create | encounter

winning submissions & honorable mention pieces

1st Place: Crossing Over

October 12, 2018

Anie’s Friday shift was going well. It was 7 AM and her patrons had consisted mostly of old men who sat in the corner drinking coffee and spreading local gossip. They were content with fresh coffee every 20 minutes and a smile. So, when Mauricio walked in the door, she had to stop herself from audibly groaning. He was accompanied by several of his crew, and they were all obviously either hung over or still drunk. Some local girls hung off one of the cronies, but Anie couldn’t tell if they were enjoying themselves or just resigned to being there and doing an admirable job hiding their fear.

 

Mauricio grabbed Anie’s butt as she came to take the order. Not even a quick pat or squeeze. He put his hand on her like he owned her. She cringed but continued writing. She hoped he wouldn’t take her lack of open revulsion as permission and slipped away as quickly as she could. When she came back with the food she was greeted with spilled coffee and a pile of crumpled napkins. A few of the gang had dispersed and only Mauricio and someone, whose name she could never quite remember, were still at the table.

 

“Bathroom,” Mauricio grunted, in explanation.

 

Anie thought it was a bit early in the day for drugs, even for this bunch, but shrugged and arranged the table. Mauricio placed his hand on her arm as she worked. She flinched without thought, causing him to let out a booming laugh and exchange some crude gestures with his friend. Anie blushed and pulled away. She gathered her composure and refilled the old men’s coffee. Thankfully, none of them were grabby.

 

The rest of the service was pretty uneventful. Mauricio’s crew actually paid their bill and left a few coins on the table for her trouble. She’d gotten things prepped for lunch without much problem, and only needed to take out the trash before she could start her two mile journey home. The dumpster wasn’t located directly behind the restaurant. It was down a weird curving alleyway that seemed intentionally designed to allow for ambush by some seedy coke-fiend. The staff usually had a buddy system for going back there, but the dishwasher was still up to his elbows, so Anie risked going out herself.

 

She turned the first corner and heard a voice.

 

“Anie.”

 

Before she could process it, his arms were around her waist. She recognized them immediately. Mauricio. He stunk of alcohol and something else.

 

“Mauricio….” She stumbled for words. “I need to take this to the dumpster.” He knocked the bag out of her hands while pulling her closer to his body.

 

“I’m Catholic.”

 

He laughed. She knew what was coming but tried her best to push him away, repeatedly telling him no and hoping that someone would hear and come. No one did. He laughed again when he was finished. Then he just left. He left like it was nothing. Like he’d gone out for a smoke and needed to go catch the rest of a game.

 

Anie looked at the ground. The bag had torn when he’d thrown it. She ignored the pain inside of her and bent down to gather the discarded cups and bits of leftover meat. Then she stood up, and took the bag to the dumpster. She vomited.

 

***

 

Her father accompanied her to the police station. He was in a blind rage and was swearing to kill Mauricio, but her mother had pleaded mercy. Justice, she had said. Anie and her father sat in the sterile room together. Him with his face and arms stern and bulging, her trying her best to sink into the painted walls. At last they called her name.

 

Detective Caliez was a stout man. Maybe 40. He didn’t look particularly kind, but seemed competent. He diligently took notes and nodded when it was appropriate. He promised that there would be a full investigation and that he just needed to interview the accused assailant. Anie tried to ignore the disgusted look he gave her father as they walked out.

 

A week later they received a notice. They did not have evidence to pursue an indictment. Her father saw one of Mauricio’s men at the station. There’d never been a chance. A week after that, a friendly nurse told Anie that the pregnancy test was positive. She cried the entire drive home.

 

Her mother and sisters talked in hushed voices about the situation. There were ways. There were people. God would understand. Anie overheard one particularly well constructed plan and burst into the room.

 

“It is not the rapist’s baby. It is…mine. Mine, Mama,” she sobbed.

 

“Shhh, Anietta, shh,” her mother comforted her, shooting warning glances at her daughters, “I know, I know, but what about Mauricio? If he knows, what will he do?”

 

Anie had been turning that over in her mind for days. There was no reason for him to see her. She hadn’t been back to work, and he hadn’t come to see her. He seemed content to maintain an uneasy truce in which she was forever broken and he got away without so much as a harsh word.

 

Perhaps she could just avoid him. She knew that it was wishful thinking. He would find out. Someone would tell him. It was better that she be the one to do it.

 

“We’ll tell him here. With Papa here, he won’t dare do anything. I will tell him that I want nothing from him and that will be that.”

 

Anie’s mother and sisters exchanged incredulous glances. They knew there was no use trying to change her mind about it. The joke had always been that Anie was the goat. Stubborn didn’t begin to describe her when she dug in her heels. She’d once literally tackled an escaping rooster just to prove he wouldn’t get away. He was a pretty tasty bird.

 

“I’ll tell Papa to make the arrangements,” Anie’s mother said.

