What We Believed In

We found ourselves lying to each other.

"The peach is green," Owen said.

"The peach is most certainly not green," I pointed out. "It happens to be ambrosia orange." But then I told him that I had been molested as a child and that my problems were related to my thyroid. "If you look closely," I said, "you'll notice the swell." He told me that he was bisexual. "You're not a cop-out," he said to me when I told him about my mother and her expectations of my life. His fingers closed around mine. But then I remembered that our eyes were shifting to the left, our veins twitching, heart rates moving at eighty-two instead of eighty.

When he painted the day room vivid raspberry instead of cherry like I'd said and insisted that I'd given him the wrong color swatch, I realized how far we'd come.

"What are we going to do?" he asked, and we came to the same conclusion -- that we had to visit the Pussy.

We lived in a town that had a statue of the Virgin Mary in the park, and if you couldn't see that she resembled a giant vagina then you had to be blind. Rumor had it that prayers from devotees were granted at least three times a month. That made the odds one out of ten. Religious freaks from all over came to see her, and we figured, well, why not. Our math may have been bad, but our fears were a larger concern.

When we arrived, there was a line forming. The Virgin was surrounded by a halo of light, though you could tell it was just fancy rigging. "There's a dead bird in the corner," Owen whispered. There wasn't.

"I'm here to ask for my cancer to be healed," confided the woman in front of me.

"Me too," I said.

"I have herpes," Owen interjected helpfully. The woman reached over my arm and patted his shoulder. She smelled like gardenias in the spring.

We approached the statue reverently -- how else do you get close to something that massive? -- and like everyone else, fell on our knees by her feet.

"What do we say?" I whispered to Owen. A piece of my hair fell into my mouth. I blew it out.

"We appeal," he murmured back. "We ask for courage and longevity, light bulb filaments that don't burn out, world peace. We ask for deception-less water and racial harmony. We ask for everything we've never said to each other." He let go of my hand to place his on the Virgin's feet, one of which was planted on a carved snake whose eyelids were closed, though everyone knows that snakes have no lids in the first place. Owen turned hard, looking at me over his leather jacket. "I'm not bisexual," he said. "I never was. And I lied about the bird in the corner, too." I could tell it was an effort on his part because his lower lip, the one I liked to bite, was twitching.

The truth was that standing there at her feet, amongst the wicked and the believers, I didn't ask for anything. I watched Owen and the look on his face, his nostrils casting shadows as they flared, and I realized that there was a chance that nothing would be the same. So I put my hand over the snake's lidded eyes and moved my lips as though I was praying while I thought about irreverence and cancer, of vivid rooms and pretense.

When we got home I cut out a paper heart and wrote a long soliloquy in white ink that cut into the blue lines of the notepaper I was using. Owen would find it two years later when his belly had sagged and his hair was thinning. He would ask me about it, what it said, and I would wave my hand and reply that it was nothing really, that it was about how the leaves turn in the fall or how still water runs deep, how everything does not happen at once. Owen would shrug and pull out the leather jacket I had found at a thrift store for him when his old one finally gave out and say, "I'm going riding," meaning on his bike, meaning that he didn't care, really, about white ink on white paper that he couldn't read, and the truth is that I won't remember in two years what I wrote or where I even found the white ink the day we came home from visiting the Pussy in the park.

What I will remember is the earnestness in Owen's voice, carved feet and birds that weren't really there. What I will remember is how I thought that maybe if I had a thyroid problem, all this wouldn't be happening and we wouldn't be standing here breaking pacts and destroying what we knew with petty truths we couldn't afford, stretching out palms to statues while bystanders watched and took pictures whispering, "There's that girl with cancer and her boyfriend with herpes. Look at how they're kneeling, how he pulls her in closer so their prayers are intertwined. The Virgin has power, look at the halo around her head. Might be them that gets one of the three miracles this month."

About the author:

Jill Alphonso lives in Seattle and lies only under duress.