Short Shortsby Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones
I tried to shove an octopus into a drawer. Whenever I pushed in one side of her, the other would pop out, sillyputtied and tentacled, like dough from a biscuit tube. I kneaded and pushed until I couldn’t, and sat on the bed and tried to crush my own head. But there was my grandmother walking through the wallpaper, in her mumu and perfumed wig and chanclas, shuffling to the dresser as if nothing had happened. She told me, soft as a daffodil, you know she can make her own garden, to protect herself, and fed her a prawn.
Old Wives’ Tales
My grandmother said to not let anyone sweep over my feet unless I wanted to end up a jamona*, an old maid and a waste of good woman.
A broom poked out my great-aunt María’s eye while she swept. My grandmother told me not to worry, because she had a third one. And it could see the ghosts of our loved ones, and the most prominent features of people we hadn’t met yet. After cataracts blinded her second eye, María didn’t stop holding séances. I’d sit in the living room and stare at the horseshoes nailed to the walls and the crosses stitched to the cushions, and measure the distance between me and any brooms, and pray with my eyes open for my grandmother and her sister to be done summoning spirits in the kitchen.
María’s son did his best to hide her saint candles after she went blind. But she kept finding and lighting them until her house burned down.
So I am careful when I sweep.
*The literal translation of “jamona” is “female ham”. According to Urban Dictionary, jamonas are “women notorious for their sad lonely eyes and their irrational love for their pets.”
New York Dolls
I heard someone say that writing while depressed is the equivalent of putting shit into a Keurig. You’re not getting espresso, so don’t even turn on that machine. Where did you go to school, baby?
Siberia, she said, moving his ringed hand away from her crotch, getting up as fast as she could. As she walked to the dressing room, she could hear the dreaded word, pointed at her like a pistol, or worse, the wail from a hungry child. Whore, he yelled. Whore. And she yanked off her wig.
The Last Apple
Every step her bare feet took up the hill darkened the flowers on the hem of the old woman’s skirt. A mile away, to her right, smoke stacks burped more gray into the sky. A mile to her left, her house stood like a wooden relic on the patch of soil that still bore fruit. She hugged a basket of apples, wet with dew, to her stomach. Just after dawn she arrived at the first in a row of houses lined with storage trunks. She checked her surroundings for men in black uniform, opened the Rodriguez trunk, and found three cans of pink beans, which she put in her messenger bag. She left them two apples, one for the baby and one for Patti. She opened the trunk next to it and found half of a defrosting sheet cake. She ate what she could scrape off and left Nelson one apple. She went to the third trunk and found a packet of beef jerky. She ate all of the strips and licked off the bits from the plastic. Bucky had been holding out, but she left him two apples. She also gave two apples to Big Dominic, who had left her a Reader’s Digest in his trunk. On the way to the fifth one, a group of girls ran to her through the fog. We are hungry, grandmother, the smallest one said, wiping the soot off her nose with a dead squirrel. So the old woman gave each of them an apple and waved goodbye. Walking down the hill with an empty basket, she made out a large brown trunk where her tree had been just that morning. She didn’t turn right, like she usually did after the descent, but kept walking toward the sea she had forgotten until that day.
Odysseus in Paradise
Picture me, hot for war, sung by bards forever. At it again rattleboned, but with sharpened by time. Picture me flicked here by dawn’s rosy fingers, sails blown ashore by lilywhite fate. To a place with no fog, no funeral birds, no marble palaces with glistening meats, no shepherds with directions, no sacred cows, no hosts with virgins to ravage, or ambrosia or wine, no men to slaughter, no place for my wife’s loom, no servants to muzzle, no false truth regime, no shapeshifting gods, no one waiting for me, no stories to plunge from or go with or deny. Imagine, just me and a bag full of barley. I sat on the shore, a man in the end, and wept.
CLAUDIA ACEVEDO-QUIÑONES was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She lives and writes in Hampton Bays, NY.