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Assimilated

Silent Journey
DeJay

Iz's Story
Doreen Perrine

Communion
Fran Walker

Games With Chance
Andi Marquette

Backup Plan
Jess Sandoval

Bridgework
Darby O'Neil

Who's In Charge?
DeJay

Water Rites
Mary Douglas

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The empty house still smelled of her grandmother, a mixture of lavender, denture rinse and yellowed linen. The scent propelled Sharon back thirty years. Memories leached from the walls: the rustle of Bible pages, the coolness of the holy water font at the front door, the honeyed flesh beneath the furred skin of home-grown peaches, the antiseptic odor of alcohol from Gran's bedroom.

A second-hand shop specializing in estate sales had finished removing Gran's furniture and clothing yesterday. Sharon had found few valuables worth keeping. Photographs and letters and medals, meant to be treasured and passed down to successive generations, would only collect dust in Sharon's house, to be discarded in the end by some uncaring stranger. Who would she save heirlooms for? She was the only child of an only child of an only child, a closeted lesbian who had never had a sexual relationship and was now past the age of childbearing.

A calendar lay on the kitchen floor. Sharon picked it up and traced a finger across the red crosses Gran used to mark each time she'd taken Communion. Take this, all of you, and eat of it: this is My body. Sharon shivered, remembering her childhood revulsion at seeing her grandmother eat the white wafers containing the two thousand year old dead God's flesh. The Mass's jumbled litany of sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel had instilled no reverence, just the false hope that if Sharon prayed hard enough, Gran's God would send her a sister or brother.

Sharon shook her head. For Gran's sake she hoped there was a heaven. Some after-life ought to reward a widow who, despite her dislike of children, had cared for a miserable little girl during the summer her father pursued a sinful divorce and her mother, as Sharon learned later, engaged in a series of even more sinful affairs.

The kitchen cupboards were empty. The hall closet held nothing but a few clothes hangers. Sharon chucked into a trash bin the hangers, a Sacred Heart statue, the half-used calendar, a wooden crucifix with its embedded vial of Lourdes water, and a paint-by-numbers Madonna picture signed with Sharon's girlish scrawl.

Gran's treasures, now unwanted rubbish. But whose fault was that? Had Sharon's mother not been an only child, perhaps she would have been more maternal. She might have cared more for Sharon, borne more children. Sharon closed her eyes and tried to imagine this house filled with sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles all helping her sort through Gran's belongings. Family celebrations. Relatives gathered around a dinner table at Thanksgiving.

She shook her head at the foolish fantasy. The women in her family were cursed, destined to live alone and die alone.

In Gran's bedroom, Sharon checked a closet. Empty. She opened the second closet. Atop a stack of cardboard boxes sat several empty bottles of gin. Sharon picked one up, unscrewed the dusty lid, and inhaled the scent of Gran before church. Sharon had never questioned it as a child; when she grew older, she'd wondered if Gran was an alcoholic. Odd, that such a devoutly Catholic woman had needed to resort to drink before going to Mass.

She dumped the empty liquor bottles in the rubbish bin, then returned to the closet. The top box held empty Ball jars that a younger, able-bodied Gran used to fill with fruits and chutneys. Sharon set them aside to be stored in the garage. Perhaps the house's new owner would use the jars. She lifted the lid off the second cardboard box. Old water and electric bills, Christmas cards, tax returns. She put the box in the rubbish.

The bottom box looked as if it had been sealed and unsealed dozens of times. Sharon peeled back ancient fragments of tape and opened the box. It held a handful of rusty wire coat hangers and some more Ball jars, these ones full. Peaches, perhaps, or pears. She lifted one out.

The jar was full of a clear liquid in which floated some odd creature about four inches long. White, squishy-looking, with a bulging head and belly, and stubby limbs that ended in long, tiny fingers and toes.

A human fetus.

Sharon's hand trembled. A handwritten label tied to the mouth of the jar read Christopher Paul, 7 June 1943. Sharon examined the other jars, dated from 1942 to 1948. Each held a fetus, some just a few inches long, floating in their jars of what was probably the same cheap gin Gran had smelled of every Sunday. Two boys, three girls, and two designated only as Angel.

Sharon counted seven matching wire coat hangers, their handles partially straightened and coated with rust—or, probably, dried blood. She touched the twisted wires, then the jars. They must represent seven self-induced abortions, starting the year that Grandpa had returned from the war with his body intact but his wits gone. Poor Gran. An uneducated woman with a young daughter, and no income other than her mentally retarded husband's war pension—she must have been desperate when she found herself repeatedly pregnant.

The jars gleamed in the sunlight. They contained the family of Sharon's dreams—the flamboyantly gay uncle who would have helped decorate her house, the aunt who would have taught her to bake bread, the black-sheep uncle with a heart of gold and a secret stash of marijuana. Had Gran realized she'd deprived Sharon of the family she wanted, needed, deserved?

Sharon put the coat hangers into the rubbish, then carefully wrapped each jar and placed Gran's children in the trunk of her car. Christopher Paul, Katherine Mary, Teresa Germaine, John Gregory, Patricia Anne, and the two Angels were coming home with her. Sharon would live alone no longer.

(c) 2008 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company