la guadaña amorosa
by Samir Sirk Morató
I was thirteen years old when Daniel “Ardilla” Peña and Sonia Peña asked us to cure the germinating lovesickness of Martín Green. Ardilla was Martín's lifelong best friend, but he had just produced a colicky baby with Sonia, so he couldn't tend to his friend for longer than a few days. Ardilla was just shy of twenty-three and eons away from good handwriting, but abuela and I could read his note well enough:
Martín was bedridden beneath a love enchantment. Because of his wife and baby, Ardilla could not take care of Martín. He needed us to step in. Could we come right away?
Though the handwriting was Ardilla's, I sensed Sonia's presence in the correct spelling of “enchantment,” the pointed mention of a wife and baby, and the bloody fingerprint on the paper's edge. But her strange one-sided hatred of Martín carried concern now. That stirred my curiosity. If Sonia was worried about Martín, something was very wrong.
Let's go, mija, Abuela said.
It was early summer then, and the brittle outlines of the desert softened beneath evening yucca blooms and fine combs of cholla spines. Abuela bundled me onto her horse with grave urgency. She packed her satchel with a sage bundle, a candle, a novena card, a rosary, and a scarlet Santa Muerte figurine before handing it to me, then leaping onto our horse. We trotted off in a tizzy. A half chewed sunflower seed still stuck in my cheek. I spat its shell into the dusty road as we set off.
Though I longed to step into abuela's boots in every way possible, and I duplicated her twin braids, spells, voluminous shawls, and gruff, tobacco-stained ways of wording, I did not understand the stress that gnarled abuela's time-tanned hands. Some girl had enchanted Martín. So what? That concept seemed sweeter to me than the tin of bonbons abuela had packed in her skirt pockets; the perfume of it bathed my nose and excited my imagination.
A secret sliver of me wished that I had cast the love spell instead. If Martín Green loved me, it would mean endless trinkets, stupid bromas, piggyback rides on a broad back, and pounds of Mexican wedding cookies at our union. I wouldn't need to share him and his nice lashes with the rest of the kids in the pueblo; I wouldn't need to turn in early like a little girl or obey older Señoras. As Mrs. Gata Constanza Green, I'd know my magic was strong and my husband was kind and I'd get to wear an old wedding ring the way abuela did.
But Martín always laughed and ruffled my hair when I sat on his shoulders and I proclaimed that I was grown, and I couldn't do more than purify rooms, beg Santa Muerte for guidance, and bless herbs, so it was some other, older girl who had slipped the snare around Martín's ankle.
As our nag kicked up piñon dust, I toyed with the cracker jack ring hung around my neck. I loathed that we were on our way to vanquish a dusk-soft spell that did not need vanquishing. Any small envies I carried drowned beneath my fondness for Martín. Now that the veil of grief had lifted from his shy face and deft, clay golden hands, he seemed ready for love. But we were about to steal it from him. That was no way to repay the generosity of someone I adored.
Why are we going to ruin this spell? Martín should be happy someone shot one at him. He's got no family. He's lucky a girl wants him this bad. Ardilla acts like he's dying.
Because he is, mija.
Abuela jammed her ancient, crimson cowboy boots into the stirrups. The nag's crooked back swayed, as did the junipers cloaking us. My own red boots, now a size too small, squeezed my feet. I chewed at my lip and vowed to keep telling abuela they fit. No other pair in the zapatería right now looked as similar to hers.
He can't be dying. It's just a love spell.
Abuela shook her head.
You're too young to understand how agonizing love can be, especially in the hands of a lonely bruja. Power in empty hands makes tears the choice from love, which makes it poison. This is not one of your schoolyard crushes, Gata. But you're about to learn.
We rode until the gnarled woods turned to brush, to sunset-streaked sand and the fallen leftovers of barbed wire fence crushed into sagebrush, until the lechusas called from the mountains and the Green's adobe hut came into view. It squatted on the desolate ground, laid low by pain. Even when Señora Green had been alive a year ago, the house had always looked that way. The sagging barbed wire fences and chicken scratch scabs around it caked the house in a lonely sort of leprosy. Nothing but the Greens had grown here. I thanked Niña Dorada that the house abuela and I had radiated hope from its slanted stoop and garden, that our footsteps gave the adobe a heartbeat instead of haunting its walls. More than anything, I felt sad for Martín.
Ardilla waited for us in the yard. He flew to us the instant abuela's toe touched the ground. His twisting hands fluttered around him. Sweat pinned a loose curl to his forehead. It stained all the crevices of his shirt too. Fascinated fear pricked me. I had never seen a man so aged by his own wetness. Whatever spell had Martín in its grips was squeezing his life juice out for the desert to drink.
I'm glad you're here, doña. Martín is doing poorly.
Did you do as I asked? Do you know who cast their eye on him?
Ardilla shook his head. No. I wish I did. But--
Martín wasn't close to many people. Ardilla swept a wet curl off his forehead. Not besides me.
What a lie! I was close to Ardilla! All of us pueblo brats were. Maybe Ardilla was too out of his mind to realize he was being self-centered. Something about the way he tucked his hair back reminded me of the many ways hands arrowed and looped between Martín and Ardilla when they were drunk on warm beers and talking so close it verged on conspiracy, but I couldn't place what. I just knew that Sonia would have hated it. Tension continued wringing my guts.
Do you know who did it? Ardilla rasped. Do you have any idea, doña?
He continued juddering around her until he saw me watching, then hooked his thumbs into his belt loops and tried to straighten. I almost told him not to puke. The close presence of his friend and the distant beacon of his family stretched him across coals. Abuela hmm'd.
I have an inkling. He's close to Trina Sanchez, isn't he?
Ardilla looked as if she had named a bug. I didn't know why she was mentioning Trina either. Trina Sanchez barely held space in my mind. She was a twiggy loner with a big bust, a sun-stained migrant grape and cherry harvester that cycled through with the seasons, always living in shacks outside of town and tending to a reclusive grandmother who spoke no Spanish. Trina was a clumsy girl with thin, piercing eyes and sandpaper palms. We all knew Martín; none of us knew Trina.
His mother hired her. Sure. He worked near her. That's it. But that kind of woman… can't love.
Ardilla looked like he wanted to spit out a word that he couldn't. Not in my presence. Abuela restrained a flex of her jaw and cast the bonbons from her pocket into my awaiting palms.
So we have nothing then. Come, mija. We must try and work.
