Project Rachel

Amanda Nowakowski

The mass was for us and the
dead that never left us. We were
seated in the radiating chapels
near the altar and didn’t look

at each other. The cardinal processed
the nave with his army of bishops,
priests, and the local deacon. The dead
hadn’t made it past the day we lay

on the tables and stared at pictures
on the ceiling. Mine were of fawns
in a clearing. They looked toward
woods. A volunteer had briefed me

in the waiting room but I thought
I was dying. Once, after a wedding,
I’d almost told my mom the truth. It was
in a storm outside Nashville. We’d gone

to a State Park where the bride
stood in a cobblestone ring. Her
dress barely hit her ankles. The storm
held off until she and her husband left

with the remaining champagne. I
was only half gone so my insides
were fighting the attack of ants and other
prickly things. On the way home I cried

because I needed a drink. The oily
truth of what I had done rushed
to my throat then retreated to its
vicious knowing. Twenty years later

I sat at the mass for those
who’d begged on the
table for forgiveness for
what we had done, and what

we had failed to do, and what
I’d have to do again, given the
ants, and the alcohol, and the men,
and the muteness of being sixteen.