Rumpus Original Fiction: Hibiscus Tacos

By

There have been centuries where I’ve really missed having a body. I like this one. I’ve been in it for about twenty years.

It’s in its fifties now and still sorting what that means. Not old. Not young. I have a señora face and señora hands—not smooth, slightly wrinkled, a little lived-in— but good. Still strong. Still enough energy for a good parranda, an all-night sing and dance and scream and fight and run. It’s just that that night’s followed by one day of intense pain and then a few more days of lingering pain. But that’s okay. The body mostly forgets by the time the next party comes around.

I’d never been in the body of a woman with tattoos before. All this gorgeous color down both arms, huge hibiscus blooms of red and yellow and peach. From both wrists to her shoulders. It was irresistible. I added more after a few years. Vines twined around my ankles, swirling up my calves, bursting into bloom on my thighs and hips. I like loose, flowing clothing, but sleeveless tops and dresses reveal my arms and shorts or dresses with high slits show off the color on my legs.

Took me a while to figure out how to shop for this body. I mean, yeah, when you’re nothing but bones you can wear whatever you want. Never have to worry if you’re going to be able to zip that zipper or close that button. If this color or that one is better for your coloring. What shapes are most flattering. You throw on a red or black cloak, and that’s it, that’s the signature look.

It took only a few days for me to start changing Gloria’s life. I didn’t like what she’d made of it. I figured she didn’t either or she wouldn’t have committed suicide at thirty-two. I quit her job. I sold her apartment. I told her family I never wanted to see them again. I left Dallas and bought a little house in East Austin. Gloria had some money—which always helps, even in my case. I tried painting. I tried poeting. I tried learning yoga and then teaching it. I tried going back to school. Gloria had been an architect. I thought maybe I’d discover some of her drive and talent, but school wasn’t for me.

I had a lot of spare time. After all, I’ve been me for a long time. It doesn’t take much to review the petitions, prayers, and promises that come in each night. When you have power over space and time, life and death, well, it’s nothing to say yes to this one or no to that one. I do what my gut tells me to do. I don’t make lists. I don’t do analyses; I don’t do charts or spreadsheets or graphs. I decide. I give or I don’t. I take or I don’t.

But sometimes you don’t want all your life to be about prayers and power. I found my way when I realized I wanted to do a good thing, to make a good thing. That I was happy shopping at the market and finding the ripest tomatoes, the best lettuce, the most fragrant cilantro, and the avocados begging to be squeezed. It made my days so satisfying to make the best tacos I could make. To leave my customers happy and satisfied, feeling like my tacos had just loved them all the way from their mouths to their stomachs to the tips of their fingers and toes.

So, I bought a food truck. Shone it silver. Painted hibiscus blooms on all sides. Put up a sign with the logo I designed, a taco with a red and yellow hibiscus bloom inside it. Hibiscus Tacos/Tacos de Jamaica surrounded in little lights. Found a good spot, set up a website, opened it up before the food truck craze hit its stride.

I make a little of everything. All the classics—carnitas and fajitas and shredded brisket and nopalitos. But what I’m famous for are my vegan tacos de jamaica. I keep it simple. Nine meat fillings. Three vegan. Jamaica. Nopalitos. And spinach, mushroom, and calabaza cooked with tomatoes and onions. No flour tortillas at my place. All corn. White, yellow, and blue. To make it look nice, I color-coordinate the parchment paper on the baskets: white paper for the blue tortillas, red for the yellow, green for the white. No packaged tortillas either. They’ve gotta be fresh. I found an old woman from Michoacán around the corner who didn’t want to die yet. I gave her a job making my tortillas. Perfect handmade tortillas, with her handprints and everything. She brought in her comadre who was dealing with breast cancer. Together, they make five hundred hot-off-the-comal tortillas for me on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

And this is Austin. People here lose their minds when they see a menu that says “gluten-free,” “vegan,” “organic,” “free-range,” or “dairy-free.” I can sell my tacos at five dollars a pop. I’m open only three days a week, from 5 p.m. until I sell out. Got horchata and limonada and agua de jamaica, too. I’ve known few things as satisfying as working with my hands, shaping order after order, and feeding people, watching them smile. They close their eyes after the first bite and pat their bellies in happiness.

