New Voices: “Adam’s Nose” by Dino Enrique Piacentini

July 8, 2024

There’s something magical about Adam’s nose in this new story from Dino Enrique Piacentini, but only the narrator knows. It’s a secret she could share with her husband’s sisters and mother, seeking advice, but instead she keeps it to herself. “Adam’s Nose” is a tender story of longing and belonging, propelled by Piacentini’s exquisite prose—you don’t want to miss this.


The Valdez women—my husband’s sisters and mother—have much to say about moths. At my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, I have learned that moth wings crushed in a basalt molcajete and served in rosehip tea will temper arthritis of the hip and that the antennae of thirty-one moths slipped into a man’s underwear—not thirty-two, not thirty, but exactly thirty-one—will boost his sperm count for, you guessed it, thirty-one days. So when the strange thing happened with my husband Adam’s nose, I probably should have begged some advice off the Valdez women. Moths, I should have told them. Every single night.

But I was worried that if I opened that door, Ramona’s brisk smile would press into a frown and Adam’s mother would shoot Teresa a look and Teresa would tent her eyebrows and Elena would wonder—aloud—if that güera Adam married six years ago was mocking them.

Why did I think they would do such a thing? More likely they would have fetched me a bowl of hot chocolate, blanketed my freckled hand in theirs, assured me that things will get better, hermana, you’ll see, and told me exactly what to do.

Hermana. Sister. Mija. Daughter. That’s what they called me instead of my actual name, their way of inviting me into the family. Hermana. She would have told them what was happening. Mija would have told them. But me? I did not want to risk it, neither the punch-down stare not the gut-punch of pity. So I kept my mouth shut. I would figure this out on my own.

* * *

Adam and I were seated next to each other at our kitchen table, eating spaghetti and meatballs ordered in from an Italian restaurant a few blocks away. I had just speared a fat meatball with my fork when I noticed Adam staring at it as if it were a crystal ball. His elegant Mayan nose—it had always seemed to me like a noble crag jutting from a smooth palisade of sun warmed stone—flared wide.

“I want—” he said, his eyes flicking up from the meatball, “I want us to try again.”

I froze. My lungs, my heart, my hand. Outside, black grackles shrieked their siren whines. This was the first time Adam had broached the subject. It had only been five months. I was not ready.

Somewhere, miles away, Adam smiled, hopefully, and that smile—it was a spring, a button pressed. The space below me fell open like a trap door and there I was, clinging to a limestone ledge, my feet dangling. With great deliberation, I guided the meatball into my mouth. It was spongy, its surface mottled. The hands that shaped it—did they marvel at the meatball weight of it? I pushed a shred to the back of my mouth. Adam’s smile wavered.

“I’m sorry,” he said, nodding. “It’s too soon.” He took my frozen hand, kissed my knuckles.

He had made the same gesture a little over a year ago, when I suggested the time had come for us to try for a baby. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” he had wept, before taking my hand to his mouth and kissing each and every one of my fingers. He was a large man, herculean even, a real behemoth, but wet with emotion. That day, I set aside my birth control pills, he switched to boxer shorts, and we marked my most fertile days with a big red X on a paper calendar.

And it worked. We conceived. We topped my grandmother’s crystal champagne glasses with sparkling cider. I did all the right exercises, ate all the right foods. He told his mothers and sisters. I hoped the baby would look more like him—that nose, that elegant nose!—that the baby would be more like him, clumsy with enthusiasm, saying hello to strangers. But no, the baby was more like me. Tentative. Unsure. Too afraid of this world.

A month passed. A week. Then, eleven weeks in, spotting. Then cramping. Then “I’m-so-sorry-prepare-yourself.” Then, the ruined underwear, the salty tears. And finally, after an eternity of ten days, that dark moment, when the as-yet unnamed baby came crashing out.

“Hey you,” Adam asked over the red mess of his half-finished plate of pasta. “You okay?”

I choked down the last knots of the meatball. Beneath me, a deep well, its stone walls furred with moss. Water like oil. The pling and plop of a dropped pebble. The air, heavy and close. I tried to smile. I failed.