Ardilla loped behind us as I loaded Abuela's bags upon my back. He wanted to grasp us in his terrified talons, but we were Martín's sole help and his wife needed him. That made halting us unbearable. Out here, there was only him, Martín, and the hot wind. Martín's cracked doorstep had not felt another tender foot for years beyond his mother's, or maybe Ardilla's. Ardilla licked his lips as Abuela and I strode towards the door.
Are you really going to take your granddaughter in? A child shouldn't see someone like this.
She won't be a child much longer. Abuela swept her skirts around her with finality. Dignity. As a curandera and a woman, she'll have to learn how to deal with these things. With me, she can take it.
Ardilla shuddered. My heart trembled in trepidation as he fell away, leaving us to march into Martín's tiny home.
Take care of him! Ardilla called, small and far away.
The adobe walls funneled us through a paltry living room, then to two closed bedroom doors. I smelled prickly pear, sickly cloying and sweet, outside the first one before we even stopped there. The fragrance turned my stomach. Abuela cast me a look to exorcise my fidgeting.
Whatever you see, no matter what happens, you must behave. Be strong. Be good. Loving skins us all, especially when it's malformed. Don't humiliate Martín while he is in great pain. We have all been fools like this.
I imitated her even tone, but I didn't understand. In her eyes, I saw that she knew I didn't. But I was here today to learn. Abuela knocked on the door. It creaked open. Together, we entered.
Martín Green was gigantic, a teenage farmer meant for wrestling disobedient burros and slinging six-foot ristras over his shoulders without them brushing the sand – a man in my eyes, back then – but when I saw him that day, he was a fallen pillar. A huffing, sweating boy that lay crumpled in sheets. He took up such little space horizontally.
Abuela limped to his bedside, her heels clacking. Martín's hazy pupils followed her. His shirt lay open across his breast. An expanse of bruises littered his collar in bright, swollen knots. Stiff, vertical needles swayed on Martín's chest with every one of his ragged inhales. I couldn't understand. Had he fallen into a cactus patch? Were those chest hairs?
You're in trouble today, Martín. Abuela palmed his forehead. Your father's good looks may be the death of you.
Martín chuckled. The sound emerged wet: the sound of skinned nopal petals squishing together. His breathing seesawed. As I watched, another needle popped through his skin. Again, the smell of sweet, rotten prickly pear clogged the room. My guts twisted. I fumbled to unpack abuela's bags and set up the Niña Roja altar for her on Martín's barren nightstand.
Nothing new there.
Abuela's hand drifted to his trembling wrist. She pinched his pulse between her fingers, frowning. I wished the sage smoke I spread around the room would stop clouding my vision. In another sense, I was grateful. The purified curtain it cast around me kept me from seeing the tall boy who bought me candies and glass bottle sodas laid low the way he was.
Martín, do you know who cast this on you?
Martín closed his eyes. His gurgled breathing continued. I finished my cleansing prayer and hurried to put Niña Roja and candles on the new altar.
Yeah. I do. Lied to Ardilla about that. Didn't want him to get in a fight or nothing. Sonia's stressed enough.
Who bewitched you?
Can't tell you.
This is a serious spell. Abuela pointed to his chest. It's not just taken root in your body, it's blooming. The Peñas should've sent for me a week ago. If you don't tell me who did this, you may die. Is your tongue tied?
Not by magic.
As I unpacked the bonbons for Niña Roja, I struggled not to ogle Martín. Agony stifled every heave of his chest. It toyed with the twitching joints of his fingers. How could the boy who did not cry at being spurred by a rooster or turning his ankle in a topo's hole look this way now? His diminished presence was a crime against nature.
Trina did this, Martín confessed. Was partially an accident. She didn't mean to cast something this mean.
I bit on the surprise between my teeth. It tasted of copper. Abuela's expression stayed unchanged.
Don't hurt Trina. Please. We grew up together. She and her grandma always stayed with us during the harvest season. Trinita helped me bury mamá. I helped her feed her grandma. We shared wages and secrets and chicle ever since we were seven. I love her.
His sigh was a rustle of rain-soaked cholla rattling together. Tears glossed his lashes.
I don't want the town to punish Trina. She's got no one now. It'd kill her. Don't hurt her, doña. I'm begging you.
Gata, start praying, Abuela commanded.
I swallowed my fragile trepidation, took the rosary and novena into my hands, then slid to my knees. My overalls did not cushion my bones from the floor. Martín quivered now, sinking deeper into the bed.
Oh Niña Roja, I murmured, my elegant, lovely Sister, you hold the powers of passion and hatred in your heart, and death and deliverance in your hands...
Abuela assessed Martín.
If you succumbed to this spell, it would save your life, she said. All you need to do is confess your love to Trina and have it reciprocated. Obviously, she'd accept your confession. Then your lungs would clear. Why die instead of marrying and producing children with her? Is she married? Is it because she's an immigrant? A migrant? I know how your mamita felt about those.
Prayer and sticky breathing rattled against the adobe walls. I climbed to the next rosary bead. Monsoon season came and went before Martín whispered a reply.
I don't want to say it while Gatita's in here. I don't want her to think of me differently.
I faltered in my second prayer. Tears threatened to ruin my vision. Martín was everyone's gentle, goofy favorite. I owed him all my summer entertainment. He was the pueblo's primo. If he confessed to murder right now, I wouldn't adore him any less. I did not want whatever horrible power I had over him that made him look so small, so scared. Abuela's glare was unneeded.
I won't think differently of you, Martín. I promise. I fumbled with my rosary, pulse whining in my ears, hot and urgent. I promise on the cracker jack ring you gave me last summer.
That ring stuck like a burr between my shirt and overalls. It burned against me. Martín lingered in his silence longer than a drought before he spoke, tender and fragile.
I don't love women the way Trina wants me to love her.
Abruptly, I thought of Ardilla and Martín loading bags of feed into their boss' truck together, both slick with evaporating sweat and laughter, their dark eyes and dark hair brimming with sunlight, only four years between them. Sonia had watched from the soda fountain stairs then, a distant shadow. It had taken years for her to get closer. Abuela took Martín's quavering hand.
She didn't know. What's done is already done. Trina's the only person I have left. I won't hurt her.
You'll hurt her and Daniel alike if you die.
That's a price we'll all need to pay. Martín heaved. They'll bury me before I do what Ardilla did. I'm not marrying someone to hide; I'm not making another Sonia out of anyone. My mamá didn't. I won't either. I'd be worse than dead if I did that.
