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Baptism | by Gilmarie Brioso

Baptism by Gilmarie Brioso It’s cold in this box of dark, carved wood. The incense guides my breathing, and I focus as each breath peppers my throat. Spiced air flows through my body and calms the trembles that run along my arms. Confessionals are always cold. “They’re kept this way for the confessor; it keeps him alert. The dimmed lights let him look into his soul, directly at his sins.” Sister Cera told me this as we walked through the empty nave one evening. Accustomed to her thin, pale lips in a straight line, I noticed a quirk then, as if she were amused with the idea. The cold is fierce and prickles at my skin, but I know it’s not the sole reason for the shivers that take over. I search my mind for any sins left unsaid. Look through every mistake— the pointless lies I told just because I could. God’s name, spoken in vain. That time I stole chalk from my elementary school to play with back home. When I cursed Doña Blanca for gossiping about Mamá. I was 12 then, but I’ve felt agony over it since, even more after la Doña’s death, as if I were the cause. Then there was the time I saw Don Antonio have sex with Emily, his 19-year-old cleaning lady, and enjoyed the thrill of the scene. I had watched from the kitchen window as I washed the day’s first dishes. The white cotton curtain moved gently with the morning breeze, but did not do much to obstruct the view—el Don’s knuckles pressing against his back, Emily’s knees kneading the floor. My hands did not stop scrubbing. I have revealed every evil thought: the exact way I wanted to hurt Papá for leaving Mamá. My hatred for Mamá after he left. I hated her weakness. I can still see her, clinging to Papá’s feet as he left for the last time. Hearing her choking cries, I could only think, You stupid, stupid woman. I vowed to never let a man have control over me. And then there was the day I brought a razor blade to the right side of my face, drove a clean incision to cup my cheek. The scar never faded; it rests gently across my face. My brown blunder, rosy and rounded. It was what Sister Cera first asked about. “A carnal sin,” she said, nodding her head, eyes closed. “That must be confessed before you continue.” But Sister Cera never asked me why I had done it. Would I have said it was for Sofia? Would I have shared the way Sofia whispered my name, with all the air in the room? “Marina,” she said as she touched my spoil. The hair on my arms rose up with my name, as if they were tiny feelers tuned to Sofia’s voice, capturing her sound, pulling her to me, making my heart pump faster. “You did it,” she said. “I did,” I told her, begging her to believe me since, just a day before, she wanted to end us. “You’ll leave me,” Sofia had explained. “Flacita and beautiful, you’ll leave me for some rich old man. I know it.” So I carved away at my own flesh, took the beautiful from it, and felt the warm blood on my hands. I had expected a flood, but when I looked down only three small pools had dripped to the floor.…

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