Today I ran to the barn from the little cortijo and back. And again, to the barn from the little cortijo and back. My knees were bleeding and there were little pieces of pottery stuck in bumps between the bones. Some people were crawling up from the hill down towards the town. I could hear them praying. Some of them were weeping. I could smell their blood.
"Get me the book, hijo. Por favor, por favor," my mother begged. She was on the floor between the window and the door. Her wrists were fat. I could see them from the insides of her white shirt. Her bloodshot eyes were little and beady, and they looked like the kind of amulets she kept inside her skirt pockets. They watched me as I left the room. I felt their burn inside my back, the stars she shot as I turned from her.
"Cayetano, please do not look at the sky."
My mother held her head down toward the floor, where her feet were bleeding through the wispy cotton trail of her Sunday dress. I loved her, and tried to memorize her as she was.
I told her, "Yes, Mama, I will not look at the sky."
But el cielo was bright, as bright as the oranges and the reds that our little house was surrounded by. There were marigolds and brugmansias and sun-colored roses climbing up the walls into our windows, and coming down from the clouds. I could not keep from looking. I felt it reach down into my shirt and into my shorts to scoop up my skin and cool me.
"Mama said not to look at the sky. Mama said do not look at the sky, Cayatano! You never listen!"
Then, I heard Emygdia's voice. I heard her in my head right next to my ears, whispering like she stood right there. I felt her braids against my neck. They were thick and wet and little hairs came off and tickled the insides of my ear. I smelled her: goat's milk and parchment, always goat's milk and parchment. Most of the time, heaven dilutes the scents. I can sometimes smell death on her.
She worked for the goat farm down the way, where Señor Adolfa kept the parchment. When she milked the goats, she got to write a story, and in this way, Adolfa paid my sister, Emygdia.
"Shush, Emygdia," I told her. I was always so sick of her telling on me, and poking me, and telling me she was going to slip down from the clouds and pounce on my head.
Emygdia believed in the brujeria. Sometimes when Mama would bend down at the stove and pull out the bread and begin to bless it with her amulets, Emygdia would appear in the doorway to watch, smiling. Her two front teeth were still small and crooked, her socks pulled up to her knees, her white dress perfectly fluffed. The lace around her neck itched her, and she pulled down the buttons and scratched her skin. She used to be the most beautiful little girl in all of Idoya.
Mama buried Emygdia when she was just a day past eight. She drowned in the pond.
El sueño de ocho años, her grave said.
But Emygdia was here. And she knew.
I obeyed Mama as I ran down back the grassy hill from the barn, and tried not to look at the sky. And I knew why: she did not want me to acknowledge the Gods. They had lied, and hurt her, and they made the townspeople ill.
So I squinted and ran towards the barn. There was a dissonant noise in the distance. It sounded like a deep, hollow hum. It sounded like thunder crying.
It was the town's old bull, Eduardo. As I came down the green, I could make out his body, lying on its side. His heavy chest was breathing quickly, up and down, up and down. He watched me come closer, and his eyes moved as though he were not ill.
The flies mocked him, their life vibrant like little star particles, their wings tickling his sad face. Eduardo was carefully eyeing me. I could see his heart beat through his skin.
I touched his chest and felt the song of his life against my palm. His tired eyes were still peering at me. I looked into his eyes, and we stayed like this for many moments.
The sky was changing above us. I thought of Mama and her bloody legs, and her swollen arms. I thought of her gentle brown face waiting for me, watching out the window. She tried not to look at the sky. She hated the Gods that cursed the town.
She hated Eduardo, too, Mama.
"That is the nasty bull that the devil turned into a spy," Emygdia said. There she was, her dress smelling like coffins and stars.
"Mama thinks he brought sickness to Idoya, Cayetana."
I told her: "Would you stop it, Emygdia? Would you get some manners?"
I apologized to Eduardo and took the palms of my hand up the length of his stomach, over his exploding heart, and toward his throat.
He watched me carefully still, as I pushed all the happiness and joy I have ever known through my arms and into my fingertips and into his throat.
The sky was still changing. It slowly became a dull pink, the orange flickers left to the East sliding off down into the waters. A quiet left the town still.
I heard the flies of every household buzzing. Death had its own sounds. Some death sounded like peace. Some of it was very angry. Some prayed, their words floating up out of their mouths as their bodies died.
"God, where are you? God, where were you? God, are you there?"
Some of them did not believe in God.
Some of them believed in many Gods.
Emygdia was sad for this. She was sad when Señor Adolfa died in his little wooden chair. She cried her kind of tears, but she knew that when they got up into heaven they would not be disappointed.
Emygdia told me all about heaven. "It is full of old things you never thought you would want, but that become very useful. Like looking glasses and shears and books. Heaven gets an awful lot of weeds and a whole lot of flowers."
I asked her what the looking glass was for.
"It is mostly for spying on the living."
"Is it pretty there, Emygdia?" I ask.
"Oh, yes. You will see when you come to visit," she tells me in whispers inside my head. There are so many parts of me that want to cry when she tells me this. My baby sister, in heaven.