My gasp broke my third prayer to Niña Roja. The candle extinguished. No one had offended her into abandoning Martín, but there was nothing more she could do. In his last soaking breath, Martín bloomed. A riot of blossoms exploded from his mouth in an incoming tide, then his cleft throat: yellow prickly pear blossoms, tall-stemmed sotols, pink wildfires of cholla, globs of scarlet gilia. They mounted higher than Sierra Blanca then kept climbing.
Martín's breast split across his heart to free the next flood of flowers. Bone-white fleabane, fat-and-bruise-colored feather dalea, enamel-shiny white peppergrass, vein blue penstemon, and tender-flesh globe mallow all burst from his body, all covered in a filmy shroud of birth, cloaked Martín's bed. They swayed in the wind of his final breath, beautiful, fresh, and glimmering with bloody life. Offal stench blended into their perfume.
I could not cry, or shield my eyes, or clean the blood flecks from Niña Roja or my cheeks. I didn't have time to. The desert blossoms when watered – never slowly, never gently, always after a passionate downpour – and it had done the same here, too. My sole blessing was that I couldn't see Martín beneath all he had grown. Love, in its truest form, was fertile soil.
Abuela wiped my face. When my shock came down from the high, high tower of flowers, she held me while I sobbed.
Cherry season had failed to come this year. So had the rain. The land stayed as hard as the shriveled fruits on orchard trees. It bore elk ivory and brown grass at the sky as dry pits peered from slits in desiccated cherry skin. Abuela warned me not to be hasty, but I still crept out of my room at the witch hour and took off for the low skeletons of the orchard.
The loose ends of Martín's death all became candle wicks in my belly, burning from every fray, forcing me to walk. I threaded through coyote song and centipede-laden rocks to reach the cherry trees. All the while, I prayed to the Niña Negra figurine in my pocket for vengeance and counted off prayers on my rosary. The sixth prayer hallowed my lungs as the orchard came into sight. Trina Sanchez would explain her crimes to me even if it killed her.
I found Trina sprawled in a thistle patch on the outskirts of the orchard, her hair tangled around her neck, her torn shirt around her shoulders. When I saw the moonbeam sliding off her stung, sunburned nape, I slowed. My anger curdled into fear. She looked no more alive than the round headstone beneath her hands.
Minutes or hours passed through the thistle murmurs around us. I wasn't sure which. The thistles towered above us at Martín's height. Trina spoke about the time I realized I couldn't.
This is no place for a little cat.
Hearing Martín's nickname for me in Trina's mouth reignited my ire.
I'm not a little cat, or a girl. I'm a woman and a witch. But not like you. I clenched my fists. You murderer.
Trina arched, a snake trying to step from the ground on feet it did not have, before her weight fell on the headstone again. She twisted to face me. I loathed the tear tracks I saw on her cheeks as much as the lacerations on her skin and the purple petals tangled in her hair. I would not feel sorry for her. How could she grieve like this after murdering Martín? She was no self-flagellating saint.
I know that Martín's death is my fault. I'm sorry for it. I'll be sorry for the rest of my life.
Sweat beaded on the rosary in my hand. I was ready to pray my seventh prayer to the Niña Negra in my pocket, ready to chew black licorice for her and beg for Trina's expulsion from the pueblo at the end of a pitchfork or exorcism, but when I looked at crumpled Trina I could not do it. Not for Martín or abuela.
How did you mess up this badly? I thought you loved him!
Prove it. I bet you know nothing about him.
Sonia's proud voice echoed through my head, describing Ardilla's favorite candies and little gestures to conceal the pathetic emptiness under her collection of baubles. Despite Martín's rambling, I bet that Trina was the same. If she really loved and knew him, she couldn't have done this. I sucked air through my teeth to cool the flush plaguing my face.
Trina studied me from where she lay. As weak as grief kept her, it did not sap the corded muscle from her arms, or vanish the hard pears of her calves. All of Trina's softnesses beyond her breasts stayed tucked away under bars of overworked flesh. She had a body meant for caging itself. If Trina wanted to break me against a trunk of a cherry tree she could. She glared at me. I glared back at her. Inside, I trembled. On the outside, I stood tall. Constanzas were always supposed to stand tall.
Trina's gaze broke. Its shattered halves slid into the thistle and vanished from sight. She wrapped her arms around the headstone in a hollow cradle.
Martín isn't even cool yet, but you're already asking for his innards. Are you vultures ever satisfied?
Before I could explode, Trina began whispering.
Because I love Martín Green, I know that until he was sixteen, he had nightmares unless I slept on the floor next to him and held his hand. I know he worried that his violent conception had tainted him, so he was always kind, even when he didn’t want to be. Martín bandaged my scrapes for years but never mocked me for tripping. He held me behind the cholla while I cried over my grandmother’s worsening mind, or the attention drawn to my horrible, ripening body. He sent me letters when I was traveling. He encouraged my brujería. He taught me how to defend myself.
Trina’s splintered nails combed at her locks. I fought the horrible confusion thrashing in my heart. Now Señora Green’s shape hung heavy in there too, moaning in pain from the invisible wounds in her mind, casting worried, hateful looks at any outsiders who dared to enter her home. Trina’s unseen abuela writhed in her shadow.
Together, Martín and I held our rage deep inside of us so neither of us destroyed our ill, broken old women. We whispered about our guilty longing to let their languages die in revenge for the ways they hurt us. We unearthed each other’s ugliest roots. That’s what love is, Gata Constanza. Love was me nursing Señora Green for Martín while she cursed me. Love was Martín comforting me when he couldn’t bear me. Love is a merciless yoke you choose to carry.
I did not want to look at Trina. She knew what Martín looked like naked, but I hadn’t, and she had undressed Martín in front of me. All of these bleeding secrets shamed me. Trina’s lips curled back, showing her daffodil teeth. Her self-evisceration reeked of victory. The headstone crouched beneath her in silent judgement.
You may be a witch, but you're no woman.
By now, I gripped Niña Negra in one hand and my plastic ring in the other. I held on for dear life.
This still doesn’t make sense. You were all Martín had and he said he was all you had, the way my abuela is all I have. You don't kill people you love like that by accident! You’re lying about something!
Yelling doesn't change what happened. You're still too young and wrapped in a homeland that cares for parts of you to fully understand how I loved Martín. Trina's voice dropped to a stinging mutter. You haven't felt a thousand embers under your skin when someone's eyes light on you. You know nothing of being the last pine cone under a blighted tree, waiting for wildfire hands to open you, to caress you into a different shape so you can take root. Love like that is desperate. It breaks. It tears. It binds.
