Getting Ahead

*

I opened Micaela’s drawer and that smell escaped. Of old cologne and face powder: the bubble-gum pink fading like a false blush and the lipstick to highlight her mouth giving off a sweet synthetic odor. It was clear that the room had become hers. The dressing table and the walls that gave signs of who she had been and how she had arrived in the city merged with her other story. There was a photo in which she wore a loud-colored outfit, her rubber sandals resting on sparse vegetation with her hair turning its back to the miniature landscape, which really looked as if you could touch it, all of this contained in a zinc frame, next to a vase, on her bureau, opposite her single bed in which she slept and then stretched the next morning. Maybe the photo on the bureau in front of her was part of the confrontation between her two worlds. To look at her image without being able to recognize herself as she had been, to preserve the tangible evidence of the journey: between Yajalon and Tuxtla a mere six-hour trip, six hours of hillsides and changes of greenery in which the curvature of the voice would also change, because it wasn’t the same to speak in Ch’ol, the gesticulating Muyuk Takin, as to arrive in the city, to see the reverberation of the electric lights from the seat of the Christopher Columbus bus, economy class, to see the terminal with its concrete esplanade full of people yelling and giving orders, passengers stumbling, van doors opening with a honk, then to later travel in a combi to the neighborhood, walk a stretch of Sedena, the military section, pull out the key, and say, “Good evenin’, I here.” She had an accent, she spoke a rough Spanish, dropped consonants, fractured the words as if instead of talking she was defending herself. The photo on the bureau showed one side of Micaela but already she was different. In Tuxtla she didn’t wear frilly embroidered blouses or underskirts down to her ankles that impeded her walk. The rubber-soled sandals were exchanged for closed patent leather shoes that, although they oppressed her foot, at least gave her the liberty to wear pants and walk more lightly, without feeling the heaviness of her steps. Jeans or pencil skirts and plain cotton shirts tucked in at the waist. Barrettes on the side of her hair that now wasn’t slicked down but flowing, smooth, not because in Tuxtla she used a better shampoo but because her hair in the photo was tarnished with dust: it had the same color, resin black but not the same thickness. From a nail on the wall hung a cap with the words ZOOMAT, a souvenir of our first visit to the zoo.

When we went out we would end up burned after the walk under the sun. I loved those excursions, the zoo, a park, a swimming pool, or a walk along the edge of the caustic green river which mildly lapped the shore and was crossed by a bridge eaten by rust. I liked the river because the sun had stolen my skin to make it burn and the sunstroke was relieved when the wind slowed down my pulse. Those were the physical sensations. In a more general way the weekend family excursions gave me pleasure just because time wandered in its own way, we were suspended in a limbo whose main attribute was getting us stuck in a knot that held us inside the insistent haze on the highway, the billboards quickly left behind, the confusing pause of the toll booth, the odor of burned grasslands, the air flapping our clothes inside the car, or the rain glistening on the car windows. Vapor that created mist on the windows and made it possible to mark them with your breath. You can see your soul in your breath, Micaela told me. If you didn’t grow up the way I did you won’t understand and if you don’t understand it’s best you don’t judge. She didn’t say it that way but it’s how she looked at me. Then the mark on the window would fade away leaving just a hazy circle, then the soul was just a point and then nothing. Those outings postponed Mondays. After Mondays followed Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays before reaching the longed-for Fridays. There were Saturdays and Sundays of staying in the house, but those outings were amazing, and since she’d come to live with us, Micaela, wearing her hat and her tennis shoes, prepared the lunch, filled the thermoses, and put it all in the Volkswagen. In her pueblo the women didn’t wear caps or tennis shoes. They went barefoot or wore rubber sandals that made a sticky sound, but sneakers, no. No hats to tame her hair either. My mother gave her some white Pana tennies. I would wear sneakers three days a week when I had gym, but I hated Mondays, which began with the sound of the shower. At the beginning of the week my parents ceased to exist and I had to give in to the constant and growing unhappiness that I felt at school. Micaela lost herself in her tasks, the kitchen–her impenetrable fortress–and then from four to eight pm she went to DIF, on the other side of the park.

