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A Short story by Margaret Elysia Garcia

block party whore

She stayed five houses down from the old boathouse and she’d never been invited once to a party there. The old boathouse didn’t look like the rest of the subdivision. There weren’t any trees in the lot and the patches of grass among the rocky soil sprouted old cars instead.

Her town had a habit of naming and renaming things in hopes that the name itself would make things better. Four blocks down from the boathouse was ‘Gunn Avenue Park’ named after somebody Gunn that no one had ever heard of.

But one afternoon someone near Gunn Avenue Park held his family hostage at gun point. Only one ‘n’ in that ‘gun’, but still. The city offered no one counseling, offered no insight into why the man held his family at gunpoint, and certainly did not take the lead in investigating his unemployment or his endless hours of daytime television. They did however, note that he lived near GUNN Avenue Park and that double N or no, the violence and offensive word invariably led him to tie up his wife and children to monologue at their frightened faces.

The park is now called “Adventure Park” in a neighborhood where most wild life adventure has long been sucked out. Old people tell of fishing and hiking and the occasional coyote howling at night. No one younger has such an imagination now.

The two blocks beyond the park provides a more contemporary adventure: Women getting off the bus with the audacity of shapely ass; girls walking their dogs with their coming of age hips. The shamelessness of existing: male eyes and words and gestures to bring them down.

When they get to Telegraph Road, they exhale. The bright bad lighting of suburbia illuminates the Wal-Mart, the In-and-Out, the Target. Our neighborhood Target bull’s-eyed honesty. They exuded humility and no better than K-Mart, pragmatism. They didn’t try to pretend their merchandise would last forever or that their employees would have a 401K plan. They promised clean, well-lighted working class grace, the end. Perhaps because the great department stores of historic lore: The Buffums, the I.Magnins, The Robinson’sMay Company, The Broadways had been cut down by the hordes of the tasteless, Target now has no choice but to pretend at their greatness. They offer us furniture that rivals Ikea. They pretend at a lifestyle. A great land. Great outdoors. We rollerskate through career opportunities of nothingness. They don’t hide their sarcasm and neither do we, the backdrop of our lives now.

Elena walked often to Telegraph Road and sometimes rode her bike. The headlight didn’t always come on, and the homeboys often did come on. This is just part of the gym membership of the poor in the suburbs. She caught her breath in front of the boathouse sometimes, wondering what it was like inside such a big house with a floor plan not memorized.

The oldest building in the neighborhood, but not significant enough like a 1950s burgerstand sign to become an historical landmark, the boathouse predated the subdivision back when the whole unincorporated town had been underwater.

A few old people would confirm this. But the people who lived in the subdivision had a hunch regarding the primordial ooze which predated their 1.5 car garages and their 1200 square feet and their one citrus tree in every backyard. In every bathroom for a five mile square area, water bugs and silverfish climbed out of the drains looking for that-long-since-been-drained lake. The water bugs and silverfish came up through the drains with desperation oozing from their feelers as if to say, this doesn’t feel like home anymore.

We always felt the tension of being someplace one isn’t supposed to be.

The waterbugs and silverfish eyed us, not with fear and apprehension, but with resignation, as if to say, yeah, you’re here, but how to get rid of you?

The boathouse once had a pier, a small dock, and small boats attached to it. Farmers and okies from near by used to go out there to fish on a Sunday. Elena stood in front of the boathouse on the buckled sidewalk and tried to imagine a history eradicated, but she could not. She could not erase the two hedges of bushes masking pink sound wall, the elementary school and its high chain link fence, and all the single-family homes, two blocks from the Stater Bros, which now housed retirees, their adult kids, their kids and friends in every cranny of space: each bedroom, the former family room, the RVs that traveled nowhere on the side of the houses.

They say you used to be able to see the ocean from here.

The current occupants decorated the boathouse with Christmas lights. It wasn’t that the lights had been leftover from Christmas and someone was just too lazy to take them down. No, she’d watched on her walks as a man in an upcycled red leisure jumpsuit hammered nails into the roof to strewn it with Christmas lights in April.

Someone always moved in and out of the place and she thought she’d heard from neighbors that the couple, who owned the boathouse now, lived up North somewhere. It served as a boarding house these days. But someone there was throwing a party and had put a postcard on her car she parked in front of her aunt’s house five doors down.

