"When I'd shaken the bell, my parents had not heard a sound." - Chris Van Allsburg

Monday, October 26, 2015

Where am I?

The air is stuffy in here, and the tin cans surround me up to the ceiling. Sweat drips down my forehead, and my hands feel clammy. A dim light shines through the crack between two tall shiny metal doors. Where am I? I'm just starting to wake up; I can feel the crust of my drool begin to dry no the left side of my dry lips. My eyes are swollen and burn as though I had been crying. My breath begins to pick up and I look around frantically as I register my surroundings. "Mami?!" my voice sounds like a squeak, and I remember how difficult it is to scream when I am afraid. I am not scared. I cannot be scared. I must find a way out. Mami must be waiting on me at home. I crawl about two inches and push my face up close to the tins stacked tall in front of me. The little light allows me to read "TOXIC: RED PAINT. DO NOT INJEST." A lump comes up in my throat, and my cheeks begin to burn. My eyes water over, but before a tear falls, something runs into the big white doors and they snap open. Light streams in and pierces my eyes as they adjust. Although I haven't quite processed what has happened, I know that I was trapped in there for some reason, and I hop to the ground as quickly as possible. Escape, Flora. My mind is racing as I turn to see a grocery cart filled with junk rolling down the hill away from a big, white painter's van. A middle-aged, heavyset woman with light brown hair and droopy red eyes looks up at me and snarls. "Well don't just stand there, I helped you! Now, go help me and get my cart!" I stand there in shock, but then it comes to me that this must not be the person that trapped me in that van. That person is probably close by... but where am I? I turn and run, tuning out the dirty lady's spits. A gas station? Is this the one Sean works at? I can't remember anything right now...
My heart is thumping. I am running towards the glass doors when, "Lovebug!". I ran into some old lady. "Are you okay, my darling, you look confused." I looked up into her round eyes. I try so hard to speak, but can't say a word. Was that her van? Was she a kidnapper disguised as a sweet old lady? So many thoughts were going through my head, I didn't realize the tears that began to roll down my plump cheeks with no refrain. A boy with black, greasy hair holding a box of matches came over and draped his arm around me. "Stop crying kiddo," he said softly in my ear, and he turned to the old lady. Are they working together? "Maybe we should take her back to your place until she can tell us what's going on, Ms. M." We all turn as we hear the terrible clang of tin cans falling against the bottom of the white van as the anonymous driver throws the oversized vehicle into the street. Red paint begins to spill down the road and across the intersection.
Suddenly, everything was blurry. The ceiling spun, and the grimy brown tiled floor beneath me seemed to crumble. A high pitch scream pounded against my burning eardrums, and my vocal chords felt as though they were going to collapse. I tried to focus on the old lady's face as she repeated "Breathe, baby girl, breathe," over and over into my face. Her breath was warm and smelled of onions. Suddenly, the smell of onions became overpowering, and everything went black.

My back hurts; but as I roll over, my sweat soaks through whatever I'm wearing and clings me to a soft surface. As I open my eyes, I notice the blue velvet couch I'm on has entirely sunk to the ground from years of abuse. This place smells like dog and it's hot. It's strange... this couch is facing a blank wall. Where am I? My eyes hurt so badly; my throat is dry and sore. I'm so thirsty. I unintentionally let out a small whimper, and a short, round old lady comes bustling over with a tall glass of water. Her eyes are wide and distract me from my discomfort. It's almost as though she had been waiting on me to wake up. "How are you feeling bell pepper?" she says, as she shakily hands over the glass of cold water. I drank the entire thing in three gulps, a record for me. "Well aren't you just a tall glass of water!" the old lady shouts, and then laughs uncontrollably at her own joke, snorting in between each cackle. I roll back over, ignoring her. Mami always told me Americans will try to take advantage of me if I said anything more than I should. I knew she was right; that's why we had to live in Delphie's basement for so long. "Okay. Well, you just let me know when you are feeling better, and we'll see if we can get you home. Your poor parents are probably worried sick! If you get hungry, I have some left over meatloaf from earlier. That ravished boy didn't eat so much after all!" she cackled and scampered back around the couch, leaving me to my silence. Cold tears began to run down my hot face, down my neck, and onto the couch. I heard footsteps again, and I looked up to see a familiar face. A gaunt boy with greasy black hair was holding a chair in one hand and a box of tissues in the other. He sits down; a flowery shirt and hot pink sweat pants sag around his bony frame. He stares at me silently while I blow my nose. His eyes are blood shot, and I know mine probably look the same by now. Yet, for some reason, he is so familiar. As he hands me tissue after tissue, I become more and more exhausted. I feel myself drift off to sleep so slowly, this time almost comforted by the presence of something I  recognizable. His breath is warm on my ear as he whispers, "Us and them, and after all, we're only ordinary men." 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Latchkey Kid

