Victoria Buitron



Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator whose work delves into the intersections of identity and place, family history, and the moments her hippocampus refuses to forget. She loves writing flash and playing with experimental forms in fiction or nonfiction. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong en Español, JMWW, The 2021 Connecticut Literary Anthology, and other literary magazines. A Body Across Two Hemispheres, which narrates her search for home between Ecuador and Connecticut, is her debut memoir-in-essays and winner of the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize.

On a day when we become too much for him, a Sunday with the sun simmering down, he tells the five of us it’s time to play a game. Estradas, he says, go into the woods, no more than a mile out, and bring me back a living thing. Not dead, vivos, you hear me? When you bring it to me, I’ll give you a nickname. When we hear nickname, we all look at each other. Papi even calls Mami Margarita because that’s what appears on her birth certificate. He always calls us by our entire first names, not Andy, Marita, Sebas, or mijos, or mi vida, or queridos. Always our first names. He’s too proper. He raises his finger, the sawdust falling like minuscule snowflakes and points to my older brother, I know what you’re thinking, Andrés, and you can’t take your BB gun. Mara wants to ask a question, she says pero Papi, and he shushes her. You all know these woods. Go by yourselves. Be back in time for the caldo.

He wants to finish a table he promised a man back in town, and all we do, with our laughs, and our ¡Papis! is distract him. And off we go, Andrés already with his back to us, almost running, Mara close to crying without leaving the enclosure of the farm, Teresa grabbing a stick with her skinny arm, Leo deciding whether he’ll go inside and read instead of getting a new name, and me, wondering if Dad already has our nicknames picked out for us. He always plays games, teaches us how to play Gin Rummy and Cuarenta. Making all of us, from the ages of ten to fourteen, play in the Romero’s Spanish Spelling Bee so we know how to write in our first language. But when he works with wood, he wants us far and quiet.

We start on the same trail, but then we each make our separate ways.

When I come back, I don’t see anyone outside, just the chickens and Flauta, the dog. I go to the shed, where my father saws and shines. And I peek at our main house and see Mara and Leo staring from the window, looking at me, confused. I wish they would mouth their new names. When I see Dad, he stops carving, and I pull up the thing in my hand to his face. ¿Y esto, Sebastián? I look at him, look down at my dirty fingernails, and respond with You said something alive. This is alive.

Come with me.

We go near my mother’s garden and he begins to dig, just wide enough to fit the baby mulberry tree I pulled out with care, making sure the root stayed intact.

I can’t pick a name for you yet, Sebastián. We have to make sure you didn’t kill it.

I want to say pero, Papi this time too, but all I do is nod.

With time, okay? Water it.

Mara brings back a ladybug trailing her wrist just ten minutes after we all leave the farm. Chrysalis, my father nicknames her. Then he orders her to look it up in the encyclopedia so she stays out of his shed. Leo returns with a garden snake, a tiny light green one as skinny as a stem. Cayambe, Papi says, a volcano from where your grandfather was born. Teresa brings back something living and something dead. The skull of a fox to keep for her growing collection, and a tadpole from the nearby stream in a plastic bag. Atria, la más brillante, he tells her. Andrés takes the longest, and we all thought he’d defy dad, bring a squirrel with its guts splayed open, but he arrives with a turtle that my father says we can’t keep. Axel, he calls him.

And so I wait for the mulberry blossom.

Days, weeks pass, all of us still calling each other by our nicknames, me still Sebastián, and we still get our hands dirty, still find parts of once-living things scattered along the bush. While they play on the farm, chase the chickens—I water the tree—hope it doesn’t die on me. Watch puddles of dirt form to give it the nutrients that it needs. Then one day I see a few dark berries sprout.

Sebastián, I know you’ve been thinking about this for a while now. So I’m going to give you a choice. I can name you, or you can name yourself.

I wonder if he’s trying to trick me, but his greying eyebrows are serious, and I think about this power. What it would feel to be nameless until we can form words, until we could choose who we are.

What’ll it be?

Papi, call me Sun, I say as I point to the sky.

Sun? My index finger is still in the air as he reaches down to pull two berries, and we each place one in our mouths, making our foreheads tighten because the lack of ripeness stuns. Okay, Sun, Sebastián, Master of the Sun. Anda a jugar. And I grab another one, even though I know the bitter will linger, even though we have to wait for a better taste, because he’s still looking at me, and even waits before going back to cut and mold, bending down with his coarse hand to rustle my hair. Sun, because if he says it fast, it almost sounds like he’s saying son.

© The Acentos Review 2022