Fiction: Bleach

By Chere Taylor 

The woman comes to visit me and my brother Jorge every day, a chubby white woman with yellow hair. She doesn’t look anything like my mother, but I like her anyway. She wears a dress like me. Except her dress is clean. I’ve been wearing the same dress since they took me and all the children and put us in cages.
She opens our gate door. With her big, thick arms she brings in her cleaning cart, the mop, the spray bottles. And she brings with her the smell of bleach. It is her special perfume. It makes me think of hospitals and office buildings. “EscĂșchame ahora” the bleach would say if it could talk. Listen to me.
I’m glad Jorge is still sleeping. Today I can have the yellow haired woman all to myself.
“What’s your name?”
She never answers this question, though I ask her every day. Maybe because she doesn’t understand my English. I think I speak English well. My teacher told me so, but that was before we had to go to America.
“How come you wash everything?”
“I don’t know.” Her voice is a whisper. She is concentrating on her dance with the mop, quick, short movements on the concrete floor.
“So we don’t get sick?”
“My mama does that too. She gives me and Jorge medicine so that we don’t get sick.”
She has nothing to say to this. So I am quiet. The bleach smell tingles my nose again harsh and hot. It reminds me of the time me and Jorge were living at my uncle’s house and we were playing in the garden. Jorge tricked me into eating red radishes. They burned and stung my nose like the bleach. I screamed in anger; “No es justo Jorge!” Not fair! Mama came running from the house and she laughed and took us all back inside. She gave me cold water to drink. I miss those times. Mama told me that a good memory was like a bead on a necklace. You don’t want to touch the necklace too often because it can rompio, break, and then your memory changes. But I like to take my memory necklace out. Even if it does break.
The yellow haired lady is almost done cleaning our pen, so I ask her my last question.
“When is mama going to come and take us back home?”
I can tell from the frown on her face that she doesn’t like this question either. But she always answers it. It’s how we say good-bye to each other.
She closes the gate, locks it, and even though she’s gone, the bleach of smell remains. It is almost like a friend. It means important people are thinking about me. It means I’m important. I hook my fingers through the wire fence to get closer to that smell. The bleach promises me that the yellow haired lady will see me again tomorrow.

Chere Taylor studied creative writing at Western Illinois University where she cultivated a sneaky admiration for the inexplicable. In addition she has won several writing contests and published four stories, including one that will be appearing in the September issue of Granfalloon


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