'The Immaculate Heart of Mary' by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Steel City, 1910

Magda descends on Polish Hill like so much of the metal whose siren song lured our fathers and grandfathers away from their matki and motherland. Within a week, she is selling newspapers on the street corners. Within two, she has us organised.

We wear our brothers’ clothing, we cut our hair. She teaches us to spit; we forget our breasts. She brings us papers and we sell them. We take our pennies, she takes a cut.

At first, we are ecstatic: we can now turn paper into copper into bread. Our fathers may wring coins from steel but their kind of money is passed to the old country, evaporating like our memories of the words of the Bogurodzica.

But then things start to shift. One by one, we feel a dent, notice a hollow. We begin to feel a missing. When we walk, our chests crackle.

And sure enough, when we look, we find that our hearts are gone. Our chests are filled with crumpled newsprint. We float when we walk because there is nothing to weigh us down, but it is a lightness that makes us feel heavy.

Magda lives near the Kościół Matki Boskiej and when I pass it, I hear the blood beat through its domes. I make the sign of the cross. She is not at home when I arrive, but there is no lock on the door and I let myself in.

Her room is small so I see them immediately: our hearts are wrapped in newspaper, lined up in rows along the floorboards. I look for mine, but it is not with the others. I find it elsewhere, near her pillow, in her bed. It looks as if it has been used.

I want to seize it, free it, take back what is mine. But when my hand brushes Magda’s sheets, I find myself unable to move. There are nickels in my pockets and I am thinking about love.

I will stand here until Magda returns, until I am sure of my own mind. I will stand here while the bells of the Immaculate Heart of Mary ring in the eventide, until the blood in my veins is black and thick like ink.

*

First published in The Los Angeles Review (2015)

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