Sitting cross-legged on a braided rug, Sally and Rodrigo tell each other things.
Sally says if she could live in a painting, it would be one of her own making.
She says she’d lay the tempera on so thick it wouldn’t dry in places, and stray horse hairs from the brush would get stuck in them.
Maybe the wet paint even drips, she says, pushing her long bangs from her eyes. She imagines paint dots on the corn-colored linoleum of their tiny kitchen, making the floor look like a game of Twister – right hand on the red dot near the stove, left foot on the blue, her hip jutting toward the front door.
She says the paint smells of pines and pickles and a bee burying its tongue in the mouth of a coppery chrysanthemum.
Squint, she says, and you might see a faint smile on the face of a cerulean swirl. And tangerine wings opening with a snap, like a flag in a manic breeze.
She taps cigarette ash into the glass candy dish she found in a box of free stuff someone left on a sidewalk.
Blink and the wings will be gone, she says. In their place, the muddy scent of a shadowed pond where priests and princesses alike murmur fervent prayers to the light.
One lit candle in an old Cholula bottle. A kiss of wind blows through the cracked window, making the flame shiver.
Rodrigo sweeps a tortilla across the pool of mole on his plate.
When I was 10, he tells Sally, everything – taquitos, burritos, chiltomate – tasted of dust and bitter mango pits.
He says before that, his dreams were the shimmering green of a drake’s throat, as dazzling as a burnished symphony.
He says later his frail little brother, with whom he shared a bed – pobrecito, they called him – had skin that broke open at the slightest touch and bled blue milk.
He says his grandmother grew antique roses on vines that stretched so tall he was afraid their thorns, like rusted nail points, would rip the gauzy fabric of the sky, and that after his brother and then his mother died, his grandmother could still stir sopa de lima and smoke a cigarette and touch his head all at the same time.
When Rodrigo was 17, his father became a black-winged moth rimmed with spots as scarlet as the ruffles around La Catrina’s dress. Rodrigo says sometimes he still sees his silent father beating his wings against the topaz shades of porch lights.
He tells Sally one night his grandmother’s roses wrapped their woody arms tight around her house so that no one could get in or out.
He says no one ever saw his grandmother again, but he thinks she managed to escape by climbing onto the roof and letting the wind sweep her to the sky.