 

Three days later Mauricio was sitting in Mama’s chair. He slumped so far into it that his head was barely above the backrest. His leg was crossed with his ankle resting on his knee, and light from the window was shining off of his slicked-back hair. He looked thoroughly inconvenienced.

 

Anie took a deep breath. “I need you to know,” she stumbled over her breath for a few seconds, but continued, “I need you to know that I’m pregnant.”

 

His inconvenience turned to rage.

 

“Get rid of it! You have to fucking get rid of it!” He rose from the chair and started towards her. Anie’s father took a step forward, but she waved him off.

 

Mauricio stopped, looming above her.

 

“I’m not going to do that, Mauricio. It’s a human being, and I can’t…I could never kill it.”

 

His eyes narrowed with contempt.

 

“You don’t have to do anything. I won’t ask for any money. I won’t even tell the baby that you are her father or how…” her voice trailed.

 

Before Anie could regain her composure he was lunging for her. He had his hands around her neck. “You WILL get rid of it!” he screamed, threading his fingers.

 

In another second her father was on top of him, pulling Mauricio to the ground. Anie let out a gasp of air and her sisters rushed to her side. Her father and Mauricio were rolling on the ground. Her father had a distinctive weight advantage on Mauricio, but the younger man’s blows came faster than he could block. With a scream, he slammed a fist into her father’s head, slamming it back onto the tiled floor. Anie heard a sickening crunch, and blood pooled in a sickening swirl. Her father stopped moving.

 

“Papa! Papa!” Anie screamed. Her mother and sisters screams soon joined. Mauricio stumbled to his feet. He looked dazed and sickened, but still deathly dangerous. For a moment Anie thought that he would kill them all, right then and there, but instead he ran out the door. Anie and her mother sat sobbing at her father’s feet. Malta, Anie’s older sister, was the first to speak.

 

“We have to call an ambulance!”

 

Anie shook her head. “He’s not breathing. He’s… gone.”

 

Her mother rose to her feet and wiped her hands, wet with blood, on her apron.

 

“He’s gone to get his men. We have to get out before they come back.”

 

***

 

Two weeks later, Anie found herself in a cramped produce truck, driving towards Reynosa. Directly beside her sat Sayra and her two year old daughter, Flor. Sayra had been mostly silent during the trip, but as they got closer to the border, she began to open up. Her husband, Anibal, was a police officer in Guatemala City until someone came to their house one evening and shot him before burning the house to the ground. Once news of his death had reached her, Sayra knew that she was also in danger, and fled with Flor. They’d been on the road for 3 weeks. Flor cried constantly for her Papa.

 

“He was a good man.”

 

Sayra repeated that mantra all the time. “A good, decent man.”

 

Anie’s nausea made her condition obvious, and she soon shared her story with Sayra. Days passed with little food or water. People were pulled off the truck and beaten and abandoned if they couldn’t continue to pay the “fees” the men asked for. Anie was thankful that she could pay and prayed for everyone she saw tossed aside. Flor ceased crying and simply whimpered in her mother’s arms.

 

The plan for both women was to arrive at Piedad de Jesus Mejia and prepare their cases. This transport would get them into the city, and from there they’d take a bus. When they actually arrived at the station, it was the dead of night and none of the buses were running. Anie and Sayra slept in shifts. Just before dawn, a man came up with a gun demanding money. They gave all that they had. Sayra said nothing.

 

Anie and Sayra poured over the bus map. The best option would put them about 5 miles out. When the bus arrived, Anie paid their fare with her mother’s ring she had sewn into her skirt. Something about losing it, the heat, and the pregnancy made her nearly faint, but she managed to smile and wink at Flor as they sat down. Sayra mouthed a thank you that didn’t seem enough. Anie replied with a wave more lighthearted than she felt, “De nada.”

 

The driver smirked and tapped the ring as they got off. Anie powered on her phone for the first time in 3 weeks. She saw a rush of messages from her family. Her father’s body had been found. Mauricio had been arrested but immediately released. They were safe at Tio Jorge’s. Then nothing else. She decided not to risk a response until she was safely across the border. Instead, she punched in the address to the shelter and mapped a path.

 

Flor, in her colorful sandals, only lasted an hour before Anie and Sayra needed to alternate carrying her. While they walked, Tia Anie told her stories about the adventures they would have when they finally arrived in America. That made her giggle, a sound that Sayra had almost forgotten on their journey. Finally, they arrived at the shelter. There were showers and real food. Simple cots were set up in cozy rooms. Anie and Sayra could finally relax.

 

The next day, someone came to help them prepare their case. Sayra had a decent level of documentation. Flor’s birth certificate, as well as her own, Anibal’s service records, and a newspaper clipping announcing his death. Anie had only her ID and her pregnancy as proof of her situation. The advocate told her that her case would be harder, but that she would fight for her and try to gather any additional information on her father’s murder.

 

A week later, they approached the border. There was a crowd of people at the port of entry. More than the advocate had seen before.

