El Barrio de las Flores no longer has the effect of pressing hyphenated hearts onto rib cages. Solgone and Estella do not hug each other as they were accustomed to upon viewing the white cemetery to their left, their cue that they were home. The dead are stacked on top of one another, three to four stories high. Both are aware that Luna’s body is somewhere there. Solgone looks at her watch, la comida de las doces had ended. The children play on the curbside with things too small to see from behind tinted windows. The adults sit on rocking chairs in gated marquesinas sipping cafe. The houses of childhood friends seem spiritless even though they are all there in flesh and blood with their newborns and spouses. Although the perico ripiao is loud enough for them to hear behind the rolled windows, there is no rhythm, no heat. Solgone once thought this Barrio was made in the image of Paradise, and she takes a deep breath, bracing herself for the mourning process that has just begun. There was no way to avoid it—nothing was the same anymore.
Estella waits, stalls for that feeling of anxiousness to return—the feeling that takes hold of a heart once the feet have pressed down on the soil of home. As much as she wishes, it will not return. Their Dominican Republic is now distinct without the person who made the country easier to swallow, easier to come into.
Stop the car, Solgone tells the driver. From the corner of her eyes, she can see Estella gripping her left hand in her right.
Pa que? Ya estamos aqui, he responds. No one answers and he continues straight into the driveway of the Guerrero family.
Although everything was in its rightful place, Solgone and Estella find the backyard smaller than it was three years ago. With its new width it is easy to spot La Doña Girasol bent over with Roseline picking cilantrico. The cousins cross the chicken coop, the stable, the mango trees, the lemon trees, and the forever falling cerezas. Reaching the starfruit tree, they see the lines on their grandmother’s hands as she stuffs the broken plant into the pockets of her apron. Roseline silently hugs them as soon as their close enough. She holds their faces with her moisturized palms. Solgone has always loved to feel the woman’s hands on her cheeks—their temperature always bring her back to Earth. When la Doña Girasol tuns and she sees her granddaughters her mouth drops. Solgone rushes to her and la Doña Girasol wraps her in trembling arms.
Mi Solcito, mi’ja, where have you been? she holds her for long seconds. She prays under her breath and into Solgone’s mane. Three years became as light as the suspiro la Doña used to make for the girls from egg whites and sugar. Estella watches for Solgone tears to appear on Doña Girasol bata but dryness prevails.
Estella, why didn’t you tell me you were coming? la Doña asks. She opens her free arm for Estella to walk into.
It was a surprise, Mama. How’s your knee?
Doña Girasol sucks her teeth. She has her girls now, her knees could give up now and her world would be upheld. They walk past the trees that moved at the sight of the reunion of everything that had once come undone.
La Doña Girasol talks about her glory days. She mentions her legs and their shimmer. She reminisces on when she didn’t have dark lumps rolling up her thighs or sun spots on her cheeks. She tells Solgone the stories she’s heard dozens of times before, and she listens. The one that she repeats repeats most, as if to not have her kin forget, is that she was married off before her time because Petan wanted to seek magic between her legs. The story eases grandmother and granddaughter to talk about the man who saved la Doña Girasol from a gruesome reality, Papa. La Doña says she misses him, but she finally knows who she is by herself now that he’s gone. It’s her first time without a man in sixty three years. Liberation rests under her eyes.
Sol, let me call Eva. Let me tell you’re here, Doña Girasol says. Rosalie has taken the first night off in four years, and Solgone is tucking her into bed.
No, mama. Not yet, Solgone answers. She kisses her forehead.
Mi’ja, she grabs Solgone’s face. Don’t disappear on me. Please say goodbye if you
feel you have to go.
Si, mama, she says. ‘Cion Mama. She turns off the lights. Que Dios te bendiga, Doña Girasol answers from the dark.