The man in the red leisure suit drank milky white coffee from a mason jar precariously perched on the ladder’s tin shelf.

“Howdy,” he said as she passed on her way towards the adventure park. She smiled up at him, friendly but not overly.

“You coming to the party, tonight?” He asked, “You got a postcard, right? Up the street on the lefthand side?”

“Yes, I got it. Thanks. I might stop by.”

“Please do. This area could really be a community, you know, if we just knew our neighbors like people used to. We all need to make more of an effort. This doesn’t have to be the suburbs.”

Well, what could she say to that? That was her exact complaint. It was why she resented her aunt living here and offering her the fold out couch even if she was temporarily homeless again. This kind of here goes nowhere.

She continued her walk to Telegraph and saw nothing out of the ordinary: homeboys washing their cars in drought on the sly, kids sitting on front steps with games in their hands, ignoring the small bits of nature around them—the palm trees swaying like strippers for a disinterested audience of the dead, dead grass and leaf blowers. People coming home from work yelling for teenagers to bring the groceries in. Heat up your own damn, hot pocket. Someone yelled. She knew the women would shower and sit in front of their computers and pretend they were telling the truth to OKCupid. The men would hang it all out in front of their TVs and their beers and dream young girls want them. The kids would borrow money without asking and slip into a night of grand plans that ended in grand slams at Denny’s instead.

She took a shower. Leisure Suit was off the roof by then but she could hear old school house music blaring from the upstairs window in the boathouse. That made it an odd place too—it was the only building for miles—commercial or residential—with three floors.

She settled on a black dress that fit a little more snugly than she’d have liked and heels she could walk actually in. Before she left her aunt’s, she checked herself out in the dining room mirror and downed a few shots of whiskey and a glass of water and ate a bolillo her aunt had left out for her with extra butter and called it dinner. She didn’t eat at parties where people could watch and sneer and judge. She would have her usual ‘one drink’ once there.

She knew no one, but the house music was decent and there were far too many people there so she didn’t feel obligated to make small talk. The boathouse had five bedrooms and an ancient living room with uneven wood floors and three baths—two with claw foot bathtubs and pull chain toilets and each room seemed to have at least 10 people in it who all seemed to be there on their way to somewhere else. She kept herself company among the strangers by staring at the built in bookshelves and the stained glass inset in most of the windows on the second and third floors along the old wooden staircase. It was someplace she’d have wanted to stay, if empty. She couldn’t help but feel the house talking to her. Like shouldn’t most of these people be in some Frat Bro bar in downtown Brea drinking rum and cokes and pretending a pretense of cool?

She agreed with the house. Everyone needed to leave, occupants included. Just Elena should be allowed to be there and only Elena appreciated its historical former grandeur. But sigh. She had no such power. She shrugged at the wainscoting. Dude, sorry these shitty people party in you.

“Ah, there you are! Glad you could make it, my dear,” said Leisure Suit man as he wrapped his arms quickly at her waist and gave her an air kiss on the cheek. He drank a new hip rum with old school Coke out of a mason jar and sporting a purple leisure suit that had silver sparkle glitter and black Beatle boots.

“Thanks for the invite. Great house.” What else could she say?

“I hope you stick around. We’re doing a séance in the attic at midnight! Stick around for another couple of hours. You’d be great at the séance! I mean, look at you!”

What did people meant when they said shit like that? She imagined she had some sort of hidden ink inscribed in her forehead that read, “tell me fucked up shit. Tell me I’m perfect for all things weird.”

The hours went by. Elena entertained herself by making up stories about herself and speaking to the well-meaning boys who smiled her way and wanted to know what she did for a living and was she somebody? Why had they not seen her there before? She alternated her answers. She was recovering from syphilis. She was a lawyer; leisure suit was her client. She used to live in a convent. She was in med school. She cleaned houses. She made her accent thicker or lighter for the audience. She was Lena. She was Elena. She had no name at all.

She made out in one of the bathrooms with the girlfriend of Leisure suit’s best friend. She planned to ask for her phone number or leave the bathroom when the girl pinned her against the door and stuck the number in her bra. She straightened out her dress and went down stairs to the kitchen and grazed the formica table for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and some guacamole and chips.

The clock said almost midnight. She might as well climb the stairs to the third floor and the séance. She opened the door slowly.