Adam reached over and, with a single finger, lifted my chin and kissed me again, this time on the lips. But his mouth smelled like over-stewed tomato, his tongue like ground hamburger, his breath like burnt garlic. I shoved up from my chair, ran to the kitchen sink, and vomited up strings of white spaghetti, lumps of red tomato, chunks of brown meat.

Adam stood behind me, holding my hair, rubbing soft circles on my back, and saying nothing, while I wondered what it was that he was not saying.

Up came another chunk of meat. Then another.

* * *

That was the night Adam’s snoring began. And not just any snoring. Big, thunderous snores, crashing out one after another. His snoring continued unabated every single night, from the moment he fell asleep—always before me—until the curtains lit up with early morning light. Dizzy with exhaustion, boiling with frustration, I would stare at his dark, slumbering form, amazed that such an unholy clamor could emerge from a single human container, even if that container was as tall as the Colossus of Rhodes, as solid as the Giza Pyramid.

We tried all the fixes. Adhesive snore strips. Honey-nettle tea. A humidifier in the bedroom. A wedge pillow. Targeted yoga poses. Wax ear plugs for me. Nothing worked. Nor did waking him. As if enchanted, he would fall right back asleep and immediately start snoring again.

Once I tried slipping out of bed to go sleep in my office, which doubled as a guest room. The moment my foot hit the floor, Adam startled awake and pleaded with me to stay.

“I need to sleep,” I told him plainly.

“But a husband and wife who sleep in separate beds,” he said, as if reading off a chalkboard, “are not a husband and wife.” I looked back at him, frowning. My parents had not been around when I was growing up. I had not been the beneficiary of such dictums.

“Please,” he begged. “Stay with me.” His brown eyes grew larger and his voice quavered. I could hear bricks shaking loose, rubble sliding down. There was a strange desperation in his face, as if he feared that, rather than stepping down the hall to my office, I would march down the stairs, cross the length of the living room, and file out the door into the muggy night. I stood there, facing him, waiting for his fear to subside.

His stomach chuzzled and rumbled. Something in me melted.

I lifted the bedcovers and got in next to him. He pulled me into him. He set his bear-paw hand upon my belly. He fluttered his thick eyelashes against the nape of my neck. He recommenced his snoring.

* * *

I first encountered Adam at our gym. I was emerging from my evening exercise class when I saw this mountain of a man dressed in worn converse sneakers and baggy, stained sweats lifting a ridiculous amount of weight over his head. The men around him—curling, pressing, kneeling, crouching—seemed frail and willowy in comparison, strung like thin threads from weight rack to bench. In high school and college, I had only been drawn to slim, graceful boys—distance runners, poets—yet Adam’s crushing mass both aroused and frightened me. I imagined bighorn sheep clinging to the ledges of those hips, midnight blue gentians springing from the cleft of that alpine chest, hard-packed snow reflecting bright sunlight off the ridge of those shoulders. He had existed for ages and would continue to exist for ages.

I trailed him for months until he finally noticed me. Within a year, we were married.

* * *

It was the first Sunday of the month, family day at the Valdez’s. Thick humidity pooled in the late morning air and as we walked up the street to Adam’s parent’s house, my armpits, my forehead, the underside of my breasts grew moist and sticky. I yawned. Adam apologized.

In the Valdez’s front yard, two of Adam’s nieces, Ixta and Kylie, were lodged in the lower branches of ‘The Big Oak,’ a massive tree that dwarfed the Valdez’s tiny house. Kylie, her legs straddling the oak’s heaviest limb, had propped a blank eyed baby-doll over her shoulder. “There, there,” she cooed, patting its back. Ixta, playing along, ventriloquized a loud belch. Kylie, giggling, handed the doll over to her cousin, who brought it to her own shoulder.

“Hey little mommies,” Adam called up to them.


Ixta dropped the baby-doll from the tree as if it were an overripe plum. Both girls clambered down and started dancing around us. “We know something you don’t,” they sang.

“And you’re not going to tell us?”

They shook their heads, grinning. Ixta snorted. She had Adam’s perfect Mayan nose, but one of her baby teeth had fallen out, leaving a tiny gap in her smile.