Solgone climbs the column that separates the family’s driveway from the street. She sits at the top, her legs swinging off the wall. The crickets make a song, the fireflies dance by the trees. A horse gallops down the street with a campesino on its back. He tips his hat off to her, and she waves. Even though tonight she won’t be playing musa or sneaking off into the back of a mango tree with a boy, or sitting with a presidente and a clamato at the colmado, her shoulders fall into a place where they feel comfortable. Pasolas zoom by. The crescent moon is alone tonight—rain will come.
Walking on mush, pavement, and concrete have never been Estella’s thing, but she follows Solgone anyway. They walk past the tin roofed houses, past the Coca-Cola sponsored colmado, past the gate and the wandering cattle, into the fínca, as if her chicken legs maintain their shape from jogging. Lazy skinny. Her body has never mattered because it is only her intellect people expected her to exercise. Solgone is jealous.
Jealous that her own limbs were formed by forced work. In this life, the last, and even the next, I am supposed to do the work because I was cursed and blessed with this solid body.
Can we talk about her now? Estella asks as if she was asking Solgone about last night’s dinner. Three years apart, and she had managed to water down what she knew about Solgone.
Pa’ que? The words are rusty as Solgone says them. She swallows attempting to lubricate her vocal chords; in the last five days, she had only opened her lips to meet the emerald mouths of Presidentes. Estella continued trekking behind her.
Being on her own had become a necessity for her. Since they arrived in Bonao, solitude seemed like a luxury. After la comida de las doces, she left their family home, yearning isolation. In the last week, she had not been able to process a breath before the next person announced themselves walking swiftly up the driveway. Mamá Girasol’s church friends and extended family members had been coming in through the front door like an army of ants for the last three days. They refused to leave until they asked Solgone a string of questions; how is your mother? Your stepfather? What has changed about Nueva York since the trains? Why didn’t you come to visit Mamá Girasol two years ago when the whole family came? Do you miss your older sister? She shrugged, shook her head, and gave an mmmhmmm when the answer was yes, and when Mamá Girasol shot a look at Solgone, she smiled as best as she could.
They never mentioned her name though. Mamá Girasol didn’t speak her name either. As if pronouncing the vowels would force her into swallowing her own tongue. Instead, she talked about those who had passed, about the people they had left behind, about the family split due to the separation of crumbs, until there was nothing else to say. She moved on to comment on the people on the outer perimeter of their lives. Every evening before the moon released the sun, Mamá Girasol excused herself and her mahogany rosary into her bedroom. At that time of day only God could hold her secrets up to the flame, she claimed. Solgone wanted to ask her if she ever prayed for Luna. If she felt Luna’s soul deserved redemption, or if she figured she’d been assigned to hell. But even her own tongue wouldn’t curl to pronounce her name.
Estella fills the last pocket in her lungs, and as she exhales, her breath drapes over Solgone’s left shoulder like a heavy cloak. Estella calculates her breath with patience—as if I really gave a shit. Growing alongside Solgone had forced Estella to learn how to keep both of their needs in mind. Since they were kids Estella would bury her nose in Solgone’s hair and apologize even when it was not her own fault. Solgone hardly stopped to consider Estella, unless there was someone other than herself coming for her. Bouncing back from selfishness isn’t easy. S olgone wasn’t always that way. When she was a kid, she was considerate of everyone except herself. She thought about her babysitter’s son and his comfort while he took up space in something he considered his home. She thought of Estella and the wall their family had built around her to protect her petiteness, her ongoing anemia, her innocence. Even though they were the same age, born on the very same day, she was bigger and to adults less needing of protection. Instead of her father taking her to the library to exchange books like we were scheduled to on his days off, she thought of the many possible reasons he took her on his runs and exposed her to a world she was too young to see. Consideration of others led to self-loathing that suffocated her. Becoming the center of her own universe was how she managed to survive.
