Rumpus Original Fiction: City of Foundlings

By

Carlita suckles the eldest baby last, gently unlatching his mouth from her sore, spent breast. He’s the only one with teeth and has gnawed crescents into her nipple. The baby burrows into the crook of her arm.

“Shh, chiquito.” Carlita dries his lips with her sleeve, humming stray verses of cradlesongs until he falls asleep.

Outside, the guard dogs howl, but nothing is louder than the rain. It pings ceaselessly against the zinc roof and the halogen lamps flicker as a sharp gust buffets the cabin. Carlita lays him atop a flour bag by the hearth, alongside five other babies.

She calls them chiquito or belleza when coaxing them to sleep. She’s sure that’s why it takes so long to get them down, their yearning to hear something familiar. Carlita had asked Guermo if she could name them, just for now, but he forbade her.

“We’ll find their families. Or new families,” he told her. “They’re not ours to christen.”

Carlita wipes away the runny discharge dribbling down her chest and buttons her shirt. It’s Guermo’s, but has lost his scent. She expects him back soon. It’s easier for him to return on Sundays, when fewer soldiers patrol the roads.

Four days ago he packed a satchel filled with food and nails and fertilizer, and left for Buenos Aires to rendezvous with other guerillas. He doesn’t set the explosives anymore, Carlita knows. Guermo’s commanders rely on him to teach other men how to construct bombs. Still, she worries every second he’s away. In the past, Guermo’s been detained for weeks on end, beaten mercilessly. His right hand has been broken so many times he can’t make a fist or hold her hand. She’s seventeen and has seen half the men in her barrio claimed by Videla’s junta—some in service, most in sacrifice.

Carlita feeds another log into the hearth, holding up her hands as it hisses and warms her palms. The dogs are still barking at the storm, and she fears that the roads have flooded. She hopes Guermo has arranged more adoptions—it’s been weeks since he’s taken one of the babies back with him to the city—and now she only wants him home.

Guermo’s trips have become more frequent; he hasn’t stayed in the cabin two consecutive days in over a month. He brings back news of the junta closing ranks. Argentines continue to disappear, drugged and bound and detained in prison camps. News of death flights have spread through Buenos Aires, the junta dumping suspected leftists through miles of clouds into the Atlantic. Limbs have washed ashore. Rotted chunks of flesh and bones tethered with algae pile along the sandbar where Carlita and Guermo once made love. Nightly, she prays that these aren’t the mothers of the babies she nurses. Meanwhile, the babies grow heavier in her arms.

She goes into the kitchen. The cod has been defrosting since morning. Carlita debones it, careful that the oil doesn’t seep from the scales into her skin. She sets the table with two tin plates and a vase of freshly picked lupine. She shaves the fish into finger-sized fillets, seasoning each one with chili powder and crushed almonds. The pointed scent of chili powder makes her queasy. Smells intensify after she nurses, as if she were still pregnant. Carlita tears up, and steps away from the counter.

All their food is either canned or frozen in the icebox, except the almonds. Almonds Guermo brings back fresh every trip. He’s told her that they increase lactation. Some mornings he’s fed them to her while she’s nursing. He looks at her with such warmth, Carlita questions if it’s pity. The praiseful eyes of what should have been. The doubt of these moments, when Guermo’s love feels fleeting, makes Carlita resent the babies. She wishes they were safe and gone. That these mountains belonged to her and Guermo and their child.

The storm whips Spanish moss against the house. Gnarled branches knuckle against arched windows, jolting Carlita as she mistakes them for footsteps. She puts the tray by the oven and looks out the window. The torrents are like a curtain over the horizon. If it weren’t so cold, she’d open a window and let in the dewy air. There’s something different about mountain rain, she’s found. Storms in Buenos Aires stain the barrios with sewage runoff. People walk the streets in silence, fearful of swallowing the stench. Bottles from overturned pushcarts float along the gutters like toy sailboats. The lone saving grace is that the scrap-wood and cardboard of the shantytowns become too damp for soldiers to ignite.

Here, though, the rain is reason enough to breathe deeper. Many afternoons while the babies nap, Carlita lingers in the woods beside the cabin, drinking in the mist and staring off into the thunderheads capping the mountain ridges. The cabin is nestled inside a hillock a day’s drive from Buenos Aires. It belongs to one of Guermo’s commanders, though the man has not been seen in a year. Carlita thinks about him when she walks, that she sleeps in his bed and cooks in his kitchen and nurses the babies by his hearth. A man likely dead, or worse. Still, whether it’s the endless sky or piping winds in lieu of curfew sirens, something in the mountains has assuaged her fears. Now when she dreams, it’s of life instead of survival.

