bruja at heart

‘magic is of the devil, and the devil is not invited into our home’. you remind us, your children, of this as my sister burns red candles and mixes her scented oils. i laugh. as if these things were magical. to spite you, my sister lights a black candle. ‘you are opening doors, inviting energies you don’t know how to handle’, you hiss, like a cat who is being threatened by the unknown.

you head back to the kitchen, where you resume boiling rosemary and herbs. the subtle, fresh, woody scent drifts throughout the apartment, almost warming it. you place the concoction in front of us. it is a soft shade of pink. ‘it’s the lemon. good for your immune system’, you explain, smiling. ‘i put some rosemary in a cup for you, by itself, so you can pour it over yourself in the shower. it cleanses away the bad spirits,’ you add.

i think your notebooks are one of your prized possessions. they are crammed with information about vegetables, fruits, clays, vitamins, herbs, oils, and their healing properties. you know what foods are good for the heart, what herbs alleviate colds, and what can make them worsen.

knowledge is power. you healed your own bleeding wound, with no scar to tell the tale. i still remember when i burned myself on my right elbow, and how you healed my burns. egg whites are useful–they help prevent scarring. my grandpa had skin cancer, and you sent him a package full of vitamins, clays, and herbs. he survived the cancer and he’s been healthy ever since. you remind me of this when you notice me taking ibuprofen or dayquil.

‘i don’t have any money, but in my will, i’ll make sure each of you gets a notebook’, you’ve joked.

my sister collects scented oils, lights candles, and draws the symbols she sees in her dreams in her notebooks. you’ve caught her, and you’ve told her that she is doing the devil’s work. we are catholics, and the priests warn against magic.

i laugh. it’s funny because you are magical, mother.

the penguin man

his flip-flops squeak as he waddles down the hall. before he reaches the end of the hall, where our floor’s shared bathrooms are, he peers at the staircase and watches me trudge up the steps.
“hiya!” he exclaims. he pauses at the top of the steps. i smile politely.
“how are you?” he asks. i haven’t seen him since i moved into the apartment building, which was five months ago. i respond with a generic, “i’m good. how are you doing?” he ignores my question. instead he replies, “you work, right?”
i nod.
“what is it that you do, exactly? the landlord told me you were a counselor.”
i am shocked by his abruptness. i vaguely tell him that i’m not a counselor–i’m actually an americorps volunteer.
i ask him, “how about you, what is it that you do?” i am still a little stunned by his forwardness.
“have a good night!” he answers, and waddles over to the restrooms.
*
i need to be the one doing the questioning.

sleepless

when i first came here, the people seemed to have been drugged by the clouds in the sky. their eyes were heavy with weariness and their faces were pale and wrinkly, almost like rice paper.

i watched them from a distance and assured myself that my solar powered, cheerful attitude was a fixed trait of mine. it would endure the absence of sunshine, the crisp air of rain, and the yearning of family and friends who were miles away.

five months ago, my eyes would have drank the ‘harsh’ sunlight the same way that shorelines drink ocean water. five months have passed, and my eyes have begun to cringe at seattle’s filtered sunlight. 

i now too, look like rice paper. my sandy skin has hardened to a white clay that i’m not sure i can mold anymore. five months ago, i shaped sandcastles that resembled the palace i called ‘julie’. it could be anything i wanted it to be: a sea turtle, a mayan pyramid, a quetzal, an angel wing, a siberian tiger.

five months later, the sandcastle is only a pile of wet sand.

the lemon tree

pharmaceuticals are bullshit.
have you heard of the lemon tree?
he whispers, and reads my skeptic expression
as a preacher’s invitation:

man-made drugs don’t heal us, sister,
but our family does. the trees, the earth,
the lemon tree, have been here for
thousands of years–and it’s free.
there are no excuses, drinking lemon water
will change your life. have you heard of the
lemon tree?

i tell him i know all about lemons–
the other day i got lucky,
7 lemons for 3.99.

the self-proclaimed jesus of the lemon trees
shakes his head. he says, you don’t have
to pay to live in abundance sister.

he glances around the room and mumbles,
i’m looking for a priestess, and you can’t carry the word.

in a cotton dress he swears he dyed with berries,
he floats around the room, searching for the
undiscovered priestess of the lemon tree.

our muddled selves

conducting her nightly ritual, she searched the full length mirror in her bedroom for tranquility. as expected, she saw the disarrayed bed behind her and her absence in the reflection. she had suspected for sometime now that she was perhaps one of those ghosts who didn’t know that they were one, which would explain why her reflection never appeared in the mirror. she would understand her her lack of memory, and the specific memories that haunted her in this afterlife would bewilder her: a last look of herself on her wedding day to an unknown partner, a moment in elementary school when she pooped in her dress during a test, and her little brother’s smile.

she walked up to the mirror, and with the wind of frustration she punched it. shards of glass jumbled on the floor and slit her hands and feet, thrilling them with the high of stings. feeling content with evidence of consciousness, because she believed that ghosts couldn’t feel, her figure began to emerge from a lost realm. but when she looked down at the rose-colored shards and didn’t see her face, only the white ceiling above her, she crushed the pieces and bloodied her feet even more.

unknowingly, her body began to fade away again, surrendering to a reality she fought her best to control.

inconsequential decisions

I briskly walk up to the front desk of The Oakland Tribune, re-adjusting my glasses one last time. With my brown leather briefcase in hand, I smile widely at a young man sporting a comb-over haircut. I pause. He doesn’t seem to notice my arrival as he continues to vigorously type on an Apple computer. “Hello, my name is Cecilia Vargas. I’m here for my one o’clock interview.” He nods without looking up. “Go straight down this hallway, and turn to your left. There’s a sitting room and you can wait there.” I mutter a thank-you as pleasantly as I could, and head down the hallway.

As I turn to the left, I see the large sitting room. There are several long, suede black couches that stand out against the white walls. Several bamboo plants are scattered across the room, the tips of their stalks as tall as the crystallized floor lamps that stood right beside them. A few glass coffee tables were placed between the black couches, with magazines sprawled out on them.

On the center couch sits a middle-aged man dressed in a khaki suit. As he hears the click of my heels come closer, he looks up from reading a Reader’s Digest. “Hello,” I say pleasantly. He redirects his gaze to his magazine, then nods. I sit on the couch across from him, and fold my hands on my lap. While crossing my legs, I look around the room. “Are you here for the interview?” I ask. He nods again. Guess he doesn’t befriend the enemy, I say to myself.

I decide to skim his outfit, and I noticed that the bottom of his shirt, near his navel, is unbuttoned. He isn’t wearing a shirt underneath, and I see the coarseness of his body hair. I raise an eyebrow, and shift my gaze up to his face. Still engrossed in the magazine, he turns the next page. I pick up a Times from the coffee table in front of me, and place it on my lap. While reading it, I cross my arms and lean back on the couch. Should I say something about his shirt?

Minutes pass. I am still reading an article about the wage gap when a woman steps into the doorway, clipboard in hand. “Cecilia? Come with me to begin the interview.”

I stand, smooth my pencil skirt, and follow the woman to my interview.

❂❂❂

After my interview, I head to the restroom. Inside, I set my briefcase down and sigh. I think she’ll call back. It went pretty well. Looking in the mirror, I smile, and I notice red lipstick staining my teeth.

I hope she notices his unbuttoned shirt, I mutter vengefully as I grab a paper towel.