The gray dress was too tight across the shoulders. Shiny black shoes pinched at her feet. Worst of all, she wasn’t allowed to cover her face so her runny nose, hopelessly red and snotty, was visible to all. It was embarrassing. Embarrassing and too true. She did not want anyone to see her like this, but her mother had refused to allow her a veil.
Marcelina sat at the front of the church with the rest of her family. Herbert was being given a state funeral. They’d unlocked the church for the day, but it was ugly inside. Gone were the stained glass windows she’d viewed only in secret pictures her babcia had shown her. The rich, shiny wooden pews were replaced with utilitarian metal benches. She hated it.
Marcelina ran the scratchy, gray wool sleeve of her dress across her nose. Siemowit elbowed her afterwards, but she ignored him. He did not understand because he would never be conscripted. No, now that he was thirteen he’d enlisted in the Presidential Honor Core. They never fought. Only paraded around in special uniforms and turned in dissenters. Dziadzio would be embarrassed. Because he was dead, Marcelina was furious for him.
The state appointed speaker droned on. None of his words mattered. Herbert had been killed in a fight that didn’t matter. The same man who had come to take him away had shown up with the news. All so he could smirk at Marcelina. On the way out, he’d reminded her of his promise to come take her. Her family had mistaken her locking herself in her room as grief. It had been terror.
Marcelina rubbed at her eyes and stood up.
“Sit down,” her father whispered.
“I have to pee.”
Siemowit’s eyes narrowed as he squared his back. If he tried to take her to the toilet she would pinch him. Luckily for him, he only glared as she slid down the bench and hurried down the center aisle. Who was she bothering? No one was here but them.
Three wrong turns later she found the bathrooms on the lower level of the church. Marcelina locked the door and sat on the floor. With her knees to her chest she rocked back and forth as she tumbled into the hole in her heart. Why couldn’t it have been Siemowit? She would not have begrudged Zuza him. How dare she get Herbert?
The basement was quiet other than a rattle of pipes. She screamed. Hiccupped sobs broke through her screams and she stood up and walked to the mirror.
She looked ugly. Nose dripping, mouth hanging open, and eyes too red to be human. She hated the way she looked now so she slammed her fist into the glass. The tinkling shatter of glass as it hit the sink and the floor made her feel better. Even the pain from her split knuckles didn’t hurt.
“That was not wise.”
Marcelina spun around, but no one was there. Nothing in here would protect her. She walked to the closed stall door and kicked it open. No one was there.
Should she go? Well, she wasn’t a coward. Maybe she was too old to believe she was a comic book hero, The Claw outstripped Ranger One in her esteem these days, but she was no coward. Marcelina found thin, harsh toilet paper to wrap her cut knuckles and watched as the blood seeped through.
Her feet led her down the hall despite her never having been here before. A pinging noise accompanied the scent of tea and she hurried to see what awaited her. It could be her death, but at this point she was indifferent to the idea.
“No one’s going to die. Although, it was a near thing.” The voice belonged to a woman. Marcelina stared at her, knowing it was rude. The woman’s face was covered in scar tissue and she was missing one eye. The scars ran down her neck, she noticed, and left her wondering if they were all over.
“They are. I was burned. It was supposed to be until I was dead, but I managed to crawl out.”
Marcelina shivered. “The government did it, didn’t they?”
“He did say you were astute. Of course, you’re also angry right now, aren’t you?”
“I hate them all.”
“Excellent. Our mutual friend will be pleased.”
“Ah, not so astute.”
Marcelina scowled and clenched her hands.
The scarred woman poured tea into a battered tin cup. She poured a second cup and added sugar to them both. Marcelina, wary and still annoyed, crept closer and sat at the counter. The tea received a sniff, but she didn’t think anything was wrong, so she drank it.
“I am surprised your little friend is not with you.”
“Jory is not little!” Who else would she mean? “And he couldn’t. Family only. Just my parents and me.” A sip of tea was followed by a slurred, “And Siemowit. He’s a jerk.”
The cup was caught before it fell from her unresponsive hand. Marcelina tried to stand, but tumbled back off her stool. The scarred woman caught her as easily as the cup. Sleep whispered to her and as Marcelina succumbed she felt the toilet paper being picked off her knuckles. It made them bleed again.
When she woke up she was lying on the floor of the bathroom. Her knuckles bled no longer, but she rubbed at her eyes to try to clear her head. A knock on the door had her sit up too quickly and she yelled as the top of her head hit the bottom of the sink. One hand rubbed her head as she stumbled to the door.
“We have to go,” Siemowit said as soon as the door opened. His mouth fell open and he stepped back.
“I don’t look that bad.”
“What did you do?”
“Shut up, butthead.”
Marcelina shoved past him to head back to their parents.