El Día de los Inocentes by Christine Stoddard

When I saw an owl pop out of the lone snag on the red desert plain, I knew you had died. The bird’s saucer eyes were black and yellow and unwelcoming. But even as he stared at my sweating face, I kept walking. The coyote and I had miles to go until we reached Texas. I was the last in the group, the only survivor, the one who persevered.

I persevered through the rocks and sand and sagebrush for you. I persevered without food, without water, without sleep for you. I persevered for and because and with you.

That is, until the owl shot out of that dead, ugly tree and whispered straight into my heart, “La nena está muerta.” My knees buckled and, for the first time in days, I stopped. I fell down to the ground, adding scrapes to my already scraped legs and cutting my left ankle against a sliver of shale.

“¿Qué pasa?” the coyote hissed. He seemed to mimic the owl, with his round eyes just as piercing as the raptor’s.

I did not look at him. Instead, I clutched my abdomen and swallowed my cry because the coyote was staring at me and we had many hours ahead of us. I swallowed my cry because the owl was staring at me and also through me, to my uterus, mocking your dead body, and cackling his cruel whooooooo.

“Nada,” I told the coyote, avoiding his gaze, and picked myself up to keep trudging toward El Paso. I pretended not to see the owl anymore. I saw only you.

¡Vámanos!” he hissed again, as if I were not already walking. I did not reply with my mouth, only my feet.

We kept going. We went so fast that I did not catch the dew on the red cactus flower or the hummingbird hovering in the arid air or the clouds that hung like a tired god in the sky. These were the kinds of details that my dreams obscured. Because it was dreams that kept me going for all of those miles.

I pictured you growing up with mountains of books, playing with clever toys, living in a clean house, going to a school where all the children came home happy. I imagined you reading to me, showing me your drawings, riding your bicycle in a neighborhood full of pretty houses.

And because I had given you the best, you would become the best. You would graduate from high school with accolades. You would go to a fancy college. You would rule the world, all with humility and kindness—and love for me, loyalty to me, your mother.

As I clawed through rocks and brambles, I told myself not to fall for superstitions, that the owl meant nothing, that you would tease me with a little kick once again. You never moved. At some point, my dreams dissolved and I thought only that—that you did not move.
Move. Move. Move. Move. Move. Move.

Hemos llegado,” the coyote said at long last.

I almost didn’t hear him.

¿Estamos aquí?” I asked, my voice raspy because I had not used it for so long.

Later, the woman who took me into her house said that I had fainted. I never pressed for more. All that mattered was that when I woke up to use the bathroom, I confirmed what the owl knew: You would never go to high school, you would never go to college, you would never rule the world. You would never even take your first step.

But your timing was impeccable—I always said you were a smart kid—because I found you in the toilet on November 1st, el Día de los Inocentes, the Day of the Dead for children, a day dedicated to the babies that never bloomed.

Did you have a little calendar in there?

It was my second day in the United States, the Land of Dreams. And, yet, by then, I was done with dreaming.
Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist, as well as the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, The Brooklyn Quarterly, So to Speak, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named Christine one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s.

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