By: Rachael Warecki
“I dare you,” Danny Kane said, nodding at the cross on top of the hill.
It was Wednesday: the day we’d received our report cards. I remember that much, although Holy Land USA wouldn’t have looked much different if it had been any other day of the week. There were acres of abandoned, overgrown land between us and the cross, populated with worn-out reproductions of ancient Israel as imagined by the Connecticut zealots who’d built the place forty years before. When you walked up Slocum Street in the daytime, you could see tiny clusters of fake hillside houses sloping into one another and carved signs proclaiming Jesus’s sovereignty; the whole place had the look of a desperate Old Testament yard sale, the kind my neighbors sometimes had, filled with junk no one wanted. From where we stood on Washington Street, though, you could only see the cross. You could see that cross from anywhere in Waterbury.
I shoved my hands deep into my jacket pockets and pushed my wad of gum toward my back teeth, watched my breath pattern the air every time I exhaled. If I pursed my lips, I could pretend I was smoking, like my uncle. Even a godly man has his vices, he’d said when I’d told him that cigarettes were bad for his health. I started way back when I was your age and we didn’t know any better. It was the rationale he hauled out for most of his weaknesses. Sometimes I wondered if he’d come out of the womb slightly warped, or if, like Holy Land, Waterbury had forced him to decay into a baser nature—a question that gnaws at me even now, fifteen years down the road, when I’m spending money I don’t have on a beer I shouldn’t drink or losing yet another job for snapping back at the foreman.
“Dare me to what?” I asked Danny. As if I didn’t know. As if he hadn’t dared me to do the same thing every day of that eighth grade year, using our hours at West Side Middle School to fill his notebook margins with doodles of the brambled-over Holy Land sign. I’d never taken him up on it, though: something about the way Danny had wrapped his insecurities around that gutted, not-quite-sacred expanse of hillside straitjacketed my sympathy, turned me cruel.
“Run up and touch it.”
We contemplated the cross for a moment while I worked on my gum. The Sisters of St. Lucy Filippini had taken up a collection to electrify it, more or less, and even the people who didn’t have the cash to power their own apartments had donated a few bucks to keep the lights on in God’s abandoned mansion—I knew the Kanes had pitched in, thanks to Danny’s begging. It was a golden, flickering thing, that cross, even in the too-soon sunset of the wintry evening, but then again, Danny was a golden, flickering kid, a shade darker than the rest of us in the South End, and smaller, too, with the trick of seeming impermanent—one moment, he’d be right beside you, and then you’d blink and he’d be up a tree, or ducking through the doorway of one of the left-for-dead buildings common in our part of Waterbury. He’d walk in your blind spots and then smirk when you’d turn around and jump, startled to find him there.
“Run up and touch it?” I said. “That’s nothing. That’s, like, Polly Pocket-level stuff.”
“If it’s no big deal, then let’s do it. Unless you’re a chicken.”
I dare you. How many childhood adventures—how many childhood regrets—have begun with those words? Danny and I were naïve in the same way all dying-industry-town boys are naïve, making choices based on the least-bad possible outcomes, picking from the various terrible options our parents had willed to us with their own awful decisions. Danny’s options were better than mine—he had good grades, two living, employed parents and a baby sister, teachers who talked to him like he had a future beyond the borders of the Yankee Expressway and the Naugatuck River—which is why running up to touch the cross felt like a dare that should’ve come from a different set of friends, other kids of laid-off, pissed-off brass factory workers and broken families who had nothing better to do than waste time and get into trouble, as everyone predicted we’d do for the rest of our miserable South End lives.
Coming from Danny, though, on that particular Wednesday, it felt like an invitation to escape, as if Danny’s Holy Land fixation had the power to lift me up and out of Waterbury right along with him. I imagined an evening dodging Danny’s theological nagging with a series of what-ifs I’d learned to keep a lid on even back then, what-ifs that encompassed the vague ideas of white-collar adulthood I’d picked up from television: managing an office in New York, breadwinning for a wife and two kids in picket-fenced suburbia, meeting up with Danny every so often to congratulate ourselves on how we’d beaten the neighborhood odds. Or maybe I just didn’t want to kick around my uncle’s spare, barren apartment, my shoulders winding tighter as I waited for him to come home and see my grades.
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s do it. It’ll be easy. You’ll see.”
“You’re not running,” Danny said.
“No shit,” I said. “Like I can run through this.”
