Curandera: A Flash Fiction by Jessica Santillán
BY JESSICA SANTILLáN
First published on former site, Razorhouse
The sun sits heavy on her brow as she plays in front of her home with her muñecas. As she sits, a chill runs through her, a coldness like someone has shut off the sun, and the hair on her skin stands like the dead. Tío Fernando runs toward the house, carrying her cousin Anita, a girl of about 15, whose once-tan skin now appears bleached, bone-white. She thinks of death, looking at her panicked tío and her cousin’s stillness. Her fingers spark as she reaches out to Anita. Skin covered in a sheen of sweat but cold to the touch. “Get your mamá,” Fernando says and she runs into the house to fetch her mother, who seems to already know that she is needed; her mother puts a hand up to silence her and walks out with a quick, but calm, gait. Her mother puts her hands on Anita’s face; she tells her daughter to prepare a bowl with the sanctified water, oils, spices, herbs, bits of charcoal. She obeys, preparing the concoction with haste. And then, sitting on her knees, a muñeca clenched tight in her fist, she watches her mother, who chants prayers—invocations of santos and Jesucristo and la Virgen Guadalupe—while crossing the girl with a small bundle of sticks; and her tío who weeps; and her cousin Anita who writhes on the dusty floor. The air is still and hot, like fire. She thinks the air must be what causes the water to bubble, to boil, moving the bits of charcoal around like drums, like feet marching into war. And the charcoal hops out of the bowl, jumping high and falling back in, like stones plunked into a lake. Anita convulses in the dust, and the bowl and air move with her and her mother prays and her tío weeps and she watches. One-by-one, the charcoal leaps out of the bowl, changes into tiny, dark frogs. As they hop out, her mother snatches the frogs up, puts a knife through them, killing the curse. She watches and sees the color return to her cousin’s skin; her eyes flutter open; Anita sits up. She watches her tío weep and her mother praise God and she feels, deep inside, that she’s seen a miracle, and she knows that she, too, possesses this power that her mother has. Fear mingled with exhilaration form like butterflies in her chest, as she imagines the expansive future, as she sees herself—almost like a vision, like prophesy—healing the sick and breaking the curses of the downtrodden. She thinks of a bright ball, a light from which God emerges, and she sees Him touching her heart and giving her powers: a divine appointment. And she thinks that this is Good, that God has blessed her so.
The dusty air moves unhindered in the room as the light glimmers through the window. Her tío rejoices. Her cousin cries tears of joy. Her mother praises God.
Jessica R. Santillan was born in Bakersfield, CA. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has had her work published in the San Joaquin Review, Sirens Call, Drunk Monkeys, freeze frame fiction, Cactus Heart, and Hypertext Magazine. Currently, she is a lecturer at UC Merced.