Denying Marisol

Third Place

Marisol caught light like a mirror; bounced it off the jars of her hair, bent it in wells of her pockets.


Right now, she is riding her pink bike, the one with the fringe on the handlebars, down farm road 491, in the direction of Las Floras. She is pedaling toward a pivotal moment in her life -a moment that will send her future in one of several possible directions. Look closely at one of her wheels, and you will see what I mean.


Marisol was fourteen years old when, while sucking on a tamarind raspa at the bus depot in Weslaco, TX, she nestled her way into the middle of a large family headed to Oaxaca, on the Noreste line. Once on the bus, she befriended Noel de los Santos, an artist who was headed to Gaunajuato to visit his abuela. She did this by offering to trade him the rest of her raspa for his window seat. Noel did not like to talk, but he could fold any scrap of paper into an elaborate rose. He would perform this magic for the girl while she was sound asleep, and leave it in her lap, before he motioned to Manuel, the bus driver, to drop him at the abandoned depot on the edge of the city, outside the medieval tunnels.

Next to the window, Marisol studied it all. At the Reynosa checkpoint she saw: la migra scowling, El Rapto -- the restaurant where her brother proposed to Leticia, two men in cowboy hats peeing against a turquoise wall, the jardin where she lost her tooth while walking back from a baseball game, an aguas vendor with big bosoms, a giant Tweedy Bird piñata, three boys, real cholo, in a purple lowrider with silver rims that gleamed, an old woman bent in a red sweater who was smiling at the river, and seven dogs.

Beyond Reynosa, with its five story buildings and diagonal streets, the landscape flattened into a sheet of sandpaper. The terrain skated smoothly to the farthest outpost of horizon, occasionally snagging on Yucca, or Ebono on its way. It seemed a moonscape to her without the trucks and Targets and football stadiums that were sprinkled liberally along Highway 83, throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

She was contemplating all of this while a boy in the seat behind her studied her reflection in the window. He noticed the seam that ran along the side of her leg, the silhouette of her dark head, the angle of her square nose, the coral tamarind stain on her lips. He desperately wanted her to turn around. He was terrified she might turn around.

Were she to turn around, Marisol would see only the son of Mrs. Garza, her benefactress. Thanks to Mrs. Garza, Mari was traveling with bills- green, pink, blue -pesos and dollars, in the souls of her shoes. She had met him one night in his mother's garden, while she was stealing vegetables. This is where she collected the majority of her ingredients to make her famous pickle and chile soup, which she sold in the winter to those crossing over. It had been an early autumn night, a Friday. Everyone was at the high school watching the Panthers play the Donna Redskins. Everyone but Moises who was grounded for poor grades and so was crouching in the darkness, waiting for the taquaches to come out of the trees. His BB gun pumped, ready in his cold hands. And then he saw her, dressed all in black, crawling with a potato sack, clawing the dirt for the biggest carrots. Marisol didn't see him until she got to the papayas. When she saw him she said, "See the gordito -- the one that looks like a baby, by your foot? Paselo." And he did.

Outside the bus, the landscape continued to pour through the lens of time. Tearing the hem of the sky's violet evening gown, mountains, jagged and dry, began rising outside Monterrey. The cacti speeding past were exaggerated, swollen. Their prickly outlines were morphing into shadow and stood sensuous in their maverick zealotry. Marisol absorbed the beauty of the changing light and channeled it back to those on the bus who were sinking with the sun. She read horoscopes aloud to her fellow passengers from an old magazine she'd found under her seat. She listened to the poetry of the woman with the purple scarf. She sang Feliz Cumpleanos to the man who was turning thirty-eight as they traveled through the dark. She enchanted the vendors, who displayed the local dulces on nickel-plated trays, with her questions, when the bus would stop for gas. Each district had its own specialty candy. So the travelers traversed the land of the pinks, the yellows, the turquoise, the cayeta trapped in little wooden boxes, caramel sapos wrapped in green cellophane. It was licorice black outside when they reached the district of watermelon candy. And with the first taste, she was gripped with sudden, acute memory.

