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Solitude on Maps

by Socorro Venegas
translated by Toshiya Kamei

 

He made maps of remote sparsely populated places and some other places whose inhabitants didn’t even know what they were called—they were that far away.

I asked census questions and he placed everything on a terrain. Assigned to that town, we set out on a three-day trip, one whole day on foot included. The first thing that came into view was the bluish walls of adobe houses.

“Strange yet beautiful,” I said.

“Their homes are made by a pigment found naturally in the earth,” he replied.

The children who received us were barely clothed. As if they fed on the dirt, their skin was tinged with a slight blue hue. Some were more noticeable than others. They were all kids and malnourished. Their black eyes reflected how different we were from them. Their gazes were deserts, burned bridges, and an abysmal world. I thanked God for being so far from that, although later I felt shame. The naked misery of those children. We asked for their parents. Many had gone north. They’d had no news of their families. Homeless creatures, they were a strange tribe without grown-ups, except for a few weary elderly folks who let them do whatever they wanted. In their world, only the strong prevailed.

The census contained questions that were impossible to ask. Nor could we count them all because many children were out of the village—that was what they called that handful of houses in a shambles. The missing children would return the next day. They had gone to school, which was far away, and they slept there. School once a week. If they weren’t bitten by a snake, they told us, they would return. We had to stay there overnight.

The mapmaker asked me if I’d like to have kids.

I gave him no answer.

We entered the room they lent us to sleep. I undressed to apply bug spray because fleas had begun to bite me. When I handed him my bottle, he had a hard-on.

It wasn’t the first time we traveled together. But it was the first we needed each other.

He picked me up and laid me on the duffel bag. A candle inside an empty Coke can kept flickering. I closed my eyes. He began to slide his hands through my thirsty skin. At times he made me laugh while his fingers ran through me.

“Look,” he said. His fingers were smeared with something white and sticky, which stretched as he drew his thumb and forefinger together, then apart. “You’re ovulating.”

I half-smiled in response. We remained still. A grand concert of crickets. Our shadows stretched long on the roof and adobe walls.

I thought of those animal-like children with their easy smiles and calloused hands. Children?

“You don’t let me think,” I said, stretching out my arms to him. My tongue snaked inside his mouth, my hands sought his soul, and his gaze hovered around the center of that lost world.

 

 

We woke up in pain. My insect repellent had been weaker than the bugs’ appetite, so we had red bumps on our skin. I gave him a comb to untangle my hair. He gathered it together with a ribbon and kissed my eyes.

“Do I look like a pregnant woman?” I asked.

“You look like a castaway.”

The door swung open. A barefooted girl came in with a dusty sunbeam. No more than eleven or twelve, she was one of the bluest children. The girl already carried another child in her womb. She asked us if she counted for two people.

 

Originally published by Editorial Páginas de Espuma.

 

Socorro Venegas is a Mexican writer and editor. Her latest book is a short story collection called La memoria donde ardía (2019). She was a resident writer at The Writers Room in New York and received a fellowship from the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes y del Centro Mexicano de Escritores. She has managed editorial projects for the Fondo de Cultura Económica and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Translations of her short stories have appeared in venues such as Bodega, Sudden Fiction Latino, and trampset.

 

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Carlos Bortoni, and Ana García Bergua.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Solitude on Maps”?

This story was inspired by what a friend told me. He has worked for the census that is conducted periodically in Mexico to count the number of people in the country and survey their living conditions. Once he arrived in a very poor village whose houses were blue and whose inhabitants had a bit of that skin color that came from a natural pigment in the earth. That image haunted me, so I used it in this story. I also felt it was essential that the female character talk about her body and her sexuality without prejudice. In contrast, the story also shows how girls can be forced into sex from an early age when they don’t even know how to enjoy it. All this takes place in a country where the poor emigrate and leave behind their children, their communities, and never return. Sometimes one never knows if they died on the way or maybe they decided to forget what they’d left behind. These unknowns remain in the lives of those who stay behind and wait for them or forget them.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now OPEN. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes December 15, 2019; submit here.

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10/07 • Socorro Venegas
10/10 • Lilian McCarthy
10/14 • Marlin Jenkins
10/21 • Mary Grimm
10/28 • David Galef
11/04 • Douglas Milliken
11/11 • Janiru Liyanage
12/02 • Tara Campbell