Today I went to a Writing Fiction from Memory workshop facilitated by Chantel Acevedo. I hadn’t been on the student side in so long and I hadn’t written fiction in years but I went in with an open mind, ready to work. I feel like I rediscovered my love for fiction! I wrote this short story that I really, really love. Does it need work? Sure. But the story is there! For a while I’ve felt like I lost my fiction chops. I mean, I have a novel (my second one) I abandoned because memoir took over. Today I learned that no, this is just a break…maybe even a short one.
I’m so excited about the short story I wrote that I’m posting it because, I mean, why the hell not, right? Enjoy!
The Dollhead by Vanessa Mártir
I was up in the plum tree when I saw him climbing over the piles of trash—plywood with rusted nails jutting out at weird angles, tires and license plates, bushes that pushed through all that trash. His face was twisted in concentration as he stepped gingerly over the hypodermic needles. I wondered how he’d learned to climb like that. I’d been doing it for so long, it was natural to me. But him? He wasn’t the climbing over trash kind of boy. He was always well dressed, shoes spotless, pants with a sharp crease down the middle, collar crisp and white. Me? I always had scuffs on my shoes. I looked down at my legs and picked at a scab on my knee. I had scars up and down my shins from climbing that plum tree in my backyard. I looked and there he was beneath me, looking up at me. That’s when I noticed the brown paper bag he was carrying.
He smiled and brought it up over his head, holding it like that monkey in the Lion King held Simba up for all the animals to see. “I made this for you.”
“How’d you know I’d be here?”
“You’re always up there.”
I giggled then I froze when I heard mom. She was in the kitchen of our first floor apartment, talking on the phone looking out at the yard. “Bajate d’alli,” she yelled. Then to the person on the line, “Esta muchacha si es machuda. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with her.” She moved away, out of sight, into the apartment.
I looked back down at Ruben and put my index finger over my lips telling him to shush. Then I pointed down, mouthing, “I’m coming down.”
He sat on a cement block that I used to step on to get into the junk yard. “Move,” I said, climbing over the falling apart wooden fence that separated our yard from the junkyard. Ruben jumped up and stepped out of my way. I hopped over and faced him. “So, whatchu got in there?”
Ruben pushed the bag toward me. He avoided my face while I stared at him. He had a thin mustache and a big nose, and I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Well, besides my chihuahua Fluffy.
“Open it.” I crossed my arms over my chest and waited.
Ruben pulled out a doll. It had a mass of reddish brown hair and big blue eyes. I gasped. “Isn’t that the…” my voice drifted off. I’d remember that head anywhere. It was the one the priest had pulled out of the bag to hand to me when we went to the church back in December to get gifts that were donated to us pobres by the riquitos in Long Island. There was a body now on that head.
“I made it for you,” Ruben said. That’s when he finally looked at me. “Look, I made a body out of a rice sack and filled it with frijoles.” He searched my face. I couldn’t look at him. I just kept looking down at the doll. That dress. I recognized the yellow cloth. I rubbed it between my fingers.
“You gave my sister that dress a few years ago, remember? You said it didn’t fit you anymore.”
“Vanessa, donde estas, Vanessa?” mom yelled. We ducked, hiding behind the fence so she couldn’t see us.
I put the doll back in the bag, tucked it under my arm and looked at Ruben. He was drawing circles with the toes of his sneakers into the soil and gravel beneath our feet.
I grabbed his face, kissed him hard on the lips and climbed over the wall. “I’m here, ma. Ya voy.”