Annie Blake

Hell is for children

my mother told me she was afraid my miscarried child was in hell / because i probably didn’t bless the right thing / it had crossed my mind before / i keep telling myself i’m a masochist  

/ logic tells me she’s the one in hell and she’s not my responsibility / the glass glaze of her eyes / ice addict / bird screech / makes the sound of twisted wire / razor edges of her eyes / port and starboard / bow and stern / blinks of a swallow / concrete of headsmen

driving my children home from the shops / dead body / in a white bag / small / balance of my skull / i should have waited until it was placed in the ambulance / for their sake / i didn’t / they just said / because they couldn’t see a face / lucky / there is no body there

i still think of her voice / bird of wire / my body / jesus’ edged arms / crust of bread /

i am here / typing on a chair during the day / the moon is just a stamp / white ink like bleach stains on my pants / she told me my father locked her out of the house because / he saw her dance / in church / do you remember the times you locked me out of your house / her face / scrunched flowers / fire and petals / eyes full of hot water / fish bowls / pupils like fish / bumping into the glass / ever since i disowned my parents i have stopped pointing the gun / unloosening the crust is an art / the unspilling of the core of the bread like warm butter

i am a woman / i only open when i am beautiful and full of wine in their proper glasses because /

i am afraid of all men
and especially god /                                                                                                   seduced by his misery

if i lose this marriage / i will have to go to war

the outside will never become the inside because / i don’t understand how the doorbell sound climbs  through the wires without losing its breath / it rings high on the wall where i can’t reach / i am photo-framed / a vignette / ovalled  / with dried flowers / bouquet of my wedding day

the moneyed clothes of children / unworn skin / jesus was a child before he broke on the cross /

god is a child still / he hasn’t learnt that floods drown more than clothes / i let his body melt in my mouth / i taught him to paint a mask in art class / all the children used the same template / he used to hide under tables because he was so afraid to speak / i found a gun in his own handwriting / between the pages of his homework book / i reported it / they told me i / think too much

the world is a cup we keep breaking / hands of wire and rockets to mars / the reenactment of traumata and the drama of war / eyes and mouths of fish rise out of their tank to gasp for air / of children and their dead wheel of recrimination

the awakening of shields instead of swords / swallows that fly / the rise of air grained with soil / feather roofs / mixture of diamond jewelry and my children’s teeth in my antique vase / feather tail of a tower in the clouds of a church / choices of cheeses / i curl sticks into hooks / cervix / spout of a watering can / erectile function / god’s staff looking / for food for snakes / swan necks / upended in lakes / fish in their baskets / coins in caps / hands covering my laugh / he yells because she hides under me / his hand is stuck in my body like an axe in a table / i continue polishing trays / set them in the middle / i am the moonrise / pegasus / white horse / the hippocampus is responsible for memory and emotion / it looks like a sea horse

box of rooms / scum of unwiped showers / i wanted to save it in a jar just to make sure / my husband unclasped my fist to let it flow / the tap water is still running / clean / the windows in my room are corniced / webbed and spidered / and shuttered

my father never sat me down and told me it was wrong / i heard him say in the kitchen that he didn’t know what the circumstances were / and it was none of his business / i learnt from psychology books that children can never be blamed / even if they get caught masturbating / my father never hit my mother / but i saw him wield a chair / i was in a rocking chair in the air / my husband never hit me / with a chair / my mother didn’t call me by name / i was known as slut / but in a different language

our conversations / the embedment of dormant sticks in bushes

one day i felt the fully gathered frill / the tight knits of ribs in feet / i taught my daughter how to pull cotton through fabric before / she entered school / you teach children how to read by waiting for them to swim the syllables of words and / then / encouraging them to re-read the sentence to let that obstacle word float in

i told my son it was okay to be angry and write / fuck / in his journal

self-correction of human hands / not the way i hold hands with street wires / even / fingertips will do

i took out a pen from my bag and / lent it to my mother / she said she gave it to me for my birthday

there is a box of pens near the bank teller / most people don’t take any because / it is embarrassing / to take things for free / a couple take one / i swipe the whole box

writing is the thick sick in your stomach / intestines snaking in hulls / expunges of hells /

i’m afraid that cleaning up the undigested from stomachs will lead to the whole family catching gastroenteritis / feeling sick and caring for others makes me feel like i’m dying

i’m not a narcissist / i do not sit at a certain time / i don’t stop when you tell me to red the light or /green it / this narrative is not a performance / i’m not on a stage / i’m in a temple / the sick crow eats from my hand / the remarkable result of the medical report with / the intention to infect

