The Acentos Review


The first time my mother saw angels, she was twelve and worked the fields around Woodland. She left the station wagon to take a piss in a ditch when they came. At first, she thought they were headlights from the owner's trucks, but the lights moved too slowly for that. The angels drifted in on the night air and told her that she would have three beautiful children and that the lord would bless them with long lives.

Two weeks short of her twenty-first birthday, my father raped my mother.

When it happened, the angels came back. Time slowed. They arrived through the dome light of the car's ceiling, reflected against the dull yellow bulb.

She knew what they were right away.

They flew down from the roof, swooped in low until they tickled her ear. Whispering, they told her it would be okay. She had been touched.

When she found out she was pregnant with my older brother, she ran down to LA, thinking that she might become a nun; but the angels did not come for her there. Instead, my grandfather found her and made sure she was married properly, the Catholic way--in the name of the father.

That was the beginning of my family. A beginning that would have been in Spanish if someone had bothered to tell it at the time. In my father's house we all spoke it. He didn't learn English until he was nineteen and would hit us when we didn't speak it around him.

Todos! Hablamos Español en la casa.

I was so young when I first heard the story of the angels that it became instantly true to me. Even now, I take it as fact. Two years after my older brother was born, I came along. Soon after, my father said goodbye.

Two things I know about my father:

1. He was very charming when he was sober.

2. He was a hard worker.

That, the tangy smell of his aftershave, and small brown freckles of stubble against reddish-brown skin are all I have of him. He belongs to an unreal place, an imaginary woodcutter that created children and let them go for my mother to care for, unaware of the hollowed out remains he refused to fill. 

The fact that he worked two jobs probably influenced my grandfather's decision to have my uncles go get my mother and give her the wedding she hadn't wanted. She tried to talk her way out of it, but her mother told her that we all make sacrifices for family. These are all the things my mother said to me when she could still speak straight. It was important for me to know, she said, because I took after my father. The first thing I tried to do when I left the family cocoon was to go to college and try to forget. That was before I realized that I couldn't.

Twenty-five years after her rape, I'm supposed to visit her in Redding. I am twenty-three and going through the motions of graduate school. She has cancer, and I'm trying to measure what that means to me. My journey will begin a few minutes after the semester ends.  

I sit quietly within yellowing classroom walls, try to focus on my professor's voice. Like the classroom, it is worn and cluttered. He stands in front of a white dry-erase board, voice echoing lightly off the dull plaster walls, explaining our last assignment. Something about the word miracle in a story about aging. Slowing down. I look out of the classroom's broad, drapeless window. Words volley. Associations arrive. Unexplained, unexplainable, unnatural--nothing but miracles. I stare at the walls, then at the windows, and wonder how I wound up here.

Spots of dew collect on the outside of the windowpane and fall in broad trails, heavy with the weight of the season, clearing spots in the gathering moisture. Through it, trees and grass are visible. Wind shifts foliage. This time of year, the weather brings a heaviness--but also a beauty--to the fading sunlight of dusk.

It makes me think of my mother.

In six minutes I will walk through the classroom door, go home, and finish packing. I will drive up the coast through the night, visit my mother in the hospital. My brother will be there. He'll ask me for money, lie about how he needs it for his son. I'll give him what I have because he's my brother and I understand the urge to lie.

Maybe my mother will be awake, maybe not.

Either way, because of the medicines and the immaculate nothingness of hospital walls, she will not speak. She stopped being responsive years ago.

The cachexia of cancer-

Where the body eats itself

Lays waste to life.

Invasion. Launched from the body upon itself

I think of my mother, of the last time she came home--a year of bedrooms, couches, and TV sets that blared daytime talk shows twelve hours a day. She'd sit behind gravy-stained TV dinner trays and empty half-gallon ice cream containers. A hunched figure, tuning in and out. Memories that reveal how a single frayed band, visible only when necessary to look at it, connects my family.

In hours, days--The Hospital Drill:

I'll gather myself at the elevator door, walk to her room quickly.

Doctors and nurses will shake their heads.

I'll nod.

Afterwards, in the parking lot, I'll punch my car's steering wheel until the knuckles redden and swell. I rub my hands and wonder what my mother felt when my father bruised his knuckles on her.

After class, I step into the narrow hallway of the Mrack building, not sure where to begin. I look to one of the low circular windows, notice the reflection of bodies behind me. They shift in and out of focus, distort. A glint of light reflects a smile that floats in some liminal space, like the play of light through the stained glass windows of a church when I was young.

