Excerpt from short story: Playing the Virgin Mary at the Atlantic

Pues si es una reina

Quien lo solicita,

¿Cómo es que de noche

Anda tan solita?

(Well if it’s a queen

Who’s asking,

How is it that at night

She is so alone?)

General chant from a posada

A mist shrouded the night sky of this rural town, so that only one star seemed to twinkle above the darkened streets, its light too dim to illumine the abandoned rooms of Hotel Atlantic. Once a famous pit stop for tourists seeking refuge before continuing into the wilderness of Northern Mexico, the Atlantic suffered as the trickle of tourist stopped driving to the border and instead flew across with the migratory birds. Now, the stray cats lounged in the different rooms of the Atlantic like attendants that continually rid the premises of rats and cockroaches. When those cats tuned their ears to the voices of people, they grew tense. It was unusual for the Atlantic to have visitors. Most of the windows had been boarded up, as if the Atlantic’s owners were waiting for a hurricane that never actually demolished it.

A few individuals were gathering at the main plaza behind the Atlantic, where an ash tree had been elevated by a cement base to accentuate its importance as a centerpiece to the backyard. A piñata in the shape of a star hung from its only large albeit bare branch. In place of the usual teenage potheads cupping their hands as they lit matches, a group of children giggled as their parents greeted each other with wary glances toward the cracked, white walls of the Atlantic.  The children ran around the long tables that had been set up and overlooked the possibility of a celebration. For them, just being able to play constituted a celebration.

It was hard to tell which apartments behind the Atlantic were condemned and which contained families. Some of the apartments had covered their windows with Christmas wrapping paper. For the first time, the Catholic congregation was having a posada at El Gallito, the small community that had sprouted around the ruins of the Atlantic.

In one of the rooms that could have easily been considered abandoned, Lily adjusted the baby blue shawl she had thrown over her head. Looking at herself in the mirror, she only wanted to rip the shawl from her head. Framed in that oval mirror was not only Lily’s heart-shaped face but also her grandmother’s clutter, boxes of clothes that the old woman would lug to the flea market in hopes of selling one or two articles.

Her grandma Pancha had asked her to play the Virgin Mary for the posada, and could have Lily really refused her grandmother’s request when she had hobbled around the tiny kitchen, periodically stopping to massage her bad knee? “Mija, we haven’t found Mary,” she had started the conversation as she tossed the steaming tortillas into the basket on the table, “I need you to do it one more year. It’s going to be here in our neighborhood. You won’t even have to leave. Will you do it for your abuelita?” Of course Lily had agreed; it was the least she could do for her grandmother.

It had been three posadas, every single one essentially the same, and Lily longed to find an excuse for not going. Usually at those early hours of the evening, Jimmy, Lily’s boyfriend, would pick her up, drive at high speeds down the frontage roads, and finally park on the canals, where they would hold each other as if it were the bitterest winter of south Texas, which wasn’t saying much. The snow was invisible and only they could feel its sting on their bodies, which touched each other in the dark of the backseat. But the posada had interrupted that winter loving.

Though Lily knew it was a good thing the winter loving had been paused since her period hadn’t come for December, she was fed up with dressing up and pretending to be the Virgin Mary. Lord knew that there was strong evidence against her purity.  It was too late to excuse herself from the part, though. If she was pregnant, she would certainly abort the child even if he was a God.

She adjusted her shawl one last time before looking away and scanning the floor for the plastic baby doll that would be her newborn child. Its bare, peach body had been smeared with mud when she had dropped it the previous night where the rich neighborhood had eyed the congregation’s sullied shoes that were entering the mansions.

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