all letters are in lowercase for /the hubris in some words contain the salience / of / conjunctions and determiners / the droughting of passed waters / the surety of the present and the future that never rolls far enough down my tongue to break through my teeth

flamed firewood and cooking smoke / air as shaved as water

i have naturally strong thighs / my physiologist asked me if i was a dancer / feet tapping on  coffins / hardwood / the springs in my back

unhooking my origin is the skinning of my culture for it is a palm that does not maintain its curve / the flaccidity of fingers / non-cradle / there are simply no peels to pick up

suicide bombers become terrorists because / that is their only culturally acceptable way to escape

i have a propensity to stare at my kids when their eyes are closed / i am afraid of what i am able to create because / of what i able to take away / i want to feel love between us but / i have never felt it myself

o death, where is your sting / i keep chewing on this soft wedge of death / if i have never loved then / i don’t ever to pay

i still find it difficult to spear the fish / hoist them into their innocent yawns /  heavy necklace / sun rays around my neck / anger / in my mouth curdled / between my legs / the violation of  a hard tail / high heels like phallus sticks / ankles of our infant stems

i wake from her bed of  bone

she sails into the eastern sun / leaves / swords that have been swallowed /scarves tamped in gaps in stone barns / like rapunzel’s hair / fibers of  thighs unfolding / undoing the stone of his tower / vines / veins of worms sliding in the middle of his body /                                 the billowing of his gowns


Annie Blake is an Australian writer and divergent thinker. She is a wife and mother of five children. She started school as an EAL student and was raised and, continues to live in a multicultural and industrial location in the West of Melbourne. Her research aims to exfoliate branches of psychoanalysis and metaphysics. She is currently focusing on in medias res and art house writing. She enjoys semiotics and exploring the surreal and phantasmagorical nature of unconscious material. Her work is best understood when interpreting them like dreams. She is a member of the C G Jung Society of Melbourne. You can visit her on and on Facebook.




Monica Hileman

Funny Story

Would people be haunted by guilt or regret? Would they be frightened? Supposedly we all are. After a long illness, at home, in their own bed, they might be resigned, ready to pass on to their Heavenly Reward, if that’s where they were going. Some hung on from one season to the next, though that was rare, according to experienced caseworkers. Most were weary, with no expectation of regaining their health; they seldom lasted more than a month.

Danielle didn’t know how to refer to her work when she first started. The trainers were so careful about how they phrased things and that made her self-conscious. On the bus between jobs she imagined how she would answer if asked: What do you do for a living? A living—she’d never thought about the use of that word. She could say, “I’m in End of Life,” the way one of her uncles used to say, “I’m in Life Insurance.”

Transition—that was the word they used. A word so ordinary it hardly seemed appropriate. Family members sometimes found it confusing. Clearly this was The End, not a different level of assisted living or the next stage of rehab. But “transition” it was, as if the patient would continue on in some other form or dimension. At intake, they asked about the religious or spiritual orientation, but a person could be undecided or change their mind. The manual stressed sensitivity and being able to adjust to changing situations while remaining calm and compassionate. As Mrs. Gurnsey, their instructor, said, “Be of good cheer—but not cheery.”

Everybody was so serious, especially the young, New Age-y types. Danielle had to watch herself. Humor could be misunderstood; she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. She had only to recall the swift slap across the face that was her own mother’s response to one of her wisecracks. You couldn’t always tell how people were going to react.

Before taking the job, she hadn’t really known anyone who had died, except for her grandmother. Last year she went to the wake of a cousin who was too young to have suffered a heart attack, but that’s what they said had killed him. They weren’t close, but still, it was a jolt to see him laid out like that at the funeral parlor. In grade school, her whole class went to the funeral of a beloved teacher who died in a snowboarding accident. Danielle had never been right there when someone died.

Gathered around the coffee urn during a break in the training, Hannah, a seasoned RN, told them about a patient she had been seeing up until last week. “She had woken up before, when she’d wanted more morphine and it would have been time for another dose, but she didn’t seem to hear or be aware of me. Her eyes were focused on another spot in the room. She seemed to be watching something I couldn’t see. I noticed her hands, the pale tips of her fingers. Her face relaxed and the breath stopped. It was very peaceful.”

The other hospice workers all seemed to be religious. The manual was full of Bible quotes. As a lapsed Catholic, Danielle had no particular beliefs. Death, like life, was a big question mark.

