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Our Language

Fiction Yohanca Delgado

She has no mother, La Ciguapa, and no children,
certainly not her people’s tongues. We who have forgotten all our sacred      monsters

The books do not say that I was a girl once. They do not say that I lived near the woods in the far outskirts of Higüey, that my name was Celi, that I was born in 1954. I want you to know that I was a real girl, like you. Una niña.

Like memory, language changes. Our words eddy around the things we fear. Isn’t it funny, how it worries what we fear, water turning a jagged rock into something smooth and small? We have so many words to make a girl small: jovencita, señorita, mujercita.

What a wealth of words and yet there is so much that the books do not say.

Why would the books say, anyway, that I was mid-height, with brown eyes and brown hair? There are ciguapas born every day, and it takes us lifetimes to become walking fears.

When I was a muchacha, my best friends and I would share a bag of limoncillos on the walk home from school. Have you ever tried a limoncillo? In English, they call it a Spanish lime, even though it doesn’t grow in Spain. Isn’t that something?

After school, the walk back to the village took about twenty-five minutes, but if we walked slow, we could make it last thirty-five and avoid some of the predinner chores waiting for us. We always tried to walk in the shade, our cheeks pink from the sun, our patent leather shoes picking up the dry dust of the country road.

Strolling three abreast, we cracked the green skin in half with our teeth and took the pink seeds into our mouths. One was never enough. Such a small fruit with an acidic sweetness that made you miss it, even as you held the seeds between your teeth. Before you finish one, you are already yearning for another. We call this can’t-stopness seguidilla.

Listen closely. I’m teaching you our language.

Eating a limoncillo requires concentration. The stain of a limoncillo is a dark magic. The fruit is a pale peach, but stains a dark brown that ruins uniform blouses and sparks torrents of belts and chancletas and nights spent sniffling over a sink with a scrubbing board and a bottle of Clorox.

On one of those unremarkable days, I made it home without a single stain on my yellow uniform blouse. Picture the village. Little boys played street soccer, pausing when a car passed. A breeze tickled the sandaled feet of the abuelas rocking in white plastic mecedoras before rising up, up, up, to coax a gentle susurration from the glossy, green-leaved palm trees behind my house. In the distance, music. Always.

The house was two floors, coral-painted stucco with white accents. Modest and unremarkable. My mother waited for me at the door, her silhouette motionless against the sitting room light behind her. I broke into a jog and saw that her lips were set in a thin line, her arms crossed over her cotton housedress, her eyes red-rimmed.

She stood up straighter and uncrossed her arms. She forced her lips to lift at the corners.

I kissed her on the cheek. “Bendición, Mamá,” I said. In our culture, it is customary to ask our relatives for a blessing every time we greet them. We are trained to careen through the world begging for blessings.

I have learned to make my own blessings. You will, too.

“Celi,” she said. Her voice was stilted, as if she had been practicing. “I couldn’t wait to tell you the good news.”

I trailed her into my bedroom.

“Don’t change yet,” she said, as I began to unbutton my blouse. Don’t change yet. I sat on the rose-covered blanket on my bed instead. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“You’re getting married,” she said, smile sepulchral, eyes fixed somewhere along my hairline.

“What? To who? Mamá, I’m fourteen.” In this era, it was not uncommon for country girls my age to marry, but there were usually—how do I put it—other considerations.

“I know, mi amor. But there are things you don’t know, even about yourself.”

I wondered if I had, like the Virgin Mary, become pregnant without knowing it. We are taught so young to be suspicious of our own bodies. In our case, perhaps, not suspicious enough.

My mother took a long breath and sat next to me. She faced the wall and kept her face blank. “You’re different. I need you to trust me. I’m trying to give you a full life.”

“How am I different?”

“You’ll know when you need to know,” she said.

“Doesn’t it sound like I need to know now?”

“You’re too young to understand.”

Isn’t that one of the worst sentences you’ve ever heard? I won’t teach it to you in Spanish.

“What’s a full life, then?” I had started to cry. “What do you mean?”

“Children, security, family.” She tucked my hair behind my ear. She whispered, “It’s complicated, Celi, but I promise you, on the Virgin herself, that I’m trying.”

It would be ironic, I suppose, for the history books to document how stubbornly we avoid our own stories.

The day after I turned fifteen, I was married to a man named Ignacio at the church near the school. I wore a new white, white dress. My mother hugged me so hard I feared my bones might break. My best friends, Laryssa and Benigna, wept in a pew. We were all grateful that our sobs were mistaken for tears of happiness.

