"Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets."
Death Eye Dog
by Michelle Robles-Wallace
"Death Eye Dog" was a runner up in the 2018 Extra Fiction Contest. See here to read the first, second, and third winning entries and stay tuned for this year's upcoming Extra Fiction Contest.
Mictlán, barren land of darkness and skeletons, the deepest level of the underworld, rests nine worlds beneath our own. The dead take a full four years to journey there; the living never go. At the first level of the underworld, the Mexica dead, if they are lucky, pick up a dog to guide them through the harrowing dangers of the underworld.
Houses are lonely when they are no longer homes and nightfall makes the emptiness rattle. Raul walks in the night with his dog. He wears too-big, hooded sweatshirts that hide his face in darkness. This part of San Francisco is grey. The fog dampens the cold, streetlights dim the darkness and the smell of urine rises thick from the pavement. The only glitter comes from the glass chips in the sidewalk that shine in the momentary light of passing cars.
Raul walks smooth and towers over most people on the street. His arms are heavy and solid; his eyes are tired and full of unshed tears. He carries arrugas on his face so deep they sometimes appear as folds. He lives alone; even when among friends and family, he resists communion. Solid as his name, stonecold, like a fallen star who has forgotten how to shine. It is as if he wears a cloak, a tangle of scars of loss that hide the glow of his heart.
Passersby slink away from the walking duo.
Death Eye Dog sinks over the horizon with the morning light. Xolotl, the evening star, hangs heavy in the night sky, demands notice as soon as the bright rays of the sun sink beneath the horizon.
Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets.
Blind, Xolotl guided his brother, Morning Star, into the depths of Mictlán after the Fourth Sun ended in flood. The waters washed all the dead to the underworld, returning the people to their spiritual home of darkness. None were left to remake the world of the Fifth Sun anew. Morning Star, Quetzlcoatl, guided by Evening Star, Xolotl, descended to Mictlán, land of darkness and skeletons. Human bones covered the ground. Quetzlcoatl slashed his wrists, anointing the bones with his life-giving blood.
Xolotl, Death Eye Dog, gathered up the bones in his mouth, carried them from the underworld back to the material world to remake mankind in the fifth and final age of the Sun.
Raul knew a different life before this life he lives now. He had a wife, he had a daughter: he had a home. They are as gone now as if the flood of the Fourth Sun had come and washed them away.
Untethered, he never cried, gritted his teeth instead and convinced himself not to feel. Stonecold. Emotion oozes out the cracks though, or explodes in sudden unpredictable bursts. The dog was to take the edge off alone, off loss, off untethered.
His pit bull is rowdy. Rambunctious. They hold the opposite ends of the leash and pull and pull and pull. Neither ever gives in, even when Raul raises his arm up over his head hauling the dog several feet off the ground.
Raul lowers him down, lays his broad hand on the dog’s head. He doesn’t push down but lets its weight be enough to make the dog submit and release the leash.
His submissions are only momentary: he knows who is boss, but only in the practical matters of food and shelter. That pit never stops being his own dog. He mischieves all the time.
The dog too is big, he is lean and narrow, but tall, taller than pit bulls are expected to be. Raul and the dog’s eyes are the same color hazel, only the dog’s are full of joy and love and play.
A gap begs a bridge between the two, a guided path from the terrible cloak of Raul’s to the dog’s incorrigible joy. Raul ought to be blind with tears by now, instead his eyes hang heavy at the edges, as if carrying a great weight. He goes about now in a darkness as bleak as Mictlán, in a darkness as tight as a straitjacket.
From Mictlán it is possible to rise again as butterfly or bird, to resurrect oneself.
From loss it is possible to rebuild your life.
Winter rebirths spring swells into summer sheds into autumn returns to the barrenness of winter.
Wintertime, darktimes, where it appears that all is lost and nothing moves are crucial times. The earth restores during winter. Its faith never flails at the darkest time of night, during that hour before the sun sets a blood red glow on the horizon, knowing that it must arrive at those dark depths before bursting forth into spring.
Too, to rebirth from the underworld, the dead must first arrive at the depths of Mictlán.
Raul got his dog after he returned from family back to one. Something warm and alive to love in the hardest time of unknowing what next, something to care for when the dawn was nothing to set his cap at, a guide for the darkest parts of night. He lacks the morning star, the blood of life that ushers in a new dawn.
Stonecold, Raul forgets to look for the sun rising, for the red glow on the horizon. He spends his days waiting for it to be night and the night to be day, until the time that will pass, does. He tries to form a new family, one of friends, stopgaps living with partying, something to fill the time and space. The gap between he and the dog becomes an abyss, slowly, like water run through a crevice carves out a canyon.
Raul and his dog walk up 21st street, past the crowded-at-night basketball courts, the stoops where people sit, talking, drinking and hollering out to passersby. He had set out for a walk to take the chill off alone, but the darkness presses tight. They turn onto Mission, head over to a bar where a friend bartends. Raul ties his dog up outside and walks in to where a beer and a shot of tequila are sliding across the bar to him as soon as his shadow fills the doorway.
It is Guillermo’s bar, meaning, the bar where Guillermo works, not a bar that Guillermo owns. The lights are dim and throw a reddish cast to the bar, except for the bright white light that highlights the rows of bottles. There they are, working and playing, all his crew, and Miguel shouts, “Eh, man, where’d you crawl out from. You missed a great party last week, ha! Ask Devon ‘bout it,” then starts laughing maniacally, like a machine gun. Raul asks, and Guillermo sets out a row of shot glasses, fills them with tequila and then everyone reaches in and grabs one, throws them back and then gets back to work on their beers.
