoying, as did my mother, which was the reason she had told me the story in the first place.
"Excellent," Padre Caldes said. "And now someone else. Why do you suppose the Blessed Virgin appeared to children?"
There was a long pause, and then Angela, who liked attention, said loudly, "Because she was a mother."
A few people giggledthe kids often used mother as a curse wordbut Padre Caldes remained serious. "Yes," he said. "But why entrust children with her revelations?"
"Because they were good and pure," I said. "And then everyone would believe them."
Padre Caldes seemed satisfied with the answer, and spent the next ten minutes giving a lecture on how we might all make ourselves good and pure, by learning our prayers and doing good works and perhaps becoming an altar boy. The teacher made us all recite an Our Father before the priest lefteasy get, we all knew that oneand then she collapsed, a little limp, into her chair.
"Okay," she said. "Who wants to do a reading?"
I'd already done my part for the day, so I knew she wouldn't pick me. I opened my notebook and started drawing eyes. These were always a woman's left eye, because I was right-handed, and women's eyes were more interesting, what with the long lashes and the color on the lids.
Rosalia tapped on the table to get my attention. I looked up.
"Does the Virgin Mary make wishes come true?" she whispered.
I shrugged and went back to drawing.
"Does she? Come on," she said.
"Yes," I said. "Sometimes."
"How do you know?"
"I just know," I said.
"Have you seen her?"
I paused, pencil poised over an iris, deciding whether this would be a dark eye or not. I could feel Rosalia watching. I wondered when she would realize that my drawing repertoire was very limited. I could not draw a nose. I touched my pencil to the paper, widened the pupil, and said, "Yes. Many times."
Before she could say anything, I slid her drawings, the ones I'd "finished" for her, down the table. It seemed like a nice, dramatic move. Rosalia started to whisper another question, but just then the teacher called out, "Quiet, yous!"
When I looked over at her, Rosalia was just staring at the page of profiles as if mesmerized.
For weeks, Rosalia pestered me. Well, that would be too strong a word. She worked her way up to the pestering. At first she just asked me a lot of questions about my Virgin Mary sightingsWhere? When? Could I make her come?
To this last question I replied, "She's not a dog, Rosalia," which made her jerk back, startled, and I knew she felt guilty. She'd probably pray extra that night. I knew she was doing morning and evening prayers every day, because she told me so. She was on a quest to make herself worthy of meeting the Holy Mother.
This didn't worry me too much. I knew that it wouldn't be my fault if the Virgin chose not to reveal herself to Rosalia. And most of the questions I could deflect simply by saying that I had been instructed, by the Lady herself, to keep quiet. But as an avid reader, I knew I was going to have to throw out some tantalizing details now and then in order to keep Rosalia interested.
"What does she say to you?" Rosalia asked one Saturday. The teacher had ended class early. We were sitting on the front steps of the school while I waited for my parents. "I mean, not word for word, just in general what does she say to you?"
It was not the first time Rosalia asked me this question. I had always told her the messages were meant for me and me alone. But now I felt I should throw her a bone.
"She comforts me," I said. "She tells me I'm special, and smart, and pretty." That seemed like something the greatest mother in the history of the universe would do.
"Wow." There was a pause. "Did you ever ask her for anything?"
Would it make me look bad to say I'd asked the Virgin Mary for a favor? I tried to remember what we had been taught about praying to her rather than God, while furiously skimming my pencil across a large expanse of notebook paper. I had drawn my biggest eye ever. It took up an entire sheet, landscape orientation.
"I asked her for the talent to draw," I said. "She gave me a vision. And then suddenly I could draw like this."
"Did she tell you to draw eyes?" Rosalia said, staring at my pencil as I colored in the huge, unblinking iris.
"She doesn't give out detailed instructions, Rosalia," I said.
"I just meant…you always draw the ladies and the eyes and lips…do you think it's what she wants you to draw?"
I turned and looked at Rosalia out from under my hood. It was a sunny October day, but the wind had picked up. "Who do you think all of these ladies are?" I said. "The Holy Mother takes many forms."
Rosalia's eyebrows were pinched together as she stared back at me. Just then I heard a car honk, unmistakably the Buick. I put away my pencil.
"Can I have it?" Rosalia said, half-reaching for the eye.
"Not this one."
I closed my notebook and set off down the steps without saying goodbye. A dramatic exit, I thought. That was going to have to be the highlight of my day, because when I got home I'd be stuck raking leaves all afternoon, and it was my night to wash the dishes. Then to bed right after that, because we had to get up early for church the next morning. God, I hated the weekends.
