I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to see what an ant tasted like because the Chinese eat them, so he popped a live one in his mouth and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and watched it float. I remember the time I grabbed a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.
I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.
At night I would imagine I lived in a boarding house. I’d pretend my parents had just died and I was the new girl. Covered snugly by the comforter, in a room I didn’t share, not even with my brother, I’d invent other beds nearby with girls breathing softly in them. It made me sad when they misbehaved, and the teachers were awful, too. So I plotted my escape. Night after night I fantasized about being a poor orphan who fantasized about escaping. Afterward mamà would come give me a kiss goodnight, she smelled like night cream, and I’d fall asleep. In the morning she’d whistle to us from the hallway as if we were birds. She’d come into my room and pull up the blinds then go into my brother’s to do the same.
She caught me peeing standing up, with one leg on either side of the toilet. She asked: what are you doing? I answered: I’m in training. She wanted to know what for. I told her since I’d be a boy when I got older that I needed to prepare myself. My mom, mumare, didn’t understand anything. I had to explain that when you’re born a girl, you turn into a boy at fourteen; just like if you’re born a boy, your sex changes then, too. She said no, her eyes as wide as saucers. What do you mean no? It isn’t like that, she insisted. I thought she was just treating me like I was stupid and I reminded her that my older cousin had been a boy before growing up. Mumare denied it; your cousin has always been a woman. I got mad, how could she say otherwise with evidence like that, I remembered perfectly well that my older cousin had been a boy and that his name was Joan. Mumare, astonished, laughed under her breath, but I noticed and demanded to know why she was laughing, what was so funny, why did she want to trick me about something like this, what did she think, that I didn’t remember, or maybe she thought I was an idiot. She told me I couldn’t say that word. Idiot, idiot, idiot, I repeated. And afterward I ran away so she couldn’t spank me with a slipper.
I stopped feeling at age eleven, one day while coming home from school with Begoñita. We called her that because she only stood five feet from the ground. Really, she wasn’t my friend at all, but we were in the same class and she lived close to my bus stop, that’s why we went to school together. Sometimes I ditched her because her stories were boring and she always insisted we eat our afternoon snack at her house. Begoñita was really poor, or at least I thought so. She lived in an awful apartment with her sisters, a dog, four cats, six fish, two canaries, and a chameleon. That house smelled, everything was covered in hair and the blinds were always closed. I only saw her mother once, and now I realize she was drunk. My head always itched when I left her house. When I got home I would take a bath right away. I’d tell my parents that there had been an extra gym class; if I tell the truth, they’ll punish me for being prissy.
We’d play superheroes at recess. We’d tie our school smocks around our necks like capes and pretend we were sixteen because then we could have boyfriends. We invented our own Prince Charmings, usually movie stars like Superman. Paula was really tall and clumsy, just hideous. She had a patch glued to one of the thick lenses of her glasses. Her hair was frizzy and grey, and she had long fingernails. Her teeth small with gaps in-between. She had a lisp. We called her “the witch” behind her back, but she was our friend. If she turned into a creature, she’d easily be a snake. One day she said she’d be the boy.
The man hit her accidentally; afterward, he kept running without even acknowledging us. “Shit!” Begoñita cried out, which embarrassed me a little because we couldn’t use that word at home. She suddenly realized that her hand was bleeding. I didn’t know what to do; it grossed me out. She was crying from shock. To me it was the dirty blood of dogs, of cats or fish, of fur, chameleon or canary blood. It made me sick. A woman came over to see what had happened. She asked where Begoñita’s parents were, what insurance she had, things Begoñita didn’t know. She said she’d take her to the emergency room. Begoñita kept asking me not to leave her all alone. At eleven, I answered, very seriously, “No, Begoñita, I’ve got to go, my parents will get worried if I miss the bus. This woman’ll take care of you.” And I left her like that, with a stranger.
Do you want to get married? Wrapped up in my legs, both of us lying on a bed of white sheets, sweaty and naked—it was summer—he uses those words that so overwhelm me. I respond that the time for stupid questions is from six to six fifteen in the morning and now he has to take me home. I remember his name, but I won’t write it down just in case. Just in case his written presence is still as resounding as it is in my memory of that night.
I knew one day I would tell him yes. We’ll never meet again.
Yellow crates for hauling glass bottles. Our checkered butts sitting on those crates, Would you like some more coffee? We’d play house and I was always the guest. Yes, per favor. My knees, fully bent; the hammocks, our fort. Sometimes, the dolls too, but we didn’t usually play with dolls. And grandmother’s biscuits.
Is that a hand over there? It was my cousin who found it. We ran over to the rocks in flip-flops. The man reeked of fish and flies swarmed around his neck. His head was gone. I don’t remember us screaming or running away, or how we wanted to touch him with a stick. I don’t remember who we went to tell about it or when. I only know that the police came because they told me so afterward, and that I wet the bed that night. I was a big girl by then, already nine.
Now it’s my body that floats.