Devon launches into a story, “So this girl, I see her and she looks amazing and she’s alone so I give her a lil’ tap, just a tap not even on her ass, but on her hip, and then this guy over on the couch starts glaring at me and comes over and pushes me across the table,” and Guillermo starts laughing, “and I came in and—”
“Dude, shut up, I’m telling the story and—,”
And Raul’s eyes are lit up, anointed by the liquor, “Hey Guillermo, how about another round over here,” because that’s what they do, is keep going until Guillermo calls last call and then the crowd spills out onto the street, leaving just him and his boys and they head into the back and do some lines and their speech becomes sharp like knives and their laughter like metal and they leave, finally, and head over to where Miguel knows somebody spinning and it’s going to be good, man, and they go and they stay, inside in the dark cut with bright pulsating lights even while sun rises, bloodred, spilling dawn over the land.
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace is working on a collection of short stories set along the borderlands, a memoir and a YA novel. She has published short fiction, CNF and journalism and is particularly interested in themes of healing and borders. She has an MFA and is the recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artists Grant, a Writers' Grotto Writing Fellowship, and hosted the Borderlands Lectura.
by Carmen Baca
"La Muñeca" was a runner up in the 2018 Extra Fiction Contest
See here to read the first, second, and third winning entries and stay tuned for this year's upcoming Extra Fiction Contest.
The redness of the flames stood out vividly against the blackness of the night. They rose from the open windows of the façade of the building front like multi-colored streamers from the Día de los Muertos celebrations in their varied hues of red, orange, yellow, even green and blue closer to the source of the fire. As if the Devil and his armies were celebrating some spectacular event in the old, formerly grand hotel, the sporadic flashes from within announced with small explosions that something else had just been consumed by the hungry beast. The roar was like nothing before heard in the town center, only on the outskirts if one stood close to the rail line when the Big Chief passenger train rushed through without stopping. If Hades could be imagined by humans, perhaps then this came close. Sudden flares rose through the roof and burst into flying embers and sparks rivaling the best Fourth of July fireworks display.
Flames rose so high in the sky that night that people who lived in the hilly area south of the town could see, and many a head of the household left their comfy casitas to rush to the rescue while others simply went to have first-hand reports to tell anyone who would listen in the days to come. That is the way of human nature: some true altruists rush into the fray without stopping to consider their own safety while others seek their fifteen minutes of fame by being the center of attention when news, mitote (gossip,) or innuendo of any kind presents itself. It wasn’t until these two kinds of people reached the town plaza that they discovered the majestic and historic Casa Encantada was so engulfed in flames that they didn’t think even one wall would survive.
Earlier, three permanent inhabitants of the hotel began their day in their normal fashion: conversation, introspection, and reflection. They wandered through the halls and rooms of the building without constraint and only caused small gasps or shivers in the people they encountered occasionally. The younger of the trio loved yerba buena which she found growing in the patio and enjoyed blowing a breath of mint-scented air in the faces of the people she passed in the hall just for fun to watch their eyes widen, their mouths fall open, and their bodies shake themselves like a dog after taking a swim. Aside from curling up in the window alcove with a good book, that was one of the ways she entertained herself since going to school or anywhere else was out of the question.
When darkness began to replace the dusk of the late afternoon, the girl’s two adult companions sat in the parlor of the suite they inhabited. The lady’s laughter trickling from the second floor was so lovely it sounded like crystal chimes in a light breeze to the young man walking below the open window. When he glanced up, she moved back into the room. “Not again,” she giggled. “Reminds me of how I almost gave myself away when you caused Nicola to stumble upon the staircase the day of the quinceañera. I was afraid she was going to fall and hurt herself—all because you wanted a better vantage point.”
“That was a close one,” her husband, Señor Theodoro Barela, agreed. “I tried to push against her with my arm so she wouldn’t fall forward. I was trying to get out of the woman’s view, but she still caught my image in her camera.”
“You are not the only one in the photographs,” Señora Romulda Barela added with sudden solemnity. “The photo of the three of us must have caused much consternation among Nicola’s people.”
The young subject of their discourse walked into the room, carrying her rag doll in one arm as she usually did. Had she lived with her parents, it was unlikely she’d still be attached to the special symbol of what she’d left behind. She sat on the settee, the very same one where she’d been pretending to sleep when the couple appeared before her and asked if she was ready to join them that night several years before.
“That’s the one action I still have difficulty feeling good about,” Nicola sighed. “That I caused my mother such pain by leaving with you that night.”
The couple exchanged a concerned glance.
Nicola looked out the window down at the plaza and the townspeople of Mariposa. “But I’m sure the pain she would’ve felt seeing me get sicker every day with an incurable illness would’ve been worse. I’m content to be here with you and to catch an occasional glimpse of her when she comes to the plaza.”
The three sat in pensive silence as they watched the people of the town come and go in the early coolness of the evening. They were unable to leave the confines of the hotel, but they spent much of their days by the windows looking at people doing simple activities like walking, window shopping, visiting with others on the park benches, or playing with their children and pets on the green lawns in the summers or in the pristine snow of the winters. The couple had inhabited the hotel for over a hundred years while the girl had only been there for five. They were ghosts of the people they once were, but they existed just as sure as any of the humans they observed. Theirs was a quiet afterlife, and they were as content as they could be, given their circumstances.
But the trio didn’t know their happy ethereal existence in the historic hotel was about to come to an end. Left unattended for but a few minutes, hot grease in a skillet bubbled up and splattered on a dish towel someone had carelessly left by the stove. The chef and his two assistants were in the stockroom nearby taking inventory and preparing a grocery list. None knew a grease fire was searching for oxygen in the kitchen. By the time one of the men smelled the burning oil and they scrambled back into the cocina to tackle the flames, some had already begun to consume the nearby window curtains. The busboy opening the swinging door to the dining area created just the right amount of air flow to fan the hungry beast. With a sudden whoosh, the starving fire flashed into an explosion and before anyone could take action, the blaze engulfed the entire room.
The conflagration found more air through the open door to the dining area and the sparks jumped like lively, devilish creatures from furniture to carpet. Freed from any constraints, the embers soon followed, rolling along the wood floor and leaving more sparks to ignite. The employees at and around the reservation desk heard the roar of the hungry monster. Just as their attention flew in the direction of the wide entrance to the dining room, they felt the heat and saw the rising swirls of black smoke coming toward them at the same time the tongues of searing flames burst through. Cries of alarm rose in crescendo like the fire truck would only a few minutes later. Everyone rushed to the bar behind the reservation desk and ran through the exit to raise the cry of “Fire!”
