Short stories written by Lucinda Abra

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Higher Ground

In Memory of a Tree

The Neighborhood Boy


Krishna and Arjuna

Higher Ground

Mama said that Papa had gone out to collect the chicken eggs. Wiping the dust from my eyes, I scampered down the rough-hewn steps of the sleeping loft. It had only been a short time since we entered the place of the ancestors. Banditos tried to get Papa to sell drugs and guns, but he had refused. In retaliation, they burnt down our small groceria, and then killed his two sisters, my aunties, and my grandparents. All on the very same day. We didn’t get to go to their funerals; we didn’t get even to dress the dead; instead, we fled, having entered upon a spell of tears.

Getting there was not easy. Papa had bushwhacked with mad determination, certain we could out chase death. He was all bent over, like a crooked stick, beating the vegetated earth into a submission of passage. Mama carried her two prized chickens, one under each arm. The sound of the clucking echoed strangely within such dense jungle growth. I was afraid that the bad men would hear their squawking, but I kept my fears under my shoes. With each step, I smashed panic into the ground, grinding it into a cloud of dark, murky dust lost in the sea of roots. Still, I was relieved when Mama hung those noisy birds upside down. Then, they grew muted and fell into the deep slumber of the innocent.

It was so very humid. The waters of our poisoned streams had come along us. The thick air covered our skin, seeping through the damp clothing. I was afraid to breathe and, despite the lengthy exertion, took in hesitant, shallow breaths. Some more unblemished children might worry that they might become pregnant in swallowing a watermelon seed. But me? I suspected that with just one wrong inhale, the spirits of the slaughtered would enter, reducing my body to the same dissolved corruption as the many bodies we had witnessed floating in polluted streams and riverbeds.

It shocked me when Papa had sat down hard and mewled, having finally found the small trickle of a pathway. I had never seen him cry before. Mama waved her numbed arms in joy, which woke the birds. They too recovered their own voices, joining the chorus of jubilation. Soon after, we found the small hidden hut, covered, as it was, in a thousand vines. My great grandfather had built it in a different time of troubles, when the army had turned against its population, suspecting many of being traitors in cahoots with revolution. The shelter had stood in waiting despite the pulsing life that squeezed around it, like many green snakes. It was a good thing to be so disguised. We only wished to be invisible and wait for the turmoil to end.

Within a short while, we had our routine. But why was Papa dawdling? Mama went outside after giving me a salted tortilla and offered what was her last smile. She found her mate lying so still in the early morning that she tiptoed forward, surprised that he had decided to take a siesta so early.

The light was falling so softly through heart-shaped leaves of a balsa tree; illumination fluttered over Papa’s torso. But he wasn’t dozing. Instead, a crimson O wept from under his widow’s peak. I peeked from the half-open doorway as Mama tried to shake him awake, but it did no good. He had entered the land of the dead from which no one returns opaque with life.

An urraca, a type of magpie, called out in a scoffing laugh that joined with the crack of a rifle as Mama fell hard in a swoon, so much red blood pouring through her chest. I did not cry out but to my shame, hid tight against a long, grayed shadow. My heart struggled. There was no way for my sadness to escape hidden as it was under the twisted canopy of green snakes. I crossed myself once for their souls. Then I fled up the stairs and burrowed under the bedding. Only nine years old, but even a child knows when to run from a pack of hyenas.

The evil men crept through the shadows and discovered me crunched into the corner. Wrapped tightly under the blanket my grandmother had woven, I had hoped she would be my last secret talisman. Such a foolish child, my feeble wish was useless. There was no one left to protect me. My bed shirt soon lay aside as limp as my will as greedy hands tore through cloth and then ripped through my childhood flesh. One at a time, all ten of them feasted. Although it was so sweltering, I shook as it was freezing. The sound of their laughter cascaded like rancid ice, filling me with a cold dread. Then, tossing me onto the floor, those same clenched fingers began to beat upon my bruised body, plummeting me into a small, broken thing. I tried to murmur for mercy, but my words were stuck behind swollen lips and cracked teeth. Finally, when there was so little left of me, and they had grown bored and weary, one of the men, a big burly one who smelled of sour sweat and rifle oil, picked me up and threw me through the upstairs opening. He thought to destroy me. To remove yet another witness to horror unbridled.

But he had failed as the merciless always do. Although my body lay crumpled and discarded as if it were mere cloth, my essence had flown above, far from the wrenching tragedy. From on high, there was peace within this different perspective. As I soared upwards, I saw in the distance millions upon millions who had found release from the inhumanity of humankind. Far off in the horizon, past the mountains, gardens, the largest of the houses, and even the president’s palace, there was the open pasture of a peaceful kingdom. With newly grown wings, I stretched towards it. This was better than a land of the free; this was a place of spirit unbound. I was headed home.