She inhales again, and Solgone imagines Estella’s thin nose coming together and forming a single nostril. She exhales for twice as long as she had inhaled. 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Solgone can feel Estella controlling her rage––she wants to yell at her for disappearing as soon as Luna died, for refusing to be of help to anyone, for not talking about it with a soul, for leaving the family for three years. And still, Solgone expects her to bite her tongue, to say no more. Yet the words form in Estella’s throat and stretch out like sprouting vines from her lungs. I’ve always loved you more than you love me, she inhales deeply again.
Solgone picks up my pace, the end of her flip flops spitting damp soil at the back of her knees.
You know something I realized while you were gone? Estella asks holding an answer in her gut. Today, I love women deeply because I learned how to love that way with you.
Solgone continues to walk onto the fínca convincing herself that something waits for her there—anything but this conversation. She wants to be alone, but Estella has attached herself to her like a newborn. Solgone recoils. The memory was one she hated to remember and one her mind refused to forget.
Remember the time Luna caught us here? The question grows out of Estella’s mouth prickly, cactus-like.
On their grandfather’s land, they discovered one another’s bodies in between the hanging of thick leaves of plátano trees and shrubs of cacao. Between the plants, they thought they were invisible. She had first learned from their babysitter’s son and then studied it from an Anime porn she confused for cartoons in her father’s stash.
On The Day they realized they were running towards an ocean of alien pleasure, the land beneath Solgone’s hands was moist from the thick rain that had fallen two days prior. Earlier that day, Mamá Girasol had watched the gray of the sky outside the door, and said, May hurricane season not be premature, so that you girls can get back home. Home was Nueva York where magic didn’t exist at all. Solgone secretly prayed for the hurricane to come.
On The Day, they were surrounded and covered by green. They did what they were already comfortable doing. They lowered their shirts, exposing the painful lumps that had started to grow over their chest bones. Luna told them they were made by the moon to protect their hearts as they grew older and more vulnerable. They believed her. They worshipped these growing things. They kissed them and sucked them as the fire grew between their legs. But on this day they graduated. They laid on each other—Solgone on top of Estella. The ball of fire grew, it grew as they moved.
And Solgone wondered if that’s what happened to boys and men, the thing she felt at that moment, if that was what kept them from stopping when she said no.
Why do you have to do this right now? She turns to face Estella. Her face the same it has always been; fina, blanca, free from sin. There was not an ounce of change in her eyes or in the tone of her cheeks, but she was saying all the things she never said. Just shut the fuck up and go home if you can’t walk in silence, Solgone says hardly raising her voice. Her chest rises, and for that moment she feels taller than just five foot three inches.
Estella looks at her from where she stands. Do you think I’m queer because of you? She paces towards Solgone. Do you really believe that? The sun’s rays slice Estella’s face, and Solgone can only see one of her bright café colored iris turn towards the soil beneath them.
No. Solgone interlaces her fingers imagining them as perfect bows instead of weapons. The air sits like dead weight under her nose.
So why can’t you talk about it then? We grown, Solgone. Estella folds her knees and sits on the ground, sucking her teeth, and shaking her head. Solgone paces around the space where she has fallen.
Because, she does not want to say it, but it’s the only words that describe why she feels so disgusted. Incest. It’s disgusting that it happened. We were little ass girls, Solgone says and her skin feels like it is covered in fleas.
Yet we already had needs and desires, Estella whispers.
OK, but it shouldn’t have been towards one another. Again, what we did has a name—incest and probably fucking rape, man! Solgone yells. Estella laughs, her face towards the sky. And Solgone envies her for having no shame, for carrying no weight.
Luna found them on The Day, fixed their shirts, and patted the dirt off their backs. Did you like how it felt? she had asked. And when Estella said yes, she answered, You can do this with other people, when you want to, once you’re older. They didn’t get in trouble, and no one else found out.
What are you laughing at? Solgone asks.
You’re torturing yourself for nothing, Estella says.
Nothing, she scoffs. She had heard Luna’s words, but she had also seen her face fall.
We sucked each other’s tits and dry humped, Solgone. There was zero penetration—we never even touched each other’s pussies. Get over yourself, mujer.
