Jess Silfa


Enrique woke to a scraping, pounding, and a sigh. Even with his eyes closed, he recognized the sound of the mortar and pestle. He recognized the sound of Dolores’ desperation, too, even from another room. He sat up in bed, moved his legs over the edge, and was still for a moment. Then, despite the ache in his groin, he went into the kitchen to find her.

On the kitchen table were an assortment of things; honey, annatto seeds, wine, and molasses. And the mortar and pestle. And, of course, Dolores, looking as pained as her name. He knew she was bleeding again. He could always smell it before it happened: the ripening of her ovaries, the thickening of her empty womb. He never told her when she was ovulating, but he didn’t need to; she knew her body better than any other woman he’d ever been with. For those few days of her cycle, she was pregnant with possibility and so happy. But she was rarely pregnant with anything else. The bleeding would come, and the annatto seeds would be back on the table. It was a recipe she called ancient, though she didn’t know how old it was. He knew she got it from her grandmother, who likely got it from hers. Did the Taino crush annatto seeds beneath rocks for what ailed them? Enrique thought they must have.

Before turning to Dolores, he poured himself some juice and offered her a sip. She shook her head.

“Is the bleeding that bad?” he asked, gesturing to the items on the table.

“No. But I’m still anemic, and that won’t help…” Having a baby. She didn’t finish the sentence, but she didn’t have to. Their entire life had been about babies for the past two years. And they had one, a baby, for a while. For what felt like a second. Then the bleeding.


Once, early on in their relationship, Enrique found a spot of blood on the bathroom floor. He pointed it out to Dolores so she would mop. Instead, she laughed at him and rolled her eyes. “You’re bothering me over a spot? Boy, that’s nothing. I’ve got an ocean inside of me.”

Dolores wasn’t sassy like that anymore.


Enrique sat across from her, spinning the bottles of honey and molasses. “What’s the difference between these anyway?”

“The sweets?” Dolores paused her crushing motions. “Molasses has a lot of iron, but it’s thick. Busy.”


“Complicated.” Dolores scrunched up her face. Enrique could tell she was trying to find the right word in English. “Complex.”  She smirked, pleased with herself. “It’s complex.”

“And the honey?”

“Just sweet. Thinner.”

“Are you going to do this forever?”

Dolores looked at him through her bangs. He wanted to push them out of her face but feared she might bare her teeth if he got too close. “Why wouldn’t I? It’s good for me.”

It’s futile, Enrique wanted to say. Instead: “What does the wine do?”

“It’s fortified. Plus, it helps with the taste.”

“We could be getting drunk with this, you know?”

“Is getting drunk going to help?”

Carlos had been conceived while they were drunk. It wasn’t the time to bring that up. Enrique pointed to the mortar and motioned for Dolores to hand it to him. “Let me help with that.” He had never made an iron treatment or ground anything but weed, but he wanted to help. Dolores smiled—a genuine smile—then pushed the mortar across the table. With every roll of the pestle, he thought of ways to tell her.

I was so worried.

The doctor said another pregnancy could kill you.

It was a quick outpatient procedure.

The vasectomy can be reversed.

Enrique knew he’d never say that last one, even if he said the ones before it. He kept crushing and pounding until the annatto seeds were powdered and stained his hands a delicate, translucent red.


Jess Silfa is an Afro-Latinx, disabled, nonbinary writer from the South Bronx, currently living in Nashville. They have received a Displaced Artist Fellowship from Vermont Studio Center, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Ricardo Salinas Scholarship. They are working on a novel about a community rocked by the war on drugs and a chapbook about the sterilization of Puerto Rican women and infertility.