I jerked my head toward the Grotto of the Holy Family, half-shrouded in trees. Branches scraped against my cheeks, my forehead, close to my eyes. Some would-be park preserver had chain-linked the Grotto’s entrance, but the fence was broken in places and the top edge looked like fangs; the imprisoned Joseph and Mary statues gazed at each other with half-eroded faces that, in the dark, seemed less like a result of time and weather, and more like a symptom of religious Bell’s palsy. The whole Grotto—the paint peeling from affirmations engraved in its walls, a chunked-up Love God sign sinking into the soil piece by piece—suggested Holy Land was suffering from some internal earth-borne illness, ready to transmit its contagion to anyone who wandered through. There was a reason the Filippini Sisters discouraged would-be explorers from sneaking in: they didn’t want tourists to sue them after catching a case of tetanus.
I couldn’t see Danny—he was behind me and to my left, judging by his voice—but I knew he was shrugging, lifting one shoulder and one eyebrow in that weird way that always reminded me of my neighbor Mrs. Duchamps, who’d had a stroke two years before. “Just thought you’d be moving faster,” he said. “It’s gonna get late if we’re in here much longer. Your uncle is gonna wonder where you are.”
“No, he’s not.” I pushed a bramble aside and heard it snap back into place, sharp as the sound of a bone breaking. As we pushed our way through the overgrowth in the dark, it was easy to imagine the trees and thorny bushes reaching through the Grotto’s empty windows and snaring themselves around our limbs. “He’s leading youth group tonight.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be there? Since you’re a youth?”
“You’re a youth, too, dickwad.”
I shoved thoughts of my uncle’s stern face and stentorian voice out of my head, tried not to think about his hands, which always held the promise of anger: big hands, a boxer’s hands; people said he’d been a real heavyweight in high school, before he was busted for possession with intent to distribute and the Lord got to him. He still taught the older neighborhood boys how to spar down in the church basement on the nights he wasn’t leading youth group; he taught me, too, little semi-formal fistfights that left his knuckles bruised and my head woozy, and if he sometimes went too far—knocked one of those high school boys cock-eyed and bloody, loosened a few of my back molars—everyone in our neighborhood knew it was a kind of love, even if most times it didn’t feel like love at all. “He’s probably just talking about the same stuff he always does. Heaven and Hell and righteousness and all that crap. Big deal.”
If you believed my uncle, Hell could be anywhere and everywhere in Waterbury: in the clusters of not-quite-melted snow along the edges of the immigrant apartments in Brooklyn; in the blood-stained operating rooms of St. Mary’s; in the sad, sawed-wood smell of the carpentry classrooms at Kaynor Tech; in the ghost of Mad George Metesky, who was recently dead in those days and whose spirit, my uncle said, floated around the town, reeking of sulfur. Even Holy Land—especially Holy Land—presented a surreal underworld, where Judas was the mayor of Jerusalem and demons slept in Baby Jesus’s manger. A few years later, on the brink of the new millennium, a couple of snooty magazines named Waterbury one of the ten worst places to live and work in America, as if the Devil had examined the decaying Naugatuck Valley Mall and the hateful screeds in the Republican-American and decided he’d found his summer home. Again and again, in the decades that came both before and after, the people of Waterbury proved he’d made the right choice: twelve years after our night climbing that hill, the police would find the body of a teenage girl, raped and murdered, draped at the foot of Holy Land’s cross like a blasphemous Magdalene.
“Sure, big deal,” Danny repeated, but his voice was shrouded and distant, or maybe it was just the nighttime wedging itself between us. He coughed. “God, it stinks in here.”
“We’re in the Holy Land, moron. You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
He shoved me and I tripped over a root. “Shut up,” he said. “You know what I mean. It smells…I dunno, like when Tony Giordano pissed himself that one time, when he was scared of the clown at Maria’s birthday.”
“It does not,” I said, but I knew what he meant. It wasn’t cold enough to snow yet, but it wasn’t warm enough for anything to thrive, and so my nose was stuffed with the thick, wet, urine-y stench of decaying leaves and rusted-over metal. It reminded me of the day three years ago when they’d buried my parents: shivering beside their fresh-dug graves, I knew I was supposed to imagine their souls floating up to be with God—my uncle had told me to—but all I could think of was arms shooting out of newly turned dirt, partially decomposed bodies shoving older gravestones out of their way. That was how Holy Land felt that night, Heaven and Hell layered over each other in ways so subtle that distinguishing the two was impossible.
