by Sarena Ulibarri

Well, you did it. Left. Once and for…once, anyway. The sky has never looked so bright. Just stop driving for one damn minute and look at it. Look at the freedom.

You pull into a vacant parking lot. Across the street a brick steeple stretches into the cloudless sky. The cross at the top glints in the sunlight. A few years ago you tried a Methodist church and liked it better than the Baptist, not as much as the Lutheran.

Wooden doors open; people file out. Women sweat in their modest dresses and children race between cars. There are men too, but you take care not to notice them. You try to focus on the sky again, but somehow it doesn’t seem so bright as when you were driving.

More than anything in the world you want to go in the church. But you’re not dressed for it. You look at the women again: long dresses and pearls. You look down at yourself: sweat pants and a sparkly tank top. You want to talk to God; you want to make sure He knows you’re in the right. Some people say they can talk to God anywhere, but that’s not how it works.  Talking to God is like going to see your grandfather. You wear a clean shirt, stand up straight, speak clearly and respectfully. If you don’t, you will be punished. There is no other way.

You roll down your window and let in the hot breeze. It would be so much easier if you had a better reason to leave, if you thought he had a mistress, or if there wasn’t your immortal soul to worry about. You lean your elbow on the open car window and rest your head in your hand. From the throng of churchgoers, a little girl spots you and waves joyfully. She runs away from her friends, green dress bouncing around her scuffed knees. In the middle of the street, she stops. She has mistaken you for someone else. An aunt. A babysitter. Or even her own mother.

The little girl stares for a moment more and you stare back at her in horror.  She squints into the morning sun, then turns and runs back to the crowd. A group of adults stands on the sidewalk, in the sun. They haven’t even noticed the child running in the street.

Did your daughter ever run up to you like that? Surely she must have, when she was this girl’s age, five, six, seven, before puberty made her swear herself your enemy.

You’ve never been close, though. Birth complications, C-section. You were sedated the whole time. When you woke up it was impossible to make the connection between the wrinkled pink thing they placed in your arms and the bulge of your womb, the fetus that had been so intimately a part of you. As soon as the child was out of your body, all maternal instinct left with it. Vanished. Left you empty, low.

You had wanted to name her Alisha, but he insisted on Jessica. And since you were so drugged up after the C-section, Jessica it was. Jessica was a daddy’s girl, but maybe Alisha would have been yours. It crosses your mind that maybe the child in the green dress is your real daughter, your Alisha. But that doesn’t make any sense. You know it doesn’t.

The girl in the green dress goes up to her mother, an overweight woman standing with the others, and tugs on her skirt until she looks down. She points at you. The mother squints across the street and takes a heavy step in your direction. You start the car.

Still shaken by the child’s mistake, you successfully blend in with the rest of the church traffic. The mother’s accusing stare bleeds through your thoughts. Like she was the primal mother, a living Venus of Willendorf statue, come to smash your skinny selfish life. So different from the quiet Virgin of the church, hands in prayer, head tilted. Mary has forgiven you a hundred times. Venus mother does not forgive.


Sarena Ulibarri has lived in six states, all of them west of the Mississippi River. Her dog, however, has only lived in four.
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