Eartheater by Dolores Reyes

The dead don’t hang near the living. Get it through your head.”

“I don’t care. Mamá stays here. In my house. In the earth.”

“Drop it already. Everybody’s waiting.”

When they don’t listen, I scarf earth.

I used to do it for me, for the fuss, because it annoyed and embarrassed them. The earth was dirty, they said, my belly would bloat like a toad.

“Get up already. Scrub up a little.”

Then, I started eating earth for others who wanted to speak. Others, already gone.

“What do you think graveyards are for? For burying people, that’s what. Now get dressed.”

“I don’t care about people. Mamá is mine. Mamá stays here.”

“You look like a wild thing. You haven’t even brushed your hair.”

I gaze at the room, at the wooden walls Mamá had wanted to line with bricks on the inside. The sheet metal roof, real tall and gray. The floor, my bed, and the part of the room where she lay down to sleep whenever the old man got nasty.

It’ll be empty over there, I think, then bury my head in a pillow. Mamá used to brush me, Mamá used to cut my hair.

“You want to be dragged kicking and screaming? Don’t be a brat. You ought to be ashamed, making a stink on a day like this.”

I spring up. My hair covers nearly my whole tank top, a curtain that brushes my panties. I crouch. I look around for my sneakers and for yesterday’s pants, probably on the floor somewhere. And I keep my tears to myself, so all that’s left is a fury that seizes me like a spasm.

To get to the bathroom I have to leave my room and pass people swarming my house like flies. Mouthy neighbors who smoke and chatter.

Walter must’ve gone on strike. Nobody forces his hand.

No more Mamá and me.

I pull on a pair of pants, tuck in my top. I do up the button then the zipper, my eyes fixed on Tía. Maybe she’ll lay off me a while.

I get up. I leave the room and walk behind those hands carting a shrouded body, ’cause I’ve had enough. ’Cause I want them to leave already.

Walter doesn’t want to come.

To watch her fall quietly into a gaping pit in the graveyard, in the back, where they bury the poor. With no tombstones, or plaques. A parched mouth that devours her near the reedbed. The earth, open like a wound. And there I am, trying to stop her, with the strength of my arms, with this body that can’t even cover the span of that hole. Mamá falls anyhow.

My strength, slight, makes no difference.

The earth swaddles her like the old man’s blows and I’m glued to the ground, as ever near this body being taken from me like it’s a burglary.

Meanwhile, voices pray.

For what? In the end, only the earth’s stirred up.

No more Mamá and me, not anymore.

In she goes. They cover her. I gawk, ear to earth. I can still breathe. I didn’t think I’d manage, I thought my ribs would’ve caved in and scraped at my lungs.

The sound of this place lives on in my nightmares, a waste of pestilence and pain.

Even the sun baffles me, bleeding onto my hot skin. My eyes sting like somebody threw acid on me, and blink back tears.

Pain: the yellow of garbage, of fever; or gray, sheet-metal-gray, sickness-gray. Only pain seems never to die.

They’re going to leave you here, Mamá, all of them, even though I don’t want them to. Even though my hands won’t let them, you’re going to stay.

There isn’t much I can do to stop the earth from being the enemy, except eat it. This strange earth I’ve taken from a graveyard neither of us ever stepped foot in.

She’ll stay here and I’ll carry some of this earth inside me. So that, in the dark, I can know my dreams.

I shut my eyes to lay hands on the fresh earth covering you, Mamá, and night falls. I make fists, scoop, bring it to my mouth. The earth devouring you is dark and tastes like tree bark. It pleases me and reveals things and makes me see.

Is it dawning? No. It’s the sun scorching my eyes and skin. I think the earth is poisoning me.

They say:

“Up, Eartheater, get up already. Let go of her. Let her go.”

But I keep my eyes closed. I fight the repulsion to eat more earth. I can’t, I won’t leave without seeing, without knowing.

Someone says:

“Too broke for a box?”

And forces me to open my eyes.

Mamá, you’re falling into a hole wrapped in a shroud that’s more or less a rag. Who’ll talk to me now? I’m nothing without you, and I don’t want to be. Will the earth talk? It already has: