UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Luz Maria Palacio, Your Dream is Here
“Go to the chapel and help Sister Alba with the things—but only Sister Alba!” the priest barked, holding his jittering cup of guaro “enhanced” tinto. The priest set
“And make sure they’re alone!”
Luz Maria walked down the staircase grasping the cold railing just as she did when a child—kind-hearted and bright to the nuns that taught her but clearly doomed in the only realm that mattered: too ugly for marriage.
“Bendición, madre,” she said to Mother Maria Eugenia staring at the walls and flapping her full-blown bonnet through the foyer like the wings of a puppeteer’s pterodactyl.
“Ahh, siii mija. Muy buenos días.”
Luz Maria crossed the Colegio Catolico Mier de Mount courtyard to the middle school block ignoring the Urrea twins sitting against the 7-A wall sucking long drags of Marlboros and raising them up to seventh graders longing out windows for “un fumito”.
Ana and Angela Urrea were typical “Poblado-Princesses” of Pirinioak’-Basque descent and although every family in El Poblado drew from the same mountain-locked gene pool of rarefied, natural beauty, although at nineteen years old Luz Maria’s mother was the Miss Antioquia of 1944 and although her father’s lineage could be traced through Casa España to a Duke in Asturias; Luz Maria, had somehow, missed out. Her height was fine but her rear was too big for her body and she held her spine upright in effort to hide it giving her a reeling, Jurassic gait. It wasn’t a round bottom that you could stack books on but a wide and flat one that since eighth grade had earned her the nickname “the drive-in”—in reference to its panoramic proportions. Sometimes she would forget her mother’s advice and smile, flash the yellow gnashers from her chinless snout and trigger the flight of all caught in her stare. Luz Maria never heard the words but she sensed her family’s disappointment.
She walked in the chapel, knelt down to cross herself and whispered her routine four-word request: “Bring me a dream.”
The chapel was empty with only a sunlit cloud of dust hanging above the Christ that had always frightened the young Luz Maria when she would stare at it until it blinked or flinched one of its veiny arms. When she realized that this miracle was performed only for her, she took it as a sign that she would always be looked after.
She got up and walked down the aisle to the confessionals. Sister Alba was sitting on the organ bench staring at the sacristy door. “Ave Maria, Luzma!” she cried popping off her seat, “I hoped it would be you.” Sister Alba was a jovial nun with a hill-peasant face whose brash outbursts made her everyone‘s favorite. Just the other day Sister Alba explained to Luz Maria’s Spanish class that long ago, if a woman failed to marry her only option was to become either a nun or a prostitute. Luz Maria said nothing while her students stared.
Sister Alba adjusted her black stockings, rose to her feet and looked at Luz Maria. “What?” the teacher said looking around the room and noticed a crack of light coming from the sacristy door. She glanced at Sister Alba and lurched towards it with bent eye brows.
“Did the Mon—,” Sister Alba began. Luz Maria pushed the door open. Inside a blond man snapped big eyes at the teacher. He wore polyester priest slacks and a student pull-over with sleeves that barely stretched past his elbows. He rolled his eyes up and down her body then stopped as she smiled. Expecting him to turn away or make a face, she was shocked to find him staring back at her, studying her, taking inventory of all the wonderful things she had waiting to be claimed.
“Yes Luzma, he’s FARC,” Sister Alba announced as if he were some animal incapable of comprehending human speech.
“FARC? You mean the guerillas…how?”
“He’s the monsignor’s nephew.”
Sister Alba pulled her away from the room. The man glared at the two women and clutched the back of his head with his hands.
“What? The monsignor doesn’t have any family.” Luz Maria leaned into the room and saw the man squeezing the edge of the table with giant, raw hands. She felt a charge channel through her and whispered to the sister: “What is he doing here?”
“We don’t know. Something about Marquetalia.” Luz Maria’s eyes widened.
“Marquetalia? The massacre? You mean he was in Marquetalia?”
The man stood up, examined his clothes and then shuffled past the clerical vestments in Sister Alba’s slippers. He grabbed a bag of host off the shelf, sat down on the cot and began stuffing the body of Christ into his mouth.
“What do I do?” Luz Maria asked.
Sister Alba grabbed her by the shoulders and smiled.