At thirty years old Micaela went to DIF because she wanted to get her certificate for completing primary school. If I detested the useless beauty of my classroom, she put me in my place: “But is good have teacher, learn words, have diploma and get ahead.” She would use that phrase, get ahead, which I understood to refer to her past, as if her past was a place which one could leave and return to with alacrity. But Micaela, in fact, went to her past every two months and she said goodbye to it to return to the city where her Ladino clothing, the DIF, her household duties, the outings, and I waited for her.

It felt to me like a betrayal that, wearing her plain blouses and her shoes without heels, she went to DIF to improve herself. I didn’t want her to study for primary school, I wanted her to spend her afternoons with me. To watch television together or lie down on the coldness of the tiles and watch the disorder of the falling stars, because in my false memory or in my desire for company the stars fell over my little world, but she went to DIF and her world was one of duties and a hidden plot. She didn’t like easy things. Things weren’t easy out there, I found that out later.

“Don’ tell nobody!” she warned me. Honest words sealed the pact. I wasn’t going to tell my parents that Micaela wasn’t with me from four in the afternoon until eight in the evening. They left early in the morning and returned at nine at night and Micaela hurried to be in the house on time, as if she had been at my side and not in the classroom under the ceiling fan that didn’t remove the suffocation but rather cut it into pieces with its blades as if it were a ball of fire hanging over the heads of the students, the majority of them women who came to get ahead, because they, like Micaela, believed in progress. I knew that the fans clattered rhythmically because a few times Micaela took me to DIF and put me in one of the dumpy chairs in the back, as if I were a package, until I said, “Enough.” “But you can do homework here.” She grumbled. “But I don’t want to!” I yelled, “We no same,” she said to insult me. “But you aren’t anything more than a servant,” I said to her.

All of those changes were a result of the teachers’ union Section 4. My parents had been teachers in Micaela’s pueblo before they’d brought her to the city. When they’d finally had the opportunity to move from the pueblo to the city they’d showered Micaela with promises, convincing her that if she would take on the household tasks they couldn’t do because of their schedules, she would live better in the city. Micaela, the nanny, so as not to leave me by myself. “Le’s go to market,” and we would lose ourselves among yellow cardboard signs 50 CENTS A DOZEN and prayers on phosphorescent signs, GOD, GIVE ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE. She’d say we were going to the Granda and I had to wait for her amidst shelves full of zippers, buttons, thread, and pins. I liked to stare at the bolts of cloth until I was cross-eyed. There were fake jewelry stores where Micaela bought gaudy trinkets, Velcro, patches, little containers full of stars, glittery birds, miniatures that were glued to pins to make brooches. Micaela looked at herself in the store windows and arranged her hair. “You know how you walk? This is you,” I would tell her and she would look in the next picture window, closely observing the opponent that appeared in the reflection.

We were carefully examining some corn in the ditch when she saw the open door of DIF and ordered me, “Go. Go on. Move it. Le’s go.” DIF was a community center where they had workshops. Typing, cooking, hair styling, and sewing. In the last rooms were the reading classes. The bathrooms were always filthy, with doors full of words scribbled by hand, the toilet paper holders without paper, the toilet bowls with black scum on the edges. There was a playground: a slide and a merry-go-round on which I rode while waiting for Micaela to take her first class. I became dizzy and my eyes blurred and the branches let go of the trees and the ground lost the power to reach the laces of my shoes as I whirled on the merry-go-round at DIF while Micaela was scribbling in her notebook. Only one time did she wear an embroidered blouse to DIF. She told me the others had looked at her as if she were an exotic animal, so she chose a shirt and pants or a skirt of a neutral color. One afternoon she talked to me about wearing earrings. Where she had acquired this knowledge, I don’t know, but she sterilized a needle with boiling water and she pressed it into her ear until it began to bleed. I sterilized it with alcohol and merthiolate, and hours later Micaela had a hole in her ear.

Because of the cruel power of habit, I began to get used to her being around. She was my sister, the lonely girl, the strange relative, and we generally shared not only time but also the kind of mutual thefts that happen between neighbors. I was frightened by the animal noises from the crickets and frogs from the nearby wasteland, a noise that surged when nighttime came, but then Micaela came through the front door and jumped to the rattan mat, or the tiles or the cushion where I was cowering while watching television and waiting.