Her friend Connie asked if it was difficult. Compared to standing on an assembly line as she had just out of high school? No, it was easier than that. Easier than waitressing. Easier than working in a shop where the boss would pressure you to go out for a drink at closing time and then try to feel you up. The dying people were easy. Other hospice workers warned that the family members were sometimes difficult, but they usually came to you afterwards and apologized.

In the morning, Danielle woke up tired and bleary. The toast burnt, the blouse she was going to wear had a spot she hadn’t noticed. Another she wanted to wear had to be ironed and she nearly missed the bus. She sat staring out the window and then reminded herself to have another look at the file. Her first visit was a new patient. She had asked the bus driver when she got on about the street and he yelled out the name when he saw she hadn’t gotten up. “It’s one block back,” he said, when
she ran up the aisle.

There were massive homes, many she could only catch glimpses of through gaps in thick hedges or at the gates of high fences. The branches of large elms and oaks would soon grace the street with shade. Behind a stone wall a walkway led up to a stone house, easily a hundred years old. Above the bell a bronze plaque displayed the family name.

The door opened. “Oh, good, you’re here,” said the lady in a white blouse, an RN badge clipped to her collar. “I’m on my way out. The daughter is supposed to be here. She called from New Hampshire and said she’s on her way.”

Danielle followed her into the carpeted hallway. “Mrs. Ryan’s in here,” said the nurse, pointing at the doorway. “I think she just woke up. There’s no change. Signs all good. Her daughter should be here sometime this morning. Gotta run.”

The front door closed and Danielle felt the stillness of the house around her. She went down the hallway, past a series of small paintings of sailing ships, all dark and old, like those in a museum. She looked at one and saw men in rowboats alongside a whale.

There was no one to explain who she was to the dying woman lying in the bed under a velvety brown coverlet. Danielle stood in the doorway, thinking it would be good to say hello before she walked into the room. She prepared herself for the sickroom smell that was as distinct as a forest or a bakery, but there was only a whiff of lavender. On the far wall were French doors that opened onto a patio, the sheer curtains letting in a good amount of light. Though it was on the first floor, it didn’t seem to be a makeshift space, one recently configured to accommodate a feeble person who could no longer climb the stairs. The heavy maple bureau and queen-sized bed with doweled posts all seemed to have been here for a while. At another patient’s, they had converted the dining room into the sickroom and the whole house had seemed thrown out of kilter with people having to skirt around to get to the kitchen.

“Hello Mrs. Ryan, I’m Danielle.”

Close enough to see the woman’s face, it was the same grayish-white as the whale in the painting she’d just seen, the features prominent, a high forehead and gray hair against a white pillowcase.

Danielle stood still, waiting for the woman to register her presence. There had been no mention of a stroke in the file. Without moving her head or showing any sign of acknowledgement, the woman’s eyes focused on her.

“I’m here from the Passages Agency.” Danielle took another few steps. “Is it all right if I sit down?”  

The intensity of the stare diminished. Danielle took that as a yes and slipped off her jacket. “It’s not raining, like they said it would. We could use the rain. The crocuses are just coming up, and the daffodils.” The woman’s eyes stayed glued to her face, not stern but not exactly friendly either. Curious. “Pretty soon the trees will be all leafy again.”

She stopped, wondering if it was wrong to be going on about spring, with all it signified, to a person who might not be here to see the blossoms.

“You have a very nice house.” The face relaxed and seemed somewhat pleased. “Is there anything you need? Anything I can do for you?”

The woman’s head tilted slightly one way and then the other.

“Would you like me to read you a story?”

The woman blinked in a way Danielle understood to mean yes.  

She carried two slim volumes with her:  the pocket bedside companion the agency provided and a collection of stories she’d picked up at the library. The French doors made her think of the story about a precocious girl who tells a tale to a nervous visitor about the men who went out hunting never to return. Maybe that wasn’t appropriate since it involved fright at what are thought to be ghosts.

“Let’s see…” She ran her finger down the Table of Contents. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Definitely not. Nor Edgar Allan Poe or the one by James Joyce. Not the Jack London either. Why weren’t there any funny stories in this book? Better to stick to what the agency had given her. At random, she opened the book and found a story about a boy and his grandmother on the day of her birthday.

She heard the sound of the front door, then a voice from down the hall. A thin young woman stood in the doorway, large eyes peeking out beneath schoolgirl bangs. The flowery dress and the purse dangling in the crook of her arm suggested a child playing dress up. A high, tiny voice furthered this impression. “Oh, hello,” she said.

