the little choices

we sit at the oversized, red-toned mahogany table a salesman pressured you into buying. you have never admitted this to me.

my sister recounted the transaction, while you were showering. you were on the hunt for a sturdier, slightly larger table than the plastic black one you had. it wobbled when you put down a cazuela, so no, it wouldn’t do.

and, at a thrift store, this tall, reddish brown table caught your eye. the reflection of the spinning ceiling fan on its glossy tabletop hypnotized you. however, it was too large for the studio apartment. it wouldn’t do, you mumbled.

a lurking salesman noticed your lustful gaze and offered you a price. you shared that you were interested, but that it wouldn’t fit. how would you even take it home? it’s just too large. he said not to worry–he’d bring it to you and set it up for free. you politely declined. he insisted.

you both are at the apartment. you’re sitting on the couch, with your legs crossed, sipping an iced coke while he’s kneeling beside the table, piecing it together. he makes small talk. the weather is lovely. you are lovely. do you only have one daughter? she’s awfully quiet. is her mouth sewn shut? people must walk all over her.

you agreed with him. you wished aloud that she were more outgoing, talkative, and confident.

my sister watched you in silence.

she says you didn’t want this table, but at least you got to choose it. choosing is important to you. you remind us that our dad never let you pick anything that went on the walls. he never let you select furniture. he never let you choose.

you chose this bulky table, and you’re keeping it.

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.