Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Namesake" by Amy Hillgren Peterson: 2010 Honorable Mention

Gemma Galgani moved.

Sunset made the peace yellow walls blush pink with what seemed to be anticipation. They were beginning domestic relations with the four Galgani-Pierces. Mason threw cans of Schlitz to Ned, Kelly, Bruce, and Will. He'd seduced them with promises of beer and ribs in exchange for their bodies' exertion.

The point, Gemma concluded as she hammered brads into the drywall, was that she could move a dozen neighborhoods away from 7720 Knollwood Lane, but the tender beauty of her lost loved ones' eyes would follow her as long as she framed them in, slipped them under glass, and lived with them. She also realized, sick of smelling her own sweat, that the blessing would follow her, too.

"Mom," Henry breathed. "Mom, who's that?”

He picked up Aurelia in his brown-red hands, and the sweaty slickness of them couldn't hold the frame, and with a lunge and slide, Gemma rescued her mother in time.

"Henry, you know who this is. It's your grandmother."

"She doesn't look like a grandmother."

"She was young."

"Was she being your mother then?"

"She never stopped."

"Even though she died?"

"That's right."

"She'll always be with us?"

"Henry, you know this."

"It's hard having only one live grandmother."

"We survive."

"I'm going back outside."

Aurelia, forever thirty-six, said nothing. She insisted, her smile capturing the photographer's imagination, that life, however troubled, and death, had a joyful marriage and an unforgettable new beginning. She already looked content on the west wall. Gemma knew she'd be looking for Genevieve to the east.

Genevieve would wait. Charles insisted on the space above the buffet on the northeast. In gray scale his hair and eyes created caverns of black on the photograph. He didn't wear tribal costume in the candid shot, but grinned with irony in front of a local museum display of an immaculate, bleach-white tepee and wax figures of relaxed, unblemished Santee who could never have hunted anything, not even the bison standing still through the magic of taxidermy.

Life is dirty, Charles told Gemma and Genevieve inside the tepee. "If you haven't been covered in it by the end, you've wasted the gift, and it disappears into the wind, hoping your descendants will have more honor."

Gemma's memory soared through a wind tunnel, careening past the tepee to Genevieve's hand reaching for hers, the two of them on the front seat of the Malibu, of Charles driving into the sangria sunset, in laughter never seeing the edge of asphalt and the oak standing in a carpet of Jerusalem artichokes.

Instantly, Charles was gone.

Genevieve persevered for four months. "I'm ready," she said, and before Gemma could object, she closed her eyes, one blue and one brown, slowly, and whispered, "Forever."

Then,as Gemma cried, "No!", Genevieve told her, "Stars."

The night five years after Genevieve's funeral, Gemma woke with a gasping scream and saw the night sky's stars through her hand. Not through the spaces between her fingers, but through a window that didn't belong. Then a drip landed on her chest. Clammy.


"What is it?" Mason clapped on the lamp.

"My hand," Gemma whispered.

"What did you do?" Mason asked, “What did you do?” He repeated three times with a burgeoning anxiety.

"Nothing. I didn't do anything." Blood made a splashing pattern on the white sheet. "It just happened."

"It's like...that thing. The blood. Of Christ. The cross."

"Stigmata." Gemma was calmer.

"But we're Lutheran."

"I don't know why it would happen to me."

Mason picked up his i-Pad and typed furiously. Back in his element, he applied logic like gauze to the bewildering wound.

Three-ten a.m. The single conclusion: it's apparently a blessing to be a victim soul. And the wound would probably go away. Something about the Pope.


Gemma stood inside the newest house. She sought to light it before everyone started bumping into each other, and the dog.

She found a switch for the dining room that provided enough light to set Genevieve on the east. Aurelia was radiant, beaming at her daughter with sparkling, heavily made up eyes, pouty lips and impossibly youthful skin.

The commute from the new house was forty minutes longer, even on a clear day. The hospital pharmacy rushed.

"Glad you're here," Dylan, the lanky pharm tech greeted her. "We were about to go under."

Jane, the head pharmacist, silently loaded an I.V. drip.

"Where can I jump in?" Gemma asked.

Jane handed her a pile of paper prescriptions. "You can enter these."

The white slips of paper soaked crimson and Gemma sank to the floor.

"Gemma!" Dylan yelled. "What happened?"

"What is that? Paper cut gone wild?" Jane was gifted at turning Gemma's work issues into a joke.

"It's stigmata." Gemma panted as she held her wounded hand against her chest where blood gurgled over her black sweater and grey lab coat.

The phone shrieked. Dylan beat on the computer that had locked up and Jane frantically wiped at the saturated prescription slips. Dylan buzzed in Dr. Kotor, who rushed to Gemma's side. The pain retreated, blood slowed, and before Dr. Kotor's astonished eyes, the wound disappeared.

"What was that?" Dylan asked.

"I read about this during my sub-i," Dr. Kotor said.

"You're a dermatologist," Jane pointed out.

"This is a break in the skin, is it not? Dr. Kotor said.

"Yeah!" Dylan said. "What causes it?"

"There are some things," Dr. Kotor replied, "and as a scientist, I used to reject this, but there are some things that science and reason fail to explain."

"Epic fail," Dylan said.

Gemma's head spun, separate pinwheels dizzying each quadrant of her brain.

"I'll drive you home," Dr. Kotor said.

"I live out in Hamish now."

"You moved again?" Dylan looked astonished.

Jane was silent.

Gemma woke up in her bed. Dr. Kotor must have carried her there because the last thing she remembered from the front seat of the apple green Prius was Dr. Kotor saying, "Some things are too mighty for science and reason. You can keep your mind clear and still open your imagination to wonder."

Mason came home, saw Gemma, and left her in bed. He made spaghetti and meatballs for the boys. He brought her a plate. She picked at it, looking vacantly out the window. "Now everyone knows," she said to Mason.

The phone rang.

There was a knock at the door.

Gemma's i-Phone chimed in with a text.

Henry answered the phone downstairs.

Gemma opened her text. It was from Dylan.

"Channel 7. Now!" It said.

Gemma grabbed the remote and switched on the TV. She heard Mason saying, "No, no. We don't want any interviews," just as she saw her own face in her hospital staff picture on the screen.

"A pharmacist at the hospital, Galgani experienced what officials are calling a stigmata at work this afternoon."

Henry climbed up on the bed. "What's a stigmata?"

"It's..." Gemma had no words.

"Does it hurt?" Henry asked.


"Why do you have it?"

"I don't know."

"Are you a freak?"


"Then why is it on TV?"

"I guess," Gemma sighed. "I guess people are curious because it's different. It doesn't happen every day."

"Can a doctor fix it?"

"I don't think so."

"Can I be on TV?"

"Probably not."

Mason came in. "You go to bed," he said to Henry.

"I won't be able to sleep. There's reporters all over."

"They're going away."

"Is this why we move all the time?" Henry asked.

"It's part of it," Gemma admitted.

"That's stupid."

"Why?" Gemma asked.

"Because you can't run away from yourself." Henry leaped off the bed, nearly knocking Gemma and Mason's wedding picture off the wall. He scrambled out the door, across the hall, and slammed the door to his room, closing it behind the wise dreams he was about to dream.

"Do I need to call the real estate office in the morning?" Mason asked.

"No. We're staying."

Amy Hillgren Peterson is a writer in the Lakes area of Iowa. In addition to short fiction, she writes theatrical plays and essays. To make a living she writes PR documents, grant proposals and collaborates on memoirs and other books. She's been married to Ed for 18 years and is the mother of two sons and a daughter. Her websites: and