“Ah, you came back.”

“Good evenin’.”

“Good evening. You have to add the “g” or what did you learn today?”

“Already you start with you bad temper.”

“You learn; I have stopped learning. Now we can have bread with coffee. Bring me bread with coffee. Or make me some frijoladas.”

It was my way to get back at her. She would click her tongue to signal anger and would go to put the coffee on, adding cinnamon to keep the flavor in the cup. I would study her with fascination while she watched the alchemy encircled by flames. Or painted on the plate with beans and cheese, bland empanadas boiled or fried, round peasant bread, which she would serve with with painstaking disdain. And then from a noisy silence of seeming to move her lips without moving them, her way of making me feel guilty, I would give in to slurping the coffee to get her attention.

“What happened to your arm?”

“Acciden'”

“Tell me about it.”

“My husband burn with kerosene lamp.”

“No.”

“I swear, nylon burn and stink of it still on nose.”

“The nylon burned. You have it in your nose.”

“It burn.”

“Your husband? You have a husband like Mama has a husband?”

“Don’ say nothin’.”

“And where is he?”

“Close to me but other place.”

“Where?”

“Other place.”

“Husbands don’t usually wander all over.”

“Mine is other place.”

“I get it.”

“You don’ get it. I tell you my husband no in this world.”

“Then he’s dead?”

“He no dead, is sayin’ that he no in this world.”

“And if he’s not in this world how did he burn you?”

“He wan’ thinkin’. And he burn me.”

“Good, well you left him.”

“Who?”

“Your husband.”

“I no say that.”

“You said you had a husband and he burned you.”

“No. No one burn me. I no’ have husband,” she corrected. Her face was lost in personal sadness, an ancient sadness. Her blinking left her looking a little uncertain. It was that way, I’m sure. Maybe the words of the conversation weren’t those but she said it. I know we were in the kitchen with the burners on and the fruit was lying on the formica, an unchanging color that only Micaela’s dark hand could bring alive. It was dreamlike to see her in the incandescent light of the patio, working the earth in the flowerpots, yanking out or potting roots, combatting the pests. That on the one hand. It could be that the crickets were on the other side, listening to us talk or diverting the conversation to a place from where it could not be recovered. Maybe she didn’t serve me coffee nor did I slurp it like the rude kid I was, maybe she didn’t make me bean tortillas or maybe she did, but the precision of the memory brings out another similar moment, equally fragile. It could be that she cleaned the dirt from under my fingernails or picked the lice from my hair, because afterwards I would give our times together an urgent relevance, as if by poking around in those hours, untying the knot, taking it off the spool, I could bring Micaela back to earth.

Or I saw her smoking in the doorway. She rolled a joint, she lit it and inhaled, retaining as much as possible before entering the living room. I saw the scar on her arm and I asked her what happened and her answer was an absent look because she didn’t look at me but at a place inside herself, a place she lit with a lantern to scare away the memories.

“I don’ talk about it.”

“You should.”

“I can’. Thin’s go’ way. They get buried until worm grow inside they.”

“You say it as if it were nothing.”

“Uh huh.”

“And almost with pride.”

“No pride, pride is other thin’.”

In short: she didn’t want to talk. I suppose that her Spanish hindered her. But this memory is also a lie because I never saw her smoke more than the one time when she thought smoking was part of life in the city. It was probably too much being a dark-skinned Ch’ol from a high forest, from the country, who had learned about the position of the rocks, and suddenly she went down to the city to change her clothing, trade in her once confident voice for that of an an immigrant. I’m assuming too much, that I saw her smoke. It’s likely, why not?  Perhaps trying to understand the unnameable thing that happened, or to have a shared secret with her, made me imagine her in sneakers and a cap, wearing pants, a shirt, patent leather shoes, smoking a cigarette after returning from her class, confessing more scenes that tumbled out like loose earth that crumbled from its picture frame and went beyond it: a fervently hated husband, the history of a scar. Who knows how many anecdotes accumulated in the boundaries of her head that opened up to more pasts, more possibilities in the future? A stranger in her own family in her pueblo, with my parents, with me, a stranger even to me, when she should be there with her mouth hanging open, breathing with soft, evenly spaced snores. Without the power to watch over herself: she was herself but other, and she could never see herself.