For weeks she’s wanted to cook for Guermo, like she used to those many nights after they tangoed and Carlita would ape one of her mother’s recipes. She’s cooked the last three nights. Each time, come dawn, she set his plate on the porch for the guard dogs to lap up.

Carlita turns on the radio, low, but it’s all static. There won’t be music if the storm doesn’t break. There was a time not long ago when they spent nights lost in a rush of boleos and paradas. Her calf grinding against his hip. His rough palms buttressing the underside of her husky thighs during a final gancho. She wants Guermo to come in and find the children asleep and his dinner prepared, to take her like she belongs to him. At dusk they’d be woken by a string of hungry cries. He’d watch the babies’ tiny heads bob against her bosom, and assure her that soon they’d have their own.

Guermo is the only man she’s ever loved. As a girl she’d watch him play soccer with his older brother, Raul, in the garbage hills. Guermo would cut across the field with a feverish poise, attacking the ball as if oblivious that he was a head shorter than anyone else on the field. She was twelve when he noticed her. Thirteen when he returned her pining stares. Fourteen when they first danced beneath the docks, mimicking the carnal movements of Raul and his girlfriends. Fourteen still when she followed Guermo to leftist meetings in the boatyard, where they watched Raul incite stevedores and students against the junta. Fifteen when Guermo impregnated her and Carlita’s mother disowned her and Videla’s junta overthrew President Perón and two soldiers snapped Raul off the assembly line of the Ford plant at gunpoint. Sixteen when the baby stilled inside of her and Guermo gave up hope that Raul was still alive, and he and Carlita become soldiers for the insurgence.

Before the baby was showing, Carlita would follow Guermo into the night and serve as a lookout. Kneeling on a rooftop under soggy tarps, with a whistle around her neck and flare gun jammed in her waistband, Carlita would watch for soldiers as Guermo and other guerillas planted bombs under cars and around government buildings. He forbade her from coming out once the baby was bulging, and even after she lost it. She’d sit at home, cursing God for taking her child and praying that he watch over Guermo. She only again felt useful—hopeful—after Guermo brought home the first foundling and asked Carlita to nurse it.

Guermo found the baby in a ransacked jerry-built shack on the edge of their barrio. The baby was wailing like he hadn’t been cared for in days. Carlita fed him every few hours, waking throughout the night and taking him into the bathroom so the neighbors wouldn’t hear the crying. She never felt sadder than she did those first few days, every cry and burp evoking memories she’d never have. But the baby—and soon babies—left her little time to sulk. While the loss was never more present, the distraction was almost numbing.

More foundlings surfaced as soldiers clamped down and purged the barrios of leftists. For some, the guerillas located family outside Buenos Aires. But many were divided between women like Carlita until permanent homes could be established. When Videla decreed that even children were subject to punishment for crimes against the state, Carlita and the other wet nurses were moved into safe houses throughout the mountains.

A baby whimpers in the den. Carlita hurries before it wakes the others. He’s the smallest one and sinks deeper as he worms around the flour bag. His tiny hands paw through the blanket. She lifts him, nuzzling his pinched face. He’s a dumpling, only weeks out of the womb. Holding him up, she wonders if he looks more like his mother or father. She wonders if he’ll ever know. She wants to believe that he slept through his parents’ pleas as they were frog-marched through the barrio. Carlita perches him against her shoulder and sways around the room.

She imagines Guermo in front of her, can almost feel his eyes wash over her. The hearth crackles, casting jellied shadows across the floor. The baby’s breath is warm against her neck. She drops her left foot back and envisions Guermo stepping forward. She pivots side to side. Taps her bare toe. A lithe twirl and the baby burbles against her nape. Carlita orbits the flour bags, gazing down on each sleeping face as she negotiates her path.

The baby falls asleep and Carlita sets him down. A blue dress hangs on the doorframe, its gilded ruffles ratty from being boxed up in the basement for who knows how long. Carlita strips off her pants and unbuttons her shirt.

