By Maya Cruz
Things you never had can be yours. Things you had for a time can be yours again. Carve your way, pay the price.
Same walk, same route nearly every day. However, there are precious stones lodged in cracks amongst monotony, and anything can be a gem if you’re paying attention.
“Mimi” was one of those things my mind’s hands grazed every day, fingertips on every line and corner in the frame my eyes could see, placing it all in any open pocket like a Rite-Aid thief. Usually, my mind’s hands would just brush over “Mimi” and her children and the way the sun caught on their teal blue tent; maybe somewhere, my mind would exhale and think, “that’s nice and soft.” That day my attention was grabbed with vigor, blade brought to my palms and moved in a manner that would surely scar. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to remember the frame as it was versus how it felt after spoiled and curdling attention, humanity, tainted it that day.
From what I’d seen, she was a gentle crier. The boy and the baby were too. They were in and out of being enveloped in embrace a lot, like falling in and out of sleep. Their three bodies seemed to join as one figure, exhaling when the kids were engulfed by the tenderness of her arms and her tumbling black hair. They all looked a mess, but they were settling to the eye like the satiating smell of basement.
This time when she brought them close to her ribs, she kissed them both on the forehead, and her cry was not so gentle. They cried too, a writhing, ugly cry. “Mama has to go,” she said through ugly inhales. “I’ll be back, though. Please watch him, Juno. Please, don’t leave this tent. I’ll be right back… I’ll… be right back.”
And just like that, breast was torn from mouth; mouth left agape and wailing, Juno also left agape and wailing through his blank stare, holding tightly onto this baby his mother had just placed in his arms as she walked up the stairs. He was nameless to me until his mother’s parting. The baby mumbled “Mimi, Mimi” through blaring cries. And she walked off. She went above, ascending the stairs I hate so much, and that was all it took for me to understand exactly what was going on. She must’ve wanted to Trance.
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It took me months to separate myself from the cotton that was that experience. Sticky cotton, dry and clinging to the hair on my arms, sticking in the crevices of my mind. I cried and dried my tears with the cotton to shrink it, let it dry, and pulled it apart to spin it. Notebook in hand, I collected myself to put together some stringy words:
Sometimes tears of water can feel like acid. Other times, the sting ties in the center of your ribcage, and you tighten up; you can feel it extend downwards, rooting at the earth, simultaneously ripping away into the atmosphere, leaving a wraithlike tension in the center. Sometimes that absence of everything, the fertilization, growth, buildup of antimatter inside, that vignette in your vision and hum in your ear, can gift you with true stillness. Still like a gargoyle is still, still like a photograph is still, still like a horrified person is still. I let it pass and kiss it goodbye, swallow hard and let my acid tears unfurl. I direct myself away, and the sheet of blankness settles over my shoulders and tickles my spine, brushing on the backs of my knees and resting atop my ears, covering my eyes. Moments like that make me a sheet ghost; eyes and not much else. I am still feeling to my fullest capacity, despite that.
Many days passed, and many days the children remained, tightly enclosed by blankets and teal tent walls, patiently waiting for her return, like she’d left the nest to hunt. In reality, she’d left for herself, and they sat there, motherless. Their hunger was folded in the baby’s rhythmic inhales and whines, followed by Juno’s frantic hushing; they hungered for her in the sweat beading in the blanket and on their foreheads. I hoped their mother was a strong woman, the kind who could carry a lot in her hands and who loved like the mouth of a feline. Would lick their fur clean and still have fangs to bare, if need be.
I began with the seed of an idea and an hourlong freewrite. I went from what felt most relevant: the bare emotions and observations from the world around me that felt so true that they’d apply just as much to the one I created. I was inspired by the abandoned subway station at City Hall in New York City. Walking on city blocks, the world above is so chaotic that we sometimes forget the carving we’ve done below, and I find that hidden grid of interconnectedness extremely interesting. What if people were to occupy it? What would it take for us to go underground, return to caves, come full circle and exit what we’ve carved of our world? It seems like an endless loop, and in this loop of above and below, tunnels and carving and caves, I see so many reflections of my experience. I learned a lot about letting writing be writing, not worrying about story context or how “good” it seems, but more just writing something that feels true to me and rolls without me forcing it along too much.
Maya Cruz is a New York City born and raised daughter, sister, and student. She has a burning passion for the arts and the overlap they have with the natural world. Writing especially has helped her evolve her perspective, which she hopes to continue sharing.