Mamá’s really wanting me out of the house, but I’m not going, not yet; I’m raiding the place for things I’ll need. I can’t find the scissors. I’m looking in every drawer in the kitchen. I’m looking in the box of Mamá’s sewing stuff. They’re not under the couch or under the cushion where Papá’s sitting—his nose in the newspaper—or anywhere. “Stop hopping around!” she yells at me, her black eyes fierce. She’s short, but she can be mean, so you don’t want to mess with her. “It’s too hot for that and I’m too tired, and this house is too small—especially with your fat Papá home. Vete! Shoo! Out!”
What she really wants is to watch the telenovela, La Fea Más Bella, a new one that’s come out, about an ugly girl who is really beautiful beneath her ugliness somehow, but I’m not sure how. I can’t even be in the room when it’s on—not just because Mamá makes me leave, but because if anyone knew I was watching it (and my brothers would be the first to tell everyone), I would be the joke of the entire Eighth Grade, and maybe even the whole barrio. They already call me La Fea—and that’s got nothing to do with the novela. It’s got to do with my terrible, crooked teeth and the zits I have all over my dark skin. I look like a burnt chile.
“Lupita, what are you doing with that knife!” Mamá calls behind me, but I’m out the door, through the gate, and to the street. And the theme music for La Fea Más Bella is ringing out, so I know she’s not coming after me.
My twin brothers are already out on the street. They’re only ten, and I’m older, but they still try to tell me what to do like they’re the rulers of the house. Especially Beto, who’s got no right to talk because he’s got worse teeth than mine, who sits at the table in the mornings like a pompous king and says to me, “Fea, get me more eggs. Fea, take away my plate. Fea, there’s dirt in my juice. And do something about that face, would you?” I guess if I had to pick which brother to keep I’d pick Alfonso, though I’d rather do away with him, too. Because he’s almost as bad, never saying anything, but laughing along with Beto, making faces behind my back.
Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side.
It’s a regular night in Cuatro de Marzo—our same old dusty barrio in the middle of the desert, a good hour’s walk from town. Same old street, dead-ending into the hill with the white cross on top. All the small, unfinished cinderblock houses with re-bar sticking out of them. Everyone’s out. Up and down our road, kids are playing hide-and-seek, kicking things, climbing trees or hanging out in front of the super-mini. There are older boys heading down to the hot dog cart, even though they probably just ate, so they can be graced by Inés, definitely la más bella of the barrio, the saint of the cart. She’s got smooth skin the color of café con leche and long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She’s on the corner every night, except Sunday nights. She glows beneath the streetlight, she really does.
My brothers are still telling all the kids what to do, and making our sister, Quile, who is only seven, carry big rocks from the ditches and neighbors’ yards and who-knows-where in order to make the goal posts. They’ll work on this soccer field forever, as they do almost every single night, carving the boundry lines with the heels of their shoes, or with sticks, setting out the goal boxes, the center line. But all the lines they draw are wiped out in less than five minutes of game time.
I sit on the sidewalk, the cement now covered with dirt even though I scrub it with a broom and soapy water every morning. That’s how it is. I don’t know why we bother at all, but Mamá says we don’t want people to think we’re pigs. We’re always fighting the dust and sand; it blows in through the windows, covers everything in our house the moment we finish with the cleaning. Then we have to clean again. I have to shake it out of my clothes. It gets in our food and in our beds. I swear sometimes I feel like I’m made of dirt.
Quile drops a rock on the pile then comes to where I’m sitting. She’s still in her school uniform, shorts under her skirt. Her ponytails are loosening, the rubber bands slipping. “Are you playing?” she asks me. She’s got the same black eyes Mamá has, but she got lucky with Papá’s pale guero skin.
“No,” I say, “they always cheat.”
“But I’ll be the only girl,” she whines.
“And you’ll win,” I say. “But they’ll say you didn’t.”
“I don’t care. I want you to play. It’s more fun when you play.”
“Go,” I say. “I don’t care about soccer.” I give her a little shove back out to the street because what I really want is to be left alone. She goes back to hauling rocks. Quile is pretty good at soccer; she’s good at getting the ball through all those pairs of big feet and good at angling it in through the goals—though my brothers always say it’s too high, or it’s off-sides, like they really know.