The hearth warms her bare skin. She studies her body in the flames’ muted light. Her breasts are lopsided with milk. Her nipples warped and cracked. Some mornings they spurt blood and Carlita has to monitor the babies every few mouthfuls. Stretch marks ripple down her navel. Carlita rubs the sunken skin. It reminds her of faded wood carvings. Her paunch eclipses her waistband, as if the baby was still budding. She’s taken to wearing Guermo’s clothes, not just for the familiar smell; the loose fit spares her clawing reminders that surface with every shower and undressing. Carlita fears Guermo no longer finds her beautiful. That her naked body is like a memorial to their greatest losses.

The dress is too small, clinging to Carlita’s stomach like a drumhead. She reapplies her perfume—the sweet scent of distilled vanilla orchids, and the dogs are barking louder. Only one at first, but quickly they’re calling over one another.

There’s a thud on the porch, a voice. Guermo, Carlita thinks, until she hears another one. She runs to the kitchen. The dress tears along her waist as she bends to pull a rifle from beneath the sink. Guermo showed her how to fire it, but it feels heavier without his arms to steady her shoulders. She aims at the door, one arm perched under the cold barrel, and slowly walks forward. There are footsteps, porch slates creaking under the weight of heavy boots. She looks toward the hearth. The babies are still asleep, and the dogs have gone quiet.

Carlita stops barrel-length from the door. The rifle butt rides against her chest with every exhale. Her arms wobble and throb. She listens for voices. Two men, she’s sure. Head or heart, Guermo instructed her. That’s where you aim.

She holds her breath and peeks through the small window beside the door. The downpour is like haze but she can make out Guermo; the sprawling angel wings of the St. Michael tattoo across his neck. He’s kneeling over a shirtless old man. Guermo slings the man’s arm over his shoulder and hauls him to the door. Carlita lowers the rifle and unlocks the deadbolt.

Damp air tunnels through Carlita’s dress and chills her legs. Guermo barrels through the doorway, lugging the old man over to a chair by the table.

“What happened?” she asks.

“Bandages and antiseptic, now!” Guermo says. A baby cries before Carlita can quiet Guermo. He points to the basement door. There’s a bandanna wrapped around his clenched fist, the corners browned with dried blood. His bottom lip is so swollen that she can see his teeth even when his mouth is closed. Carlita reaches out to touch his face.

He catches her hand. “The General’s losing blood.”

Carlita hurries downstairs. She doesn’t know this general. She’s never seen one so old and feeble. She returns with the first aid kit. The General’s pants are on the floor, one leg drenched with blood. There’s a shirt tied around his kneecap like a tourniquet. Two babies are crying, two more stirring about on their flour bags. Carlita gives Guermo the kit and goes to comfort them.

The General’s chest is a collage of scars; patches of seared, leathery flesh interrupt rows of curly hair. Guermo unwraps the shirt and Carlita sees the gaping hole in the General’s kneecap. Bone and tendons are mashed together, oozing blood as thick as preserves. The General mumbles something that Carlita can’t decipher. She puts one baby down and picks up the next one. Guermo props the General’s leg up on the other chair. He takes a flask from his pack and steadies the General’s neck with an open palm.

“For the pain,” Guermo whispers.

The General guzzles down what smells to Carlita like bourbon. Guermo douses his knee with antiseptic. The General knocks a plate to the floor, shouting a string of curses. Guermo stares at the plates. He looks at Carlita, perplexed, as if only then noticing her outfit. She puts down the baby, and smoothes out the creases in her dress. Guermo smiles, she thinks, then bites off a strip of gauze.

The winds are shrill, like a wolf-whistle. Lighting streaks the sky, flashing through the small windows like a hundred cameras snapping in unison. The crack of thunder is followed by the dogs howling.

“Shut them up!” the General says. “The planes. I hear them.”

“No planes. We’re in the cabin.” Guermo pins the gauze on the General’s knee; they soak and stick to his skin like papier-mâché. Guermo tapes the bandage, then pours the antiseptic under the bandana on his hand. His body tenses.

“Put out the fire,” the General says.

Guermo takes a canteen from his pack and holds it out to Carlita. “Don’t use more than you have to.”

“The cold,” she says.

“The smoke,” he says.

“We’ll freeze. The babies—”

“You’d rather the cold or the junta?” the General says.

Guermo turns to the General, and she waits for him to speak up.

“Guermo?” she says. “Please.”

It’s been a long time since Carlita has seen Guermo take orders. Even then it was from Raul. It’s unsettling, watching him turn to the General after everything he tells her, as if waiting to be overruled. Again he stares at her dress, looks at the table and then back to the General.

“The room will fill with smoke. If we have to run, our lungs should be clean.”

