Illustration for this story by Salvadoran artist Rafael Varela for a show at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco which dealt with Memory and Mourning.
First published on July 1, 2013, in Somos en escrito Magazine
By Carolina Rivera
Each time the brutish blows resounded on the door of his mother’s house, he ran to hide under his childhood bed. That’s how life had been for the month since he got cut off from the organizations after the offensive at the end of January 1981. The year would be decisive for the country and for him, for those people who wanted change, the year of the offensive, the year of the revolution of the reddening moon that would lay out hundreds of barely armed high school and university students into the gutters of San Salvador.
His mother had told him that Carlos, with whom he had escaped soldiers in hilly Colonia Escalón, had been captured in those days when summer wind moves moaning tree branches, the month of January 1981. The soldiers’ leaden eyes were searching, and they followed Carlos to his home. They took him out and burned him alive along with his girlfriend in front of families to bind them with fear. Streets of the capital breathed in repression through the barrel of a rifle and were camouflaged in olive green, where most young people walked as though drawn by wires so as not to raise any suspicion.
They knock on the door again; he hides; they leave. Now lying on the floor he examines rusty springs and wonders how long it will take them to find him, and how he will flee from this. The streets are dressed with soldiers and whistle-blowing informants. Just stepping out of the house, they’ll shoot him down. “How stupid. How could I come home for Mamá to hide me?” There was no other safe place at the time. Surrounded in that house, he is a fugitive in his own home, an exile in his own country. “Mamá will not let me go.”
There, from under his bed, he also sees the ceiling of his house, where he once dreamed that the sky was a blackboard on which girls and boys painted a rainbow, where they learned to read and write. This is the bed he and his brother shared when he started storing memory at five years of age. A memory flourishes at playing the game of cat and mouse, of hide and seek. They never caught him, but now he was not so sure of his game, and the cat was not his brother. These cats have become vultures with rifles.
“Stop, stop jumping. You’re going to break the bed, and then you’ll have to go back to sleeping on the floor like before. There is no money to buy another. Look, the mattress is already torn.” He hears his young mother’s voice yelling at them. He sighs guiltily as the memory of her scolding dissolves. Completely still, his fingers feel the space where his father set up the bed fifteen years ago. With a thin smile and one eye half-open looking up at the mattress, he realizes why he felt backaches every morning about which he never complained, because the pains were never as strong as the joy of having a bed with a mattress; that was greater than any annoying spring touching his back. “The springs of this thin mattress were almost touching my face. Mother must have put things on the bed to hide me better when they get here.”
He hears again violent knocking and feels there is no escape. He can reach out to touch his mother’s weak, nervous pacing. She has enough force to get to the door. Lying on the icy floor of interwoven red and green bricks, he enjoys momentarily the peach-colored light of noon seep through the crack in the door as mother barely lets it open. Filtering through the light come three violent shadows that push the door against his mother.
He becomes silent as the icy floor where he lies. Courage becomes thin as the mattress where he has slept since he was five. Watch the evil black boots, hungry for searching. They are the mocking vultures, pecking with hate at the home to find him. In seconds, the bed goes crash flying across the room. He feels as if naked without it. He does not move. His mother cries. A rifle butt silences her. He lies there, face toward the ceiling, still as though the bed is still upon him. He does not feel the blow of rifle butt on his face. Nor does he feel his head when they crash it on the edge of the bed. They drag him.
“Would he sleep in his bed or dream again...”
Carolina Rivera, a native of El Salvador, lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. A graduate student in English Literature at UCLA, she began work on a collection of short stories as a Fellow in the Pen Center USA Rosenthal Foundation Emerging Voices Program. Also involved in filmmaking, she finished a documentary,Manlio Argueta Poets and Volcanoes, in 2010. Another short story, "The Funeral," is part of the anthology Strange Cargo by Pen Center USA, Emerging Voices.