ST. MESROB’S GHOST PACES, SCRATCHES ITS BEARD by Sam Virzi

St. Mesrob doesn’t know who he is, and wants you to tell him, because he only knows what the monastery is, and the monastery doesn’t know, but it still wants to tell you who St. Mesrob is. “St. Mesrob,” it says, its big oak doors fanning like crusty lips. (It does not have big oak doors, it is a small wooden church wrapped with clapboards: in some places there are patches where the monks mined firewood out of clapboards that were pretending not to be firewood.) “St. Mesrob, now,” the monastery begins, its eyes looking inward, although there is not a mirror to look into, although there is really only one window and the glass is long gone, replaced with clapboard that was really a window all along; the useless curtain eyelid closes behind its clapboard. “St. Mesrob, you see,” the monastery says: satisfied, it sleeps again.

St. Mesrob ate five pounds of bread a week, and that was all. He ate no meat, and even apologized to the wheat germs whose ashes gave him bread to eat. “I’m sorry,” he would think. “It’s wearing my teeth down, like a deer’s. You know, you can tell how old a deer is by the wear on its teeth?” St. Mesrob imagined the wheat germs saying something back one day, like lollipops that made noises when bit. Then he would say, “I’m really sorry, though. A man I love gave his life in almost the same way. Just not for bread. You know, that was actually the point, that it wasn’t for bread. The point of it was specifically not for bread. Now that I think of it, it wasn’t the same at all. I think I spoke too soon, I beg your pardon.” But they did not forgive him, the wheat germs: they were all dead.

St. Mesrob longed to live off things smaller than mustard seeds. He’d read the thing about the kingdom of heaven being grown from a mustard seed, and wondered, “My! I wonder what the smallest unit of measure for flour is? What a pressing question. I should investigate.” Ever since, he has envied wheat germs, and their ability to pick up their roots and drift with their food as the wind took it places. Ever since, he has wanted to live off shavings and start his fires with the latent heat of water turning into ice. Take away the scraps excess leaves and there’s no proof of excess. The best you can do after that is hope somebody feels better because of what you’ve done- yourself or the scraps you eat or the people that give them to you.

St. Mesrob kept a regular correspondence with his mother, who still lived in the country. The year he left home for the monastery, she was abducted by aliens from the moon. St. Mesrob knows why. “I see them when there is a quarter moon, when it sets beyond my windowsill. I wake up at that hour each night, when the moon has gone down, and I wonder if they will come this time, or if they will ever come back at all.” She said the aliens were shy, and asked strange questions, like, “What is it like when you breathe in?” and “Do you ever feel like everything is thin?” St. Mesrob’s mother looks at the small dark space at the edge of the waning white moon, at the face growing and fading from a grin to a smirk every month.

St. Mesrob’s funeral was confusing. There was an awkward stretch of time between his death and his becoming a saint, and nobody knew what to call him. The monastery said it most succinctly in its prayers. “I would be afraid to live like him because it is possible to live like him.”

On Sundays, St. Mesrob’s ghost scratches its beard and walks around the monastery’s backyard, which is how he used to pray. They had to investigate it before making him a saint, because saints are not supposed to have ghosts: they are supposed to be in heaven. But some people had already taken to calling him St. Mesrob, so they decided to just give it to him. St. Mesrob’s ghost paced back and forth, scratching its beard.

SAM VIRZI is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s published stuff at Thieves Jargon, Cherry Bleeds, Dogmatika, Pen Pusher and Unlikely Stories. He’d like to thank his family and friends for their endless support.

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