The General smacks the side of his good leg. “Run?” He makes a sound, something between a cough and a cackle. He points at Carlita. “No more wood. Let the fire die.”

Guermo puts away the canteen and holds up his flask. The General cranes his neck to the ceiling, holding the pose after Guermo fills his throat. Guermo takes his pack, and Carlita follows him into the kitchen.

She dips her thumb in the pool of water around the thawed cod, wiping away Guermo’s smudged eye paint. “Your hand. Your face. What happened?”

“We were intercepting a prisoner convoy. Two hundred men and women.”

“Where are the prisoners?”

“There were none. The junta knew. More soldiers then I’d ever seen, waiting for us.”

She motions to the den. “Who is he?”

“One of the generals. From Calafate.”

“The others?”

Guermo shakes his head.

Dozens of familiar faces flash through her mind. Guermo’s eyes are bloodshot and his voice slows around certain words. Bomb. Ambush. Slaughter. Carlita’s flesh dimples from wrist to elbow. She listens to Guermo’s story and pictures him dragging the General to their jeep, bandaging his wound and driving until they ran out of gas. Rolling the jeep over a ridge so as to destroy any trace of themselves. Carrying the General for nine hours, getting lost twice.

Carlita’s eyes burn as if about to well. “Let me see your hand.”

“The babies,” he says.

“Let me see.” He doesn’t resist as she grabs his forearm and unties the bandana. The gash is deep, pieces of glass lodged between the bones. She edges out a shard. Guermo cringes and pulls away.

“I need to clean it.”

His fingers are cold, ripe with antiseptic. “You look beautiful.”

“Stop it.”

Guermo tries to wrap his hand and Carlita grabs the bandana. He takes her face with both hands. The gash in his palm feels coarse and slick against her cheek. He tightens his grip when Carlita tries to turn away. He pulls her close and buries her face into his chest. “You smell beautiful.”

She doesn’t like how Guermo’s holding her. His touch rings hollow, like he cares only to quiet her.

“I’m not scared,” she says.

“I know.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“Shh…”

“Tell me,” she says.

“The soldiers may know we’re here.”

“You got away.”

“We think.”

“What do we do?”

“We wait.”

“If we wait—”

“Shh.” He lowers one hand from her face, riding it down her side and pausing at the tear above her hip. “Started without me?” He smiles.

Carlita pulls away. “I’m not scared.” She searches for something with which to cover herself. “If we wait and they come—”

Guermo tugs her back, presses his mouth to her ear. The ridge of dead skin along his lips scratches her earlobe.

“They kill us. If we go and they find us, they kill us. Or the storm does. Or the cold. Now we wait. And pray.” He lets go of her and takes off his jacket. “Put it on. Or you’ll be first to freeze.”

“Do you hear that?” the General yells. “They’ll be here soon.”

“He’s crazy,” she says.

“He’s drunk. He needs food.”

The hearth’s mechanical grumblings have softened to a buzz. The babies are still sleeping, as if soothed by the lullaby of the storm. Carlita puts on the jacket. Guermo holds out his hand and she re-ties the bandana.

Carlita turns up the oven. Guermo checks on the General. They speak for a few minutes in hushed voices. Guermo goes into the basement and returns with another rifle and a box of shells. She reaches for the shells.

“Bring the General food. And check on the babies.”

She takes the fish into the den.

“Shut them up!” the General yells. “Videla himself can hear that barking.”

Carlita points to the babies. “General, please.”

He squints, as if trying to place her. She puts down the plate.

“Eat,” she says. The General leans forward. He lifts his arm and snaps back, scowling.

“Do you—” Carlita stops. “Sit back.” His expression is cloudy and she’s not sure he understands her.

Guermo is in the doorway, aiming a rifle at the floor and testing its trigger. “General, you need to eat.”

The General opens his mouth, as if about to speak, and then cocks back his head. Carlita deposits a sliver of cod across his tongue. He chews slowly, cow-like, and she cleans the sweat from his brow. He’s shivering. She worries he has a fever, worries he’ll infect the babies. Saliva smacks over his lips and a thread of fish catches on his snaggletooth.

Carlita touches his temple. The skin is gritty and hot. “General, how do you feel?”

He tries again to lean forward and she holds him back. She rips the fish in half. The General reaches with his tongue, licking her fingertips as she drops the fish in his mouth. He laughs and again flicks out his tongue, though she’s not holding anything.

