by Rita Ciresi

I set my purse on the glass coffee table and perch on the brown leather couch. Psychic Leila takes the matching armchair and places her hands in her lap. In her stretch pants and comfort shoes, Leila looks more like a clerk at J.C. Penney than my portal to the other world. Yet her intense green eyes seem to see right through me.

Thankfully, she closes them.

‘I see a man,’ she finally says. ‘Who’s not quite a man.’

I close my own eyes, as if I can will him back into being.

‘He’s wearing sneakers and jeans,’ she says. ‘Carrying a backpack. And holding his hand over his heart. Something metal presses against his chest. It’s a…’

I hold my breath.

‘Saint,’ she says. ‘Christopher.’

‘That’s him,’ I blurt out and open my eyes.

‘He says don’t worry. He’s safe now. On the other side.’ Psychic Leila remains silent for few moments, eyes still closed. ‘There’s a yellow car. No, a bus. A long hallway. And…’

I shiver.

‘Flowers,’ she says. ‘Purple flowers. In front of a house.’

‘Tell him—can you tell him?—I’m sorry.’

‘He knows what’s in your heart.’

‘But I want to tell him. I want to say—’

Oh, why hadn’t I rehearsed what I would say? Now it would only come out in a rush: I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you goodbye that morning. I’m sorry I yelled at you because you didn’t cut back the Mexican petunias in the front yard like you promised. I’m sorry the last thing I ever said to you was, Try thinking about someone else beside yourself for once in your goddamn life!

‘Did it hurt?’ I ask Leila.

She shakes her head. ‘It was like being born, all over again.’

They said mothers forgot the pain of giving birth the moment after it happened. But I had never forgotten the intense pressure at the base of my being that made me feel as if I were giving birth to the entire world. Then came a slick slide, a gush of blood, and there he was.

Until he was not.

‘Why did this happen?’ I ask.

Leila remains still and silent. Maybe she—and my boy—are running through all the if onlys with me. If only he had given me some cock-and-bull story about having a sore throat that morning. If only he had missed the school bus. If only he had been scheduled for algebra at that hour. If only the boy I had come to think of as The Other Boy had waited five more minutes—or four—or two—to enter the building. If only my boy hadn’t taken my admonition—try thinking of someone else for once in your goddamn life!—to heart. If only when he first heard the rat-a-tat of the assault rifle he hadn’t pushed that tenth-grade girl out of the way, if only he hadn’t played the hero and taken the bullet meant for her, if only—like in a Hollywood movie—the bullet had ricocheted off the Saint Christopher medal I’d given him when he got his learner’s permit to keep him safe behind the wheel of the car, little dreaming he’d need it just to walk down the hall to American history.

Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and three award-winning story collections, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and Mother Rocket. Her story “On His Way to American History” was first published in FEMALE EDUCATION: Flash Fiction (Wordrunner eChapbooks, 2019). She is professor of English at the University of South Florida and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.

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