Cotton

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September 23, 2022 by The Citron Review

by María Alejandra Barrios Vélez

 

The night I met the love of my life, I started dreaming about the dead women in my family. Every night a different one. That first night, I dreamt about mami: the color blue in her walls, and the wind hitting her wooden windows, her breath coffee and salt. The voice is rough, rougher than in real life. Cigarettes, mint, pieces of chocolate and aguardiente in her breath. She tells me in the dream that I’m dying, every breath that I’ve taken, even when I’m asleep, is one less moment. I’m not dead yet but I’m dying, and when I wake up, heart on my throat, I want to swallow it. I collapse on the bed. The bed is shaking under me. Tacatá tacatá tacatá. An earthquake of sorts, just for me.

Did I just levitate? I grab the sides of the bed to hold on to the earth beneath me.

*

The next night I dream about Abuela. Ha, she says when she sees me. Estás cachetona. Hand on my cheeks and I love you, mija. estás bien? And it pains me to see her. Most times I told myself I would just remember her in the front of my brain. Not in the back where I really would have to grapple with her memory. She touches my hand, and reads my palm. I ask, oh can you do that now? and then she puts my hand on hers and clashes them together. CLAP! She laughs, and she’s missing two front teeth. I touch my belly, wanting to wake up. But I don’t.

*

What is the beef that women in my family have with me falling in love? I sit alone, suspended on a white cloud while my feet dangle above the city. Oye (the echo oye oye oye) He’s a good man, I shout to whoever is listening. But no one cares. Women in my family think men are no good, this one is no different. My heart hurts and I want to wake the fuck up.

*

The night that M and I fell in love he told me about parachutes and how to safely land–don’t forget the button–his hand on mine, his lips still warm from the beer and our first kiss.

Would you jump? I asked.

Mhm he nodded. Another swig of beer.

I would, would you?

*

My family has the expertise of vomiting words that cut like blade stars and linger in the air and seep into your skin until they echo in your brain. The words say: we are here, we remember who you are.

You are dying.

*

Someday I’ll tell the children I’ll have with M about how I’m never dreaming again because I end up sitting on clouds, counting my own breaths to entertain myself.

Hola, I say. Once more. To the clouds. To the void. Let me go.

*

Gray clouds and the air becomes heavy. Is it going to rain? I worry about sliding down, the cloud falling off, the memories dissolving, their faces disappearing and me waking up in the vast nothingness. I think of Mami’s smell of vick (I could conjure that smell anywhere) of her clammy hands, her infinite freckles and of grandma’s easy laugh and child-like curiosity and I want to tell them: stop me, stop me if you think it is wrong. That he is wrong for me. But then I open my eyes, my body lowers and touches the bed. Warm and comforting like a nest I started building. I wake up, turn to M’s almond eyes looking at me.

I tell him, I had a dream. Terrible? he asks, eyes still closed. I shake my head no. No, not terrible, I say. Just mine.

*

On our second wedding anniversary, they brought me a present. A cotton cloud to signify the years M and I had been married. Two years, quite a feat, they look at each other. Con lo pesada que es–they laugh. More missing teeth that I fear will appear under my pillow. They tell me, we named the cloud after you.

I wake up, bed shaking under me. An earthquake of some sorts, tacatá tacatá tacatá, but M doesn’t wake up. I hold on to the sides of my bed, to the earth. My body lowers, touches the cotton sheets.

I prepare for the next night.

 

María Alejandra Barrios Vélez is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. Her stories have been published in places such as Hobart, Reservoir Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Shenandoah Literary, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Moon City, Fractured Lit, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow and her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center, and the New Orleans Writing Residency.

 

 

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