I did not think I had a great talent for illustration. I was not even that interested in drawing. My sister was much better at it, and I didn't try to compete. When she drew a rose, for example, it really looked like a rose, not like kids' universal representation of roses. Same thing for eyes and other objects. I just picked up some of the details she used to make her drawings more realistic, and then drew the same thing over and over to occupy myself when I was bored. My drawings never got any better, never exhibited a deeper understanding of perspective, dimensionality, or anything at all. They were repetitive doodles.
But I knew that Rosalia thought I was talented, and if not talented, then she now thought I was some kind of visionary. A person could be forgivenadmired!for drawing the same thing over and over if it was the expression of a sacred vision. Or if the Blessed Virgin Mary had inspired you.
So now that was covered. But Rosalia began campaigning for me to take her to the place where the Virgin made her appearances. I had never specified a place, and in fact I had implied that there were different places, but Rosalia insisted that there must be a way I could put her in touch with the Holy Mother.
At first I kept saying that the visions were secret, that I could not predict when and where the Virgin would appear, and in any case I could not take Rosalia with me. That went on for a few weeks, until we were both tired of the same conversation.
"Will you take me? Circle yes or no." It was early November, and Rosalia passed me this note while the teacher discussed the sacrament of marriage with the class. Apparently, she had just gotten engaged.
I circled "No" and passed the note back.
"You're selfish," Rosalia said.
She didn't even bother to whisper. But the teacher was so caught up in the lively conversation up front that she didn't even glance in our direction.
I gave Rosalia a wounded look. "No I'm not."
"Yeah you are. I hate you."
And she did look like she hated me. She had an angry face that I'd never seen before. I noticed that she was skinnier now, and there were circles under her eyes. Rosalia had given up all sweets, even though it wasn't Lent. She also spent half the night on her knees praying.
"I can't, Rosalia."
"You can try," she whispered fiercely.
That was true. I could try. I'd never guaranteed that anything would actually happen. And then Rosalia couldn't hate me anymore.
"Okay," I said.
She whipped her head around to look at me. "Really?"
I nodded. "We can try."
"Next week," I said. "Come here, but don't come inside for class. Meet me by the basketball hoops."
Rosalia nodded, and for the rest of class, she couldn't help smiling a little, even when the teacher made her get up and read a passage from the Song of Songs that a person might choose to be included in her wedding mass. She mispronounced "lattices," and stumbled through the whole thing just as badly as ever, but that little smile, turning up the corners of her mouth, never left Rosalia's face.
I hadn't really thought through what I was going to do when I met up with Rosalia, or even exactly where I'd take her. It was kind of like the time I told my baby brother I'd go to his class for Show & Tell to demonstrate the Irish jig. I had no idea how to jig. I could only perform a silly imitation. But I didn't really dwell on this until I showed up in his classroom. Luckily, kindergartners can't tell the difference between the Irish jig and a poor imitation of the Irish jig anyway.
I suppose I was counting on the same thing when I waited for my parents to pull away in the Buick, then re-emerged from the school and headed around the side of the building. It made me a little nervous to cut classsomething I'd never done beforebut when else was I going to take care of my Virgin Mary sighting? It had to be done in Bridgeport, because there was no way I could get Rosalia out to Huntington. And it had to be done during class time. My parents were punctual when it came to dropping me off and picking me up.
It was one of those November days where the sky is stark white and the wind keeps changing direction, teasing you, so that no matter which way you turn, your hair whips into your face. With the leaves mostly gone from the trees, the whole world seemed to have lost color; at least, my memory of what happened next is all in black and white, even though Rosalia was probably wearing the same lime green satin jacket she'd been wearing all fall.
She was standing by the first of the rusty basketball hoops, her hands in her pockets. When I got close, she didn't greet me or smile. She just said, "You're not messing with me, are you?"
"What? No," I said. "Why would you ask that?" I was genuinely taken aback. I wasn't messing with Rosalia. I just wanted her not to be mad at me. And to keep watching me and asking me questions the way she did.
"Nothing, I just…" She shrugged one shoulder and inclined her head, as if to indicate the bleakness of the surroundings. Obviously she'd been standing out there long enough, studying the half-erased graffiti on the side of the school building, to begin to consider it unlikely that the Blessed Virgin would ever grace this cracked blacktop with her presence.
"Not here," I said, and I started trudging towards the back of the school. I'd never been back there; I had no idea what I'd find. But next door was an auto body shop, and that wasn't going to help me.
"Is this your school?" I said to Rosalia, as we neared the corner.