I move toward the main campus. On the walls of the administration building, red and yellow banners announce the graduation ceremony. I puff up my collar to shield my neck against the wind. Festive colors remind me how different this world is than the one I left at seventeen. The suffocating cocoon of family. They call it “culture” here. 




Urgent reminders. Platitudes.

The history of my family follows me, even here. The memory of my mother shadows these things, falls behind me whenever I face a glowing light. I realize I am already moving out of college, ahead of my body. 

My mother's been dying since I was a little boy.  She used to tell me stories about how she would end it if she could.

“Of course it's a mortal sin, so it is not possible.”

“I would, though, with all of you. Don't think I haven't thought of it.”

“Do you think you could survive after I go?”

The Catholicism of her youth told her that her life was not hers to take. All of us--my brother and sister, my mother--in our own way have moved beyond that culture. I have run ahead.

Last week to register for Graduation.

Class Schedules are coming.

Awards for Outstanding Students.

I remember my graduation ceremony at UC. My mother in the hospital, my brother in some halfway house. No one saw me the day I walked on stage. I imagined what I would tell my friends at the after-parties about why my parents couldn't come.

Uniform faces of privilege file out of the modern glass and brick buildings. I see the way family means to them, and how distant it is from me.  Even the ones who say they hate their mothers and fathers at least know enough about themselves to know what they oppose. The wounded, however, band together to survive. Their past is a shared burden. For my family, I want nothing more than to walk with light feet.

My mother brought men home for ten years in order to build something like a family for us, hoping that this would make us whole. Flawed. Like us. But we never became whole, and we learned to grow skin to hide it.

Some, I recall clearly: One lived in the white, weatherworn house. We moved in it for six months. Another drank Budweiser. Another kicked my mother a lot in the leg when she would not move fast enough.

My mother's effort worked in one regard: they all adored my sister and could see the sense in building something around her small cherubic face and light brown curls. The men would spoil her. She was everyone's new beginning. Young, ready to accept the rhythms they set. My brother and I were left to ourselves while they spoiled my sister and beat my mother.

How many? Six, eight? Boyfriends, Fiancées, Uncle ____. All of them pieces in my puzzle of manhood. I don't blame my mother, though. Even now. The angels told her everything would be okay.

But they never told us.

When Wally--the third husband--began hitting my mother, she told us that if she'd rolled with his kicks, she could have gotten away with bruises. My mother said it under heavy breath, as if proud to have stood her ground.

“That's why I have to rest so much. That's why you have to carry your sister…”

Once, I asked her why she married our father.

“Why, I picked him out of a card file,” she answered.

“Na- uh,” I said, shaking my head from side to side.

“Yeah,” she insisted, mimicking the actions of a secretary looking for a number in a file.  “I just saw the name and he had pretty eyes, so I said why not.”

I was prepared to believe her, and for a long time after that I did.

The line of wounds stretches back farther than I could ever imagine. Not just the one on the night of her rape, but also within the stories she'd tell me of the extended family she shielded us from. At each session, I was told secrets that I didn't want to know.

My father was a fighter.

Black belt in Karate.

Later on, I would learn to box, reveling in the way my knuckles flexed under the rough fabric of cloth wraps. Powerful. The soft thundering weights of my opponent's hands as they fell upon my forehead. So easy to manipulate--to guide an opponent toward my shoulders and elbows, rather than the soft underneath. Instead of the small child who crumpled in the hands of my father and later stepfathers, the motion of my body is like a matador's cape when I fight, my opponent's hands falling harmlessly where I let them.

It helps me understand how my mom could take it all these years.  

Grabbing the wheel of my run down Chevy, my blood rises and reminds me that I will be leaving the little life I have built for myself in these few years away at college. I back out of the driveway. On the radio, a familiar song. I turn, hit the freeway, remember the way my mother whispered the lyrics behind one of my step-dads. I narrow my eyes and recall my mother's mouth wrapped around that song, gyrating forty-year-old hips that bulged inappropriately. The distant look in her eyes made it seem like she was seeing something long gone.

I asked her once why she stayed with my first dad.

“You don't understand, I thought I was being faithful to the religion. It's why my mother stayed with my grandfather. I keep trying to marry for you guys. You need a man around.”

She told me once how she felt like a failure every time they walked out. Another time, I asked her if she ever felt desire anymore. She shook her head and said that these days she just wanted to be left alone.