Mami would be cleaning the Reynold's house tonight. She will not reach the apartment door until 7:00 at least. This means that she has left dinner in the fridge for me. Probably tomato soup and salad. I wish she would teach me how to cook instead of leaving me the acidic soup on Thursday nights. I glance around the bus, careful to avoid eye contact with anyone around me. The person across from me is wearing a red collared shirt with a big white name tag over their left breast pocket. "LENNON' is scrolled across the tacky pin in bright blue letters. My eyes roll down Lennon's black slacks and stop at their glossy black leather shoes, like the ones Shawn wears to work. Ew.
The grimy bus makes a farting sound as it comes to a halt. I try not to giggle as I eagerly stand up and reach behind me, ensuring my SpongeBob back pack is still in place. I roll on my toes at the top of the steps as the bus doors swing open with a squeak, and I run down the steps out into the crisp Autumn air. I step to the side of the bus and take a deep breath in. As I timidly cross the street, Lennon runs past me, a black satchel flapping against those ugly black slacks. I don't know why, but I begin to chase the stalky figure. I'm panting by the time I reach the parking lot, and let the red shirt storm into the building. Why were you running, Lennon? What does your face look like? I just wanted to see the person's face...
I slowly walk the rest of the way to the front door of the building and pause, studying the peeling paint. The heat of my cheeks warms my entire head, and my mouth is dry. I open the door and head up the stairs. I flip up the thin rubber mat and pick up the key. All of the sudden, I feel so sleepy. I take off my shoes and throw down my backpack, and head straight to my bedroom. My face sinks into the pillow and I'm out.
Soft whispers circle around my head as I slowly open my eyes to see blurry fluorescent lights. I look to my left and see a big, pale woman with purple and arms covered in tattoos. She is kneeling beside me with a gigantic needle in her hand. "Now darlin, did you want the letters all uppercase for sure?"
She had a thick country accent. I looked down at the paper where she had "LENNON"  sketched out in ugly bold letters.
I tried to say something, but not a sound came out of my mouth. I mouthed to her with wide eyes. "Why?" She must have thought I said yes. The cold, large needle was pressed to the left side of my chest, and she began to scroll. The pain was was like a terrible toothache on my chest, and it wouldn't go away. I began to scream "STOP! Let me go!" Not a sound came out of my mouth.
I rolled over to the sound of the door unlocking. I must have slept for a long time. My room is entirely dark, but I am comforted by the thought of Mami preparing a real dinner. I sit up, only to see glossy black leather shoes slowly stepping through the moonlit living room. This was not Mami.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.

The hot grease of cheese burns the roof of my mouth and my eyes watered.
"Caliente!" I exhale to my mother as I swallow the bite of burning ham and cheese pizza. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jeremy swiftly walking to our booth. I uncrumple my napkin, wipe my face, and sit up straight. Jeremy is a teenager. He is cute. Dark, shiny hair swept across his eyes and his smile shines with metallic bands. Oh man, I can't wait until I'm a teenager! I'm going to have hot pink braces and a boyfriend just like Jeremy. No, I'm blushing. Don't blush! Don't blush, breathe. He's getting closer.
"Do you ladies need anything else?" I melt at the sound of his voice. He turns and smiles at me, and I giggle and turn away, hiding my face in the cracked red leather of the booth seat. I peek up above the table, and I see Mami's glare. Mami hates it when I act like a "child" in public. I can't help it that my future love just looked at me!
"No, thank you Jeremy, the pizza is great as always," Mami exclaims. She turns to me, " Flora stop it, you are now ten years old. You only have a few more years to grow up, so you might as well start now." Jeremy smirks and turns away, returning to the counter with the same efficiency with which he came to me. 
I turn to look outside the giant glass window while I eat my scorching pizza. It is raining. Hard. Thunderstorms are so much more exciting than boring rain. The downpour lightens up a little bit, and I can see across the street to the concrete cinderblock wall of another building. There is a massive AJK written in big bold red spray paint letters. Alice. Josephine. Kippling. I stop chewing. My heart accelerates and my palms sweat. Yes, Mami is right. I am alive at ten years old, I need to start acting like it. I need to act like it because I can. I am alive. 
"Flora, we need to talk now. Look at me, babi," She looks at me cautiously and with deep intent. I dread what she is going to say. As she starts, the lump in my throat comes up hard and my eyes sting. "It is time you see your father. Your brothers and sisters will be there for Christmas. He called me and said you are expected to go." 
A tear runs down my hot face. I look my mother dead in the eyes, "Papi does not love me. And why do you keep saying they are my brothers and sisters? David, Alex, and Lexi are not my siblings. Stop making me go to him! Please MamiPlease." The tears ran down my face now. Mami reached out and grabbed my hand from across the table. 
"Flora, I will do what I can. As long as your father is helping me put food in your mouth and clothes on your body, you must see him. You may not like him, but he is thinking of you everyday, I promise. I would not make you do something that would hurt you. Do not disrespect the people that love you."
I look down so Mami can't see me roll my eyes. My father is not a good man. I will not see him. 

