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Under Azure Skies

Toshiya Kamei

Toshiya Kamei takes inspiration from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. They attempt to reimagine the past, present, and future while shifting between various perspectives and points of view. Many of their characters are outsiders living on the margins of society.

“I fucked him,” Leo says, revealing pearly white teeth that are perfectly aligned. Envy burns in my chest like indigestion. Self-conscious about my overbite, which has gotten worse since my death in 2019, I try to hide my crooked canines whenever I smile in public.

Unlike his well-to-do family in a posh barrio of Ciudad Juárez, Raquel and I grew up in an overcrowded El Pasonian trailer park. My mamá cleaned houses in Horizon City during the week. On the weekend, we helped her make tamales and tagged along with her to sell them in downtown El Paso.

Resentment raises its ugly head as I stare at my half-brother. I feel a smoldering hatred for this fresa; he’s descended from the conquistadors who arrived in the 1500s and screwed our indigenous ancestors in every sense of the word. History tends to repeat itself, but I’ll put a stop to that.

Now, I’m a madam, albeit a dead one, running a prostitution ring catering to the elite on both sides of the border. I haunt Cielo Vista Mall in an azure dress with a deep V-neck and a deceptively simple skirt that accentuates my legs. I have enough dirt to blackmail the well-connected, including Leo’s father. Since I have little use for money, however, I give most of it to Raquel, who runs an NPO that assists immigrants in El Paso with housing and employment matters.

Leo sits across from me with his Big Mac combo, eyeing the fast food with disgust. Latinx families swarm the food court, and a cacophony of Spanglish swirls around us.

“Is your name really Cielo Vista Mall?” He gazes around the run-of-the-mill mall.

“Scout’s honor.” I raise three fingers. “I hyphenate my surnames—Vista-Mall.”

His guileless, vulnerable expression disquiets me.

My namesake is located on El Paso’s east side, at I-10 and Hawkins Boulevard. It’s a nondescript shopping center with the usual suspects of anchor stores like Dillard’s and JCPenney. The nonsensical Spanish moniker courtesy of gringo investors notwithstanding, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Cielo means both sky and heaven in Spanish, and that’s ironic if I say so myself. I did appreciate the vivid azure skies of the El Paso desert as much as the next person when I was alive. In 2019, however, Patrick Crusius drove some 650 miles, walked into the Walmart nearby carrying an assault rifle, and opened fire. Chaos ensued, and shoppers panicked. I didn’t even know what hit me, but blood coursed from my torso as I collapsed.

650 miles. That’s a nine-hour drive on I-20. His fanaticism was on another level. If I had to drive that long, I would forget why I’m angry after my first restroom break.

In this deadliest anti-Latinx attack in recent American history, Crusius killed twenty-three people, including me. Only my deadname is on the list of victims, though. Thus, I’m actually closer to hell than to heaven.

“Do you want my Big Mac? I don’t want it.” His kindness is not only unexpected but unnerving.

“Don’t mind if I do,” I say, grabbing the burger from his tray. I don’t need to eat anymore, but old habits die hard. I grew up on free school meals, and I’ll never forget what it was like to sleep on an empty stomach. One of my earliest memories is dumpster diving with my family. Mamá, always optimistic, called it “shopping at D-Mart.”

Even today, I never turn down free food. I usually save it for the migrant children in my old trailer park. “Do you want those?” I ask, staring at his limp fries.

He scrunches his freckled nose like Raquel does. He then gestures for me to eat his fries. He’s a twenty-year-old version of Diego Luna without the Mexican actor’s charm or charisma.

“No wonder you’re skinny,” I say. “How was the client?”

“First of all, I wanted to thank you for this opportunity,” he says. “My buddies told me you get top-notch clients, so I knew I was in good hands.”

I nod.

“It was the easiest two hundred bucks I’ve made in my life,” he says, touching his artisan wrist band. “He didn’t want anything kinky. He wanted me to watch vintage porn with him, though. Deep Throat. Have you seen it?”

I shake my head. To my surprise, the idea of Leo fellating a john discomforts me.

“Linda Lovelace was intense. I told him no can do. I worried about my gag reflex. You know what I mean. Hats off to Linda.”

I force a smile. I’m not a fan of any man’s dick. I’ll forever remain grateful to Raquel for running a GoFundMe for my bottom surgery.

“Don’t get me wrong.” He glances at me, worried. “I did blow him.”

“I trust you,” I say. “In a perfect world, no one would have to audition this way.” I feel like a hypocrite. Guilty. I can’t look at him.

“Not to brag, but I’m decent at giving head.”

When he asked to do this, I should have refused. I’ve been running my business for a while, but Leo is related to me—it’s different.

“You have money, Leo. Why are you doing this?”

Born in an upper-middle-class family who settled in Juárez prior to the Mexican Revolution, he enjoys his generational privilege. On the other hand, I’m a dark-skinned morena with indigenous features. My ancestors might have worked for Leo’s as servants.

“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “For the kick of it, I guess.”

“How’s your papi?” His father, José Luis, owns a half dozen maquilladoras where Mexican workers toil to keep the American economy afloat. Mamá used to work at one of them until José Luis coerced her into sex. When she complained to human resources, she got fired. After her parents disowned her when her belly got bigger, she moved to El Paso where Raquel and I were born.

“Busy as always—or so he says.” His face clouds with frustration. “I hardly see him.” Leo and I have something in common—José Luis, our absent father.

“Are you performing at tomorrow’s open mic at Barnes & Noble?”

“Sure,” he says. “It’s the one on Sunland Park Drive.”

I’ll remind Raquel to swing by to pick me up on her way.

Leo studies poetry under the tutelage of a semi-famous Peruvian professor who delivered a poem in Spanish during the inauguration of George P. Bush, America’s first Latino president.

Looking at him now, uncertain and missing his father, I can’t bring myself to hate him. Maybe I don’t hate him. He’s a bit cocky, but he isn’t half as bad as I imagined.

“You should invite your papi.” I set a hand over his. His eyes widen, but he doesn’t move.

“He isn’t interested in poetry.”

Or you, I want to tell him. He isn’t interested in you.

“I hope he’ll come,” I say, even knowing the truth.

“We’ll see.”

“I’ll be there.” I pull my hand back. “So will my mamá and my twin sister.”

“I didn’t know you had a twin sister,” he says.

“Raquel is my fraternal twin; she’s a slightly shorter, curvier version of me.”

My sister is living proof that the “one size fits all” brands sold at this mall and elsewhere should be sued for false advertising. When I had my top surgery, she teased me for not getting bigger boobs, but I’m happy with what I’ve got. Honest to God, decent cleavage is all I wanted. I love low-cut tops.

“It’s funny,” I say, “you and Raquel have the same smile.”

“I can’t wait to meet them.”

“I think you’ll like my family.” I smile.

“Here’s your twenty percent.” He pulls out a wad of twenties, peels off two, and hands them to me.

“Do you want me to put you on the roster?”

“Yeah. Please.”

Maybe hustling on the down low boosts his creative juices. In time, I’ll convince him to quit sex work. Maybe he’ll come around and support our cause. He lacks the ruthlessness of his father. He’s a poet, after all. We’ll discuss how to distribute our father’s infinite wealth.

“Hasta mañana, Cielo,” he says as he pushes back his chair.

“Okay then.” I rise and give him a hug like any sister. As I pull away, our gazes meet. Confusion flickers in his eyes, but after a moment, he smiles.

The soggy fries lie untouched on his tray. I slide them in my purse along with his Big Mac. A weird mix of love and pity stirs in me as Leo looks back a few times before he turns the corner and disappears from view.

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