Trigger warning: The following short fiction contains triggers for sexual assault, and child abuse. Please practice self-care.
The backyard is cracked dirt and a pecan tree. Tía Concha, in her chanclas y su hoop earrings, grabs the water hose to spray me and my cousins. Water smacks us and she cackles. The cracks morph into mud and I feel it ooze between my toes. Within minutes, the water is up to my ankles. I jump and splash my cousin Jesus. He screams something about the chupacabra finding me if I win the “mud wars.” Jesus declares mud war on me so I grasp at the earth and hurl a ball of mud at Jesus. We chase each other. I can’t contain my screams. I tell Jesus, I am Xena, a warrior princesa. My cousin Sara falls back into the ground and informs us she is making a mud angel so, leave her in paz.
Mamá is out with the blue-eyed man. They took my little brother and sister along. I am not his so, he leaves me with my cousins.
After the mud wars, I shower, get into my pajamas and pretend to fall asleep. I am waiting for my family. My sister and brother get home but Mamá is missing. The blue-eyed man places his kids into bed. Once they are bundled, he approaches my side of the bed. An attempt to pull my red sweat pants off. I kick him. He tells me to be good. Let him see. I kick and with a sharp tongue, I say “NO.” It has been over a year and my small body is exhausted by the fear he has instilled within me.
Out of desperation, I wake up my Tía Concha. I tell her. I tell on the blue-eyed man. She kicks him out. She creates a border between me and her bed with her body. She guards me so I can fall asleep.
In the morning, I tell Mamá. Even though I have spoken a truth, he shows up again and again. Every time he shows up, I hide. I hide and say nothing, but I curse the blue-eyed man under my breath and promise to spit on the dirt of his grave.
Mamá preferred uppercase letters when she scribbled into lemon yellow slips of paper. She folded the paper in half and stuffed it into a sweet tangerine. Then, with thin pink thread, she wrapped the little tangerine until you couldn’t see its original skin color. She dipped the pink orb into honey and then dipped the sticky orb into a turquoise bowl filled to the brim with spherical sprinkles. I used to lick my fingers and then dip my hand into the bowl. I pretended they were mini planets and my body was another dimension for them to rest in. Mamá grabbed her stacks of brown paper bags and blew air into them to give them life. When the bags exposed themselves to her, she whispered a secret into them. Mamá was the neighborhood bruja. She specialized in love spells. She took the baby tangerines one by one and gave them an individual paper bag to cover their existence.
Next, she drove me to the río. Through chain-link fencing, I looked over at Mexico as my mamá with all of her strength and a loud groan, threw the paper bags over the fence. She had to make sure they swam and floated down the river.
I never asked about the messages written on the yellow pieces of paper, but something heavy and hollow in my gut told me it was people asking to be reconnected with the relatives split open and torn apart by a border.
La Virgen de Guadalupe follows me through my timeline. In my abuela’s house, on grocery store walls in El Paso, on the velas I burn every night even though I don’t pray. La Virgen is a matriarch. She’s a reminder of what has been lost. We have lost so many women, students, and children. They are pieces of Mexico. They are chunks of Mexico’s heart whether they are now dust or unidentified bodies. That’s the message. Their bodies aren’t important enough to have the right to a name, a history, a mother, a padre. Nothing that gives away who they used to be while they stood up tall on the spinning earth.
As a kid, I watched Univision with my mamá. Sometimes there were entire news segments dedicated to claims and footage of statues and figurines of La Virgen crying during services. Sometimes, she cried blood. Those segments made me cry into my palms.
She glows. She protects us, but all we can do is make her mourn. As I grew older, I wondered if her tears could be out of anger.
I am twelve years old and I cannot stand up straight even though I am only five foot. I hunch over because I fear men. My heart shouts and scrapes at my chest when I witness men in groups. When I feel their eyes follow me, I pray as hard as I can to shrivel into a tiny galaxy. I see what men do on the news. They use the bodies of women and take their lives like nothing. They don’t even give them a proper grave.
They grab you and drag you by the hair when you don’t want them to touch you. They tell you to be quiet. They tell you to stay quiet as you forget your body, your age, as you decide to quit praying. He invades you and there’s no fighting back. You are seven years old. You wake up in the morning and say nothing the entire day, but you understand why La Virgen weeps.
Rios de la Luz is the author of The Pulse between Dimension and the Desert (Ladybox Books, 2015). Her work has previously been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Entropy. She is currently in Portland, OR enjoying the rain and the smell of the forest.