I’ve even got my regulars. Carlos and Roberto and Juanito come by every night I’m open and either bring their work buddies or their new girlfriends. They endeared themselves to me after that first night they showed up drunk and serenaded me with a surprisingly harmonious rendition of “Malagueña Salerosa.” Turned out they idolized Los Panchos. I told them they should go for it as musicians. They get free tacos in exchange for playing live two hours every Saturday. Now they’re booked up for birthdays and engagement parties and weddings. I’m working on getting a couple of nightclub owners who love my tacos to come by on a Saturday.

Then there are all the Mexican laborers who come by and cry over the blue corn tortillas and the el pastor and the nopalitos. Anybody who cries over my food also ends up on my special discount program. Nothing like tears to make you feel like you’re doing holy work.

Of course it was going to be Mexican food. That’s been my favorite for as long as there have been Mexicans, and before that, the Aztecs and the Mayans and the Huicholes and the Otomi, and so on. How could I help but love Mexicans? They love me best. Dress me in flowers and celebrate me and sing to me and pray to me like no one else does. I don’t even have to be beautiful for them. They love me skeletal and they love me with scythes and even more, they understand me. They know I’ll come for them one day, and when it’s their turn, they’re among the few that never run. I’d prefer to take everyone that way—in a long, soft embrace.

They call me Santisima. They call me Flaca. They call me La Pelona. Like I was their mother, their lover, or their twitchy high school friend—never quite right but never excluded. Some of them still call me Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, and make me offerings.

I didn’t expect to love my little taco truck so much. To love the hours shopping, the hours cooking, the hours with customers, and even the hours of bookkeeping and cleaning and prepping. I guess everyone needs a change of pace sometimes. It’d been a while since I’d spent time in a body. Not since Kali. After the fall of Rome, we spent three centuries together, hopping from one body to another—man, woman, other—tripping over all the continents in turn. It was all made new because we were together. It’d been millennia since I’d been in love like that.

 

Kali, well, I still don’t know how to say that name without sighing. Ay, her hands. No one has ever had hands like Kali—hot as embers. I always marveled at waking without scorch marks on my skin. It didn’t matter what body she was in; when she danced, no one else existed. I’ll never forget what it felt like when she held me. How she could rage, her eyes flashing, her voice all growl and thunder. I’ve never had much of a temper, but she would push and push until I was throwing things against walls and screaming at her to get out. And then, one day, she left. Years and years later, when we saw each other again, it was as if we had never been.

Fourteen centuries alone convinced me that solitude was my way. And so, for fourteen centuries, I didn’t even want a body, didn’t want to miss the warmth of a body, didn’t want to adore the tilt of a head or a crooked smile or a sigh behind my ear. When I became Gloria, I vowed I’d drink my fill of pleasure, taking lover after lover but leaving my heart out of it. After so many years alone, I wasn’t sure I could feel anything anyway.

That resolution didn’t last very long. I could feel Gloria’s heart beating away in my chest, thumping and clamoring and clanging. She’d never been adored. In her whole life, her heart had never split itself open for another. What could I do when it drummed its need day and night? Okay, I said, I’ll find some mortals to love. But only mortals. And I’ll love them the way mortals can be loved. Partial loves. Fractional loves. Because they burn out so quickly. Because in a century or two, I’ll barely remember their names. Because they’ll love me incompletely, too. They’ll never know who I am. They’ll just remember me as Gloria. A woman with a painted body who was perhaps a little secretive but who loved like a firecracker—bright enough to light up the sky while it lasted. I could do that, I thought. I could live that way.

 

She had gray eyes.