"No," she said. "This one is for the rich kids."
I said nothing to that. At the back of the school there was a lumpy playground, with a swingset for the younger kids and a diamond that might be used for softball or maybe kickball. I hesitated. To the extent that I had imagined the scene in advance, I had pictured Rosalia and me on our knees. But we needed something to kneel to. A plastic yellow slide would not do. I reflexively glanced back at the building, hoping no one was watching us, when I saw it: a small shrine containing a statue of the Virgin Mary, nestled up against the wall. She was made of concrete, draped in concrete robes, arms down at her sides but palms open and slightly lifted, as if she would welcome a hug. I headed straight towards her.
"Okay," I said, when Rosalia and I were standing in front of the Virgin, looking down at her. She was only about two feet tall, the size of a Jesus that someone might have in the front yard. Next to the massive stone foundation of the school building, she seemed slightly ridiculous, as though someone had made a serious miscalculation.
"What do we do?" Rosalia asked. She seemed nervous. That was good. That was better than the suspicion that twisted her features back at the basketball hoops.
I put my binder down on the ground in front of the shrine and knelt on it. I bowed my head and clasped my hands loosely in front of me. She copied my movements, using her religion workbook.
"Is she going to move?" Rosalia said in a loud stage whisper.
"No," I said. What did she think this was, some kind of puppet show? It was as though I really thought I'd had sacred visions here, that's how annoyed I sounded when I answered her.
A minute passed, maybe two. This was about as far as my advance planning had taken me. Somehow I had thought we would kneel somewhere, wait a while, then realize the Virgin wasn't coming, get to our feet, and split the Milky Way I had in my pocket. Then we could drop the whole subject forever.
But as I knelt there, already feeling a slight burn in my kneecaps, I realized I was going to have to do something in order to bring the episode to an end. There wasn't going to be an obvious signal that it was time to get up off our knees, unless it was the honk of the Buick, and I didn't think the backs of my thighs were going to hold out that long.
"Are we supposed to be thinking something?" Rosalia whispered. She seemed to be holding up to the challenge of upright kneeling, without even the back of a pew to rest our forearms on, better than I was. She'd been in training for weeks now.
"Hail Marys," I said.
"Oh, right," she replied, and she set herself to the task of praying. I could tell because after a moment she began to sway a little, and her lips were moving. She had screwed her eyes shut. I watched her surreptitiously, and then I couldn't help it, I started to sway in time with her. I even began praying in my head. It was something to do while I thought about what to do.
I kept my eyes on the shrine at first, but the statue's face began to put me off. The smooth, blank, half-lidded eyes gave me an uncomfortably remote feeling, as if I were beseeching an uncaring foreign idol, which is not at all what you want or expect from the Blessed Virgin. My gaze drifted upward, to the wall above the shrine. FAP zing, the graffiti seemed to say. FAP zing? Why did people write such things, I wondered.
Rosalia was still praying away. But I felt this could only go on for so long. We needed a climax. My knees were really starting to hurt. The Virgin would have to appear.
I took a deep breath, opened my eyes a little wider than normal, as I imagined the children had done at Fátima, and said, "Yes, Holy Mother" in my best trance-voice.
Beside me, Rosalia gave a start. I kept my eyes on FAP zing.
"I hear you," I said. It was like pretending to hold a phone conversation when there was nobody on the other side, like the actors on TV.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God!" Rosalia cried out, scanning the air above the shrine wildly.
"Shhh," I said, glancing at her. "She's here."
I made a vague gesture with one arm. "Can't you see her?"
"Nooo," Rosalia said.
"Right there, in front of us," I said, in a fake-hushed voice.
"I can't see her," Rosalia said, and the anguish in her tone made me pause.
"It's okay," I said. I suddenly really wanted the scene to be over. "It's okay if you can't see her."
"Why won't she let me?" Rosalia said. "Hail Mary. Hail Mary." She was staring at the space where I was looking, in the direction of FAP zing. "Full of grace…"
"I can't see her," she said to me, and then she began to cry, digging the heels of her palms into her eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said.
"Don't cry," I said quickly. "She doesn't want you to cry like that."
But Rosalia kept sobbing and pressing her hands to her face.
"Rosalia," I said. I took hold of one of her wrists and tried to drag it down, away from her eyes. "Rosalia! Don't cry, please don't cry."
Rosalia opened her eyes to look at me, a terrible, wet, bloodshot look, and then she seemed to be looking past me, above me. Her mouth opened and closed, like a fish, and then she stretched a hand out, right past my cheek.
