” ‘What it Took’ is—thankfully, blessedly, refreshingly—strange. Visceral and seething, this story contains all the ingredients of a forbidden spell, and reading it is like tucking into an ancient grimoire. The most affecting stories are often beautiful and vicious both, and ‘What it Took’ craftily fuses the gorgeous and the repulsive, the divine and the profane. This is a story for wayward god-beings.”

—2019 Fiction Judge Rivers Solomon

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What It Took

Rosana Cruz

2019 Fiction Contest Runner-Up

White cheese not so white, streaked with thin rivulets
and streaks of my fingerblood where needlepricks,
instead of cloth. I sew by hand the squares so messy,
my angles askew and my stitches never even.
White cheese, white cheese, limp as it warms,
beads of sweat form on its skin and
on mine as the needle dips and pulls.

I am sewing myself this blanket. A warm blanket, a heavy blanket. Back in that corner, there are the patches of skirt steak, some more slippery than others. The steak has been tricky, heavy and dense next to the wilting lettuce and the brittle potato skins. A little spit on the hairthreads carries my magic, makes anything possible. Makes cheese streaked with blood look beautiful and smell romantic, repugnant, protective, like a safe new shell for an old, tired slug. The hairthread is stronger, forceful and pulling all of my years in it, all of my children, my lovers, my familiars. All my potions and all my tears make this hairthread like steel forged in fire, thinned to a razor’s breadth.

I pull the edge of the blanket up off the floor to measure it. 5 feet 2 inches and counting, at least four feet across.

I can’t remember how long ago I started, I only remember the queer way it began, at night, in the middle of that inky velvet fog of a suffocating dream. A ghost of the devil on top of me, the metal acrid taste of blood and sweat in my mouth. And then the morning light piercing me all over, like arrows burning through the cleanest, twice bleached clothes I put on daily. And also through the scrubbed raw skin I showered and showered and showered. I walked outside and the wounds that no one could see were bleeding, flowing and bleeding like a fresh head wound. I leaked a trail of the blue-black blood from my front door to the bus stop. On the bus, an hour into my ride, the flood of viscous liquid was almost to the windows and had already drowned someone’s personal aid dog and two small, innocent children sleeping soundly in their strollers. As I got off the bus, a violent wind swirled around me, coming out of my every hole, blowing fiercely, spraying more and more blood, spattering that nice businessman’s New York Times and the pretty sateen of the young boy’s varsity jacket. People slipped in the vast puddles I left behind, falling in piles, squirming against each other to rise up, burned by the acid in my blood and stuck down by its viscous oily glue.

That first day, I was an unnatural disaster and I claimed the greatest number of lives. A shame, a shame, all for a number of shames. All for every single shame, all of your shames, all of your sisters’ shames, all of our mothers’ shames. All the “fat bitch” comments, all the slightest ass grabs on the bus, all the “aw sookie sookie” at the barber shop where I would go in the morning to get my long wavy hair trimmed at the ends, back then, before I cut it all off in the bathroom to use it for thread to make this blanket to save all the world from this, our shames. Verguenzas. The shame that the devil branded into my skin that I magicked into a battle scar of strength, deadly strength not meant to be deadly, not meant to kill. I wanted to spare you all, even when it felt good at first, even when it made me surge with a delicious mouth-watering electric super power. Even then, I mourned you as I killed you. So on that bright morning when I returned from another ravaging on the streets of this town I’ve already forgotten, I looked in the mirror and I opened my mouth and six-thousand Monarch butterflies flew out. Their paper wings scratched against the damp surface of my tongue. The hard tips of their torsos dented against my teeth. It took hours to clean up the bodies of the ones that didn’t make it out alive. I cried for every single one of them and then I vowed. I knew they were a sign. I promised to stop the killing. I promised to stop eating and I took up my needle and I emptied my refrigerator and here I am pricking my fingers sewing together, this cheese. The only bloodshed is sweet blood from my own loving hands.

