Rio Blanco


Let’s say you live alone. Let’s say you live alone and you have trouble sleeping at night, so you wander your darkened apartment from one narrow hallway to the next, making slow, steady circles around your living room, circles that grow smaller and smaller until you are no longer walking but just spinning in place. You had a party months ago and hung balloons from the ceiling that you never took down, and in the weak light of winter they bob like jellyfish during low tide. You walk between the balloons, or jellyfish, whichever, gently batting them with your palm.

You live alone, now, but once you lived with someone else. When you shift your body out of bed and over the empty space next to you, you hold your breath, like months later you still might wake her, like she still might know all the things you hold inside.

Let’s say one night you leave. You get on a bus, you cross border after border until they blur together. Next to you, a little girl stands swaying against her mother’s legs. Come here, you motion to the girl, tapping your own legs. You look at your hands and do not know how they are attached to your arms. Her mother pushes her towards you. She climbs into your lap, cradling a bowl full of eggs, and you can feel the weight of her body as she falls asleep against you.

You get on a bus. You cross borders. You step off the bus, into the daylight, onto the ground. There are mountains all around you and dirt roads that grow thinner the farther into the jungle you walk. Ahead of you are women, candles in their hands, a fake, lily-white Jesus in a coffin on their shoulders.

Where are the men? You ask. You carry nothing with you.

Fishing season, say the women, wives all briefly widowed, and you let your body fall into step with theirs.

Who lives here? You ask, pointing to a concrete house, thrown down and forgotten. A straggling gang of children has formed behind you, long and lean.

You, they say, and in this way, you stake your claim.

At night you have war dreams. You wake in the mornings with your hair wild, saluting. You drink small cups of sweet coffee and sit with your skirt hiked up past your thighs. It is always hot, you are always sweating, you can never really breathe. You have a tin roof and a bed, you have insatiable longing and horrible grief, you have no table and only one chair. You want to make better choices than your mother. You can feel yourself doing the opposite.

Ileana, who lives in the house next to yours, has black hair, silver teeth, and covers her mouth when she speaks. You help her with the laundry, hanging it on the line to dry. Behind the laundry there are fields, and behind the fields there are cows and mountains where the men once patrolled with guns while the women slept on the floors of their houses. She says to you, yes, there was a war once, but really, it is worse now. She has just killed a pig, slit its throat and drained its blood. You face each other in plastic chairs, intestines in buckets forming a circle around you.

I dreamt of a priest, dressed in white, says the woman you don’t know, standing at the edge of the house, her shirt stained and her hair loose.

I dreamt that everything was covered in flowers, says Ileana, but when I woke up, it was only the rain.

I dreamt of a girl that I fucked over, you say without breathing. You woke up crying, like maybe here you could love her more, in all the ways she wanted, but you don’t tell them that.

And what did you do to her? Ileana asks later, pounding tortillas with the palm of her hand.

It doesn’t matter, you answer, and it is another lie you can almost believe.

You wake up the next morning and know that no one can please you. Ileana braids small, pink flowers into your hair, buys you an orange, and says, you’re leaving me alone. I’m all alone now.

Then she turns to you and smiles.

I don’t think about the war much, she says. I wouldn’t want to live this history again. But I know if they hadn’t fought, my father would still be alive. They said it was his heart, but I know it wasn’t.

I haven’t told anyone that, she says, guava trees and woodsmoke and dirt roads with no cars. That is just what I think.