national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Marie Elaine

Christine Guaragno  • 
Susquehanna University

The first time Marie Elaine was struck by lightning, she was already married to ChaCha. She was pulling his service shirts from the line, her fingers holding onto the clothespins like beads of her rosary.


He was watching her when the bolt fell like a noose at her feet.


ChaCha was a refrigerator repairman. On the Sunday after a repair he would drive Marie Elaine to the grocery store. He would tell her to display a smile in front of his handiwork while he shifted the camera lens between his two loves.


They were married at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Her bouquet was wrapped in a strip of cloth she cut from her mother’s hospital gown.


When ChaCha and Marie Elaine bought a house, Marie Elaine painted their initials on the mailbox. She blessed the house with tomato sauce. ChaCha’s pride swelled in the smell of his wife’s cooking. After their first dinner, they discovered cracks in their dinner plates, the thinness of the walls, the bed-frame of their marriage bed bowing.


The first time Marie Elaine was struck by lightning was not the first time she had been struck. ChaCha’s hands were a toolbox. When he fixed the grocery store freezer, he would hit it again and again until wire would hum for fear of being touched.


Marie Elaine learned in grade school that a person who is struck by lightning once is likely to be struck again. At home she learned that with seven dollars she could feed her family for a paycheck with a loaf of bread, canned peas, and a chicken. She learned to dissect the carcass, pull the meat, cook the neck, sear the heart, snap the bones for the marrow to butter bread with, and finally make a weak broth out of what was left.


When Marie Elaine was struck by lightning, ChaCha watched his wife’s throat tip towards the rope of sun and drink. Watched her body melt into the grass until she no longer resembled flesh, she was the grasslands and a pride of lions had made home in her shock. Their pride claimed her before she had a chance to sit at the table, to pick the meat off the bones of dignity.


The lightning had reached under Marie Elaine’s blouse in public. The lightning came to church drunk and stabled himself against her. The lightning expected Marie Elaine to fall down easy, pop up easy, like a marionette, her hands tied by the rope of his tongue.


After the lightning hit, ChaCha found her body in the rain, picked clean. The mask on her face washed off so that the colors of dusk matched her bruised skin.


There has been no lightning since, only ChaCha’s frame shaking with the shallow thunder of apologies, her hands still holding to the frayed rope of his tongue.