Let me show you how I do it. It is a complicated process at first: the learning, the figuring out of external mechanics. There isn’t a manual, or clear instructions. No one had ever made a giant quilt out of food, that I know of, so I didn’t have a way to set it up. It’s a little like becoming a witch in a solitary wilderness. The need to make spells, to coax the magic out of the teeming emptiness… that need won’t leave you be and that need doesn’t care that you don’t know any incantations, that you’ve never laid eyes on a witch in your life. It just courses through your body, pleasantly, urgently, painfully until you make something up… so I thought for a long time. That night I sleep on the ashes and dust of the butterfly wings. I dream and I swirl and I stew and I worry the corners of my pillowcase bare. I pile myself under blankets and I sweat. And when I was no longer hungry, I was also no longer innocent. I knew the things that God knew. And I could magic the code into my own DNA, into the watching eyes of my cat, into the dust mites in the still corners of the room, and into every fiber and morsel and grain of food in my kitchen. They’re truly alive. That first morning, that first morning, that first cheese.

That first morning, I throw the blankets off. I go to the refrigerator and pull out a filmy plastic envelope of sliced Muenster cheese. My fingers slide between the zippered gap and I peel off a slice. I cut the slice with my teeth and leave a wafer of it the shape of my tongue on the roof of my mouth to melt. A plate of cheese. A perfect skin of smooth fat covering the bumpy muscle and wall. A meditation and a communion. The cat looks away from me and my eyelids flutter. I sit at the window in this rocking chair like I’m doing now. Like I will do every day after. I pick up the needle and I thread it with my very longest hair and I sew a strip of cheese; the front bookend to the one I’m sewing now. It isn’t bloody, then; I wasn’t yet weak or sleepy. My fingers’re still nimble and the needle not yet dull.

I guess that it was recently I ran out of my own hair. Often the days slip my mind. I only notice dark time, light time, she’s home or she isn’t. The things that concerned me once: payday, first of the month, almost PMS-ing, Halloween, Ash Wednesday, which reason for fireworks, cold time, hot time, wet time. All of this is gibberish, like a strange tongue chattered just outside my window. And the smell… a shadow blanket of its own, an air so rancid and sticky and solid, pulsating across my shoulders, slithering against the walls.

When my lover came to me last night it was with tears in her eyes, eyes of worry. Her hands flew to my head like hesitant birds unsure if they should alight on a hollow tree. She was worried. She tried to smile. “You’ve been doing so well. You’ve been working so hard. You’ve come so close to finishing!” Something comes up in my mouth like I want to spit. “Survive. Survive? We were meant to do more than survive. We were meant to do more than beat back the licking flames and the dirty floods. We were meant to be beautiful and whole. Enteritas. And then some. Our bodies were formed from plump balls of clay and dough and loam. Look at me now. I was supposed to be beautiful.”

“You were beautiful,” and she catches herself, her hands tense for a moment on my bare and scratchy scalp.

I turn away.

It was close to now when I used the last hairthread. Here it is- right in this corner of a flour tortilla. I didn’t cry. I didn’t agonize. I waited and I thought. I concentrated so hard.

I remembered my lover, the first time she came to me at night. She was radiant. We had left each other at the restaurant. Our weekly dinner date, so seemingly chaste. But in the undertow, the dredge of our desires caused a flurry. I could feel it– invisible cables, thick like course gauge copper wire. They pulled at all my tender buttons, tethered, I suspect, to all of hers. She seemed a little out of breath but that was all, when we brushed lips on each other’s cheeks as “good bye.”

I was home for an hour maybe. I’d settled myself into the yellow embrace of my bedroom perched on the little couch by the door where I read before bed. I can’t read in the bed. That is a dizzying place. A platform raised up on a tall, wide, deep mound of black dirt. When I am in it, I can only sleep, dream, a few…. other things. I cannot casually lie about, drink a glass of water or lukewarm tea and slowly finger the pages of a rich, heavy novel at my leisure. My bed is a place of possession and I never know, once I start the long climb in, what spirits will use it as their landing strip.