The fire department was just down the block, but by the time the small engine got into place, the entire first floor was rapidly being devoured by the hungry conflagration. The guests and employees in the upper four stories evacuated quickly through the exterior fire escapes, so not a soul was lost that they knew of. Most of the back of the building suffered most of the damage when all was over. But the water damage and the blows of the bomberos’ axes made the building uninhabitable. The Casa Encantada closed its doors that day, leaving the three spiritual inhabitants alone.
Afterward, it stood abandoned but fenced in to prevent hoboes from attempting to live there and to deter any of the neighborhood adolescents from daring one another to explore, to vandalize, and most importantly, to become hurt by the fragility of the frame. Of the former classic and sophisticated building, only the front remained, like a painted façade of a movie set with nothing much behind to hold it up. The rear was reduced to a skeleton; in some areas only the basic framework of the exterior walls still stood. The wood was blackened, charred so badly in some places one had only to give a slight push and it cracked, splintered, and fell. During the night sometimes in the slightest breeze, neighbors heard the crash of another piece of lumber and shook their heads in dismay that the city leaders didn’t just tear it all down before someone was hurt.
Several months later Señor and Señora Barela and their young charge, Nicola, sat in the small space left relatively untouched by the fire, the parlor where they’d been conversing when the blaze began.
“Are we to reside here in this one cramped room for the rest of eternity?” Nicola asked, plopping down on her favorite window seat with her doll in her lap.
“Since we can’t leave this building, I don’t see any alternative, mi hita,” the elder man replied. “You know we have tried to go beyond our limited confines and what happens when we do.”
The lady sighed and shook her head. “Esposo querido, I cannot stay here, not like this.” She stood and waved her hand to the charred and water-damaged walls. “I am sure this frame will fall before long or will be torn down by the town fathers. It is time to leave this earth and welcome what awaits us in the next phase of our existence. Please, join me in this, mi amor.”
Sadness came to his face and made its home in the dying sparkle of his eyes, the downward turn of his lips, and in the resigned shrug of his shoulders as he finally nodded in acquiescence. “You are right. I know you are. We’ve spent too much time here already and have been of assistance to only a few others from this place.”
He recalled the custodian whom they’d saved over seventy years ago and who had already made his way to his own afterlife. There was also the hobo who’d come into the patio nearly fifty years before and also left his earthly existence for what came after only ten years later. There were several others, but nowhere as many had they been in a larger city and been able to leave the confines of the hotel. So much time had passed, neither he nor his wife could even remember why they were restricted to the walls of the previously large and comfortable building they called home for over a century.
“When would you like to go?”
“Well, we’ve made up our minds. What’s wrong with tomorrow? Let us enjoy our last night here, for we don’t know whether we will be together after we leave.”
“I guess I’m ready too,” Nicola sighed. Her face was a reflection of the man’s, her eyes sad and her mouth trembling from the cries which gathered in the back of her throat.
The older couple comforted her as best they could, trying to be optimistic about their future together even though neither knew what was ahead. They’d lived good lives on earth when they were alive and expected that surely what they’d done as spiritual beings would count for something. They never knew why they had been unable to move forward previously, only existing to help those whom they could without question. The burning pyre which had consumed their home and their inability to move elsewhere on earth left them no choice but to move on.
The three spent the rest of the night in more conversation, reminiscing about their pasts with equal parts of laughter and sorrow until the fingers of the dawn began to part the curtains of darkness and sunrise was imminent. They enjoyed one last group hug, holding one another tightly and then moving to the first floor to stand before the front doors with clasped hands.
“Ready, my loves?” Señor Barela asked.
With Señor Barela on the left and his wife between them, Nicola clutched her precious muñeca in one arm, wondering if somehow, some way, the doll would accompany her to her next destination. Not wanting to let either of his companions’ hands go, the Señor touched the tip of his boot to each door to get them to open. They stepped outside into the welcome warmth of the sun and lifted their faces to the rays which enfolded the three for the first time since each had died. For only a moment they stood still, waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, they took a few steps more, and a few more until they reached the center of the park. They were allowed to feel the sunlight on their faces and arms, to take deep breaths of the freshness of the air, and to enjoy one last time the feel of the grass beneath their feet, their sight of the green foliage and trees and the bountiful and beautiful hues and scents of the flowers—and they were gone. No fanfare of angels’ trumpets, no clap of thunder, no opening in the clouds revealed the stairway to heaven. But the gated doors opened wide, and the saints were there to welcome the couple as they passed.
Nicola was not so lucky. Perhaps the powers which govern life, death, and the afterlife decided it was not her time. Perhaps she had unfulfilled duties on earth. But when the señor and his señora ascended through the gates to meet their Maker and to receive answers to all their questions, she was not with them.
The neighborhood kids, Anselmo, Gabriel, and Guillermo, decided on a dare several weeks later to pass through a loose board in the fence which enclosed the remains of the hotel.
They were joined by the only girl they considered a friend, Carlotta, whom they called Charlie. Truthfully, she blackmailed them into letting her accompany them or they most likely would’ve left her behind. But there they were, the four of them, sneaking through the opening and prowling amongst the ruins for any treasures they might find. Of course, there wasn’t much on the ground. And everything was soot-covered, so touching anything left them with black fingers.
When Guillermo was the first to wipe his hand on his pants, it was Charlie who reminded him to “wash” the hollín off with dirt instead. Otherwise, their parents would all know where they’d been, and they wouldn’t be able to get away with coming back.
Other than a few coins, a couple of candle holders only partially melted, and a little metal box, they didn’t find much of value. Charlie went in one direction and the boys went opposite. She came upon a fallen chest of drawers, opening first one drawer after the other until she came to the last. A raggedy doll with only a touch of smoke damage looked up at her from the folds of a baby blanket in which it had been wrapped. She joined the boys shortly after.
