Avalanche

Loretta carries the plate of steaming rice carefully, as she has been taught. “Don’t spill on your pink dress, hija,” her mama had said. She arrives at the table and sets the dish down gently on the corner on a hot pad. She walks past Abuela, Abuelo, Tía, Tío, her primos, Juanita, Maria, Susan, Felipe, Ana, and Carlos. She walks around the corner of the table past all her brothers and sister and mother and her neighbors from across the street with their three kids. She reaches her chair and sits down.

The family is all eating, all noise. There is crunching, slurping, choking, ripping, stabbing, and scraping. Loretta hears these savage sounds beneath laughing and pleasant talking. The bench creaks under her from the movement at the massive picnic table. She looks up and away from the party to see stars shining brightly above, quietly. She squints and thinks she can see Jupiter.

A fist hits the table like a boulder, and Loretta is snapped back down to Earth.

“No quiero oír esto más!” Tío yells. He is always screaming at everyone. This time it’s at her Abuelo.

Tío pushes back from the picnic table and storms from the backyard into the house, mumbling in rushed Spanish. Abuela nudges Abuelo and gives him her stone eyes, her look that says I’ll leave you like Prima Maretta left Primo Jorge unless you fix your mess. Abuelo throws his napkin on the table and slides off after Tío.

The table is quiet for a moment before the rumble starts up again. More scarfing, rocking, and talking fills the backyard. Loretta picks at her rice.

Her primos, Felipe and Carlos, begin sword fighting with their forks. Carlos swings too quickly and pokes his brother in the elbow. Felipe’s eyes turn hard, and he lunges. The boys fall away from the bench and roll across the grass, knocking up dust and dirt as they punch and pull at each other. Their sisters, Juanita, Maria, and Ana, fall after them, screaming at their brothers to stop.

Tía breaks away from the table and runs to her boys. She is yelling in her deep, commanding voice, “No más! No más!”

At the table, Loretta’s neighbors are shifting—the yelling has shaken their infant daughter awake. Their middle child is teary and near the edge of crumbling, and their oldest son is close to sliding off the bench to join the “big boys” wrestling. The neighbors grab their children and sneak from the table in one swift motion, whizzing out through the backyard gate.

Loretta looks at her mother, who is looking at the remains of her table. Her eyes are brimming. She jumps from the table and tumbles into the house before a tear can spill over. Loretta’s preteen sister, the fixer, trails behind her mother asking, “What’s wrong, mama? What’s wrong?”

Her brothers look at each other and nod towards the basketball hoop in the driveway. They jump from the table before Abuela can say anything, but she sees them leave and chases after, yelling at them to “be present” when the family is together.

Be present, Loretta thinks. She looks around at the empty picnic table, the half-eaten plates of food, the spilled glasses of water. She sits in her spot, clean and calm, and listens to her family yelling around her. Loretta tilts her head up and looks at the stars. She thinks she can see Saturn. In school, she learned that Saturn’s rings are made of rocks—rocks that spin in continuous, complete rotations. Loretta wonders how they stay there, how they don’t just roll away into space one after the other.

She squints and begins to count the rings, twirling her finger in perfect little circles as she counts. One, two, three, four…

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