I met Ignacio once before the wedding. He was a pleasant, if uninteresting, man in his mid-twenties who wore short-sleeved button-down shirts in pastel colors. He was an accountant for a company in Higüey. He agreed to commute to work so that we could live in my parents’ village, by the woods.

The ceremony was short and the night: very long.

Ciguapas are always women. This is true, though no one asks why. I think it has something to do with our powers of escaping. And because we are women, the literature has much to say about the way we look. The ciguapas are very beautiful, some books say. The ciguapas are hideous, say others.

I do not think the books are wrong. My problem is with what the books do not say.

The books say that the first ciguapas were magic born of necessity, pressurized alchemy. The colonists came, they say, and some island women escaped to the caves and to the sea. Terror morphed our bodies into something monstrous and untraceable. It took less than three years for the colonists to kill everyone else.

Then new generations of ciguapas came in on the ocean waves. We are a nation’s wounds made flesh.

By the time I turned sixteen, I had a son named Javier and my parents had died in a car accident. Ignacio was a good man. He did all the right things. He held my hand at my parents’ funeral and pressed a cool towel against my forehead as I gave birth.

It’s certainly not the sort of thing worth putting in a book: Ignacio made good money and managed the house. I followed orders and kept everything clean. I focused my quiet desperation and love on my son. It’s boring, really, in its normalcy.

The trouble began when I realized that I was getting smaller.

Every day, I became a little bit shorter. The changes were almost imperceptible at first. I would cook dinner and the pot of rice would feel a bit heavier than it had the day before, the shelf that held the plates a bit higher. My skirts seemed longer than I remembered; my shoes wider.

Shorter and shorter and shorter until I was table height. My husband complained. I was becoming hard to find.

By the time I turned seventeen, Javier was two years old and we were practically the same height.

That wasn’t the only change. My skin seemed lit from within, like pure ámbar. Do you know about Dominican amber? Dominican amber is resin from an extinct tree called Hymenaea protera. Wondrous, isn’t it? How nature keeps a record, even when we cannot, of species that no longer walk the earth. The honey-colored resin is nearly transparent and carries an extremely high number of fossil inclusions, small lives trapped for twenty million years, to be studied under loupes, sold to tourists, worn on pendants.

My eyes seemed larger in my shrinking face. My hair grew faster, coming in shiny, long, and thick. Several times, I cut my hair myself, huddled over the sink in the dead of night, with a sharp pair of kitchen shears. By the next morning, it had grown to cover my knees again.

And then there was the puzzle of what happened to my feet.

They shrank—along with the rest of my body—and they realigned. My knees began to ache as if someone were twisting them to the point of breaking. They began to turn outward, to pivot.

The change was slight, at first: I waddled like a pregnant woman, my toes facing out. But soon I was walking like a ballerina in the second position. People began to notice. The little boys at the market began to trail me home, imitating my walk.

At first, my husband brushed off the jibes and made dirty jokes to his friends over beers—but then the jokes were laced with something acidic. I could not find the words to say I felt betrayed, but I suppose he felt the same.

By the following year, my knees, my calves, and my feet had rotated completely to align themselves with my back. Ignacio loathed the sight of me. I had become something he didn’t understand.

I stopped leaving the house. Try keeping a secret in Higüey; it’s impossible.

When I stand facing a mirror here’s what I see: A woman, about thirty-six inches tall. Proportionally small, with short limbs. Eyes large, dark, and clear. Hair long, down to the area where my knees should be, except that what I see there now is the tender backs of my knees, slender Achilles tendons, calloused heels.

I see Celimena, trying her best. And for reasons that never make it into the books, my deformity doesn’t upset me the way it should. It feels true.

I had to learn how to move in my new body, but I’m adaptable. I did not take me long to learn to backpedal, to look over my shoulder constantly.

Ignacio didn’t know what I was and he resented me for it. Have you seen his picture? He was a big man, nearly six feet tall, and solidly built besides, with a thick waist. He would come home from a night out with his friends, heavy-limbed with drink, and slam me against the walls.

When he realized that my bones seemed impervious to breakage, he tried harder.

He seemed resolved to tear me limb from limb, if he had to, to crack me open and release the secret I was hiding.

One night, he came home with Grecia, a local widow who practiced Santeria. You should know that we Dominicans say we’re God-fearing Catholics, but when confronted with a stubborn problem, we’ll try anything.