 

“Maria! They’re turning everyone away!” shouted a stout priest. “They say it’s full. America is full.”

 

Maria turned to her clients, “We’ll try.”

 

For 6 days they spent their days camped at the border. Every so often a few people would be shuffled through, and at last, it was finally their turn. Maria gave the women the contact information for her liaison across the border, hugged them, and gave Flor a kiss on the head. “Be well,” she said.

 

***  

 

Maria had explained that they would spend two or so nights in the “icebox” for processing. Afterwords, they’d be given a return date for their credible fear interview. Sayra’s cousin would drive down from San Antonio to pick them up to stay with her family while their cases worked their way through the court.

 

So, when the American agent took them into a dark van, they had little worry about what was about to happen. Flor gave her mother a frightened look, and Sayra smoothed her hair.

 

“Shh, little bird. Shh. It’s all going to be ok. We just have to be brave for a little while longer.”

 

They arrived at the processing center. A rough man thew the door open and grabbed Flor by the arm. She screamed.

 

“We’re taking her for a shower and delousing. She’ll be returned after processing.”

 

“No!” shouted Sayra, “She’s clean! She’s had showers every day. She needs to stay with me. I’m still nursing her!”

 

The man said nothing and slammed the door.

 

“You’re going to the women’s building,” the driver grunted.

 

Sayra was hysterical, but Anie held her hand. “It’s ok. She’ll be right back with you. It’s ok.” Anie couldn’t make herself believe the words she said.  

 

The van stopped and they were marched into a building. Inside, there was a huge open area enclosed by a fence. There were women everywhere. Some were crying. Others stared blankly into space. The driver pushed Anie and Sayra through the gate.

 

A woman, mad with grief, sat sobbing several yards away.

 

“They took them! They took them!”

 

Anie walked over to her. “Who? Who did they take?”

 

“My babies! They took my babies! Three days ago they took my babies and no one will tell me where.”

 

***

 

Sayra and Anie sat in a small cell with two other women. It had been months since the man had taken Flor away. Anie was round in belly, but sunken everywhere else. Her once vibrant red hair was brittle and falling out. They’d asked for vitamins, but were given none. Her only check up had been a single doctor’s visit two months earlier. She’d heard her baby’s heartbeat and smiled at its strength. Now, she felt its kicks and had secretly decided that it was a girl. She’d name her Eva.

 

Sayra doted over Anie. She made sure she always ate the larger share and had enough water. Anie, in turn, kept Sayra’s spirits up about being reunited with Flor. Sayra had spoken to Flor once, a month after the separation. Flor had only cried Mama. The women’s rosaries had been taken by the agents as a strangulation hazard, but they’d scratched some semblance of one into the floor and prayed it constantly.

 

This day, Anie woke up in a pool of blood. She screamed and Sayra ran to her side. “Can you feel her kick?”

 

Anie laid still. A flutter came from her belly and she almost cried in relief. “Yes. But something’s wrong Sayra. Something is horribly wrong.”

 

Sayra screamed for a guard. After ten agonizing minutes, a tall, thin man came to their cell.

 

“She’s bleeding out!” shouted Sayra, “She needs a doctor. Now!”

 

The man shrugged and turned around. He didn’t say anything.

 

Sayra turned back towards Anie who was clutching her belly. “He’s going to get someone. I’m sure of it.”

 

Anie moaned. The contractions were starting. The other women jumped into action. One of them was gathering blankets and the other was examining Anie’s face.

 

“She’s too pale. I think it’s the placenta. They need to take the baby now.”

 

“Help! Please Help!” shouted Sayra.

 

No one came. Anie moaned in agony for 5 hours and no one came.

 

The woman who had gathered the sheets had designated herself the honorary midwife. She had five children of her own.

 

“It’s almost time,” she said.

 

No one had asked Anie about feeling movement in hours. They were afraid of the answer. Blood was everywhere.

 

At last, Eva was born. She had a full head of black hair and Anie’s nose. She was completely still.

 

Anie was barely conscious. “Why isn’t she crying?” she sobbed.

 

No one spoke.

 

“Why isn’t she crying?”

 

The “midwife” looked down sadly at Anie, as she placed little Eva’s body in her arms. “I’m so sorry sweetie.”

 

Anie held her silently and brushed her hair away from her eyes.

 

“She’s beautiful.”

 

Then Anie laid her head back on the pillow and said nothing else.

 

“We have to stop the bleeding,” the woman said, working furiously to press on Anie’s belly, “We have to get the placenta out.”

 

They worked for over thirty minutes, and were finally successful. The bleeding didn’t stop. Anie’s pulse had become undetectable.

 

Sayra sat with her back against the bars and sobbed into her hands.

 

An hour later, a guard came to serve dinner. Seeing the blood, he ran for a doctor.

 

Hours too late, a young man, not even 30, entered their cell. It looked like a murder scene. It was.

 

He pronounced Anie and baby Eva dead then turned and walked away.

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