It wasn’t just that they were gray—it was that they held too much light. The longer I looked into them, the farther away she seemed. The first time she came to the food truck, she ordered three tacos, one of each of the veggie fillings, in passable Spanish. When I asked her what kind of tortillas, she said, Whatever you think works best. So I made her hibiscus on white corn, nopalitos on blue, mushroom and spinach on yellow. I glanced at her every now and then as she ate them, rolling the tortilla slightly to safeguard the filling. Long slender neck. Light brown hair in a loose bun. Long limbs that should’ve been awkward but weren’t. She had a concentrated stillness about her—so strong it seemed the air around her vibrated. No fidgeting. No people-watching. No scrolling through her phone. She ate her tacos. Breathed. Added a tiny bit of salsa. Otherwise, her gaze was turned inward.

I left the truck to wipe down and restock the little table where I kept a selection of lime wedges and cilantro and green and red and roasted salsas. I smiled and waved at a few customers that shouted their goodbyes. I felt her approach even before I saw her. She nodded solemnly at me, with a friendly expression but no smile. Thank you, she said, they were very good. I’ll be back soon. Thanks for coming by, I said, just as solemn. I watched her walk away and realized what it was about her stillness that had caught my attention. Living people were never still like that. She’d learned that stillness from the dead.

 

She returned a week later, early on a Thursday night. Wearing scrubs and a light jacket. She made the same taco order and added a lime Topo Chico. Again, that stillness, that concentration. I thought it would be another week before I saw her again, but no, she was back Sunday night.

It was oddly unnerving. That inward concentration had shifted. Every time I glanced in her direction, she was looking at me. Every time I caught her at it, she never blushed or looked away. Just kept her eyes on me. Direct. Warm. She came back up to the window to thank me when she was leaving. She introduced herself, held out her hand, My name’s Laurel. I can’t thank you enough. You make the best tacos I’ve ever eaten in my life.

There were laugh lines around her mouth and traces of crow’s feet bracketing her eyes, but still no smile. I took her hand, startled by how cool it was. Looked up at her, My name’s Gloria Pania—

That’s okay, she said, her hand tightening, you don’t have to lie to me. I know who you are. She paused, withdrawing her hand to pull a note out of her pocket. I brought this for you.

I took it without touching her hand. Thick white paper. Folded once. An inky pen. Five names. Three women and two men. Dates of birth. Room numbers. @Isaiah House written beneath the names.

What’s this?

They all need you. If you can visit them tonight, you should.

I took a step back. Leaned against my truck, waited. She didn’t turn away, didn’t look down. Her eyes were so clear.

What—no pleading, no bargaining, no praise?

No. You’ll be taking them anyway. I’m just asking you take them a bit sooner. Ease their pain. She turned and walked away. Back straight. That same measured long stride.

 

I didn’t think I was going to go, but I did. Easy enough to find Isaiah House. Why use immortal powers when you have the internet? My phone even gave me hours and directions. I parked a few blocks away even though there was plenty of parking at 3 a.m.

When I’m in a mortal body, I like experiencing time and distance like a mortal. Day and night. Minutes and hours. Weeks and years. Decades. A block is a block and gravity is gravity and I stop at stop signs and—mostly—keep to speed limits. I don’t push my mortal body to do things it’s not designed to do. No flying or becoming invisible. You can’t leave a mortal body alone for more than a few minutes. No way to avoid brain damage, you know. The body starts twitching or going numb or forgetting how to speak. And it’s a pain in the ass to have to start all over again, in another body, another life.

It’s also quite boring to spend an eternity running around, visiting mostly terrified people to give them the cold touch. Six thousand people around the world die each hour. Sure, I could disregard time if I shed Gloria’s body. But I’m not ready to do that. And truthfully, that’s an exhausting way to live. I figured out a long time ago that delegation was the key. I send my —–s instead. Each region has a different —–. Every religion, too. New —–s join us all the time. It’s important to stay updated and relevant. Otherwise, people don’t believe capital-D death has come for them. Give people what they want, what they expect, and they’ll follow you—even into the Other World.