As the game begins, I lay out my things on the sidewalk: plastic bags, rubber bands, sticks from the ciruela tree, Quile’s hair ribbons, kitchen knife. A spool of Mamá’s thread. Scissors would be best, but I’ve seen kids do without them. They use their hands and teeth, their fingernails—and the tougher ones whip out little pocket knives, cut away the edges of the plastic bag so it’s a perfect diamond.
This is what you do: Make the sticks into a cross, then tie the plastic bag to all the points. You have to cut off the extra plastic. It has to be a perfect fit. It has to be loose enough to catch wind, but it can’t be too loose or it will billow out. You don’t want a parachute, you want a kite that can rise into the night sky, rise over the little houses, over the barrio, high above the whole town. You want it to go as high as it can go. I want mine to go up at least to where the UFOs are. For this you need lots of string, meters and meters of it. I’ll need that much just to get past all this dust. The game’s kicking up huge clouds of it, and I can’t see much of anything, much less the sky.
I believe in UFOs. I’ve seen one before. I’ve seen the red lights, three of them in a little row, blinking at each other like they were talking. No, not an airplane—I’m not stupid. I know how airplanes move—and this was no airplane. I don’t care what anyone says, I saw the strange, red lights spiraling down behind the hill with the cross. I even ran after it, ran through the desert shrubs, through the prickles and the cactus. I huffed up the hill, trying to imagine what might be on the other side—imagining everything about them metallic and smooth and clean. Their world with lots of clear things, glass and water, all silvery. But at the top, looking down into the next valley, there was nothing at all—only rough shadows and darkness.
There’s a big fight on the soccer field. Beto’s tackled a neighbor boy, and they’re rolling around in the street trying to punch each other. “That was a goal!” someone is yelling, and Quile takes the opportunity to kick the ball through the piles of rocks, but nobody notices that she’s scored a point. Now the brawl is about the whole world—Francisco Palencia is a maricón, shut your fucking mouth, he’s the best player ever, you’re the fag, to hell with Clúb América, traitors, bastards, to hell with you, you stole my girlfriend, and on and on until my brother yells, “Your mamá’s a whore!” and everyone knows that’s it. That’s the final straw, and bloody noses, black eyes and split lips are really going to happen now. There are huge billows of dust, fists and scuffling. There’s a circle of kids yelling and cheering.
There is so much noise that Inés looks up from her saintly place at the hot dog cart and stares in our direction. The dust doesn’t reach her. It’s like she’s in some sort of bubble—she’s always like that. It’s beginning to piss me off. Nothing ever affects Santa Inés, her face smooth and serene, like a porcelain figurine, like the ones we see when we go to mass. I want to hate her, and part of me really does hate her. Stupid Inés in her niche. I want to take this knife and smash her, use the blade to chip off that painted face, reveal the clay beneath it. I bet her face would look like mine. But at the same time, I want to get down on my knees and pray to her, that maybe she could give me some of what she’s got.
Now my hands are busy with the white plastic and I’m trying to pull it tight over the sticks without ripping it. Quile is beside me, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, her head down, sad because the fight’s interrupted the game. A cockroach goes skittering across the cement towards me, and she picks up the knife so quickly I don’t even have time to scold her, and in a single, quick stroke, she chops the bug in half. Then she flicks both halves to the street.
“What are you doing?” she asks me.
“What does it look like?” I lay what I have so far on the cement. I take the kitchen knife from her and cut away a little more plastic. I think I’ve almost got it right.
The fight’s ended, Beto with a bloody nose that he sops up with his t-shirt. The other boy’s about the same, sitting on the other side of the street with his face pressed into his shirt. Now they’re going back to carving out the field again, scraping out the lines. Quile’s happy about this; she runs back out to help. I’m securing the points with extra rubber bands, thinking about a place without dust, a place that is like Inés, a place without brothers.
My kite is a nice, white diamond. I cut Quile’s ribbons, then tie them into a long tail. I want to live by myself some place up on a high mountain, higher than the Sierra Madre—or if I could, in the sky, like the creatures in the UFOs do. If I were still a kid, a kid like Quile, I might believe that if I held on tight enough, the kite could take me with it, pull me up into the sky. Now I know it’s impossible, and even if it could, it would really hurt; it would kill my hands.
Chelsea Bolan grew up in Washington state and completed her MFA from the University of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review Online, CutBank, Fourteen Hills, The Portland Review and other magazines. She is a 2010 Milkwood International AIR fellow (Czech Republic) and a 2011 Grants for Artist Projects recipient, awarded by Artist Trust. Her work is also currently part of an exhibit about Hanford and nuclear issues.