Illustrated by Kelly Doherty/OutWrite
This story was originally published in our Fall 2022 print issue “Satanic Panic.“
Her shoulders drooped with the weight of her Catholic guilt as the statue of white Jesus stared down at her, telling her, I know what you’ve done. His dark eyes seemed to be in perpetual melancholy as her own peered into them. That statue always scared her, always seemed to follow her home from church; it was the first thing she’d see in her grandmother’s kitchen, a miniature version of the statue hung up in her room right in front of the doorway. She had always accepted that Jesus would be a permanent part of her life, just as she had accepted that she bore responsibilities, as the eldest daughter and the first grandchild, to fall in line with what her family expected from her..
I know what you’ve done.
“Elenita, keep it moving,” Her mother whispered from behind her.
Elenita’s eyes fell onto the priest, who smiled at her, handing her the stale biscuit which was supposed to symbolize the “Body of Christ.”
“Amen,” Elenita replied, apologetically.
Elenita bowed her head as she returned to the pew where her family sat.
Elenita. Little Elena. That’s what her whole family called her, as if she was perpetually a child, someone that needed to be protected. She was an adult now, going off to get her masters degree in the spring! Still, her grandmother’s name was Elena; Elena was reserved for her, the matriarch. Elenita knew that all too well, but when the stranger asked her for her name, she responded with the more mature, “Elena, my name is Elena.”
“Elena.” Elenita loved the way it flowed off the stranger’s tongue, how Elena followed with a toothy smile. “That’s such a beautiful name.”
“It’s not real.” Her hands traced the cross on the Bible as she looked at Elenita. “Do you believe in any of this stuff?”
Her name was Soledad. She had just moved from some far out place, and was staying with one of the local families while working in their restaurant. Soledad. Solitude. Elenita wondered if she’d always been alone. Soledad seldom mentioned her past, completely living in the present, abandoning whatever haunted her.
Elenita, eager to gain the respect of Soledad, shook her head. Elenita knew that was a lie. She often had violent dreams, where Jesus wept as his hands dragged her down. She would struggle against them, desperately attempting to atone for the sin of her existence. She would cry out to him, apologizing for being the way that she was — she couldn’t help it.
“I won’t laugh at you if you do,” Soledad reassured Elenita, noticing the discomfort spreading onto her face. “I know everyone in this town does. I have my own personal beef with God. He wants blood, you know.” She set the Bible down on the wooden drawer with a loud thump, making Elenita jump a little. “Ellos siempre quieren sangre.”
Soledad took a seat next to Elenita. Her fingers traced the skin of Elenita’s neck. Soledad’s fingers were cold, as if she had put them in ice. Elenita’s breath hitched. Had they always been that cold?
“You shouldn’t leave your neck wide open like that, Elena,” Solidad said quietly, dusting a piece of lint off as Elenita turned red. “A vampire could bite you at any time.”
Elenita could see her when she closed her eyes. Every thought she had, every inkling of feeling, was consumed by Soledad. Even when she prayed, those sacred places were desecrated by her impure thoughts of Soledad. Elenita wanted to hold her hand, wanted to love her the way a man loves a woman, but the guilt, the shame, consumed her as well.
Her appetite was stunted, and she laid for hours in her almost pitch-black room. Elenita couldn’t handle disappointing her family or the Church. They’d want her to get married to a man, have many children. Elenita didn’t have much time; she was already 28. Would they exile her? Kill her? How could she survive without her family?
Her chest felt tight, guilt at the forefront of her fragile mind. She tried to sit up, but it only made her chest hurt. She kept trying to breathe, but the oxygen couldn’t get to her. Elenita could see the white hands from her nightmares. Was this God’s punishment for her? She tried to apologize, but without the oxygen the words couldn’t escape her lips. She wanted everything to stop, and she started frantically clawing at her chest to see if a gaping hole could help her breathe better.
“Elenita!” Her mother burst into the room, dark eyes wide. “What’s going on?!”
Elenita was inconsolable, convinced she would die this violent death.
The priest explained that Elenita was straying from God, which was why she was suffering these episodes of inconsolability. It was her spirit, struggling to free itself from those red hands and from sin. The priest asked her if she was sinning or if she had thought about sinning. He placed his warm hands on her shoulders, his eyes soft and kind.
“Her name is Soledad,” Elenita explained, looking into her lap, remorse settling in her bones. She hated that he was touching her, but she couldn’t say anything. He was a man of the cloth, after all. “Father, can girls like girls the way boys like girls? I think I like her like that.”
Elenita looked to the priest, and saw worry flood his features as his lips tightened into a straight line. “Do you know about Soledad?”
“Hey, where have you been, Elena?” Soledad smiled with that toothy grin, the one that Elenita missed. And she called her Elena. Not Elenita. “It feels like you’ve been avoiding me.”
Elenita didn’t have the courage to tell her that she had been ignoring her. Ever since she talked to the priest, Elenita believed that Soledad was the source of her problems. But the panic attacks didn’t stop; they just kept getting worse and worse. The priest said they would go away once she committed herself to God. Elenita’s brows furrowed as they stood facing each other, right outside the church. “I’ve been busy.”
Soledad, worried, put a hand on Elenita’s shoulders. Elenita’s first instinct was to swat it away, but there was a comfort there, and god did Soledad’s eyes look pretty, even when they were filled with anxiety. “Is that it?”
“The priest told me about you,” Elenita began, tears welling in her eyes. “How you corrupted me and my spirit.”
Anguish replaced anxiety and Soledad looked away. Her hand fell from Elenita’s shoulders. “Do you think that’s what happened?”
Elena wiped her tears away, as she finally grieved the life she once had. “No, I think you freed me.”
Author: Judah C (They/Them)
Artist: Kelly Doherty (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Jennifer Collier (She/They), Emma Blakely (They/She/He)