Jennifer Givhan


She may have been a witch. The kind who charms dragons.

“Bianca where are you?”

Red sunlight peered through the flinted trees.

“This pile of laundry is disgusting. And what the hell happened to the rug?”


Bianca watched the sock curl and uncurl itself from the bedroom floor to the flicker of candlelight. She’d lit the Christo candle she’d bought from the grocery store to protect her from the shadows on the wall she had been scared of. She had not thought much about Catholicism since her first communion when she was a little girl. She remembered the white lace socks uneven above her ankles in the snapshot. One sock drooping lower toward her white ballet slippers than the other. She never felt put together properly. A rag doll even when her mother had carefully chosen the pieces, the right parts, and stitched her together. Her mother used to curl her hair with soft pink sponge rollers she would sleep on the night before ballet recitals, and she would wake up with Shirley Temple ringlets bouncing atop her head. Lily called these creamy curls.

This sock on the floor, a dirty work sock coiling in black flames on the brown bedroom carpet with the stink of burning feet. An almost sweet singed cottony smell afterward. The kind of sweet alfalfa burnt smell the days in the Imperial Valley the farmers would clear their fields and the sky dark would roll with black smoke: you would know nothing was being destroyed, but rather cleansed, no need for fire trucks or ambulances.

Gabe had left his socks here the other night when he had stayed for breakfast. She had blared his favorite CD through the furniture-less house-still-for-sale while she cooked. Hotel California and scrambled eggs. He had taken a shower there. The warm smell of tortillas rising up through the air, she made them for him the way his nana had taught her. Flour tortillas rolled out on the wooden cutting board. The water danced bubbles in the oil across the black comal. Years later, she would write a poem for them, for their nights and mornings like this. They played house here in this empty house-for-sale. Her childhood, on display. She chopped sweet yellow onions and green chiles into the eggs, added milk and cheese, forming it into an omelet she placed beside four hot, rolled tortillas on his plate. He came from the shower in the clothes she had lain out for him, blue basketball shorts and a Lakers tee shirt she had brought over from his house. He was barefoot.

“Hey punk.” He had said, his usual banter. She would have hated the punk if he had not called his mom “loser” and his sister “fat Nadia.” In another language, he might have called her amor. If he had been drunk, he might have called her “god-damn sexy” though it was just as likely she would have been drunk and he would call her “crazy” instead.

“This smells great. Thanks. I’ve got to eat fast though because I don’t have any work clothes here so I need to stop by my house first before I go to work.”

She watched him scoop the eggs onto his fork, pouring the Tapatío she’d set out on table onto each bite. Some bites he would grab up with torn pieces of tortilla. “You don’t work today, right? What are you going to do when I leave?”

“I’ll try going for a run since I’m up early anyway.”

“Cool. I’ll call you later then, and if I come through town on a delivery, maybe I’ll stop by this afternoon.”

“Did you like the food?”

“Yeah, thanks. You are getting better at the tortillas. They weren’t so doughy this time. I’m getting tired of onions in the eggs though. My mom always puts onions in everything, too. Hey, did I leave my chanclas here?”

She brought him the sandals along with his work-clothes and size thirteen boots from yesterday in a scrunched up bundle. “Wish me luck on this run.”

“See you later, babe. Love you.” He kissed her.

“Love you, too.” She breathed him in. Her Dove body wash. Onions and flour. Hot sauce.


A sock had fallen out of his work boots and lay curled, defenseless on the brown carpet. Bianca watched it intently, holding tightly to her Christo candle.


Gabe promised he would come over that night since he had not come over on a delivery during the day after all and she had been there alone all day because Lily was in San Diego for the week. During his lunch breaks, Gabe went to spend time at Katrina’s trailer to see his daughter. Bianca knew from one of the periods they had been split-up that Gabe had slept with Katrina even after she had had the baby, so she knew it was possible. Even though he swore up and down now that it was over and that he only saw her as the mother of his child and nothing more, Bianca’s jealousy broke through.

All through her sophomore and junior years of high school, before he left for college her senior year, Gabe had come to her house for lunch. They had made sandwiches at home to pocket the lunch money her parents gave her so they could use it on the weekends. Gabe had gotten tired of spending all his money from working after school at the doughnut shop and had decided Bianca could chip in as well. So they stopped buying Jaliscience (pronounced “holley” “c” “ents”) burritos on their lunch hour and instead spent it making quick sandwiches and, most days, fooling around.

Now those lunchtimes were for his baby—with Katrina.

Bianca stopped picking fights with him about the lunch dates since it wouldn’t get her anything but bruised, and, besides, she did not want him to stop seeing his daughter. She only wished he would take her to the park instead. He didn’t need to go hang out at Katrina’s mom’s house where they lived. Then it was like they were family.

They were family.