“Okay, you stinkers,” Adam said. “Take this anyway.” He slipped them a five-dollar bill and they ran off toward the corner store, abandoning the baby doll in the stubbly grass.

In the living room, Adam’s father, two younger brothers, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, several of the grandkids, and his youngest sister Elena—looking even more hungover and bloated than usual—were jammed together on the mismatched furniture watching a soccer game. Everyone got up when we came in. Hugs were exchanged, cheeks kissed, backs slapped—the warm Valdez embrace, a pillowy envelopment in familial flesh. It always threw me for a loop. My grandmother had been my only real family, and she had not been a hugger. But as much as I pulled away from it, I pushed into it too, as if I were stepping into a steaming tub. Eventually, they all returned to their soccer match and Adam and I were allowed to make our way into the kitchen, where Adam’s mother, older sisters Ramona and Teresa, and Ramona’s son Popo, a huge toddler with a square-shaped head, were gathered around the kitchen table.

“Hermana!” Ramona said. She planted an efficient kiss on my cheek, held my face for a few moments in her firm hands, and inspected the dark circles under my eyes. She was tall like Adam, and solid, but she moved with the agility and purpose of a much smaller woman. “Is my brother still not letting you sleep?”

“What?” Teresa squawked. “Is he still snoring like a freight train?” She pinched Adam’s shoulder.

“You told them?” Adam chided his mother, before sitting down next to her. “We’re trying everything,” he said.

“It’s not so bad,” I lied.

“We saw Kylie and Ixta outside,” Adam said. “Apparently, they’ve got a secret. You going to tell us what’s going on?”

“No secrets right now,” Adam’s mother broke in. “You must be hungry.” She fetched him a bowl of menudo while I plucked a concha from the glass jar that, as if touched by the miracle of loaves, always seemed to be filled with pastries. I sat down between Ramona and Teresa and took a nibble of the concha, but it was stale, so instead of eating it myself, I tore off pieces and began feeding them to Popo as if he were a small pet.

Teresa asked her mother to interpret a dream she had been having. In it, her dead grandmother had urged her to take up knitting. “Booties,” abuela said to me. “Booties for little babies.”

The skin around Adam’s eyes tightened. He spooned a rag of tripe into his mouth, dribbling red broth onto the table’s green oilcloth. His mother handed him a plate of flour tortillas.

“Booties for little babies,” Teresa persisted. “Babies. Plural.”

I knew what was coming. She was going to tell me we should try again. Again, again, again. She was going to suggest a special tea or vapor. She was going to tell me she knew a woman—

“You aren’t eating anything?” Ramona asked me, clearly trying to cut Teresa off. I shook my head and fed the last tidbit of the concha to Popo. Adam snatched a pinch of oregano and stirred it into his menudo. Popo slapped the table with his fat paw, demanding more pastry. I pulled something cinnamon-dusted from the jar and started feeding it to him.

“Look at you!” Teresa enthused at me, bobbing her head like a parrot. “You’re so good with children!”

Ramona lifted her coffee mug to her lips and threw Teresa a look, and for a few unbearably long seconds, the two sisters engaged in a silent conversation. Above us, the ceiling fan spun faster and faster, as if trying to escape its bearings. Finally, Teresa turned to her mother, who answered her with a sigh.

Adam looked up from his menudo. “What? What are you not telling us?”

“Elena,” Adam’s mother said. “She’s pregnant.”

“Gooooooooal!” the announcer crooned. In the living room, Adam’s brothers, father, brothers-in-law, sister-in law, nephews, and nieces erupted in cheers.

“She’s five whole months along,” Teresa said. “I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“Seventeen weeks,” Ramona corrected.

Popo popped open his mouth for another piece of pastry. It was so dark inside that mouth, like one of those deep Mayan wells I had read about, a place where bodies were tossed, where black water trickled. I stuffed a piece of pastry into it to get him to close it up.

Adam covered my hand with his. “You okay?” Ramona asked.

I nodded. Seventeen weeks. I had only made it to eleven. It happens to a lot of women, someone had told me. No big deal, when it came down to it.