Traveling west from the Central Valley, I drive a stretch of highway toward Napa where the floor of the valley transforms from farmland to ragged hills. My mother's family settled in this area, moving north in stages: first as transient farm workers, then to dwellers and finally to landowners. My mother's family followed tomato harvests, the grape harvests, or whatever work presented itself.

My uncles and aunts worked the fields from the time that they could mimic the picking motion. They stayed through the season, living on the sides of dirt access roads, out of the backs of vans, trucks and station wagons.  Tent cities that are now suburbs. My mother used to tell us tales of the early years of her life, when the ten of them would live in one station wagon for weeks at a time. My mother says that even the five year olds worked harder than the gringos who would drift in and out for a day's work. The workers that spoke English would leave after a day's work and beg for whatever else they needed until they had to come back. My brother, sister and I are part of the first generation not to work these fields. Even though I know the stories by heart, I feel so removed from them that the fields mean nothing true to me.

Another myth.

Another miracle.

Another story.

On the backside of the coastal range, the sharp edges of rocky hills mark the entrance to the fertile ruts that suddenly rise up into gentle hills, marking Napa valley proper. I outline their cascading features with my eyes. Round green domes bubble into the air. The road winds through creases in the dirt. I see how the grape vines grow on stakes, their bruise-colored leaves rising unnaturally into the air. Together or fenced off, they are a pattern of geometric rows, organized as if their neat existence can make sense of the earth. I pull off to the side of the road and call my sister from a payphone.

A muffled greeting.

“Why do I have to be the one to go visit her? I know she'd like you to be there.”

The sound of children in the background. My sister's voice hushed, as if she doesn't want her husband to hear. “I'll try, but you know how it is.”

“Yeah,” I say, hushing my voice to her level.

I know what she means. Jonathan wants to be in control. My family is a bunch of loose wild cards. If I push the issue and make her visit my mother instead of me, I would open up an emotional tinderbox that could ignite a feud. Neither of us like these trips. In school, all I have to protect is my equilibrium. She has a family, a regular family. A house--and Jonathan.

“I know I should, but…”

In conversations with my sister, the moment after the “but…” is never said out loud.

I don't want to hear it anyway.

That “but…” included the love that we wanted to express to my mother. The love--covered up and confused by the distance she kept from us.

She was headstrong in childhood. Tall, five foot six by the time she was in Junior High. Growing up, my sister was a conduit for each of my stepfather's paternal feelings. As a child, she forgave easily. One of the men that my mother dated said that if it had just been my mother and my sister, he would have stayed.

“…But those two boys are too gloomy and messed up.” 

My sister was not old enough to know the absence that we felt. She allowed these various versions of father the fantasy of a complete family. Me and my brother were already formed. The lesson my sister took was to find a man who would complete her idea of family. This meant that she had to stay away from the rest of us. I am the only one she talks to any more. My sister has always been the family's chance to be normal, which meant that she would forever be a symbol and never a real sister. She met obligations, smiled for guests and state workers that checked in on us while the two gloomy children--my brother and I--sulked in the background. She was the diplomatic one, or more to the point, the one who had a chance to be unwounded.

My associations with the undamaged have given me the tact to understand the code of conduct that lets me avoid talking about drug-addicted brothers and dying mothers. When I called, I didn't talk about these things. Except now the weight is becoming too heavy for me to bear on my own.

“Yeah, I'll let her know you wanted to make it.”

She paused. I hear a child singing in the background to some buried commercial.

“I'll send a card. I'll try to make it.”

Her voice dims by the end of the sentence, mouth already moving away from the receiver.

I know she will try. And never do. 

My father came home and found my brother crying on the day my mother finally left. To his eyes, my brother was weak and small and quiet--the wrong qualities for the eldest son. My father called me over and gave me his belt, told me to go over and hit my brother. I did as I was told, although I doubt my four-year-old arms could deliver the kind of blows my father wished for. It was then, she said later, that she knew that she would rather we die on the streets than have us become what our father had become. So we left.

She was pregnant, but didn't care anymore if a new life would kill us or rescue us. We moved into an attic and I became ill.  I would not move, my breathing rapid, fevered. It panicked my mother enough to take me to the emergency room. They ran tests and cultures. Although I stayed in the hospital overnight, they could find anything wrong with me. When the doctors heard about my family's condition, they brought in a psychologist who said I was psychosomatically causing my illness because of the separation from my father. My mother didn't understand, so she took me home and set me on a pile of dirty clothes until I either died or got better. After a few days, I came out of it. I gave up my father the minute my fever broke. From then on, I was my mother's son.

