bad habit

sometimes i mutter i don’t know, when i do know.
it’s a disclaimer of sorts, in moments of vulnerable diffidence.
or, i don’t know–it’s automatic sometimes, too.

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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.

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.

made of glass

they left me on a hospital cot against my will,
those doctors. my pleas and
threats only furrowed their eyebrows and
clenched their teeth.
i believe you, says aunt irene.
they think i’m crazy, i reply.

her eyes remain motionless as she smiles
towards me. she kneels beside my cot,
and murmurs a prayer. i close my eyes
to soak up its energy.

i hear her get up. she says, i’ll see you
next tuesday
, and leans in to hug me.
i shriek.

aunt irene jumps. she apologizes and says
she forgot. how can you forget when
you’re looking right at me, i ask her.
she pauses. i’ve just learned to see
through the glass
. i’m made of out of
carnival glass, so you can’t see
through it, i snap. i remind her that if anyone
touches me, i shatter.

aunt irene sighs. she leaves the hospital
room, gently closing the door behind her.

creative, fun writing exercises (including this one):
http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises

naomi under the harvest moon

A small blackbird soared between the bare tree branches and landed on my left shoulder. The blackbird, Annikah, cawed and as it ruffled its feathers, its coat shifted into a pearlescent white. She’s great at camouflage–which is why I bought her. All students of witchcraft need a pet.
I had sent her off in search of the heart of amethyst. The heart of amethyst, a heart-shaped pastel purple stone that evokes peace, is the last ingredient I need to conjure my protection spell. I had been hiding for three months now in rural Grinnell. If they find me, they will do their best to change me. They will do their best to strip me from my magic.
I transport Annikah and I to a Louisiana home with tall, French windows–my mother’s old home. I walk along the porch and recalled my mother whistling to the sound of my neighbor’s pop music on her rocking chair. This rocking chair should suffice for the spell.
I sit on her rocking chair and sprinkled red sea salt around it while whispering the names of my enemies to the harvest moon, in hopes that she’ll hear me. They say that she listens to only those deserving of light in darkness.
From the rocking chair, I hear a loud thump on the roof. Maintain concentration, I tell myself. This is what you’ve been studying for.
On the wall adjacent to where I’m seated, the shadows change and I heard my heartbeat accelerate faster than the pitter-patter of rain. They’ve found me, they’ve found me.
“I know witches who’ve tried to do that protection spell. Lucky for me, it never works.” said the familiar voice.
I stand from the rocking chair and face my uninvited visitor, Donald Gines–my father. His silver-rimmed glasses reflected the moonlight, obscuring his eyes from my view. Did his deep skin always have so many folds? While rocking back and forth on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back, he examined the tattoo that adorned my collarbone. On my brown skin, the copper-ink outline of three roses glistened in the moonlight that shone through the windows. My father clucked his tongue. “That’s new. I don’t think your mother would’ve approved,” he remarked as he glanced at the rocking chair.
I crossed my arms. “You don’t know my mother.”
“Remember,” he said, as he walked to the window. “I knew her longer than you did.” He paused, and looked at the bare branches of the evergreen tree outside. As I watched him, I sprinkled red sea salt between us.
I rolled my eyes. “People don’t stay the same,” I said. “They change.”
“Then I guess you’re the exception,” he shot back. Gines clasped his hands together, and sighed. A silver ring with a sapphire stone softly squeezes his thumb. “Naomi, let’s make a deal. Come with me now, peacefully, and I’ll make sure that the Guardians don’t hurt you.”
I laughed.
“If you refuse this, they will come for you.”
“If you only came to warn me,” I began, “you’re wasting your time. I will not let you or the Guardians rid me of my powers because they are all I have left of my mother. You can tell them that I’m not afraid to face them.”
My father furrowed his eyebrows and scratched his graying mustache. His mustache, reminded me of an unkempt broom–frayed and stiff.
“I rather die on my feet than live on my knees*,” I said as I took a few steps back. I raised my left arm and clucked my tongue, and Annikah glided into the room. She landed on mother’s rocking chair.
“You’ve always been a warrior.” He rolled up the sleeves of his navy blazer as he whispered, “At least give me one last hug.”
I stared at him. He looked so different compared to what I remember. The image of his tailored navy suit and graying hairs stunned me all of a sudden–I hadn’t seen him in years. He didn’t look back at me. Instead, he examined his bronze cufflinks. I wonder if the Guardians gifted those to him.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
He shifted his gaze to me and smiled, raising his arms out to embrace me. As I wrapped my arms around him, I revelled in his warmth that juxtaposed the cool air of the house. I smelled his aftershave, a classic old spice, and a memory of the three of us engrossed me. He, my mother and I locked in an embrace one night on the couch. We were watching George Lopez and laughing together, eating Doritos. I remember father saying that he was funnier than George.
“I’m sorry,” my father whispered.
I felt a warm pulse on the area where he injected the needle. A thick liquid oozed through my veins, and as it overfilled the chambers in my heart, a rush of heat washed over me. I collapsed, and everything went white.