The nun said nothing and walked out. Luz Maria glanced at the Christ and then popped her head in the room. “Can I get you—”
“Food!” the man shouted staring furiously at the ceiling.
Luz Maria left the chapel for the cafeteria in a state of self-importance and decided to confront the Urrea girls still cutting class.
“Ay, miss,” they said with a scowl, “we’re going.”
“Geeirls, joo need to go now.”
“What? I can’t understand you, miss.” Angela Urrea said, smiling at her friends.
“Class has estart and joo all need to go.”
“I can’t understand a word of what the Sor is saying. Can you?” Luz Maria’s face burned.
“I not a nun.”
“You could have fooled me!” the pretty girl said laughing above her friends’ giggles. They dusted off their skirts and filed into their aula. Luz Maria looked up at the sky, arched her back and plodded off to get the man his food.
The tiny chapel was stuffed with uneasy parents holding their daughters by the shoulders, all staring at an abandoned altar. It was the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria mass and the monsignor was nowhere in sight. Luz Maria went back by the confessionals and found the truncated priest exploding in the sacristy.
“How is this possible? I knew something like this would happen!” he yelled, flapping in his enormous purple chasuble, purple biretta and giant purple pontifical gloves. Luz Maria set down the gifts and entered. The guerilla was asleep on the cot, swirled up in gray sheets with one hairy leg exposed like an alien bug breaking out of its cocoon. His eyes were clenched shut and his mouth gaped open as if frozen in a scream.
“I can’t believe it! Ten minutes until the biggest mass of the year and we have no wine. Nothing—despot!” the father shrieked and then glowered at the guerilla, “Sister Alba,” he said calmly, “bring me my crosier.” The nun grabbed the staff and tilted it towards the priest but seeing as he was searching where to land his first blow, pulled it back. The father looked at the women, lifted his heavily brocaded arms and dropped them in despair. He turned away and continued ransacking the room. Then he stopped and threw down his biretta.
“Is this Your doing?” he yelled craning his leathery neck skyward, holding his arms up in a grand, celestial gesture, “I thought we made peace!”
Luz Maria looked up to see who he was talking to. “Can I help you with anything, monsignor?”
“Yes, you can find me some damned wine!”
“Monsignor, please!” cried Sister Alba.
“Well, how am I to give communion with no wine? And then the Urreas and Saldarriagas are out there—it’s an outrage!” he wailed flailing away in his purple get-up like a dejected Caped-Crusader Emeritus: called back to battle evil one last time only to be mocked upon arrival. The guerilla shuffled in his cot, yanked off his sheets and then flipped over on his side, exposing a swarthy, muscular bottom. Luz Maria felt a line of black powder scorch up through her body, stun her brain and settle down in her groin to smolder.
“Dios mío!” Sister Alba cried pulling the young teacher out of the room. The father glared at the naked man.
“Fornicator!” He put on his biretta, adjusted the fingers of his purple Batman-gloves and marched out of the sacristy with his crosier and Sister Alba. Luz Maria stood transfixed over the guerilla. She felt her body float above him and for the first time regretted never having made love before. The guerilla opened one of his eyes and grinned at her.
“Luz Maria! Come right now,” said Sister Alba, grabbing her by the arm.
Luz Maria sat down to dinner as thick, charcoaled clouds rolled over the valley. She barely ate and while the black rain hammered the roof, the maids whispered in their rooms.
“Mija, what’s the matter?” “Mami, nothing,” she said scraping her fork across the plate and stabbing a bean. The house had never seen her like this and didn’t know what to make of it. Luz Maria stopped picking at her food and trudged off to watch novelas in the sala.
“Knock, knock?” her father said folding his paper from his chair, “Come on…who’s there?”
“Ay, Papi ya!” she snapped and left the room.
She closed the gate and walked through the wet courtyard of the empty colegio. A lone light flickered in the cloister and she knew it to be the monsignor’s room although she never imagined him actually living in it. Peering through the shadows of dark formless trees, she walked carefully up the steps to the chapel as the monsignor’s Hi-Fi crackled out an old record which she recognized immediately as one of Gardel’s classics. She never thought of the monsignor being a fan of tangos, it was so normal, what all men listened to when they drank. The tango’s accordion bleated its crooked melody out over the tops of the cedar trees, wrapping and strangling off the night. As Luz Maria reached the chapel door, she saw the guerilla step away from the trunk of the giant magnolia to face her.
