Excerpt from La Luz, by Emma Dorsey

Sylvia thought I should see the rainforest before I left Honduras.  She took me into the mountains for a 6th birthday party up a thin, steep road.  On our way, we stopped at a wide ebb in the river where trees arched over silky water.  The place was the kind of place that cathedrals try to be.  Climbing over tree roots, crouching in moss, drawing heat from curving, giant stones, my whole body swelled up with pleasure at the place.  

I slid down rock, not minding the scrapes, and slipped into the river.  Floating on my back, I watched the light fall between the jurassic era leaves, scattering warmth on my pale limbs.  With the lazy pull of the current, I found myself in the shadow of an enormous tree.  Below me, a tangle of watery roots and distorted darkness seemed to sway.  I remembered what I had heard about poisonous snakes in such places.  I was paralyzed by fear that kicking would draw angry venom, and felt how far we were from help.  Desolate, I finally reached through my terror and pulled myself into the light.  Safe, standing, I looked for what had scared me, but it wasn’t in the water.  

I climbed high on the stones, and warmed myself in silence, palming the alien seed pods and leaf matter around me.  Sylvia wanted to go.  Mostly dry, we changed and walked through the woods to the child’s party in a tiny house dug into the hill.  Kids screamed and swung ineffectually at a piñata.  We walked past them into the dark indoors for a cake, decorated with Lightning McQueen, the same cartoon car that my nephews love.  We passed plates of red and yellow icing in the cool air of cement walls, which were covered with chalk and crayon drawings.  We watched the adults dance, and could taste diesel through the forest as sparse cars and trucks puffed past.  Sylvia flagged down a van, and we hitched a ride back to town wedged between children in suits on their way to see Harry Potter 7.

I came home to find that Dunia was out of the house.  I guessed that she was playing cards with her church gals and started boiling water to drink.  The afternoon storms were increasingly torrential as the rainy season approached, and this evening, the rain fell like a black waterfall around me.   When it suddenly lightened, I was terrified to hear a steady pattern of gunshots approaching the house, and so turned off the lights, put on my shoes, and lay on the tile floor.  As the water boiled softly, the dogs nosed around my face, but I didn’t move.  One last shot rang out, and I saw a firework pulse through the felted clouds.  I finally took a breath.  I started to laugh with the pleasure under my fear.   Sedated by relief, I fell asleep there, watching rose and orange eruptions, with my back pressed into the ceramic.  Dunia finally woke me, home from her poker night.  The smell of rum followed her chuckles out of her mouth.  She shuffled me to my room, as I noticed the acrid smell of the burnt pan.  I told her I would buy her a new one.  She told me to go to bed.

Instead, I lay awake in the gauzy membrane of my mosquito netting, thinking of the river, and of the birth I’d attended the day before.  I had been enraptured by a tiny mama named Cynthia, who couldn’t have been a day over 17.  I stood beside her bed, perpendicular to the storm of her, horizontal on her cot.  She pressed her swollen belly into the soft of mine, pushing her scrambling baby towards my spine.  She pulled me against her with the strength of two; sweating and hollering, calling out, unquiet with labor.  Cynthia, winding and unwinding with contractions, smacked my thigh, pressed my hand to her cheek, cooing and gazing into my eyes.  She stretched her arms up my body to my breasts. Inside of her, the last lip of her cervix slipped back, disappearing up the curve of her baby’s pate; nothing but a swollen rim of muscle had stood between him and the universe.  Free to let her body push, Cynthia brought her baby forth furiously.