BY DAVID MARTINEZ
Maria Aparecida knew she was sick about the time she started having visions. The first vision came as she washed clothes one morning in the river by her home; she saw a little girl playing barefoot by the riverbed in a white dress with red mud around the hem. The girl was dark, like Aparecida’s late mother, and was concentrating hard on something in the water. She looked about three years old. A moment later the girl vanished. That’s how Aparecida knew the baby she was carrying was going to be a girl.
Her husband, Berto, would have thought the idea absurd, and her mother-in-law would have wanted her to confer with the rezadeira to make sure of the vision’s authenticity. Aparecida wanted nothing to do with skepticism, or the examination of what, to her, had become sacred. She knew what she knew and kept the knowledge to herself.
That evening, while preparing food over the wood stove outside, she stared at the smoke rising from the fire. She felt as if she were made of smoke. She watched it pour up into the air. She stretched her fingers and arms upward. The food burned.
That night she was more tired than usual. She shifted and turned in her hammock, moved to the small bed with her husband, but tired as she was, no sleep came.
In the morning, she felt faint, and did not know how she was going to get out of bed to do her duties, but Aparecida was nothing if not determined. That, she supposed, was the price one had to pay to bring a child into the world. She pushed at the air with her hands, and noticed a small, blue vein on top of her skin. She stared at it, mortified.
Look at this, she called out to her husband from the bed. He ran over to her, concerned. He was a short man, fair-skinned, strong. Afraid of women and their fears. Afraid of his wife’s pregnancy. Afraid of a world which seemed too monstrous and too large to be understood. He was often angry, and angry that he was angry. He coughed, and squinted at his wife’s hand, seeing nothing.
They looked together for a long time.
What is it, Maria? he said after a while.
Don’t you see it? she said.
No, he said.
Aparecida looked at her husband and rolled away out of bed before he got too confused. She would deal with it alone. Everything was easier alone.
Throughout the day, during her chores, she stared at the vein on her hand, poked at it. Touching it felt like touching skin. She couldn’t get a nail or finger under the vein, so she tried to ignore it.
It glared at her.
While pinning the wash, Aparecida closed her eyes to avoid looking at her hand and started to see lights—tiny dots, surrounding her like multicolored stars streaming across a vast, black space. The lights glowed and flickered until there was no more black, until the lights became all the space. They grew and flickered, oval-shaped, circular, enveloping her, cradling her and her baby, creating lines that stretched across what Aparecida understood to be all reality.
It didn’t last long, and before she knew what had happened, she found herself carrying the wash back inside. She did not remember taking down any of the clothes.
She meandered through the rest of the day with that feeling of being cradled in light, being cradled in all that exists and is ever to exist, in that vastness, and in that vastness was comfort and knowledge, knowledge that, though she could not consciously access it, she knew was there.
She killed a chicken for dinner the way she had been taught as a child: after asking the chicken’s forgiveness, and giving a quick prayer of thanksgiving, she placed one finger behind the skull, one on the neck, and in one swift movement—like snapping a twig—the chicken was dead. After slicing the throat to let the blood drain, Aparecida hung it upside down with some string, and walked inside to wash her hands and cut herbs and vegetables. She believed in cleanliness. She was perfect in her cleanliness. Her mother always taught that poverty was not an excuse for an untidy house or dirty habits. That had been taught in her family for generations. Aparecida came from a long line of hard-working mothers.
She peeled macaxeira and felt a jolt of another vision. She saw cooked manioc root strewn over a dirt floor and a crying, lonely girl. The image shocked her, and she dropped the knife, grabbed her belly with one hand, raised her shirt with the other. There was a shadow there beneath the skin—too subtle to have a form, but it was there, moving.
That night she could see the dark shapes of the bones in her arms through the candlelight. She stared at them, a fear welling in her breast, amplified in the dark. She looked over at her husband, who was staring at the ceiling from his hammock. She looked over at her mother-in-law, who sat rocking in an old, wood chair. No one looked at Aparecida.
She saw herself as a little girl growing up in the serra of Ceará. She followed the river that traveled more parts of the state and Brazil than she ever would. She saw the house where she grew up, she saw her quiet parents who almost never talked to each other, or her, or anyone. She followed those small lights that began to grow again until they covered her, until she was asleep.
The next morning, she could not unsee the bones through her skin, however she did feel more energetic than she had in a while and got up to sweep the house. She swept around her mother-in-law who sat rocking in her chair gumming her upper lip. It began to rain, and Aparecida could smell the cleansing of the earth around her, the dirt and plants being washed, and she sighed, smiling. She always sighed when it rained. It was always a good omen.
Berto didn’t want to look at his wife. Aparecida had become so large, so ethereal, that he no longer knew what to do with her. It’s this stupid pregnancy, he thought. He forced himself not to think of her when he went out with Teresa to the room behind the bar, or Teresa’s bed when her husband was out drinking. He forced himself not to think of Aparecida, and that followed him home. He didn’t think of her when he was lying next to her in the same room. He didn’t think of her when she was working outside. He did think of Teresa. He did think of the baby she said was growing inside her, the one she said he had put there. He saw himself with two babies, and his head began to feel detached.
Part of the reason for not thinking of Aparecida was so that he wouldn’t have to hit her. All his anger and confusion would often funnel into her, and he understood that beating his pregnant wife would likely hurt his unborn baby. So he didn’t think of her. He hated her for it but focused instead on Teresa and the ultimatum she gave—either Teresa or Aparecida, but not both.