Grecia’s eyes were milky with cataracts and her hair was pure silver, a braid coiled down the side of her neck. She wore all white and carried an old leather doctor’s satchel. She smelled like cinnamon. Behind her, Ignacio stood with his hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He avoided my eyes. I understood that this was a last attempt.

“I’m sorry for the state of the house,” I said, rushing toward Grecia and tripping lightly over my backward feet. “I didn’t expect company. Can I offer you a cafecito with a little milk?”

Her pearly eyes widened and she gasped. “Ciguapa,” she said, noticing my feet and taking a step back.

I froze.

“What?” my husband asked.

“She’s a ciguapa.” The old woman’s eyes remained fixed on my feet. “I didn’t know they were real.”

“Ciguapa,” I repeated.

Imagine hearing yourself named for the first time. My mind dredged up the word from the bog of my passive memory: an echo of the old folktale came to mind, but first, I thought of the cigua palmera, the national bird of the Dominican Republic. A bird that loves to perch in palm trees. In English, it’s called the palmchat.

“Fix her,” my husband said. “I’ll give you everything I have. I have money in the bank. I can borrow more.”

“Keep your money,” she said. She shook her head. “The change can’t be reversed.”

Can you imagine a more dangerous monster than one who reads?

Well, I have gotten into the books. Here’s what they say:

A ciguapa is a mysterious, savage, and mystical creature in the folklore of the Dominican Republic. The legend of the ciguapa appears to have originated among the indigenous Taino Indians, though it also appears to have been influenced by African folklore brought over by victims of the slave trade. The legend concerns a group of women who escaped enslavement during the Spanish colonial occupation of the Dominican Republic. The escapees took up residence in the wild, emerging only at night to forage for food.

Imagine a monster whose sole objective is survival. Imagine the bending and shrinking of bones, over generations, to achieve this one end.

The ciguapa’s distinguishing features include a diminutive size (about three feet in height) and reversed feet. Because of the reverse placement of their feet, ciguapas can walk backward and forward comfortably. They are nearly impossible to track. Bodies designed to elude and confound. Imagine the loneliness.

My husband knelt before Grecia and touched his face to her feet. His voice was low and filled with rage. “Her family knew and they cheated me. My only son is half monster. Will he change, too?”

“It is inherited,” Grecia said slowly, “but I don’t think so. Ciguapas are always women.”

“So, what am I supposed to do,” he said, forehead still pressed to Grecia’s worn leather sandals. “I can’t live like this.”

Grecia looked at me again with something akin to pity. “Leave her.” She stepped back and gently freed her legs from Ignacio’s grasp. “Leave her alone.”

“I’m your wife,” I said, my anger finally welling up to answer his. “We were married before God. Do those vows mean nothing to you?”

“I was cheated. I didn’t set out to marry some sort of demon,” he said, rising heavily to his feet. At full height, he was nearly twice my size. “Some demon that could kill my only son.”

“She won’t hurt Javier,” Grecia said. But now that Ignacio knew she could not fix me, her opinion no longer mattered. Ignacio ushered her out of the house, folding a few crisp bills into her palm, even as she tried to reason with him. He told her to never speak of me again and slammed the door.

“I could kill you,” he said simply when he returned. “And no one would ask questions.”

“Our three-year-old son is in the next room,” I hissed, craning my neck to look up at him. The distance between us seemed infinite.

“So? He’ll grow up knowing the truth. His mother was a monster and I did what I needed to do to her to keep him safe. He’ll know his father is a brave man.”

“This is what you call brave?”

“You know your voice is changing, too, right?” He pushed me against the wall. In the other room, Javier began to gurgle in his crib.

“Go get him,” Ignacio said. “Go take him out of his crib.”

“I may not be able to carry him anymore, but Javier is as much my son as he is yours. This is my house and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Who paid for this house?”

“Where’s the money my parents left me when they died?”

“Your parents are charlatans. You can’t ever repay me for what your family has done to me.”

He picked me up, kicked open the back door, and hurled me out into the backyard, which extended out into the woods. I scraped my elbows as I landed in the dirt, unable to rely on my knees. I didn’t know how to fall yet.

He shivered. “Look at you, you’re terrifying,” he said. It infuriated him that I seemed content with this new body, even as I struggled to my feet. “You’re not the woman I married,” he said. “And you’re not welcome in my house anymore.”

He bolted the door behind him.

