29 7 / 2012
I wonder how different my life would be if I was raised in my mother’s country, Colombia, around her people, her family, instead of my father’s. I wonder how it would have shaped me, as a woman, a mother, a writer. There’s a huge hole in my identity because my upbringing has been so one sided. At the very least, I was raised speaking Spanish, and raised in a Spanish speaking community here in the states. But I long to know my mother’s world.
My poetry and short stories are often symptoms and evidence of that longing. Other than teaching me Spanish (which I’m now painfully mediocre at speaking), my mother gave me the gift of her stories. Because there’s such a great divide that exists between the absolute knowing of my mother’s life in Colombia coupled with an intense desire to relive and capture her stories the results are often magical interpretations of my mother’s “reality.”
Here’s one example:
My mother calls to tell me my father has had a dream.
“Tu papá has never had a dream before, Maria.” My mother says.
“Mamá,” I say, “of course he has. Everyone dreams. No one can escape dreaming.”
“Your papa has never told me of a dream before. Not ever.”
“In forty-eight years, mamá? Are you sure?”
“Por cierto,” mamá promises.
She goes on to say:
“Tu papá dreamed he was climbing a mountain with you. You were a few feet ahead of him. It was freezing cold, very slippery, too. Tu papá dice, ‘Daughter, we must turn back.’ And you tell him, ‘Don’t give up.’ You keep climbing and you slip from time to time. Tu papá slips, too. ‘I’m too cold, hijá. We have to stop.’
“Then, tu papá tells me, you take off your coat, you hand it to him. ‘Here father,’ you tell him, ‘this will keep you warm.’ He puts on the coat and when he wakes up he says, ‘I’m still cold. I’m still climbing the mountain with our daughter.’”
“You would think he would climb that mountain with his only son, my brother,” I tell her.
“But it was you, Maria.” My mother insists.
“You’d think it wouldn’t be me because I’m the youngest.”
“It was you.”
“What does it means mamá?”
My mother tells me,
“Your father has had one dream in his whole life, and it was you.”
21 5 / 2012
** This short story of mine was previously published in an anthology by Girl Child Press called “Just Like a Girl.” It has also been posted on A Word With You Press. It is my tribute to my hero, and one of my greatest inspirations, outsider artist Henry Darger.
The Conscience of Spiders
by Kristy Webster
Before I was a woman, I was a spider. My footsteps were silent. Cold, dark places were my home. I took what I needed and left the excess. No one told me what I was. I was born knowing it all, my purpose, my strength, and my prey.
Eventually I tired of the basement’s dank, moldy laundry. I wanted to nest in a higher place, to know the world at a distance, guarding my solitude with anonymity. That is how I came upon the old janitor.
He was called Henry Darger. I spun a web inside his apartment window. Other curious spiders joined me and Henry’s quiet audience grew. His apartment never knew day from night, and no one knew him but us.
We watched him glue portraits of baby-faced girls to watercolor landscapes stretched across the walls, the floor. Henry painted his heroes the Vivian Girls–little girls with penises who fought off monsters and men in military coats. We his spider daughters argued amongst ourselves. Is he a deviant or an innocent? Some decided he was the pornographer gone mad in his isolation. Others like me decided he was a child, clueless of the rules. The only undecided Daughter of Darger silently crawled across a wet painting until she reached the face of an unfinished pig-tailed girl, and blossomed from the child’s mouth like a tiger lily.
Henry’s thick, coarse, and charcoal stained hands are unspoken evidence of invented magic, places lit by his imagination. That’s when I envied the dreaming. Henry, in your dreams do the little girls defeat the evil monsters in the Glandolinian War? In your dreams have you spotted me, your protector of secrets?
Henry’s life took place on pages, tens of thousands of pages. But sometimes words were spoken into the deceivingly empty apartment. One year Henry cursed God for the snow, cursed the church for leaving him both fatherless and childless. These are moments I was tempted to reveal myself, but I knew Henry was a maker, something more than an ordinary man, capable of creating his desired company. I was superflous.
In Henry’s room, there were no empty bottles of liquor or wine, no excess articles of clothing strewn about the room. And in the thousands of pictures piled, stacked and sometimes scattered, there were no traces of Henry’s past, only the traced, drawn and painted faces of his little girl heroines, the pilars of his blooming story.
Henry is a snowflake in hell. My capsule of a body carries the hot poison that could melt him. But I want him to finish and I want the little girls to steal the waves of grass back from the dragons and soldiers. I want to know that the littlest beings can show the Giants the secret places they’ve been missing.
