I find the skull lying in a back alley. It has no eyes, but I know she looks at me—a timid shriek coming out of the darkness. Thick storms of brown and gray spill out of the trash as I rescue her. I’m not alarmed by her presence. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover a hand or a foot in this place, like scattered pieces from a bloody puzzle. I’ve heard about the disappearances, young women dissolving into the red mist of night. But those are troubles reserved for pretty girls.
“That’s a beautiful calavera” says the woman with yellow eyes. “You don’t know what that means? That’s the Spanish word for skull, idiota.” Always so loving, my stepmother. “Dinner is ready, by the way,” she mumbles.
“Thank you, I’m not hungry.” I know she doesn’t want me at the table, sharing a meal with her real daughters.
I bring the skull into my tiny kingdom. Like a soft kiss, the light bouncing up from the rotten wooden floor tints the gray walls of rose. Careful, as if she were made of crystal, I place her on a pillow. Poor skull. Poor tiny calavera, all alone in the world. That’s the name I shall give her: Calavera. I will always take care of you I tell her. She curls beside me, newly baptized. Saved.
Day of the Dead is fast approaching. The stores display magnificent Catrina gowns and I think about my poor Calavera, all sad and naked back in my room. I purchase a lavish hat crowned with delicate marigolds, a purple feathery stole, and a set of bright face paints. I dress her and contour her fine features with an intricate lace pattern—the kind woven by spiders. She smiles at me and demands a lullaby. I comply, stroking the marigolds while I sing, falling asleep with a sense of peace I have never felt before.
“Are you going to the Día de Muertos fiesta?” my stepsisters ask the next morning. They know I shy away from any type of social gathering, but they’re on a rant. “You’ll be a hit with your new amiga!” Their cackles pierce like a thousand knives.
Calavera remains quiet in her corner. The spell cast by her new accessories seems to have faded and she looks at me expectantly. She wants to go to the party. It’s up to me to make her dream come true, to give her a body so she can wear a beautiful gown and enjoy her magical night.
Hidden in soft folds of shadows, we wait in the alley. My stepsisters were too fat and my stepmother too skinny. An offering of red roses spilled out of their severed heads. Curled up next to me, the nothingness in Calavera’s eyes glints off the knife. We hear the happy click-click of high heels coming toward us. Steps so light, that we know they belong to a body that everyone loves—the kind that will be the perfect fit for us.
Don’t worry, my sweet Calavera, you’re going to the ball!
Melanie Márquez Adams is an Ecuadorian American writer, author the short story collection Mariposas Negras and Querencia: Crónicas de una latinoamericana en USA. She holds an MFA in Spanish Creative Writing from the University of Iowa where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. More recently, her work has appeared in Puerta del Sol(forthcoming), Laurel Review, Launch Ticket, Huella Magazine, and Escritorxs Salvajes: 37 Hispanic Writers in the United States. An International Latino Book Award winner, Melanie translated Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy for Penguin Random House Español. Follow her: @melmarquezadams, melmarquezadams.