“Look what I found,” she announced and held the doll up so they could see.
The boys were unimpressed, hoping she had found something of value they could pawn.
“Let’s use it for target practice,” Anselmo made to grab it with one hand while holding up his slingshot with the other.
“No!” Charlie yanked the doll to her chest to keep it safe. “I’m gonna give it to myhermanita.” And with that, she left the boys behind, taking the callejones behind the houses all the way home so no one would see her carrying a doll. She had her reputation to maintain.
Her little sister, Augusta, was only four. But she rarely spoke. She wasn’t mute, according to the doctors, nor was she simple-minded. She simply chose not to communicate with words when her actions could convey what she wanted. She had no friends since to be a friend requires some kind of communication, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she preferred her own company to that of others, except Charlie, and even then, only periodically, like when Charlie read to her at night or taught her to play jacks or some other game.
So when Charlie got home, she slipped quietly into the bathroom, washed the grime from the rag doll, and hung it to dry in her closet until the following day. That morning after breakfast, she found Augusta in her room quietly playing with her Susie Q doll. She presented the homely but somewhat homey muñeca to the little girl and told her the doll was special. She told Augusta she could tell the doll her secrets and the muñeca would keep them. Thinking that perhaps the doll could help to get the little one to talk more and perhaps be a conduit to communicating with other little girls, she made up a detail which she’d come to regret years later. She told Augusta the doll was magical and would help her learn to speak better.
From that day, the muñeca became Augusta’s constant companion. Charlie’s plan had backfired. Augusta didn’t want any human company once the doll came into her possession. She named it Esther, and when anyone asked how she came upon such an unusual choice, she always replied that the doll told her. After a month her parents thought perhaps the way she cared for, spoke to, and carried the thing everywhere was unhealthy. Truly, it appeared the doll communicated in some way as the child would whisper to it and incline her head as if listening to a quiet reply.
If the adults tried to take Esther away, Augusta’s cries were so forlorn they ended up giving it back before too long. Thinking they were making too much out of it, her parents convinced themselves she’d outgrow the muñeca with time or it would eventually fall apart. After all, it was a rag doll.
Another year passed and still Augusta and her Esther doll were constant companions.
Though her parents were dismayed that their daughter was still too attached to the thing and that said cosa had grown no more tattered or ragged than it was when she got it, they welcomed the opportunity which arose that would allow them to separate the two. The little girl started school, and her parents insisted she leave her doll behind. Between them, Charlie, and other well-meaning family members supplying various reasons why Nicola couldn’t accompany her to school, Augusta finally relented. But she explained in as little words as possible the reason why, and it had nothing to do with any of theirs: “Esther says it’s okay.”
While she was away at escuela, her mother, Guadalupita, Pita for short, did what many mothers did in the fifties— cleaned, cooked, and enjoyed her hobbies: sewing, gardening, and crocheting. Her life was fairly uneventful, and she enjoyed it that way. Her adolescent and early adult years had had traumatic events, so she was content to have nothing of importance to contend with—nothing with life or death issues. Would that she had been able to see the future. Oftentimes, life’s lessons come in hindsight, and sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to our instinct, our own intuition to heed those little hairs that rise on the back of our necks or on our arms when we get that feeling people call “someone passing over our graves.”
So when a few days after Augusta started school and the strange phenomenon began, she tried to shake off any concern. Pita, leaving the room Augusta shared with Charlie, caught in the corner of her eye something moving. The act happened so quickly that when she turned, it had stopped. There was no window where she looked, nothing like a fluttering curtain to have captured her attention. Blinking her eyes and attributing it to exhaustion or imagination, she forgot about it.
Until the next time a week later. And the time after that. And... She noted that every single time, the Esther doll was the object of her attention. There were instances where she’d leave the doll in one place only to discover it had moved. Telling herself she only forgot she’d left the thing there and instead had left it somewhere else, she tried to convince herself the muñeca had no powers.
But then she stopped a few weeks later to reflect about that: powers. Powers? She knew from the first she’d sensed in the doll something so mesmerizing her own daughter clung to it like a drug. Never far from the Esther doll, Augusta always kept it in her sight, perhaps afraid they’d try to sneak it away from her. When she held it, her little girl seemed to be at peace.
When she whispered to her doll, she inclined her head to place her ear close to its mouth as though listening closely to whatever she imagined (and surely it had to come from her imagination). And she wore such an expression of contentment that one would’ve thought the angels of the Lord were speaking to her. That was the moment of revelation for Guadalupita.
The doll wasn’t cursed; it was blessed. She didn’t know how or why, but if the doll insisted it was Esther and had such a positive influence on her daughter as to cause her to wear that look of bliss on her face, who was she to say otherwise? The muñeca hadn’t done anything, had not endangered Augusta or any of them. She’d merely satisfied some need in her daughter that human interaction or contact didn’t.
That very day she entered the girls’ bedroom and picked Esther up. Staring into her cross-stitched eyes, Pita was surprised to see a sort of compassion and when she held the doll close, it actually felt as if Esther’s little arms moved, as if she wanted to embrace the woman back. But instead of fear, a sudden and overwhelming feeling of absolute contentment came over her, as if the doll extended her sympathy for Pita’s past traumas and tried to offer empathy for what was and for what would come.
She tried and failed to explain to her husband later and resorted to leading him by the hand to the girls’ room, pushing him to sit on Charlie’s bed and placing Esther in his arms. She left him alone. It wasn’t long before he joined her in the kitchen where he put the beer back in the fridge and instead opted for a glass of cold water. The look on his face told her what she needed to know.
Since the girls were still at school, they rushed the doll to their parish priest and had him bless Esther for their own peace of mind. Father Carlos didn’t feel any kind of trepidation when he held it, and nothing happened at the church to any of them. Any concerns they had dissipated, and they were instead convinced they’d been right. They never spoke of what they did to their girls; they never mentioned it to anyone.
