In my town there are no graveyards. We bury our dead outside our borders far from the living.
Those who know of our customs warn their children:
“It’s a land of marshes. Full of swamps and demons. Never go there.”
How silly. Demons? They aren’t demons.
Children are the only ones who can see them.
Especially babies; you can see them staring at the empty air, following movements with their eyes.
Son sus angelitos Mamá explained. It’s their angels.
I had grown up by then so I could no longer see them. Sometimes out of curiosity I’d stare into the eyes of my baby cousins. I thought if I got close enough, I’d see them. All I ever saw was my reflection in their tiny irises.
There is a very good reason why adults can’t see the “angelitos.” If they could, they’d realize there are no angels here. There are only shadows that move with the trees and the wind, waiting for open windows and sleeping children.
If we could see what those angels made our children do, we would all leave.
I wasn’t supposed to find out. Had I listened to what Mamá said (No debes de cargarla cada vez que llora, la malacostumbras) I would have stayed in bed and let my baby daughter cry.
But I didn’t. Instead I left my bed and took her into my rocking arms. I walked through my apartment, rubbing soothing circles over her back. That’s when I saw it.
A faint glow peeking through the closed curtains.
I thought it a police car or perhaps a truck passing through. I was completely unprepared for the sight that met my eyes.
Four children walked hand in hand, bodies aglow, eyes unseeing and white.
On the ground following behind them were their shadows contorting and changing with each step they took. They dragged other shapes with them. These very distinctly human which clawed at the shades they passed in an effort to get away.
I ran from the window, daughter held tight in my arms, and locked us in my bedroom where Mamá found us the next morning.
I tried to explain, to tell her what I had seen, but she merely shook her head and beckoned me to follow her. On shaky legs I walked to Mamá’s room. She murmured disapprovingly under her breath and took the baby from my trembling arms.
She placed her sleeping nieta on the bed and walked to her dresser. On it was a crafts box from which she extracted a piece of red string. She took this and tied it around my baby’s wrist.
¿No me oiste? She said, impatient and a little sad. ¿Quieres ser una mala madre?
I didn’t understand. How was I going to be a bad mother? She didn’t explain, merely motioned me to lie down as she shuffled out of the room.
She came back, holding a mug of tea and instructed me to drink the whole thing before lying back down.
Mamá, I tried to ask.
But she shushed me gently and turned off the lights. She pulled up a chair next to the bed and pointed at the mug of tea. I drank it and soon fell asleep.
When I woke Mamá was gone and the red string around my daughter’s wrist had turned white.
My daughter is three now. She loves to talk about owls, bats, and spiders and how sometimes they and abuelita visit her dreams. She explains how they they talk about walking to the North to a house without windows. I never ask her to explain further and every night I tie a red string around her wrist and clip it away when it turns white.
Sometimes I catch her staring over my shoulders at empty space and I think of what Mamá used to say.
I hope they are her angels.