Ceremony of Entities
Flash Fiction by María Isabel Alvarez
My brothers and I watch our father pull the pockets of his jeans inside out. Hollow desk drawers of pens and scattered paperclips. Shake the stains off of table linens. Yank couch cushions to the floor. Expose the leathery underbelly of breadcrumbs and dust. Our mother aims the beam of a flashlight over his shoulder. She likes playing the helper, hovering closely behind him like a second mutant head. We don’t know what they’re looking for but we know enough not to ask questions.
Hungry, my brothers and I pour Cheerios into a bowl the size of a bathtub and eat for days, milk bleaching our tan skin white, bellies bloating with tiny halos of wheat. Each night, we pull ourselves from the tub and plank facedown atop the strewn couch cushions and drift to the sounds of our parents murmuring strategies of excavation.
Sometime in the morning, the sky slowly unblackening like the rise of a skirt, we wake to our father crying out in an unrecognizable pitch. We clamor into the kitchen and find our parents huddled at the base of the refrigerator, our father palming the ground and fishing at something wedged against the floorboards.
¡Agarralo! ¡Agarralo! our mother yells.
From underneath the refrigerator Optimism pops out, buoyant and shiny and bulbous cheeked. We watch it scurry in circles for a few seconds, confused by its surroundings. Soon, more entities spill out and our mother tilts the opening of a mason jar to the floor, eagerly welcoming them back in.
Charity comes out in pieces, clipping itself back together once safe inside the glass. Sympathy envelopes its surroundings like a tide, while Chaos hurricanes across the floor, blowing dust into our gaping mouths. Serenity saunters past the other entities, unfazed by the upheaval, liquefying into an oceanic substance inside the glass and radiating a cool, cerulean beam.
With every new addition, our mother’s face pinkens with youth. Her bones no longer jut but disappear inside a plush of newborn skin. But our father remains the same, an expressionless glob of brown and gray. Downturned lines spear from his eyes as if pulled by a tiny Japanese rake.
Suddenly, our mother points to an invisible something.
Assimilation scampers out and blends into its surroundings, first embodying the metallic skin of the refrigerator, then spreading into the threads of teak floorboards. We chase after it, spines arced down, arms stretched out, our mother shouting at our heels. Assimilation, now the gritty texture of popcorn ceiling, snakes inside a vent and disappears beyond the slats; this time, we know we’ve lost it for good.
Our father slumps into a chair and stares blankly at the glass glowing in our mother’s arms; he doesn’t even pretend to know we are there. We know we’ve disappointed him—beyond the inability to help capture the thing he desires most, we’ve lost Assimilation for ourselves.
But then he turns to us, ochre eyes tunneling into our own, as if discovering us for the first time. We must look familiar to him: all three of his children carry the same downturned eyes, oracles of perpetual worry, the perfect meld of his old country and this strange new one. He doesn’t lift his gaze, searching deep inside each of us for something to latch on to. Maybe he’s looking for the perfect thing to say.
Born in Guatemala and raised in Arizona, María Isabel Álvarez received her MFA from Arizona State University. Her stories have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Sonora Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, and Columbia Journal, among other venues. Her writing has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Colgate Writers’ Conference, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and Hedgebrook. Along with Dante Di Stefano, she is the co-editor of the poetry anthology, Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump's America (NYQ Books 2018). She is currently at work on a novel and a short story collection.