If fear is a currency, then those were extravagant times. The books acknowledge, at least, that this was the age of Trujillo. In awed, breathless lists, the books catalogue the torture, the rapes, the mutilation. They say: this brutality is unprecedented.

Oh, but it’s only an echo of what came before. You know that, right?

We are the record. It’s etched into our bones. A million times.

The ciguapa has long, lustrous hair that covers her naked body. Because of the odd placement of her feet, the ciguapa is nearly impossible to capture. She lives in mountain caves, in the trees, and in underwater caves along the shores.

The ciguapa can capture a man with her dark, hypnotic eyes. She is known to find lone men on the road and lure them to her cave or to her alcove by the sea. The men are never seen again. It is assumed that she eats them.

I stood, shaking, and scanned the area for nosy onlookers.

You will unlearn shame, as I did, and you will be happier for it.

The woods loomed before me and I decided I would give Ignacio this temporary victory. I would take a walk.

The air was intoxicating: the perfume of Bayahíbe roses, a million petals curled in on themselves for the night, a self-embrace. I backpedaled, feeling a sudden urge to run far away, to plunge into the sea. I had never run so fast. Many miles passed in a light breeze. Without learning how, I climbed a palm tree near the shore and was suddenly aware of my altered clothes and how needlessly constricting they were. I jumped down and ran my hands through the wild dry grass, relished the cool soft sand beneath.

Night fell and a full moon emerged. Ciguapas dropped from the cradles of their palm trees. They emerged from behind bushes. They were all small like me and naked. They all walked backward, nimble on their feet. In this clearing there were a dozen or so, but I knew that there were many, many others.

The ciguapas gathered around me.

“We all already know each other,” a ciguapa named Diana told me, kissing me on both cheeks.

It was true. I had never met Diana before, but it was true.

“We don’t live together because it’s safest,” she said. “But the full moon is hard to resist.”

“Luna blanca, cobertor y manta,” said another ciguapa who called herself Yamila. “Fool moon. It’s when we yearn for our old lives the most. It makes us do stupid things. But most nights, we eat, we explore, and then we sleep.”

“Where do we sleep?” I asked.

“Wherever we want,” Yamila said, her voice bell-clear. “Want to see my favorite?”

I nodded. Yamila and Diana led me to the shore, their feet leading the way, their eyes fixed on mine. The ancient pull in their gaze told me I could trust them.

There were no houses along this stretch of shore, and the only sources of light were the stars and the moon, refracted off the water in a million glimmering threads. The waves were gentle, beckoning, the air cool and fresh.

“Ready?” Yamila said.

They took my hands and led me into the water. Pulling me gently into its depths until I took a deep breath and plunged.

Diana gave me a thumbs-up under water. I could see and breathe as easily as I could on land. They taught me how to catch a fish and eat it raw, without ever rising to the surface. They led me to a series of underwater caves and I claimed a small one. I had never slept so well, or felt so safe.

Ciguapas can only be captured in a full moon, and only by a hunter accompanied by a black-and-white polydactyl dog. In captivity, ciguapas die of grief. (It won’t surprise you to learn that this does not deter the hunters.)

With a small, but passionate membership, The Ciguapa Hunters of the Dominican Republic (CHDR), advertises tours of the Dominican countryside in search of the elusive monster. The group’s mascot, an Australian shepherd with an extra phalange on its front left paw, is present on every full-moon tour.

Few successful captures appear in the CHDR’s records, but hopeful hunters commission, in advance, special display boxes for their trophies, designed to preserve a specimen and slow the decomposition process.

The club attracts local men and tourists in equal numbers. Members say that they enjoy most the male comradery and friendship they find on the hunts, outings in which they say they can truly be themselves.

I visited my son at night so that Ignacio wouldn’t know. I would climb in the window and help him into bed and tuck his curly dark hair behind his ears. He would smile at me. I told him my story so that he would not forget me. How handsome my Javier was.

On one of these nights, I spoke to Javier and he began to cry. He couldn’t understand me anymore. I held his big head in my arms and tried to tell him, tried to tell him, how much I loved him.

As he grew bigger, I became even smaller. One evening, I approached the window and heard Ignacio saying to Javier, “You shouldn’t need to open the window at night, but if you do, this is where the latch is.”

I waited until he was gone and then showed my face at the window. I could see Javier in his bed. I tapped the glass. He turned his back and lay with his face against the wall until morning came and I had to go away.

I have become a sort of animal. If the books are right, my voice sounds like braying or mewling now. Some words whip around in my mouth and leave my tongue bloodied.

