Fiction by Dally M. Du Mez
Sometimes Jorge lay awake at night in the hinterlands, gazing upon Oaxacan constellations, thinking of her. She who should have been his corazón. She, who was never supposed to be a stranger. I’m sorry, he would whisper. I’m sorry I never came back. The stars remained indifferent to his remorse. They always did. He never raised his voice above a whisper. He only tried it once: screaming her title so loud he was half-convinced he’d become a jaguar, roaring louder than thunder hovering over what used to be Tenochtitlan.
Summoned by his shriek, an eagle had landed on a cactus just in front of him, talons sinking into saguaro spines. He couldn’t say why, but he knew it was a girl, knew it was her. He did not act, instead letting his heels dig into the ground. She never broke eye contact with him. Not when Tezcatlipoca lacerated the sky open with a sound like ripping canvas; jagged; unwoven. Not even when Xolotl shot lightning daggers into the earth and pierced the eagle’s heart. She had fallen with an infantile cry, boring into him. Accusatory, her brown eyes were. This is your fault, they said. He’d rushed to her, then, cradling her head and neck like the newborn he never got to hold. But she had already gone, dead before she hit the ground. Her feathers didn’t even twitch. She just… died. Succumbed. Something in his throat snapped shattered screeched and the only thing the gods heard was pain so visceral that Tlaloc wept for him; great big porous drops. Each one an apology to fall upon the deaf desert sand.
No, Jorge had not shouted after that, never telling his family about the águila de su corazón de los corazónes. He’d saved the shred of snakeskin found in the eagle’s beak only to never touch it again. Do you think about me, he asked the stars on her behalf, when your Mámi holds you? The stars only winked back, as if to mock. You’ll never know. Jorge only went to the desert when Tlaloc was scheduled to bleed. He was not there to staunch the blood on his firstborn’s forehead after the man who took his stead — the same man he’d crossed the great Mexican-American divide with — fell asleep, allowing his little girl to roll into the radiator. The impact split her skin, bleeding hot crimson. He would never touch his lips gently to the scar that subsequently formed. Jorge would never know how much she wanted him when a different man beat her for doing things all children do. He would die before knowing what happened. She was only nine when her mother died. ¿Mámi? ¿Pápi? She called out for him every night, eyes glazed like the obsidian waters of Lake Texcoco just before a storm. It never occurred to Jorge to answer her.
In the world adjacent, a border and a lifetime away, his daughter wondered why the punishment for the crime of being born was eternal fatherlessness. I’m sorry, she said to every man who shared her olive skin and thick brown hair. I thought you were someone else. She never stopped apologizing for existing. She never stopped willing him to come home to her. Jorge would never get the chance to tell her that she was perfect-precious to him. I wish I hated you, she would whisper to the stars, because no one else would hear her. It would be so much easier if I hated you. The stars blinked slowly in response, feline eyes against a pelt of jaguar-black. She would never know that she did nothing wrong. She would never know if he wanted her.