Instead I was on the tiny fuzzy couch then, a book called Mama Day was in my hands. I may have even been taking in the written words with my eyes but I was not reading. I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I was ticking. Inside me, in the train car that rocked slowly back and forth as if it knew not hurry, inside me she had reached in her long, home-manicured fingers and set the clock. I thought a clock. I didn’t know a bomb. A time bomb. “Petra,” the clock said. “Tick,” it replied to itself. “Tock,” it responded. And again. “Petra.” “Tick.” And then, “Tock.” And again. Eventually louder, eventually more urgent but constant in how slow. “Petra.” “Tick.” A beat. And “Tock.” “Petra.” “Tick.” Hesitation, then “Tock!” as a relief and surprise. I knew she would come. I couldn’t imagine what we would do. At dinner, our eyes were hungry but polite. One of us would pry, dig, bore her way into the other; into the pores on her forehead, into the infinitesimal part in her lips before eating, into the irises, into the nostrils, into the sucking blackness of our eyebrows.

Oh, I didn’t tell you? Petra and I have the same exact hair color. Black, black, black. Negro como el azabache. Jet black. In the summer perhaps, there are dark, slightly auburn, slightly chestnut streaks. But really they make it look all the blacker. Petra’s hair was longer than mine when we first met. I’d always worn mine in a practical length, just ever so slightly past my shoulders, enough for either a ponytail or a bun, a low one at the nape of my neck because any higher just felt much too precious, too feminine. That’s not me. I have strong meaty hands and square shoulders on a wide back and while I prefer to wear dresses on formal occasions, my body’s best suited to tailored clothes, loose fitting sweaters.

Petra, on the other hand, is a dream of a woman, curves for days and a grace that is fluid even when she is being nervous and clumsy. Similarly, her hair is messy. She has a wavy riot of black silky locks that she tries to contain in an endless number of drugstore contraptions: clips and hair bands and hair ties and butterfly somethings or others. The effect is always less tidy than if she let it be. When it’s up, it’s fighting to get free. Small hanks hang loose, chunks askew from an otherwise perfect bun.

That first night she came to me, I had stared at her too long at dinner. Maybe that is how she snuck inside of me and set the timebomb ticking. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the three tiny tendrils just above her left temple, short and thin enough to stick out straight from her head like the rays of the first-graders’ sun. They distracted me and for that I was grateful. I could focus on an imperfection. It was like a small flotation device to cling to in the swirling waters of her perfect olive skin, her clovey, vanilla bookish smell. I was lucky not to drown that night. I was thankful for those tendrils. I should have instead known they were harbingers of my undoing.

Petra came to me that night while I was still on the couch. I don’t remember getting up to open the door or lead her to my bedroom where she’d never set foot. All I know is that I looked up from my book and there she was. There was a moment… a beat, a pause…. the possibility that I could be saved? And then that moment was gone. She reached her hand slowly, so slowly, up to her head and pulled out her hairpin, like pulling the pin of a grenade, and shook her hair free. All that black, shiny, wavy, good-smelling flood of hair unfurled down to her waist and then I was done.

Petra never knew what it meant to be ruined. Or so I thought. That first night under my hands, she showed no scars. She never cringed. There was no moment when she looked away, left me, projected herself onto the astral plane or wherever it is we go to be safe to keep from being re-broken. I’d had other women before then. Whole women or broken, they all wore scars. Some were long and beautiful and ran like a knife through butter, silvery striations pulling my gaze down along the line. Others wore their scars on the inside. I couldn’t see them, but climbing to the frenzy I would reach in and touch them, like flipping a switch that caused her to recoil, that opened a gate, and when I looked into her eyes there may have been the cheap hollow trinket of physical pleasure but behind her eyes, she was gone. Not there. Not anywhere inside. I eventually learned to look up, to see the mist of her floating above the bed. I learned to kiss her forehead, then to whisper reassuring, loving, but still deliciously filthy words right in her ear so she would hear my voice, know it was me, that it was safe.

