photo by marie c lecrivain
Alex Hernandez is Cuban-American writer. His work often explores themes of migration and colonization, while blending the subgenres of space opera and biopunk. His first novel, Tooth and Talon, was published by EDGE. He lives in South Florida with his wife, two daughters and overly-affectionate cat.
Playground Rule # 5: Play Nicely Together.
Blood drains from my cheeks
as my baby girl navigates the treacherous jungle gym in the park.
It’s one of those newfangled things,
more extreme rope course than playground for children.
I smile, as thin as spider’s silk,
but Violeta is a natural.
All eight dainty feet tiptoeing and twirling on twisted cords
like a dancer on a trapeze.
Or some spindly thing in the dusty corner of your house.
I should have worried the instant the other little girl,
in her aquamarine summer dress with matching eyes,
fluttered into the park on carnation-colored shoes.
Dotting mother in tow.
But I’m weary. Tired of worrying about bullies and predators
and the plastic vapor rising from the playground equipment in the heat.
So I didn’t notice when Violeta stilled.
Her giggles quieting. Her ebullient expression contorting
into a truculent pout.
The twine of the playset tightening like the muscles in her back.
The girl’s mother joins me at the bench in the shade,
her perfume as cloying as her “good morning.”
As toxic as the steamy carcinogens swirling in the breeze.
I too still. Bracing against the inevitable
questions about my ferocious child.
Was it the spider milk craze of a few years back?
Or that tick-borne disease that suddenly swept the tropics?
CRISPR-enhanced foods? Errant enzymes? Rogue RNA?
I don’t know, I murmur. No one does, you idiot!
Did I stop nursing too soon? Yes.
I gave up at the first prick of her fangs.
Although the lactation specialist recommended I keep going
until her venom sacs swelled.
But I was afraid
I panicked when she disappeared from her crib at six months.
Only to be found, legs sprawled and obsidian eyes gleaming
on our ceiling.
Her dark bristles melting into the gloom of the room.
Terror choked me when she devoured Macho,
our fat, affable beagle.
A snuggle turned struggle.
Violeta and I sobbed as we buried his desiccated remains in our garden.
Under the orb weavers’ dew-jeweled display.
A lesson at the tender age of two: Don’t kill the things you love.
Eventually fatigue and familiarity overpowers fear
Saps them of strength.So I am slow to react when I see Violeta
tentatively creep toward her new friend.
She needs to be more social, I think, stupidly.
Then a sizzling scream punctures the thick morning.
Eight reedy limbs unfold delicately and
an aquamarine bundle tumbles through the tangle of ropes
hitting the acrid AstroTurf with a thud.
The fraught woman next to me flies into a frenzy.
I give myself a moment to catch my breath.
Blood thrumming in my ears.
Fingers trembling, I reach for the auto-injector in my purse
and shoot my child a chiding look.
Violeta bobs lightly in her cradle of lines,
suspended high above our heads.
My beautiful baby, sweet as poison berry
beaming defiantly, a snaggle-fanged thing
with the little girls’ shoes clutched to her chest,
pink and warm like meat.