This is a grim tale indeed. The haunting personifications throughout give the final image a frenetic and deadly power over the story. I think this is the first piece we’ve had that has been set in the grizzly world of gang killings and murder-soldiers that is the Mexico to the south of us (although there is no specific mention of place). It is a bleak reality captured horrifically through story.
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The Head by Robert Paul Moreira
They stared at the head, the dead head. With dirty toes they flicked the clots of blood where the head had been severed, at the base of the neck, and the flecks peppered onto the dried out grass. They toed it until blood pushed into the dust beneath their toenails. They prodded the marbly eyes with burnt branches.
“Let’s play,” she said.
“Fine,” he answered.
So they hopscotched, jumping over the head first, “One foot,” “Two Foot,” “You first,” “Now me,” until the sun crept away from the dust and the smoke committed suicide from off the top of the distant chapel spire, burrowed deep so as to reach the other side of the world.
In the dark he whispered to his sister, “Where will we sleep?” and he imagined her cross-legged on the ground, still puffing from their game, picking the blood from under her toenails. Then they lay next to the head and its warmth and tickled the mane with their fingers until sleep came.
In the night they woke and shied from the voices – “Psst! Hey! ¡Mocosos! ¡Vengan para aca! We’re not going to hurt you. Come on out!” – and the deep memories that neighed and hoofed in their minds. They dared not move, gripped the tassels of mane harder and harder. They groped at each other in the close dark as dead grass around them shaved past thick boots that crushed somnambulist ants until “¡Vámonos, muchachos! Nothing here!” and the voices trampled off. Lost to the growl of the restless engines. Trailed off into the night.
In the morning they picked the head up off the ground and decided to go back into town. The sun pummeled them early as they trekked slowly down the side of the road, one in front of the other, avoiding the tiny stickers on the hard ground as best they could, struggling with the stink and the weight on each of their shoulders, until the church spire jutted from behind the row of parched encinos that marked the start of their town, and they reveled with deep breaths that were glad to finally come home to familiar air.
No one came out to greet them. They understood that. When they arrived at the church they lifted the head from their sunken shoulders and plunked it by its neck on the crucifix that had been a part of the city since the time of the Conquistadors. The head stared out into the dead town with its stiff grin as the soldiers arrived. And they were slapping their leathery hands on the boy and girl when the weight became too much, so that the head tipped over, and it plopped on the church steps. The children wailed when the snout cracked open. When the horde of fire ants stormed out, roused and furious, eager to put pincer to flesh.
Robert Paul Moreira is a doctoral student at the University of Texas-San Antonio specializing in Latin@ literature. The first-place winner of the 2011 Wendy Barker Creative Writing Award for his short story, "The Lighthouse," his fiction, interviews, and book reviews have been published in various literary publications. He is Contributing Editor for Dark Sky Books.
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
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