“You think Heaven really smells like this?” Danny asked.
“Hell, no. It probably smells like New York pizza and Ms. Rossi’s perfume and Yankee Stadium.” A few months ago, after a class trip to the city, Danny and I had agreed that those were the three best things in the world, but only if the pizza had pepperoni and not anchovies.
“What do you know about it?” he asked. “You don’t even believe in all that. That they’re real places.”
“You don’t act like it.”
I stopped for a moment to find my footing—we’d reached that steep, final climb up to the cross—and felt some part of Danny, maybe his forehead, bump against my shoulder. I resisted the urge to push him completely off-balance. The afterlife had become a big deal to him after what had happened to my mom and dad, although he’d never admit it. The idea that someone’s parents could be alive one second and dead the next was something he’d obsessed over on those in-between nights when I’d stayed at his house, before I’d ended up at my uncle’s, and he’d gotten so worked up about the possibility of eternal separation from his mom and dad that I’d finally had to tell him to shut up. He’d even started trying to go to church for a little bit, taking communion and pawing rosaries until I’d yelled at him to back off and cut it out. Maybe that’s why he was so obsessed with Holy Land: here was a place where you could technically get to Heaven just by slipping through a chink in the fence, no extra effort required.
I wanted to tell him it didn’t matter, that if anyone in the South End could turn out decent enough to make it into the Eternal Kingdom the hard way, it would be Danny Kane. Looking back, I wish I could’ve let him know just how much his family wasn’t like mine. His mom and dad would always toe the line, keep their hands to themselves and hold their anger tight against their jawlines, measure love in a currency other than bruises, track the number of drinks they’d had before stupidly getting behind the wheel of a car. Any other kid with a blind side like Danny’s, I would’ve opened his eyes in short order, but his knack for disappearing kept me from saying too much: he would vanish from Waterbury soon enough, I sensed, to college or some skilled apprenticeship, and I wanted to give him a reason to come back. I didn’t want to make it too easy for him to leave me behind.
“Why do you care?” I asked. “You’re not my uncle.”
I pushed off of a mossy stepping stone—one of the headstones marking the Stations of the Cross; this one read Jesus is stripped of his garments—and heard Danny scramble behind me, his voice high, his breath fast. “But don’t you want to end up wherever your parents are?”
“They’re in Heaven,” I lied.
We were almost to the top of the hill when we heard the noises. Fight sounds, but not the kind we’d ever heard in person—these were sounds we recognized from Pay-Per-View, from Tyson and Holyfield and Lewis pounding each other into submission with brutal professional detachment. There were voices, too, both male, one high and pleading and constant, the other lower and slower, with pauses.
“What’s that?” Danny asked.
“I dunno.” I stopped walking. “Some people getting into it, like they always do.”
But I didn’t move forward. The punching noises stopped, but the voices got louder until that first voice dissolved into tears. I glanced over my shoulder at Danny. Crying was the wimpiest way to lose a fight; Tony Giardano had cried once in the second grade, after getting socked by some older kid, and it was why the rest of us still kept a catalog of his weakest moments, all the pants-pissing and snot-bawling and whimpering for his mom. I’d learned to take my licks early on, and I couldn’t believe there was an adult man on top of that hill who hadn’t done the same. The second voice also seemed astonished. It paused, and when it started up again, it was more forceful, the kind of tone God might have used when talking to Adam and Eve: Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit? Or, if discussing more mundane matters: Didn’t you promise you would raise your grades this term?
Danny fidgeted behind me. “That sounds like your uncle.”
I’d taken my wad of gum out my mouth with the idea that I’d stick it on the cross when we got there, proof that I’d finished the dare, but instead I rubbed it back and forth between my fingers, squishing the last moisture out before it rubberized from exposure. “Shut up,” I hissed, although my heart had fallen down an elevator shaft at the sound of that second voice. “I told you, he’s at youth group.”
“I’m just saying, it sounds like him.”
“It’s nobody,” I said, and hoped that Danny would believe me: that the part of him that worried over Heaven and Hell and basic human kindness would shy away from something so violent, put the dare off for another day, and start back down the hill. And yet I didn’t suggest we leave. There was something Tony Giardano-like in Danny’s obsession with Holy Land, and that tiny cruel side of me wanted to rub his face in his discomfort in the same way we teased Tony about his third-hand clothes, which were just one degree worse than our hand-me-downs.
