Bird Bones, 1906

by Fernando Benavidez

The air was always unbreathable on Sundays after church, grey and thick with heavy clouds looming over us, resisting the thirsty pull of the buried bones below. Up until I was twelve or so, I used to walk around the old tombstones, trying to get to ’buelo’s grave, trying my hardest to avoid los muertos at all cost, to avoid stepping on one of them out of respect, in case they still felt something. I remember, near all the white wooden crosses next to ’buelo, I saw bird bones arranged in some weird circle, on purpose, put in some shape in the dirt, and I kicked them with my right foot because I knew what they meant, I knew from what ’buelita had told me once—what she’d done a few times to other graves. ’Buelita just stood there watching me, holding the rosary tight and shaking her head like she did when she couldn’t hug me into submission but had to force herself to let me let it out. “La Muerte no discrimina mijo” she said, “hasta los pajaritos que pueden volar, can’t get away,” but I wasn’t mad that she wasn’t angry at the bird bones or that all the names in the cemetery were only Mexican names, except for Billy Johnson, the only black boy I’d ever seen floating down the river, bloated. I was mostly mad that the rinches who patrolled the border along the edges of the river were still alive and well and my ’buelo wasn’t.

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Fernando Benavidez is a graduate student at Texas Tech University working on a Ph.D. in American Literature. He grew up down in Brownsville, a town on the border in south Texas where some of his stories come from. His short fiction has appeared in Fictional Musings, Flashing in the Gutters, MeatJournal and Pindeldyboz.