Trina tipped her chin up at me and rested it on the headstone, the hunger in her destroying her all the while.
The blooms told me you prayed to Niña Roja. I bet you know little of the things she oversees beyond love in a trinket ring.
My face flushed with tears and humiliation. I didn't know which was hotter. All that Trina alluded to sounded filthy and forbidden. They felt even more so because of my partial understanding. The shame that my ignorance fueled raged above my fury, then far above Trina, who stayed shattered on the earth. Her sorrow kept her so low I couldn't even spit on her. She looked girlish to me – even younger than Martín. But all those sordid words had still sprung from her lips. Confusion wracked me.
You should've told your flowers to stop when Martín mentioned... men. Or were you going to force him to marry you anyway?
Trina's howled laugh made me trip backward. I bristled in terror. Trina smashed a fist into the carpet of thistle heads around her, spiking lacy sprawls of cuts into her hand.
If Martín had confessed that to me, I would have let him go. I would've eaten my heart and let the flowers bind us as siblings. He would have lived. But my flowers need to hear words in my ears to stop, and Martín's mother had him convinced that all other people do is steal. That they could give, but no one else could, so they needed to guard themselves. I was stupid. I believed Martín thought I was different.
Trina pointed a broken finger at me.
Your people instilled that fear in her when they drove her tribe into school tombs and onto broken bits of land. When they took from her even as they planted Martín in her. I bet your abuela didn't tell you that. You do work with death.
My people! All I knew was that "my people" spoke Spanish; that my people made bridges of their bodies. Uncertainty twisted my nerves. Abuela had never mentioned such hereditary intricacies to me. But she would never keep such a thing secret. Would she? My trust in her turned me inside out.
At least my grandmother is here! I cried, frightened of Trina's accusations, frightened of my inability to call her a liar. Where's yours, huh?
Trina cupped the headstone. All at once, her wild gaze sobered. It looked like a dark joke had fallen on her shoulders. The moon bled onto us.
My grandmother is dead. An unwilling smile yanked at Trina's mouth. If she could see me now she would feel vindicated. I worked myself raw at orchards, vineyards, and altars to feed us, but whenever I cursed or consecrated anything, she always said the same thing. 'Oni mo jiu-kachi azami no hana.' Even a devil is pretty at eighteen.
I thought of the rough, leering men that worked the orchards, and how developed Trina Sanchez had been as long as I'd known of her. I thought of Señora Green resentfully supping on out-of-season poppies and yarrow to soothe the unseen sickness in her, and the strength it took to heal a beloved who hated you. In that moment I saw Sonia in Trina's face, and how far away the men they loved stood, even when they were together. Against my will, I convulsed in pity.
When Trina rose from the ground with immense effort, no longer broken onto her belly, I clutched Niña Negra close and hung back. I did not want to learn more about love from Trina. Nor did I want to hurt her. Even if I despised her.
Are you going to die too?
Trina's wretched expression and raw, grief-eaten body scared me. What if she died before Martín's funeral? What if she didn't come at all? I couldn't bear the idea of the Peñas attending Martín's wake while looking seventy miles away. At least Trina's love would keep her on the canyon rim between Martín and us. At least she would stand next to me there.
Trina pushed back a stream of her hair. Her fingers left bloody streaks on her temple. The moon dressed her wounds.
No. I want to die, but I won't. It would be a waste of Martín's memory. He wouldn't have me in death anyway. I must carry him with me. Trina smiled, almost alive. I'll see you when the cholla blooms, little cat. Don't look for me.
Before I could say that I knew Martín would have her, even if it wasn't the way she wanted to have him – because all of the tender desert blooms proved it, because I knew what love looked like, even if I wasn't grown myself – Trina was gone. The dead orchard took her shape and broke it into pieces of lonesome, scattered light. Then there was only me, Niña Negra, and the moon-kissed thistles, whispering the last secrets among themselves that I didn't understand.
I was no longer thirteen.
Samir Sirk Morató is a mestize scientist and artist. Their recent field season in New Mexico made a big impression on them. Some of Samir’s work can be found in The Hellebore Issue #5, Catapult Magazine, and The Sandy River Review 2020 edition. They are on Twitter @bolivibird and on Instagram @spicycloaca.
by Carmen Baca
With roots entrenched in the mountain I called home at the edge of the Sangre de Cristos, I surveyed my surroundings from near the top. My many limbs reached to the skies on sunny days or cold, snowy ones for so long I had no concept of my age. All I knew was that I had evolved from sapling to mature adult over many revolutions of the sun and moon. Seasons mattered not, not for my brethren and me. Our purpose was to grow, to provide shelter to those who needed it, and to give sustenance to all living beings. We were the sentinels, the giants of the forest.
But we, too, felt fear. Nature’s wrath threatened us in the annual spring winds. We bent so far from side to side we feared we would snap in two.
“Hold fast!” I cried to my fellow giants.
“HOLD FAST!” they called, their voices echoing from mountain to valley and each peak beyond.
We held steadfast to the earth, our roots clawing into the dirt and around buried stones to keep our balance. Our size would have broken our smaller brothers, our offspring, and even ended the lives of forest creatures had we fallen. We stood tall.
The droughts that sometimes came after increased our peril during the spring thunderstorms which followed. Dry lightning ignited one of us once on a distant ridge. We watched in horror as one of our brother’s trunks exploded and his limbs caught fire, the flames growing and spreading to his neighbors until a wall of vivid red and brilliant orange spread and covered that mountain top. Black smoke rose high, turning gray as it wafted toward us.
“Oh, no,” the smallest of us, the saplings, cried.
“Remain strong!” my brother beside me called.
“REMAIN STRONG!” each tree in the forest shouted.
The echoes gave support to those of our brethren already covered in fire and to the others who stood until they could no longer. The inferno pulsed with a life of its own, its breaths made stronger by the fuel feeding it. The roar of destruction reached us even though we were in no danger then. We feared fire like we feared nothing else, and we quaked deep inside ourselves because we knew as big as we were, as strong as we stood, we were no match for it.
We watched for so many passings of the days into nights that we worried they would never end. That all-consuming firestorm ate everything in its path. Only one ridge lay between the devastation and our mountain when man came to our rescue. We were safe—for now. We mourned for those of our kind and for the animals who used them for harbor and home. So many had succumbed to the conflagration. The reminder of the tragedy stood before us for many more passings of the sun and the moon. Those dry, dead pillars stood tall until the winds came again to knock them over. The sounds of the cracking, decaying trunks reached us in the silence that came thereafter. We cringed, our boughs shaking in sympathy. And we shut our eyes at the last horror they endured as mankind did: from dust they had emerged and to dust they returned.