So the first two years of Augusta’s education passed without incident. She found school delightful and indeed made a few friends. Esther was still an important confidante, and both Charlie and Pita laughed between themselves that soon Augusta would confide in her doll about which boy she should return attention to of the upcoming suitors she’d be sure to attract.
That was not to be, however.
On the very anniversary of the day Señor and Señora Barela had entered their heavenly home, Augusta disappeared from her swing under the large apple tree in her family’s backyard. She was gone without a trace. Investigations from every jurisdiction in the city came together; searches yielded nothing. The parents, clearly heartbroken, were cleared. So were her sister, friends, neighbors, and even acquaintances. No suspects came to light, no leads developed—there was no closure, as they say. The entire town wanted to know what happened, especially in light of the disappearance of the little girl for that ill-fated quinceañera of five years before.
When Nicola’s parents heard about Augusta, they paid the De La Cruz parents a visit.
Nicola’s mother, Hortencia, disclosed that Esther was Nicola’s third name, her confirmation name. Her full name as recorded in her birth certificate was Nicola Frances Esther De La Cruz.
As for the muñeca, it was the one given to Nicola by the quinceañera herself, Marguerite Quintanilla, her own cousin. They proved it with a photograph from the event. Pita nearly fainted at the confirmation. Hortencia saw how deeply she had been affected and gave her one of three similar photos as a gesture of comfort.
However, no amount of rationalization on anyone’s parts could satisfy everyone with a plausible explanation—not the two sets of parents, not the authorities, nor the priest or the bishop when contacted. Sometimes those of us who live by our faith in a higher power have to accept that there are certain aspects of life, death, or the beyond which we do not have the capacity to understand. This was one of those times. No one could confirm what happened with Nicola or Augusta, or even with Esther, the muñeca, who had disappeared with her owner. The town fathers brought in their heavy equipment and their city employees and cleared out the remains of the hotel, sifting through every little pile to satisfy everyone that the girls and the doll were not somehow there. Though no rational explanation of why anyone thought they might was provided, it was something everyone wanted done.
There were only two mothers who shared a secret the next day after construction on the rebuilding of Casa Encantada began, which was the day after they had exchanged a special photograph. Before bed that night, Pita had sat with the photo in her hand. After a moment she felt a weight lift from her shoulders, and her headache, which had arrived with a vengeance the day her little girl went missing, also went away.
She felt at peace and went immediately to bed. In her dreams Augusta came to explain that the muñeca had held the spirit of the little girl who vanished before she did. She made her mother understand that Nicola would have spent her short life in the agony of a fatal illness, and that angels had offered her a way to escape into heaven to avoid not only her own pain, but that of her mother and father.
They would have been helpless to help her, which would have hurt them in so many ways. And she was afraid they’d experience hopelessness and lose their faith. Departing as she did allowed her to leave her parents with their faith that what happened would be part of God’s plan and accept it.
Nicola’s spirit had remained in the muñeca to offer the same help to the next little girl who was fated to meet her. Nicola confirmed that Augusta was soon to have become ill; she would’ve died before the end of the year. Nicola had done what she needed to leave this plane and emerge whole and healthy in the next; she saved another as she had been saved. As for the muñeca, let’s just add a little warning here if we may. If you come across a raggedy-looking doll with cross-stitch eyes in the newly constructed Casa Encantada, you might think twice before picking her up.
Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history courses, mostly at the high school and college levels in northern New Mexico where she lives, over the course of 36 years before retiring in 2014. She published her first novel in May 2017, El Hermano, a historical fiction based on her father’s induction into the Penitente society and rise to El Hermano Mayor. The book is available from online booksellers. She has also published eight short pieces in online literary magazines and women’s blogs.
Una Cuadra Al Lago Del Silencio
By Tania Romero
Every week, my memory turns to a place called Silencio. I first visited the place growing up in Managua, the same day my stepdad was late picking me up from preschool. I waited on the curb, watching snobby older kids with their chauffeurs; silver lunchboxes swung blissfully into air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz. The delicate, blue-eyed blonde girl with an unpronounceable name held her Chacha’s hand as she climbed the backseat. Nicknamed Vaquita despite her thin frame, she always brought an imported can of condensed milk for lunch; the kind only certain families could buy with a military carnet at La Diplotienda.
I sat on top of a rock near the gated entrance, sipping the remnants of orange juice in my yellow plastic thermos. My mother squeezed fresh oranges every morning, because my family could not afford a live-in Chacha like the other kids. The liquid was still refreshingly cold on that sweltering midday. By the time I finished, everyone but the faded hero cartoon sticker on top of my lunchbox and I, was gone.
Cars zoomed by and I longed to hear the engine roar inside the rattling red hood of my stepdad’s Lada. But it never arrived. In the adventurous spirit of characters like Red Riding Hood from the folktales teachers read before naptime at school, I decided to walk in the direction of Abue’s house all the way across town. Teachers always raved about the heroism of Caperucita Roja when she defeated the Big Bad Wolf with her wit; she was an intrepid pata de perro who didn’t sit nor stay.
By car, Abue’s house was probably thirty minutes away from school. By bus, if one could find an empty seat among the mercaderas with heavy straw baskets heading to El Huembes (the local city market), it was a comfortable hour and a half. But measured in the steps of a five-year-old girl? Abue’s house was a sweat-drenching eternity in the scorching midday heat. As I walked down the unpaved side of the highway, the draft from the speeding cars occasionally lifted my pleated blue skirt, and nearly ripped the insignia from the left pocket of my buttoned-down white shirt. Dressed in blue-white, I probably looked like a miniature Nicaraguan flag in a windstorm.
At a busy light intersection, I sat down under the shade of a mango tree. The skinny branches with long leaves ran for miles into the sky. Suddenly a blue-black Toyota pickup truck screeched to a halt before me. As the cloud of dust settled, I could discern it was La Guardia in disguise: The Big Bad Wolf from the cautionary tales Tío Miguel told me.