With the gray taking over, Eduardo and I kept quiet. Emygdia stood somewhere behind us, pulling up her socks so the long grassy blades didn't itch her. She knew Eduardo was no deceiving bull. She knew he was not evil. She watched as his heart slowed down, and his big, smelly body finally gave way. And then she skipped over to us, and helped his soul find its way.
"Sometimes they get confused," she said. Her toothy grin was so human I felt tricked. Eduardo lay perfectly still, and I stood up and ran to the farmhouse to find Mama's book of spells.
Emygdia was somewhere in the sky above us, floating with Eduardo the bull. I thought I heard them swirling up past the clouds. It could have been any of the bodies leaving Idoya.
I tore through the door and jumped through the hay. My skin was still bleeding, and my bones hurt. I felt like a giant ball of sun burning through a skeleton. I was a little insect in here amongst all this hay and all these flower pots. I could not find my way.
I heard my mother praying: "El libro de hechizos, Cayetano. Where are they? Where are they? Find them. Find them."
Emgydia was there, the ghost know-it-all.
"Your head is too busy paying attention to everything else," she huffed. Here is the book.
I thanked her, and looked down at my feet, where the book lay covered by bloody hay. I ran down from the farm and pushed myself down the grass with all of my might.
Vaya van van van.
I could not get used to my body.
The town was growing quiet. Mama was too.
I reached the door and cried into the insides of my face. Tears would not fall. I skipped over the flower beds and over all the steps at once and up inside to Mama, where she lay at the door, panting and holding to her a picture of Emygdia and me. She had covered herself in a small, dirty brown blanket.
"El hechizos, Mama. Here. Say them, say them, say them."
I could not save my Mama. I could save nothing.
"Oh, baby," she cried. "Oh my baby, come here."
I knelt down at her side, and she pulled me with her little strength against her swollen face. "Oh, querido, you smell like heaven. Do you know this?" She laughed a little, and pulled her hands through my curly hair.
"Oh, I will see Emgydia soon, Cayetano. You do not be afraid, si? Okay, my baby, do not be afraid."
"Mama, say the spells. Por favor, te amo, say the spells."
She was becoming white. I could head her becoming tired.
"Mama, what is this? What is this sickness?"
"Eduardo brought the town his badness. A bad bruja, she talked to the devils and she made Eduardo sick. He is una vaca malvada, si, si," Mama says. She is gripping my wrists.
Emygdia stood in the corner. Her face was twisted down, like a flower's neck, wrapped around a finger. It has lost its shape. Her white dress was floating still, and her socks have fallen. She has missed our Mama so long.
"Tell her that Eduardo is not the problem. Tell her it is not witchcraft. Tell her it is just sickness. Just tell her Cayatano."
I held Mama's hand tightly, and told her that it just sickness, and that it is a mystery but that it was not Eduardo.
"Oh, baby. Why do things have to be so broken?" she asked me.
I watched her eyes close.
"Nothing is broken, Mama. I just do not know what to do."
"You do not know, my Cayatano?" Mama laughed quietly. I heard blood inside her throat.
She shushed me. I pulled her rotten blanket up toward her neck.
"That is for all the Gods to know, hijo."
"What if they do not know what to do, Mama?" I asked.
Emygdia was still so sad, standing in the corner. She was excited to see Mama, but even angels have not forgotten their humanity.
"Tell Mama she will love all of the brugmansias are, okay, Cayetano? Tell her now," my sister whispers.
"God will find out what to do," she said. "His Mother will be so proud."
Mama takes her last breath as I tell her, "Mama, you will love the brugmansias. Si, Mama?"
"Brugmansias..." she repeats.
I watch as Emgydia picks Mama up into her arms. Her socks fall all the way down to her ankles, and Mama pulls them back up as she looks down at me, sitting on the floor of our little cortijo, smelling the whole town of Idoya, and all of mama's things. Her amulets were set on the table. Her spell book was beside me, useless.
I was beside me, useless.
Thank God for my eight-year dream, Emygdia.
"So God needs an angel, si?" She giggled. And then she told me how Mama already made a necklace out of brugmansis.
"She likes it here. Come visit. Come introduce yourself to everyone!"
It was hard leaving Mama's body down their under that blanket. The flies started to come. The silence was horrible.
When I got there, everyone was looking at me. They expected answers. I said, my name is Cayetano. I am thirteen years old. I was born in Idoya, and I am God.
-Lisa Marie Basile is a poet, writer and journalist living in New York City. Her book, A Decent Voodoo, will be published by Cervena Barva Press, and she has had work featured in Poets & Artists Magazine, The Moon Milk Review, Feile-Festa, Dew on the Kudzu, CommonLine Journal, Vox Poetica, Melusine, Medulla Review and many others. She has won six writing awards from Pace University, and is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at The New School University in NYC. She is editor-in-chief of Caper Literary Journal and of the anthology Vwa: Poems for Haiti. She wishes she lived in the deserts of New Mexico. Visit her at www.lisamariebasile.com.
-Photograph by Christopher Barrio