**This is what I wrote for the writing exercise, “Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…”**

*quote by emiliano zapata.

resting with work shoes

“los mexicanos son bien machista.” – a saying

Licha, a slim, middle-aged woman, drops her small, faux-leather purse on her bed just after she arrives home from la fabrica. She glances at her watch. It is 5pm. Her eyes close, and she imagines her body sprawled on the bed, her latte-colored skin feeling the breeze of the metal fan behind her. In a bit, she tells herself. In a bit I can rest.

Her husband had been waiting in the living room on their brown, suede sofa. He arrived an hour and a half before Licha. When he came home, he took off his shiny-black work shoes and changed into a pair of basketball shorts and a muscle shirt. As he sits on the sofa, he stretches his legs and rests his hands on his belly. He greets Licha as she makes her way to the kitchen.

He tells her that he wants enchiladas for dinner. Make them real spicy, he says. Those are the best. Licha nods. Her husband smiles at her and continues to watch las noticias.

Licha begins to make the chile. She decides to use the chile de lata—he won’t know the difference, right? She pours the red chile into a pot and stirs, adding other chile powders and herbs. Meanwhile, she heats corn tortillas, careful not to burn her fingers as she flips them. She places the tortillas on a plate and makes the stuffing: baked chicken with cilantro, chopped black olives, a little cheese, and a drizzle of the chile sauce. Now, the chile is done; she dips the already heated tortillas inside it, coating them red. She sets it on a separate plate and fills the tortilla with the stuffing. Licha folds the tortilla like a taquito and places it on an oven-safe tray. She repeats this process until the tray is filled.

While Licha sprinkles cheese and black olives over her enchiladas, her husband appears in the kitchen. You made enough so that I can some take to work, vieja? he asks. Licha replies, claro, viejo. Her husband nods at her response. He loves when Licha makes his lunch. See, you won’t have to prepare anything for my lunch tomorrow, he says. I’ve done you a favor, querida, he says. He serves himself some apple juice and talks about his day at work. Licha listens as she slips the tray in the oven.

Licha is washing dishes while waiting for the enchiladas to cool—she took them out a few minutes ago. It is 7:30pm. Her husband enters the kitchen again. He opens the fridge and grabs slices of ham, sandwich cheese, and mayonnaise. What are you doing? asks Licha, confused. The enchiladas will be ready in a few minutes. They’re just cooling down, she says.

Her husband snorts. You should’ve made me something else in the meantime. You know I have to wake up early to go to work. I have to go to bed soon, he says while spreading the mayo on wheat bread. I’m tired, he says.

Licha protests. I work too, and I’m also tired, she says. Are you really going to waste my time and energy? she asks. He sits down on their sofa and ignores her. She raises her voice. She tells him that he is a malagradecido, among other insults. He shoos her away. Déjame comer en paz, he says. Licha continues to express her frustration and her husband continues to disregard her.

Before shouting, Licha thought her husband would listen to her this time. One day he’ll realize he can’t do that to me, she thinks to herself. He won’t be so terco.

She serves herself a few enchiladas and walks to their bedroom, alone. She situates herself on the bed and lays against her fluffy pillows, sitting upright against the mahogany headboard. She turns on the television and begins to watch a novela called, Lo que la vida me robó.

Licha doesn’t realize that her work shoes are still on.

meanings of spanish words used:

*los mexicanos son bien machista: Mexicans are machista
*la fabrica: the factory
*las noticias: the news
*de lata: from the can
*vieja: (in this case) old woman, used to refer to one’s girlfriend or wife
*claro: (in this case) of course
*viejo: (in this case) old man, used to refer to one’s boyfriend or husband
*querida: (in this case) beloved
*malagradecido: ungrateful person
*Déjame comer en paz: Let me eat in peace
*terco: stubborn
*novela: a television soap opera
*Lo que la vida me robó: a tele-novela titled, What Life Stole from Me

the heart of cinder

On a sultry, humid, July afternoon, Cinder carried eggs, milk, bread, and cheese to his home. Cinder had a small, cozy home, inhabited by his lovely mother, his charming father, and his good-natured older brother, all whom were watching television when Cinder entered. Cinder, an attractive boy with high cheekbones and dark almond eyes, did not acknowledge his family members as he walked past them to the kitchen to put away his newly purchased groceries. Cinder’s family members did not greet him, either. As his family members laughed and conversed on their comfy couches and felt the soft breeze of their little black fan on their cheeks, Cinder put away the eggs, milk, bread, and cheese, annoyed.

Cinder was not always annoyed while putting away groceries or did not always purposefully ignore his family members until his lovely mother broke her ankle. He was in the white 2003 Toyota Corolla, waiting for his mother to emerge from the pale-yellow liquor store when it happened. She came out quickly, carrying a 30 pack of eggs and a low-fat milk, as usual, when she suddenly fell on her knees and all the eggs cracked, which was unusual. Cinder rushed to her side as she unsteadily got back up on her feet.

