Fangs by Tara Isabel Zambrano
“Fangs” is one of three stories picked as an Editors’ Choice Selection in the 2021 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest. Our editors chose these stories with particular attention to the unique possibilities of flash fiction.
In “Fangs,” Tara Isabel Zambrano invites us into the messiness and hidden darkness lurking in the domestic sphere right from its opening moments. The specificity of detail and distinctive imagery in the line, “Our hands are raw, unrecognizable, carrying hot water, tugging clean sheets beneath our mother’s heels, taut like our names,” introduces the tension felt throughout the piece.
The use of the collective voice—the “we”—is often difficult to execute, but Zambrano does so expertly and efficiently, craftily enticing the reader to align oneself with the “we” of the piece, highlighting the injustice of a society that values sons over daughters. —CRAFT
The monsoon our mother delivers a boy, we’re saved from our father’s anger. Our hands are raw, unrecognizable, carrying hot water, tugging clean sheets beneath our mother’s heels, taut like our names. The baby looks whittled out of a log, his cry a strange-boned hope.
“Why is he crying?” one of us asks.
“We’re ruined a little when we’re born,” the midwife says.
We look at our mother’s satisfied face, and the burning in our chests is stronger. If she hadn’t delivered a boy, all she’d have is us. Now her mouth pants with a smile, a betrayal.
Outside, our father leans against the banyan, his eyes blinking with insomnia. Ahead, a snake charmer tries to calm a freshly captured female cobra, her hiss a terrible omen had our mother delivered a girl. Eventually, the snake charmer will sedate the cobra before removing her fangs, a small kindness toward the animal.
A Ganesh pooja is organized in our home for the newborn. A black teeka on his forehead to ward off the evil eye of visitors, our brother looks so peaceful in his sleep, we forgive him for a moment. On the patio, there is a stall with sweets and samosas, a cup of chai, for everyone except us so there’s no shortage of food for the guests.
At night, we hear the trains move in the distance, coming down the hillside like a long, dark tongue, slamming the levee. One day, we’ll slip inside a train car and travel to a place where we’re offered a sky. Our father snores and the baby roots for our mother’s breast, his eyes smothered by her flesh. Jealous, we sneak outside and starfish our fingers in the rain-slick earth. Dirt crumbles on our limbs and lips. We tuck the mud at the edge of our jaws, where our fangs are, pretending we cannot hurt anyone.
Come morning, our mother will drag us to the hand pump, overcome by her urge to clean us while the baby cries, smacks his tongue against his lips, hungry. As she’ll drain water from the earth into the buckets, our full-bodied shadows, like her stretch marks, will cling to her, turning the world full of birds screaming in our throats when she rubs our skin with soap and anger, red and frothy, until she tires out, forgetting the starving baby. We’ll run around her in circles, do crazy movements with our hands and legs that’ll make her laugh so hard like she used to before our brother arrived. Softly, we’ll sink our teeth into her pink flesh until the whites of her eyes turn red, until her mouth becomes a loud blur full of wet love only for us.
TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO is a writer of color and the author of Death, Desire, and Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by Okay Donkey Press. She lives in Texas and is the fiction editor for Waxwing Literary Journal. Find Tara on Twitter @theinnerzone.
Featured image by Drew Farwell courtesy of Unsplash