Tía has a collection of owls. Mostly blue, a few gray and brown, one pearly pink. All of them with giant open eyes that watch us as we walk down the hall, watch us as we take a dump, watch us watching TV or half-assing the dishes. When Tía makes us mad, serves only cream of tomato soup without grilled cheese on Fridays during Lent, we move her owls. Never break one. Just shift their positions on her dusty shelves and wipe away evidence of our wrongdoing. We trade the hall owl with the toilet owl, the kitchen one with the living room one. She only notices when we lay the bedroom owl on its side, eyes facing the wall because it’s too tall for its new place by the front door. She sends us outside for the rest of the day.
Fine by us. We’d rather play with Tío’s pit bull, throw balls and climb trees, hang upside down by our knees.
Elisa busts out jacks that our Tías used to play with. Hard to imagine them once being our age. We sit with our feet touching, our legs in the shape of a pentagram. Elisa scatters the ten metal jacks across the rough concrete. She bounces the shiny red ball. Onesies, twosies, threesies, she misses. “Let’s pretend they’re ninja death stars.”
We each grab two and scramble to our feet. Throw and catch, duck and run. Joanna throws hardest. Larissa squeals loudest. Delia can’t catch because she closes her eyes, so she keeps bending over to dig jacks out of the grass. Elisa hits her big ol’ butt. Delia throws a dirty one back and it jingles across the patio.
Throw and catch, duck and run. Joanna throws hardest. Larissa squeals loudest. Delia can’t catch because she closes her eyes…
Maribel yelps, her arm in the air midthrow, a jack stuck at the edge of her hairline. A tiny trickle of blood flows along her eyebrow, past her temple. She blinks.
Elisa walks over and plucks out the jack. “Who threw this one?”
Blood gushes over Maribel’s whole forehead. She looks up cross-eyed.
Delia rushes over, covering Maribel’s wound.
We walk into the laundry room and hold Maribel’s face over the giant sink, where Tía shampoos before she cuts hair or rinses after color treatments. The chemicals linger in the walls. We open the faucet and run the cold water, trying not to drown Maribel.
Joanna gets a white towel from Tia’s stack and presses it to the still-bleeding spot.
Larissa whispers, “Is she gonna die?”
“Shut up!” Maribel hisses. “Get me an aspirin from the bathroom cabinet.”
Larissa scurries away.
“She gonna tell?” Elisa asks.
“She better not,” Delia growls.
“I need a Band-Aid.” Maribel points to the toolbox. “Tío keeps some in there.”
Delia opens three drawers. “Look what else he keeps.” She scoops up a handful of coins and puts them in her pocket. “For later.” She hands Joanna the Band-Aid, and we fluff Maribel’s hair so her injury hardly shows.
When Tías are busy making dinner, we escape through a hole in the fence. We run down Pedley Road to Limonite and catch the Van Buren bus to Tyler Mall. We use our stolen change to buy one Orange Julius and watch other girls sit for ear piercing at Claire’s. We pose next to mannequins at JCPenny. We tap the glass at the pet store and watch puppies go wild. They kick up poopy dust until we choke. We try to climb up the down escalator, but security chases us away.
We use our stolen change to buy one Orange Julius and watch other girls sit for ear piercing at Claire’s.
We stop to catch our breath at the 7-Eleven. We watch a cholo puff on something sweet, take a swig from the paper-bag–wrapped bottle, bob his head to a tune we can’t hear. But we watch too long.
He yells at us, “Metiches!” and chases us, too.
We escape on the wrong bus and have to transfer twice. We get home after dark and Tías are too drunk to be mad.
After dinner we climb onto the roof where Tía keeps her biggest owl. It’s carved out of wood, painted parts faded by the sun. It scares away the other birds, so they don’t build nests.
“I got this.” Larissa holds up a half-empty jug of Tyrolia.
The rest of us gasp.
She shrugs. “Tías don’t need any more wine.”
We pass it around, each take a swig, and wash down its bitterness with Cherry 7Up.
Elisa hands us each one metal jack. She uses the sharp point to carve her initials on the wooden owl’s wing. We take turns doing the same. Maribel draws a flower next to hers. Delia makes stars on either side. Joanna does hers in puffy letters. Larissa takes her time, making that cursive L like we saw on TV.
We watch Elisa carve a heart around us all.
Chicana feminist and former rodeo queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is an Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California. She is a Macondista, creates drama with the Center Theater Group LA Writers’ Workshop, and works for literary equity through Women Who Submit.