“Your blood is wild and cannot be tamed,” Her mom whispers in her ear. She tucks the sheets in tighter and brushes the hair back from her face, “I hope you run with horses in your dreams tonight.” She kisses her softly on the cheek, “Wild horses.”
“…and other wild animals…” Sister Mary Andrews’ voice jolts her awake. Jana jerks up in her seat and looks around the classroom to see if anyone had noticed her sleeping. Amy’s watching her, and catching Jana’s eye, raises her eyebrows in imitation of Sister Mary when she’s mad. Jana suppresses a laugh and buries her head into her notebook.
Sister Mary Andrews’ is pacing in front of the room of disinterested looking teenagers, occasionally stopping to write something on the chalkboard. It is apparent that she has been writing a lot today because the board is covered in hurried scribbles, and even more telling are the chalk hand marks all along the front of her black habit. She pushes her wire-rimmed glasses up her sharp nose and continues, “We find the old testament full of such laws that dictated every aspect of daily life for the Hebrews. Another law covered the preparation and eating of food.”
She writes on the board, but be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. Deuteronomy 12:23. Turning and facing the class she continues, “Now, let’s talk about the significance of blood…”
Amy slips Jana a note, I’m so bored. Are you going to the game tonight? By the way, try to imagine Sister Mary Andrews as a kid. It’s impossible. I’m pretty sure she came out of her mother’s womb fully grown and wearing pantyhose. Do nuns wear pantyhose? Seriously, what do they wear underneath?
Sister Mary Andrews is reading another verse out loud, “Genesis 9,” her sharp voice expels, “…and for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.’ ”
Jana stares at the nun, then looks down at her paper and tries to focus on the class. Instead her mind drifts back to the dream. “Your blood is wild and cannot be tamed.” She doodles the words on the side of her notebook and stares at them for a long time.
Amy hands her another note, You didn’t answer! Are you coming to the game?
Jana rubs the middle of her chest. No, she writes back, I can’t. I have some things I have to do. The bell rings, and both girls grab their bags and head out into the already crowded hall.
She watches the rest of the kids head in the direction of the buses, all going to the football game. Jana turns her back and starts walking home. She usually hated the walk. It was over a mile with no bus, which irritated Jana especially because there was a public school just three blocks from their house; but her dad had insisted on the Catholic school. And Jana never argued with him. She never argued with anyone.
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Leviticus 17:11
Jana crunched through the fallen leaves, red and orange and green against the gray sidewalk, against the gray street, against the gray sky. Her head was down, starring at her feet as she walked. Her chest was starting to ache. She rubbed it, touching her sternum, without thinking. Her mind was still on her dream in class. “Your blood is wild,” she repeated softly to herself, stomping dried leaves.
They had had the same green eyes. That’s what her dad told her, usually when he was drinking. She couldn’t remember that. She remembered smells, and mostly feelings. Cool hands on her forehead at night. Burying her face in laps that smelled of dryer sheets and garden dirt. Mom walking around the house making clicking noises with her tongue as if it would make things cleaner. “It did make things cleaner,” she thought to herself. Lately she had found herself making the same noise without even thinking when she cleaned her room. She buried herself back into the thoughts and let them walk her home.
By the time Jana reached her house, her chest was throbbing. She threw off her backpack and walked through the kitchen. There was a note from her dad on the counter. I won’t be home until late again. Make yourself dinner. There should be something leftover in the fridge. Short and to the point, as always. Jana picked up the pen and added I love you to the bottom of the note and then crumpled it up and slipped it in her pocket.
She went to her room, took off the school uniform and changed into a tank top, sweatshirt, and shorts and then headed to the bathroom.
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you… Exodus 12:13
Jana went into the bathroom and opened a small cupboard. She took out several packages of pads and tampons and then pulled a small wooden box out that had been lying behind them. She opened the box and carefully took a picture of her mom out and propped it behind the sink. She stared at the picture, struggling to remember the real face. It looked blankly back at her.
Next she pulled two small candles out of the box, and dimming the lights of the bathroom, lit the candles and placed them next to the picture of her mom. She turned on the sink, and carefully began washing her hands.
The ache in her chest was getting worse. And then suddenly it came, the memory fully, sharply and painfully. Jana gasped for breath, pain shooting up her chest as she watched the memory of her body rushing into her mom’s, throwing her down the stairs. What had she been running for? She couldn’t remember. It was an accident, she wanted to scream, but was paralyzed as she watched the body fall backwards, down the stairs, tumbling over itself. And then finally stop, frozen at the bottom. Jana stood frozen at the top, starring down. The neck is bent funny, she remembered thinking. “Mom?” She had ventured, only once. And then sat down and waited for a response. She stared at the body. It seemed unreal that it wasn’t moving. Mom was always moving. She stared at the blood trickling from the nose; life leaving the body.
The Lord said, ‘what have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’ Genesis 4:10
Jana stared dumbly at the picture of her mom by the sink. I didn’t mean to, she mumbled. It was an accident. Only an accident. She turned on the faucet and cupped her hands under the water, and then splashed it in her face. She slowly took off her sweatshirt and folded it neatly on the corner of the counter, and rolled up her shorts to the top of her thighs. She reached back into the wooden box and pulled out a small razor blade. Jana looked down at the dozens of cut marks running up and down her arms and legs. The ache in her chest was unbearable.
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22
She sliced in, deeply right below her elbow, squeezing it so that the blood ran down her arm and dripped onto the top of the white sink. She held it like this for a while, watching it pool, then dabbed her pinky finger in the blood, lifted it to her forehead and made the sign of the cross between her brows. Gently, she placed four drops of blood on the corners of her mother’s picture. After a few minutes she slowly, carefully dabbed the blood away with toilet paper. She wiped up the sink, flushed the paper, and then placed the razor and candles back in the box.
Jana picked up her mom’s picture and stared at it for a moment, then sighed; she suddenly felt very tired. The pain in her chest was gone. Jana put the picture away, carefully hid the box back behind the tampons, grabbed her sweatshirt and turned off the light.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED