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The Afternoon of a Memory

by Sebastian Ponce

Rorro hated sunny days. Too bright, too shiny and with a glare on everything. The melting snow created mirrors on the road and the sun was right there, in front of his eyes, piercing his retina through the windshield and through his sunglasses. The sidewalk was his reference, not the road. Sunny days were bad enough anytime of year, but in the spring in Maine, they were brutal.

He made it home, somehow. His six-year-old daughter, Madelina, came sprinting down the living room and clinched onto his leg. He walked her to the couch like a prosthetic leg and both sat down.

“Papi, what’s this?” asked the girl as curious as ever. She ran her fingertips over her father's scar. Rorro’s natural reaction was to flinch but this time remained still, tender to the touch of his daughter.

She leaned closer and examined it with her eyes wide open as if it were the first time she had seen it. The mark went from her father’s left eyelid, across his temple and finished as a bald spot on his sideburn.

“Does it hurt?”

Bonita, you are so silly,” Rorro said and wrapped her with his body. He combed her hair with his fingers. “You know the story.”

“But I can’t remember, Papi.”

She was starting to outgrow all those picture books on the shelves.

“Please Papi, I wanna hear it again!”

Madelina's face grew with anticipation; her eyebrows like crescent moons, her round cheeks, just like her mamá’s. She rocked her legs on the edge of the couch. Rorro looked at his child, and with a sigh submerged into his memory.

He began.

“Where I’m from in Ecuador, the roads are narrow and winding and the sun is always radiant. I shoved it into second gear and the engine of the Hilux roared. I know that road to the valley as well as your mother’s curves and turns…”

Madelina smiled.

“I had the radio on. Sharp turn ahead. A gray beat-up Volvo drove in front of me. One of those boxy ones, old as a legend. The Volvo drove almost on the double yellow line, then a motorcycle zoomed in the opposite direction and hit the Volvo on the driver's door. The two bikers were catapulted up into the air and landed on the asphalt. The Volvo left the scene as fast as its old engine allowed, coughing white smoke out of the exhaust.

“I stopped the truck and killed the engine. I hopped out and I could feel the hardness of the pavement on my soles. I quickly approached the injured, but they laid there motionless.

‘What happened!’ asked a short and bulky villager still catching his breath.

‘The gray car in front of me... these folks came out of nowhere…’ I continued describing what had happened and I noticed that my voice was trembling.

“The scene filled with curious people. Nobody seemed to be doing anything for the wounded. They all just stood there and stared.

‘What gray car?’ the bulky man asked.

‘The car that was in front of me,’ I said. ‘The motorcycle came too fast, I don't know why the car didn't stop

‘What gray car!’ the man interrupted with an accusing tone. ‘Isn’t that your gray truck over there?’

“I pressed my fingers against my eyebrows for a second and then said. ‘I stopped to check on these people!’

‘You know what happens to murderers here, muchacho?’ the man said, ‘we burn them!’

“The crowd cheered in support, all riled up. I felt a lump in my throat. If the police didn’t make it in time, they would take justice into their hands.

‘Better pray they're O.K!’ an intoxicated bystander shouted from the back.

‘I’m telling you’ I raised my voice but it was hard to think. My knees weakened. I took a deep breath and continued, ‘the gray car in front of me—’ the bulky villager didn’t care for another explanation and charged at me.”

As Rorro carried on, his hand involuntarily rubbed his mark. Strange how a simple scar can make the past feel so real.

“I took one step backwards and missed the first swing by a hair but more kept coming in.”

Madelina was still, like a photograph.

“I ducked my head in between my shoulders. His hands were two heavy mallets, sculpted by years of intensive physical labor. The blows shook me to my core and I tried to shield my face with my arms. The punches landed on my neck, behind my ears, on the top of my head... I took a couple of steps back and a blow landed on my lips, but I was able to break free.

“Instinctively, I got in a fighting stance and for the first time, the irate villager stopped. I lost one of my shoes in the attack, but I didn't care anymore. Blood pumped to my limbs and my eyes boiled with fire.

‘Take it easy, muchacho,’ warned a man behind me. The racket of the people was loud. They could smell the kill. Strangers blinded by rage. No way out.

“Three men crept closer towards me from all angles. I faced one of them leaving my flank open, my back unprotected... I turned right, towards one man approaching me and BAM!

“I felt a sharp sting on my left eyebrow. The shock shot down my spine and dropped me to my knees. Someone had struck me with the lug wrench from my own pick-up.”

Rorro’s pulse accelerated. His adrenaline kicked in. He closed his eyes for a second, as if he felt that blow again. He looked at his reflection in the window and continued, “Somehow, I did not lose consciousness, but being conscious terrified me more than blacking out.

“I pressed on the open gash with my hand trying to ease the throbbing and the pain. Blood ran down my side like a river of red and made a small puddle on the ground. The blood was warm and some seeped into my mouth. It had the taste of metal.

“The man with the wrench got ready for a fatal blow but a high-pitched scream from the crowd made him freeze—”

“I love this part, Papi!” Madelina cheered.

“I know you do, bonita...

“A young woman jumped in front of the attacker and yelled ‘Él no lo hizo!’ in an American accent. She protected me with her body, using it as a human shield. ‘He didn’t do it!’

“An old man and his cane limped his way through the crowd. He owned the corner store that stood not too far away from the accident. He was well known and respectedone of the village's four chiefs.

‘He’s telling the truth,’ said the chief with his deep voice. ‘Wasn’t enough to have two lifeless bodies, Felipe?’ the old man told the attacker with the weapon. ‘You wanted a third? This muchacho is also someone else’s son!’

“The lug wrench echoed as it was dropped to the ground.

‘Someone call an ambulance now!’ the chief ordered.

“The ambulance took forty-five minutes as it is common in that part of the world. The young American cared for me the whole time. She pressed on the wound with an improvised gauze she made from her sweatshirt to stop the bleeding.

“I couldn’t stop shaking, almost convulsing. It began in my stomach and continued throughout the rest of my body. Then I fainted.

“When the paramedics arrived, she argued her way into the ambulance. And when I woke up, the first thing I saw was her beautiful smile between those beautiful round cheeks.

“I'm sorry it hurts, Papi.”

“Don’t be sorry, bonita,” Rorro lifted his daughter and gave her a hug.

“But I don't want you to hurt, Papi,” Madenita insisted, about to cry.

“I know, bonita, I know.” He gave her a long kiss on one of her cheeks. “It hurts, but it feels better when you touch it.”

About the Author

Sebastián Ponce is working on his debut novel. He usually plays the Polish Opening with white and the Alekhine Defense with black and loves smothered checkmates. Born and raised in the mountains of Ecuador, one of his biggest accomplishments is climbing to the top of Cotopaxi and seeing what it was like to walk on top of the clouds. He now lives in Maine with his wife, son and daughter, where they enjoy walking by the ocean. Some of his work is also set to appear in the 27th issue of Fourteen Hills.

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