“Ramona and I were just planning the shower!” Teresa said. “We’re going to invite everyone.” She dug through her shiny red purse and retrieved a folded yellow Post-it note with gift ideas scribbled on it. She handed it to me. “She’ll need tons of things.”

Adam’s mother rose from her seat and cleared away Adam’s empty menudo bowl. When she wiped clean the oil cloth, her blouse dipped low so that the wrinkles on her bosom lay exposed. She sighed. “She doesn’t want to marry the father.”

I had only met my own father once, when he showed up on my sixth birthday with an American Girl doll named Saige and a pack of five multicolored Blopens. He and my mother fought about the Blopens, and then he went away. My mom didn’t stick around long after that. Perhaps Adam’s parents, like my grandmother, would end up raising the kid. I remember my grandmother taking me shopping for a prom dress, how worn and small she looked amidst the glossy fabrics and gleaming metal racks.

“Would Elena want our old baby clothes?” I asked.

Adam looked at me as if I had just slapped him across the face. His mouth dropped open, his nostrils flared, his face flushed red, and his eyes glimmered with moisture. “You want to give away our baby clothes?” he asked, his voice cracking. His gaze dropped to the empty space on the table where the bowl of menudo had been.

We did not stay long after that. I drove us home while Adam brooded in the passenger seat, staring out the windows at the barbershops and bargain stores of his old neighborhood. At Memo’s, his father’s favorite icehouse, a scattering of daytime drinkers clinked cans of Lone Star. At La Reynera, the panadería his mother favored, a little girl emerged onto the sidewalk chomping at a cookie the size of her head. They rode along with us, those people—the daytime drinkers, the little girl, and someone else, someone unnamed—clambering silently into the back seat and buckling the seat belt tight.

I hit the freeway on-ramp. Adam shifted in his seat and closed his eyes. He did not look at me the whole way home.

* * *

That was the night it happened, at the so-called witching hour, between three and four in the morning, when the night was at its blackest and even the cicadas had fallen mute.

Adam was snoring, of course, and as my bleary eyes pivoted from the room’s potted ficus, thick and gloomy in the shadows, to my grandmother’s old dresser, the wood on its drawers splitting, to Adam’s colossal silhouette, dark and thundering like a storm cloud, I thought of his sister Elena, full and ripe and healthy, her body doing what my body refused to do. Our AC had not yet come on and the sticky air was clinging to my skin like wet rubber. Frustrated, I grabbed a clip-on light from the nightstand, shoved the sheet to my waist, and attempted a book, but the sentences were just muddy lines, the words black smudges. I closed my eyes and tried counting sheep—wooly lambs leaping a picket fence. But when the lambs turned their downy heads my way, they bared unexpected fangs. They sliced at the earth with razored hooves, carving deep trenches.

I trawled through my whole bag of tricks. Nudging his shoulder to get him to shift his body position. Blowing into his ear in the hopes that he’d flinch onto his side. But his snores only grew louder, yeastier.

That morning at the Valdez’s, Ramona, her military hands cupping my pale, freckled face, inspecting the heavy circles under my eyes. I had told her I was fine, just fine, but the dark trench was getting deeper. It was flooding with swampy water. The savage lambs were baa-baa-baaing each other onward.

My mind tore through things I had yet to try. I could smother myself beneath an avalanche of pillows. I could ball up the sweaty sheets and stuff them into Adam’s mouth. I could punch him awake. Or—

I reached over and pinched Adam’s nostrils shut.

He should’ve woken up, of course, should’ve opened his eyes and looked at me like a wounded rhino. He didn’t do that. Instead, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down a few times, his mouth snapped shut, and the snoring—it ceased.

Minutes passed. My hand began to cramp. The tendons in my wrist tensed into sharp wires. Lactic acid rushed into my forearms. I couldn’t help it. I let go.