We listened for the space of a few breaths, the air around us frosting with our exhalations. I thought again of my uncle’s cigarette smoke and clamped my mouth shut. There was a sickening crunch, like someone had just gotten his nose broken. “Doesn’t sound like nobody,” Danny said.
“I’m telling you that’s what it is.”
“Well, if it’s nobody…” Danny cracked his knuckles. I tried not to jump. “If it’s nobody, then you can finish the dare, right?”
The very top of the hill, right around the cross, had been kept completely bare of everything except grass, as if even trees knew better than to grow there. I wasn’t expecting it, though—I’d gotten used to bushwhacking—and so when Danny and I broke into the clearing, we had nowhere to hide, nothing to obscure the space between us and the scene taking place at the foot of the cross. Whoever had built the cross had stuck it in a cement block for stability, and it was on this block that a boy sprawled, his back against the cross’s base. His head lolled from side to side. His face was a mess of bruises, and it was clear he’d been the one to have his nose broken. It was also clear who’d broken it for him. As we stutter-stepped to a halt—we’d dashed those last few yards to the clearing, like the dare was something we could get over and done with, me thinking that if we moved fast enough then maybe Danny wouldn’t see anything—my uncle rose from his crouch near the boy and turned to face us.
“Jamie,” my uncle said, nodding at me. He squinted into the darkness. “Danny. Good evening.”
“Hi,” I said. Danny didn’t say anything. I wanted to put my hands over his eyes; instead, I shoved them into my pockets, pretended they were frozen. I felt my wad of gum unstick itself from my palm and nestle in among the lint and spare change and leftover movie tickets that had been run through the washing machine one too many times, gluing itself to my crumpled report card.
“You’ve caught me in something of a position here,” my uncle said. “I was just having a conversation with Sean. You remember Sean.”
It took me a moment to realize that yes, I did remember Sean. He was a tenth-grader whose youngest brother had been in my sixth-grade class the previous year; I’d seen him a dozen times at church. A year or so before, he’d dunked my head in one of the church toilets, not out of any particular malice, but because I’d been the right age to get my head dunked and he’d been the right age to do the dunking. The toilet had been flushed recently, but not cleaned, and I’d struggled to close my eyes and nose and mouth against the particles of shit and dried piss that flooded my face, all the while thinking that this was the worst, worse than bruises and shotgun-trigger anger—this casual, indifferent brutality I couldn’t prepare for.
I turned my attention back to my uncle. “I thought you were at church.”
“Sean needed some one-on-one conversation. He’s been experimenting with marijuana. Selling it to his friends. I’m convincing him to stop.”
“Like this?” I asked. From what I could see of Sean’s mouth, the conversation had been one-sided so far, and was likely to stay that way. His lips were mashed and bloody, like the rotten strawberries my mom used to toss down the garbage disposal, and he’d been reduced to making mewling sounds every so often, helpless little noises that made the downy hair on my arms stand straight up. We’d seen fights at school, but this was different: bloody knuckles and swollen faces instead of brief slaps and cries of I-give-up-I-give-up-uncle. The kind of beating that might be doled out behind bars, if your reputation as a boxer reached the ears of your cellmate. I felt my face go white and cold and told myself it was the weather, the brisk eddies of wind that swirled across the bare hilltop, crackling as they burrowed into the dead leaves—anything but the old, familiar fear I’d learned from the sound of my dad’s footsteps on our rotted-out porch and the look on my mom’s face as she’d scurried to their bedroom to count our money: not enough, never enough to keep us safe.
My uncle shrugged, broad shoulders under a plaid shirt tucked neatly into brown slacks. “The angel wrestled with Jacob.”
And Jacob won, I thought, but I didn’t respond. Neither did Danny.
My uncle turned his attention to the ground in front of him, where the cross’s flickering light made patterns on the dead leaves. “Sean says he needs the money,” he said with a hint of regret, as if maybe, for a moment, he’d become unsure. No one in our neighborhood ever talked about it—when someone mentioned my uncle, it was always his promising teenage boxing years or his service to the church—but it was simple enough to assume he hadn’t been Scrooge McDuck-ing his way through a swimming pool of dollar bills, either. For a moment, I imagined my uncle at eighteen, hungry and fierce-fisted, with no one who was big enough or who loved him enough to beat sense into him except, eventually, God. “He has decent grades,” my uncle continued. “Decent potential, and he’s trying to sell it away.”
