November 1, 2011 Fiction






Liver and Magic


Jenny Ortiz



The bananas were on sale and while they were ripe, what we really needed were strawberries. If I bought a bunch of bananas, they’d only attract flies until someone put up duct tape as a makeshift fly trap, rather than throwing out what was left of the rotting fruit on the counter. Coi liked strawberries and would eat strawberries, so I placed a pack in my shopping cart.

Whenever we made a trip to the supermarket, Coi and I separated in order to finish faster, at least that was the goal I had tried to instill in him. But without fail, my younger brother, abandoned me and I was left making the important decisions, like what kind of pasta works the best with canned sauce or how many eggs were too many. Coi, on the other hand, discussed the weather with baby Jesus in the canned vegetables aisle. I don’t know if it was the lights or rows of perfectly lined up products, but supermarkets made Coi reverent—a real altar boy as he held a can of tuna against his chest and shuffled along with his continuous whispers. At least something made my brother emote. Days would pass and Coi’s face would stay still without a frown or smile to break the smooth surface. His face was unlined and unmarked by laughter. There were no deep cuts along his forehead formed by shouts or crevices alongside his eyes from tears shed.

We passed each other where the cold juices meet the dairy section. As I grabbed two cartons of orange juice, a tub of plain yogurt, and mentally debated about which cheese to buy, Coi stood unusually close to me. Even as kids when Bis-abuela would tuck us into the same bed and our older brother Damian would use our blankets as the building material for a fort that would facilitate in the telling of whispered stories, Coi insisted on sleeping on a cot with his own blanket and a book with real stories.

“Milk?” He asked in the low tone he always used. A loud Coi was a rare sight. Maybe Damian remembered a shout coming out of Coi’s lips when he had been a child, but I held no real recollection of it. While Damian and I had screamed and giggled through our childhood, while we banged on pots and howled in imitation to the wolves on the Nature programs we watched, Coi sat on his own, sometimes reading or drawing, but always ignoring us—no oblivious to us, as if we were living in a separate dimension than he was and he couldn’t see or hear what we were doing. Even when we squealed and hid from the magic Bis-abuela conjured up in the back room, Coi simply shrugged his shoulders.

Damian said it was magic that saved Coi at 2 when he fell dead from the mal de ojo a cousin twice removed gave him at a birthday party. Mami lit three candles to La Virgen and washed the statue’s face with agua florida. She did this as she chanted a prayer we’d never been taught at church. Coi suffered of a high fever that refused to break and he vomited so much that his little mouth was raw and swollen. And it was on the fifth day he stopped breathing.

But the magic saved him. And it saved him again, at eight when I’d been sure he’d drowned during a family trip to la playa de Jobos. At  twelve and ten, Damian and I were old enough to know what we’d seen: the sand in clumps decorating Coi’s hair and legs, the water and blood dripping from his forehead caused from his head smacking into a jagged rock after a hard wave side-swiped him as he hit the water from his jump off la punta. Or the way Tio Enrique tried to administer CPR, but only succeeded in hovering over Coi’s frail and unmoving limbs as a way to protect him from the gawking tourists hungry to bring a story to their friends back home. We remembered the way Bis-abuela’s skirt fluttered around her sandaled feet as she stalked over to Coi’s body, pulling him away from my uncle. She laid her sweaty hand on his chest and, in a low voice, sang. Sang over a dead body and when Coi took in a deep sharp breath, never once coughing up water, it shocked Damian so much he pressed his nails into my shoulder and drew blood.

Call it magic, call it a deal with the devil, call it divine intervention, but Coi was saved and he was saved again  this time by Damian after a dazed Coi walked into traffic and was hit by a pick-up truck two days after he’d come back home from Iraq. We didn’t talk about what kind of magic Damian pulled or how so much blood drenched Coi’s body even though there wasn’t a scratch on his skin.

“Milk?” Coi looked at me. He sighed heavily. He hated having to repeat himself.

“Uh, yeah. Milk’s on the list. Why?”

