This was first published in volume 36, Issue 8, of The Mirror News, under their “Through the Looking Glass” segment. (March 3, 2011). It was then reprinted for inclusion in Michigan Avenue Creative Arts Journal. (2011-2012 edition).
“Sorry I missed church, I was too busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian.” It was plastered to back of a rusty chrome bumper on the back of an equally rusty forest green jeep. It looked innocent enough, but the mere sight of it had my mother’s lips disappearing fast. My reaction was altogether different, I laughed out loud. My mother shot me a disapproving look and grabbed my arm. She steered me away from that jeep like the parking lot of the Mega Mart was filled with wet cement. I couldn’t see the harm in it. It was just a novelty bumper sticker and honestly, I’d seen a lot worse. As the tugs on my numbing arm became more rapid, I sighed, and was dragged against my will back to our own blue minivan.
While Mom loaded my arms with groceries, I placed them in the back absent-mindedly. My thoughts were still tuned into the green jeep in the space across from ours. It was in between this time that a tall girl walked out of Mega Mart; She was carrying an armload of her own groceries and helping an elderly woman, both approaching the infamous vehicle. I couldn’t stop myself from glancing at her now and again. At least it was not as obvious as my mother’s full on glare. She was young, maybe sixteen, and she had long wavy red hair that reached her waist. Her clothes were simple: a peasant blouse and an ankle length skirt in various earth tones. None of it had the mark of the devil from what I could see. The elderly woman was also dressed plain, and she had pure white hair that raced down her back easily rivaling the other’s. She was limping slightly, clutching the girl’s arm tightly for support. The pupils under her wrinkled eyelids were a milky white.
Suddenly the young girl swore loudly. The paper shopping bag had bottomed out, spilling its contents everywhere. A jar of peaches broke at her sandaled feet scattering glass and fruit juice, a jar of tomato sauce followed. The eggs, poor things, also suffered a similar fate. I rushed forward to help her but the hand of the iron maiden held me back firmly. “Don’t,” she hissed. I wrenched away from her as she struggled to keep hold, convinced that she was the one who was possessed. What was the big deal?
“Here, let me help you,” I told her bending down to retrieve the soggy mess. Maybe some of the items could still be saved.
The girl swept her long tresses back and fumbled in her purse for her keys.
“No, that’s okay; I’m more worried about my grandmother.”
She gestured to the old woman and then took her hand, leading her around to the passenger side. As she made sure the old woman was comfortable, she gestured at me to walk over and I followed feeling horribly awkward. The inside of the jeep smelled slightly of lavender and rosemary, and my eyes fell on a small cloth bag hanging from the rearview mirror. There was also a silver cross, but it looked different from most of the crosses I had seen. It was etched all over with knotwork and the center of the cross was encircled. It looked almost antique. The girl followed my gaze and answered my unasked questions.
“It’s a Celtic cross and that bag is a herb sachet. It’s kind of like a homemade version of potpourri. My Gran makes them herself to keep the jeep smelling nice. She doesn’t like it when my brother smokes while he drives. The smell makes her sick,” she explained.
As she was talking she pulled a large roll of paper towel from the battered paper bag and tossed it to me. “If you really want to help, you can help me clean up the mess. I don’t anyone stepping in all that broken glass,” she explained.
It seemed odd to me. Well, more odd than it already was. Most people wouldn’t bother to clean up broken glass in a huge lot like this. They’d just leave it lying around. Yet, the thought of this seemed more foreign to her as I brought it up while walking back to the spot.
“If you do good things, good things come back to you. I don’t have anywhere to be and I really don’t mind. You don’t have to stay and help though. It’s just a little glass.”
I waved off her objections, even though my mother had been honking the horn for the last few minutes. I just ignored her as thoroughly as I did my alarm clock in the morning. So as we picked up tiny shards and carefully wiped up most of the goop, I guess it was natural that my eyes kept going back to the bumper sticker. Right? But every glance I took seemed wrong somehow. I couldn’t help it. I asked her how it ended up there and she laughed.
“My friend put it on there as a joke. I mean, we thought it was funny. But people do give me funny looks from time to time. I think it’s sad that we take everything so seriously nowadays.”
I asked her if there was any connection to the bumper sticker and her own views on the world.
“It doesn’t matter what I say, people already form opinions from the moment they see it. I’m pretty sure you already did, seeing as you asked about it.” With that statement she stood and snatched the dirty towels from my hands. I felt so embarrassed, even if I hadn’t really known this girl. Was I passing judgment on her?
“Gariníon,” I heard the old woman call.
“Coming Grandma,” she said and stalked off.
There was one last silent thing I said to her retreating form. I’m Sorry.
My mother laid on her horn and I turned sharply on my heel. I wrenched open the door of the minivan and slammed it. She muttered comments about “helping the hell bound” and I had to wonder…What really made a saint or a sinner?