I am choosing, more and more, not to speak at all. But you and I, we understand each other.

Though the ciguapa can breathe comfortably under water, she is best known for her diminutive size and superhuman speed on land. This extraordinary speed not only helps the monster elude capture, it also makes her a formidable predator.

Historians disagree about the genetic provenance of the ciguapa. The written records are vexingly imprecise on the subject of ciguapic genealogy, though there have been reports of typical human women giving birth to daughters who, on reaching adulthood, transform into monsters. It is assumed, in these cases, that the women carried a recessive ciguapic gene. Some folkloric sources indicate that they are born ciguapas, while others hypothesize that ciguapas have procreated with human men, and that their descendants continue to exist among us.

Some books say that ciguapas steal newborn babies from their cribs, such is their desire for motherhood and connection to the human race.

See also: oread (mountain nymph); napaea (woodland nymph).

See also: Genu recurvatum (medical condition in which knees are in reverse position, causing a deformity in which the afflicted appear to walk backward) .

See how they translate us?

Though he never let me in again, I stood at Javier’s window every night for years. I like to think my presence was a comfort to him. In nightly increments, I watched him grow up to be a quiet, sad boy, big for his age.

When my husband announced that I had run away, no one questioned him, not even my friends. Heartsick, I listened at their windows. By then, they were married, too, and kept their own houses neat. Benigna was pregnant and Laryssa was trying. She visited Benigna often, as if attempting to pick up pregnancy through osmosis.

From time to time, I hoisted myself up to the window and watched them stir sugar into their espressos. The sound of their spoons against the cups made me miss coffee. The delicious, bitter mundanity of it. The power was out, and with only a few candles lit, Benigna’s living room looked cozy and welcoming.

“It seems unlike her, doesn’t it?” Laryssa said once, after a long silence. “To leave Javier behind?”

“She really did love her baby,” Benigna said, one hand on her swollen belly.

“But Ignacio would scare anyone off. That man was a drunken brute toward the end.”

“Just the end? I’ll never forget that wedding.”

“Poor Celimena,” said Laryssa.

“What could we have done?” said Benigna, folding a paper napkin into smaller and smaller pieces with nervous fingers. “We were just girls. Her parents wanted to marry her off.”

“But so young?”

“You heard the rumors.”

“They obviously weren’t true.” Laryssa drained her cup, and placed it upside down on its saucer. “We grew up with her, Benigna. We know her. She wasn’t crazy.”

“Her grandmother disappeared, too. Whatever happened to her? I heard she lives in the woods, runs around naked, eating berries at night.”

Laryssa laughed. “Crazy like a fox. Sounds better than cooking and cleaning all day.” She lifted the coffee cup and examined the rivulets formed by the coffee grounds.

“What do you see?”

What did I tell you? We look for magic everywhere.

“I see anger,” said Laryssa slowly, as she turned the cup in her hands and examined the dregs. “A group of women. Tragedy. I don’t know what it means.”

I slipped away from the window as my best friends searched for the future in their coffee cups. I wanted to tell them that my grandmother had been captured by a hunter and that she had died of grief. But this is the saddest part of the change, losing the ability to speak.

Within a few years, Ignacio remarried to a wiry busybody named Gladys who painted her toenails neon green on my terrace every Sunday.

Together, they had two little boys and Javier seemed out of place. It was decided that he would go to New York to study English and live with Ignacio’s sister. I crouched in the bushes and listened as Ignacio made the arrangements to fly him to La Guardia. I clawed my nails into my palms until I drew blood.

The night before Javier left, he came to the window for the first time in a long, long time and we studied each other in the moonlight. He put his palm on the glass and I put up mine.

Then he closed the curtains, but through the sheer fabric, I could see his shoulders shaking as he packed his suitcase.

Did I mention that we love riddles? Adivinanzas? Here’s one:

The one who makes it does not use it.

The one who uses it does not see it.

The one who sees it does not desire it— no matter how pretty it may be.

Can you divine the answer?

A coffin.

The books say that we are immortal. I would like to correct that: we are long-lived. We can be killed. We can kill ourselves. We can die of grief. But we live very long lives. The oldest ciguapa in our clan is more than two hundred years old.

Decades feel like months: we sleep, we wake, we feed. The village gossip interests us less and less. It’s so predictable. Boring in its normalcy. The past is a photograph from someone else’s life: curling at the edges, and fading. Like the books, we have become particular about what’s worthy of memory.