When he was a child, La Guardia raided people’s homes like in the Three Little Pigs, huffing and puffing bullets into concrete walls to check which houses crumbled. They didn’t look for chimneys to climb because Managuan homes at the time, no matter the material, didn’t even have doors. Abue would force Tío Miguel to wear a dress before hiding him under the bed so La Guardia wouldn’t take him to a place called Guerra. It seemed no one in my family wanted to go to that place, and I was no different.
Driving around the city disguised as a new wolf breed, La Guardia had a new namesake: La Contra. A Morena with curly black hair tied in a bun, dressed in an olive-green uniform and military boots, stepped out of the front passenger side. Sunglasses, the man at the wheel, wore a similar uniform except for a camouflage cap shading his face. For a slight second, Morena resembled my aunt Ligia who also had a flawless blend of Miskito cinnamon skin. She had the kind of skin shade that chelas like me wanted to have, even after enduring chancletasos from our mothers for standing in the sun too long.
“Mirá vos,” she called for Sunglasses. “¿Dónde vas, chavalita?” she turned to me. I didn’t answer.
“¿A dónde vas, Amor?” she reached out for my hand. When I touched her frosty skin from riding in the air-conditioned cabin, my whole body went numb. I had never been in the presence of a cadaver, but I imagined she felt like one. Del susto, sentí un soplo en el corazón.
“Donde mi Abue,” I murmured.
“¿Y dónde queda eso?”
“Por El Huembes,” I replied.
There was no turning back. She knew where I was going. My trembling legs synchronized to the offbeat patterns of my emergent heart murmur. Surprisingly, I felt like a grownup in that moment, referring to landmarks like a real city slicker. No one in Managua actually uses a number address; our postal codes are defined by the most accurate subjective orientation to places and things. We navigate the city by referring to markets, old buildings, monuments, lakes, or trees: “del Arbolito, una cuadra al lago,” we say. Abue had the habit of asking if a place existed before or after the earthquake, just in case.
Morena opened the door and boosted me up to the backseat, placing my faded lunchbox next to me. As I scooted to the center, my overheated legs squealed as they rubbed against the plastic seats. The door closed behind me and Morena got back inside the passenger side; one last gust of hot air filled the truck, and I knew I had found Silencio. The air difference inside the cabin was palpable; the dead-cold breeze from the vents sent chills to the back of my neck. My mind went blank.
I once heard that all girls should cross their legs when they enter Silencio, specially when La Contra is in the front seat. But that cold breeze would occasionally lift my skirt and feel satisfying as it dried my sweaty thighs. Every now and then Sunglasses would turn his head toward the front mirror. I could tell he wanted to be like the cold air penetrating my pores. Morena gave him some side-eye, but never said a thing. I kept pointing in the direction of Abue’s house, but Sunglasses drove slower. Slower, until time stopped.
I wish I could recall more details about Silencio. But every time my memory roams in that direction, all I can remember is the smell. From a certain smell, una cuadra al lago de la memoria; that is the postal code of Silencio. Sometimes when I return, there is an overwhelming scent of burning plastic, mixed with the coolant from the air vents at full blast. Sometimes there is a pervasive smell of sweat and male cologne infused in the upholstery. At times the smell is a combination of gasoline fumes and burning tires. What I do know is that there is always a smell in Silencio.
The next thing I knew, we turned left at the red-black prism memorial for the militant-poet Leonel Rugama, who never came back from Guerra. As we headed down the street, I could see the outside of my Abue’s house in the distance. The pickup truck pulled up to the front. Abue, in her embroidered green bata, dropped her transistor radio and jolted from her mesedora on the porch. Morena got out first and opened the door for me. I jumped out and ran as fast as I could out of Silencio. Abue’s eyes widened when she scooped me into her arms. Instinctively, she lifted my skirt to check between my thighs. Heart racing, eyes sealed, I squeezed tightly; my legs were shamefully frozen-dry but I was unharmed.
Morena chuckled at how firmly I latched on to my Abue’s body. She gave Abue a warm nod and handed her my lunchbox. She returned to the front seat and rolled down her window. I watched her pull out a concealed red scarf under the neckline of her olive-green uniform, an identifying marker of bold volunteers who went to Guerra. She was not La Contra at all; she was a Cachorra. A Caperucita Rojawho prevented Sunglasses from turning into the cold air between my thighs with her silent wit. I never saw either of them again ever though they knew how to get to Abue’s. I figured like many others, they got lost coming back from Guerra.
Thirty years later, during my weekly talk-therapy sessions, I try to deconstruct why I return to Silencio. Why I sit on rocks for hours. Why orange juice tastes better when served in a thermos. Why I sit under trees to purposely obstruct my view of the sky. Why I gravitate toward any body of water to find my place in the world. Why my nickname is pata de perro. And why I nod in silent gratitude at women who wear red scarves.
Tania Romero, born and raised in Nicaragua, moved to the United States with her parents at the age of nine, but never lost touch with her cultural roots. A poet, filmmaker, and media instructor, Tania is working toward her MFA in Creative Writing from UT-El Paso. Her award-winning short documentary film, “Hasta con las Uñas,” featured interviews with Nicaraguan women filmmakers, a poem of hers was recently published inSin Fronteras journal, and her photography will be featured in an anthology of Latina writers titled, Latina Outsiders. This short story is her first published short fiction.
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.
“Ten years later, Elvis regretted their breakup more than anything in his life.”
Ballad of a Slopsucker
The parking lot at Horatio’s was packed for the ten-year reunion of San Leandro High’s Class of ’87 and Elvis Borboa—who had been voted Most Likely to Be on MTV his senior year—sat in his car near the back of the lot, sucking on a cigarette like nicotine was oxygen. An hour before, he had stood in front of his closet mirror wondering, Should I stay or should I go? He tried on shirt after shirt until he narrowed it down to two—a long-sleeve button-down shirt so it’d look like he had made something of himself, or a striped polo shirt that said I-don’t-really-give-a-shit-about-appearances-but-I’ll-look-presentable. No matter which one he wore, Elvis saw a twenty-eight-year-old straight-edge Latino reflected back to him—the cropped hair, fitted jeans, and a shirt that covered the flaming skull tattoo on his right shoulder. As he stared at himself, he couldn’t help but wonder if the teenage, fuck-authority version of himself would have hated who he had become: just another tool; another sellout working for a big bank.
