Julián Esteban Torres López

Mother’s Records, Mother’s Books

Luisa’s Records


Julián Esteban Torres López (he/him/his/el) is a bilingual, Colombia-born cultural worker with Afro-Euro-Indigenous roots. For two decades, Julián has studied systems of oppression and has worked toward humanizing those who have been socially, politically, and geographically excluded from the hierarchies of power by centering, elevating, and amplifying their voices, experiences, and histories. He is the founder of the social justice storytelling organization The Nasiona magazine and press, where he also hosts and produces The Nasiona Podcast. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee, a Trilogy Award in Short Fiction finalist, and the author of Marx’s Humanism and Its Limits and Reporting On Colombia. His work appears in PANK Magazine, Into the Void Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, among others. Julián holds a bachelor’s in philosophy and in communication and a master’s in justice studies from the University of New Hampshire and was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he focused on political science and Latin American studies.

Webpage: jetorreslopez.com

In a small Colombian town, during the first week of La Violencia, women sang with their hearts, while men sang for power.

Simón’s mother sang as she played the piano in their living room. Luisa was the first feminine voice he had ever heard.

Simón would sneak in wearing socks instead of shoes, as she played with her eyes closed, and he would dance.

His socks: worn down on the balls of his feet. He would stretch to the roof to be taller than he really was, as if a puppeteer pulled the strings from above and Simón was a marionette.

Mother and son would listen to Billie and Ella records and drown them out with their own voices.

The two would pretend they were on a smoke-filled stage in Chicago, Little Havana, or Cartagena—he on the piano and she in a red dress in front of the microphone.

Senator Francisco, Simón’s father, never approved. Instead, the senator would shut himself away in his study and listen to his radio, which reported on the country’s first unplanned national revolution sparked by spontaneous combustion.

Simón did not like the sounds of his father’s music, so he stuck with his Luisa, instead.

Then, one night, as mother and child sang along to “Mack the Knife,” Simón’s voice cracked. By the end of the song he began to cry.

Luisa took him into her arms as gently as she would place the needle on the record and did not bother to ask what was wrong.

She simply knew her boy was afraid of losing his heart if he could no longer sing like a woman.

He did not want to sing like his father.


* * *


Luisa’s Books

Puberty drafted Simón amidst the backdrop of a bellicose era, which seemed to awaken his father’s already inherent vicious cruelty.

In its most contained form, the senator would scold Simón for reading at the dinner table.

Francisco’s cousin—a doctor trained in ancient indigenous medicinal ways—told him one could go blind if one read during meals.

Though a logical man—an assumption deduced by visitors once forced into submission during friendly games of chess—, Simón always knew when his father took leaps of faith.

Once the senator’s unfounded assertions were questioned, he would never provide a response, but, rather, punish Simón through the multi-colored layers of his temper.

The blood vessels in Francisco’s left eye would grow like the veins in a worker’s hands and forearms while deep inside the Zipaquirá mines that ferreted through the intestines of the Andean foothills.

Francisco’s right eye would sit yellow, holding its breath, counting to ten. Then, the senator’s face would pull away the curtain of his lips to reveal an angry army of twenty-seven soldiers, deprived of cigarettes and sex, waiting to release the red anaconda hiding behind the calcified cage.

Through the senator’s lost front tooth, Simón could see the thirst and hunger of the beast—already eating itself for survival’s sake.

Regardless of which resentful wave would strike during dinner hour, the result was the same: an anger that would break down levies built by the religious relics of Simón’s disappeared mother; an anger that would flood the house with battles between black caiman and untrained gladiator.

The sweat during the ordeal would wash Francisco’s coal-covered face, bathing Simón in dusty tears of coerced remorse and repentance.

Such was life in most households where the father resented both the child’s and his own birth.

The accumulated dirty dishes and unwashed floors were a constant reminder of a wasted life of shortcomings—defects that left charcoal shadows and broken mirrors wherever the senator walked.

Francisco’s vulnerable failings were exemplified by the disappearance of his wife, which he believed was orchestrated by local guerrillas who called for political representation, a fairer distribution of wealth, land, the country’s resources, and for the armed forces and paramilitaries to stop the extrajudicial killings of the country’s campesinos.

“They’ll get my land over my dead body!”

Francisco transferred his feelings of vengeance to the neighborhood parrot, whose beheading by machete the senator ordered for daily reminding him of the truth: that those to blame for his wife’s absence were still at large.

“Help. Luisa. Help. Luisa. Help Luisa! Help Luisa!”

He honored her in a way only men of his ilk can express love: with the weapon of war.

Simón would lock himself in the bathroom by moving his mother’s bookcase in front of the door so Francisco’s barbaric flood could not reach him with its claws.

It was then Simón wondered, if he missed Luisa more so because he loved her, or because he was never abused when she was around.

The senator scolded Simón for reading. The act reminded Francisco of her.

Simón would hide in the bathtub, and he would fill it with books and records where he would dive in looking for his mother.


© The Acentos Review 2020