The four of us remained in that attic for six months. As I watch the rows of grape fields, I remember the stories she told me there, of her life growing up.

“Out in the fields we would stand and walk, not always working but mostly doing just that.  The tomatoes were the worst because they would make your hands raw and that would allow the juice to seep into the wounds.”

She would turn her hands over and show us where the sliver scars remained from decades ago.

“It would sting…Sssssss…” A hissing sound at the memory, of air sucked into a grin

“…Like alcohol in a cut.”

She would talk about other things. Her ambitions. Her life. 

“I was an artist… or at least I could have been.  I got a lot of compliments on my artwork.  I wanted to be a doctor or an artist.”

“Why didn't you?”

“Well, your grandfather pulled me out of school so that I could work.” 

An ice sheet across her eyes, hesitation--a smile with one corner of her mouth.

“But I'm happy that things worked out the way they had because I was able to have you guys.”

This was before all the other men came, before she quenched her loneliness within them, before we became men ourselves.  

The scene changes with the slowing traffic. Details emerge. Large blocky parcels of field become distinct. Rows come clear. Traffic stops. Brake lights frame the bottom of my windshield and out of the corner of my eye, I see stooped shapes populate the alleyways between the grapevines.  I count them, wonder how I could not have noticed them before. From a distance, at highway speed, they merge into the landscape. I pull off into a turnout. Tires slip on the loose gravel as I stop. I get out and walk toward the barbwire fence that separates the turnout from the field. A worker about fifty feet inside the barrier notices me and looks up. He leans away from the plants and turns on one foot. I kick dirt off my shoes and motion the dark-skinned man over. Eyes narrow. I pause, not sure what I could say to him.

I don't speak Spanish.

Without a word, he ignores me, turns to face the open land, and walks toward a small shed. I get back in my car. I want to turn around, find my way home.

Still, I go on.

The traffic clears and I follow a narrow highway through the mountains. I drive continuously for six hours, stopping for the night on a dark off ramp. The lights of the passing cars raise shadow lines on the worn velvet interior roof.

I drift into sleep.    

I'm standing in a schoolyard, looking at the dirt on my ankles. I don't like my pants because they are “high waters.” The hems rest just above the cleft of my ankle. Because of this, I pull up my pants a lot, learning the creative skill of adjusting my ill-fitting underwear without looking like I am picking my butt.  

In the next instant, I'm in the back alley behind the house with the attic that I lived in with my brother. I stand with my brother near the back gate where a couple of two-by-fours lean against a wire clothesline. My mother uses it as a garage for a broken down car that hasn't worked in months. Above him, the skies are colored gray, with a hint of the purple black that precedes a storm. Opening the hood of the car, we see where thieves stole the battery.

“Oh, damn.  It's gone!  There's like a hole.  I can see where they took it.” 

My brother looks to me with a superior smirk, as if he has just discovered the lost city of Atlantis. I stoop down, trying to pick up the stray Calico alley cat we've have adopted.

“Ol' Cat!  Here… Ol' Cat!”  The cat creeps over. She rubs against my leg and purrs.  I notice the sun creep over the shingled roof of our house. A flash, like lighting, and the side of the house falls away. A fire rises out of a back room where the cat sleeps. Puffs of black smoke from the windows. Backward tears drift up into the sky. Firemen punch a hole in the ceiling to create a vacuum, sucking out the black smoke inside and exhaling it through a gash. The house comes down as fine ash, drifting lightly to the ground. Inside the ash, gray flecks waft down and surround me as the light breaks through the clouds. A glowing shaft surrounds me, and I realize that the smoke is a mixture of dust, cat hair and soot. Particles shimmer in the rays of sun.  I see the sheet-like cascade of a million tiny reflections dance in little loops.  The house I lived in, the cat I loved, the life I lived in union. I think of my mother and my brother disappears, mixing into this beautiful dance of ash that tickles my skin.

I wave my hand in the air, cut through the particles like the blades of a slowly rotating fan.  Moving my hands faster, I make angry swirls. Somewhere far away, tires slash through sheets of water in the street.


The sound of being wet and cold and lost… 

The next morning, I approach the ocean and veer off of toward Highway 1. To the north, the hills cut away and reveal still more hills that recede deep into the early morning mist. The lush green plateaus frame the fuzzy highland like a wave of vegetation coming in with the tide. Frozen in place, a blanket caught flapping in the wind. I head due north, choosing the longest loop away from Redding so that I'll see the ocean along my left side before I moved inland. Close to the coast, I watch the border between land and sea beyond my driver's side window. My father once moved through one border, South to North, looking for the same thing that others in this country do when they move East to West.