I have weekly meetings with my —–s. Well, not all of them; just the seven continental managers. I make a huge pot of posole and chop up the garnishes. Or dozens of enchiladas de queso fresco and a big pot of beans. They love my pretty pomegranate ceviche. My nopalito salad. I bring out my pretty blue and white talavera and order fresh flowers from the florist down the street. Dahlias whenever possible. Gladiolas in all colors, each in their season. Sunflowers. We gather. We eat. They report. I make cafecito and send someone down the street for pan de polvo from the bakery next-door to the florist. I don’t know if anyone loves good food more than the dead. They find subjects to discuss until it’s time for seconds.

All of this to say, I’m good in Gloria’s body. I don’t see any reason to leave it for even a few minutes. So, I went in her body to Isaiah House. The doors were unlocked. I walked into what looked like a large community living room. Tables and comfy couches. Children’s books and board games piled up on the coffee tables. The golden light of the large lamp in the corner made everything glow. A hallway. Faint murmur of voices. I passed by a room that seemed to be emitting a soft purple glow. The sign by the door read Serenity Room. I peeked in. Blues and purples everywhere. Stained glass that couldn’t reveal its true colors in the darkness.

I felt a sudden heat flush along my side and turned. She came close enough to touch me but didn’t. Her hands rested calmly at her sides. Her eyes were as solemn as ever, but not dark. Not shadowed. Not haunted. This way, she murmured.

The woman at the information counter didn’t even look up when we passed by. Laurel was five or six inches taller than me. I quickened my steps to match her stride. Lavender scrubs today. Her hair in its usual loose bun.

The hospice was one long hallway. More blues and purples. Each door a soft off-white, each with a hard plastic sleeve listing the patient’s name. Laurel reached to open the door. I placed my hand on hers. I’m fine from here on my own. She nodded, withdrawing her hand. I didn’t know you would come in person.

Of course I would. It’s not very often I’m personally invited.

She tilted her head, shook it slightly, and then walked back towards the counter.

 

The door opens easily. I step inside and closed it gently behind me. There is a woman drawing shallow breaths on the bed. A small mountain of pillows props her up. The light from the bathroom, with its half-open door, is enough for me to see that she isn’t very old. Mid-to-late forties. Her thinning hair only just starting to gray. Her face too narrow, too sunken-in. It’s too easy to see the lines of her skull. A young girl, no more than twelve, sits beside the bed, head resting on her folded arms. She whimpers in her sleep.

It won’t take more than a second now. I pause and breathe deeply. It all wells up, the stars and the millennia, the pulse of a heart and the coldness, all flaring up inside me. I reach out to touch the woman’s forehead. She takes one last long breath. Exhales. Stills.

I watch for a minute. The girl stops whimpering. In her sleep, she reaches for her mother’s hand and holds her own face with it.

I slip out of the room.

 

No one in the hallway. Onto the next room. Not even ten minutes to go through Laurel’s list. They’re all asleep or unaware of their surroundings. None of them resisted. Or stirred. They released their lives with relief.

Neither Laurel nor the other woman are at the counter when I pass by on my way out. I sit in my car for a while, the radio on, the heavy thrumming beat of reggaeton reassuring me.

I may be able to do my work quickly. I may have done it for my entire existence. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mourn them. That—even in a single touch—I don’t hold them fast to my heart and know them and love them with everything I am. I saw their whole lives, their brightness and their flaws. Three of the five had family members in the room. Had blankets and photos brought from home. Two of the five had been utterly alone, with no belongings that hadn’t come from the hospice.

There were no beeping alarms, no flashing lights, no intrusive IVs or tubes or oxygen masks. They all simply stilled. No one would know what had happened until nurses stopped by on their routine checks or family members woke from sleep. These were the quietest minutes, before anyone knew they were gone. All five gone softly. How most mortals say they’d like to go.

