The Boiler

a. n. a

THE ONE WITH THE HAT

Most likely I will go to hell, the birdcage of the universe, and most likely I deserve to be there. I’m out of the house for the first time since my week grounding. During the Teen Mass while Father Joe transubstantiates the bread into the body of Christ, I imagine Eli and me doing it. He’s wearing his hat deliciously backwards with his jeans shackling his ankles, my leather skirt riding up and up. His Ma away, slaving on the almond shelling line.

Eli’s the type to sneak into your thoughts. You’re only aware that you were thinking about him once you stop thinking about him, like now for instance goddamit. I’m sitting here in church trying to stop thinking about doing it with him.

Ma says I was born bad or born under a bad star it doesn’t matter which, the outcome is the same — she prays for me. She believes praying will solve everything. Power in prayer, she says when she finds her missing gold hoop earring Pop gave her when things were still good between them. Thank you, she says as she hooks it back into her lobe. But what does she know? Nada except she thinks she got one over on me when she found one of Eli’s hats in my bottom drawer between my old yearbooks and my first pair of baby saddle shoes.

Frankie and Sam, my two best girl friends, pray for me too. They pray that I get some.

Boys chase, no, lock those chicas into the you’re-growing-up-too-fast birdcage. The mystery of sex lured Frankie and Sam into the trap and those girls senselessly handed over their virginity to their boyfriends as if they were paying for a pack of gum at the QuickMart. As fast as they dropped their panties the gate of adulthood, that compromised state of being, locked those girls in place for good.

I’m the virgin in the group, but I feel like I’m the oldest virgin to ever walk this planet. Ma and Pops have been together since they were thirteen and my lolo and lola grew up as neighbors in San Rafael Philippine province, ready to jump each other’s bones any minute.

Now, as I wait in line to receive the Eucharist I trace the eyelets in the fabric of my halter dress. Earlier this morning, Ma was pissed when she found out I “accidentally” left my sweater at home as we walked towards the cathedral before mass began.

No self respect, she said.

I shrugged. If you got it, flaunt it.

I walked past her, my bare back fully exposed. I’m not gonna lie. I was pretty damn cold and a little part of me cringed when those words flew out of my mouth. Frankie taught me about giving attitude. She talks to her moms like she owns her.

But Ma didn’t let me slide. She put her foot down as if she were killing a harmless daddy long leg that crawled in to view. She came right up to my face before we entered the cathedral, You lucky we’re in front of God’s house she said while pinching the back of my arm.

After swallowing the Eucharist I rub the spot where she pinched, it’s going to bruise no doubt. Deacon Mike raises the chalice before me. I see my heavily made up reflection in the golden goblet, broad strokes of blush and a blur of pink lips. I sip the bitter, cheap wine.

Ma eyes me up and down disapprovingly as I slip past her into the pew. Father Joe will have a word with you after mass about the way you dress, she hissed. She made the sign of the cross, kissed her forefinger, and kneeled.

While her eyes were closed in fervent prayer, I rolled mine hoping she could feel how hostile I was trying to act towards her. Lately, I’ve been getting real good at getting myself in trouble to the point of receiving week long groundings.

While punished in the comfort and confines of home, I get to read books and listen to my Pop’s old Earth Wind and Fire records while Sam and Frankie are mackin’ on their boys at the mall.

Eli, the boy with the backwards hat, often brings apple sized tomatoes and thick leaved spinach for my Ma. We — Eli and me — spend time alone sitting on the concrete slab in my backyard. I always wonder if he tells people at school about our hangouts. If he does, I’m curious to know what kind of reaction he gets when he mentions my name. All the girls crush on him because he’s confident and smart and he looks like the type of boy who smells good. Eli is that kid, the kid that can get anyone he wants and can do anything he wants to do. But then again I secretly hope he doesn’t tell anyone. He’s Sam’s older brother and dating your best friend’s brother is some sort of crime I can’t quite figure out.

Eli is the only boy I actually know and he’s the only boy who has acknowledged that he knows the real me — the me who doesn’t want to grow up too fast.

A few weeks ago, before Eli’s abuelo died, abuelo tried to catch birds out of mesh wire and stakes. Reverting to boyhood Ma said shaking her head when I told her. Eli’s abuelo caught a little finch, fed it, let it go, and abuelo died a few days after.

Capturing a wild thing and claiming it as his, Eli said as he played with his hat in his hands.

Reverting to boyhood, I said.

Exactly, he said.

In that moment I wished Eli had kissed me, but he wouldn’t do anything impulsive as that. He just sat there fingering the bill of his hat.

On days like today, I imagine Eli showing up late to mass as a way to get out of his house. His moms is having a hard time adjusting to life after abuelo’s death. Eli doesn’t come.

But still, I imagined.

I imagine hearing his sneakers squeak across the church’s marble floor, the noise ceasing when he hugs me from behind, interrupting my washing the chalice and crystal plates, he turns me around and plants one on me with the water running full blast; or he meets me at Oak Grove Park and we climb the slope of the levee and skip rocks across the Delta; or he drives me to prom in his pick up and twirls me in a blue satin dress and high heel shoes; or maybe he just holds my hand as we walk down the hall, takes off his hat one day, and says, wear it.

Now, the sun sets outside and the stained glass windows go black. For a second my heart races because out of the corner of my eye I think I see that hat. It’s not him. Godammit, I think. I’m going to remain a virgin forever but you know, right now, that’s okay. There’s something about that hat, something about Eli with his backwards hat, that makes me feel alright being here in church praying with my Ma.

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a.n.a is a fiction writer. She is an MFA candidate at the University of San Francisco. Life in California’s Central Valley inspires her work.