Time passed, with more spring winds and fall fires, but our mountain was spared. I never wondered why, but now I speculate perhaps because of what I am now. Springtime returned and with it came the men again. Others followed, bringing loud apparatuses on tracks and large wheels, creating roadways which crossed our mountain. The monstrous machines felled many of us with precise efficiency, and we came to understand our purpose had changed. Some of us were destined for unknown intent because man had determined we could be used to benefit him. We continued to stand tall, and we understood some of us would be cut down. We did not know which among us would be next, but we all clung to the hope that whatever our futures held, our ancient frames would be used for noble causes.
I watched many of my brothers fall into the jaws of those massive machines. Afterward, I stood alone in what was now a glade, and I wondered why I had been spared. Many more times the sun and moon traded places in the sky, until the day my turn came. No large, rumbling devices appeared on that early morning. Instead, two wagons arrived, pulled by draft horses and accompanied by a group of men on horseback. They halted in that clearing and stood looking up at my massive trunk. They spoke among themselves words I could not hear from my height, and they must have determined I was right for their plans, whatever they were.
Two men approached with a long blade I later learned was a two-man crosscut saw. Several more with axes stood by. I felt a vibration close to where my trunk rose from the earth and my limbs trembled with the back-and-forth cutting motion of the men manning the tool. I expected more sensation, something I didn’t know the name for but something dreadful. But the severing of my body from my base, though it took some time due to my width, occurred with no more than an increase of that forceful reverberation deep in my core. Then I fell. I struck the earth with my massive frame, several of my branches breaking with the impact. My trunk shuddered a bit after the fall and then I was still, my view from the ground novel and unexpected.
The men took to their axes and dismembered me from top to bottom, some of my trunk left long while other sections were cut short. The part of me that was capable of understanding was lifted into the wagon along with other pieces. After the two wagons were filled, we traveled down the mountain and reached a small hamlet in a valley I had only seen from high above. A large dwelling, our destination I discovered, provided cover for me for another period of the sun chasing the moon and creating light after dark.
When I was handled again, it was through a machine which trimmed me and turned me into what the men called lumber. My evolution had begun. And though I pondered over the final product that would come from my frame, I harbored the hope that it would be noble, worthy of the sacrifice of my entire physical being to it.
Fifteen-year-old Matías José de la Cruz, apprenticing as a carpenter with his uncle, ran his hands over the lumber in the family sawmill, gauging which of the newly created boards would more suit his new project. Selecting those his hands found smooth yet supple, good for carving, he loaded them onto his father’s wagon and deposited them across two sawhorses in the shed he used for his woodworking. As young as he was, his reputation grew with the few items he had made for friends and family: a kitchen table, some chairs, a workbench, simple projects which hadn’t presented any challenges.
This one was not difficult to make either, but it would be his most important, most worthy of expert talent and extraordinary touch. He would transform the lumber into a crucifix, one of the most sacred of symbols of their faith. He had chosen the most majestic, prodigious pine of the forest. He smiled as he ran his hands down the smooth wood and envisioned it evolving from what it was now to what it would become.
The project had been requested by his father, el Hermano Mayor, the highest-ranking brother of the lay confraternity known as los Hermanos Penitentes, the Penitent Brothers. The brotherhood, existing in some Spanish-speaking cultures around the world, was especially active in northern New Mexico in the early nineteen hundreds. Known for their leadership of rural communities in both service and religion, they also piqued public interest because of their spiritual rituals enacted behind the locked doors of their moradas, prayer houses. Because non-members were excluded, sensationalistic rumors spread that they did unspeakable things in the name of self-penance. On Holy Thursday every Lent, one brother played the part of Christ and carried the crucifix from the morada to the cemetery where the road was lined with descansos, small pillars of rock, for each station of the cross. This re-enactment, attended by the community, played into people’s imaginations about what los Hermanos did to themselves on those Lenten nights behind closed doors.
The cross they had carried until now had exhausted its purpose after decades of use, which was why Matías’ father wanted a replacement. Matías knew his creation would be the focal point of everyone’s eyes on that Jueves Santo, and he was determined it would be his best work yet. Nothing could be more sacred, though carving his own cross to carry in processions when his time to be initiated into the brotherhood would be a close second.
Every day after school, Matías retreated to his shed to work on his project, talking to the seven-foot-long and heavy board that would be the pillar the Hermano playing the part of Christ would carry on his back.
“You will be a masterpiece,” Matías told the post. “You will play an important role in the brotherhood’s processions. You will draw the eyes of everyone.”
He didn’t know his words penetrated the very heart that was left intact of the original giant of the forest. The heat his fingers felt coming from the wood as he rubbed it smooth with sandpaper he attributed to the friction. He didn’t know the lumber vibrated inside with the pleasure it retained from knowing it would have a special purpose.
Matías took his time fashioning the cross with his special touch and attention to detail, hand-carving scenes from the stations along the front and back of the cross-sections. No one had asked for these features, but he answered a compelling need inside himself to supply los Hermanos with a crucifix worthy of them. To Matías, los Hermanos deserved his reverence. He felt they were the closest to the apostles any human on earth could hope to reach. His self-doubts about his worthiness to become one of them became the conflict he struggled with internally and most intensely over the past year. He knew his time was close to becoming one of them, but he couldn’t see himself as deserving of the honor, not with his flaws.
Right before Lent, Matías called his father to the shed and showed off the finished product. Señor De la Cruz, tears brimming over, could find no words to express what his heart felt at the sight. The workmanship of his son’s artistry would suit the brotherhood’s needs for many years to come.
“Bien hecho,” el Hermano Mayor said, looking close up at the intricate details of the scenes etched into the wood. “We will have the padre bless it next time he gives mass.”
Matías nodded, but inside his body quaked with the approval in those two curt words:
Well done. A second later, the unspoken question in his father’s eyes turned him cold: Will you be ready to join us this year?
Matías watched his father carrying the crucifix over his shoulder to deposit it in the wagon for the short ride to the chapel midway between the cemetery and the prayer house where it would stand in a corner to await its blessing. The voice in his head echoed the question. Will you? It will symbolize your emergence into manhood from childhood. Are you ready?