The door is shut and the light reflects off the indigo walls. Scraps of paper lay across the floor and tubes of glitter glue surround our project. Shakira's latest CD streams through the glowing blue speakers and drowns out only some of the sounds. Three knocks on the door. Pause. Two knocks. Pause. One knock. It was Fran's secret knock. I ran to the door and cracked it open slowly only so I could see half is face, "Are you hungry? I think they are in the garage," he whispers.
I look back at Ines across the room, the art project surrounding her on the cream carpet, "Fran wants to know if we are hungry." She looks up at me with her beautifully shaped almond eyes and pushes the sleek dark hair from her face,"Tell him to be careful. Nico is going to need to cover his moves. If he is successful, he needs to return with the dulce de leche and the alfajores and cheesy polenta Mami made last night. That should be good." 
I turned to Fran, "Got it?"
He nodded.
"Just be careful," I said as I shut the door.

My pillow is cold and wet from my tears as I wake up from my after school nap. Mami's warm hand strokes my back... I must have had another bad dream. The smell of fresh empanadas floods my senses, and I am brought back to today. Mami helps me wipe my face and leaves so I can collect myself before dinner. I hear the rain. How is it still raining? I eventually push my feet down onto the floor and patter into the main room of the apartment. A large caesar salad sits in the center of the dark green table cloth and a small basket of empanadas sits in the center. Mami cooks my favorites when she knows I'm sad. Empanadas con Carnes with jalapenos and cilantro sounded so good, but my mouth was still burnt from the pizza last night. After dinner, Mami tells me to take out the trash. I wrap up the big black bag and she opens the door for me. I take a right and head down the dim hallway to the chute. I like taking the trash out because I can pretend I am living on my own. But it is really spooky. The lights buzz as they flicker on and off, and cockroaches scurry across the dusty tile floor. I run on my toes with the heavy bag over my shoulder. I glance at each number to my right as I pass by 8 10 12 14 16. Ow! My big to on my right foot folds over itself and I fall to my knees, the bag flying up and over me and sliding across the floor. I roll over and look at my right foot. My toes is bleeding, badly. I stand up slowly, rubbing my knees and turn to see the big black bag of trash... floating down the hallway. The metal chute flap opens, and I hear it clank down the intestines of the grimy building. I sink back down onto the tile, my small body quivering. What was that? How did that happen? Is that God? Am I dying? You already took Alice! 
Something warm grabs my arm and lifts me up from my knees. I don't even feel my injuries as I turn and sprint to 6.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mami says we're not home...

I roll over. I slowly open my eyes and notice the kitchen light coming through the small crack in my door. I am so warm and cozy that I don't want to move. I roll back over and close my eyes again.
A warm hand runs down my back and up through my thick hair. "Come on Florita," I hear a a voice whisper "wake up mi amor." I slowly push myself up, and feel Mami's breath on my face. I give her a quick kiss on the cheek, and pull my pink nightgown out of my armpits. "Morning Mami." My mouth feels gluey and my eyes are puffy, the skin around them raw and sore. I remember how much  I cried last night, and it all comes rushing back to me. We prayed for Alice last night. We prayed that she was with God now, and that He would take care of her better. I picture her stringy blonde hair and bright blue eyes, hooded with tiny blonde eyelashes. I had let her borrow my pencil just last week, and now she will never be able to write again.
I gulp down my water and breakfast. As I'm brushing my teeth, I think about why some of the other kids are starting to say they don't like school. I don't understand them. I love to learn. I relish the sound of pages turning and teachers hushing the class. All the other kids remind me of my brothers and sisters that I miss so much. I stare into the mirror, studying my milk chocolate eyes. I think of how my brother would do this before he went to a game. He would stare into the mirror, telling himself to focus on what lay ahead of him. It gave me chills to think about Francisco. He was playing one of the most deadly sports in the world. Why would he move back to Cordoba? I knew he was doing what he dreamed of, and that made me happy. Why wouldn't he call though?
"Flora, you will be late!" Mami startles me out of thought. I grab my SpongeBob backpack and jog out of the room. Her hand wraps around mine and leads me out the door. "You need to learn to comb your hair properly before you leave the house."
I put my head down as she finally fishes her keys out of her small purse and locks the door. I follow her down the stairs. As Mami pulls me out the door, a tired looking lady pushes past me and runs to her car across the parking lot. I wonder where she is going. As I am led down across the cracked tar lot, I stare at the lady. She places a metal thermos on top of her car and unlocks the door, which she has to kick to open. Once she sits down on the old cloth seat, she slams the door and starts the car. For one moment our eyes meet, and the stone cold line of her thin lips turn slightly upwards. I point to the coffee on her roof, but as Mami and I reach the sidewalk on the other side of the lot, I turn to see the tan liquid slosh across the top and side of her car as she pulls off. The shiny container smashes into the ground and rolls down the hill.
"Pay attention!" I look up, only to see the back of my Mami, stepping intently into the street before another car comes. I hate crossing roads. We reach the bus stop on the other side walk, and I notice a frail bald white man with dark spots covering his skin. He is setting up some sort of stand, and he catches me staring at him. He looks up at me and smiles, and I notice Mami's grip constrict around my delicate hand. Why does she do this around men? She's not like this around Shawn. But then again, this man does look peculiar. He reaches into his back pocket silently, and draws closer to me. He breathes in a deep breath and blows into his hand. A massive pink balloon separates our proximity. I hate the sounds balloons make. I wince as he contorts the balloon into an extravagant shape. He holds it out to me. I reach my hand out to take it, but he pauses and looks into my eyes a moment before he releases the pink figure. All of the sudden, I remember La Boca. Tears blur my sore eyes, and I smile. "Gracias, SeƱor." I don't know why, but I am compelled to speak in Spanish. "De nada," he smoothly returns. I smile and look up to my mother. Tears run down her face as the bus pulls up. "Do not worry Florita, this is not our home," my mother whispers as the halo of light from the metro bus surrounds our bodies and I am lead to a seat.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Baby of the Family