 

I don’t remember how I began, only that I was there at the beginning. Before breath. Before light. Before anything beat or moved or walked or thought. Before life, I was there. And when life came, I was still there. In the oceans, I swam with the smallest invisible things and thegreat beasts. Followed the animals to the land and the sky. In my memory, those billions of years are like a dream. The last quarter of a million are much clearer, but human minds balk at so much time, I try not to think of time in this way when I’m in a mortal body. They can comprehend the idea of billions or millions, but they can’t know it. Knowing it would overrun the physical capacities of their brains.

So, I sit in the car and listen to J. Balvin and Bad Bunny and try not to think thoughts about eternity or infinity or my place in the chaos of the universe.

 

Saturday night the boys showed up to play music.  They finally had a name: Trio Los Crisantemos. I told them pretty much anything else would have been more catchy. Trio Las Calaveras. Trio Los Cempasuchitl. Trio Juan Carlos y Roberto. Anything other than crisantemos. They just laughed and launched into a lovely three part harmony version of “Solamente Una Vez.” That succeeded in distracting me, because I started reminiscing about having once heard it sung by Agustín Lara himself.

It was a busy night, the line stretched fifty long and no one seemed incline to give up despite the wait. I had Isela, one of the granddaughters of the tortilla-making comadres, taking orders. I didn’t see Laurel, but I heard her order. I knew which tacos were hers. I added an extra wedge of lime and a few avocado slices to her plate. Who doesn’t like a little extra avocado?

She waited until the line ended, until the music stopped, until Isela left, until I shut down the truck and turned off the last light. I met her eyes and said not a single word. What a solemn-eyed woman. How to explain how it drew me? The clarity of her. The lean smoothness of her walk. How strong her hands seemed. How she looked at me: too calm for heat, too direct for coolness.

Thank you.

I shrugged, It was nothing. As it was, they didn’t have too much longer to wait.

I know. It’s just that they were in so much pain. I wanted to ease it. Pain doesn’t understand time. Pain is an eternity.

I looked at her then. Saw what I hadn’t seen before, too preoccupied with her strength and grace. Saw the lines of care—but also the lines of pain bracketing her mouth, carving the crow’s feet at her eyes a little too deep.

For lack of a better way to say it, all living things have an expiration date. I could extend or shorten the amount of time as I liked, but the greater balance had to be maintained. A longer life for one meant a shorter life for another.

Some humans live almost their entire lives in complete ignorance of their mortality. Others recognize it acutely every day, every hour. It wasn’t just because Laurel was a hospice nurse that she understood; she had come close to dying. She’d been so overwhelmed by the pain that she’d prayed for it. No wonder her voice had sounded familiar from the very beginning.

I raised my hand slowly, giving her time to move away, and touched my fingertips to the line of her jaw. I see now, that’s why you’re not afraid of me.

I prayed to you, she said, brushing her lips over my fingertips. Every time you told me it wasn’t time yet. You were always there with me. When I lay in the dark alone. When I didn’t know if it was my last day, my last hour. When the pain was too much.

 I took a step toward her. As close as I get could without our bodies touching. Close enough that I could feel the heat of her body making my skin flush.

And then she leaned towards me, her hands rising to touch my face. I know this isn’t the real you, but you’re still beautiful.

After twenty years, this is as much my body as any ever was. Besides, it’s hard to do this when you’re a skeleton, I said, touching her lips with my own. So soft, so warm.

 

She came by on Thursdays and Saturdays. Brought me new lists. Always thanked me. I’d stop by the hospice with food and herbal tea. Her coworkers became accustomed to seeing me come and go. Laurel waited for me on nights the taco truck was busy, sat with me at one of the picnic tables when it was slow. She befriended Los Crisantemos. Started mentoring Isela, who it turned out was studying to become a nurse. I stopped charging her for her tacos, and always added extra avocado. Found out she liked caramelized onions and made them just for her.

She told me stories about growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. Ah, I said, that’s why you don’t speak Spanish like a white girl.