 

The sharpest memories came to me when summer ended and she didn’t return. Before she got on the bus to Tuxtla a man ended her journey. He put her with her loud chiffon blouse in a van, in the backseat where no one could see. He lifted her wool skirt, took off her stockings, pried apart her knees, beat her. Later he undressed her and tied her up to a maluco tree. The blood on her neck was getting sticky. When they found her hanging there she smelled like the devil and was dissolving into the world.

They recreated her journey. Micaela thought maybe it was because of tiredness or thirst from so much walking up and down, and when she walked down she landed with bare feet on rocky ground. At first her legs moved slowly but humanly, at a pace she could follow. Then she went up and down until she stopped and ecstatically looked at the horizon, lowered her head and began to breathe, seeking oxygen. She walked for five days without being able to find her usual seat, aisle or window, the bus to Tuxtla that let her feel an anticipated freedom and, at the same time, an exhaustion. For five days she searched for the road and when she made out the outlines of the edges of things they appeared on her path just like splinters. In her stumbling she woke up those who were looking for her. Maybe they never found her. Maybe they were never really looking for her. Maybe she had never invaded our space or we hers.

 

The first one to notice her absence was my mother. Micaela should have been with us on Sunday night at the latest, but she hadn’t arrived. My mother called and left a message at the only phone booth in Yajalon. The person who answered gave the message to Micaela’s mother and then the mother went to the phone booth to return the call. Micaela had left at midday carrying her backpack and heading to the edge of the city where the bus passed.

“She wasn’t with her husband?” I asked later.

“What are you talking about?”

“She told me, tell them they should look for him.”

“Micaela wasn’t married.”

“The other night I asked her why she had a scar and she told me about an accident with kerosene.”

“They won’t find her.”

“The things they don’t find are smaller than a body, not a body.”

The third night I went into her room and there were her things, all of them, whole, watching. How was it possible they didn’t know? Or did they know? Did they hold hope inside of them that at some point would burst out? I opened the dressing table and was assaulted by fumes of mothballs, by powders to cover her face, rouge to put under her cheekbones, lipstick to emphasize her mouth that pronounced new words. “Micaela, how do you say bed in Ch’ol?” Those sounds emerged crudely like a buzzing of flies. “And notebook.” And it was like she was gargling. And dress, “Don’ you see there no dress?”  In the closet were her sneakers, so white they looked like cotton floating amongst the other stuff. Her clothing folded on the rack, the abandoned hangers, it was as if the blouses that she’d bought at Granda to go to DIF were alive. The cap with the logo ZOOMAT on the hook. Angrily I pulled it off and threw it in the trash.

“Come. Which you wan’? Take, now no need them,” I heard her say.

“Where were you?”

“Here.”

“Where did you hide yourself?”

And I could hear her sandals of old tractor tires marking the tile floor.

My grandmother came to take care of me until my mother could work out her schedule. The whole week was hazy, routines twisted, something fell apart. The house held us but the domesticity felt half-orphaned, incomplete, invaded by a crazy sweetness. You could see the efforts of the others to fix a broken universe which, with the absence of Micaela, had shown itself to be precarious. I saw my mother sick with exhaustion, putting frijoles in the small saucepan, cooking verdolagas, and on top of that she had to prepare her graphs for school. I saw my father with a 10-liter jug of water on his shoulder because we couldn’t drink the tap water and Micaela had done those jobs of cooking and doing the shopping. Even with them in it the kitchen seemed empty, lonely. In less than a week my grandmother showed me where the microwave was, the route between the house and the school, even though from Central Avenue to our street was a long way. Micaela’s death made me grow up prematurely. I went from primary to secondary school in a daze. My first period and that blood on Micaela’s neck, that smelled, so they said, like shit. Between one thing and another, I felt insignificant or at least I knew I was. Waiting until she served me dinner, being alone for the afternoon. Guarding a shared secret I needed to tell in case it shed light on her murder. But no. For five days they found no trace of her.

“She had a husband. It was him.”

“No she didn’t. No one knows who killed her.”

“She went to DIF; she took classes from four to eight.”

“That’s not true.”

“I went with her.”

“So it turns out that Micaela wasn’t the person we thought she was.”