"Oh Holy Mother," Rosalia said. "Oh Holy Mother, please look at me! I promise you I will be perfect, I will be perfect, I will be perfect forever and ever, if you will just talk to Jesus. Talk to Jesus and ask him will he give my brother back. Please, Holy Mary, Mother of God! Please just ask him if I can have my brother back…"
Rosalia squeezed my shoulder, hard. "Why won't she look at me? Why does she keep her head turned away?"
I shook my head. I had already looked where Rosalia was pointing, and I saw nothing, but I couldn't tell her that.
"Please!" Rosalia said. I think she was trying to scream, but it came out all strangled. "Please! I just want my brother back, and I will be good forever, I will be so perfect if you give him back…" She went on like that for a while, with me staring at her, then suddenly dropped her eyes to my face. "She went away. She wouldn't even look at me and she went away."
I didn't know what to do so I put my arms around her, and she sobbed into my shoulder. I felt her pick up her head now and then, looking around to see if Mary was there, if Mary would finally look at her, acknowledge her, but it seemed as though the visions were over, because Rosalia just shuddered and leaned against my shoulder until she was done crying. Then she pulled away and sat back on her heels.
"She wouldn't look at me," she said. "I think she hates me."
"No she doesn't," I said. "Mary doesn't hate anyone."
"She does if you're bad," Rosalia said, which made her cry a little more. "Did she look at you?"
"Kind of," I said. At this point I didn't want to commit to much of anything. While I had been doing my imitation jig, Rosalia seemed to have experienced the real thing. If anyone were in danger of inspiring anger from the Virgin Mary, it would have to be me. "What did…what did you see?"
"Just her face," Rosalia said, wiping at her eyes. "Looking away. Looking that way. Just the side of her face. She wouldn't look at me."
A profile, I realized. She'd seen a lady's profile. "I don't think it meant anything," I said.
"What do you mean? What did she say to you?"
"She said…she didn't say anything." I couldn't think what to say. One thing for sure, I knew Rosalia wasn't going to get her brother back, because these days Jesus didn't perform miracles like that no matter who asked him. Not even if his own mother asked.
"But you said 'I hear you,'" Rosalia pointed out. "So she must have said something."
"She said 'I have come.'"
"Well," I said. "I don't know what you expected." This was tricky, trickier than answering Padre Caldes in class.
"From what you said before it kind of seemed like she talks to you a lot more than that," Rosalia said. Her eyes were dry now, and if I were not mistaken, there was a little gleam of accusation setting in.
"This time she came to listen," I said quickly.
Rosalia's gaze changed. "Really?"
"Yes," I said. "That's what she said. She said, 'I have come' and then she said 'I came to listen.'"
"But you didn't say anything," Rosalia said.
'I know. You did." Suddenly I had it. "Don't you see, Rosalia? She came to listen to you. That's why she didn't look at you. She had her ear turned towards you, so she could hear everything."
Rosalia took that in. I could see her considering this interpretation of the events, turning it over in her mind. "You think so?" she said. "She heard me?"
"I think so," I said. At some point we'd both switched over to sitting Indian-style, facing each other as though we were about to play patty-cake. But we were too old for that now.
"Maybe," she said. "Maybe she was listening."
"Hey." I dug out the Milky Way. "Want some?"
She looked at the candy bar, then shook her head. "You have it," she said.
I put it back in my pocket. We sat there for another couple of seconds, both of us studying the ground in front of us, and then she got to her feet. "Well, I'm gonna go home."
"You are? But class isn't over."
She shrugged. "Doesn't matter." She started to walk away, then glanced over her shoulder. "See ya."
"See ya," I said, and I got up too, trailing her. When she reached the sidewalk she headed towards the projects, never looking back.
I climbed the front steps of the school to wait for my parents. I hoped they came early, because I was freezing, and I needed something to think about that wasn't the stuff that had just happened, even if it just turned out to be vacuuming or peeling potatoes. I was holding back the thoughts with a push broom in my head, trying to cram them into a dark corner, but I could tell it was going to be hard to keep my mind blank.
The next week, Rosalia and I both showed up to Sunday School, but she didn't sit next to me this time. She sat at the front of the class, so I could only see the back of her head, and she never even said hello.
After that, at some point, she stopped coming. We never exchanged words again, and she was not at Confirmation two years later. After Confirmation, there's no more Sunday School. You've been taught everything you need to know to be a full-fledged Catholic. I remember thinking we hadn't learned a damn thing. But maybe Rosalia felt like she had learned it all way before then.