SOY UN CARACOL
We were taught how to kill snails with salt from our kitchen table. Slime sliding down balcony walls, grass sprinkled white. Snails visited us from beneath, birthed or maybe urged by rain. It is your time, I always thought. They were there for me when many others weren’t, like when Papi left home for months. He’s not here, aquí no está, decía Mami, he’s at work. I’d search for him between his closet clothes, is he between ties or leather shoes, will he pop out of his ironed shirts and watch the snails crawl our walls with me? They’d slow down, too, as if waiting. But snails were too ugly. They’d ruin our view of the volcano, my family argued. We can’t save them. I hated seeing the creatures shrink into nothing, the same salt I’d use for scrambled eggs and limones killing. Caen como copos de nieve, Mami said. We’d never seen snowflakes fall from the sky and land on our tongues like in the movies, but Pichincha has bathed us with ashes before of what it was once, the volcano that kills. Were we the ones who had to shrink up and fall, uprooted by ash, punished by salt? And would Papi find me, too, crumbled, curled up, limbs holding limbs, fallen back to the earth that made me?
OUR SCHOOL SECURITY GUARD ANGELITO ONCE TOLD ME A STORY ABOUT HIS MOTHER AS I WAITED FOR MINE TO PICK ME UP FROM SCHOOL.
His mother kept two cockatoos in her bedroom. They sometimes shat on her bed, nightstand, on framed pictures of Angelito’s grandfather. But they were her family. He once walked in on her cuddling with the birds, feathers covering her sound-asleep body. My mother is a bird, he realized. He asked me if mine was, too. Tal vez, I responded. Mami finally showed up in her giant truck, an hour late, and Angelito held the car door open for me. We both knew she wasn’t. Today I was told he died by lightning. El guardia Angelito tapped our school’s powerlines with a wooden broom, trying save a bird’s nest from falling. Two blue eggs never cracked or hatched. They stayed whole or dead. Kids didn’t know the difference. The entire tenth grade of Colegio Menor now knew man could ignite electricity with kindness.
ANA HURTADO was born in Venezuela and grew up in Ecuador, where she currently teaches in Universidad San Francisco de Quito. She is a recent graduate of Iowa State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Noble/Gas Quarterly, RHINO Poetry, and more.