For a second, Danielle felt she should stand but stayed seated and introduced herself.

“My mother said you were coming,” the girl said.  “Sorry I’m late. So the nurse was still here?”

“Yes, she let me in.”

“I’m Celia,” said the girl. Her body had not an ounce of fat, her jaw bone prominent in her face.

“I thought I might read her a story.”

“Oh, yes. She likes that. Hi, grandma.” She went up to the bed, stopping just short.

Mrs. Ryan acknowledged the granddaughter with a nod.

“Don’t let me interrupt,” said the girl. “I’ll go make some tea.”

Halfway through the story Mrs. Ryan dropped off to sleep. Danielle kept reading for another page until she was sure. The granddaughter did not come back into the room for what seemed like a long time. Danielle needed to use the bathroom. This was the worst part of being in a strange house, the things people didn’t think to tell you.

She turned down the hall toward the bright room at the end where there were cabinets and a counter. On her left was a white tiled floor and a black-and-white striped shower curtain. The door had a cut-glass doorknob. She closed it and turned the bolt. In another house she’d been walked in on. The silver handles and faucet were shiny, every surface spotlessly clean. Her pale blue blouse neatly tucked into her gray wool slacks, her reflection in the mirror looked back at her with a quiet forbearance. She used one of the monogrammed guest towels and folded it back into place, listening to the sound of a female voice. It was the girl down the hall in the kitchen talking on her phone. Danielle cracked the door open.

“No. I can’t. I told you. I’m in Brookline… I had to go. It’s my grandmother. She’s dying. Or at least she’s supposed to be… Fuck, I don’t know.”

Danielle put her hand over her mouth to stifle her surprise. But that was nothing to what followed. Just as shocking was the incongruity of a girl with the sensuality of a stick figure talking “smutty talk,” as her mother used to say.

“Slowly, very slowly, I’ll take you inside me…”

Danielle wished for her to do it quickly. Soon she would have to catch the bus and she couldn’t just leave without saying goodbye to the granddaughter who was now mimicking—at least Danielle hoped she was mimicking—sounds of arousal. Danielle waited some more, but it was like quicksand; it got worse. Would it be better to interrupt before the climax or wait until after? If she waited until after, it might be obvious that she’d been listening.

The carpet muffled her footsteps. She had the idea to go back to the other end of the hall and from there start down again, calling out the girl’s name. It would have helped if the girl’s name hadn’t slipped her mind. She felt silly calling out, “Hello,” but she had to give warning before she walked in on her.

The girl said, “Sorry, I have to go.”

That was just what Danielle was about to say and she fumbled to come up with something else, so as not to parrot the girl.

“I…ah…it’s time for me … I have another patient.”

Celia—that was her name!—wore the willfully blank expression of a guilty teenager. She held her phone pressed between her hands. Praying hands. A popular image on the pages of inspirational books. Danielle smiled and said, “She’s sleeping now.”

Some of the trees were sycamores—that was the name of the street. On a brick wall by a gate, the house number was written out in wrought iron script. The gate had a tricky mechanism to open. The rose bushes were all thorns along the walk to the imposing dark-varnished door of the two-story Victorian. She could only guess at how many rooms it held. Her finger pushed in the round black button setting off a metallic gong.

 An older woman with an efficient manner opened the door and nodded at her, one employee to another. “Hello Danielle,” said Mrs. Samkin.

In the long, dark wood-paneled hall, Danielle asked how Mr. Bartley was doing today. Mrs. Samkin stopped outside the door of the sickroom. “When I last checked, he seemed to be resting.”

Danielle knew nothing about Mr. Bartley’s life, other than he himself had been very successful or had inherited wealth. On previous visits, she read a few items from the newspaper and they’d discussed the weather, a more substantive subject than it used to be, he said. No family members were on hand to shed any light on his interests.

The sick smell was heavy in the room. Immediately Danielle noticed his color. He didn’t appear to be breathing. The housekeeper stopped in the doorway.

“Oh,” she said, coming into the room.

“Yes,” said Danielle.

“Are you sure?”

Danielle clenched her lips and took hold of the man’s wrist. “There’s no pulse.”

Mrs. Samkin approached, her hands pressed to her stomach. She inspected him closely and stepped back. “I have worked for him for twenty-one years,” she said.

“Does he have other family, besides the daughter who contacted the agency?”

“Yes. I’ll have to call them.”

What would she do, now that her years of service had ended?  But Mrs. Samkin had already left the room and Danielle was alone with the dead man. She sat down and took out the manual to run through the checklist.

