TO celebrate National Short Story Month, VAO Publishing is posting some of the fiction pieces published in last year’s Along the River.
Today we present Evangelina Ayon’s “The Pulga,” which won the third-place prize for prose.
Yawning, I fought the urge to drop my head the entire drive. The only thing keeping me awake was the thrill of a new experience. Glancing at my mother’s face in the rear view mirror, I knew she didn’t share my excitement. Her face was hard, and those black eyes stayed stony the entire drive, except for those rare occasions when the stones melted into glistening pools of water that ran down her face then disappeared forever. The sun had not yet risen, yet my stomach was wide awake and burning with hunger. But I would’ve starved before complaining to that face in the rear view mirror.
Finally the car came to a stop with dust whirling all around it from the loose gravel and dirt that covered the entire lot. We were early enough to get a good spot, so we chose a corner booth near the entrance next to the fruit vendor. Then in silence we began to unload the trunk. I found a box small enough to wrap my arms around and made my way back to the booth. Setting the box down on our table, I pushed back the flaps. My breath caught in my lungs as I peered into the box and saw Baby Horse inside. I don’t know how long I’ve had Baby Horse, but there are pictures of him in my crib. I picked him up and was headed back to the car, hoping to sneak him onto the backseat where he’d be safe from capitalism, but instead turned around just in time to watch my mother speed off towards the main road. “Stop messing with those toys and finish unpacking! Customers will be here soon!” my sister shouted at me.
When I finished pulling the last of the heavy boxes to our booth, since my pregnant sister Alicia insisted it was “bad for the baby,” (her new favorite phrase, which meant she didn’t ever have to do anything), I began arranging them on the table.
“Just make a big heap; people can dig around if they really want something,” she complained from the lawn chair where she had sprawled out to rest. I ignored her and continued with my work, putting the largest peluches in the back row, the smallest ones up front, primping the doll’s hair, and straightening my bunny’s ears. When I was done, it looked like a class picture. I felt proud: after all, heaps were for garbage.
As the sun rose so did the heat.
“Here’s some money; grab a few cokes. And don’t be shy: ask for the change, okay?” My sister shoved a five-dollar bill in my pocket. I ignored her remark, grateful just to get away for a few minutes. Making my way towards the lonchería, I felt someone staring at me. A blonde girl sitting in a pickup truck filled with bubblegum waved, and I walked towards the truck.
“Hi, I’m Cassie. What’s your name?” she asked me.
“Eva.” I looked past her at the mountain of gum.
“What are you doing here?” she probed.
“Came to sell my toys,” I answered, feeling my chin raise slightly as said it.
“That’s crazy. Why would anyone do that?” As if selling gumballs out of a pickup truck wasn’t weird at all.
“’Cause my sister’s gonna have a baby, and diapers are expensive,” I realized with chagrin how much I sounded like my mother. “How much for a gum?” I suddenly didn’t want to be there anymore.
I dug into my pocket for some change, took the gum, and hurried off to find the loncheria.
“What took you so long?” Alicia demanded as I handed her a coke.
“I stopped to buy some gum: look…” I opened my mouth wide to show off my dark purple tongue.
“Disgusting,” she muttered and went back to her magazine.
“PELUCHES UN DÓLAR!” I yelled every time someone with a kid walked by. The baby dolls sold quickly, but I kept a nervous eye on Baby Horse. A small boy about four years old approached the table. It looked like he maybe had a cold because his face was sticky with snot all over; I wrinkled my own nose in disgust. He picked up a few peluches then tossed them carelessly back on the table before walking away. I jumped off the chair and immediately began to rearrange them, watching my sister, who was beginning to doze off in a shady corner. I looked back at Baby Horse sitting in the back row: he was frightened. I looked back at my sister: the Tweetie Bird on her shirt was stretched and deformed over her growing belly.
“I hate you,” I whispered to Tweetie. I grabbed a peluche and shoved it under my t-shirt to see what I would look like and then quickly put it back as a large group of customers were heading towards us.
Among the crowd was a young girl about fifteen with a perfectly rounded belly just like my sister’s. My heart froze as she looked at the toys, hand over belly. I knew what she would pick for her baby. I couldn’t let this happen!
“Slut!” I blurted out. The look of pain on her face matched her reaction as she dropped Baby Horse like a fireball. She ran off with her hands still wrapped around her, tears streaming. My eyes followed her as she exited the pulga where my mother’s car was making its way back in.
“Time to go,” I said, shaking Alicia till she opened her eyes.
“Did we have a good day?” she asked looking over at the nearly empty table.
“We had a great day.”