Tara Isabel Zambrano
At night, dead girls roam in the neighborhood. It’s the middle of January and the roads are sprinkled with salt, lined with single-story shacks with missing shingles and cheap sidings. They didn’t know each other before they died. Now they sit at the cul-de-sac and share a smoke. The air around them turns gray.
Sometimes, Chelsea finds herself at the base of the lake. Black, ripped tights and a red tank top, the sound in her throat like sloshing water in a jug. Josey, her boyfriend, still swipes through her naked pictures on his phone, her never-trimmed hair covering her breasts, touching her pubes. Pouting lips, watery-blue eyes and her stubborn paleness fading into the background. In the mornings, he jogs past her house and imagines her silhouette behind broken blinds, removing her night retainer, later picking at her scalp while struggling with her calculus homework. Or in the back of his pickup, in her dollar-store lingerie and pumps, holding his head―feeling the tip of his tongue in her throat. Or lying face turned sideways on a floater in the lake without the fear of drowning.
Dried blood extends from Lata’s left eyebrow to her thin shoulder blade, a dark, deep wound above her left ear. She sits with her weight shifted on the right hip as if leaning against the night. Ten houses away, her auto mechanic father microwaves soy nuggets and eats them in front of the TV, his large knuckled hands resting in the empty bowl like they used to between Lata’s legs, his sweat and grease suffocating her, staining the sheets and her panties. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he wanders around the only temple in the town and makes donations in hope of seeking redemption, cries in the prayer meetings as he rolls up the sleeves of his white kurta. The images in his head keep playing non-stop― the shaking bed and fear-paled Lata staring into the ceiling, her body a rainbow of bruises, shivering.
The needle marks on Sian’s hands have healed but the hallucinations still continue. Each vein in her body felt like a sparkler. She became lost in the rapture of daydreams that made her fuck dealers. She often passed out in her bed and woke up with her thin, crack-numbed limbs, a forest of visible nerves underneath the skin ready to burst.
The girls don’t talk how they died. They untangle each other’s locks, the insides of their mouths still pink, their eyes sparkling with mist. They rope their arms around each other’s waists, shush gently about going to a beach― feel the hot sand on their chilled and aching bodies, gaze at the sunlight ground into a moonstone. Before the dawn foams and softens the purple-edged horizon, they see Venus low in sky; realize they haven’t survived up to their eighteenth birthday. The tree tops turn from dark grey to peach, the roofs of the houses they lived in, visible, their sharp edges up. Fidgety in their skin, they conclude they’ve died without living. They’re still dying. They call out their names, watch the dust bury their words in the hungry earth. Then they cross their arms above their chests to feel something move but their hearts remain. Still, very still.
Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Passages North, and others. She is assistant flash fiction editor at Newfound.org. Tara moved from India to the United States two decades ago. She lives in Texas and holds instrument rating for single engine aircraft.