Leisure Suit sat there in a black full-piece pipe-trimmed in red and a top hat on like some hipster version of Aleister Crowley.

“Ah yes! Come in! Come in! Girl down the street…”

“Elena,” she reminded.

“Ah yes, Elena. You’re the last to arrive but perfect timing!” He reached for her hand, very gentleman-like, to which she raised an eyebrow but let him take it. He led her to a wooden chair and with one swift move, he tied her hands to the back of it.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Untie me now.”

“Can’t. It’s all part of the—“

“Oh geezus, really? Not even a real séance? What am I, your Rosemary’s Baby sacrifice?”

“Don’t fidget. You’ll see,” grinned Leisure Suit man. He needed a gold tooth so that when he smiled menacingly it came off a little more hip, she thought. Elena sat perfectly still and eyed the tiny room. The door to the stairs wasn’t all that far away. If she could wiggle out…

“You are going to sit here until I tell you ‘you can go’!” Elena pushed her whole body to the right, she felt the slam and the wind and the wooden floor echo against her ear. Leisure Suit laughed and a clone of hers set her upright with his help.

“Honestly, honey. It’s not like real exciting things ever happen to you, do they?” Just relax and enjoy,” the Leisure clone said. She felt something sting her arm. Then nothing. Then her knees widening, like she was swimming in the ocean. Like seaweed was flowing out of her. She was tired and the universe was grabbing at her. Let me sleep.

When the officers arrived, Leisure Suit told them he didn’t know what happened. He’d tried to be nice and invite some of the neighbors. But this one got too drunk, as they tend to you know, officer and well he tried to be nice. The party just didn’t suit her—they get drunk so fast. He tried to hold a block party as a community effort, but that girl, just didn’t want to interact with the community. She’d come on to several of the guests. Block Party Whore, the officer had written down.

They carried Elena out unconscious on a stretcher. She’d fallen down a flight of stairs. She would have unending back pain for the rest of her life. She would complain endlessly to the cops of the man in the boathouse and how he threw her down the stairs while tied to a chair. That what flowed from her wasn’t menstrual blood. It was her neighborhood. He wasn’t from there. He shouldn’t be there.

No one noticed the rope marks on her wrists, or the splinters in her skin, the floor dust in her hair. The ropes were no longer there.

Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of the dark fiction short story collections Sad Girls & Other Stories  (Solstice Literary Press 2015) and Mary of the Chance Encounters (Lit Star Press in 2017).  Selections from Mary of the Chance Encounters  came out in October 2017  on Wretched Productions as an audiobook. She is also a contributing editor for HipMama Magazine, and a three time director of the national spoken word series Listen to Your Mother Show. She also writes and directs plays and djs for Plumas Community Radio.

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2 Stories by Jessica Santillan


Leak

We’ve been in this house for ten years. My asthma comes from a mixture of mold and ancient dust that was here before we moved in, before I was born, before this house was constructed. Inhale. Exhale. The spores sit heavy in the tender wings that bring the breath of life.

Here, the mold suffuses the wall, plaster and primer and wood all covered like a leopard with dark, forest-green spots. To hide our embarrassing walls, to pretend that we are living in better conditions, we cover the stains with blankets that block out the sun. This room is timeless. I imagine my lungs are rotting from the inside, look like this mold all spotted and decaying. Like a tooth with holes, they sink in.

Beside the mold, I lie on a bed, crooked, with dangerous springs skewering out. I am the tender meat shoved on a shish-kebab, scars collect on my arms and knees. Back rolling against the maze, the springs that pop out in indecipherable patterns. I shift to find comfort, but there is none to be had.

And in the aged darkness, the still night—perhaps early morning?—I listen. The sound of a leaking faucet. Not a drip, but a steady stream that will not quit. It moves through my mind, liquid filling holes and submerging me. What is the sound of endless water, rolling from faucet and straight down the drain?

It is money. It is money relentlessly tearing itself from pockets, fleeing, slipping like—well, like water between fingers.

But it is more than money. It is hollow. A ringing. Moving through pipes and onto stained porcelain and rolling down into other pipes to be carried away. Like a scream into the rust, all raw and ruddy and rending. The water enters my mind just as quickly as it leaves. The stream is all I hear.

I try to think about the mold, about my spotted lungs. I try to think of the scars and the springs. I try to look at the clutter and feel the presence of my mother who shares a bed with me. I try to think about the other six people split between two rooms. But all I hear is the stream.