Don’t mention it! ¡Coño! Solgone covers her eyes with the palms of her hands. ¡Que asquerosidad, Dios!
Why the fuck not? It happened. Aren’t you a truth teller? Is that not what you do? Speak your truth then. You can either learn to accept it for the natural aspect of it or continue to brood in self hate.
You’re downplaying it.
Ok, so tell me your perspective—your side or what not.
Solgone sits on the ground. Fruit flies and mosquitoes fly past her towards a piece of mango skin.
It wasn’t just this innocent thing. We knew what we were doing was wrong. And before The Day, I led you to that bathroom every time. You followed me, and I hate me for being a fucking pervert, and I hate you for following me. Why the fuck couldn’t we figure it out some other way?
Estella looks deeply into her eyes. We could’ve been raped or we could’ve been touched by strangers, but at least we were safe. A toad croaks in the distance. She wants to tell her about their babysitter’s son. About their older, distant cousins and the way, they adultified her body for their pleasure, but it’s been so many years and those parts of her, who have lived with those stories, are tired.
I used to ask you to nibble my nipples and you were scared of hurting me, but you did it to please me. That’s love. During that time we were learning and we believed that was the only real way of showing love towards one another. We were re-enacting characters in novelas and the shadows of our parents in the dark, she says.
According to Mamá Girasol, all of their grandfather’s kin inherited the heat from him. Back in the day, despite how deep she was in religion, it was her favorite thing to yell at Marisol and María when she couldn’t win. It came out her wide mouth like a testimony. Like it was one of the things she believed in and preached in the callejones. You all are the same. Igualitas a su papá. Todos cueros. All pure hoes. María, Solgone’s mother, had decided to be brave one day, Let’s be honest, she crossed her arms on the table, Word on the street is we just like you. Mamá Girasol didn’t take her next breath without delivering a five-fingered imprint on her left cheek. Pa que me respeten, she said as she walked out.
I had my first orgasm with you, Solgone says. And once it is out there she does not know what to do or how to take it back. The single orgasm has replayed in her mind for two and a half decades.
The first time I came.
The first time I remember cumming. The first cum I ever made.
The first time it happened.
I was 6 or 7.
I don’t know exactly, all I remember is the feeling but not my age.
It was an explosion between my growing hips.
We had our first orgasm together, Estella ruptured the silence
Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?
No, because at that moment we wanted it. And again, that’s how we loved back then.
How do I love you now? Solgone asks. Curious because she doesn’t know if love is something she does anymore. Estella shakes her head in disbelief. You must know that I feel your love. It’s not the same way it must feel to be loved by me, but it is still love, Sol.
You called me. You’re here today. After three years of not communicating with anyone, you chose me and we are here together. That is how our love works right now.
Thank you, Solgone whispers, I—I do love you, Estella, she cries. The phrase hasn’t been formed by her tongue in years, and she is exhausted after she says it. Estella gets on all fours and moves towards her cousin. Once at her side, she holds all of Solgone’s weight in her arms.
It feels like everything, yo, like everything, Solgone’s voice cracks, that has happened as we’ve grown—the fuck-ups, the boundaries, have been because of that one thing, she blubbers into her chest. None of that is on you, Estella says. None of it. All that other shit is bigger than us. They sit in silence until the baby blue of the sky welcomes in orange.
When they stand up to walk back home, the crickets have begun their song and the fireflies dance as exposing their light power. Their Grandfather, Angel, used to tell them stories of fireflies; they weren’t just insects. They held onto ancestors who still wanted to watch over their descendants on the physical realm.
Seriously though, Estella says.
Can we talk about her now? Presidentes on me, she smiles.
Ahhhhh come on. Solgone opens the gate to exit the fínca. Fine, I can commit to that con una fría.
Walking has never been Estella’s thing, but she walks behind Solgone, protecting her back against the darkness.
Lorraine Avila is an Afro-Latina emerging writer. She is currently based in Oakland, but was born and raised in the Bronx.