Fiction from Madeline Anthes

Photo by Milada Vigerova

I May Never Be Clean Again

Oh, Mother, forgive me, I may never be clean again.

I know the words.

I heard them whispered over paper napkins and squeezed hands. I heard them as my knees bruised and I pressed my hands into steeples in front of my chest. I heard them repeated over the pulpit and in basements; if I bow my head now, I can still hear the echoes. These were the words that would save me and keep me whole.

I remember the rings and the roses. Promises and blessings. I made a vow. To you, to Father, to myself, to God.

But Mother, I think I know what heaven feels like.

I know this hurts you. You wanted more for me. A chance to transcend to another life after this one. One that you think you’ll never reach because of your own broken vows.

I know you wanted me to be better.

But, Mother, had you seen him.

Had you seen his rust-spotted shirt and the way his hands hung in his pockets, wrists bent and elbows out; you would want to see what those hands could do. You would want to see if they were hard or soft for you. And, Mother, they were so soft.

Had you seen the way his lip curled back. Felt the way his hair fell forward on my cheek, the way his hands stained me, the way my arching back ached, the way my head tilted skyward. If you could have felt the fire that rose up within me when his blue eyes found mine, scorching me from the inside out.

Had you heard the way he said my name, as though it was some secret we share. A prayer.

Had you seen everything, you’d know I had to. Together, we had to.

I might scald my skin red in hopes of redemption, but I hope I never lose the feeling of his fingertips under my ribs.

Oh, Mother, have you ever felt like this?

Pray for me, pray for me, pray me clean, but I may never be clean again.


Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary. Her writing can be found in journals like WhiskeyPaper, Lost Balloon, Cease, Cows, and Third Point Press. You can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes, and find more of her work at

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