Off to my left, Danny shuffled his sneakers. Even from a foot away, I felt the rigidity of his body. In the cross’s eerie yellow glow, his skin lost its golden hue; he became as immobile and diseased-looking as the statues we’d stumbled across during our climb. It was like watching a penny decay: the slow, irreversible dulling of the copper, something good and valuable losing its protective shine.
At the base of the cross, Sean struggled to move. He pressed his back against the cross’s frame and scrabbled his legs across the concrete. It looked like the act of breathing hurt him. I felt a small surge of satisfaction, remembering how the rush of flushing toilet water had yanked at my scalp and soaked my nostrils with leftover shit. I’d flailed my arms. Sean still hadn’t released me. In that instant, with my held breath beating against my lungs and my blood pulsing against my temples, I’d missed my dad—the only time, before or since, that I’ve ever mourned his absence.
My uncle turned in time to see Sean’s efforts. He grabbed Sean by the front of his shirt and lifted him to his feet. It was like watching Danny’s kid sister pick up one of her floppy dolls. “Sean, are you trying to leave us?” he asked. “Do you think we’re finished with our conversation?”
Sean made a noise that could have been yes or, just as easily, no. Blood bubbled up from his mouth and leaked down his chin; when he tried to suck it back in, he started choking.
My uncle shook his head. “It seems you haven’t learned your lesson about defiance,” he said. His voice was sad. “As it says in Romans chapter thirteen, verses one and two, ‘There is no authority except from God, and those who resist will incur judgment.’” And then he raised his hand and struck Sean across the face with a perfectly formed boxer’s fist.
Sean’s jaw cracked. The back of his head bounced off the long, straight arm of the cross. Still, he tried to fight back. He raised his hands, palms out, and shoved my uncle groggily in the chest, just hard enough to knock him off-balance. “Leggo of me,” he slurred.
My uncle let go. Sean’s knees buckled, but he didn’t collapse, not completely. He swung a hand behind him until he felt the cross, grasped at its edge to steady himself. It was painful to watch: my uncle breathing hard, wiping a palm along his thigh, fuming down at Sean like Jesus after he’d finished with the moneylenders. As if there was something worth saving in Sean, some demon he could shake loose so that Sean would turn out law-abiding and penitent. It wasn’t right, but it was righteous, and watching my uncle’s face soften and then harden again, I began to understand why the neighborhood boys let him knock them around during those sparring lessons in the church basement. No one had ever believed in me with that kind of ferocity.
I looked away from both of them, back toward where we’d come from. Danny had turned his head, too, and together we watched the lights come on across Waterbury. I hadn’t realized it until then, but it made sense: if you could see the cross from everywhere in the city, it stood to reason that you could see everywhere in the city from the cross. It was kind of beautiful, in a stupid way. If you let your vision go loose, you could pretend that each of the lights was an angel’s halo, at least until you remembered that the type of angels that wore rinky-dink flickering haloes were the type of angels that only little kids believed in. Until you remembered that all over Waterbury, there were halo-lights left in darkness because people couldn’t afford to pay their electric bills.
I wondered if Danny was conjuring the same memories I was, of the times our moms had gotten together to smoke a joint over the course of a powerless night. How my mom’s body had finally untensed, how she’d stroked my hair. How Danny’s mom would find old birthday candles and light them with the end of the joint, giggling all the while. How the lack of electricity hid the scrapes Danny and I had collected from afternoons roughhousing on the sidewalk and the deeper, darker bruises I worked hard to cover in the daytime, concealing them from Danny’s eyes.
“Jamie,” my uncle said. He had one of his big hands pressed up against Sean’s shoulder, pinning him to the cross. Sean’s head hung crookedly. “Come on. Help me out here.”
And suddenly, I wanted to. God, I wanted to. It came on as surprising and primal as a first erection, some basic force of nature that sometimes overtakes me even now, when I’m driving behind a particularly slow car on the expressway or when a pretty woman at the Barley Corn Bar tells me she has a boyfriend even though I know she’s as single as they come. What had my parents left me, after all? Sticks and stones and a broken city built on the back of a dying brass industry, black eyes and nightmares, Heaven and Hell. I wanted to feel the crunch of bone on bone. I wanted to wake up the next morning with lumps across my knuckles. I was my uncle’s nephew. I was my dad’s son. It was my inheritance. Even godly men have their vices.
I took a step forward. A hand on my elbow pulled me back.