Teresa would never have let him beat her. It was more probable that she would beat him. She was the kind of woman who liked to do as she pleased, when she pleased, how she pleased, and would have no problem breaking anyone who thought of defying her. She was taller than Berto, wider. She carried herself straighter. The affair was her idea.
Hi Bertinho, she called one day, leaning from her open window when he was on his way back home from work. He could see her breasts trying to fall out of her loose shirt, stretch marks where they met her upper chest—they ended somewhere halfway down her stomach. Come here, she said.
A few months later, as Aparecida was beginning to show, Teresa put her hand on Berto’s thigh and said, I have news. I’m going to have your son.
Aparecida saw the affair as she straightened the pictures and perfume bottles arranged on the one shelf in the house. When the vision came, she could see her husband lying next to a nude Teresa—her breasts resting on the bed on either side of her large stomach. Aparecida dropped one of the perfume bottles, sending it crashing to the floor. She also heard two voices, Berto’s and Teresa’s.
You’re going to have to choose, Teresa said. Your wife, or me. And if you think I’ll ever let you see your boy while you’re with her you’re delusional. She began to cry.
Calm down, Berto said. Calm down.
Calm down? Teresa said. How, when I imagine you going to bed every night with her? Your baby inside her. How can I be calm?
What about you? Berto said. Your husband?
Teresa laughed, and Aparecida could hear her voice, false and bitter. That man? Teresa said. That man lives drunk. Both him and his dick. I haven’t seen him hard in years. You could move in here tomorrow and he’d never know the difference.
Okay, Berto said, afraid. Okay.
Aparecida also saw that he would go, and that Teresa’s husband might never leave his house, but would sleep, exiled, on the couch from then on.
By the time Berto came home in the evening, Aparecida’s skin was transparent. Her muscles were translucent, and the shapes of her bones were sharp and defined. Her mother-in-law rocked and muttered to herself outside the front door. Where’s the food? she said.
Aparecida, feeling the tears on her cheeks, prepared her mother-in-law’s plate.
In the dark, next to her snoring husband, Aparecida watched her baby grow. She watched her infant daughter waddle, watched her play in the forest with fallen leaves and sticks, watched her work for Aparecida’s cousin. She watched her daughter work hard, planting, picking, cleaning, cooking, washing, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, always cleaning. She watched the small lights appear in the corners of her vision. She watched, her stomach sinking with a knowledge that this is how it would be. It would never be avoided. Aparecida watched her daughter grow into a teenager, watched her marry a drunk thinking she would leave—but never leaving.
In her sleep she let out a low, tight moan. Her husband, who was awake most of the night, turned over and pretended he didn’t hear, though he felt it reverberate through his bones.
In the morning, Aparecida watched Berto pack in silence. He glanced at the ground when he reached the front door, nodded, and left. She wondered if he knew that she knew. Her mother-in-law dragged her chair outside and rocked.
Aparecida cleaned harder than she had ever cleaned before. She felt worse than she had ever felt—dirty. The affair her husband was having was dirty. That woman he was with had a reputation. She was dirty. Aparecida took every item she owned to the river, every pan, every piece of clothes, and began to wash. She immersed herself in the water and scrubbed. She scrubbed, the water falling off the places her disappeared body had been, now falling off the air. She could make out faint lines of where she ended and the air began. She could no longer see her bones.
Knowing no one would see, she took off her clothes and began to scrub them, too. As the thin dress she was wearing slipped over her head, she looked down and saw her child floating in midair, the river parting around her in a circle. Aparecida sobbed in silence. A pain clamped on her lower abdomen and back. She let out a sharp shriek and fell in the water.
It took a long time for her to pull herself up, but when she did, she waddled back to the house, soaked, all her possessions and clothes flowing alone down the river. In place of her body, all she could see was a floating baby. No one who saw noticed, or if they did, they didn’t speak.
Aparecida knew she was never coming back. Walking dripping up the path to her house, she could sense her daughter’s entire life marked by melancholy. It was too much for Aparecida to bear. She walked up to her door—unable to run—held herself up in the frame, and bawled. Her mother-in-law, who for once wasn’t sitting outside, ran to Aparecida faster than Aparecida knew she could move, helped her to the bed, and ran out the door to get the midwife.
On the bed, Aparecida saw her mother who almost never spoke, her grandmother she never knew, her entire line pushing back through time. She saw her native ancestors that stretched all of Ceará to the shores in Fortaleza, where they were then declared nonexistent. She saw her Portuguese ancestors sailing across the ocean. She saw her African ancestors enslaved and toiling and cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. She saw all generations as she waited for the baby.
She saw the future and watched her granddaughter. At this, the small lights appeared, and Aparecida allowed them to surround her.
Aparecida saw and comprehended all things. She witnessed and felt all the pain and tears of the entire world. She beheld that everything, all happiness and pain and joy and misery, was linked, that all was one eternal round and time an illusion, that either everything exists or nothing exists. She swelled up, larger than the world, knew each person to ever walk the earth, knew all their names, felt each blade of grass, took in all ocean and air and land, knew each moment was an eternity, and this eternity was better than any moment she had ever had in her life.
By the time the baby was born, Aparecida was gone.
David Martinez is a half-American half-Brazilian writer who has lived all over the US, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside Palm Desert. David has conducted interviews for The Coachella Review and has had fiction published in Broken Pencil. His most recent essays can be found in the Writers Resist Anthology and Anti-Heroin Chic. David teaches English and Creative Writing at Glendale Community College in Arizona.
Photo by Bryant Churckyno via Unsplash
Published April 13th, 2019