One summer day, two years ago, Marisol had decided she might try her luck at hitchhiking. With the very first northbound truck to pick her up, she overshot the entire Rio Grande Valley and landed in a town called Wink during a watermelon festival. Hats with the emblem "thump it for Jesus" abounded. Smells of roasted corn, barbecued ribs, hay, livestock, cotton candy, and watermelon quilted the air. In a covered, mud-filled pen, children chased a pig, shiny with vegetable oil. Five men and one woman sat at a long folding table each with their own pile of watermelon triangles. A starting gun punctuated their endeavor. However, it was the watermelon seed spitting competition that stole Marisol's breath. Men in Wranglers tight enough to permanently ware a circle of Drum tobacco in their backsides took ferocious bites out of the sweet red flesh. They would mine the fruit with their tongues until they found the perfectly sized black bead, and then in an explosion of air and spit they hurled their choice projectiles in perfect arcs.

That night, near the town dump, before she jumped in the back of a truck with 'Que Pasa 99.5 FM' and 'Tacolandia' bumper stickers, she discovered a pile of half-melted birthday candles nestled in the partially devoured wings of an angel food cake. She picked one out, bummed a light from two girls smoking some mota, and prayed to the stars that they might turn her into a watermelon seed.


In these jars of light, wisdom whispered a thousand truths, some of them echoing. And so she knew this: love easily given, is easily refused. No one feels worthy of such a gift.


We are at the junction of Mile 2 East Rd and the artery of Farm Road 491. An onion truck has just pulled out in front of Mari. The giant bathtub, full of sweet onions, rattles and clinks over the soft shoulder because the driver turns a little sharply. As the onions pick up speed, golden moths fly. Pieces of yellow peel, outer papery polillas, soar from the bin, down into the wake of diesel and wind, swirling in an enchanted circle around Marisol, nesting in the tar rivers of her hair.


She woke up to find a paper rose in her lap, Noel de los Santos gone, and she stared with incredulity at that boy, Mrs. Garza's son. Sweet sour of sleep, pillowing around his angular face. Straight black hair slicked to streaks on his rounded forehead. Jarred by his sudden presence, she felt as though she'd been caught, pinned. She decided to try escape. While breathlessly stepping over him, she winked at Manuel, and got off just as the bus pulled into the sleepy town of Angangueo, in the state of Michoacan. It was six thirty-eight am and she could hear their wings beating before she saw them, a soft flurry of orange. Monarch Butterflies filled the cool morning air.

She took off her shoe by a little taqueria, pulled out a blue bill, slightly damp, and bought a taco al pastor and a tall Coca-Cola.

She wandered through the steep, narrow callejons, enchanted by the butterflies that seemed to decorate the air with a festivity known only to them. She got sleepy, entered the pink cathedral and crawled under a pew for a nap. After an hour or so, she awoke to the sounds of young priests singing vespers in Latin. Their impassioned voices, fueled by self-denial, produced a magnificent sound. (Sacrifice birthing redemption.) Mystery crept down her arms leaving a wake of gooseflesh. Blood rose up her neck, cresting the collar of her turquoise shirt. She felt God hovering with the mariposas in the dusty hallow of the church's nave. She lay there buzzing with prayer long after they had gone. She used the bill that had angered her heel to blister, to light a candle to the Virgin. She prayed to become man so she might be a priest singing in this church, where the butterflies flitted in and out, and the divine collected on the windowsills, hovered in the charged air.


In a lab, if you try to track where light goes, it will deceive you into believing it makes a choice one way or another. Measurement influences outcome. Love is like light. Under scrutiny, its creativity unravels.


The sun is in the western sky and Marisol continues to peddle. You see the tear trails on her cheeks, the three remaining polillas in her hair, and in the basket in front of the handlebars, you see three envelopes. A hundred other messages lie unwritten in her heart, carved on the tip of her tongue.

