Our grandmothers lie in slips that shine like cellophane. Their breasts hang loose and heavy like bindles from their collar bones. We gaze at the crosses hanging over their beds, so much like marks over graves, as they whisper softly, softly on the edge of sleep.
“The fence was there at the beginning,” they tell us, “before you were chased roe in your mothers’ bellies, before God pressed his thumb into your skulls and the brambles sprang there, before you swam up your mothers’ throats and burst into air. God made one side by side with the other,” they say, “put the fence between them, and the fence was good.” Their lashes settle closed like nestled crow wings, and we curl like snail shells at their calloused feet.
That night, we dream of the fence: the ivy weaving through its galvanized links, waving us closer or shooing us away. Wooden planks behind it blocking our view. We gather by the fence in the morning, like we always do, to collect stones around its perimeter. We search for stones till our feet grow sore from the weight of our bodies. We lie in front of the fence and heap our stones into small mountains, noting hints of granite, amber shards of beer glass, marble swirls of calcium and tar.
We lie there, leaning on our elbows, admiring our stones in secret, till the bruja from the second floor opens her window. She makes a bowl of her hands and rips it apart, shelling the dark earth with pellets of rice. We stare up at the bruja, and the bruja stares down at us. It’s a look we’ve seen before—the way our grandmothers stare out of their windows, like the sky is a paved road they never meant to wander down. Our grandmothers told us the bruja lost her magic a long time ago—that all she’s good for now is conning superstitious pendejos, but we wonder what our grandmothers know and what they don’t know.
“Una brujería,” we whisper to the air. “Witchcraft. A spell.”
We pocket our stones in a hurry, and that’s when we see it: a pigeon huddled by the fence. Its beak parted. Its eye backlit. We poke it with sticks, but it just sits there, collecting and dispelling wind.
“Fly, bird,” we say.
“Déjalo,” the bruja commands from her post above us. “Leave it be,” but we will not be moved.
We stand by the bird till the old witch sighs and closes her window; till the sun dips out behind the fence, tinging the sky with blood and gold; till orbs of jaundiced light undulate from streetlamps; till our grandmothers shout our names from behind their gated windows, and our stomachs coil like chains on bikes we do not have. We place our last Cheetos near the bird’s gaping beak, wipe neon-orange residue onto our jeans before we run.
“We’ll be back tomorrow,” we say.
At night, we fall into dreams of the bruja’s face glowing in the sky.
“Niñas,” she says, “qué están hacien”—her head cracks open, and a flurry of white birds emerge between her eyes. They bullet towards us. Our feet are tarred to the ground. We wake up screaming, running to the window. We gasp for air, brace ourselves against the glass. The fence is out there. The sky is swirling like a bruise.
We slink into our day-clothes, pockets heavy with stones; sneak past our grandmothers’ bedrooms, and slide through our front doors. Outside, we find the bird laying on its side, stilled windless. Its wide-open eye is a cold tar-black. We wonder where the light went, where the wind went, where the tar came from and if we can make it go away. We wonder till the sun rises; till the birds flit out of the trees, over our heads, and over the fence—every bird risen but ours.
We lean against the fence. It whines like an instrument never before tuned, never before touched. We rope our fingers around its rusted diamonds and shake the fence. It makes the sound, we’re sure, of a heart breaking. We kick it, and leaves of ivy snap off and fall to the ground. We stomp the ivy the way we stomp cockroaches. It’s a softer kind of feeling, like cotton smashed between our fingers. Cotton ground between our teeth.
We latch the fronts of our shoes into its diamonds, hook our fingers in and climb. It is hard at first. We are so heavy. But we climb on, together, higher and higher, higher and higher, till we reach the ceiling of the sky. On the other side, there are fire escapes; trumpet vines loping around wrought iron; bushes dappled with the soft, crumpled heads of yellow roses; and a girl on a bike with a face as white as eggshells. She looks up at us with eyes like wells of sky-light. We wave and start to climb down to her, but she gasps, and we know we cannot.
We hold onto the fence and stare up at the sky, more sea than road, cloud-foam so close we can almost touch it. We shove one hand each into our pockets and rub our stones like prayer beads, praying for a different kind of lightness. Behind us, the bruja’s window whines open.
“Niñas,” she yells. “Niñas, qué están haciendo?” We look back at the bruja. Her face is pruned with worry, but her eyes are shining now. “Niñas, dios mío,” she says. “Bájense de ahí! Get down!” Her hands reach through the barrier between the building and the air. Palms open, fingers stretching to touch us, to pulls us in.
“Bruja,” we say. “Do you believe in magic?”
We wink at the old witch, and up we fly.