By Monique CM Keffer
They told me she appeared once, and I have tried so hard to believe. That the ordinary faded straw in their run-down barn could feel her little feet without burning up from holy fire inside her. Her eyes stood out dark and pure in afternoon shadows, filling up her four-year-old face, a lot like the way she looked when she was alive. It was how Uncle John and Aunt Leanne knew who she was in her faintness, sending Uncle John’s warm bottle of toolbox beer from hand to floor. He was shocked swear-less for the first and only time, and my cousin’s small pale voice was heard for once. She said what they wanted her to; they can’t be blamed for cows that slip on ice. Then the door opened, the dying sun slid in, and when it hit her bale, she was gone.
When my mother told me, smiling-crying in one confused instant, I sat there on the kitchen stool, a five-year-old kid with stringy hair, and felt something like tears pressing on the back of my eyes. But I wondered and couldn’t ask what my cousin wore when she could only choose one thing. I hoped she wore her locket that matched mine, found in Easter baskets full of squeaky cellophane green. Shiny gold cross in shady silver heart. Grandma had said, keep Christ inside your hearts, girls. She smelled like baked beans burnt on the bottom of a pan as she bent in old painful angles to latch those chains on us.
And I thought about the dress I hated to hand down—lemonade yellow with ruffles and white rick-rack. Thinking how I cried when I saw my cousin in it at St. Mary’s. My sister had tried to cheer me up, too tight on you, anyways. I knew it too; last time there’d been those red x’s on my arms when I took it off. I didn’t guess that my dress would be in my dreams, on her instead of me, framed by satin in dark red wood. She was lying in front of me, and I had to kneel, seeing my special dress, such a part of her, for keeps.
It’s been almost seven years now, and I’ve kneeled in that barn so many times with a bible instead of a beer. Straw like hair brushes under my knees as I wait in hopeful, aching silence. All I want is a single glimpse. To see my dress hanging onto forever, because they said she appeared once, and I’m trying to believe.