A Sestina for Grace

Illustrated by Lucy Zuo

There was an inexplicable air of grace

the young debutante carried with her, as she would condition

herself into taciturn civility, at the same time Father would screw

some paradigm of youth. Later that night, and only two

tables away, hands would interlock beneath the cloth, eyes would lower,

but she would be particularly oblivious, swaying to the beat.

And years later she would hear that beat

again. It would be the night of Mother’s 60th and she would be ever so kind as to grace

her hometown with her presence. There would be some sort of whirlwind in her lower

belly when she arrived, as she would start to recall the condition

in which she left Mother and Father; as the youngest of her two

siblings, she had left them to manage Father’s delusions (he always had a screw loose). Her arrival would be anticlimactic; Father would stand in the doorway and screw

a new hinge to the door, then he would turn to the other side and beat some small nails with a hammer, hanging a third wooden shelf to match the other two.

She would only stay for four days, which was three nights, and the obligatory morning grace

period—after that she would be able to slip away, under the condition

that she would not so much as mutter out of turn. This would be harder than she expected; her lower

lip would shake with the weight of conversation not to be had—almost as if Mother could lower

her body into the family crypt with etiquette and propriety. Since birth she knew not to screw

up etiquette, taught that there was only one possible condition

in which to exist: docility. Where that civility went when Father would beat

Mother, she did not know—only that they would wake with grace

and dignity, a baffling dignity, a terrifying dignity. She knew that two

hands would lift two makeup brushes to two

cheeks, and just like that it would be solved. A high standard of appearance, yes, but for love it could not be lower.

On the third night she would fully refine her facade of grace,

almost as if a pearl necklace could cover her screw-

up. Almost. She had wanted to, but soon realized she could not beat

around the bush: she had no choice but to tell them of her condition—

this condition being a wondrous, miraculous, fantastical, extraordinary condition

for this was the condition that meant she was no longer one person, but two—

she was with child. She would tell them, expecting to get beat

with insults and pelted with screams, but they would simply lower 

their heads and walk away, leaving her to manage her screw-

up. She would sit that night wondering what had conditioned

her parents (and her fiancé) to fall out of love with her. As she would lower

her head to her pillow, one of the two

would enter the suite. Mother. With a question. “Do you have a name?” Not quite a screw
to mend the two together, but maybe a drop of glue. There would be a small beat.



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