The double doors of the capilla closed, pulled shut by the hands of el Hermano Mayor, the lock clicking into place before he removed the key. The interior lay in the muted sunlight coming in through hand-made curtains with crocheted hems. I came to awareness there in an atmosphere of silence meant for introspection and devout prayer. I stood to the right of the entry beside a large bin of wood filled and ready to feed the box stove in the center of the space between door and pews. A wide aisle between two columns of wooden pews led to the altar. Saints, crosses, candles, and statues of Mother and Child, Mother holding dying Son, and various other religious relics stood in no particular pattern. The rustic simplicity pleased me. There was a sacredness to the place, a peace I missed from when I towered atop the mountain.
The day I was brought down, I ascertained I was now at the bottom in the valley I had viewed every day. Day after day, the young man laid his hands on me in one way or another, with a small ax and wood carving tools, sandpaper, a soft cloth. His confident touch gave me no apprehension. I knew whatever he did to me would be pleasing to the eye. The young carpenter spoke to me as he worked. I knew from his fastidious attention to detail and his scrutiny of his handiwork I was intended for a special purpose. I tried to make him feel the joy he gave me by exuding a warmth from deep within me.
Day after day, I looked forward to seeing my visage in the reflection of his eyes. Where before I had been a round trunk of great size, then transformed into long blocks of wood, I was changed again into a cross, some symbol the people seemed to associate with their beliefs in the same power as I. The someone, the all-powerful who created us all. That realization gave me gratification deep in my heart, what was left of me. From a giant of a tree, I emerged as a thing of beauty, intricate carvings adorning my exterior, while the inside of me remained unchanged. I had been grateful to be alive in the shell I had been given and in that place where I spent the first century of life. I was now overjoyed to be of service to man as a symbol of hope for them for however much time I had left.
The heart of me which had been carved by the young man’s hands rejoiced for myself. But my keen sense of empathy allowed me to read into his eyes. They revealed an internal conflict I hoped perhaps to influence into giving him the spiritual awakening he so craved. I had to try; we were bound, he and I. There was no putting it off. It was time for his evolution as it had been mine from the moment he had cut me down.
Matías accepted the congratulatory handshakes of the community, los Hermanos especially, that next Sunday morning when the parish priest came to give mass. The crucifix had been blessed and carried to the altar as a gift to Santo Niño, for which the chapel had been named. Each man looked him in the eyes as they gripped hands after the mass, and Matías knew they all shared the same inquiry as that of his father. The men lined up to take the cross from the capilla to the morada on foot. They walked down the dirt road in a procession of two rows behind Matías’ father carrying the crosspiece in the lead. They took turns moving up behind him, taking up the bottom of the long, heavy crucifix to lighten his load. He watched for a moment, picturing himself at the end of the procession. Then he left for home with a niggling reminder in his heart that before Lent he had to decide if he was ready for his initiation ceremony.
The cold of February gave way to a warm spell on that Ash Wednesday, the day marking the beginning of Lent. The prayers at the morada held a special significance that year. Matías became an Hermano before the night was over. The initiation he had been anticipating with the dread of the unknown passed instead into an internal satisfaction with himself that he had accepted Christ as his Savior with a deep consciousness of what it entailed. Of course, he had been baptized and confirmed, but he had been only months old and ignorant of the significance. Even his catechism and subsequent communion ceremony had been somewhat superficial, a rite of passage he was required to undergo, with a slightly more depth of understanding as a teen. But becoming an Hermano set him apart from his peers. A certain respect and a reverence for what he represented made even his best friends heed their words and govern their behavior lest they disappoint him. Matías finally understood the significance of his emergence from boy to man.
Much time passed as I grew old and weathered. The delicate carving of biblical scenes on my crosspiece had faded with the constant touch of los Hermanos’ hands over the many, many trips of the sun and the moon. While I stood against the back wall of the prayer room in the morada for long periods, I was taken out for special ceremonies. I was the centerpiece of the brotherhood’s attention during a time they called la Cuaresma, Lent. I came to understand when the morada’s doors and windows remained open and the fresh spring breeze blew through the three rooms for that duration, and my core throbbed with renewed energy from the excited noise of the men, women, and children of the community.
Each Lent I looked forward to a special day they called Jueves Santo when an Hermano carried me at the front of a procession from the morada to the capilla, the campo santo, and then back again. I was the center of every eye on this day, and I sensed my importance more, but not in a self-aggrandizing way. It was a deep honor to be a part of the community. I knew I symbolized something great, something beyond my ken.
But this afternoon, with Matías now an old man at the edge of passing into the afterlife, carrying the cross despite his brothers’ protests, I sensed this day would end unexpectedly. The old Hermano bore the brunt of my weight on his shoulders and upper back, but it was made more bearable by his brothers. They shuffled along close by, shifting one out for the other after every Station of the Cross when they stopped to kneel in the dirt and pray. In this manner, each brother held the cross, three at a time beside and behind Matías, and all shared the burden of man’s sins as they walked.
A short rest after they returned to the chapel preceded the brothers finishing the procession to the morada where they ate their last supper together and prayed behind the locked doors. I had seen the Verónicas who came when the men rested earlier to leave pots kept warm on the stove and dishes filled with food, the table laid, and the rooms spotless. The women’s society—the wives, mothers, sisters of los Hermanos—served as an auxiliary to the brotherhood with their own leader and rules of conduct. They were freer in their discourse around me than the men when they cleaned the prayer house, and I was privy to their thoughts more than those of los Hermanos.
They and the rest of the community members were invited to attend the final ceremony
marking Christ’s last day on earth. The people walked by lantern from their homes to the morada. I remember seeing this display of bobbing illuminations from the mountain top. Groups and lines of lights traveled winding paths, single shining dots joined them at junctures, and the large body of lights made its way to the morada where I stood at the front of the altar with Santa Muerte to my left. The carved effigy sat perpetually poised in a small picket fence enclosure with an arrow pointed at any who stood before her. She faced me across the room every day since my usual location was against the opposite wall from her.
In the darkest hour of the night, the ceremony began with the lighting of thirteen candles placed along a triangular-shaped candelabra about five feet long standing on a four-foot-high pedestal. The candles, symbolic of Christ and His twelve apostles, illuminated the room with a soft, deceptive peace. We all knew the flames would be extinguished one by one, plunging us into the deepest black both physically and spiritually, evoking a most intense personal penance.