My nana was Mexican, she chuckled, and my best friends were, too. I was six or seven before I figured out which language was which. I used to drive my Nebraskan-farm-girl mother crazy cause she couldn’t understand me.

I told her about the ancient creatures of the ocean and the Black Plague. She told me about moving to Austin for her first nursing job. I told her what it was like to live in Gloria’s body and how I could slow time. She told me about her Grandma Ruth, who she’d idolized and whose hand she’d held in the hours before she passed.

It was only with her that I realized how much I’d lived in Gloria’s body as if it were a costume, as if it had come with its own persona. Before Laurel, my mortal lovers had never known I was me. I’d spent every minute holding back, working to not give away too much. I’d tried so hard to be who they thought I was, who I’d told them I was. And even my immortal lovers had never looked at a body of mine like she did. As if it were divine. As if it were inseparable from me. She’d reach to touch my hand, press the length of her leg against mine, lean against me when I made her laugh.

I liked it. The caution in her. How she came closer slowly, as if I was a deer and she wanted to feed me from her hand. Or sometimes, judging by her eyes, as if I were a ravening tiger and could take her head in a sudden lunge. She was six inches taller than me and probably outweighed me by thirty pounds but she never took her eyes off me when she approached. Which I also liked. I didn’t need a mortal without the instinct for self-preservation. I didn’t want one that would just fling herself at my feet and promise to do my will for all eternity. She made me want to know why she’d lost her fear, how she’d reconstructed herself out of stillness, how she could be a mortal and be so solid. Immutable—as if she weren’t made of flesh and bone and a paltry number of years.

 

It was another Saturday night. The truck had shut down, but a few customers lingered. Los Crisantemos were having a ball mixing up old-school boleros with country songs and Lady Gaga; trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard bilingual versions of “Shallow” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” sung in English and Spanish by three drunk brown dudes with guitars. The night was lovely, the sky clear, the breeze cool. Somebody had brought mezcal and the edges of everything were fuzzy and bright.

Laurel reached to take my hand, but I wrapped my arm around her waist instead and laid my head on her shoulder, nuzzling her. I felt her surprise, but she leaned in close and put her arm around my shoulders. I got up to get us a round of Topo Chicos and lime wedges. When I came back, she was straddling the picnic bench, hands on her knees, twisting her torso to the sides with deep sighs. I handed her one of the bottles and sat down beside her before she’d done more than lift the knee under the table. I tucked in against her until I was leaning my back against her chest, my head on her shoulder. She scooted forward until her thighs were bracketing mine and one hand was just barely touching my hip.

Sometime after 2 a.m., all the songs went classical and mushy. “Besame Mucho” and “Amorcito Corazón” and “Solamente Una Vez” and “Usted.” Even drunk and half out of their minds, the boys didn’t miss a single chord or a single chance to harmonize.

Laurel’s hands slowly moved up, until she’d locked them around my waist.

Usted me desespera, me mata, me enloquece, they were singing when she leaned in close. I want to watch you, she murmured, her lips skimming along my neck.

I said nothing. She knew I was saying yes. Before long, I called a cab for the boys and gave the driver Roberto’s address.

 

Laurel came with me. She barely waited until I’d parked the car, locked it, disarmed the burglar alarm, and opened the front door. I turned to welcome her to my home. Not a single word made it out. Her back thudded as it hit the wall, and she used her long arms to pull me towards her. All teeth and heat. Nipping and gnawing at my bottom lip, my earlobe, my shoulder, the fleshy parts of my hand.

I want a shower. I smell like tacos and kitchen cleaner and grease.

Let’s go.

We stripped our clothes as I led the way to the bathroom. I can’t say who turned on the water or who poured the body soap or whose hands washed away the sweat and corn tortilla scent from me and the antiseptic scent of the hospice from her. I can’t say whether she drew away or which one of us said, Now.