Today started with a big bowl of crisp chocolate rice krispies. Mami sat down next to me at the small round table. Her warm hand enveloped mine, and I tuned out the blessing. I'm never hungry in the morning, but mami always makes sure to heat the milk for one minute before she puts in the cereal, and it makes it extra chocolatey. Mami says I should eat breakfast everyday, but she only drinks cafe. Then again, she is always telling me things I should do, but never actually does them herself. "Florita! Where are your manors?!"
I am jerked from my pleasant morning thoughts, and swiftly wave my right hand over my forehead, chest, and shoulders, as though my hesitation had never been noticed. Mami notices everything. I put the metal spoon to my mouth and sigh as the sugar reaches my taste buds and sparks them to life. If my brothers were still here, I would be fighting back my tears as I shoved spoonful after spoonful into my mouth. I remember slurping down every drop of milk in the hopes that I had finally won the race to finish my cereal first. Fran always won. But what does it matter now? He is gone. Mami is mad that he never calls, she says he forgot where he came from. We still pray for him every night though. We pray for everyone.
My belly starts getting really full, and I have to take a break. I know it is disrespectful to put down my spoon, so I sit there with my dark brown eyes down, pressing the side of my thumb into the cold silver utensil. I hate finishing my food. I hate being the baby. I want to be older. I want to have a studio apartment with Ines in Spain, and make pretty art all day. Mami sips her cafe quietly, squeezing the white mug in her soft hands. Her dyed golden blonde hair gentley brushes the collar of her royal blue robe as she glances around the apartment, focusing in on any dust particles that may have formed while we were sleeping.
"Eat Florita, you will need the energy to help me clean today."
From her tone of voice, I know that she has already found something that needs polishing. I finally finish the now-soggy krispies and place my bowl in the sink. I hear the TV come on, and turn around to see mami now standing, tears welling in her eyes. I see images of a corpse. Spanish subtitles run across the screen: Appears to be a ten-year-old girl that may have been drowned to death. Possible suspects have not yet been released. Prickles run up my spine, causing the tiny hairs to push my nightgown away from my bronze skin. I turn ten tomorrow.
Knock Knock 
My feet are glued to the linoleum floor. Mami sniffs and wipes a tear from her face, and melts toward the door. I hear the door unlatch, and mami's muffled prayers as she baries her face in someone's shoulder. A man's hand gentley rests on my shoulder, and I turn to see Shawn's face. The bags under mami's boyfriend's eyes are SO big. Without having the chance to tell him this, my face is smooshed between mami's robe and Shawn's ugly El Cheapo collared button down.
After what seems like an eternity, I am finally released from the suffocation of his cigarette smell and scratchy shirt. Mami tells me to go brush my teeth and wash my face. I skip out of the small room before Shawn can say anything to me. I leave the bathroom door open so I can hear what they are talking about. I comb out my thick dark brown waves as I listen to Shawn talking about some teenagers breaking a window at his store. I look in the mirror and pretend to pick up a brick and throw it. Why does mami listen to him? He's boring and gross. Then I hear her mention the word "fiesta", and I shut my door. I like surprises.