Petra was guileless. Unmarked. Her hesitation came from a lack of experience and that hollow place inside hidden by sandy walls that form if no one ever tells you how much they want you, how perfectly edible your beauty could be. When she stood in front of me that night, she had a newfound bravado. Y angustia. She was almost desperate. She couldn’t stand another night of us devouring each other only with our eyes. I couldn’t either, let’s be clear; but I’ve read The Little Prince half a thousand times and I can smell that despite her proper library appearance Petra was anything but tame. Y sabes bien, right? You cannot chase a wild thing. You must sit and wait. And when I did, she came. And she came and she came and she came. That night we threw ourselves upon each other like colliding freight trains, like plate tectonics, a millennia worth of slow magnetic moon-tide dinners coming to their peak. She did not hesitate. She never pulled away. I never turned my head or shielded my eyes from her full glory. I saw it all and drank it up, every drop. Again and again and again.

Nights passed in similar ways for months… I suspect, if I could recall time again. The succession of naked events, while similar, built up on each other and soon she was also seeing me, consuming me, not turning away. She instead was leaning into the full face slap of my truest beauty, my every scar, my melting, molting skin. The broken teeth and crooked eyes and the ways the devil dented the edge of my piecrust with his fork. After a time, she didn’t just come. She stayed. She unzipped her skin and tendrils of light (not unlike the long locks of her black hair) reached out of her body and braided themselves to me. It was the most pleasant, the most solid, the most Godblessed of bindings.

It’s a high price to pay, that Petra’s afraid of me now, but she’s afraid for me, and under all that fear, an unsettled sentiment of anger, rage. During the killings, she was sympathetic, wiping the blood from my lips before her most reassuring kisses. Back then, she did not see me as a monstrous thing, she understood. She had laid in the bed with me on fevered nights when I remembered, when my muscles twitched and recoiled under the ghost of the devil that was not there. She shouted and she helped me and she lit candles and she poured Agua de Florida on my limbs and she washed our sheets in lavender and sage. This unmarked princess put on armor and became half warrior, half witch, to protect me, to soothe me, to feel needed. I am not thankless to that, believe me. You see here, this pattern of flames and arrows I’ve stitched into this section right here? Yeah, the difficulties of sewing chicken skins bent and cramped my fingers. I almost tore it out but I needed a part for her. I had to sew in my gratitude, my deep well of Thanksgiving and it had to be just right. Phyllo dough is too brittle and thin, fruit skins too cavalier, lunch meat too pornographic. For Petra? I would have cut slices of my own skin, thin, buttery brown squares, small ones, so that I could keep working. But I vowed so many years ago to never cut myself intentionally and Petra wouldn’t want me to break such a deep promise to myself. The chicken skin squares are slippery and goose pimpled and salty. In my fingers, they sometimes felt like the tearful ecstasies we shared, touching strawberry textured pads of electricity inside each other, becoming extra mammalian– snarling, biting, grunting, then suddenly birdlike. All flutter and shiver and faded like fleeting feathers. The chicken skins, it had to be. She wasn’t offended. She cooed and smiled and mmmmed in all the right ways when I showed her she was at the center, the heart shaped patch, beaded with olives and dried cranberries, the canned red peppers and pimentos for flames, and thin liquorice and soft long green beans for arrows. “For me?” she asked, awestruck. And then she stroked my cheek, turned quiet. I cleared my throat. “You’ve given me so much. You’ve taken on so much for me, from me. I couldn’t do it without you. You deserve this and 1000 times more tributes. A thousand’s thousand more.” I reached up and touched a stray, lazy corkscrew of hair behind her ear. She smiled harder at me, but her eyes cringed. “My hands smell. I’m sorry. I’ll be done soon, I’ll be done. And this will all be transformed.” She squeezed my shoulder gently and walked slowly to the bathroom. Every day she took more showers. Every day her skin glowed brighter. More raw. I kept sewing.

