March 21, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Kristian O’Hare
The first rain in months finally begins to let up as I make my way towards Cesar Chavez. The shadow of palm tree spines curve like scoliosis; their fallen fronds lie carcass at my feet as I walk these same streets, night after night. On Sanchez, I pass the antique clock repair, their window display lit by a single vintage Edison light bulb—its barbed filament casts an orange glow on the cogs and wheels, weights and pendulums, skeletons of metal, and cuckooless cuckoo clocks.
As I walk down 23rd, the bougainvillea once a vibrant pink even in dim moonlight, now dormant, without bloom, its flowers dried like crepe paper. A meek pan flute note peeks around the corner, then creeps back to one of the several nearby Irish bars, the Dubliner maybe—a breath of wind, a silvery sound, pining for something, somebody.
As I turn onto Church Street, an empty streetcar follows the routine of stopping and opening its doors to no one. Puddles shimmer pale gold halo of streetlights. Hush of a distant car, and silence. Something about this silence feels holy. It reminds me of when my grandmother took me to church on off hours, on weekdays after All My Children. I’d follow her into the same pew, three rows back; how she gasped every time she placed her old knees on the foam kneeler. I’d watch her apply Carmex to her chapped lips before she kissed her rosary. Then she’d spend an hour, her arthritic fingers working the beads. Her lips moved, but no words, no audible words, no whisper of Our Father, no hushed Hail Mary to stir the statue of Mary who hid in an alcove near the lectern, almost draped in the American Flag beside her. Bored, I’d study the brass plaques on the wall, each one representing a Station of the Cross, but I’d spend most of my time with Number 10– the stripping Jesus of his garments, how his face didn’t seem to mind as the men removed his clothing, how he didn’t seem afraid as some men at his feet prepared the wooden cross, laid out the nails. Are you praying? she knew when I was daydreaming. I don’t know what to pray for, I’d say. She told me I needed to thank God at the end of every prayer, don’t just ask for things. Show gratitude for all that you have.
As I approach home, I turn back, I hear something move: a rustling, a plastic bag caught in an acacia, stuck in its tresses. Above, a window, with no curtains or blinds, inside nothing in the room or on the walls; it is empty except for a man exposed under an overhead light—a fluorescent bulb burns bright, as he irons a white shirt. I watch him iron that one shirt: collar, cuffs, shirt front, back of the shirt, sleeves. It reminds me of the priest at the altar: the paten with the bread, the chalice, the eucharistic prayer, the “let us pray,” the silence that fell upon us, and that sense of waiting punctuated by an Amen.
Once I believed in God, once I felt gratitude, once I sat so still in the pew, so quiet because I thought in that silence he’d be able to hear me and only my prayers. Maybe my lips moved, but no words, more like thoughts, of worry, these fears to be collected and sorted out and highlighted, some heavy, some light, mostly slight, weightless floating up and away, while some hung out, dug in and bracted to the brain.
Back in the window, the man puts on his shirt and buttons it up. I hear the silence, the most perfect silence and stillness, deep and holy, palpitating, as if we, he and I, were both holding our breath together, waiting for that Amen to puncture a hole big enough in the night sky to swallow us all up, to offer us some sort of release.
Kristian O’Hare’s writing has appeared in Third Coast Magazine, Synaesthesia Magazine, Cobalt Review, San Francisco State University’s Fourteen Hills, South 85 Journal, Mud Season Review, The Indianapolis Review, and Foglifter. He was awarded a first-place prize in Very Short Fiction at 2020’s Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. His website is kristianohare.com.