“Percanta que me amuraste
en lo mejor de mi vida
dejándome el alma herida
y esplín en el corazón”
He sang, staggering towards the startled teacher with his arms held out. “Amor!” he shouted, “I knew you’d come back!” Luz Maria smiled.
“It was their song,” he said through the frosty air, caressing the trunk of the ancient tree and then yelling at the priest’s window: “They shouldn’t have done it—he never should have done it!”
Luz Maria felt a sudden gush of sentimentality pour over her as he turned to her with wet eyes. “You’re all made up,” he said staring her up and down.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
The guerilla pointed up at the rainy sky and pulled her into the chapel Lit candles surrounding the altar lapped up shadows over the silent Christ watching over the deserted benches.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
The guerilla sniffed and sat down on the front pew. “I don’t know. There was nowhere else.”
“Is it true you’re our father’s nephew?”
The guerilla gave an annoyed smile. “Your father? Ha. That’s a good one.”
“It must have been horrible,” she said, sitting down next to him and dropping her head on his shoulder. She saw herself hugging his arm and then felt him touch her hand igniting that foreign tingle inside her again. “I think you were sent here, for me,” she said, breaking a dry, yellow swallow.
The guerilla looked up at Luz Maria and rubbed the side of her face with his calloused hand.
He pulled her over and she felt the cracking of teeth and sour taste of guaro in her mouth. Her head swum with his tongue and that same black powder flared through her again. He grabbed the back of her neck, painting her face and throat with nicotined saliva. Her elbows soldered themselves to her sides and she heard him giggle under his breath. The guerilla grabbed her flabby rear and yanked it into him, shoving her down on the pew. She wriggled to break free and felt her dress peel off. His mouth mashed against her breasts and his hairy abdomen crushed all the life out of her as a ripping trill of accordion’s keys blasted out from the monsignor’s room. Not like this, not here, not like this, please. She looked up at the altar where the Christ hung, staring at the ground behind the shadows. She tasted the grime of his sweat mixed with her tears as he pressed his nose against her face and snorted her in, mashing his stubble against her lips. The guerilla huffed as the piercing shrieks of the monsignor’s accordion tore through her. Stop it!—I won’t, she thought, looking up at the Christ again and braced herself, clutching the top of the pew. The guerilla got off her and stood up.
“Bunch of whores,” he mumbled.
“What?” She shielded her breasts with her forearms and glared at the wooden savior. The guerilla’s knee collapsed beneath him and he caught himself against the back of the pew and zipped up. Luz Maria felt a burst of hate explode inside her and her fists ball up into two fiery rocks. She watched the guerilla stagger through the blazing altar and dressed herself, punching her arms through the sleeves of her dress. She stared at the Christ hiding its dead eyes behind the shadows and heard the guerilla collapse in his cot.
A long plume of smoke cut lazily through the bright morning sky. The four walls of the chapel were smeared with soot and their tops charred off. The altar was hacked up with crude and jagged whacks. The throne was knocked over on its side and all of the chapel’s belongings were smashed and scattered to the ground. The pews were cracked and warped from the heat and the sacristy was nothing but a blackened corner. The Christ was gone. The monsignor, still in his purple and white super-hero get-up, splashed his way through the oily puddles yanking up and examining the objects like a county assessor calculating their worth. Luz Maria touched Sister Alba’s shoulder but the nun refused to look at her and tore herself away. Luz Maria walked to the steps where the priest stood thoughtfully studying the havoc.
“Right to the ground...right down to the bottom, the whole damned thing. Now, why did he have to go and do that? Why?” The monsignor shook his head gazing through the steaming rubble. From the altar where the Christ once hung, a rainbow wavered like a torn ribbon in the mist of the firemen’s work. Luz Maria stared at the barren area feeling a breeze swirl through her. She started to speak but stopped, turned her back on the charnel scraps and walked away.Blackie Lugo is an exiled, recovering misogynist hiding in Medellin, Colombia. His banishment is believed to be the result of cholesterol drugs, Hulk Hogan's divorce and witnessing a weeping Ken Burns running nude through a cemetery. His recent works have appeared in ¿Qué Hubo?, El Vocero, Obras Negras and Reed Magazine.
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