I suppose I keep time now in patches. The bologna patches? That was her last moon. The Wonder Bread on this edge here? That was mine. The growing green vein of fuzz and the pungent black slime on this turkey, times scream intensely in my nose too. But the slices of almost coral colored yams, that was when I got a cold. My sense of smell dulled, but the stench becoming visible, that was time. The strip of dull yellow, dried apple rings, that was when it rained outside last. The hairthread is what keeps the temperature, the other time, the ticking, the rancid tension in the air of what once was our living room.

When the hairthread was plentiful, we hummed along. It was as if nothing was wrong. Nothing was different. I had work to do and I attended to it. I was diligent. Petra kept her schedule but slept on the couch beside me at night as I continued to sew. It was only back here, as we got to the corn tortillas first and then the flower ones, that I began to feel the speeded up frenzy, the tension and desperation. Petra hadn’t blinked when I’d shorn off all my hair, she didn’t recoil from me. In fact, she liked to dip her hands in the basket next to the rocking chair where I kept the long black hanks of my perfumed and oiled hair. But as the pool of hair began to thin, she grew nervous, distracted. She couldn’t be in the room without moving her hands about, fluttering aimlessly, hurriedly, as if she meant to wave off a bad spirit in the air, but forgot halfway through.

I knew I was running out. I thought about stopping. I didn’t want to ask. I couldn’t ask. Petra had already soaked in so much of me. She was no longer unscarred. In our nights of warding off the devils and ghosts, and in our couplings, somehow the scars had rubbed off some on to her. On occasion I would wake from a nightmare, and she would be shuddering, moaning, clutching me in terror. Part of me felt wracked with guilt, another part felt powerless to protect her. A third part, I’m so shame to admit, was angry. I wanted to push her away. I blamed her for getting so close, for setting the bomb, for pulling the pin, for exploding me all over her, for soaking in me and drinking me up. The acid in my blood, the poison in my sweat, it had become her nectar. An aphrodisiac, a drug. She knew as much as it contained my sadness, my grief, all my suffering, it also contained my magic, my sweetness, the power I forged to survive… to do more than that. To fly.

Petra knew before I did that I had the power to fly and she knew where that well of power lay and she lapped and gulped and slurped at it covetously. And when she did, she also drank my wounds. And when she did, she also bled and wore my scars. And when she did, I knew she could know what I was thinking. On that last flour tortilla, I pulled the quilt up and looked at it. I knew it would not cover my feet, my ankles, halfway down my shins. I needed more. I didn’t have more. I wish I could’ve cut off my feet. Truly. I want you to know that I loved her, love her still now, as my heart slows down to a whisper. The full force of that whisper is for her.

We did not fight. We barely spoke. She came to me and we stared at each other sadly but still full of hunger. We didn’t have to say words. “Out?” “More?” “How?” “Please?” Unneeded. I knew that she knew. She knew that I knew. She could have chosen to deny me. But instead she raised her long, thin skirt, the navy blue one with the slit that she likes to wear to work on Wednesdays. She pushed the blanket off my lap and my legs were bare. I wear my boxers and a cut-up sweatshirt when I am home. She traced the long scar along the inside of my thigh and then she opened her skirt to reveal to me the long silvery pink scar in the identical place on her thigh. “Oh no, mi cielo” escaped from my mouth, just a hoarse whisper. It was just then that I noticed the long, thin scissors hanging from her beltloop in her waistband. “No!” When had she shaken out her bun? The clip lay on the floor. Time scratches violently, an old vinyl record, needle wrenched.

I lunge at her and shout. “No. You can’t.” We roll onto the floor and struggle. I pin her wrist down but she bucks me off. Our struggle is loud. We knock over chairs. We pant. “Get! Off! Me!” she hisses, “You can’t stop me.“ “Please,” I cry, “please, Petra, don’t.” We are kicking and biting and slapping and wrenching. We’d never so much as said shut up to each other before. I cry “no, no, no!” but she’s angry and defiant. “I’m stronger than you now, as strong as you and then me too.” She has me pinned. She looks at me, her eyes, so honey brown and soft usually… but now they are aflame and almost orange with anger. “Do not try to stop me.”