Carlita closes her eyes and continues to feed the General. She imagines soldiers trampling up the mountain face, guns poised, and reminds herself that she’s not afraid. Much of her life has been spent in waiting. For men to notice her. For leaders to fall. For a baby never born and a revolution on the way. All she can do is wait, and nothing is harder, trusting her fate to others.

Another pulse of lightning and the dogs are baying. “Shut them up!” The General yells. A half-chewed piece of cod buoys between his bottom lip and gums. He looks at Guermo. “Shut them up!”

Guermo sets down the rifle and unsheathes his knife. Two babies are crying.

“Guermo?” Carlita says.

The General grabs the pocket of her coat. She tries to pull away, but he holds tight.

“We should let them howl. They’ll be shot first. Then us, before they’ve bled out. They need teeth, not voices.” His eyes are sharp, and for the first time she sees life behind them. He lets go of her jacket. “The babies,” the General says. “Get more blankets.”

Carlita looks at Guermo. “Bundle them well,” he tells her. “It’s getting cold.”

The General motions to the empty plate. “More.”

Carlita isn’t sure if it’s a question or an order. She rushes downstairs to scavenge for blankets. There are only two, wool, but old and porous. She brings them upstairs. Guermo is outside.

“A drink,” the General says. He motions to the flask at the far end of the table.

She lines up the flour bags at the foot of hearth, leveraging the last waves of heat. The logs are nearly smoldered, the embers rimmed with a thinning liquid glow. She rakes together the ash with a poker.

“The babies,” she says, balancing two at a time, doubling up the bags.

“Babies,” the General repeats. “Once they can walk, Videla will lock their feet in cement blocks and drop them into the ocean.”

“God forbid. Don’t say such things. They’re children.”

“There are no children. As soon as they can fight…” he trails off. “Be happy you were spared.”

She pauses, turns to him. “Spared?”

“Your baby.”

Carlita’s body goes hot. She wonders if Guermo told him, or if all the leftists know of her, the childless wet-nurse.

“What about my baby?”

“No name or face. Safe. With God.”

“With God! You think you know my loss? You—”

“I know mothers of grown men who march through the Plaza de Mayo every day, protesting. And for what? Their babies are dead. Dropped into the ocean like bait.”

Carlita’s hands tremble. She’s heard of these women, the mothers of the disappeared who protest in front of the square outside government buildings. Wearing white headdresses embroidered with their children’s names, they hoist up family photographs and shout themselves horse. What makes him think she’s in any less pain? Because hers isn’t prolonged by uncertainly, isn’t moored by hope.

“I was spared nothing.”

The General looks at the floor. “You just don’t know any better.”

Carlita puts down the babies and grabs the flask off the table. The General drops back his neck, but Carlita is standing over the hearth. She pours out the flask, the hearth sizzling as the last swigs wring the flames.

The General’s curses are lost to the dogs, the loudest cries yet, quickly fizzling to squeaks. He makes to get up and then clamps down on his knee.

Carlita slams the empty flask on the table. “Tell me what I was spared.”

One baby cries, then another. “Listen to that! Listen! Be grateful. You don’t have to march. You—” he says, and stops, clutching his knee.

The babies are packed together. Carlita swathes them with a blanket. She kneels, patting one’s stomach. She swallows back her tears, clearing her throat, and turns to the General.

“Speak. Tell me how blessed I am. I had a child.”

“What do you remember about your child? What was his favorite color? What was his face like when you woke him for school? A child is memories. You had a pregnancy. You could have another just like it.”

A cold fear springs through her. “Francisco! That was his name.” The General bows his head. Carlita thinks he’s laughing. She waits for a response, but he doesn’t raise his head. She looks over at the babies. Guermo is wrong, she thinks. They are hers to christen.

Guermo comes back inside, his hands and knife frothy with spittle. Behind him, one of the dogs is coughing up syrupy red mucus. Guermo doesn’t meet her stare. He takes his canteen and Carlita follows him to the porch.

Folds of bloody tissue are heaped among bands of cartilage. Two dogs cower by the railing. The third one pumps its jaw over and over, as if trying to inflate a punctured tire.

Carlita cups her mouth. “God help us.”

Guermo grips her shoulders. “Inside,” he says. The third dog manages a hollow rasp. Again Guermo tells her to go inside, but Carlita doesn’t move.

“If the soldiers come—”

Carlita looks away, her cheeks warm with shame, and a pointed sadness tamps down her breaths. She’s walked through her barrio in the aftermath of bombings; she’s seen corpses of junta soldiers felled across the pavement, and felt only hope. But the dogs have stood guard over her and the babies, provided a sense of solace during Guermo’s time away. Cords of rich fluid glisten as they flow through the porch slates. She fixes on the wet knife blade curving from Guermo’s fist, and wonders where it ends.