Thousands of water colored pages later, our Henry dies in his sleep. Not on his mattress which was buried in pages, but in his chair, at his desk, still in navy-blue janitor overalls, his hands and head resting on his latest collage of the Vivian Girls, who’d claimed the final victory.
People enter his sanctuary, our sanctuary. Strangers interpret the old janitor’s room. A woman in a pompous yellow hat calls him a recluse. The word rings true, resonates with me. I am the same. I spring towards the yellow to become a star atop the woman’s hat. I am invisible, her worst fear.
Little did I know that once I released my venom into the woman’s skin, I’d be caught and killed and this would be my last life as a spider, a small, unnoticed predator. If I had known that I would be reborn as the very same thing I poisoned, would I have let the strangers interpret our Henry’s works without interference?
In my new body I am a clumsy mess. Now gaudily visible I can no longer disappear into cracks, or make homes of windowsills and curtains. Even houses won’t conceal me.
Though I’m a woman now, I sometimes remember having been very small, and having hung from high places. In my home the smallest, most hidden places take precedence and I welcome silent visitors. The venom of my new existence is Time. I wait for the next rebirth. I ache for a transformation to be once again a selective danger.
17 5 / 2012
Too bad for Maribel, God gave her an extra arm. And too bad that her beautiful, olive-skinned mother went into such shock at the sight of her, that her heart shattered, and she died. Not that the arm itself was malformed or grotesque, but the fact that the arm protruded from Maribel’s back and trembled with afterbirth, proved more than Carmen’s heart could survive.
Daniel wrapped his wife in their wedding quilt, after his mother Elena had gently sponged cleaned Carmen’s cold skin and dressed her in her Quinciera dress. Meanwhile, a slight, quiet Maribel slept nestled in a warm nest of fleece blankets Grandma Elena had prepared for her, inside a wicker basket at the foot of the bed.
Daniel and Elena saved their tears, deep inside their pockets. The ceremony—taking place only twenty-four hours after Carmen’s death—was their greatest priority, the grief, the insurmountable loss of Carmen, as well as the ungodly, terrifying sight of Maribel’s dysfunction would have to wait.
Carmen’s funeral took place in the back yard, near a bed of daisies. Carmen’s parents had passed away before Carmen reached adulthood. But Carmen did not want for love. Neighbors and friends of neighbors, and relatives of those friends, attended and let their tears loose while Daniel and Carmen nearly suffocated in their grief.
Only one guest arrived unwanted, Senora Fabo, carrying her healthy, two armed beautiful boy infant. Maribel wasn’t the only child born that day. Miss Fabo gave birth to her son Sammy, not only on that same day, but that same hour, that very minute. That is when Elena knew, without a doubt, that Senora Fabo, had given Carmen, Ojo, the evil eye.
Elena had desperately tried to warn Carmen during her pregnancy that she was much too beautiful. It was true, Carmen’s beauty was both admired and coveted. But Elena was sure, that Senora Fabo desired Carmen’s beauty to the point of hatred. For Senora Fabo was truly the homeliest woman Elena, and possibly the entire neighborhood, had ever laid eyes on. When Elena caught eye of baby Sammy, her suspicions and allegations were laid to rest. Senora Fabo had stolen Carmen’s beauty, and the beauty of her child. Senora Fabo’s envy had killed her daughter-in-law, Carmen.
Sensing his mother’s rage, as only Daniel could, he sent Elena in the house to fetch Maribel. “Wrap her in her mother’s gown. It calms her.” Begrudgingly, Elena left the yard to fetch her granddaughter.
Staring into her granddaughter’s milk chocolate eyes, Elena felt some relief. The girl, after all, had her mother’s beauty. Only she’d been damned by a jealous, cruel woman while still in her mother’s womb. Not only born with a terrifying malformation, Maribel’s disfigurement had literally scared her mother to death.
As Daniel requested, Elena wrapped the pitiful child in her mother’s gown, still thick with her honeysuckle scent. Maribel cooed inside her grandmother’s embrace, her third arm awkwardly hanging over the back of Elena’s forearm. Elena tucked in the third arm, but like a spring, the arm popped over the blanket, as if it had a mind of its own. As if it was saying, “I refuse to be a secret.”
This was Maribel’s debut. Elena gently tucked the third arm in the crook of her elbow. She felt the forceful nudging, but Maribel herself couldn’t have been more content. In fact, Maribel had not yet even cried. She’d come into the world only grateful to be alive. It saddened Elena that someday the child would become aware how unlucky she was.