This was the most horrible and holy of nights, Las Tinieblas, the Earthquake Ceremony. It took us all back in time to listen and to participate in our own ways. Each attendee, whether Hermano, a Verónica, or layperson, chose the method best for them to experience with most poignancy the night of Christ’s death. Following each prayer, the mournful chanting of the alabados, like dirges, sent chills up our spines.
“Mother Mary, look at Your Son…see the cross on His shoulders…His body bathed in blood…His head crowned with thorns…His final day has come…”
I felt the human pain as I envisioned the scenes of that day in the flickering of the candles on the walls. As though they cast shadows of those acts so many years before on the night of Christ’s death, those humans felt the pain of culpability which they projected toward me, the physical cause of their Maker’s mortal suffering.
Since my evolution, I had felt revered by the community. Only on the nights in all those years of performing Las Tinieblas was I made to feel abhorrent. I deflected their pain, accepting the reverence they also felt deep inside. I was a symbol of death, but also of the redeeming Passion and resurrection. I stood tall as after each alabado, a candle was extinguished. The act brought more darkness into the room as though it physically and slowly wrapped a shawl over us all or perhaps a death shroud, I ascertained after this night.
By midnight, we would experience His descent into hell when the last candle went out. The complete and utter darkness of the shuttered room, cloying with the scent of wax and incense, stifling with the fifty or sixty people crammed into the rooms—all contributed to the atmosphere of hell. The human wails and swift whooshes of whips, snapping and striking skin, the rapid turning of the multiple and different sized matracas, the noisy clackers, made the ears hurt. The cacophony symbolic of the chaos that is hell lasted only minutes, but always, always penetrated my heart, the heart of the tree I once was.
Our internal pain made worse by the doleful alabados, sung by los Hermanos, sent many of the women into tears. The children cried because their mothers did, and I thought perhaps they too sensed the solemnity of the ritual in their own ways. Then by some unspoken signal I didn’t understand, all quieted. One by one, the candles’ flames brought light and peace into the room, kerosene lanterns were lit, children quieted at mothers’ shushes, and deep breaths restored life to the prayer house. Quiet conversation, some with nervous, shaking voices, commenced.
Usually, no one lingered. The rooms were straightened out, the fires banked, candles and lanterns extinguished for the last time that night. The Hermano Mayor locked the door, and the humans left me alone again in the dark with la Muerte on her stool directly across from me.
This night was an anomaly I hope I never witness again. Bittersweet with great sadness and joyful rejoicing, the end of another beginning had started sometime during our clamorous man-made hell. Matías had evolved for the final time. Santa Muerte had aimed and penetrated the heart of the old man. But it was I who caused his death. Although it pained me greatly to know I played a crucial role in transforming him, I acknowledged our connection had been inevitable.
He had changed me for good, and I had repaid him by transforming him into something better. The wailing and the praying commenced. The fast preparations for the wake of the long night ahead ensued. I observed from my place in back of the prayer room, but I knew only the shell of the man remained. I knew Matías had already emerged from the morada with wings.
Carmen Baca retired in 2014 from teaching high school and college English for thirty-six years. Her command of English and use of her regional Spanish dialect contribute to her story-telling style. Her debut novel El Hermano published in April of 2017 and became a finalist in the NM-AZ book awards program in 2018. Her third book, Cuentos del Cañón, received first place for short story fiction anthology in 2020 from the same program. To date, she has published 5 books and close to 50 short works in literary journals, ezines, and anthologies. She and her husband live a quiet life in the country caring for their animals and any stray cat that happens to come by.
"Beast of Cabo Rojo"
1st Place Extra Fiction Contest
Attack of Las Quetas
by Toni Margarita Plummer
The dermatologist lifts the gown as she needs to, checking my limbs, my stomach, my back. Her hands are pleasantly cool, and she speaks intermittently of the various marks and spots on my body.
“This is fine.”
“I’m not worried about this.”
When she is finished, I sit up on the crinkly tissue paper and pull the gown closed over my chest. Dr. Baer is attractive, with blond hair, fair skin, and a wide face that needs no makeup. I detect a very slight accent. Maybe Eastern European. She hardly smiles, and I wonder if she thinks Americans like me smile too much.
I first met her two years ago, when I felt something buried in my right palm. She numbed my hand, dug out the mass while I looked away, and stitched me up. When I returned later to have the stitches removed, the nurse praised the perfectly even sutures. Now Dr. Baer has opened up her own office.
“If you come back this month, we’re giving facials half off with all skin cancer screenings.”
I am used to getting my facials done at a salon under the 7 train where a woman threads my eyebrows in quick, heated licks and squeezes the pores on my nose until I want to curse, all for $20 and a tip. Rather than ask the price of the discounted facial, I say, “That’s okay.”
“Just call if you change your mind.” Dr. Baer zeroes in on my face. “I see some extractions I could make.”
I nod politely, sure I will not call. The word “extraction” takes me back to geology class, where we learned about removing things from the ground, usually valuable things.
“What about these?” She catches me off-guard, her hand moving to my neck. “Have you thought of removing them?”
My hand follows hers, finding the familiar nubs. It had not occurred to me to ever ask a doctor about my longtime skin malady.
“Insurance wouldn’t cover it because it’s cosmetic, but I could remove them for $100. I’d freeze them off. You have a lot so we could do it over two visits.”
I have not been keeping up with my neck situation, and the idea of having someone else take care of it is appealing. I agree, and she finally smiles.
I don’t remember when they first appeared. But one day I must have noticed them. Then I noticed the necks of my great aunts, which were spotted with dark pouches of skin, some quite plump and shiny like rubber. Las tías were sedentary women, keeping to the shade during family parties, sometimes erupting into cackles over a joke in Spanish I did not understand. I spoke little to them, my mother serving as the link between generations by handing me clothes they had crocheted for my dolls and telling me to say gracias.
Mamá’s neck was also afflicted, but I learned she had a way of dealing with it. She began sitting me down at the kitchen table every several months. She would pull out a long, dark hair from her hairbrush and make a slipknot. I’d tip my head back, exposing my neck like a supplicant of Dracula, and she would slip the hair-lasso over one of the little sacs and pull until it stung. I was always happy to feel that sting. It meant she’d caught one. She’d pull more hairs from the brush and tie up the rest, whichever ones were not too small and close to the skin. And then she’d take the scissors and snip the ends of the hairs so they wouldn’t hang so long. Out in public, I would cover my neck, and over a few days the strangled sacs would harden, go dark. It was easy then to pinch them off. Sometimes I would drive my nail through their centers and feel them come apart like earth.