The body—when it decides to work—is a well-oiled machine, feather-sensitive. Prick an elbow and an eyelash will flutter. Tickle a chin and a fart will escape. The hip bone is connected to the ear bones is connected to the nose bone. So when I let go of Adam’s nostrils after applying the exact right amount of pressure over the exact right amount of time, his body responded. His forehead trembled, the copper sheets of his eyelids started quivering, and the right side of his nose, the entire length of the nasal passage, began to inflate. Yes, Adam’s nose began to inflate. I watched, fascinated, as it swelled to the size of a child’s fist.

Before she died, my grandmother’s calves swelled up like this. She kept them hidden, exchanging her usual knee-length skirts for polyester slacks. Then her legs turned blue and it was too late. I could not tell what color Adam’s nose was turning, but just as I decided to wake him, the swelling stopped. His nose even spat out a bit of air, like a tire deflating. Like a tiny heart, it began to pulse. One-two, one-two.

The AC clicked on with its soft mechanical hum and suddenly I was cold. I tugged the sheet up to my chin. A clear liquid trickled from Adam’s nostril, beading in his nighttime stubble. A scent of ammonia rose up about us. The nostril, its skin thin rubber, dilated wide. And then—a flash of gray peeped out and began drumming against Adam’s skin. A wing. With each vibration, with each tap-tap-tap, it pushed itself out a little bit further from its hiding hole. One-two, one-two. Out came a gray head, crowned with two eyes comically large, antennae, and a proboscis. The proboscis uncurled and began probing the tip of Adam’s nose. A foreleg emerged. Another.

Planting its forelegs at the edge of Adam’s lip, the creature, in agonizing slow motion, dragged the rest of its fragile body out of the deep well of Adam’s nose.

* * *

I was seven when my mother abandoned me at my grandmother’s. “This is your new home,” she said. It was dinnertime.

After she left, my grandmother turned on the television set and patted a spot on the couch. I sat down without saying a word, settling my arm on the plastic-wrapped armrest. Together, we ate canned herring spread across buttered white bread and watched a movie about a young woman, the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazon. I’m sure there must have been a traversing of thick jungles, a fording of broad rivers. I’m sure it must have been a grand adventure. But only one thing about that movie stayed with me. The young woman, leaning against a dark rock, squeezing thin white worms out of bloody gashes on her ankles while bright Amazonian birds screeched in the overhead canopy. Worm after worm, tugged out like a string of quivering eggs and set down on the flat plane of dark rock.

Sitting there on the couch next to my grandmother, watching this nightmarish movie unfold, my mother’s cloying perfume dissipating in the herrings’ briny wake, my sweating arm sticking to the armrest’s plastic wrapping, I knew, just knew, that the second that young woman left, those screeching Amazonian birds would swoop down onto that burning black rock and guzzle down each and every one of those little white worms. Those little white worms—they didn’t stand a chance.

* * *

For the next hour or so, while my mind somersaulted between little white worms sizzling atop a black rock and hollow-eyed baby-dolls plopped onto tree-lawns, between cast-off maternity clothes and red-spotted underwear, the newborn moth clung to Adam’s face, shaking its wings dry. Eventually, gray light edged between the curtain flaps and bird chatter began to splatter into our bedroom. The moth clapped its wings together. It was going to launch itself into the air, it was going to take off to parts unknown. I reached over and caged my hand around it.

Downstairs on the entry table was my grandmother’s favorite crystal vase. I dumped its contents into the kitchen sink and released the moth into it, blocking the vase’s mouth with a saucer. The moth knocked against the glass walls for a bit, then against the saucer’s porcelain underbelly. Finally, it settled itself at the bottom of the vase.

I brought the vase upstairs to my office, where I knew it would be safe. Originally, we had intended the room to be a nursery, so now, Adam avoided it, as if the walls themselves would close about him in a sticky web of dashed possibilities. I set the vase down atop the vanity—mine from my teenage years—that I used as a writing desk. The moth, I reasoned, could observe itself in the vanity’s mirror. Its reflection would help it feel less alone in the world.

I returned to Adam. The birth of the moth seemed to have relieved his snoring. I slipped into bed, curled against my slumbering husband, and fell into a deep, restful sleep.