There has to be a science to the sound. A way that it echoes in the house and fills my ears. The screech against the cover of night, that weighs heavy upon me.

The sound of a running faucet is that of waste. Finite sources and infinite needs and it’s all just funneling down a pipe endlessly.

We’ve tried to have the pipes fixed. The landlord sent her crew to repair it, but they’d need to knock out the entire wall, replace all of the pipes and rebuild the shower. A long job, they had said. Could be months. We think of things like work and school and opening our doors to the strange men and we are pushed against a wall. So the leak continues.

Once, the repairmen fixed a leak in the roof. Water descending from above in pools and deforming the ceiling. Wavy and misshapen like my bed. Bubbles ready to burst. They ripped the ceiling out, patched it up, and the water stopped. I found a swastika penciled above my doorway after they left, a hallmark, a branding. We are cattle penned up and living in a decay we cannot escape.

And I swear I can hear a scream in the leak. A forever scream, one from a woman whose lungs are not broken and soft like mine. Lungs of steel, screeching against shackles. A woman doomed to live with her voice infinitely sinking down a drain.

This thought moves me. I rise, soft and slow to avoid waking my mother, and go to the source. I watch. Clear and dropping down with gravity’s blessing. I reach out, turn the rusted knobs, tighten them, tighten them, palms scratching against sharp metal; they are enflamed. And the water does not stop.

Here, the mold sits, pushing tile away from wall, thick and black, crumbling like old bread. My knees on broken linoleum, my palms scorched through the center. The scream continues, onward in the night, or the early morning. I’m not sure. The sound is timeless. And the water does not stop.

Curandera


Denis Mojado Fishing_Frogs_050723
Photo by Denis Mojado

The sun sits heavy on her brow as she plays in front of her home with her muñecas. As she sits, a chill runs through her, a coldness like someone has shut off the sun, and the hair on her skin stands like the dead. Tío Fernando runs toward the house, carrying her cousin Anita, a girl of about 15, whose once-tan skin now appears bleached, bone-white. She thinks of death, looking at her panicked tío and her cousin’s stillness. Her fingers spark as she reaches out to Anita. Skin covered in a sheen of sweat but cold to the touch. “Get your mamá,” Fernando says and she runs into the house to fetch her mother, who seems to already know that she is needed; her mother puts a hand up to silence her and walks out with a quick, but calm, gait. Her mother puts her hands on Anita’s face; she tells her daughter to prepare a bowl with the sanctified water, oils, spices, herbs, bits of charcoal. She obeys, preparing the concoction with haste. And then, sitting on her knees, a muñeca clenched tight in her fist, she watches her mother, who chants prayers—invocations of santos and Jesucristo and la Virgen Guadalupe—while crossing the girl with a small bundle of sticks; and her tío who weeps; and her cousin Anita who writhes on the dusty floor. The air is still and hot, like fire. She thinks the air must be what causes the water to bubble, to boil, moving the bits of charcoal around like drums, like feet marching into war. And the charcoal hops out of the bowl, jumping high and falling back in, like stones plunked into a lake. Anita convulses in the dust, and the bowl and air move with her and her mother prays and her tío weeps and she watches. One-by-one, the charcoal leaps out of the bowl, changes into tiny, dark frogs. As they hop out, her mother snatches the frogs up, puts a knife through them, killing the curse. She watches and sees the color return to her cousin’s skin; her eyes flutter open; Anita sits up. She watches her tío weep and her mother praise God and she feels, deep inside, that she’s seen a miracle, and she knows that she, too, possesses this power that her mother has. Fear mingled with exhilaration form like butterflies in her chest, as she imagines the expansive future, as she sees herself—almost like a vision, like prophesy—healing the sick and breaking the curses of the downtrodden. She thinks of a bright ball, a light from which God emerges, and she sees Him touching her heart and giving her powers: a divine appointment. And she thinks that this is Good, that God has blessed her so.

The dusty air moves unhindered in the room as the light glimmers through the window. Her tío rejoices. Her cousin cries tears of joy. Her mother praises God.

Jessica R. Santillan was born in Bakersfield, CA. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State, where she worked as an editorial assistant for The Normal School. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has had her work published in the San Joaquin Review, Sirens Call, and Cactus Heart.