Tara Isabel Zambrano "Two Stories"
Since they have moved into the house, she’s been finding teeth. The first one stuck between the door of her closet and the wall, chipping away. Another one in the patio a week later, a molar. The kids have been quiet, either drawing or studying, their face crimped with seriousness, it’s unbearable. A month later, she discovers a whole set while digging for the flower bed, arranged like pearls in a necklace. She talks to her husband about it, discusses with her mother. It’s just teeth, they say, and shrug. The bite of their unconcern souring the taste in her mouth. She shrugs in response, hazy with anxiety, hesitation.
During lunchtime, she bites her tongue several times and blood sticks to the insides of her cheeks. It’s a beautiful afternoon and what the hell. If only she could pull the sharpest one out, a little death. Outside, huddled in the slight sun, the birds go on and on, their voice so shrill, the air splits open like a ripe fruit.
In her dreams, teeth of varying sizes slowly knife in, settling in her throat like a long, serpentine fence. She wakes up, coughing, sensing the scars all the way close to her heart. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, her son would be at her bedroom door, complaining of toothache. She would crouch down, ask him to open his mouth and unable to detect anything, she would send him back to bed after a dose of Children’s Tylenol. Remember that I love you, she’d say. I love you, too, he’d reply, his right hand pressing on his cheek. Thereafter, she would glance at the darkness outside the window, the color of the leaves of the trees in her backyard changing from purple to blue to red, her teeth chewing on the growing noise of the day, sharper like truth, more than her mouth can hold, ready to tear the world apart.
It Isn’t Halloween until You Marry a Ghost
On a Halloween night, a ghost enters her bedroom and pulls out her heart and leaves, his skeletal fingers red and sticky. Since then, she struts around blank-eyed and strangely numb. Until after a year, tired and helpless, she visits him with a proposal. He tips his head to the side. Are you sure? It’s a bargain for life, his voice guttural, rasping, like scratching over her skin.
For their wedding in a temple on a lone hill, she wears a transparent red dress, a black veil over her face resembling a cobweb. A rose garland on his frail-white frame, electric-blue shades taped on his pointed nose. At that late hour, only deities and an orange, twilight glow surrounding them, his greasy fingers curled around her henna-clad palms, a rapture in his touch. She isn’t sure what to say. He places his stale beer breath on her mouth, a warm draft. Her body glows, a calm tingle to it. He fumbles through his long jacket, pulls out her beating heart. Wet, alive. Then he unbuttons her dress and pushes it in as if he knows the exact groove, the valves and pipes all snug. She watches his throat quiver as he says her name for the first time.
While they wait on a deserted bus stop, a group of crows arrive, their smell dense and morbid, curling her lips. The ghost removes his shades: his eyes are tiny suns, then snuffed out like candles, a wisp of smoke trailing in the air. The birds shriek, disappear. She feels safe like never.
When the bus arrives, it’s empty. The driver looks at them, tips his cap. The ghost leads her to a seat in the back. You’ll be cozy here, he says, squeezes her arm. Though everything still feels strange and distorted, she feels the blood rushing back in her veins, like she’s sensing every single cell she’s got: Can you feel it? She touches his face, an elephantine, rotten tooth sticking out. She always had a thing for crooked teeth if they’d slightly serrate her tongue while kissing.
Inside his villa, the floor is sticky with candy, an open refrigerator in the corner, stacked with hearts: bluish, silent. He helps her through the dark. Together, they sit in a bathtub filled with pink bubbles, tea candles lit on its sides, spider webs glistening in the corners. Up close, she can see his torn skin, his scalp chewed upon, dried blood. Her eyes water as if she’s about to cry, her bottom lip hurting from biting down on it.
Shhh…, it’s our wedding night. He tugs her hair lovingly. It’s just a body, it will shed. None of it’s real, his voice calmer, opening like tiny mouths in her mind, swirling words like confetti.
He swipes his index finger over her left nipple. Most wouldn’t want their hearts back, he grimaces, but they don’t know what they’re missing. He moves his finger lower, presses at her navel. This is where you live, he says, and continues tracing down between her legs. Soft, softer. Can you feel it? Then he gently pulls out and licks the viscous finger. Oh, so sweet, he exclaims, his veins lighting up, his eyes a constellation. In the light burning around her, she sees mold and algae inching on walls, devouring. Her mind gathering infinite images. She’s part of everything and yet nothing. A gorgeous fright. Can you feel it?
Yes. Light, unhinged.
She asks him if they could step outside, listen to the insects, the whir of spirits. Of course, he says. Far away, near her home, the kids are still running in their costumes, collecting candies from door to door, their juicy organs secure inside their cage of bones, pumping, thumping. While they lay in the lawn, toilet paper swirling in the oak branches, stars falling in their laps, her hands ghosting through his luminescent ribs. Like wind on their street. Reaching, reaching, only waves in and out, her body a translucent memory of what it used to be. Somehow, it’s enough. It’s complete. We might as well die tonight, the ghost says and takes her in his arms.
Bio: Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Contest 2019, been a Finalist in Bat City Review 2018 Short Prose Contest and Mid-American Review Fineline 2018 Contest, been published in The Best Small Fictions 2019, The Best Micro Fiction 2019, 2020 Anthology. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.