* * *

That morning, everything was as before. Adam went to work. I went to work. But the entire day, I worried about the moth. I left work early and rushed home, kicking off my heels at the front door, tossing my keys in the key jar, sprinting up the stairs, taking them two steps at a time, throwing open the door to my office. There, still at the bottom of the vase, was Adam’s moth, not moving. I tapped the vase. I shook it. I removed the saucer and stupidly huffed a breath into the vase’s mouth, as if delivering CPR to a drowned child. The moth just lay there, a flake of spent ash.

It seemed wrong to flush it down the toilet or dump it into a trash can, so I took it outside to the garden. It was just a moth, I told myself as I dug a little hole in the dirt. The world was crammed with moths.

* * *

I didn’t say much over dinner that night, and Adam probably thought I was brooding over Elena and the whole maternity thing. I wasn’t. I was looking at the right side of his nose. The red and chapped skin around his nostril glistened with Vaseline. I wanted to ask about it but didn’t dare. I wondered to myself, would it happen again?

It did, that very night. But this time, rather than stuffing the moth into a crystal coffin, I released it to roam free in my office. Immediately, it fluttered to the window and hid itself in the folds of the room’s pink curtains.

I opened my laptop and searched for how to keep moths alive and happy. I learned they passed through several stages—eggs, caterpillar, pupae—before finally arriving at the moth stage. According to one website, the sole purpose of moths was to mate and produce eggs. According to another, moths made great pets. Downstairs in the kitchen, I whipped up a sugar solution from the moths-as-pets website, poured the solution into one of my grandmother’s gold-rimmed salad bowls, and set the bowl atop my vanity-cum-office desk.

I returned to bed. Adam had maneuvered himself into a fetal position. Curling up next to him, I fell asleep.

In the morning, I found the moth perched on the rim of the salad bowl, its delicate proboscis dipping into the sugar solution. I replenished the sugar water and left for work.

When I got home that evening, the moth had settled on the vanity mirror and was fanning its wings open and shut, open and shut, every single movement doubled, as if it had spawned its own twin. Dusk was falling and the receding light in the room had turned its wings silver. I sat at my desk chair observing it before reaching out and pressing my finger against the mirror, just a breath’s length from its head. It did not startle. Instead, it twitched its antennae and tickled my fingerpad.

We communed like this for a while, our bodies grazing tip to tip. Then the moth spread its silver wings, lifted away from the mirror, and began fussing at my blouse as if hunting for a nipple. I brushed it away and went downstairs.

Every single night over the next month, a new moth emerged from Adam’s nose. Each and every one, I kept alive.

* * *

Thirty-two days later, the day of Elena’s baby shower had arrived. I sent Adam off to the store to buy scotch tape and in his absence took the opportunity to replenish the sugar water.

When I entered my office, the moths swarmed out of the silken folds of the pink curtains to greet me, jostling for the food. Once they finished, they settled on the mirror, a teeming multitude of gray wings, fuzzy palpi, and pincushion eyes. I sat down and stretched out my finger for them to inspect, caress, suckle. It was Adam’s body that had produced the moths. Adam’s titanic body, not mine. I pressed my hands against my stomach. A rumble. A groan. An empty shudder.

Outside, I heard Adam’s heavy footfall lumber up the stairs, pausing at my office door, the hard-wood floors creaking beneath his mass. A soft knock, as if his knuckles had been wrapped in velvet. “Ready?” he asked.

* * *

When we got there, the kids were playing TV tag in the front yard, buzzing around the Big Oak like matchbox cars fueled by sugar. Ixta broke off from the game and followed us into the house. “What’d you get her? What’d you get her?” Inside, siblings and cousins were talking sports while aunts and uncles rocked unsteadily on arthritic hips. Elena was ensconced on the living room couch, her swollen feet propped in her mother’s lap as if upon a tasseled pillow. On Elena’s other side sat Ramona, steely and rigid, with Popo squirming in her lap. Ramona gestured for Ixta to come closer. Licking a white tissue, she scrubbed clean a smudge of chocolate marring her daughter’s cheek, then smiled up at me. “You look rested, hermana.” Adam, as if checking to see whether this was true, turned and examined me. “Adam,” Ramona asked, “what’s going on with your nose?”