“Get whole.” And then he strolled off to the bread aisle in search for the Virgin Mary.

“I always get whole,” I mumbled to myself, knowing that it was Damian who bought 2% or to Coi’s silent disapproval, soy.

“It tastes better than milk,” Damian always said in hopes of getting Coi to accept a change in his diet.

“But it’s not milk,” he’d respond firmly.

It’s when I grabbed the milk that I saw Alan. In his hands were tomatoes and he was contemplating the various cuts of meat. Aside from an extra pound or two, he looked the same. Alan was tired and tense as he had been six months ago when he’d asked if it’d be okay if despite our quiet plans to marry, we could just be friends for the time being. Of course, I agreed…how could I let him slip away? Then I sat on my couch as catatonic as my brothers had been when they came back from the war.

“I was trained to kill,” Coi said calmly before he turned on the television and flipped to a show discussing how the universe came to be. It was nice to know my broken heart could prove that Coi was still human.

Alan didn’t deserve Coi’s quiet anger. Oh, but it was unfair to see how good he looked and not be able to touch him. There’d been a time when we’d sat on my couch and I’d absentmindedly scratched the back of his head as he explained once again why it was hard for him to make time for me.

I thought my memories of him were bad but worse was seeing him contemplating the weekly specials on chicken wings and then watching his woman (the woman we lied to) sidle up to him carrying a pack of his favorite yogurt. So it seemed it didn’t matter how much she hurt him, in the end I was the other woman, and the other woman shopped for eggs and bread alone.

A sigh of relief slipped through my lips as she went in the direction of the rice. We had plenty of that at home and I wouldn’t have to bump into her. I wouldn’t have to stop myself from throwing everything in my cart at her. Alan moved towards the frozen food aisle and I took his spot by the meat, though it wasn’t on our list. Inhaling deeply, I looked for his scent, only to find the smell of wet metal.

There had been a time when he would call out from my bed: come here, Corazon. Chicken hearts and livers were on sale. If I kept my eyes on them, I believed I could push away the thoughts of Alan tucking his arm around my waist at night. I could replace that moment with the memory of Bis-Abuela filling our bowls with thick brown colored soup heavy with chicken heart and livers. My share of organs went to Coi. Whenever she saw me spooning them into my little brother’s bowl, Bis-Abuela would always ask me how I intended on gaining power, gaining magic, if I couldn’t eat the essentials of power? When she was dying I wanted to ask her where her power was going? How come all the hearts and livers she ate couldn’t protect her bones from turning to pulp or from keeping the meat on her body from rotting?

With a shudder I turned away, and I found Coi standing in front of me, his face twisted in a weird…he was smiling. A real grin spread on his face, like when he was five and got his first train set or when at seven he was allowed to keep the stray kitten that had been abandoned by its mother.

“You okay there?”

“How do you know you’re in love?”


Breathlessly he said, “I just met someone and…”

“You think you met the love of your life in a supermarket?”

He was about to frown, but the smile refused to peel off his face. “In the bread aisle, actually.”

“Show me.”

I followed him to the cashiers and he pointed at her—Alan’s her. I went to say something, anything, but the magic words wouldn’t roll off my tongue. Instead I looked at Coi, whose eyes were on her and he hardly noticed Alan standing nearby, so close by. He was more focused at the way she dropped her head low to read the trashy gossip magazines by the cashier. Her eyes would drift over to Coi and a smile would lick the sides of her mouth.

And her reaction to him was causing the most beautiful toothy grin to form on my brother’s face…and at that moment, I realized I had some magic too.  I swallowed hard because in the glint of his perfect white teeth, I saw what would happen if he called her. The affair, the lies, the quiet sorry on her lips and Alan’s arm tucked around her waist. I could see my brother dangling from our ceiling fan the first bright afternoon of Spring. Because my brother was trained to kill. Because my brother was so much weaker than Damian and I. Because my brother was magic…and I chose not to be. So I saw that smile and despite what I knew, I smiled too.


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