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Story

Breathing Her Fill

By: Ethel Krauze
 Illustrated by: Henry González  
 Selection and Compilation: Carolina Fonseca

 

She breathed her fill of her own self. She went back to being the six-year-old escaping dragons among the thicket of hedges in the school courtyard. She went back to enjoying her solitary ramblings during recess and hiding from other people while formulating stories in a whisper, so as to not be betrayed by her own enthusiasm.

The eggshells were signs, left by the dragon as it rushed away. Or could they be the secret script of destiny? Of course, she knew that hard-boiled eggs were served for lunch at her elementary school, but until the bell rang, the shell fragments could reveal the presence of a dragon’s nest nearby. Back in the classroom, she returned to the times tables with a clear mind.

She did sometimes get lost at 8 x 4 and find herself once again running under the withered branches of winter, chomping a slice of toast whose coat of jam smothered her mouth in sweetness as she searched for the baby dragon’s lair.

She breathed her fill of that feeling of being herself, having a place in the universe, a place she solidified with every new thought, with every beat of her impassioned heart.

Ensconced in the universe of her bed at night —the bed being the only thing that was really hers in the room she shared with her younger sister— she could close her eyes in the darkness to gaze upon the confines of galaxies whirling under her eyelids. Polar stars drifted on mounds of snow and unknown species spread their wings to dance upon gleaming reefs. She could also open her eyes and search for a sliver of light among the heavy curtains across the balcony, finding only the misty moon that winked above the buildings and threw long shadows on the carpet. At times, she shivered. She preferred to close her eyes and become the queen of her own nighttime.

She remembered the soap gliding like a playful fish across her skin in the midst of a storm. The shower was bonkers, going from cold to hot and back to cold again. You had to open the taps all the way, flood the tub. Once again, she breathed her fill of her irrepressible peals of laughter among the tickles of foam and the scoldings aimed at the fish that refused to stay still in her hands. She, herself, throbbed with a deep and passionate life on the nerve fiber God had used to create her.

Yet again, she breathed her fill of her own self until tiny pulses of sweat beaded her nose. Macarena narrowed her eyes to better feel her life spiraling back into her veins.

She liked to wear flower girl dresses. Any special date was an excuse to bring out the tulle crinoline, the velvet bolero jacket that laced up in front, and the satiny headpiece, all finished off with flipped up hair. To her, those stiff curls could only be wings that wafted her to the altar. She led the procession, tossing lace daisies from a little basket, as everyone watched her with moist eyes and smiled. Being her, existing in her skin, slipping into the yellow perfumed stream of tuberose —a stream that slowly twists into a whirlwind— and becoming the very tissue of the cells. Life, life itself.

Macarena put on her bridesmaid dress at Christmas, on the day of the soccer championship, and on the day when Manchas got a distemper shot.

She can still feel the brush of the raspy tulle in the memory of her fingertips.

And now, now that she is breathing her fill of her own self, she once again feels her bruised heart and a melancholy jabbing her throat. Why does it seem that it is she herself who inflames her mind, quickens her heartbeat, and waters the corners of her eyes?

She used to ask for her chocolate milk in a pink glass with a built-in straw. She was just that way. She was someone with glossy black bangs and a head that tilted, as if it looked at everything diagonally, sideways, with distrust disguised as excessive demureness or slowness. She was someone who savored chocolate milk with a straw and was sure that she hated liver and onions, the prickliness of wool socks, and barrettes in her hair.

Macarena had to take several very deep breaths to keep from blacking out. Recovering those feelings stripped her soul bare of anything extraneous; her memory opened a vista of the fertile mud of soil after rain, ready for the sprouts of long dormant vegetation. Soon the vines would grow into swings and Macarena would fly through the foliage and the lights and shadows of a world that had not died.

Death came like night. But night was also a beginning. Everything took on a different cast. The dresser mirror became an enormous eye to avoid the risk of falling into an infinite whirlpool or the bottom of a glass bottle lost in an icy sea. The curtains, covered in red, dusty, heavy flowers, whispered inscrutable secrets. They did not want to be understood, only to induce fear. Macarena’s breast was a stone about to crack. She held herself so stiffly, restraining the imminent collapse of the universe that she woke up exhausted, and she firmly refused to put on the round-collared shirt, navy blue skirt, and red sweater of her elementary school uniform. She emphatically refused to move so much as a finger under the covers, even though her father slammed door after door and barked insults while her mother made oatmeal in the kitchen.

How Macarena enjoyed heading for the school bus stop huffing with rage, eyes blazing because she had been forcibly hauled out of that web she had woven during the night with the tenacity of a shipwreck survivor, the web in which she finally dropped into a calm, warm sleep.

She kicked her backpack in protest. And she felt better. She sought her seat on the bus, spending the journey looking out the window at the world that was forbidden to her seven-year-old self. But this awareness, far from discouraging her, only energized her. Macarena once again took up the task of building a stronger shell to contain her own self.

She didn’t want to play on the volleyball team and she didn’t understand why Sara Méndez should be the captain; she found amusement in decorating spare ink cartridges for pens, turning them into rattlesnakes with strands of colored rubber.

She chewed a ham sandwich as she sat on the edge of a planter. She watched the girls play hopscotch and the boys fight in the middle of the courtyard. It was not a great day. The prospect of History class clouded the horizon. But existing in her skin was not so bad. Macarena knew that a willful person lived there. Still excited by the images of the dragon among the hedges, she finished the last of her bottled soft drink before running to the room on the second floor.

How many years would need to pass before she would reach the fifty-two years levied by her birth certificate? Macarena sighed, watching the days of a calendar wiped clean of herself. She prepared to recover the memory, to once again breathe her fill of her own existence. Too much had been stolen from her. She had given away another portion. The work would be arduous, but fascinating.

She pulled back her hair, cleaned up her scratches, and prepared to face the dragon during the next recess.