She took out her phone to call the office. This was her first deceased and she was disappointed. If she had been present at the moment of his passing, perhaps she would have witnessed something profound. She made her report and filled out the form.

She scanned the room:  the blue tile around the fireplace, the crystal and ceramic items on the mantel. She was fascinated by the kindling in the grate and the split logs in the brass bucket, the long handled implements.  What were they called? Irons or something? In the training, they were told not to show any interest in decorative objects. Things tended to disappear from homes of the dying and you didn’t want to give cause for suspicion. Danielle had never lived in a house with a fireplace. They conjured up Bronte novels, as did the antique furniture with its carved wood scrolls. Was that a settee or a divan?

She pulled out her bus schedule. Last week she caught the 2:38 and was late for her three o’clock appointment. Where had Mrs. Samkin gone? Danielle needed to ask her about the funeral home.

No sounds inside. No sounds from the street. She moved down the hall and a floorboard creaked under the thick carpeting. Where she lived, there were neighbors on either side of the wall, the noise of people and cars passing. She wasn’t used to this silence. She stood at the foot of the wide staircase that rose and divided on either side of a carved wood panel.

“Mrs. Samkin?”

A housekeeper would have a room on the first floor, she guessed, off the kitchen. Yet where Danielle stood, one hand on the curved banister, she heard a faint sound coming from upstairs. The manual was very clear about keeping to the part of the house where they saw the patient. Danielle called out again and waited.

It was like stepping back in time, some of these houses. Danielle envisioned a black rotary phone on a little stand in a room upstairs. On the landing, she stopped and questioned if the voice she heard was that of the housekeeper. There was no one else in the house, as far as she knew. Danielle hadn’t seen anyone and Mrs. Samkin never mentioned anyone else living there.

She went the rest of the way up the stairs. An old woman’s voice, firm and throaty, drew her down the hall to a doorway where she could see an expanse of Oriental rug and a pair of armchairs. The voice said, “I don’t expect so. Not really.”

Danielle looked up and down the hall, anxiously, before she stepped into the room. Seated in front of another tiled fireplace with a large gilded mirror over the mantle was a small, white-haired woman.

“That will be fine. Yes, all right, then.”

Danielle walked across the carpet. The woman saw her and showed no surprise. “Miss Doucette, you’ve come to say goodbye.” She was very old; her skin nearly translucent.

“I…” Danielle had to start again. “I was about to leave…there was no one around.”

“Yes, Ann has things to attend to. I was just speaking with her.”

On the table next to the woman’s chair, Danielle saw some sort of intercom and the back of a screen—the kind hooked up to a security camera.

“He, Mr. Bartley, he went…” she was about to say “very peacefully,” but she wasn’t there, so she didn’t know.

“Yes,” said the woman, not waiting for her to finish. “Thank you. Thank you very much for your service.”

Danielle took a step back. “Uh, I had a question about the funeral home. Is it the one in Newton?”

“Ann can answer that for you.”

“That’s right,” said a voice behind her. Danielle nearly jumped and turned to see Mrs. Samkin.

“Ah, well, goodbye Mrs….”

“Yes, goodbye,” said the woman, folding her hands in her lap.

On the stairs, she expected Mrs. Samkin might explain about the lady she’d just met, but they descended, with only the sound of her breathing and the rustle of her dress. The woman upstairs hadn’t been sitting in a wheelchair, but perhaps she wasn’t able to get around and that’s why Danielle hadn’t seen her before.

Mrs. Samkin told her the name of the funeral home. She opened the door and Danielle went out into the cool, fresh air. She walked down the long path to the gate, stepped out to the curb and started to cross.

Something made her turn and look back at the house with its mansard roof and weathervane. A figure stood at one of the windows on the second floor.

The screech of brakes brought Danielle back to the street and the car that had stopped just a foot or two away from her. The woman behind the wheel stuck her head out the window.

“My God, watch where you’re going.”

Danielle was overcome by the tingling sensation coursing through her.

“It’s not funny,” said the woman. “You could get killed like that!”

Danielle apologized, haltingly, and moved onto the curb on the other side.

She went around the corner and had to lean against the mailbox, she was laughing so hard.

Monica Hileman grew up in the Midwest, lived in the Pacific Northwest and settled in New England. Two years in Greensboro, North Carolina yielded an MFA from UNC-G. Her stories have appeared in publications such as The Baffler, the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Arts & Letters, Catamaran Literary Reader, and Flyway (nominated for The Best of the Net).  




