» Fiction

No te metas

As hard as she can, Griselda pinches the skin between her thumb and pointing finger. The pain is a distraction. Earlier today, her dad grabbed her heavy metal t-shirts, favorite black hoodie, and smelly socks and stuffed them inside a black suitcase. The suitcase now stands by the open front door, and Griselda can see her dad. He’s outside by the yellowing yard with his head tucked under the hood of a fender-dented Ford pickup. Griselda sits on the couch while her dad fidgets with Craftsman tools. He’s trying to get his truck started by working on the carburetor, which Griselda hopes he can’t fix.


Her mother left them eight months ago. Since then, her dad has gone weeks without bathing, days without eating.


After an hour of tinkering, he tries turning on the ignition. The engine flutters. It’s a false start, and Griselda is relieved. She breathes deeply, tilts her head back, and gazes at the sparkled popcorn ceiling. The music coming out of the truck’s speakers reminds her of when her dad, in exchange for a powerful sound system, put several crisp fifty-, twenty-, and ten-dollar bills in the palm of a vendor at the Roadium open-air swap-meet that had once been a drive-in theater.


Singing along to his music, Griselda is dismayed that she knows all the words to “No te metas con mi cucu.” She didn’t know she had that in her, and she hates herself because the song’s corny rhymes embarrass her. She’s sixteen, after all, and won’t admit that she likes the song, so she shakes her head as if the sudden movement will scare off the Spanish lyrics.


Her dad steps on the gas pedal, revving the engine. Griselda presses her lips together, tightening and rolling them into a thin line. The rumble of the motor intensifies, but soon, it peters out. Griselda relaxes. Her shoulders droop down, and her lips return to their normal, full shape, with an undefined Cupid’s bow. Getting off the couch, she closes the door, sticks a mixtape of Metallica and Iron Maiden songs into the home stereo system, and turns the dial to ten. The cassette is a gift from Sergio. He’s the scruffy-looking teen who wears a black Misfits t-shirt, rolled up at the sleeves.  He’s the only boy in tenth grade that has a tattoo. On his left arm, there’s a black and grey skull, which looks more like a deformed mushroom. Griselda likes Sergio’s badly done tattoo mainly because she likes him.


The speakers throb with fast, angry, and loud sounds, vibrating the floor and walls surrounding Griselda. She bites her teeth and digs her nails into her palms. Once the truck gets repaired, Griselda knows her dad will come in, wearing his blue trucker hat, motor-oil-stained jeans, brown work boots, and smelling of cigarettes and liquor. Despite any outbursts from her, he’ll grab her suitcase, toss it in the rear of the pickup, and take her away. Seven days ago, he told Griselda he was moving back to Méjico, where things were simpler, but that he wasn’t going to take her with him. Griselda had felt her body, especially her chest, tighten.


The bottom tip of her nose is red, slightly swollen, and stings when touched. Yesterday, without her dad’s knowledge or permission, she took all the money he had out of his wallet. And with her best friend, Sylvia, encouraging her, Griselda got her septum and navel pierced. She also wanted to get her tongue and eyebrow pierced but couldn’t afford it.


Standing in front of the mirror, Griselda yanks off her green army boots, and slides out of her black jeans. She walks in her underwear and makes her way into the kitchen and grips the sharp knife her dad uses to cut his carne asada on Sundays. Griselda kneels to where her pants lie and starts stabbing and scraping. Her jeans become frayed, almost destroyed. Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” comes to a stop. Outside, the truck engine maintains its roar. It doesn’t stop. The edges of her eyes turn red. She drives the knife into the floor, leaves it sticking up, and pulls her pants to her waist.


Griselda goes to the bathroom and finds her father’s beard trimmer. She holds it for a few seconds and then begins to shave her head. Long, thick hairs clog the trimmer’s blade, and Griselda has to keep removing them to clean it. But even with the blade cleaned, the trimmer doesn’t always cut all the way through; instead, it pulls the hairs. Griselda likes how it feels and pushes the blade hard against her head, inflaming the skin.


Her father walks in and leans on the doorway. He lifts a beer that perspires little, wet beads and sips it. Grime blackens his hands and streaks his cheeks and forehead. He looks like a zombie, she thinks. After he glances at the messy floor and sink, he observes Griselda. She smirks. And he says, “Jesus, Gris, you really want to piss off your mother, don’t you?”


Griselda’s smirk disappears. She wipes her eyes, and over her mouth she smears the heavy-black lipstick she took from the Rite Aid on Redondo Beach Boulevard. Looking at herself in the mirror, she says, “No. Not really.”


“You missed a spot.” He reaches to touch her buzz cut, but Griselda moves, avoiding his hand. She takes a hard, wet-sounding sniff and places the trimmer over the sink’s countertop.


He shrugs his tired shoulders. “Orale. Vamonos ya. Your mother’s waiting,” he says.


When she stomps out of the bathroom, her shoulder digs into her father’s chest. It feels hollow to Griselda, and she tells him, “About time you got that piece of shit to work.” She carries the suitcase outside. It’s heavier than she’d expected, but she’s still able to toss it in the back of the pickup. Before her father jumps in and pulls the Ford away, Griselda ejects his Sonora Dinamita cassette out of the truck’s in-dash stereo and plays her mixtape instead because he hates esa musica. Stuffing his cassette into her pocket, she’s not too sure what she’ll do with it. As he sits, buckles up, and drives, Griselda’s forehead, covered with bits of hair, thumps the glass on the passenger side window and rests there. They pass houses, cars, and she stares at the white lines on the freeway. Picking up speed, the truck shakes and screeches, and the lines become a blur.


Francisco Manuel Uribe

Francisco Uribe is a 2018 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. His short fiction has been published in Crab Orchard Review and several other publications. His story “Lápices de color” is forthcoming in Huizache Magazine.  Currently, Francisco lives in Long Beach, California, and works for a nonprofit organization where he mentors at-risk youth.