Wasn’t. She existed there in her village and she created a new person here. The assimilated Ladina who had tricks so as not to disappear here or there, but even so she ended here or there, disappeared. That she was another person wasn’t a reason to not allow her to return to us.

“Bitch or what, wearin’ sneakers and pants, you jus’ need have beard and mustache and play cards in street, tha’s how my husband talk me.”

“Micaela, you’re a liar. You said you weren’t married.”

“If you don’ believe, who?”

“But you make up stories.”

“If I say is because it happen. You don’t drink so you don’ understand, drinkin’ that way he don’ let go his knife. I came, we fight, but we keep on fightin’ like always. Husband says what I do and don’ do. The man change, he take off shoes there or he don’, there he drink or he don’, he put his feet on table or he don’, he make noise there or he don’, I love him and I hate him and for nothin’, I control him or I don’, and he tell you go, come, stop, don’ go some places, don’ breathe, the road is lon’.”

There would be just one hoarse guffaw. I would see the plastic earring hanging from the hole that she made with the boiled needle. But she said it. Maybe we weren’t in the kitchen but me on the rattan mat and Micaela on the edge of the sofa, the two of us painted by the light of the television. We would watch telenovelas. I would watch telenovelas and she would write in her notebook:

“THE DIF

There is trees, there is fire, there is slide, the living room has lamp, it has white table, it has pencil, it has eraser, it has teacher, it has chalk, the blackboard has cloud, it has bathroom for men and other for women, it has flower, it has things, it has beauty shop, it has kitchen, it has room to learn comb, it has friends, it has places to play, outside is church, it has kiosk, next of door is corn man, corn cost two pesos, bell on church rings on the mass on six.”

After five days someone saw her shape next to the maluco tree, and called to report it, and then came the funeral. They talked about how the same thing happened to so and so and so and so, that their hair got tangled in a tree trunk and there they were twisting around without being able to return. I didn’t go to the funeral because not everyone dies. I refused to believe that death was simply an object of contemplation. Childishly, I began to eat Ritz crackers, one after the other, dipped in strawberry Fanta until I began to retch and vomit. And what happens now? How does it all end? Does everything end. I didn’t ask. Only my parents took the trip. They dressed her in a spongy shroud with ruffles and decorations. And for what? As if unless they dressed her in the loud blouse no one could see her. Mother’s gaze was lost amongst the feet of the praying old women until she was distracted, I knew because she told me that. When it was already a fact and people were sick of speculating on what had happened the husband began to run around in my head.

I would close my eyes and right away he would appear, he would drag Micaela by the hair through a burnt-out pasture full of weeds and he would run away. I would hurry but just when I would almost be on top of her my arms would shrink and I couldn’t reach her. Even the treacherous land was protected by beasts. Then I’d continue looking for her without saying a word. I made the turn, to where? If everything was reversed, the moon and the sky fallen, the bald road was getting longer as it went higher. Things had different forms but at least I could recognize them. I went ahead but it could have been backward, because then Micaela was looking for me, they’re looking for you, I told her. Her face was pallid, she had lost the shine of her chubby cheeks, her eyes were closed. She murmured, I am not staying inside of me, let’s go now. Her words went beyond the gentle hillsides. Red clouds were breaking up above us. Below little insects besieged my naked calves. I saw her amethyst colored blouse, your clothes are so pretty, I said and she began to tell me how pretty the blouse was but to wear it with the long heavy skirt and walk barefoot, no. The amethyst blouse, of an undulating fabric covered her squat body. She asked me to hurry, so we could arrive at her body for her to unite with it because she didn’t want to stay there forever. Let’s go to the bus, this is very inhospitable, and she said it’s that first I am going to get my last change of clothes and say goodbye. And me, but if you don’t have a body and she we know what it is to leave a place and she spoke of something vaster and profound, that the earth was something to respect, that if you leave it, it will make you pay, the same as her husband was doing, insisting that the city was going to destroy her and infect her with its impurities but the village is governed by the heavens and harmony. What harmony is there going to be, not here, she scolded. I like my blouse and my sneakers and my cap and learning in the school, to stay here is no place. Her speech was labored and didn’t permit interruptions. We arrived at her wooden house, built over a ridge, the shutters banging with the wind, the action sped up and suddenly we were inside. An unbuttoned shirt hung over the back of a chair, the dimness denser because of the low-watt bulb. On the table there was an enormous Bengal tiger made of black wool. It seemed like a sacred space, savage and wild, intact, a lost kingdom, inhabited by those who had already been devoured, those who had awakened stiff. The husband came back to meet her. His presence filled the doorway, his stubborn noises reached us. Micaela’s face was unreadable, her hair looked as it did in the photos, ingrained with dirt. He saw me, he saw us, we saw him. When he crossed into the room the fight began.

