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La Cucaracha
Beverly Jackson

Irma got loose from the ropes and could feel the blood rushing to fill the runnels in her wrists caused by the tightly knotted cord. She had seesawed for what seemed hours against a corner of a post that held up the roof of the drafty barn. Her arms ached from the effort, but at last she could lift herself out of her vomit and try to focus her eyes in the dank dimness of the old structure. She felt it was a dream or a trance from which she returned, the aching in her body droning like a dirge.

A horse whinnied somewhere nearby, which startled her. She could make out her bloodied panties atop the haystack that blocked her view of its stall. Her fingers slid to her stomach, cold to her touch, and she realized her skirt was gone. The buttons of her blouse were missing, but it hung on her shoulders, opened down the front.

Waves of nausea hit her again as she fumbled with the nooses around her ankles. When free, she used the post to pull herself upright, barely breathing, for fear of making a noise. Sunlight that leaked in between the old boards of the walls, lay in thin stripes across the straw floor.

There had been three of them. That much she remembered. Their faces a blur. Smiling, young, gringos. That she remembered all too well. Using words she didn't understand, and some she did. Laughing and --

"La Cucaracha!" Derision in her own language, she remembered.

She tumbled back to childhood in Taxco. The vieja in her neighborhood had always told the children to be careful where they walked; that the cucaracha wore its skeleton outside of its body, and while you could crush its bones with the bottom of your foot, you could never hurt its heart. She also said that it was given two sets of wings to compensate for not being born tiny and fast like the fly. Respect what is smaller than you, she would say, her black eyes twinkling, her long finger crooked in front of their faces.

Irma moved on unsteady legs to the wide entrance of the barn. It had been fastened in place from the outside. She stood and listened for voices, for the sound of a red pickup truck, or a beer bottle being pitched against the wild laurels. But she only heard the khurrs of the crows and the kew-kews of the magpies.

She turned and through the gloom, spotted something familiar hanging on a peg beside a side door. She could almost picture the gesture as the men, zipping up their jeans, guffawing, slamming each other's shoulders in horseplay, made their way out — and in mockery, neatly hung up her ruffled skirt.

She lightly touched her heart and moved toward what she knew would be unlocked.