Some might call them skin tags. A date I had in college called them growths. You could even call them tumors, technically. But I always preferred my mother’s word for them—las quetas. Short for etiquetas de la piel. I led a mostly English life, but that was one of the words I did not translate.
I accepted las quetas as my inheritance, like my dark, straight hair and long eyelashes. They were passed down through generations of women. Women of Mexican extraction.
Mamá did not want me to move out. She thought I should live with her until I got married, whenever that might be, like my engaged brother was. But I was eager to be out on my own. In my new apartment, I tried to do what my mother did and tend to my quetas like weeds in a garden. But I did not know how to do a slipknot. Foolishly, I double-knotted my ties, an inferior method. The hairs came undone before I even got in the shower. Most of las quetas were impossible for me to grab hold of in the first place, because of the incompatible angle of my hands and neck. I’d stand in front of the mirror, frustrated at another failed attempt, longing for Mamá’s hands at the same time I cursed this trait. I was reluctant to ask her for help. The ritual tying of las quetas was never scheduled. It was just something that happened when we were both home at night. She would gather her supplies and beckon me, “Míramos tus quetas.” And the reason I was not home at night anymore was because I had chosen to leave, against her wishes.
The proliferation of las quetas weighed on me. I would find myself tugging on them. They itched. I considered simply cutting them with scissors. But when I raised the blades to my skin, I imagined a fount of blood pouring out my neck, saw myself passed out on the floor, my unsympathetic landlord standing over my body and telling himself he would keep my deposit.
My brother’s wedding was in a few months, and he had cruelly informed me that las quetas could not count as my anonymous plus one. So Dr. Baer’s offer was well-timed. That is what I thought at first.
For the first round of cryotherapy, Dr. Baer approaches me with a pressurized metal can. She aims the little straw pointing out of it like a gun. “Ready?”
She said we were freezing them, but it burns. It burns like hell. I am grateful I won’t have to endure the scorching of them all in one visit. My neck on fire, my mind turns to thrift. There doesn’t seem to be much technique involved. I try to sneak glances at the lettering on the can. Is this something I can buy myself and enlist a twisted friend to wield?
“All right. You’re all set. You can make the next appointment a few weeks from today.”
“Will there be scaring?” It’s a silly question coming after the fact, but I can’t help myself.
“There shouldn’t be. But if there is, I can take care of that too.”
Back in the waiting room, I see myself in the mirror. The red-hot riot of my neck. Mamá’s tying was a gentle smothering by comparison. This is something different. It is chemical warfare. It is cigarette burns. My neck is inflamed, but the result is the same. Over a few days, las quetas harden and fall off. A smooth neck is within reach.
The second visit begins like the first. It is no less painful, and I find it hard to believe there are still so many left.
Finally Dr. Baer steps back. “One more to go.” She hands me a mirror and points at the brown spot just below my collarbone.
“Is that one of them?” I ask, feeling the familiar bump. The skin is slightly raised there, the spot shaped like a cameo. It is nothing like the ones on my neck. There is no stalk, nothing to pull.
Dr. Baer nods, her blue eyes boring into mine.
I imagine how the burn will feel there, on my chest, but I also think of that mark missing. It’s the mark I see in the mirror every day, in pictures of myself. For it to disappear… “No thank you, I need to keep that one.”
She watches me, and I instinctively finger my remaining queta, protective.
At last she sighs, as though she is the one who has been getting her neck singed the past fifteen minutes, and sets the can back on the counter. “You’re all done.”
I know my future sister-in-law’s favorite color is red, but a red bridesmaid dress strikes me as tacky. Make it red tulle on red satin, and you have something unholy.
The dresses are sleeveless, so we wear tulle shawls to cover our bare shoulders during the church ceremony. In the church restroom, I remove the itchy fabric, glad to be free of it. But my relief vanishes when I see my neck has broken out in some kind of rash. It must be the cheap fabric of the shawl. We’re about to take group photos, so I have but little choice to redon the offensive garment. A rashy neck would not be tolerated.
We arrive at the reception hall for cocktail hour, and my neck is flaming. I don’t want to remove the shawl though. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I flee to the restroom, certain I am breaking out in hives. There I see it’s worse than I feared. I am bright red, and not just that, but I see something small, something brown on my neck. It can’t be, I think. They were all gone. But it’s there, and as I watch it, it grows.
I think I must be seeing things. But la queta is there, and it is becoming too big to be imagined. Panicked, I run into a stall and sit on the toilet seat. Someone knocks on the door.
“Estás bien?” My eardrums are pounding with blood, and I can’t even make out the voice.
“Sí! I’m fine!” I am not fine, but what can I say? I nuked my quetas and now they are returning to exact revenge?
La queta continues to balloon. I can feel it. I will die here, I know. I will die a virgin sitting on a toilet in an unbecoming dress. La queta will grow until it absorbs me, the lesser lifeform.
But the stall door bursts open. There stand las tías, and by their faces I can tell they mean business. Without hesitation, one punctures the giant queta with her crochet needle while another ropes it with a loop of yarn and the rest of the women yank. I think I am going to pass out from terror when there is a deafening pop and blood splatters us all. Grasping my neck, I look down to see the severed queta lying on the floor.
My mother steps out from behind las tías and looks at it on the tile. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”
“How did you know?” I ask, gasping, incredulous.
Tia Meche, the eldest, scoffs. “Mi’ja, tú eres una de nosotras. No necesitas decir nada.”
Mamá pulls me out of the stall and holds my hands out to the sides. “At least the blood blends in with your dress.” Las tías start to cackle.
Toni Margarita Plummer was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant mother and white father. She is the author of the story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe, won Honorable Mention for the 2019 Reynolds Price Prize in Fiction given by the Center for Women Writers, and was a finalist for the inaugural Tomas Rivera Book Prize. A Macondo Fellow and graduate of the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC, she is a contributor to the anthologies East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte and Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity. Plummer lives in the Hudson Valley.
Extra Extra Fiction!
Of the 2019 contest's two honorary mentions, the judge Ernest Hogan said:
"My Many Faces by Venetia Sjogren provides a snapshot of a Latinx identity crisis, and Nous Somme Dans Une Texte by David Vela presents a Latinx in Paris, a fish out of water, as are we all. The both deserve their honorable mentions."
Check out the rest of the judges thoughts on the contest at La Bloga at Hogan's column Chicanonautica, for all things Latinoid and Science Fiction.
My Many Faces