Debojit Dutta

Treeman chipotle

Sometimes a child is found in the lower half of a belly. The one that comes out is a man. Stomach churns. There’s bile in your mouth. You become beautiful.  You become a queen. At all other times, a miracle: you are mother earth, you sprout seeds, roots and shoots and leaves, and then, perhaps, flowers and fruits.

It seems I am of the second kind. I am Treeman Chipotle. Come here, look at my hands, you haven’t touched them. I can imagine swings tied to my hands, I can imagine not one but two of them, three, with children sitting and swaying. I breathe and they sway. I breathe and they sway. I do not breathe too heavily for fear of breathing them away. I do not breathe too heavily so that I do not hurt them. I breathe gently, I can almost count my breath. I cannot heave a sigh of relief, but feel I am present here, now. It is a pleasant feeling. I came into this world, I think, thousands of years ago, but have only started to be here.

The index finger of my right hand has been itching. If you were me, you would think this means you will make a lot of money this summer. I feel I will sprout a leaf. It has been itching to come out. But I am only speculating. I have only been speculating about my body. This is partly because I cannot move my head as much as I once could. I do not trust mirrors. They are never enough to make you see. Hands, strong, do not move at the same speed. It is a peculiar problem–I can feel and not feel my body. I think this happens to everyone. It is as if you are in a deep sleep and you can feel your inside. You can feel your yearnings, your fears. But you can only hope to feel yourself from outside. Don’t believe those who tell you either of these feelings are unnecessary. Don’t believe those who tell you, you can exist entirely inwards, that beauty is all that is inside. What do they know?

*    *    *

You must already be aware of the treeness that affects one’s ability to move. It affects one’s memory too. But I remember, I remember that I am Treeman Chipotle. Come here, I will tell you stories. Stories of how it all started. Stories that I haven’t told anyone before. Stories that you would not know.

I do not know how and when it happened, the precise moment that brought this on. I have wondered if I was always a tree. I breathe at night, I would say, always. This way, deep breathing, except for when children are swaying on the swings. I remember talking to Leela one evening after dusk, on another morning talking to Lalit about reproduction. We wondered if touches could make one pregnant. Later we wondered if one sucked on your breasts long enough, regularly, would you become a mother? We wondered how it would be to see your breasts develop and how it would be to live with an unwanted protrusion. What would people say? Will they laugh or will it make them happy?

As a discussion must end for another to start, we would settle for this:  if anything, only thoughts can impregnate. We do not think ill of someone, fearing that ill will happen to us.  We do not think of food when we fast, fearing that our wishes will not be granted. We do not think of embraces, we do not think of swaying, we do not think that is why we live. We live a little every day. If you are to go on living like this, if I could point a finger at you, you must not think. Unthinking brings you back on earth, unthinking makes you stay.  Thinking is the work of the devil. Daydreaming takes you to faraway places from where there’s no coming back. From where even if you come back, you come back not as you, as you were then. You are lost in the going and coming. I should have known better, you would say. I should have known better those days while idly thinking and biting my fingernails and thinking of another person’s face on mine. The days spent idly smiling and making faces and thinking what if my face did not look like mine and looked like another’s, would they smile this way, would they make this face while biting their nails like me. This would of course end in shame and worry. But those days, I did not know. We do not talk about these things. How do we know?   

*    *    *

What do we call an immobile, unthinking thing whose body acts entirely independent of itself? A vegetable, said a teacher once, when we could not come up with an answer. I remember it was Lalit or perhaps it was Leela to whom the teacher was referring.

What do we call an immobile, unthinking thing that does not know it is sprouting a leaf, but can only wonder? Me. My answer comes quickly without the intended pause of someone who knows.

I am Treeman Chipotle. Come here, I will tell you how I perform charity. My right hand does not know why my left hand moves. My left hand does not know that the right is itching, that it will sprout a leaf. Before either of them know, before I know, I will sprout a flower. It will bloom when the season comes. It will attract the insects, the butterflies, the bees. The function of flowers, I am told, is to be the agent of attraction. If allowed, a flower might become a fruit. A fruit might be born when flowers meet. The cycle of attraction continues. The flowers attract insects and humans. The fruits attract animals and humans; they attract insects in decay. It is said a fruit wants to be devoured as a whole. It seduces so that there are more trees. I remember the purpose of life is reproduction. If I were given a choice I would become an avocado tree. I remember a feeling of longing that does not leave or depart. It arrives frequently and stays for three or four days, soaring at nights. I remember that in those moments I am an avocado tree. An avocado tree waits and waits. An avocado tree is out of place in history; it does not belong where it stands. It waits for the beasts that are long gone. Only they could swallow an avocado with its seed: gomophotheres, ground sloths, toxodons. We think the avocado tree does not know that it has been thirteen thousand years since the beasts are gone. We think the avocado tree does not want to adjust. But we do not know that the avocado tree does not know.