Elena walked steadily into the backyard, hesitant and sad, her bare feet depending on the earth with every terrifying step. Immediately, onlookers stood on their tiptoes and craned their necks. They’d heard only that Carmen had died giving birth. They knew nothing of Maribel’s third arm.
As Elena approached, her son Daniel approached the bundle with pride. Elena’s grip was firm, but eventually, she gave into her son who took his daughter Maribel into his arms with absolute love. Elena’s heart raced, Be watchful, she thought, beware that wicked arm.
But Daniel did no such thing, for he raised Maribel above his head, her mother’s gown slipping to her belly, her tiny arms flailing, and the third arm, larger, and bolder reaching even higher, making sure to be noticed.
The crowd gasped, some women and children began to cry, others closed their eyes. But a few, mind you, a very select few, managed to smile and blow her kisses.
“This is my daughter Maribel, and she is a miracle,” Daniel spoke.
But Elena kept her eye on Senora Fabo who was desperately trying to quiet her suspiciously beautiful child, Sammy whose lungs sounded as if they were about to burst. Daniel continued introducing Maribel, whom he had named Maribel Carmen Elena Trozco on the day of her birth, the third of March.
Daniel lowered his daughter and held her close to his chest and for the first time since her birth, deliberately examined his daughter’s third arm, even put the fingers to his lips and gave it a kiss. At this, Elena looked away.
Some sighs of disgust, and mild terror saturated the air. But between the loss of the beloved Carmen Trozco, and the arrival of this strange beautiful and hideous creature, the crowd could only defer to mention of food.
Half the visitors stayed for banquet Elena had stayed up all night to prepare. She thanked Jesus that Maribel had slept through the night, a rare, miraculous occurrence for a newborn. You strange, strange little beast, Elena had thought.
One particular visitor knew better than to enter the Trozco home, senora Fabo, her infant still screaming, refusing to suckle from her breast, stood with her back to the front door, moving her body every which way in hopes of quieting her baby. While Daniel occupied himself with Maribel, and the other guests piling their plates with empanadas and tamales, Elena quietly slipped outside to face Beatriz Fabo once and for all.
“Such an unhappy, but beautiful child,” she said to Beatriz, raising her eyebrows.
“He did not sleep last night, not even an hour. I did not sleep,” Beatriz mentioned quietly, the skin around her eyes like deep, dark and wrinkled valleys of flesh.
“Be certain Beatriz, that I will protect Maribel from you, all the days of my life,” Elena threatened.
“Be certain Elena,” she said, “I will do the same for my son.”
This took Elena by surprise. How dare she imply any wrongdoing on Elena’s part.
“Do you think me a fool? Carmen is dead, her daughter deformed, and your baby…” Elena stared down at Sammy’s face, truly the face of in angel, but an angel in hell, and her heart ached.
“My child screams in pain! My child doesn’t sleep! You are an awful woman Elena! To take such violence out on an innocent child!”
It was all too much for Elena. Not only had she lost Carmen, but her granddaughter had been cursed by this frightful woman.
“Get out! Get out and never return! Curse you, hideous woman!”
“Mama!” Daniel shouted, holding Maribel, still as close as before.
“See Daniel? This witch, your mother!” Beatriz accused, and near tears.
Daniel approached her with pity, never believing his mother’s suspicions but dismissing them as superstition and his mother’s habit of thinking the worst of others.
Daniel stood so close to Beatriz, that when he did, Maribel’s independent third arm reached over and petted Sammy’s head, and it was then that yet another mystery was born. Sammy Fabo cried no more. The hand and fingers, closer to the size of a toddler, stroke the small head, once red and sweaty from crying, now back to bronze, and calm and cool, just like Maribel. Within moments, Sammy’s eyelids flickered and closed. At last Sammy slept.
All three adults, Beatriz, Elena, and Daniel stood motionless, after having watched the strange, superfluous arm coax the child to sleep. But Daniel finally broke the silence. He invited Beatriz to stay and to eat. He even asked her to lay the babes side by side in the basket. Beatriz began to smile, but upon looking at Elena whose eyes were still filled with suspicion and threats, Beatriz shook her head no, and quietly slipped through the gate, and when she did, for the very first time, Maribel wept.