A few days later, when Cinder’s mother had gone to the hospital because she had trouble walking, they discovered that one of her ankles was indeed broken. She wore a shiny-white cast that covered her entire leg, ankle, and heel. She restricted her movements as much as possible, so she no longer went to work, nor carried any groceries. She rested at home in hopes of a speedy recovery, as her doctor advised. Since then, Cinder had been in charge of all his mother’s errands, such as: cleaning the rugs, curtains, beds; cooking beans, soups, and meats; shopping for groceries, calling cards, and random household goods. Cinder was also a full-time student, who studied social change and social institutions that influence human behavior and thought.

Cinder was now annoyed that despite his studies, his lovely mother, charming father, and good-natured brother believed that he should resume his mother’s errands because he does not have an income. When Cinder questioned his able father and brother, his father reasoned that he generates the most income and that is enough, and Cinder’s brother agreed, reiterating that he also has an income and thus that is also enough. His mother approved her husband and eldest son’s responses, reminding them all that she did all these chores while she had a job. She had done it without assistance from any of them before, and Cinder should be able to do the same. Cinder wondered why they couldn’t divide the work between himself, his father, and his brother, so that six hands would help his lovely mother instead of only two.

A month had gone by and Cinder still cooked, cleaned, and served his family on their beautiful white ceramic plates. A month had gone by and Cinder was as annoyed as ever, speaking to his family in vexed tones when they asked him to make more tortillas because they were running out. While Cinder warmed more corn tortillas for his family, he thought about how his grades had fallen and his hobbies were left unattended, all because his no longer lovely mother broke her ankle.

As Cinder placed the warmed corn tortillas on his family members’ respective plates, his no longer lovely mother told him to serve her more cold water because her glass was nearly empty. As Cinder poured the icy water into her glass, his brother told him to pour the water in his glass too, and quickly, because he was thirsty. Just before Cinder was going to make a snappy comment, his mother shrieked, and Cinder realized that he had over-poured his mother’s glass, and a few drops of water had spilled on her lovely purple dress. His mother shouted at him, and called him useless, stupid, good-for-nothing, and an imbecile. Cinder’s father and brother tried to console her by telling her that it was only water and that he didn’t spill that much. She did not listen to them and ordered Cinder to leave her sight because he was an idiot and she did not feel like speaking to one.

The next day, Cinder and his family members did not acknowledge the fight the day before. They still commanded Cinder to do this and to go do that, and his mother still referred to him as incompetent. Just as his mother did not understand him, Cinder did not understand his mother. He felt embers build in his stomach when he thought of his mother as cruel, ungrateful, and irritating.

Another month had gone by and Cinder could no longer take his mother’s insults or the demands of his father and brother. Cinder left while his mother slept on the sofa with the television on, her mouth open and her hand on her belly, moving up and down with her slow, steady breaths. Cinder stared at her for a minute, wondering whether his decision was the right one. He then moved his gaze to the cast on her leg, still shiny white because she made him polish it that morning, and each morning before that. It didn’t take him long to make a decision when he remembered the way she shouted and complained as he polished her cast.

He ran away and took his video game consoles, his favorite snacks, his headphones, his music player, his favorite blanket, and his stuffed rabbit he named Conejita when he was three.

The day that Cinder had left, his family reasoned that he probably went to go purchase the cheese they were missing, the special soaps he needed to wipe the windows, or the vegetables they craved for tonight’s dinner. When Cinder did not return that night, or the night after, or the night after that, his family members did not cry in each other’s arms, they did not hold each other and wonder what they had done to Cinder to make him leave them. Instead, they whimpered to themselves before they fell asleep, hugging themselves tightly. Cinder’s no longer lovely mother, his no longer charming father and his no longer good-natured brother knew the reason why Cinder had left, although they did not dare say it aloud.

Cinder did not return home until he graduated college and generated income. He now owned a small but growing business, one that he was very proud of but did not describe to his family members when he visited them. When Cinder’s family hugged him and cried tears of joy, expressing how much they have missed him, Cinder only noticed that his lovely mother’s shiny white cast was gone.

This visit was like a business trip to Cinder—he returned to forgive. For these past few years, Cinder had been gnawed at by the images of his mother whipping him with her tongue, his father often looking the other way, and his brother doing the same. What Cinder did not know, however, was that this business trip would not be as he planned, because moments later Cinder asked his now lovely mother for forgiveness. He did not mean to abandon them, he did not mean to let his mother live the life she lived before she had broken her ankle, where she went to her full time job that generated income and came home to cook, clean, and run errands. He did not mean to let her do everything and let his father and brother do nothing. Cinder forgot about his mother’s past complaints and insults and only remembered the moment when she gave him Conejita when he was three so that he would never be alone wherever he was. He remembered love.