“Jamie,” Danny said. “Jamie, don’t listen to him. Don’t do it. Don’t.”
Danny had been the one to find me that humiliating morning, after Sean had swirled and half-drowned me in the church toilet. I’d been surprised to see him there, since this was long past the day I’d told him to quit coming around; later, I found out that it had been one of those Sundays when the congregation had been on a feed-the-less-fortunate kick. Although we’d never said it out loud, I’d promised to overlook Danny’s presence in the food line, and he’d promised to pretend he hadn’t found me hunched over and sobbing in a men’s room, scrabbling my hands through my hair to scrape the waste off my body.
This, though, was something he wouldn’t be able to ignore. He didn’t have to say it. It was the way he held his body. He was on the balls of his feet now—that seeming impermanence back at work—but it wasn’t my uncle he was preparing to run away from. It was me.
“You won the dare, Jamie,” Danny said. His eyes glowed huge in the amber light of the cross. “You’re not chicken.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t look at my uncle. “Okay. Let’s go.”
We ran. To this day, I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever run. It was easy enough to picture what would happen if I stopped or tried to hide; I had only to remember the ways my dad had found me, in my desperate attempts to scoot under my bed or barricade myself in the hall closet, and what he’d done about it. My uncle was a man of God, more Old Testament than New, and we were in Holy Land. A hand around our necks, a fist to our throats, and we’d belong to that thick, wet, dead smell as we added our decay to the leaves. So we ran.
My breath came in bursts, great puffs streaking the air, and this time I tried not to think about my uncle’s cigarettes—my uncle, who I heard come crashing through the brush behind us until the crashing stopped. At some point, I lost track of Danny. There were too many other relics to dodge and hurdle: the half-broken face of a sphinx, a mosaic of Jesus resurrected, except that the tiles had grayed over with moss and his eyes had been chipped out, giving him that undead, zombie look I’d once imagined for my parents. A branch snagged my jeans. Roughed-over stones from the remains of fake Bethlehem scraped my palms. I ran faster. I didn’t stop until I reached Slocum Street, which seemed strangely, ethereally normal after the landscape of Holy Land.
“Danny?” I called. My breath came in huge, overwhelming gulps, catching in my throat, and I doubled over to hush the cramp that seized my side. “Danny? Where are you?”
A lamp in one of the Slocum houses flicked on and then back off. A few yards away, a dog started to bark. Further down the street, silhouettes moved into yellow-lit windows to see what the fuss was, but no one came outside, and the lights hadn’t illuminated any sign of Danny, golden and shining.
As I waited, I thought of Sean’s pulped face, of Danny’s hand on my elbow, of the way I’d backed down. To Danny, maybe, it had mattered, but not to me: I’d shown my hand the moment I’d stayed too long, in that brief, curdling nanosecond I’d let my cruelty get the best of me. Danny could reappear on Slocum Street, shaken and subdued and a little less golden, and I could fool myself into thinking that nothing had changed, but I knew I’d never again dream of a white-collar job and a suburban life outside of Waterbury, no matter how badly I wanted it. Instead, I’d wake up the next morning to my uncle’s smile and I’d smile back, my lips curling into something close to a fist. He’d hand me a cigarette and I’d accept it without comment, and later, when I’d toss my report card onto the stretch of table between us, it would be a challenge: he’d roll up his sleeves and crack his knuckles and contemplate my face, and we’d swap smiles again, knowing that this time, neither of us would be gentle on the other.
The thought was enough to knock my knees out from under me.
I found the metal post of a chain link fence and slumped against it, facing the entrance to the park, counting the seconds. I watched as Holy Land settled into itself. A cloud passed over the moon, and the slouched-over, peeled-paint houses faded into darkness; on top of the hill, only the cross still glowed. I waited for Danny to stride out from under the stone gate, that smirk on his face, so that we could slink back to his parents’ house, collapse on the floor of his bedroom, and talk about how sweet Ms. Rossi’s perfume smelled, so that I could let him ask all the questions he wanted to about my parents, so that we could pretend things were normal again for the duration of just one more night.
“Danny, come on out!” I yelled. “I dare you!”
But Danny Kane had run into God’s blind spot. He was gone.
Rachael Warecki holds a Master of Fine Arts in fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. She has been selected for residencies at the Wellstone Center and Ragdale and is the current fiction editor of The Nervous Breakdown. She lives in Los Angeles and is at work on a novel.