14 5 / 2012
My mother told me about a young woman who had a son but no husband. The father was gone. She worked as a maid scrubbing caked mud off lobby floors. She picked up wrappers left behind by children. She carried two buckets of water at a time, up six flights of stairs. Her black hair turned white and straw-like in just a few years. The skin on her hands turned so translucent you could see the blood pulsing beneath the surface. The woman’s body aged so much that passersby believed she was the boy’s grandmother.
My mother told me that this woman worked herself into an old lady, so her son could go to college. She imagined him as a doctor, a business man, a school teacher. She imagined him never immersing his hands in buckets full of Clorox Bleach and hot water. Never scraping gum from under tables, never eating slices of orange off the floor left behind by hurried crowds.
When the boy became a man, the mother took out a schoolbook from many years ago, that she never learned how to read. Inside, she had carved a space where she had stashed the money she’d bled for all these years.
“This is for your dreams,” the mother told him, with tears in her eyes.
He grabbed a few bills from the top, to make sure they were real.
“My dream,” he told her, “is to wander the world, on my own, with nothing but my shirt, and hat. My dream is to dig my hands in the soil, and make my own way. My dream is to walk circles around the world, until the day I find my father. Then I will rest.”
The son put the bills back. He closed the book. He kissed his mother on the cheek, put on his hat, and walked out the door.
The woman threw the cash in the stove. She collapsed and cried so hard, her tears flooded the kitchen floor. The empty book floated to the surface. The woman reached out just before going under. Her wrinkled hand fit the carved out space as if the two were made for each other. Black letters appeared on her fingers and palms, grew into sentences, then paragraphs, and lastly, pages. She still couldn’t read the words. She didn’t need to.
10 5 / 2012
Maria dreamed she saw a fat boy lead a parade of blind people and spry deer. She knew the boy was real. Monday afternoon she’d seen him pedal his red bike past a caution sign and bright orange traffic cones.
The next morning she stopped to let Wolf cross the street. Previous cars weren’t so thoughtful and Wolf had been waiting all morning for the stillness she gave him. Wolf lurked as far as the start of the pavement, beyond the edge of the woods. He sat and smiled.
Maria took this as an invitation and started to call him.
“Here boy,” she guessed, “Come here.”
She opened the van door and Wolf climbed in.
Inside her apartment Wolf went straight for the fridge. “He must have been hunting a deer when I found him and here I’ve ruined his breakfast.” She offered a bran muffin. He politely declined, pushing it away with his black nose.
“Of course, not.” She put her finger to her frowning lips.
An egg? Nothing. Sausage? Curious. Still no. Maria wondered if he might eat her. She took off her dress, stripped down to a pink bra and underwear. She laid herself out on the kitchen floor and closed her eyes.
Wolf started with her toes, sniffing and licking, then her knees and the curve of her hip. He stopped at her navel and put his hear to her belly to listen, as though that’s where her heart lived.
“Do you love me to the moon?” she asked, her eyes still closed. Wolf backed away from her.
“Do you love me to the sky?”
Wolf groaned, shook his head.
“Do you love me to the ceiling?”
Wolf crept from her belly to her face, running his nose along her forehead.
“To the ceiling then? To the ceiling is pretty good.”
Wolf ate every strand and howled as he finished.
Maria kept her eyes shut, her cool and unencumbered scalp new and sweet. She stroked the skin below her bellybutton.
“Right here,” she said. “Put your head here.”
Maria took both her palms, put them behind his ears, and massaged them with her thumb and forefinger. Wolf hummed a low hum, one like the static off the T.V., the vibration of the refrigerator.
But Wolf began to moan. Maria sat up and watched her hair cascade from his heaving throat. The hair matted in saliva, took the shape of a cocoon. She put one hand on Wolf’s back the other under his belly. Dry heaves continued, followed by a bowel-anchored howl. Maria watched as Wolf’s throat engorged until finally he coughed up the culprit—a pair of red handlebars. Wolf trembled and fell to the floor.
“The boy?” Maria asked, “The boy on the red bike?”
Wolf closed his eyes, the fur between his ears waiting for Maria’s stroke.
“You really are an animal!” Maria pulled back from him.
Wolf growled and bared his teeth.
Maria wrapped herself in her hair cocoon concealing her contours and curves. She left Wolf the apartment, keys, and car. Barefoot she seemed to float into the nearby woods. Half a mile from her home Maria found the place where houses and streets vanish and only trunks and leaves remain. The sky’s pale-blue fabric, an expanding roof ready to cave.
Meanwhile on a hidden street beyond the edge of the woods, a fat-faced boy parades his shiny new yellow bike, sterling compensation for his scraped knees, his slight bruises.