That night, Gabe had said, he would come over, bring giant Jaliscience burritos from the Eastside across the railroad tracks—he would eat cerebro and tripas, but she would stick to carne asada or barbacoa—with lime and salsa, and they could watch movies in bed. First though, he had to stop at a happy-hour meeting with his co-workers for a few minutes to get on his boss’s good side. His boss, Katrina’s big brother. When he came back to the Valley, Katrina had asked her brother to find him a steady job right away, and he began working in the feedlot distribution warehouse that same week. A forklift is a forklift, and a baby’s mother’s brother is as good as a brother-in-law.

A few minutes turned into a few hours, and eleven o’clock found Bianca lying on her back on the floor beside her bed watching the flames color the glass of her candle balanced on her navel. It flickered and faltered when she breathed deeply, so she cupped her hands nearby in case it tipped over. Every few minutes, when the melted wax gathered in a pool at the wick’s end, she poured the hot liquid onto her hands and let it cool, forming a shiny white mold across her skin. Mummy casings. A shell for something fine and lifeless. Her fist, a moon, pallid rock, splitting and rupturing when she unclenched and stretched out her fingers. Flakes falling like dust. A comet crashing to her chest, the floor. Other times, she would pour it into her palm and smear it across evenly with her fingers then try to peel it off without letting it crumble, trying to create a candlewax replica of her handprint. In Gabe’s hallway, his mom hung a small round clay molding tied at the top with a pink polka-dot bow; in it, two tiny hands, and the words, “Baby’s First Handprints.”

Bianca thought about watching a movie since she did not have cable, but it was too late to go out and rent one, Video 2000 closed at eleven, and she didn’t feel like watching one she owned for the hundredth time. She had only brought a few DVDs when she moved back into her old house, mostly Disney movies. Finding Nemo played every night she was home alone, over

and over on cycle. If she woke up in the middle of the night any given night, she would hear Dory chanting “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. La la la, swimming.” She still had trouble sleeping at night but to function at work she needed at least some sleep, and usually only Finding Nemo could do the trick. The Tigger Movie sufficed as well. Her favorite scene when all the other characters dress up as Tigers to convince Tigger he is not alone, that he does indeed have a family. Eeyore sings in his usual dejected, base “If we break things up and knock things down / And leave the place a mess / That's the thing that Tigger does the best.” Gabe gave her that movie for her birthday and watched it with her several times.

She had finished reading So Far From God and Woman Hollering Creek, which she had checked out from the city library earlier that week and did not have any other books with her to read. She’d dropped her fall semester at Cerritos College in Los Angeles County to move back to the Valley, and spring semester at I.V.C. didn’t begin for another month, so she didn’t have any homework or textbook reading to keep her occupied.

She could not possibly sleep.

The candle on her belly wobbled and the flame danced, leaving a wispy black tail behind. If she were a curandera, a healing woman, she could pass an egg over her chest and stomach then a white rock. She would crack the egg into a glass or heat the rock and the yolk or ashes would reveal the cause of her trouble. Her susto. Gabe’s nana taught her this. She did not know if she believed it any more than she believed in the Christo candle, but she liked the idea. Anyway, she’d rather be a healing woman than a sick one. Or a sad one.

She glanced up at the ceiling where a brown water stain was forming. When she relaxed her eyes, the way she used to do lying on the grass in her front yard or on the hill at Pat Williams Park to look at cloud formations, it looked like a very sad old woman hunched over and carrying firewood on her back, her head hung down in either exhaustion or despair. Then again, it just as easily morphed into a rhinoceros or an elephant, depending on how much she squinted. She looked closer. The woman was back. And this time she was not carrying firewood anymore but a baby. Her baby was crying, but she didn’t know how to make him stop. So she cried along with him.

Bianca couldn’t watch anymore. She felt voyeuristic watching that mom who didn’t know how to take care of her baby. And what could she do, a blob on the floor? A water stain herself on the brown carpet?

She turned her head to the side and saw it again, that lone sock. Mocking her. Sock without a match. Sock without a foot.

So she decided to burn it.

She rolled onto her belly and crawled to the sock, picked it up and held it to the flame like she imagined so many schoolboys had done with crickets, moths, small animals. Socks felt no pain. She may have been a witch.

She held it as long as she could before the flame sprawled toward her hand. As it dropped to the floor, it writhed, a red-orange snake, something fire breathing and terrible. Something she’d created. Something she could control.

She grabbed a towel, threw it to the ground and stomped and stomped.

Had she thought of letting it consume her? Of lying down next to it and waiting?

She peeled back the towel slowly, a Persian rug in a fancy palace, and smiled. Underneath, ash, stiff black veins, wire casings like wings of dead moths. Singed and sticky, the carpet beneath conjoined with the sock remains. A jagged black circle. Pyre for waiting. For loneliness. For socks with no feet.

She fell asleep that night on the floor beside her bed dreaming of dragons in socks.


Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, as well as a  finalist in the 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award Contest through Black Lawrence Press.  Her work has appeared widely, most recently in Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, Stone Telling and The Southwestern Review. Originally from the Southern California desert, she now teaches composition at The University of New Mexico and is working on her first novel In the Time of Jubilee, from where this story is taken. You can visit Jennifer online at

pyre for waiting:  She may have been a witch