We’ve been in this house for ten years. My asthma comes from a mixture of mold and ancient dust that was here before we moved in, before I was born, before this house was constructed. Inhale. Exhale. The spores sit heavy in the tender wings that bring the breath of life.
Here, the mold suffuses the wall, plaster and primer and wood all covered like a leopard with dark, forest-green spots. To hide our embarrassing walls, to pretend that we are living in better conditions, we cover the stains with blankets that block out the sun. This room is timeless. I imagine my lungs are rotting from the inside, look like this mold all spotted and decaying. Like a tooth with holes, they sink in.
Beside the mold, I lie on a bed, crooked, with dangerous springs skewering out. I am the tender meat shoved on a shish-kebab, scars collect on my arms and knees. Back rolling against the maze, the springs that pop out in indecipherable patterns. I shift to find comfort, but there is none to be had.
And in the aged darkness, the still night—perhaps early morning?—I listen. The sound of a leaking faucet. Not a drip, but a steady stream that will not quit. It moves through my mind, liquid filling holes and submerging me. What is the sound of endless water, rolling from faucet and straight down the drain?
It is money. It is money relentlessly tearing itself from pockets, fleeing, slipping like—well, like water between fingers.
But it is more than money. It is hollow. A ringing. Moving through pipes and onto stained porcelain and rolling down into other pipes to be carried away. Like a scream into the rust, all raw and ruddy and rending. The water enters my mind just as quickly as it leaves. The stream is all I hear.
I try to think about the mold, about my spotted lungs. I try to think of the scars and the springs. I try to look at the clutter and feel the presence of my mother who shares a bed with me. I try to think about the other six people split between two rooms. But all I hear is the stream.
There has to be a science to the sound. A way that it echoes in the house and fills my ears. The screech against the cover of night, that weighs heavy upon me.
The sound of a running faucet is that of waste. Finite sources and infinite needs and it’s all just funneling down a pipe endlessly.
We’ve tried to have the pipes fixed. The landlord sent her crew to repair it, but they’d need to knock out the entire wall, replace all of the pipes and rebuild the shower. A long job, they had said. Could be months. We think of things like work and school and opening our doors to the strange men and we are pushed against a wall. So the leak continues.
Once, the repairmen fixed a leak in the roof. Water descending from above in pools and deforming the ceiling. Wavy and misshapen like my bed. Bubbles ready to burst. They ripped the ceiling out, patched it up, and the water stopped. I found a swastika penciled above my doorway after they left, a hallmark, a branding. We are cattle penned up and living in a decay we cannot escape.
And I swear I can hear a scream in the leak. A forever scream, one from a woman whose lungs are not broken and soft like mine. Lungs of steel, screeching against shackles. A woman doomed to live with her voice infinitely sinking down a drain.
This thought moves me. I rise, soft and slow to avoid waking my mother, and go to the source. I watch. Clear and dropping down with gravity’s blessing. I reach out, turn the rusted knobs, tighten them, tighten them, palms scratching against sharp metal; they are enflamed. And the water does not stop.
Here, the mold sits, pushing tile away from wall, thick and black, crumbling like old bread. My knees on broken linoleum, my palms scorched through the center. The scream continues, onward in the night, or the early morning. I’m not sure. The sound is timeless. And the water does not stop.
The sun sits heavy on her brow as she plays in front of her home with her muñecas. As she sits, a chill runs through her, a coldness like someone has shut off the sun, and the hair on her skin stands like the dead. Tío Fernando runs toward the house, carrying her cousin Anita, a girl of about 15, whose once-tan skin now appears bleached, bone-white. She thinks of death, looking at her panicked tío and her cousin’s stillness. Her fingers spark as she reaches out to Anita. Skin covered in a sheen of sweat but cold to the touch. “Get your mamá,” Fernando says and she runs into the house to fetch her mother, who seems to already know that she is needed; her mother puts a hand up to silence her and walks out with a quick, but calm, gait. Her mother puts her hands on Anita’s face; she tells her daughter to prepare a bowl with the sanctified water, oils, spices, herbs, bits of charcoal. She obeys, preparing the concoction with haste. And then, sitting on her knees, a muñeca clenched tight in her fist, she watches her mother, who chants prayers—invocations of santos and Jesucristo and la Virgen Guadalupe—while crossing the girl with a small bundle of sticks; and her tío who weeps; and her cousin Anita who writhes on the dusty floor. The air is still and hot, like fire. She thinks the air must be what causes the water to bubble, to boil, moving the bits of charcoal around like drums, like feet marching into war. And the charcoal hops out of the bowl, jumping high and falling back in, like stones plunked into a lake. Anita convulses in the dust, and the bowl and air move with her and her mother prays and her tío weeps and she watches. One-by-one, the charcoal leaps out of the bowl, changes into tiny, dark frogs. As they hop out, her mother snatches the frogs up, puts a knife through them, killing the curse. She watches and sees the color return to her cousin’s skin; her eyes flutter open; Anita sits up. She watches her tío weep and her mother praise God and she feels, deep inside, that she’s seen a miracle, and she knows that she, too, possesses this power that her mother has. Fear mingled with exhilaration form like butterflies in her chest, as she imagines the expansive future, as she sees herself—almost like a vision, like prophesy—healing the sick and breaking the curses of the downtrodden. She thinks of a bright ball, a light from which God emerges, and she sees Him touching her heart and giving her powers: a divine appointment. And she thinks that this is Good, that God has blessed her so.
The dusty air moves unhindered in the room as the light glimmers through the window. Her tío rejoices. Her cousin cries tears of joy. Her mother praises God.
Jessica R. Santillan was born in Bakersfield, CA. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State, where she worked as an editorial assistant for The Normal School. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has had her work published in the San Joaquin Review, Sirens Call, and Cactus Heart.