While he sat in his new Honda Accord, he couldn’t shake the nervous, twisted feeling in his stomach. He popped the Eagles’s Greatest Hits into the CD player. He skipped to “Best of My Love,” which was totally un-metal of him. A long drag from his cigarette followed. It had been months since he had smoked. Oddly enough, the song soothed him even though it reminded him of Susana, his ex-girlfriend from high school. Ever since they graduated, he had occasionally daydreamed of playing and dedicating that song to her (which was totally un-metal of him).
After he flicked the cigarette out the window, Elvis flung the car door open. He strode across the parking lot. On his way to the entrance, he noticed a few faces that looked familiar. He couldn’t remember their names, but he knew they were smart kids back in school. Would they recognize him now? Would anyone recognize him?
Standing by the entrance, next to the part of the restaurant that resembled a kitschy lighthouse, was Joey Marchment. He was smoking a cigarette by himself. Back in high school he was a quintessential stoner-skateboarder. He had gone to a couple of Elvis’s shows. Shit, they even shared a joint at one of their high school parties. Joey had also cleaned himself up for the occasion. Dress shirt, pair of khakis, shiny dress shoes instead of his old Dr. Martens. His bleach-blonde hair—which used to be long and greasy as if he flipped burgers for a living—was now short, thinning, and slicked back. Like Elvis, he had developed a respectable beer paunch.
“Elvis Borboa?” Joey said.
“What’s going on, Joey,” Elvis said, shaking his hand. “Glad you remember me.”
“Of course, man. You were Elvis, the heavy metal god!”
Elvis used to be the front man of a thrash metal band he started at San Leandro High with his best friend, Dontae. The band’s name was Slopsucker. In high school Elvis sported long, curly black hair, torn-up jeans, and a black leather jacket his dad had handed down to him.
“You still play?” Joey asked.
“Nah, man.” Elvis couldn’t help but hang his head.
“That’s too bad. I remember you used to shred.”
“Yeah, well, you know, it’s one of those things. Hardly anyone can pay the bills playing a six-string.”
“Fucking A, man, fucking A,” Joey said, nodding and slowly turning his head like he was watching a thought gently bob away.
Inside, Elvis heard a loud hum of chatter around the corner. Goddamn it, he thought. People were already asking about his former musical self.
A sign by the front podium read, “Class of ’87 Reunion!” An overly smiley Asian woman with a name tag that read “Annie Chow” sat behind a long table covered with rows of printed name tags. They exchanged pleasantries. Elvis remembered she was a major kiss-up in school. She parked her rear front row and center in their physics class so she could laugh at all the inane jokes from their teacher along with all the other voracious grade-grubbers. On top of being pretty, she had always been smart and driven. Once he saw the big glittery rock on her ring finger, Elvis figured she got just about everything she ever wanted in life.
He saw his name tag on the table. He scanned the remaining ones for Susana and Dontae’s. They were MIA. Were they coming? Were they already there? Would they talk to him, or tell him to fuck off? Would Susana be there with someone? A boyfriend? Husband? What if she was inexplicably free after all these years?
The classy restaurant overlooked the San Leandro Marina. The dining area around the bar was roped off for their reunion. All the tables had been cleared out so everyone could mingle. Seventy or eighty people convened throughout the room. Most of his old classmates had dressed up as if they were dining at a posh restaurant in San Francisco, the city he had called home since graduating from high school. Booming laughter from the patio startled him. There was so much happening around him. Before he realized what he was doing, Elvis beelined to the bar. He could’ve walked past Gandhi, Cindy Crawford, or Ozzy Osbourne and not noticed them. Man, did he need a drink.
As he leaned against the counter, staring at the bartender, trying to will him to look his way, Elvis scanned the bar as though his birth name was Cool Breeze. He locked eyes with a classmate whose name tag read “Mindy Roberts.” Her jaw dropped. She waved with such glee that he waved back, although he had never—as far as he remembered—had a conversation with her. Two stools down from Mindy was George, a wild-haired Samoan who had streaked across the football field during a homecoming game Susana had dragged him to. And then there she was: Susana. The woman of his sad and sorrowed dreams of unrequited love. She stood in a circle of women gathered at the other end of the bar. His heart bottomed. She was fucking gorgeous and cute as ever—the same big brown eyes, light-brown skin, and magnetic smile that drew people to her. Her black hair fell over the straps of her blue summer dress. Elvis thought she had never looked so beautiful—except maybe at the junior prom they had gone to together.
Once he spotted her, Elvis was done for; he couldn’t keep himself from stealing glances at her. After all those years they were actually in the same room. And to his complete and dizzying surprise she seemed to be alone. No possible significant other satellited around her.
While he watched her, Elvis couldn’t help but remember—as much as he didn’t want to—the last time they were together.
It all went down on a Saturday afternoon, less than two months before their senior prom. Elvis was in his bedroom restringing his black Jackson King V guitar. Venom’s classic Black Metal blared from his stereo. It was 1987, a year after thrash metal’s zenith when Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign of Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells . . . but Who’s Buying?, and Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill came out. Elvis’s dad was in the backyard, working in his shed, when his mom knocked on the door.
“Yeah,” Elvis shouted over the music.
“Susy’s here for you!” she yelled from behind the door where Elvis had taped a poster of Machu Picchu shrouded in mist. “Shit,” he said to himself. He took a deep breath as he lurched to the front door.
Susy stood on the other side of the screen door. She wore a black tank top, faded blue jeans, and the green Chuck Taylors he had doodled on with a permanent marker. (He had scribbled “Elvis lives!” on the back heel.) She was concealing something behind her back.
“Hey, you wanna come in?” Elvis said, creaking the screen door open.