That was the most obvious dream. An elaborate one that gave me the illusion of having control over the other dream in which there were fewer elements but which recurred incessantly. I was sleeping on the rattan mat where I usually waited for Micaela to finish her classes at DIF and hurry home to arrive on time and continue the lie. I don’t know why she didn’t want to tell my mother; it wouldn’t have cost her anything to tell her about the certificate. Maybe she felt exactly that when she looked not in front of her but at the floor, lit by an unapproachable shame, caught up in her own shadows. The few times that I went with her to DIF even when I pretended to be bored just to annoy her, she bought me huge cans of Sprite. She liked Sprite and strawberry Fanta with Ritz crackers. That flavor of sweetness and salt expanding inside my mouth, so easy to recreate. With her I felt free to get my hands all dirty when we ate chicken legs and I wiped them off on her clothes. I missed how she turned on the portable radio: I would make her listen to FM where they played ballads of the eighties; I didn’t like her AM with its chichera music, unintelligible to me. I missed her hateful face when she threatened me; if you open your mouth no frijoles and don’t even think about eating mine. Her calm way of moving, with a hope that no one gave her and no one took from her when she went to DIF, her hasty way of eating little sandwiches when she got back, of taking the money my father left on the table, her way of entering into and taking possession of our lives. Disloyal, unbreakably strong, austere, hardened, arrogant, unfriendly, nomadic, above all when she decided to leave her village, the place that calcified her under its dry light.

“Make me something to eat,” I would say to her to make her angry.

“I do homework.”

“I’m hungry.”

“In hour.”

“I can’t wait.”

“Then make own dinner.”

“How?”

And she would end up tossing off a “forget it,” and turning her back to me, a back notably browner than mine. I felt her rejection and worse, that Micaela had returned me to the forgottenness where she had found me. My school lessons wouldn’t help me, that I understood. I never had pencils, I lost the notebooks or made up things when I had to write something about the Ch’ols or the Tojolabales or the Tzotziles and I was incapable of thinking of that history in relation to Micaela. It was important that she knew what I was doing, I wanted to attract her attention, that was all. She, in exchange, would open her closet door, releasing all the trapped odors, a sickly sweet and acrid mixture. Instead of using perfume, she would put a corsage on her bodice. You could smell her as if you saw her. Sometimes she called it aparecida. I forgot it until one afternoon I told her that I didn’t know why she called it that. “Is because I appeared,” she said.

When we went through her things I found my lost necklace. Cassettes of the singer Raphael, a bracelet watch she’d bought at the fayuca that had water inside the crystal, a pocket handkerchief and several bars of Maja soap. Some yellow, orange, and pink ribbons she’d stopped using to dress her hair. I imagined her rifling through my mother’s drawers and trying on her jackets, her seamed stockings, her salmon-colored satin underwear. I had adored her falsely. Even in the worst moments I’d lavished her with, “How pretty you are.” “Don’ flatter me,” she would joke. Of her, with her batting eyelashes, her untranslatable eyes that didn’t fit with the rest of her face. I wasn’t going to tell on her. Her secret would be safe with me. In front of the mirror on the wardrobe she shed her skin or put on her lipstick, or chased me out scolding me in her language: an unintelligible prayer, a curse, as if she were scraping something, no, as if she were threatening, although those sounds soothed her and suddenly she would be quiet.

