K. Noel Moore

Naming Ritual

+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++You had a plan. You aren’t so sure about it anymore.
+++++++The plan you had started with lying to your family. Sitting in Babcia’s living room, pretending you don’t notice how handsome your cousin’s fiancé is. (He’s a Marine; she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen to this fact, also anyone who won’t. You don’t believe in the military-industrial complex, yourself, but the look of his muscles under that sweater is enough to make you want to set aside your convictions for a night.) Telling Dziadek, when he chides you for the makeup on your collar, that you’re in theatre; you are, but it isn’t the reason for that smudge. (You can’t let him know you’ve been sneaking into your sister’s makeup bag, posting photos of yourself online with ridiculous gold eyes and bright red lips.) Lie after lie after lie.
+++++++The second step: put an end to the lying, finally. Tap your glass with a spoon as everyone gathers for dessert, just like in the movies, and when all eyes turn to you, say it. Say it at last.
+++++++That’s how it was supposed to go. The plan has changed a bit now that you’ve panicked. With the smell of latkes sticking in your nose and inane bilingual chatter ringing in your ears, you locked yourself in the smallest bathroom in the house and lost your shit: crying, pulling your hair, you wanted to be sick but you wouldn’t let that happen. (Someone would come looking for you if you were sick.) You lay in the fetal position on the tile floor, trying to remember how to breathe.
+++++++The sounds of December 25th festivity (Christmas proper is a somber occasion, so Protestant Christmas is the time to celebrate) were like so many buzzing wasps, so you climbed the narrow stairs to the attic to escape. You like attics; you like the possibility they hold, that feeling of never knowing what you’ll find.
+++++++The first thing you found was the old cushion-less beige couch you knocked your shin on. Then a Seward trunk, something right out of a black-and-white film. On wire shelves, you found hardcovers missing their dust jackets and mid-90s board games in fraying boxes. In cardboard moving boxes: your mother’s prom dress, a book of your own baby pictures, cracked Christmas ornaments, little plastic baubles from the chocolate eggs Babcia brings home from Europe.
+++++++Inside the old trunk, simpler things: letters, photos, trinkets. The letters were in Polish; you could read only a few words. (Zima means winter. Kochanie means my love. Dlaczego is the beginning of a question, why, but you can’t read the rest.) You feared they would crumble at your touch, the photos too. One image shows a young mother on a stoop, holding a baby. Another shows a dirty barefoot child, with big eyes just like yours. A name on both is familiar: Ania, your Babcia’s name. Lidka i Ania, 1942. Ania, 1955.
+++++++
Lidka, you remembered, was your great-grandmother’s name. You know your great-grandfather’s well because it is yours now: Aleksander.
+++++++The trinkets fascinated you the most: a handheld mirror, a chess piece (the white bishop), a toy dog carved out of wood. The talismans of a refugee family. The last pieces of home for a Socialist and a half-Jew and a daughter born into terror.
+++++++The last object you found was a rosary, with the Orthodox cross hanging at its end. Its beads are dark redwood, and the cross bears blue and gold detail work. It’s a beauty. You’re wearing it now. It was when you hung it around your neck that you had that madcap thought.
+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++The new plan starts with a Sharpie and the inside of an empty Monopoly box. A B C D, YES, NO, GOODBYE. The cap from a bottle of Diet Coke will serve as your planchette. Candles smuggled from downstairs create atmosphere. You are going to contact your great-grandfather — your pradziadek.
+++++++You will tell him that you first wanted to kiss a boy when you were twelve, watching Notorious with your mother — to this day, you wish you could be Ingrid Bergman, kissing Cary Grant in Rio. Tell him you’ve been in love with one boy in particular, named Devin, since you had ninth-grade biology class together. Tell him you go by Sasha now, not Aleksander or Aleks or Aleksey (your living family knows that part already, though they refuse to honor it). Before you call your family to attention to declare I’m gay, you will whisper it in a makeshift séance.
+++++++You will tell him other things, things you would never tell the living. Tell him that you’re worried for Devin; you see him drifting away a little more each day. (He’s started to cut his arms.) Tell him you hate your full name, Aleksander Bogdan Marshall, mostly your middle name, Bogdan. It means given by God, and you don’t want to be given to anyone. You want to belong to yourself, and yourself alone. You will tell him (fingering the beads around your neck as you do) that you aren’t Orthodox anymore. You aren’t even sure you believe in God. The Church you once loved has become a stained-glass cage.
+++++++You have a plan.
+++++++You’ve heard that names have power, especially when reaching the other side. You repeat it three times, the name that is his and yours. Aleksander Marszałek. Aleksander Marszałek. Aleksander Marszałek. One hand on the bottle cap.
+++++++“Hello? Is anyone here?”

K. Noel Moore is a writer of both speculative and realistic short fiction; recently, she has been published in Luna Station QuarterlyVulture Bones, and X-R-A-Y. She believes in the power of names. You can find her blogging at theoutlawwrites.tumblr.com, or tweeting @mysterioustales.

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