Come here, I will tell you.  If trees had a choice, would they be trees?

Debojit Dutta is a writer and editor based in New Delhi, India, from where he co-runs the literary webzine Antiserious. His works have appeared in Himal Southasian, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Missing Slate and other places.




Manuel Aragon

a violent noise

You have always been traveling, on the edge of the wind, even before you were born; a speck of dust thrust across the universe by the explosion of SN-1054; a sky illuminated, blues and greens dancing in the night, traveling at light-speed into the eyes of women and men, transformed onto paintings on walls; light beyond light, a new beginning; life, death, and the cosmic all wrapped into one; a trail of you, stardust, aged for perfection. Eras universal. A painting on a wall in a canyon you visited as a child, your hand perfectly aligned with a hand on the wall. You felt like you had been here before. You placed your hand against it, the rock pressed against your hand; a few grains of sand knocked loose. Nothing is eternal and even fewer things leave more than an echo. Your mother, you heard her in the distance calling your name. You closed your eyes, hoping to disappear, but she found you, her hands imprinted upon you, her fingers leaving traces like birds’ wings on your shirt.

You have always been moving, hard to pin down, like neurons shooting, faster than light, firing on full, across the pathway of a brain, nonstop, since before you could even walk; full strides, longer than your little legs could manage, much more than you could take; full-on sprinting - the blood of the Rarámuri running through veins, pushing your muscles for miles at a time. Running out that door after the argument with your mom and dad, racing the cars down the street; if you had wings you would have taken flight and moved away. You ended up at the park down the street, swaying back and forth on a swing, watching the changing of the sky, from blue, to orange, purplish-pink. What was that argument even about? You walked home, your path lit by stars.

You have always been prone to outbursts; your mind filled with wisdom from los antiguos, trying hard to escape from your heart through your vocal chords into the world. At times, frustration, a violent noise, bursting forth into the world. You have been blessed with un regalo y la lacra. One morning on your way to school a group of girls was waiting for you. Laura had been spreading chisme amongst them, telling them that you were trying to get with Julian, Ramona’s boyfriend. The girls rushed towards you, and you threw your backpack down. You don’t remember the fight, only the guttural screams you let out.

You have always existed, in a way, always been around, a genetic memory come to life, a story that was passed down. Your mother’s thick hair, father’s smile, grandfather’s sense of humor, and abuela’s smarts. 

You have always felt like you were thrust upon your familia, un dificultad, especialmente para tu mama, who barely survived you. She took every opportunity to remind you of this; as your held her hand, you taking your first steps, smiling at her, a giggle escaping your lips, the sour look upon her face; as you held her hand, trying to comfort her when your abuelita didn’t wake up that one morning, your hands in her hair, your tears and gasps filling in the blank spaces of the room, her eyes burning through you; mientras sostienes su mano, her turquoise ring sliding off her middle finger, patches of what once was full, luscious black hair, waves that you used to swim across in your bed at night to put you to sleep, your arms doubled around her body, the cancer eating away at her, “Look at you. ¿Cómo puedes ser mi hija?” she whispers, while trying to squeeze your hand with all her might, in what you had hoped were not her final words. As you gave the eulogy as her funeral, you were reminded of her omnipotence; the power cut out, the microphone turned off. Once again, she had silenced you.

You remember, vaguely, when you were seven or eight, sitting on your father’s lap, as he tells your brother, “Cuídala, porque serás responsable de lo que hace.” Watch her. You’re responsible for what she does. You were fast, curious, and impulsive. That same night, you saw your father packing up a mochilla, preparing for a meeting. You never asked him where he was going or who he was planning to meet. 

You have always known how this comes to an end. You should have seen it coming, but your body was two strides ahead of your mind.

Your first brush came as you went for a bike ride, your brother in front, leading you down 32nd Street, moving between the sidewalk and street, the click-clack-click-clack-click of your spokes, him glancing over his shoulder to make sure you were following, his hair flapping in the wind, the polyphonic melody created by your two laughs morphing into one.

In the distance, you saw him, a man, a white man, pale, with shining not-green, not-blue eyes, blocking your path. You shouted to your brother, causing him to swerve and fall off his bike. You glanced again and the pale man wasn’t there. “What was that? Why’d you do that?” he screamed at you.