I say the dream was recurrent: its territory was that of the transformation of things without reason, that of visions and reactions. It happened during the the first months, with my mother telling me “When you grow up you’ll forget it.” Because this cluster of loss, of anger, of emotional disorder wasn’t breaking up. Whether asleep on the rattan mat or in bed, steps on the sidewalk would awaken me. My fear lived in those feet. I would see the ghosts of darkness gnawing at my knees. It was the husband, he would throw himself on top of me, open me, tear my skin. His sex would stay open like a red insect, fleshy and meaty, with black blood that finally spilled over onto my yielding flesh. This dream added up the horrors, it made me timid, it weighed down my sense of reality. Sometimes the man came in the light of the afternoon, when I got back from school while I was waiting for my parents, teachers in front of groups of children that deserved more time than me, work that enabled them to buy groceries every payday so that their daughter would have the energy to go to school and in the future could get ahead.

Stop whining like a baby, what do you have to complain about, Micaela would mutter, her harsh voice overpowering his, with a strong “g,” a bit more noticeable as if she had taken a step forward, allowing the hand of her husband to pull me and make me scream in vain because no one could hear my overwhelmed heart. I understood my own abandonment, my condition of unburied death. Her mutterings were sufficient to subdue me into resignation and give up control. The afternoon hovered, the scream barely cut the silence as if to confirm that I was awake or at least could escape. The grip on my arm hurt, I was choking, I couldn’t breathe, it burned me when the hand with the knife cut me inside and, even holding my legs together, covering myself, I could feel the friction. It was a hand with an evil knife and he said to me, “Shut up, you little shit.”  Then the slashes allowed a lukewarm continent to escape me. I didn’t even have the strength to hit him. Them inside, outside, the situation of the most frightening intimacy that I had ever shared with anyone. But the reality of the dream seemed to dissolve, a way of softening the repugnant truth, and I returned to concentrate on the dizzying observation of the husband, his breathing denser than mine, his male odor disgusting me, his saliva rocking on his tongue before he bit me. And I remained curled up in a ball, unable to move on the mat or inside of the clean sheet or the one splattered with food stains, burrowed in the mattress that received the urine of my incontinence, my mind outside of time, my guts twisted. His eyes bloodshot from the sharp brightness of the television, until he vanquished me with the last blow and the nausea or lethargy overcame me and then I began shutting off. me, “Shut up, you little shit”.  Then

Bios

Nadia Villafuerte

Nadia Villafuerte (b. 1978, Mexico) studied music and journalism. She has received grants from the National Fund for Culture and Arts, and the Foundation for Mexican Literature, along with a Mexican national grant for an artistic residency in New York City. Her published works are two books of short stories; Barcos en Houston (2005) and ¿Te gusta el látex, cielo? (2008), and the novel Por el lado salvaje (2011). She is included in the anthologies México20: New Voices, Old Traditions (Pushkin Press, 2015) and Palabras mayores, nueva narrativa mexicana (Malpaso Ediciones, 2015), among others. Her stories and lyric essays have been published in numerous magazines. English translations of her work include “On the Wide Side,” translated by Lorna Scott Day in Mexico20, and “Cowboy Boots,” translated by Pennell Somsen in the Rio Grande Review. She was the featured writer in the Winter 2017 edition of Latin American Literature Today with an interview and four translated stories. Translations of her work have also appeared or are forthcoming in Delos Journal and Reunion: The Dallas Review. Presently Ms. Villafuerte is poised to graduate from NYU with an MFA from the Creative Writing Program in Spanish.

Pennell Somsen

Pennell Somsen (b. 1945, U.S.) graduated from CUNY (City University of New York) Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies in 2015. She has studied with Esther Allen at both Baruch College and Bread Loaf Translators' Conference 2016. Her published translations include “Cowboy Boots” in the Rio Grande Review (2015), “Happy Box” and “Whadayalookinfor?” in Latin American Literature Today (January 2017), and “Casas” in Delos (2017), all by Nadia Villafuerte. Her translation of “The Woman Who Sang” by Villafuerte is scheduled to be published in Reunion: The Dallas Review. She also works with the writers Sonia Rivera Valdes and Roberto Azcorra Camara. Her essays in Spanish have been published in Memorias del Coloquio de LART 2014 (Campana 2016) and Inquietitudes (2014 and 2015), and by La Salvaje Cartonera in Chiapas, Mexico in 2014.

Salir adelante. Copyright (c) Nadia Villafuerte, 2017. English translation copyright (c) Pennell Somsen, 2017.