Her knees are on my wrist and she’s straddling my waist. I resist the urge to buck when she reaches over for the basket and picks the scissors, now bloody, up off the floor. I moan. Hot tears well up and sting my eyes. “Petra, please don’t! You don’t have to.”

She’s never looked so determined, so beautiful. It is almost cruel. When I hear the first gasping metallic snap of the scissors closing, I black out.

When I come to, Petra is naked, lying next to me, asleep. I can feel her. The light streaming in through the windows is blinding, a bright hot white that fills my eyes like scalding milk. I breathe deep into my belly and roil the fire there, drawing a small thread of magic. I know I have to lean into the blindness, surrender to it, to make this work. I push my lack of sight through my mind and out to the film of my corneas. The palms of my hands tingle and sting a little. My nostrils burn and feel like someone is stretching them from the inside out. The smell that invades me seems to soak in from every pore and I am dizzy. It is a deep, earthy, forest-y smell, with hints of roses, orange, honey. My mouth waters. My hands reach up to touch her shoulders, her breasts, her thighs and I nearly faint. Every hair on her skin feels hard, stiff, luscious, succulent. At the same time, it is fur. The skin beneath is melting and soft and, somehow, green. It feels wonderful and new and tender. She is sleeping and her breath is a light, papery buzz in my ear. It sounds like an underwater song. I reach my mouth towards where I think hers is, to kiss her, to drink her and when my greedy, hands reach her head, I freeze. I gasp. All the memories of our struggle come back to me. The hot tears rush back to my eyes, burning and restoring my eyesight.

I can’t explain how it can be, but she is more beautiful than ever. Her mouth is a prominent rose, her lashes immense black tendrils like an exotic plant, her cheekbones eager and hot, like hearty round buds about to bloom. She is transformed, tranquil, gorgeous, serene. She seems to be drinking up the light in the room, taking it in and reflecting a soft green brilliance. My tears have formed and dropped into the soil and it is then that I realize we are in the bed. Sort of. The mattress has disappeared. All the bedding too. When she opens her eyes, it’s a shock. Her mouth never moves but, in my ears sounds an earth-shaking, hungry shout, “GO!” And I fall backwards off the dirt hill that was our bed.

When I land, I can tell I’m broken. I can’t stand and I can’t cry out. It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to. I crawl to the rocking chair. Everything has been arranged for me. The needle is sticking alertly out of the plump tomato red pincushion. Stacks of food lie indolent, sweating next to the rocking chair. And there is the basket. It is full of the most beautiful, black, gleaming hair. The scissors are placed adamantly in the center, sticking out like a silver sword in the stone.

For a long while now I worried, I thought the hairthread might outlast the food and my instinct was I’d have to burn it. But the needle pulled and pulled. And the pile of food dwindled apace and soon there was a rhythm, a simple flow, a matching decline like water levels steady flowing in two slowly draining sinks. I’m on the last hair now and I’m finishing with these last three slices of Munster cheese. I know the end will be perfect. It is trailed with needle thin lines of red blood and black hair and, oh… yes. I see now. There’s more than a bit of green fuzz here and there. Blood came aplenty before these days but I’m thankful my finger pricks can’t drown dogs or small kids. I’ve woven a tricky bit of peace. Thick and patched and heavy, a new home for an old slug. I’m liquid.

Get off me devil! You can’t touch me now. What was inside me will be transformed. My blood is black and green as much as red and orange in some places, like her eyes. What delicious honey her eyes are. Get off me devil! I just have a few last stitches… witching. Gulping power trickled out. No more blood and the devil will burn. Here at the end of this cheese, white cheese. White cheese and where does the fat fat fat fat? Eyelids tremor. Words are dissolving now, drifting away from me and new sap is filling my mouth, my gut, the synapses in between the ethers of my giant, orange brown wings. A faded skin. A stitch. Another. Stitch. A tick. A stiffening. My neck clicks. No blood from finger pricks.

