Flash Fiction by Caterina Alvarez
I sank into the passenger seat as I sensed my sister a boil beside me, an unstable stranger familiar to my every sense. Like a damaged record her old declaration rang out. Don’t you understand? There is no Mother without me and no me without Mother. Our mother is recently passed and this is what she has to say to me.
We race past pale green and yellow columnar glyphs, fields of corn now fallow after years of neglect. They are an odorous, fecund playground for opportunistic lifeforms. I’d walked in their strobe light shadows yesterday preparing to meet my sister, unsure of how she would be and how we’d work through a painful task our mother left us, that of scattering her ashes in amongst the corn.
We were raised together in artificially lighted suburban rooms in a crease worn California far from the fields of corn that furnished our college funds. Younger by nine years I hadn’t questioned my station beneath her. I only came to terms with the abusive nature of our relationship when nestled deep into motherhood with a daughter of my own who triggered me blind, more than once. In that moment, as my sister and I scudded down the road, her olive-skinned profile shrouded in silken chocolate hair was simply, I am so small watching you hone a feminine perfection I still covet. I love you and wish you loved me too. Change comes piecemeal.
She keeps her weight up high, a thick layer of protection. She speaks in a strong low voice and does most things with a style of false and overbearing confidence that tends to cow and confuse people. I believe others see this cordoning off of our mother’s love a consequence of her deep affection. They have no way of knowing my existence in her world is and always has been a static discrepancy. I was not meant to be. Nothing was to divide her mother’s devotion.
For a long time, I, too, felt like a meaningless nuisance. I was never protected by our mother, but still I’d been a fair-weather daughter. Together Mom and I painted our rooms shades of yellow in the morning, deep pink in the afternoon. We covered the ugliest parts of our history in thick coats of fragrant acrylic and oil. Despite violent intrusions certain beauty haled forth from our brushstrokes.
Soaring through the shadowed edge of cereal grass, breathing in the fresh rot, we evaded the task at hand. We hastened on in the evening heat agitating a skin-like road of flat red rash inside us both, our deformed sororal affiliation. The old Benz clung to the wide curve of the road as Sis fell to a last resort, one she hadn’t a chance to use on me in twenty years. Her sickle fisted arm plowed into my chin. Blood fell from my lip. Her rage in the face of my grief deposited embers of resolve into my cottony mouth where they seared my already scarred and ashen tongue.
A first time took place: I withstood the pain of seeing her for who she is. I did not reframe her behavior within the context of her well concealed insanity. I let her be her own problem.
As she slowed to a stop sign, I stepped out of her borrowed car leaving Mother’s ashes behind. I disappeared noiselessly into the Zea Mays. Abundance, benignity, well-ordered predictability, mass produced, genetically manipulated, and abandoned, the cornfield’s tallest stalks pulled at fading rays of obliging light. Although they have been forsaken, their survival is not in jeopardy, only the quality of their existence lay in flux. The earth and rain will keep them alive for generations whether viable and utilized or undervalued and wasted.
Gods and goddesses with clear motives assembled with me there. The sentinel corn, its wayward silk and kicked up cork, the wet grasses and crust that lay beneath pierced and bled me clean.
“How long have we been separated from the group?”
“You’re awake again, Evita? We’re at seven days now.”
“Yes, awake and I feel down, Rose. I don’t know what is happening to me. Shhh, is that them fighting over the ridge?”
“They are just in the courtyard. They’ve been at it for hours. It’s the Eastern side, Felix and Sherona. Sleep again now. I’ll keep a lookout. Hold your babies close to the length of you, Vita,
press them to you. Make them feel safe. You’ll feel better that way.”
“Rohhhhhse! The pain again, cabron, Rohhhse! Get the morphine. Get someone.”
“There you go, mi alma, better?”
“Who’s still here, Rose? Have they all left? Are we in the clear? I won’t face them. Not like this. Please. Not how I am now.”
“Many have come to see you, Vita. They’re here for you. More are coming.”
“Not the West! Not my good for nothing son with his heartless children, I will not speak to them. How dare they think they can waltz in here? They don’t love me!”
“Yes, Vita. They do. That is why they’re coming.”
“To punish me? No, Rose. You tell them no! I did my best. They gave me no choice.”
“Quiet down, Vita, tranquila. There is nothing to be done but to listen and feel.”
The door opened and from the back seat Evita smelled her get in; a rich, sweet scent. Then his door opened and his weight shifted the balance of the vehicle. She lay still in the back seat, a hollow log, neither happy nor sad but riven with invertebrate. He emitted a low gentle sound, a word or two laying down a calm, mournful, hymn-like rhythm Evita knew well.
A watery wall washed down her and she rose up against it, a specter. All ninety pounds of her unfurled in violence, a winter surf on the Malecón. She cast her coat over the cunt’s flaxen head a woolen snood. His gorgeously carved fist, knobby and grand, plowed toward her face like a steamship. His reflexive protection of her, the other woman, the intruder, divided and multiplied her shame. He pruned it only for it to grow back superior, profound, a perfect complement to her isolation. Their young boys cowered and whimpered on the floor of the car beneath her slumped body. She lay over them, a bony sack of ignominy.
“He’s the one waiting for me, Rose, not Mami and Papi. They’re still angry with me for leaving. He’ll be the one waiting there and there is nothing I can do, nada pero nada.”
“Evita, listen to me: just as you fled Cuba with your small children, all of you in terror, they too spent their lives running while raising children. Your marriage formed in the likeness of their union. It’s time you see. When disappointment found you, as your parents warned, you put them on a throne and blamed yourself for everything. The truth is you didn’t sin and then pay for it, you faced difficult decisions at every turn.”
“Callarse! My parents were good. There are no two ways here.”
“Yes, they were good and you were brave. You are surrounded by love you fail to see. And what about mine? You still don’t see me, Vita, eh? You don’t have much time left. We are all here. All you have to do is open your eyes one last time.”
Ms. Alvarez’s work appears in The Atticus Review, Tiny Molecules, and Unpublishable Zine. She is member of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop and a reader for Thirty West Publishing House. She is also the Director of Development for Flamenco Denver with whom she also performs as professionally, a serial nonprofit art organization board member, and former business consultant. She earned her Masters in Communications at USC in 2000 and lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Denver, CO.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.