Las Floras is on the horizon. You can't find it on a map because on a map it is called Nuevo Progresso. It won its nickname for the beautiful women in flower print dresses who used to line the streets, and trade their company to those who could afford it. Most wished they could buy a bouquet.


I have no information as to how Mari returned to the Valle from Angangueo. When she did, however, it wasn't long before she met up with Moises Garza at a high school party behind the football field.

It started as a dare, almost. Standing behind the aluminum bleachers, next to a charred sugarcane field, and the canal. She saw him steal glances at her. She smiled at the gravel and eventually pushed him, almost, into the canal. But he was harvest strong. And his strawberry patch balance stopped him. He caught her around her waist and held her there, just for a second. "I'm going home," she said. He stayed behind, stunned lamely, laughing at the jokes of his friends until she was just out of sight. And then he ran, at full speed, across the charcoal furrows, through a field of Sorghum, until his lungs were sore and he was sweating. He stopped short when he saw her walking slowly, very slowly, toward her house. She turned around. There was a moment of recognition.

Time sped by in the flood that ensued. And we might rescue a moment of warm nakedness, the smell of her hair after having lain on his shoulder, the sound of them whispering by the water tower, but the stories were washed away in the run-off. Marisol had no reservoir prepared. Details dissolved. She could not hear the chacalacas. She could not taste the hive of jalapeño seeds. She could not see the patterns in the knots of her walls of stolen lumber. She merely surged downstream, losing her place on a shore she once claimed, clinging to him as though he were driftwood.

But Moises was not driftwood.


It was once believed earth, air, fire, water swirled without boundary in the universe. But, the gods wished to distill, and to name, so all was designated to a single element. All except for us. We are born with all elements sifting, shifting, allowing us to empathize with the stone whose back carries the weight of a stream, with a cloud thin and ragged across a northern sky. Yet we seek containment, perhaps to preserve a semblance of dominion. So this is this, and that is that, until our souls lose interest and then fire, earth, air, and water begin shifting again.


With the help of a branch, we snag this moment from the swell:

On the sheets, she lay curled. She did not know why she had bled a third time. Everyone bleeds once. Some bleed twice. Who bleeds three times? He was standing now. "Will it always be like that? Because, you know, blood stains."


At the quincinera of her cousin, she was a dama, he a chambalan and they danced. Marisol wondered if her lips were fading, if her dress was the right color. She spoke with Olga, Irene, Gloria. She sipped pale yellow sherbet punch. In her peripheral vision, she watched him until Delia arrived in a dress the color of lava. A dress which conducted the heat of her body, radiating in waves as though she were a saint on a vela at the HEB. When you swim in the ocean off of the Island, gulf currents patch warm and cold with sudden swings. The chill makes you grateful for the warmth. Delia swung warm. When she walked over to Moises and picked a hair off the left shoulder of his pressed shirt, he smiled. The strand was long, black and it caught on a sudden wind and sailed toward its source, but fell before it reached Mari. And Marisol thought, 'I am not this papaya. I have never been so brave. I am copper to her silver, less.'

That night, walking down the gravel road, Marisol paused next to each palm tree to notice the crunch of his shoes stop, waiting on the point of a question. White lights, the boundaries of the celebration, were shrinking, melting to sky. The landscape emerged between spaces of darkness. It was on these spaces of absence that she wished her balance. And breaking her promise before she'd even made it, she took his hand when he said bruised, desperate, "Promise me you will not fall in love with me. Promise me we will not fall in love."


The denying of Marisol bore three prayers. One to the stars to become a watermelon seed that she might be discovered by a tongue. One to the Virgin to become man that she might sew mystery into air with a priest's voice. And one to the spaces between light that she might become enough.


letter 1: moises- I never meant to bleed.


letter 2: moises- I lost my way. Lost myself on the way.


letter 3: moises- no puede ganar la vida. no puede ganar el amor.


In Las Floras she will hand him one. Which would you hand him? Who is it you deny? end story

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