On this precipice between the country and the waves, I wonder how the land can drop off and disappear with such abruptness and then realize that my own world will soon end, revealing, perhaps the lie of permanent ground. I look at the waves, an endless folded blanket, and begin to think that there is something permanent about those waves as well. A reminder of the past. The ocean is an invisible world impossible for me to live in. But then, I think how the world began as an ocean, and that when the ocean disappears, the planet will be dead, and the permanence of life and history will be revealed as a lie as well. I consider the earth at my feet, wonder if I should fling myself off and smother myself in the violence of the waves.

I spend a full day on the coast, wandering up and down deserted towns that shutter themselves during the week.

I pause and listen to silence.

The hospital is less than a hundred miles away. They tell me that my mother will linger for a while. Morphine lessens pain. They administer it in patches, but there is no telling when her lucidity will fade.

I drive away from the coast, until the ocean is out of sight.

The trip takes three hours of night driving on the twisted road. When I find the intersection that matches my notes, I prep my car for sleep next to an old access road. In the dark after I turn off the engine, I remember how there were no lights in our attic and that we went to sleep with the sunset. For a time, we slept on a mattress with no sheets. One high window illuminating the space. The lumpiness of the car seat does not bother me. Uneven, like the pile of dirty clothes we used for a couch. We had to kick it every morning to make sure rats hadn't nested.  

The day of my meeting, I wake up and drive slowly toward the hospital. The neighborhood is evenly split between carefully maintained houses and empty lots filled with car parts and construction equipment. The land is hilly and densely forested. I park my car. The gray sky is covered with a thick overcast of high clouds. I hug myself. There is stillness in the tired land, as if no one has ever lived here.

I go though the revolving doors of the hospital and approach the front counter, where a distracted nurse leans into her magazine and waves me through without looking up.

“Number twenty-three, I'll ring you in. Follow the green line until you get to the split. Make a right, it's the second door.”

A harsh buzz erupts from the inner security door and a latch clicks loose. I notice the reproduction of a child's drawing and think of the growing tumor in my mother, trying to feel the sadness that the suffering are entitled to. I am just numb.

Cancer is everybody's concern.

I walk the freshly polished hallway and follow a line of green tape that's been scrubbed loose. Eventually, the tape disappears and the marker is a line of grayish glue, its color rubbed off. My brother is in the hallway, seated on a blue plastic chair chained to the white-tiled floor. Seeing me, he sets his ragged hips upright, yanks himself out of the chair as if jolted. His eyes are shadowy creases under the fluorescent lights--dead and unrecognizable. He angles his body toward me, leans into a greeting with his eyes squinted. He looks sideways at me like some pachuco from the neighborhood. A checkered, long sleeve shirt with low-slung Cholo pants cover his thin frame. A long, worn trench coat hangs on the hook behind him. His clothes are inappropriate for the weather so I know that the cold sweats are getting to him. He must be trying to quit again.

“'lo Chon.”

With the two airy syllables, his chin sways back and forth, then sideways. It is what 'fiends do when their nerves begin to go. After ten years, his are now useless threads that convey nothing anymore. Yellow nubs poke through red-white-black gums. Moving in close, I hear the rub of his remaining enamel wear through. I respond to his greeting in kind, with no energy to lecture him like I used to.

His bloodshot eyes are lower in his head than the last time I saw him Usually, the only thing truly alive about him, even when he was 'fiending, were his eyes. I look away and remember how his wife has begun bruising in the same places that my mother used to.

“Hello Jorge. Have you been here long?”

“Yeah, Oaky”


“Mom…” His voice trails off.

I sense that he wants to say something. Or cry, maybe. My father had beaten him when he was young for such unmanly demonstrations like crying. It would be the first time I've seen it since he was ten, the day he got stung by a bee. I have cried only twice since then myself, and both times I ran into a closet so that no one would see it.

All those years after we grew up and into our teens, when he started running with the boys from the neighborhood, I saw a lot of emotions--anger, guilt, regret--but never the look he holds in his eyes now. It is as if he is fighting with himself to make sure that our mother's impending death means nothing to him; as if my father could rise up from his liver problems and become the powerful man of our youth in order to beat this girlish emotionalism out of him. I see myself in those eyes. He turns away, mutters, and sits back down. I still love the boy my brother used to be, the one I keep alive in memories. I want to punch the wall to see him now, wasted--everything my father threatened he would turn into.