Everything beyond the porch is blacked out by storm and night. Fat drops of windblown rain slap against Carlita’s face, inching down her chin. Guermo dries the knife against his pant leg, sheathes it.

“The babies,” he says.

She throws up her arms. “The babies what?!”

Guermo ratchets open the jaw of the dog closest, pouring the canteen until its mouth brims with water. “See. He understands.” Guermo strokes its jowls through each gulp. He reaches out for Carlita. She lets him guide her hand over the dog’s neck. It jerks away and crouches, flashing blood-laced teeth.

Guermo smacks the dog’s nose and it heels. “Your perfume. He can’t make out your scent.”

She clasps her hands, already stiff with cold. “How will we know when it’s safe?”

He envelops her hands with his. “I’ll tell you. Now inside.”

The General is writhing on the floor, slurping the empty flask. He curses as Guermo lifts him and peels off his bandages. The General’s leg has swelled and is leaking yellow pus that smells like vinegar. His thigh is turning blue.

Guermo presses his hand to the General’s thigh. “It’s cold. He’s not getting enough blood.”

Carlita rights the upended chair and flask. “What do we do?”

Guermo rubs the bluing skin. “General, your leg.” The General’s forehead glimmers with sweat and he’s breathing rapidly.

Guermo presses the undersides of the wound, squeezing out the pus. The General yells out, hammers his fist on the table. Carlita looks from the wound to the General’s face, one which is kinder in darkness. Only his eyes are moving, shifting between her and Guermo, settling in to the back of his head. She wonders the last time the General saw his son. Is he dead or missing? Is there a difference? Maybe she was blessed. How much worse her pain would be if it had a face, a voice to haunt her. The General bites his lip and cries out as Guermo again disinfects the wound.

“What do we do?” Carlita asks again.

“We can’t let it spread.” Guermo crosses himself.

Carlita clears the vase and they lay the General across the table. The hearth is nearly out, and the cold is like silence. The rain is letting up. She worries the soldiers will find them faster without cloud cover.

Guermo goes downstairs and returns with rope and a machete. Carlita holds down the General’s limp arms and legs while Guermo ties him to the table.

She sweeps the sweat into his hair. “Are you okay?”

The General opens his eyes. They’re distant and empty. Carlita has lost the rage she felt only minutes earlier. She knows it will come back, rearing its head every day she’s left alone with the babies of the disappeared. But now she wishes she could say something comforting to the General, to convince him his pain isn’t forever. His lips part, but he says nothing. A piece of fish is lodged between his front teeth.

Guermo runs a lighter flame over the blade. She pulls the smaller knife from his waistband. Beside the table is Guermo’s shirt that she had been wearing all day. Carlita cuts off a sleeve and rolls it into a ball.

“Open your mouth,” she says to the General.

She pushes it in until she can’t see his back teeth. The General closes his eyes.

“Check on the babies,” Guermo says.

“No. You need me.”

“Be with the babies. Please. I don’t want you to see this.”

Guermo doesn’t look up, just stares at the General’s leg. Carlita’s never seen him so scared. It calms her, his uncertainty. As if fear was another breed of love. She holds Guermo’s hand until he looks up. “Please,” he repeats, and she knows it’s not because he doubts her.

Both rifles are in the kitchen. Carlita sets one by Guermo’s feet and the other beside the hearth. Two babies are awake, but quiet. The oldest, the one with teeth, is smiling. Carlita wants to hold him against her shoulder, for his burble to warm her nape. Guermo says something to the General. Carlita bends down to kiss the baby’s blanched forehead. Seconds later, the General’s shouting. His cry is guttural and without pause, spiked with garbled words. The table legs scratch against the floor. Carlita thinks she hears the knife scrap against the bone. The hearth is cold against her face. She spreads her arms the length of the flour bags. She listens for rain. For footsteps. For any other sound, until all the babies are awake and she’s crying with them.

***

Rumpus original art by David Dodd Lee.


Douglas Silver's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, The Chicago Tribune Printers Row, The Cincinnati Review, Day One, Callaloo, Hobart, Epoch, and elsewhere. An Elizabeth George Foundation grant recipient and former writer-in-residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, he is at work on a novel and short story collection. Read more at www.DouglasSilver.com. More from this author →