Cheché Silveyra has an MA in literature from the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. His stories have appeared in various publications in Mexico, the US, and Chile, and have received the Punto de Partida prize in 2010, the Fiction 101 award in 2011, and a Pushcart Prize nomination (organized by independent American presses). In 2014, he was awarded a Jóvenes Creadores grant from the FONCA in the poetry category. This story – an earlier version of which was published in The Grey Sparrow Journal – was originally written in English.
Leeroy Ferreira lives and works in Mexico City.
The Parade After the War
Of all those lost, unborn and unmade,
and whose heads got filled with neon lava
and remain buried under this, this road.
–JOE STRUMMER AND THE MESCALEROS,
from Ramshackle Day Parade
Chiquilín blew up the last balloon and huddled it with the rest, twisted the strings and tied the braid around his wrist and left the warehouse, holding his breath to cross the stinky alley to an empty, dusty sidewalk. To his right, the streets snaked into a part of Juárez still black under the night; to his left, the sunrise pushed the reds and oranges of the earth out into the clear blue sky.
The boy walked to the center lane of Panamericana Ave. and straightened his collar and marched south with his head up high. He wanted to catch the first sunrays on his forehead, that part of the body which, along with the chest, good men always offer to the bullets.
The morning after the last attack, the sun had risen weak, tainted by the curtain of smoke and dust and ashes floating just above the ground. A woman walked out of the curtain and up to Chiquilín and shook him from the shoulders and said, Tato, a name he’d never heard before. She smelled of limes as she walked away and turned into a shadow behind the curtain, calling the name over and over, her voice trailing off like a crazy heartbeat in the haze.
A truck rolled by—rooflights on and engine stammering—full of shadows armed withrifles, playing a loud and broken message from the speakers mounted on the hood: “…a last line of defense…for your safety…the desert…the war’s end…” And then nothing, the silence nested in the dust, the ashes, the smoke.
Standing in the haze, he remembered the warehouse, the helium tank, and as the message started again beyond the curtain, he imagined one thousand balloons taking flight above the desert.
The curtain had cleared and the shooting ceased when Chiquilín filled—with the pieces of the balloons that had burst in the warehouse—the bullet holes on the front wall of a house. He was thinking of his father, the story he told him about the day Chiquilín was born, the day mom went to live up in the sky where it was always warm and smelled of flowers.
In the morning, he marched on with his head up high and released a yellow balloon. It drifted up into the blue and the boy traced its path with a finger. When the balloon flew out of sight, he remembered the radio message and rushed forth.
Behind him, the sun shone upon the house, the little colored dots, the little patches.
Nene rode a rusted bike, his hair tangled and grey from the ashes. He wore a new t-shirt. “From the world futbol cup in South Africa,” Nene said. A man gave it to him in exchange for a favor which the boy wouldn’t mention.
“Where’re you going?” asked Nene. “I’m going to tie a balloon to each gun.”
“Think it’ll work?” “Yes.”
Chiquilín traveled on the pegs and Nene dodged burned cars and potholes when the bullets hit them straight on and sent the boys to the ground. The shooting continued and around them the asphalt exploded in dust and pebbles and the balloons rained down in little colors.
Nene had closed his eyes when the shooting ended. Chiquilín gathered the remains of the balloons, wiped the blood off his friend’s lips, filled the holes in his chest.
Then he tied the string of the last balloon around his wrist and rode away.
The pavement blurred under the midday sun and the last line of defense, like a necklace of blue bubbles against the mountains, stood behind the sand dunes on both sides of the highway.
“Who’s that fucker there?” someone cried from the right side of the road. “It’s a boy, lieutenant,” someone on the other side shouted back. “Shoot him down.” But before any shots were fired, the boy fell to the ground.
The newspaper had a photo of a young man handcuffed and knelt against a wall, his chest torn apart and a bullet hole between the eyes.
“That was a good boy, a good man,” Chiquilín’s father had said, sitting on the floor of thehouse they’d found abandoned. “Mom always said a man should act with brains and hearts or none at all. But, hell, this is pure meanness.”
Sitting by a candle in the corner, spooling the string they used for their balloons, Chiquilín tried imagining mom, not a body or a voice, just the smell of flowers and the touch of warm fingers running through his hair.
Outside the attack raged on. Dad’s voice grew smaller and dimmer and disappeared. Shots and explosions surrounded the house. The walls shook, the newspapers they’d used to cover the windows ruffled in a ghostly wind. Chiquilín blew out the candle, stood still and quiet. When the burst of bullets pierced the front door, the sunlight came inside in milky lances driven through his father’s body.
When they kicked down the door, the boy reached for his father, but the flood of daylight had wiped his body away.
Chiquilín dusted off his pants and shirt and picked up the bike. The front tire was blown. He could go on, but wouldn’t be easy. He got on the bike and pedaled to the blue bubbles in the sand, leaning hard on the handlebar to keep the bike straight.
He climbed down by the first machine gun, took the balloon off his wrist, and reached for the gun’s muzzle. As he tied the string, he heard the shot. The mountains behind the dunes sunk and the machine gun rose up in the air, pulled by the red balloon towards the sun. With his eyes closed, Chiquilín imagined the parade after the war: the sun shining upon a thousand balloons rising from the desert, the sunlight fading out behind the colored dots and tiny guns.