“That’s okay,” Susy said. “My dad’s taking us out to lunch with one of his friends. I was running some errands and just wanted to pop in to give you a surprise.”
“Oh yeah, what you got?”
Though he was trying to play it cool, Elvis could feel his stomach knot. The night before, he had snuck out to hit up a party without Susana. Celeste White, the lead cheerleader at San Leandro High, had invited him. Celeste White, the hottest girl in school, had flirted with him. She professed to Elvis that she liked him. This was certifiable wet dream material. To boot, she kept putting her hand on his arm and brushing her blonde hair while they talked. After he stumbled back home in a fog of blissful drunken stupor, he woke up thinking about how good it would have felt to make out with her. To have his hands all over her. The only reason he kept his paws to himself was because he and Susy had been together for two years.
Susy handed him a mixed tape. On the cassette case spine she wrote “Heavy Shit” and drew a smiley face. Years later, remembering those details slayed him.
“I really liked your last mix,” she said. “I think you’re right—the Scorpions are the best thing to ever come out of Germany.”
Elvis combed his long hair to the side so it wouldn’t cover half of his face. He stared off at the front lawn. Earlier that morning he had convinced himself to break up with her. He just didn’t know when to pull the plug.
“You okay?” she asked. Elvis had not hugged and kissed her like he typically would when she’d come over.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. Wait—let me walk you to your car.”
Susy marched to her old gray car parked in front of his parents’ house. He followed. She walked with her head lowered, staring at the walkway like she knew something was up. Afterward, Elvis wondered if she could sense what was coming.
“Your mind seems to be somewhere else,” Susy said as they approached her car.
Elvis took a breath. “Susy, this is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I’m just, uh—I, umm—I think we should date other people.”
Elvis never forgot the face Susy made—her mouth dropping, her eyes opening wide.
“Are you serious?” she said, staring up at him. She took a step forward. “You’ve been thinking about this for some time? Since when?”
“I don’t know. It’s been a while.”
“So why are you saying this to me now? You wanna go out with someone else? Is that it?”
Elvis took a step back. He thought she might try to slap him.
“Who is it, Elvis? Who is it?”
“It’s no one, Susy! I’m just afraid of this getting too serious. I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it.”
“So what are you really saying? Are you breaking up with me? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”
“No, Susy. I just—think it’d be a good idea if we saw other people.”
Susy crossed her arms. She glared at him until he looked away. “That’s bullshit. And I am not okay with us seeing other people. If all you want to do is break up with me, then grow some damn balls and do it.”
Susy brushed past Elvis and stormed to the driver’s-side door. Once she fumbled for her keys, she stomped back to him.
“Give it to me,” she said.
She snatched the tape from Elvis, threw it on the sidewalk, and smashed the case with her foot. She flung the door open and slammed it before she drove off with the motor roaring.
Broken cassette in hand with its tape dangling, Elvis walked back into his house. He bunched up the loose tape in his hand. He didn’t want his mom to see it and ask what had happened.
In his room, the door closed, Elvis flipped through his milk crate full of albums. He took out Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. The album cover had an electric chair floating in a dark sky with bolts of lightning. He cued the record to “Fade to Black.” He blasted it, all dramatic, then he lay on his bed, hands cupped behind his head, clutching the cassette as the opening guitar notes filled the room. He stared at the picture of his idol, Tom Araya—the Chilean bassist and lead singer for Slayer—taped on the ceiling above his bed. He felt shitty about what he’d done. They had been friends since junior high when he and Susy took Spanish classes together (the equivalent of Rob Halford taking beginner’s classes for heavy metal screeching). During sophomore year he walked her home practically every day unless she was working on the school paper, having soccer practice, or attending one of her Chicano-power MECHA meetings. Susy had lost her virginity to him. That was a big deal to him as well. And she was the first girl—and maybe the only one—he had ever loved.
By then Elvis was getting caught up in all his self-hype about their band, especially after Slopsucker blew away the other musical acts at their school talent show. He truly believed that part of his life was merely the beginning of something bigger. His bandmates, Dontae and White Trash Phil, talked about becoming the best thing to come out of shit town San Leandro, like how Metallica’s Cliff Burton had come out of neighboring Castro Valley to become the most badass metal bassist on the planet. Elvis didn’t want to be like everyone else. He didn’t want to turn out like his mom and dad, who never seemed happy—more like they were stuck with one another. He wanted a rock ’n’ roll kind of life: the thrill he’d get when he would thrash his head and flail on a guitar. The way he felt ten feet tall onstage in front of a crowd. The communion he felt playing with his bandmates. “It’s one life you live,” his father—a former bohemian—liked to tell him. Una vida. Susy was a way cool chick, but Celeste White—the girl every straight guy in the locker room openly fantasized about—was the Big Leagues. Susy didn’t fit in with the flashy, VH1 behind-the-scenes documentary Elvis thought his life could become. He was afraid that he and Susy would turn out like his mom and pop someday. He was afraid of growing up to become like his dad, living his dreams vicariously through one of his children since he was too chickenshit to have truly chased them when he was younger.
After “Fade to Black” ended, the turntable needle hissed on a constant loop. Elvis leapt off his bed. Fuck it, he thought, chucking the tape into his trash can. In that moment he practically thought of their breakup as some life lesson; he rightly figured life would have its share of difficult decisions he would have to make. Like dumping a sweet girl for the hottest chick in school.
Ten years later, Elvis regretted their breakup more than anything in his life.
From Ballad of a Slopsucker: Stories by Juan Alvarado Valdivia. Copyright © 2019 University of New Mexico Press. Look for it in 2019 at UNM Press site here.
Juan Alvarado Valdivia is a Peruvian American writer born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Fremont, CA. His fiction has been published in The Acentos Review, Black Heart Magazine, The Cortland Review, Label Me Latina/o, Origins Journal, and is forthcoming from Prairie Schooner. His first book, ¡Cancerlandia!: A Memoir, received an Honorable Mention for the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Biography in English.