If I could, I would close my eyes, but I don’t have eyes anymore. In the place where my sight comes in, where the world shoves color and light and shape into my mind’s wound/womb/worms, I see red. I am surrounded and hot. The crust around me feels slick with sweat. Inside me, the things I called bones, the sticks of humanity, the history of buildings and guns and ships and clocks and Tupperware and all the things anyone ever killed with are snapping, revolting, disintegrating into red wet pale dust. And sap. A sap so black, so liquid, so hard… the blood of all my dead, the blood of all those lives I took, the blood of mine that my devils took from me, the bloody history of our mothers and our future sons and our broken bony grandfathers and the twisting of tongues into he versus she. It all breaks and melts and strains and hardens and stretches inside of me. Bright red.

Of the quilt I can only remember, what? This stitch? Yes. This stitch. The next stitch, the corner of the cheese slice, the last stitch. The knot of hairthread to hairthread complete. I am beginning. I am a creature. I am a crawler. I descend and enter. My cocoon.

Beneath this heavy, quilted blanket it is dark. I am fed. I was curled up, then I was melted, outside me a part of me a part of it is very hard. Slickness and hunger and slickness feeding that. A sloughing off of pain. The food decayed and hardened and my skin is no longer my skin. I have no skin. And no words. Only hungry. Only vibrate. Only melt, liquid, harden. Crust. Shiver. Only soon. Only the rising crest of a wave of light that will break through the crust and crack. Release me. Dry me. Spread my wings. Shiver again. It is freeing. So free to not know what I am, to not think big, small, hot, cold, pretty, ugly. I can only follow lights and smells… a familiar smell. Smell is not the right… One. Heavy… Pile… Heap… Mass… Flash of yellow. Pull pull pull. An incredible stretching, like the space between planets could yawn. Rise. Pull. Stretch. Scrabble, scrabble, scrabble free. Now. Open. Float.

When I hit the air something snaps, like the loud gunfire pop when a transformer blows out in the storm. The quiet, the hot shocking loss of power seeps down like rain on a windshield. I see things. I know places. My feet don’t touch the ground. My many feet? My back feels electric and expanding. My eyes don’t work like before. Those smells? They aren’t smells. What are they? Fists of information pummeled into my nose. I have no nose.


It punches me in the nose I don’t have. She is waiting for me. Pushed up out of the hill of dirt that was our bed, there is my lover. A violent green sword where she was once all woman, all flower, now machine, now metal, now plant, now growing. She waits. My wings flap. I am pulled. A tractor beam of instinct electrifies me. When I land on her, she opens. Something inside me extends out of my face and then deep into her.

Green is happening. Flooding me. It is finding her that I find my arms, that my feet recede, into two, into my thighs. Without her I was lost. But here? Into, on top of, next to her? We are anew.

This is what it takes to get free.


Rosana Cruz is a writer, parent, social justice movement leader and intersectional feminist. They have lived in New Orleans for over 20 years and worked closely with numerous organizations in the struggle for racial justice, lgbtq liberation and immigrant rights. They are currently a Senior Fellow at Race Forward and hold an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University. Born in the US to Cuban parents, Cruz identifies as a pre-natal exile, remaining close to the grandparents and large family who stayed behind in Cuba. They were raised by a single mother in a multi-racial community in North Miami in the 1970s and 80s. Cruz draws deeply from this experience, as well as their close ties to the Caribbean, in their writing. Cruz has been published in Colorlines, hipMama, Bridge the Gulf Project, and the anthology Mamaphonic. A 2017 VONA Voices Fellow, their writing practice is now centered on Speculative Fiction and Afro-Futurist influenced Magical Realism.