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Twelve Grapes
by Gessy Alvarez
Writer of the Month

It’s tradition to eat twelve grapes the last twelve seconds before the New Year. For luck, Nick says. I hate countdowns. This anticipation for the end is a cock-block. The cat sits on the sofa. I push my feet under her furry belly. She whips her head around, but Nick brushes her away before she can nip my ankle.

She never scratches or bites me so long as I obey—the one being who can force me to respect authority. My hypocrisy is a burden. I crave respect, but I can count on one hand how many people I respect. It's possible I'm a sociopath and not an anarchist. But I have felt guilt, degradation, anxiety – I almost drowned in Coney Island when I was six.

The cruelty of humanity is why we have rules and boundaries. Why we have to fall in line. Clear definitions of the good and the bad, or so we fool ourselves into believing. The system is failing. The roots of our tree are rotting. There are no answers – elaborate dividing lines have crossed and tangled. I make mental notes of the most sordid conflicts.

Every new safeguard I create brings me closer to the slaughter. Nick senses I need a distraction. He tells me to hurry. You have to eat all your grapes before the clock strikes midnight, he says. He furiously pops and chews the green. Grape juice wets his chin. I tell him it’s a tradition designed to make people buy what they don't need – too many grapes one harvest, history says. But Nick knows how to tug at my Marxist heart. “A good thing for all to enjoy,” he says. He bends his tall frame and I let him suck on my protruding tongue.

I can count on Nick to make sure my feet touch the ground. I want to shut off any reminder of the past, of what is now complete, lost. Every second, minute, hour, I want to multiply indefinitely. I don't cherish the memories yet they are my identity. Back in college, I had a friend who died from leukemia. We used to joke we'd marry each other and adopt babies together. She had been sick as a child, before I loved her. She was nineteen years old when the cancer returned. She broke my heart. I can count on one hand how many people I've allowed that privilege.

One of my grapes is soft but I eat it anyway. It tastes like a wilted rose. I wonder when it lost its connection to the stem, the lifeline. Did it lose its hold or was it always lost?

I miss my mother's blessing. My parents live far away now, but every New Year when I was a kid; my mother did the sign of the cross over me and kissed my forehead. Every year she wished we would live to see the next New Year. My father wished for prosperity. My sister wished for a better time at school. I always wished for an adventure, another world, another experience. I wanted intimate knowledge of the good and the bad. I was the greedy one.

I want to shove the remaining five grapes into my mouth, but Nick kisses the top of my head and slows me down.

I punched a girl’s nose when I was ten, at fifteen I shoved a boyfriend out of a moving car. I elbowed a skinhead in the eye when I was seventeen. In my mid-twenties, in the middle of a crowded parking lot, pulled out a tire iron from the trunk, and threatened a middle-aged guy who’d cut me off. Just the other day, a guy in a jeep flashed his brights behind me. I stopped at a red light. He rolled down his window as he pulled up beside me and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?” I looked this guy in the eye. He looked away first and drove off. In my youth, I invited violence. I refuse to relive my past vulnerabilities. I am no one’s victim.

I rub my face against Nick's juice-stained chest. He throws a heavy arm over my shoulder and kisses my neck. His weight soothes me.

Hope is for the courageous. Despair is for cowards.

We savor the last grape – the sweetest one in the bunch – from each other’s lips.

Gessy Alvarez is founder and managing editor of the literary website, Digging through the Fat. Her prose has appeared in Entropy, Drunk Monkeys, Extract(s), Literary Orphans, Bartleby Snopes, Thrice Fiction, Pank, and other publications. An excerpt of her first novel, The Last Kingdom in Astoria, was recently featured in Vol. 1 Brooklyn.