We have learned to outlive the people we love.

Here’s another adivinanza:

Diligent twins

Shapers of lack

Who walk with their blades pointed forward

And their eyes pointed back.

Can you divine the answer?

Scissors (did you guess?)

In their cozy houses, surrounded by their children and their husbands, Larissa and Benigna still talk diligently around my memory, tracing the outlines. Like us, they choose what to remember.

But what can they know of my untamed grief? Javier. In every word, an echo of his name.

Thirty years passed and Javier came back to my house, alone. My heart beat a fraught old song in my throat.

On the first night, when everyone in the village was asleep, he walked to the edge of the woods, as if looking for something. I watched him, enthralled.

He sat down on a tree stump, looked at his fine leather loafers, and checked his gold watch.

“Mamá,” he said, finally. “I know you’re here.”

Mothers do a lot of things without thinking. I walked out into the clearing.

Javier shuddered and leapt to his feet, as if to run away—then gingerly bent at the waist to hug me. I smelled nothing beyond cologne and aftershave and mosquito repellent. Who was this strange man with my Javier’s eyes? He was tall, like his father, but I was pleased to see that he carried a hint of me in the creases around his mouth, and in his dark, thick eyebrows.

“I got married,” he said, sitting back down on the amputated tree, resting his manicured hands on his knees.

I crossed my arms. I suppose it would have been too much to ask to have been invited? But I couldn’t stay angry. Not after waiting this long to see him again. I uncrossed my arms and hazarded a smile.

“I have a daughter,” he said blithely. “Her name is Celimena. After you. She’s twelve.”

“God bless her! What’s she like?” The last of my pride dissolved. I put my hands on his giant ones.

He tilted his head back, gently pulled his hands away. “I can’t understand you. You know that.”

I took a step toward the trees.

He straightened up again, as if remembering a memorized speech. “I haven’t forgotten you. I’m going to tell my wife about your disease and we’ll get you to America somehow and find you a surgeon,” he said. “Or here, even! We can take you to the best surgeon here. We have money now.”

I pictured myself in a hospital gown in a white, white hospital, a doctor slicing my calves open and rearranging my tendons like a florist rearranging rose stems. I shook my head.

I tried to explain that we can’t be fixed—not in that way. We can’t relinquish what we have been built to carry. And it isn’t so bad, anyway, to be ourselves. But the sound of my voice only seemed to make things worse.

“Don’t you even want to try?” A drop of spit landed on Javier’s lip. “Don’t you realize how selfish you are? What if Celi grows up to be like you? We’ll need to know how to fix it.”

I wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him, but he shoved me away.

“Do you know how hard it’s been for me? To grow up motherless? To lie to everyone about my mother? It would have been better if you’d just died.” And now he was crying, this adult man with my Javier’s eyes.

A venomous grief slithered up my calves and noosed my throat. I stopped trying to talk. By now, I understood my power. I looked in his eyes until his expression softened to a dull calm. I faced him as I walked away and he followed me, his lumbering footfalls heavy and thick. I imagined bringing him back to my sea cave, where I could rock him like a giant doll in eternal sleep.

Ciguapas have done worse.

But me? I had learned something new. I waited until the wave of anger receded back to some distant shore.

I kissed his hand. I watched from the window, just like before, as he packed his suitcase. I let him get in a taxi and find his way back to New York.

I grieved him again and I let him go. This letting-go is called living.

I know it will be hard, but when this message finds you—and it will find you—let your body hear it. You’re the one I’m waiting for.

I’ve read that it gets very cold in New York, but you won’t need much here. When you arrive in the old house in Higüey, wait until nightfall and then come straight through the back and out into the palm trees.

I will wait for you here. As long as it takes. Years and years and years—like sand to me. You will be sad at first, as I was, as we all were and are. But then you will see how the trees grow tall around us here, to keep us safe, and the grass is sweet-smelling and velvet-soft beneath our unloved feet. The breeze is a light kiss across our faces and the moon—full and white and glowing—is a generous mother. You will finally become who you have always been. You will remember what your body has forgotten.

I’ve waited so long for you, mi nieta, my granddaughter. Listen closely to me. I am teaching you our language.

No. 29

No. 29


Yohanca Delgado’s fiction has appeared in STORY, One Story, and online at the Michigan Quarterly Review online. The story in this issue was selected from an open call and edited by A Public Space Editorial Fellow Taylor Michael.


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