St. Francis

Lisa Grimes

“He was probably a perv.  A-sissy,” Alex says.

Assisi.  That’s how you pronounce it.  He wasn’t a perv, they made him a saint.  You don’t get to be a saint if you do perv stuff.”  Morgan looks out the car window, at houses moving past.  Shouldn’t more people have curtains? Through a large picture window she watches a group of people wearing pointy party hats standing around a dining room table.  Balloons hover just below the ceiling.  She could ask Alex to pull over and they’ll go up to the front door, ring the doorbell.  “Surprise, we’re here for the party,” she’ll say.  Maybe they’ll get cake.  

They won’t invite Alex and Morgan inside, they’ll call 911 instead.  If they even open the door in the first place.  Mostly people look out the peephole or peer through windows – who are you?  Sometimes they shout, “Go away.  I won’t buy anything.”  One time a lady yelled, “I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it.”

We’re just ringing doorbells, Morgan wanted to tell her.  For kicks, for fun.  We’re seventeen and we’re not old enough to go to clubs or bars unless you have a really great fake i.d. which she doesn’t, so it sucks to have nothing to do but drive around at night looking in windows and ringing doorbells.  

“What made St. Francis so great anyway?”  Alex is checking his reflection in the rearview mirror.  He smiles at himself, he likes what he sees.  “Is he the one who keeps you safe when you fly or go on a vacation?”

“That’s St. Christopher.  I don’t know why you think I know all about saints.  I’m not Catholic.”  Morgan will have a birthday party when she turns eighteen and make everybody wear hats.  They’ll have a big cake – chocolate chip with vanilla frosting.  At least three layers.  Or four.

“I bet he died in some really cool way, isn’t that how most people get to be saints?  Like that guy who’s shot with a zillion arrows, that would make you a saint, right?”

“St. Sebastian.  And he didn’t die from the arrows, everybody thinks he did because the paintings look so grisly, but the arrows didn’t kill him.  He recovered.  But then somebody found him and beat him to death.”

Alex is frowning.  “If you’re not Catholic, how come you know all this?”

Because I’m morbid.  Because I like to watch true crime shows on TV and I like art and religious paintings and I’m curious about lots of things.  The main one right now is why I’m going out with you.

She doesn’t say any of that out loud.  “I read it somewhere,” she says, rubbing her thumb against her right temple.  “I think I’m getting a headache.”

“Sebastian sounds like a gay name, was he gay?”  

Morgan doesn’t answer.  It’s a waste of time to ride around in a car with Alex even though some of her friends say he looks like Robert Pattinson.  Which he does in a way, but Morgan doesn’t care because if there’s anything she hates more than the “Twilight” books, it’s the “Twilight” movies.

Alex has pretty hair, she reminds herself.  Long and dark and wavy, she likes to bury her face in his neck and smell his lemon shampoo.  But he’s not your type, her friend Sara said.  Because he’s too handsome, is that what you’re trying to say?  Because he’s not smart.

Alex is handsome.  His hair is so beautiful he could be a shampoo model.  But Sara is right.  Alex lacks ambition.  Which is a more polite way of saying Alex is stupid.  He’s a junior in a high school with no plans after graduation.  Zero plans, he says, as if he’s proud of the fact.

Morgan’s junior year is about visiting colleges, keeping her grades up, studying for the SAT.  Trying not to let the pressure from her parents make her crazy.

Are you studying enough?  That B-plus in English won’t look good on your transcript, do you need a tutor?  Maybe you should try to squeeze in one more AP class.  Or go back to violin, couldn’t you play in the school orchestra?  There’s plenty of time for dating once you get into Yale or Stanford, you don’t need to be going out now.

She can’t think about her parents.  Or Yale.  She calls Alex.  He picks her up and they drive around the San Fernando Valley.  Not on the freeways, they stick to surface streets, residential neighborhoods, sometimes up to Mulholland where it’s dark with no streetlights and they’ll pull off the road, roll down the windows, and listen to the coyotes.  

The lights of Los Angeles are spread out in front of her, millions of lights.  My future is out there somewhere, Morgan thinks.  Unless it’s not.  

“I’d like to shoot somebody with an arrow,” Alex says.  He pulls his arm back and makes a zwing sound.  “If it had been me shooting St. Sebastian, that dude would’ve been dead.  No second chances.”

They haven’t had sex yet.  Alex wants to, of course, he was ready after their first drive.  But Morgan insists on waiting.  She’s not exactly sure why - for now it’s enough to touch his hair and kiss him, feel their bodies move against each other.  “We’ve done everything else,” Alex complains.  

“I don’t want to do it in a car,” Morgan says.  But that’s not the only reason.  She doesn’t want to have sex with Alex because she doesn’t like him.  He has a bad temper, he drives too fast.  He’s homophobic.  He doesn’t watch the news or know the name of the current prime minister of the United Kingdom.  “Churchill?” he guessed.

“So what did St. Francis of A-sissy do to make himself famous?” he asks her.  

“He preached to birds, he protected animals.  He thanked his donkey when he died for carrying him around for all those years.”

Alex laughs.  “What an idiot.  An ass-hole.”  Alex grins at Morgan as if he’s made the greatest joke ever.

His eyes are bright in the dim light of the car.  Alex has licked her breasts, made her come with his tongue.  He reaches over for her.  “Ass-hole,” he whispers.  She pulls away.

“Hey, what happened to your sense of humor?”  

“My head hurts.”

Alex looks at her.  “Sometimes you’re such a bitch.  You think my joke is stupid.  That’s what it is, right?”

She could lie to him.  Again.  Tell him how she doesn’t care he’s not going to college, college is overrated.  Only it’s not overrated, it’s college.  Everything she’s worked for.  Inevitable, like the tides, the phases of the moon.  Something she can’t stop now, even if she wanted to.  It’s what her friends do.  And Alex is not her friend.  He’s the guy she rides around with.  Makes out with, tries to convince herself that great hair counts for a lot, more than brains.  More than knowing David Cameron’s name.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” she says.

“Okay, I’ll take you home.”

“No, not just tonight.  I’ve got too much going on, this SAT prep class, I’ve got to study more... my parents keep bugging me.”

They’re driving through a pretty neighborhood with Spanish-styled homes and California bungalows.  Nicely tended green lawns, white picket fences.  An occasional tree swing.

“Some people don’t know about saints,” Alex says.  “There’s nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t make you better than me.”

“I didn’t say it did.”

“All those stories about St. Francis were made up anyway.  He probably killed rabbits and bears, went fishing.  I bet he had a gun, too.  Do you think he had a gun?”

Morgan looks away from Alex, up ahead she notices something moving across the road.  Roundish and grey, with a tail.

    And Alex sees it too.  “Like that,” he says.  “What would St. Francis do if he saw a cat in the road in front of him?  I’ll show you what he’d do.”

    The grey shape in the road stops, its head swivels in the direction of Alex’s car.  Morgan can see yellow eyes flash, frozen.

    Alex lowers his head and slams his foot against the accelerator.  The shape makes a move to the right, but Alex tracks it perfectly.  

    Morgan reaches for the steering wheel, but there’s not enough time and she hears a wet thunk against the front of the car.  

    “Score,” Alex shouts.  The car is moving fast, the tires squeal against the pavement.  

    Morgan turns and looks behind her, she sees the grey form in the road behind them.  Is it moving?  It might be.  They could go back, they should go back.  But Alex has turned the corner and they’re headed away, down another dark street.  With doorbells to ring and lighted windows and other people’s lives to observe.

Lisa Grimes is a writer living in California.

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