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Story by María Alejandra Barrios (Read author interview) June 29, 2020

Art by Marie-Paule Bilger

If you wanted to know the way my Abuelo pescador tiraba su raya (every morning just before dawn to not wake up the fish) I wouldn’t be able to tell you, I grew up apart from him and his ways and Abuela’s ways—Abuela who would be always in the kitchen, starting the coffee in the greca and, moliendo maiz for the arepas—and I wouldn’t know about them because I didn’t ask, and because I didn’t ask nobody told me—en boca cerrada no entran moscas and so on and so forth—So I didn’t ask about Abuelo and I didn’t ask about the night sky in the Ciénaga that had the most stars in the world because the light company in the village was so bad, “the light doesn’t reach us,” I would hear Abuelo say in the dreams I would have about them: “The light doesn’t reach anyone in this family,” he would say and I would keep on dreaming about them while also dreaming about things that Abuela did that I could never do like sewing, boning a chicken, cooking a mojarra and tending to a family, I wake up and water the few plants I have and think about the dreams I had the night before where Abuelo tells me the reason I can’t see stars in New York is because they’re hiding—they don’t want to see what the world has become—“the world is so far from its beginnings, you see?” he says and draws a line on the ground with a stick, says it’s supposed to tell me everything I need to know but I don’t see anything, I rub my eyes and realize I’m dreaming again, so I wake up and remember that I have his hollowed eyes, his big teeth, the dimple in my right cheek that is supposed to bring me luck, and my Abuela’s stubbornness, I remember that when I hear the tucu-tucu of tambores while walking down Flatbush Avenue I can’t help but tap my feet and think about la Ciénaga, the place I see in dreams, and the pictures of the ancestors my mom burned before I was born and before she married my father and when she swore! she swore! she would never go back to that pueblo de mierda—not a chance—but me, me who gets lost most nights in New York while walking familiar streets, I would, me the one who eats different variations of sad rice with peas or cerdo or whatever cut of meat is discounted at the supermarket would go back in a heartbeat, because you can’t find fresh fish in New York like the one you would find at the Ciénaga, because there’s no chance I’m going to see a clear night like the ones my Abuelos used to have all the time, because I dream of them and when I do, Abuelo reminds me that family even after generations have passed, has a way of coming back into the light.

About the Author

María Alejandra Barrios is a pushcart nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. Her stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante and Shenadoah Literary. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center and the New Orleans Writing Residency.

About the Artist

Active on the art scene for many years, Marie-Paule Bilger has developed her multidirectional and protean works in the image of her personal journey, her travels, and her interests. Born in Mulhouse, France, she began her creative development with classical dance training but then studied visual art at the University of Strasbourg, becoming a painter and visual artist. In her work, she summons both personal and collective history and places them at the heart of a social and political debates in order to interrogate recent global changes. Her painting is in tune with the zeitgeist: the events and conflicts that took place beginning September 2001 have galvanized its trajectory. Her experiments with painting on transparent media (plastic, plexiglass, and glass) led her towards a use of video; she likes to relate visual “oxymorons” through this medium.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2020 of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2020

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