Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism/Excerpts from Katherine Vaz's FADO & OTHER STORIES

Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

T H R E E   E X C E R P T S
b y   k a t h e r i n e   v a z   ~   t h e   a z o r e s

f r o m    O R I G I N A L    S I N

BECAUSE WE could not build snowmen in Castroville, we made men and babies out of mud. We gave them dry straw hair and invited them to our tea parties, where we served sugar water infused with mint leaves that were white from crop dusting. When the men dried and cracked in the sun, we mixed up new ones. All over the inner valley in our part of north central California, we could uncover the dust of the broken. Ants swarmed over shattered arms and coal eyes.

The Portuguese women left figuras de cera for God where the sun could anoint the glints of melting wax with prism rainbows that would catch His eye. During a flu epidemic, we tripped over puddles of wax stomachs in the fields. Behind the church was the favorite spot for wax hearts. If the heart melted and the patient lived, God had accepted the offering and spared the man. If the heart melted and the patient died, it was a personal sign that God was calling him home to the great pool of souls.

The Church always won.

When Almir Cruz got drunk and shot off one of his testicles, the girls searched high and low, past the softening eyes, legs, and livestock de cera of petitioners, hoping to discover his wax balls. I stayed out late with a flashlight, desperately wanting to find Almir.

This desire to make a treasure hunt out of the sad prayers and wants of others ended when my father and brother died in a car wreck, in the stretch where we converged with outsiders. The road, like most of the ones in California, always smelled like blood. Tourists pulled on and off the highway so fast, stopping to buy cheap artichokes, that our lives were always hemmed in by fearsome machines. Witnesses called the accident a blinding flash, too fast to anticipate. Within a year my mother took to her bed with lung cancer. She breathed clean air and did not smoke, so I knew she was dying for love.

f r o m    A D D    B L U E    T O    M A K E    W H I T E    W H I T E R

TO FIX a wine hangover, I simply drank more wine. Beer also worked, but the bottles clanked like the sound of a Chinese lion dance when I carried them to the trash. Hello, Tia Alma! This? Yes, what a feast it was. What else did I learn while doing my best to erase everything I knew? A Headache Law: Beware of Frangelico, Amaretto, Frambrosia. Those formulas of the monks laced my head with sugar spiders. The more I drank, the more I expected less to be inside me, but eventually there were many nestfuls of these sugar creatures. A Dream Law: One can live a long time alone with spiders. A Law of Losing, Fuzzily, One's Boundaries: The air hurt my skin, which became rough and fly-away, like asbestos. My whole body was trying to escape from me, and it was easiest for my skin to turn into fibers that were light as a dream. I wished my skin well, sincerely, as it floated off. He had kissed every cell of it, and I knew it was going away to search for him. I had always wanted to watch him unnoticed, to understand how he could exist in a place where I was not. A Recovery Law: I stopped talking about him. But time does not lessen anything; it adds and adds. My friends said, congratulations, we knew you would get over it. So I had them fooled. I wore the hours like stripping bandages, winding them around me from head to foot, because I had drunk away my skin. People had been too polite to mention the missing skin, and now they did not point out that I was a mummy. I worked at a switchboard for the phone company, day after day, never getting to listen in, and I won a plaque for perfect attendance. It served as a hot-plate. I was waiting hopefully for my skin to return with its report, but it would never be mine again.

I told myself, very sternly, that the time had come to grow a new skin. I pulled off one bandage after another, but within each one there was a faint dampness of some memory. My head itched as I unwound it, and reaching up, to my horror, I discovered red sugar spiders running through my hair. The damage caused in me by the Amaretto had reproduced. The spiders sang, "Funiculi, Funicula," and slaughtered "A Te O Cara," chuckling because their voices were terrible. No new skin was forming to keep me solid. I was a sponge without calcium, and sank down, clutching my head, then shaking off the spiders that scampered over my hands. I crawled outside for the garden hose to melt them.

"O! Basta! Basta!" they cried, but without mercy I flooded the water over them. Soon I was floating in the little lagoon I had made from killing the red sugar spiders. I could sense almost at once my terrible error. The spiders were dissolved in the lagoon, but I was a sponge and soaked them up. They suffused every part of me. I was a body full of broken spiders.

f r o m    F A D O

THE OLD stories said that our Azorean homeland was Atlantis, rising broken from the sea. We all have marks and patches surfacing on our skin. I have a fierce dark animal erupting from my side.

Xica had a wine-colored star in the cove at the base of her throat. When she drowsed in the sleeping net that swung between two trees dividing our yards, I liked to touch the star and the bones of her face. She had a long nose ridge, arcing like a dolphin's spine from between her eyes. Inside her hands and chest more bones floated, like those soft needles that poke unmoored in fish's meat.

My fingers could never drink up the rheum that always trickled from beneath her closed eyes. We are so sad, so chemically sad, that it leaks from us. The fados wailing from our record players remind us that without love we will die, that the oceans are salty because the Portuguese have shed so many tears on their beaches for those they will never hold again...

... [Xica] wanted air to kill her instead of water. The day after she buried her son, she dressed in a long brocade gown and lay in the sleeping net. My parents fed her broth and told her to stop talking nonsense. "I'll be gone before dinnertime," she said simply. She closed her eyes and put her will to work.

Father Ribeiro came by to remind her that Manuel had not actually killed himself -- he was a child, and when a child sees what he wants, a flash that speaks to memory, he flings himself toward it. His innocence meant he was in heaven. "So you shouldn't give up heart," Father said.

She did give up heart: She gave it to me. God still owed her a wish, and I was the only one who believed she could hold Him to it. My parents and Father Ribeiro were off discussing which doctors to call when Xica opened her eyes long enough to put my hand on her chest. "Rosa," she said. "My Rosa."

Her heart fluttered like a trapped hummingbird. Perhaps she was drawing all her blood toward it, because it beat harder and faster while her calves drained and her hands, face, and neck paled to chalk. Even the star in the cove of her throat dimmed. She was pulling up a winding sheet inside herself.

"Xiquinha," I said. I felt the bird fly up against her ribs, trying to break through and splatter on my palm. She was straining her heart upward as far as she could, loud and furious, directly into my hand. As I bent my face closer to hear the wing beat, the raging bird exploded, and then my Xica was gone.


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