“You didn’t see him?”

“See who?”

“The man in the suit.”

He looked around. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

You helped your brother brush off, headed home, while tears streamed down your face.

You looked back, and there he was, the man, smiling at you.

You clearly remember, irrefutably, your brother, inviting you to a party, when you were fifteen. “This shit is going to be off the hook. You in?” he said. “Claro que si,” you said, because you were always down for some pendejadas, always looking to get into some stupid shit. And you knew he would always protect you, like he did, from that pale man.

The two of you walked down Lipan, making your way slowly towards 38th, the sidewalks covered in snow, the two of you choosing to walk down the freshly plowed street instead. You couldn’t risk getting your Saturday night finest dirty. A car moved towards the two of you, flashing their headlights, trying to blind you. Carlitos waved his hands in the air and laughed. “That punk ass. It’s Beto.”

You weren’t laughing. There had always been an ever-present fear surrounding you since that bike ride.

You had never really talked to Beto, but Carlitos—you have always called him Carlitos, while everyone else called him Carlos, later just ‘Los—had told you all about him. Beto’s parents had owned a chain of restaurants throughout Denver, six or seven of them, a rarity for someone from your neighborhood. Beto siempre tuvo the best toys; his parents, the coolest rides.

Carlos had been there, at Beto’s tenth birthday party, the night that Roberto Sr. had killed his wife, Señorita Carmen. The kids had all been outside, a bounce castle in the backyard, a handful of them playing catch with a Denver Broncos superstar, whom you later found out was a frequent customer of Roberto Sr.’s other business, when the shots rang out through the neighborhood. Your mom and dad ran out of the house, down the street in search of the gunshots, passing by you, leaving you unattended.

You waited, hours or minutes, bouncing your ball, waiting for them to come back. Your dad carried your brother home, a stream down both of their faces. Had your father ever cried before? Your mom sat on the curb, watching as the cops pulled up and arrested Roberto, as they took away a body on a gurney, you bouncing the ball next to her the whole time.

You remember the picture of Señorita Carmen upon your family’s ofrenda, her dress the same color as the cempasuchil, both popping off the shelf. Following Día de Muertos, your mom would let you take some of the flowers down and let you drop them off a bridge, an offering to those who had been forgotten. You and Carlitos would walk down to the railyard bridge off of 46th and drop the Aztec marigolds on the backs of passing trains.

Carlitos makes his way into the street, towards the driver’s side of the car while you wait. Beto and Carlos laugh and shake hands. Carlos talks, longer than he needs to.

You could hear it, the fooo-pheww of the siren clicking on and off, the lights flashing as the cops turned down the street, illuminating the vapor of your breath moving in slow motion across the air, Quetzalcoatl flowing in the darkness.

“What are you guys up to?” says the officer, his flashlight scanning across Carlos, the boys in the car, their silhouettes shouting out to you for help. You remember temporary paralysis, your body unable to move.

The second officer slowly gets out of the car, his flashlight mounted to top of his gun, drawn, fixed on you. You have always known the man would find you, because he had always been there, always waiting, always present. Siempre ha tenido una cantidad de tiempo finita. And there he was.

The second officer yells to you, asking you to get out of the way of the car.

Carlitos moves towards you, telling the officer, “She’s okay.” His head turns to you, always looking to let you know that things would be okay. Then he falls to the ground. Your ears ring, your heart so loud that it blocks out as you hold him in your arms trying your hardest to squeeze life back into him, to see his eyes recognize you again.

You scream, your eyes shut, as one of the officers shouts at you.

“Shut the fuck up!” He tries to pull you away, your shirt covered with remnants of life from your brother, but you struggle to hold on. You hear a man shouting, “What have you done to that boy?” and the officer lets you go. You look around, neighbors standing on their porches, cell phones in hand. The police helicopter floats overhead, the sound reminding you of a hummingbird, fluttering and quivering.

One night near Carlitos’ birthday you dreamt of a field, covered in Cempasuchil, all different colors, radiant like the sun. You walked along the field and laid down. When you awoke, you had turned into a flower, all the colors combined, perched on a hilltop. A tiny hummingbird approached, its wings vibrating and pulsating, and landed on you.

Manuel Aragon is a writer and filmmaker from Denver, CO. He is currently working on Norteñas, a collection of short stories centered in the Northside, a Mexican and Mexican-American centered part of Denver, and the people, ghosts, and demons that live there.