Adrianna Sampedro


Adrianna Sampedro currently lives in El Paso, TX. She studied writing at New Mexico State University. Her work has appeared in The Missing Slate and is forthcoming in No Tokens. 


Twitter: @asampedro_


         The last time Ximena had been barefoot outside she had been no more than five years old. The warm concrete had caressed the soles of her feet. A sunflower dress squarely fit her small frame. The dress had been a gift from her abuelo. Every trip he made to Juarez, he brought back a gift. Sometimes there were dresses and other times it was homemade palenqueta. Ximena’s mother only ever allowed her a fraction of the peanut brittle warning her that too much sugar would turn into cellulite.


         As Ximena reached the end of adolescence, her mother had worried Ximena would not find a husband.

         “Don’t cut your hair so short,” her mother warned. Sit up straight, cross your legs, smile. Thesewere all instructions Ximena was to carefully follow like a boxed cake mix. 

         Her mother gifted her red lipstick, nail polish guaranteed not to chip for seven days, and perfume. Eventually Ximena met a man her mother approved of. His skin was the shade of the silt that emerged from the Rio Grande. He didn’t falter when he spoke Spanish unlike Ximena who found herself forgetting the words for milk or I love you.


         Now Ximena’s toes were buried in sticky mud. The dirt covered her exposed skin. Each granule peeled away like a second skin as she emerged from unconsciousness. She sat up, eyes adjusting to the darkness. Standing, something glimmered in her peripheral vision. She brushed away the dirt. It was not just any gold coin. The coin came from a set of arras—wedding coins. It was tradition for the priest to bless the arras while the groom and bride exchanged them. Ximena’s fingertips grazed the cool metal and the edges of the engraved heart. A faded line still circled her ring finger like the white of a third-degree burn.  After a few seconds, she pocketed the coin.

         The moon hovered like an old familiar friend. Its glimmer reminded her of a distant time when she had still wanted to sleep with a night light. As a child, her dreams had once been filled with innocence like cotton candy the size of clouds, a lifetime supply of gansitos—a chocolate snack cake filled with strawberry jelly. Then her papá had packed a bag leaving in favor of Mexican lager and the taste of cigarillos.

         Brujería,” her mother had said. Her mother was convinced a witch had brewed a curse that followed her like a watchdog. The next time they crossed the bridge into Juarez, she bought Ximena a talisman from an indigenous woman.

         Un ojo de venado por favor,” she had told the woman. In exchange for two dollars, she received a bracelet with a charm attached. The charm was a legume.

         Ximena’s childhood dreams transformed into monsters lurking in the shadows. The monsters bared their canine teeth and growled. Saliva dripped from their gaping mouths like a leaky faucet. When they attacked, Ximena felt warm and sticky blood coating the inside of her thighs.

         Ximena had awoken with a fright. Between her legs there was a sticky mess the color of rust. There was a pain in her abdomen and Ximena prayed two or three sets of Hail Mary. She did not wake her mother. Instead she hovered over the sink in the kitchen as she scrubbed the white sheets. They couldn’t afford new sheets just like they couldn’t afford ballet lessons or trips to the zoo. A tinge of red remained like the water spot on their ceiling that darkened with each storm.


         Now as Ximena looked ahead a human silhouette hid in the shadows.

         “Hello—“She tried to say.

         When she blinked, the human shadow had disappeared. In its wake an unknown creature rustled the ground beyond her reach.  A lithe, feline silhouette had replaced her earlier vision. Ximena blinked again then a third time for good measure.


         When her abuela had been alive, she would tell Ximena stories every weekend. Most of them had faded from Ximena’s memory like the names of the saints her grandmother venerated. Sometimes her abuela tried to disguise gossip as a riveting oral novella. Other times the tales were so extravagant that Ximena wondered if her grandmother had plucked them from a storybook.

         Her abuela’s favorite subject was the nahual. A nahual was a person with the ability to physically transform into a jaguar, a bird, or a dog. When she told these stories, the names would change. Alejandra from two blocks away had shapeshifted into a dog and her mother had sent her to a convent. Francisco had transformed overnight before feeding on his wife’s neck. Her tales depicted the nahual as a creature to be feared and who lived outside the law. To be accused of nahualism guaranteed exile.


         Ximena followed the lean, four-legged creature. Her eyes had long ago adjusted to the dark. With ease, she avoided jagged rocks that threatened to slice open the soles of her feet. With surprising agility, she avoided low-hanging branches. Her pace quickened as she feared losing track of the wild animal. Minutes passed. As quickly as the shadow had appeared, it disappeared. Now before her was a bed of river rock. The stones were smooth and cool against her touch. The only sounds were her steps and the slow current of a river. The reflection of the moon against the water wavered.

         Ximena stepped closer, water lapping at her feet. She peered into the bottomless river. Black spots peppered tan fur and large, round, golden eyes stared back at her.  


© The Acentos Review 2017