The contestants, drenched in glistening sweat pushed their wheelbarrows to the invisible start line. The man overseeing the race held the silver pistol in his hand. The gun seemed to raise itself, bringing the man’s hand with it. Margot blinked in confusion. She tried to twist her body in half, bending at the waist to look at Papi. Her twig-like legs were held tightly in his hands by her ankles. Papi’s burly eyebrows were straight in determination, eyes never wavering from the bright orange cones that stood one hundred yards away.
“Papi, what’s going on?” Margot whined, wiggling her hips, attempting to free herself from his grasp. Papi said nothing. The hot Iowa sun was directly over the large field, the contestants’ skins were crisp and golden, like potatoes baking in an oven. Frowning, Margot peered along the line of wheelbarrows on either side of her, their rough wooden handles clutched in sweaty palms: there was a dozen total, some blue, some black, some so rusted all paint had flaked away, leaving splotches of withered metal among the wheelbarrows contours. She was the only person being substituted for a wheelbarrow, but nobody seemed to notice.
As Margot turned to the right, an old woman holding a red wheelbarrow glanced back at her. A handkerchief, caked with a layer of dirt, was tied around her head. The deep crevices and lines in her face parted at her lipless mouth. Margot could see saliva gathering at the center of the old woman’s tongue. Toothless gums smacked together as the old woman gurgled at her.
Margot somehow knew the old woman was trying to tell her a secret, but her words lost their meaning in the gaps and pickets of her mouth, and thus came out as mere noises.
The pistol could no longer contain itself. A single bullet careened through its barrel, rocketing through the hazy sky. Wheels began turning, unanimously groaning in protest. Papi pushed into her white mary-janes, quietly commanding his daughter to go forward.
Utterly bewildered, Margot picked up her left palm, then her right, her entire body wobbling forth as Papi pushed her on. She could not understand what was happening. How did no one notice? Or worse, they noticed and didn’t care. Still, Papi was a big man, a proud man. Nobody talked back to Papi.
Tiny rocks pressed into Margot’s palms as she paddled her way to the line of orange cones. All the other contestants were ahead of her, bent in half over their wheelbarrows, huffing. All save for the old woman, who was at least three paces behind, feeling dignified enough to walk to the finish line. Every other step was uneven, her peg leg leaving circular indents upon the earth.
She moved as quickly as she could, her palms brushing against the patchy ground. She panted, the looming orange cone shaking violently in her vision. She vaguely wondered what they were for. Every so often Papi would grunt, “Comon, Betsy!”
“But I’m Margot!” She would cry, hurrying her body forward one finger at a time.
The young girl skidded to a halt, pebbles grinding into her skin as the orange cone was suddenly in front of her. She had no idea of how to proceed. Was it over? Or was she meant to turn around? She jerked her head around, staring into her own frantic reflection on the red wheelbarrow beside her. Wheels were aligned in a row, barging into the cones in front of them. All wheelbarrows were at a standstill.
Margot’s eyes trailed up, watching twelve butts wiggle toward the cloudless sky. The contestants, young and old, were driving tiny shovels into the dirt around their cones, shoveling the soil into the buckets of their wheelbarrows.
“Comon, Betsy,” Papi said again, coming to stand near her head. He stared at her a moment, his body a silhouette in front of the hot sun. She was thrust into a patch of shadow, the tiny shovel that protruded from his shirt picket making her suddenly weary.
In an instant, he was on his knees next to her, jabbing the shovel’s point into the soil. Clusters of chocolate colored dirt rolled along its concave edges as Papi quickly, yet steadily put the shovel to Margot’s gaping mouth, letting the dirt drop onto her tongue.
Her eyes squeezed shut in protest as she spit onto the ground, trying her best to be rid of the muck pressed into every cranny of her twelve-year-old molars.
“Papi, what are you—” But Margot could not finish, her teeth grinding in horror to another serving of mud.
“Comon Betsy” was all that Papi said. Margot could only grunt in reply. Her father was too persistent; he would never stop until her mouth was full. Eyes wide in shock, Margot stretched her jaw to its fullest, letting Papi pour the dirt into her mouth. She had to remind herself not to swallow, or spit it out, it was so foul. It tasted like how she imagined feet would taste like. It made sickening crunching noises between her teeth, as she tried to keep her tongue on the roof of her mouth.
Finally, she could take no more. Her golden cheeks puffed out like a squirrel collecting nuts for winter. Bits of dirt sprinkled out of her mouth as Papi guided her by her ankles once more, turning her around. The other contestants were already half way across the field again—there was no way they could win. But Papi pushed against her, wanting to see the thing through.
Eager to be free, Margot propelled herself, ignoring the dirt collecting underneath her fingernails. They were last to cross the invisible finish line, the very same line they had begun at. Papi unceremoniously let her ankles go. Her legs flopped to the ground, bringing the rest of her with them. She could not feel her thighs.
Papi stood up straight in his dusty overalls. His arms were crossed, little hairs swaying in the light breeze. He said nothing. Margot stared up at him from the ground, too overwhelmed with confusion to pick herself up again. Her mouth, void of the vile mud, hung loose, bits of soil still clinging to her dry lips. She could not speak.
A rustle from a nearby tree announced the appearance of Margot’s older sister. Francesca glowered as she stomped her way towards them, eyes never wavering from their father’s face. Her long blonde hair billowed behind her, making Margot think of sorcery and magical lands.
“I’m not even a virgin!” Francesca shrieked at their father, flicking her arm into the air. Papi blinked, and flinched backward, clearly not expecting her outburst.
Seemingly against physics, Margot’s jaw stretched even further as she turned to gape now at her sister instead of her father. She had never been so confused in her entire life. Francesca gritted her teeth together as she jammed a fist into her jean pocket, letting a handful of condoms spill onto the ground. They were of all colors, teals, pinks, purples, and reds, falling to the ground in silence.
Papi stared down at them, his head tilted in astonishment. As if he had never seen such things before. They were silent, each too stupefied or angry to speak.
Papi’s face began to redden. In moments, his cheeks were similar to what hers had been, full to the brim with earth. But his cheeks were not all that inflated. His nose, flat and wide to begin with, seemed to expand outward, his forehead also pushing out further from his scalp. His eyes bulged as his face began to morph, puffing out into a perfect sphere. Every inch of skin was the color of a ripe tomato, as finally Papi’s head detached from his body, and floated off into the clear blue sky.
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Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice