Aileen Murphy’s brother was stone-cold sober when he lost his left hand and his faith in the machinery of a fortune cookie plant. The sobriety, if nothing else, was entirely Aileen’s fault. Seamus was an amiable enough drunk, never fought or whored. Deep in pints, he bought his sister roses, knock-off Hermes scarves, and a white mouse in a gilded cage. It was the mouse that forced her hand, red eyes and midnight chitters. Their mother always said that nothing good could come of rodents. Aileen had to act.
Later, she wished she’d never lit those candles at St. Vincent’s, whispering her brother’s name three times into the flames. The miracle came quickly, Seamus off the drink and even wearing ties to work. He’d gotten her the job at Lucky’s, half a life ago, flipping small, soft pancakes from griddle to conveyor, watching as they vanished toward the plates that pressed them into butterflies. Seamus worked the batter vats, lifting, pouring, mixing, the muscles of his arms like seams within a rock.
They were the remnants of a family, sole survivors of a quiet dying-off. Each night, Aileen pressed her ear down to the floorboards and listened to the hollow clink of bottles. Once the miracle occurred, she was gratified by silence. It was hard to not feel smug.
Three weeks sober, then three months, and Seamus started reading brochures from the night school. He was buoyant on the line, and management took notice. Aileen felt their mother smiling down at her from Heaven.
Once, when she was barely out of diapers, her Da had pointed at the stars and described to her a world in constant motion, spinning planets, twirling suns, a vast, incomprehensible ballet. This is what she thinks of on the morning Seamus nearly dies. How many times before he fixed the line with Guinness in his veins.
In her memory, it happens in slow motion, his fingers in the gears, the awful stutter-grind and crack, a weight released, a massive lurch and bellow, fragmented bone, a slick of blood, strings of ligament and muscle.
In reality, the shearing-off was quick, a nearly-instant snap. The sirens keened, red lights swirled in puddles, and the paramedics carted him away like potatoes in a famine.
Seamus lived, but lost the hand that had delivered roses, scarves, a mouse. It was not what she intended, when she bent her knees to pray.
Back inside the shelter of the church, Aileen noticed shadows reaching, fingers splayed into the light. Stained glass glittered like a coded map of truth. Arches rose and crossed. Seamus sat beside her in the pews, quiet, sober, bandaged. There were so many pieces of this world that she didn’t understand — the hollowness of bird bones, the single-mindedness of ants, fortunes cast inside a butterfly of pancake. Miracles and mice. It was all fallout from the stars, she saw, bits of straw and sweepings from the dance floor, small confetti sifting, music, dusted from the skies.
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