I let him collect himself as I walk into the room.

Medical equipment covers one wall. Polished aluminum handles rise from her bed, meet the dangling rubber and wires. They glimmer in the half-light, offsetting the dull off-white of the hospital walls. I get closer and her eyes open. Wide yellow bulbs stare back at me, blood-red veins erupt from her brown pupils. I reach out, and she wordlessly grips my hand. Tears fall down her temple, push through the cracks and wrinkles, move sideways over the scars near her right temple, and then lay a track down her cheek, sopping into the pillow. My hand turns white from the unexpected pressure of her grip. She looks away from me into the corner of the room, then reaches up to flatten her hair,

'Mi hijo, get me a comb.”

She looks directly at me. Before I can move or ask why, she looks away again, back into the corner and smiles. Soft air ruffles her lips. I lean in to hear what she is saying.

“I don't wanna die, Joe. I don't want to die. I don't want to die, Joe. I don't want to die.”

She repeats it twelve, thirteen times.

I remember the memorial service for my grandmother, the Catholic burial with the ritual chant and response of the Rosaries and Mother Mary's. Smoke from votive candles stinging my nose, everyone knowing how to respond at just the right time, sincere and reverent, making sure that her soul was released.

My mother's head sinks into the pillow, trapped in a backdrop of plump, laundered linen. I wonder how many tears have been swallowed up by the thin fabric.

Her chanting stops.

I do not know who Joe is.

The doctors medicate my mother after that, and there is no more movement. I leave the hospital and head back to the coast to find a spot that overlooks the ocean. Parking my car at the edge of a cliff, I walk down narrow steps, descend a set of wooden spikes nailed into the cliff's side, bent and worn from the salt air.

I stand on the coastline. The doctors lied.  She--and with it, my family--will end in a few days at most. It may have already happened. Whatever the case, I will turn around and go back soon, but I needed to see the coast first.

Hazy sun glows inside darkened clouds. I smile, try to indulge her vision now that she can no longer speak for herself. I imagine that I am with her, transforming the dull gray sky.

Angels and miracles merge.

The dull sparkle of radiant sunbeams shoot out of a first memory, into her antiseptic hospital room, bounce backwards and forwards in time, mix up the hard, cold places we have been.

At the bottom of the steps, I slosh through the sand, let the vision recede. I remember my brother's eyes at the hospital. Deceptively placid, floating just ahead of his body. A small pool forms at my feet while the tide rolls out. I watch small crabs and sand dollars react to the sunlight. The surface glistens, and I see angels float on the water's surface. Inching along, they move in circles between air and submersion, as if ready to bless the sea creatures who move back and forth beneath them. Victims trapped in lapping of the water, they are all confined by the edges of their small world. Some struggle, barely hang on. Others give up, crushed against half-buried rocks, their carcasses left to wait for the tide to carry them out again into the comfort of darkness, into the morass of an ancient sea.

For now, daylight is all they have.

I think of the fire that burned us out of the attic, not long after I resolved that it would be my new home. The day after, we slept in the car. Clouds bottled up the sun and the ground sent a chill from the soles of my feet.  A breeze signaled a storm by its mossy fragrance. 

My brother felt it too. He turned, followed me into the car we'd parked on the street next to the burnt out husk of our house. With nowhere to go, our clothes smelled of soot.

Night came, and we talked about the cat.

“He ran away.”

“Yeah, he's too smart to burn up.”

“Remember that window in the back, he got through there one time.” My mother shushed us, cut off the lie we told ourselves. 

We lay down with our heavy jackets over us. The dome light shut off and my mother reclined the seat, hitting me in the head. I didn't say anything, because it didn't hurt anymore.

I get up.

I turn around.

I look at the winding staircase.

Walking toward it carefully, I am ready to make a phone call to my sister.



Rafael Sanchez

Rafael is currently in the MFA program at California State University, Fresno, where he works as an Editorial Assistant in Fiction at The Normal School Literary Magazine. He received his MA from California State University, Sacramento and his BA from UC Davis, where he studied English and Philosophy. Winner of Bazzanella Literary Awards in Short Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction, he was a finalist for the Diana Lynn Bogart Prize for Fiction and nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices 2010. Born the son of farm workers, he grew up in Washington Square Apartments, a government housing project in the Alkalai Flats section of Sacramento, California. His inspirations run the gamut from Borges to Burroughs. He is currently at work on a novel, a collection of short stories and a memoir.