Because then it was now and she’d moved away. She watched me. Her eyes so clear and intent. I wondered how she’d known to ask for my favorite thing. I’d always loved watching my lovers without touching them. To see them peel themselves open. The first deliberate touch. The tremble of thighs. The arched backs and feet pushing against floors and cushions and walls and beds. The eyes heavy and the oh fucks and oh gods and other words they stuttered over. The slack jaws, the winces, the whimpers, the mewls, the moans, the catches of breath, the screams, the groans. What I wanted was the truth of them—what was raw and honest. I didn’t want the practiced looks of seduction, the careful poses, the clenched abs, the unoriginal porn-inspired monologue.

So, I gave her what I’d always wanted. The truth of me. Every touch, every pleasure, every sound. Her eyes drank me in. And even when it was all too much and I closed my eyes, I opened them after and found her eyes still looking into mine. As if she wanted to see into the untouchable of me, the eternal of me.

She put two fingertips to my lips, so light I barely felt them. So beautiful. You, the goosebumps on your skin, all of the petals of your tattoos flushing red, the slick of you, but then you waver and I see the polished bone of you and then I see the night sky and the stars of you.

Come here. Her mouth. I needed to taste her mouth again. One of us shut off the water. One of us grabbed towels. One of us led the other to my bedroom. One of us whimpered, or maybe it was both of us. The collision of bodies isn’t always all hands and nipples and cock and cunt. What lingers in the mind, on the body, is this. The warmth of a hand. The testing of muscle. Fingers measuring a wrist, an ankle. Desire sweeping along a calf, kneading a thigh. Breath against shoulder blade. Eyes that never leave you. The weight of a body against yours. Not alone. Never alone again. What is offered, what is given, and what is received. The world small and the light expanding. Laurel. The sight and sound and scent and taste and touch of her.

 

I woke up with her breath on my neck. Her arm tight around my waist, her small breasts pressed against my back, one of her legs between mine. Good morning, I said. I felt her lips smile against my skin. And that was it.

 

Years have gone by. I still make tacos. I decided I didn’t want a brick and mortar restaurant. Just more food trucks. Got half a dozen in Austin now and looking at possibilities in San Antonio and further south. Everybody’s loving the vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free options now.

Laurel is still a hospice nurse. I gave her the power of the cold touch a while ago. Not that I didn’t want to come by the hospice to see her in the middle of the night. It just seemed more efficient to let her do it. After all, what makes more sense than a hospice nurse with the power to ease her patient’s suffering? Well, I gave her more power than that. She could quicken their passing or extend their time a bit. Two weeks in either direction. The Austin regional manager of my ——s nearly shit himself when I introduced him to Laurel and told him he was now her manager. Poor guy’s been freaking out with me being in town for all this time.

Laurel moved in. We got married. Los Crisantemos played at our reception. They’re up for a Grammy for their first album. I got my last tattoo on our first anniversary. Purple mountain laurel blooms on my left shoulder blade.

I figure I can get in another forty years in this body. Forty years, seven months, two days, and six hours to be exact. I set the timer on Gloria’s body for the same time as Laurel’s. Maybe we’ll be sleeping, curled up into each other, and between one breath and another, we’ll both let go. Maybe we’ll both take a bottle of pain pills, take a last swallow of water, and reach towards each other, ready to let go but taking a last moment to look into each other’s eyes. Maybe we’ll go out in a blaze of glory, two white-haired women on motorcycles, screaming fiercely as we drive off a cliff and aim for the sky.

***

Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick.


ire’ne lara silva is the author of three poetry collections, furia (Mouthfeel Press, 2010), Blood Sugar Canto (Saddle Road Press, 2016), and CUICACALLI/House of Song (Saddle Road Press, 2019), an e-chapbook, Enduring Azucares, (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015), as well as a short story collection, flesh to bone (Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the Premio Aztlán. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, (Aunt Lute Books, 2017), a collection of poetry and essays. ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant, the final recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, and the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award. ire'ne is currently working on her first novel, Naci, and a second short story collection, the light of your body. Visit her website at irenelarasilva.wordpress.com. More from this author →