In his dream, Paulo marries Gloria. She doesn't see him as the thin scarecrow he is. He owns both Alpaca and Llama herds, lavishes her with the richly dyed fabric she loves to make into her dresses. He feeds her Ispi, butter beans, Lucumas. Her lips taste like heavy cream. When she looks at him her eyes reflect the sun. Her breasts are full and warm against him. Inside her belly, their child curls in contentment.
His people are starving. Paulo wishes he could walk through the city without the fear of falling into the gaping mine pit that has swallowed the land where he was born. Hundreds of years ago, the rocks wept silver around the campfires of his people. The veins hidden under their land were rich with lead and zinc. Paulo's great grandparents owned handfuls of herds. Now, lead poisons the children, the elders. The blue line across their gums is a tattoo marking them for death. His people call the mine Tajo. While they waste away, Tajo eats their houses, schools, and churches. The children's bellies wail as they walk in their sleep, searching for food in the middle of the night. They fall into the mouth of the mine. Tajo is never satisfied.
In his dream, Paulo walks toward the center of town. There are houses lining the street, their windows open. He can see the people inside rolling dough in preparation for a midday meal. In the yards out front, brightly colored clothes hang on sagging lines. The skirts and tunics flap like pinned birds in the breeze. He smells aging fires and hears the sound of young laughter. Paulo steps lightly past each house as he hears flutes and guitars drawing him towards town. There is a fiesta with a parade and huaynitos; village girls wearing multi-colored skirts like layered flags. They beckon him to join them. He wants to dance. He is not tired or hungry.
He sees Gloria. She is twirling and stomping her feet to the music. The pink and red layers of her polleras bounce against her waist like crashing waves. She dances towards him, her k'eperina — the carrying cloth where a child would sleep — now empty. Her black hair clings to her face like a funeral shawl. Paulo reaches out to her, his hands resting on her waist as he joins the dance. People surround him as he spins Gloria around and around until he is dizzy. Until he is falling. He imagines Gloria rocking their son, her hair tickling his tiny nose as she leans over his sleeping face. She sways back and forth, up and down, her voice a siren's song as she sings of the sea: La mar estaba serena, serena, serena.
When she pushed her son out of her, she knew she had to protect him. From the pain of his father leaving. From her blood he left behind. Her son screamed, fierce and proud. How her heart felt. How it hurt after the years of misuse.
When he grew into a child he fell and broke his arm. The doctors placed a cast around it. His classmates colored their names: Get well! Billy, Sarah, Justin. The bone healed in time, on its own, as most things do. She read that all bones start as cartilage. Eventually it hardens, both inside and out, until it completes its transformation, only when adulthood sets in. She watched as her son's arms and legs began to stretch like a canvas. His limbs were the painted trees in the woods behind their cabin, always reaching for something she couldn't see. She taught him the love of the forest, the smell of the earth. She gathered the soil around them like a blanket on cold nights. The warmth of her ancestors, gone for centuries but always near, their hands filling in the gaps of night.
A year after he went missing in the woods she was told his remains would never be found. She ran through the forest searching, smelling him everywhere. He was the wind now, the roots of the trees. She hated the animals for taking him. His bones were not meant for them. It was the way of nature, she read, to scavenge. Every time she looked for him, her heart calcified into a knot. She screamed at the foxes and the wolves, her lips revealing her own vicious snarl. They tasted her hunger as it hung like the weight of the universe in their air.
When the sheriff called she was told to meet him at the coroner's office. She walked into a room with a metal table and stared at the pile of dirty white bones that was once her son. She touched as many pieces as she could, feeling the grooves where the teeth from the animals had left their final marks. Her hunt had ended. She knew the foxes, the wolves, and all the animals would continue theirs. She knew she would continue to hear them scream, fierce and proud, and she would no longer pull the universe around her to stop them.
Hillary Leftwich resides in Denver with her son. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid and pinup model. She is the associate editor for The Conium Review and Reader/Marketing Coordinator for Vestal Review. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Hobart, Matter Press, WhiskeyPaper, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Dogzplot, Cease, Cows, Pure Slush, FlashFiction.net and others.