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Best Small Fictions 2024 Nominee, "Tijuana"

"Tijuana," published by Your Impossible Voice in 2023, was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2024. Reposting it here with a photo of my abuelita, who lived in Tijuana and would take me to buy fresh corn tortillas made by hand, wrapped in yellow paper. She and my abuelito were the loving inspiration for this work of Flash Fiction.


Tijuana


In dreams, I glide past borders and through concrete doors to reach places I have never left. I fly over green picket fences and bougainvillea trees adorned with slivers of the past. Abuelo teaches me how to walk downhill without falling.


“Don’t be afraid, Mija,” he says. “The key is to go slow, step sideways, and swing your arms like this.” I put this to use when I make my way down gravel and dirt roads with Abuela to buy corn tortillas made fresh by hand, wrapped in yellow paper. I inhale their warmth and run back up the hill so Abuelo can eat them with his favorite meal – a bowl of watery refried beans. And when my cousin and I take empty Coca-Cola bottles to Doña Rafaela, who lives four houses down, past a rugged patch of cactus where a few stubborn, unknown spirits now reside. For a nickel, she refills the bottles with syrupy sweetness that coats our tongues. Along the way, we throw rocks at packs of wild dogs that chase us.


“Be good to your Mamá,” are Abuelo’s last words to me. He is lying on his stomach, face turned toward me, his green eyes cloudy with age. I learn that nothing will ever be as it once was.


Other things that flow with ease across borders and doors: smoke from burning trash entangled with the morning fog that disperses across space and time. The judgmental gaze of the Jersey Milk boy painted on the side of the hill, watching us with his blue eyes and fair skin, red hair, and freckles. Cries of despair that tumble downhill without vanity or grace. The pain of dreams abandoned, sizzling in the air like electricity running through open wires hung from wooden poles, shanked into the ground in a crude and hurried effect. The prayers of an old woman keeping herself company in the solitude of her memories.


At night, lights glow like fireflies in homes across the canyon, telling tales of unimaginable abundance. They sing their lullaby as I sleep on a floor of painted cardboard. I awaken to my cousin’s black coffee eyes within inches of my face. He is waiting to accompany me to the outhouse because I am afraid of the ghosts that linger in the open air. Together we explore the parched hillside and bypass saguaro cacti that grow so tall you could hang a man by his neck, hoist him with a rope and watch him take his last breaths. We dig for buried treasure and find fossils of seashells under the dry sandy gravel, left there as reminders that the desert land upon which we stand was once submerged beneath the sea, and that nothing can ever be as it once was.


As we make our way home, I stand at the top of the hill and study the uneven road ahead. Loose rocks and sand, a treacherous descent tinted orange by the setting sun. I let go of my cousin’s hand and run down as fast as my legs will take me, past the cactus and the ghosts and spirits. I outrun the Jersey Milk boy and mounds of burning trash, and I laugh at the wild dogs chasing me. Soon I am running so fast that I take flight and soar to an altitude where there are no borders or doors of concrete, and I fly to Abuelo, who is waiting with warm corn tortillas wrapped in yellow paper, and a bowl of watery refried beans.


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