“My nose?”

Elena cut in. “It looks droopy.”

Adam frowned. “It’s nothing. How’re you feeling? You’re the pregnant one.”

Elena swung her feet off her mother’s lap and rubbed her belly. “Ugh. Being pregnant is the worst. I’ve got stretch marks on my breasts and hemorrhoids the size of papayas.”

Adam groaned. “I’m going to go say hi to dad and the tíos.” He retreated to the backyard, leaving me there, holding Elena’s gift and smiling dumbly.

“What did you get me?” Elena asked, grinning. “Looks big.”

Teresa came over. “Hermana! You must be famished.” She forked a piece of tamale into her mouth and a few crumbs of masa dropped onto her shiny green blouse. “Let’s drop that gift off and get you some food.” As she led me to the gift table, she whispered in my ear. “Elena didn’t invite the father and the tías are shocked.”

In the kitchen, the tías—Adam’s aunts—swarmed around me. Aunt Tiny told me a story about Adam when he was a baby. “Such a giant! But don’t worry, mija. You have nice, wide hips.” Aunt Nylda gave me a recipe for a special tea. Aunt Lupe, her paper plate loaded with fluffy white cake, bragged how she had nine grand-babies. “And four miscarriages,” she added, meaningfully.

Teresa sighed. “Life is hard, hermana. You just gotta keep at it.”

After escaping the tías, I ran into Elena coming out of the bathroom. She tugged up her blouse, displaying a belly button balled out like a misplaced third eye. “Mira. My innie is now an outie.” I wasn’t sure if she was complaining or boasting, so I told her she looked beautiful. That seemed to satisfy her and she let me squeeze past. A garland of red paper roses hung from the shower curtain rod. One of the roses had dropped onto the blue tile. I tossed it into the trash can then examined my face in the mirror. I looked angry and perplexed, as if someone had just taken a toy away from me. I lifted my shirt. My poor innie had never had the chance to become an outie.

When I emerged from the bathroom, everyone had started to gather in the front yard. A piñata—an eager-eyed, brown-skinned baby garbed in a saffron robe and locked in an eternal crawl—was being hoisted over the limb of the Big Oak. Adam, the family giant, was, as always, appointed manager of the rope, and Ixta was selected to deliver the initial blows. Setting Popo down, Ramona tied a black cloth over Ixta’s eyes, tugging at it to make sure it completely covered her daughter’s eye sockets. “It’s too tight,” Ixta whined. Ramona shushed her. Popo, released from his mothers’ charge, squatted down and began plucking clumps of grass from the lawn. The other kids crushed forward.

Ramona spun Ixta around three times and handed her a chipped wooden bat that had long ago been deemed the ‘Ugly Stick.’ Everyone cheered.

Ixta’s first swing missed the piñata-baby by at least a foot.

“One!” everyone chanted merrily. Adam jerked on the rope and the piñata-baby skittered up and down in the air. Ixta prodded the empty space in front of her with the Ugly Stick. Adults whooped encouragement. Kid’s eyes blazed with sugar-lust. “Batter, batter, batter, batter, batter, batter….” Ixta wound back. Adam yanked the piñata-baby higher. Ixta swung.


She clipped it. “Almost! So close!” The baby-piñata rocked back and forth on the rope, its toe hanging like a rag from the rest of its body. Ramona lifted her phone over Aunt Nylda’s head, recording the proceedings. Popo squeezed between two of his cousins to get a better look. Adam tugged on the rope, let it go slack, tugged on it again. Ixta tapped the Ugly Stick on the ground. “It’s right in front of you, dummy,” Kylie burst out. “Malcriado!” Aunt Lupe hissed, giving Kylie’s left arm a pinch. The baby-piñata danced in the air.

Looking around at all these Valdezes, at all the sun-darkened aunts, uncles, and cousins, at Adam’s mother, the skin on her hands crumpled like rice paper, at Teresa, dragging an ice cube across her temple, at Ramona, squinting into the screen of her phone, at Ixta, her mouth set in determination, at Elena, rubbing her belly and yawning, I stepped back, out of the circle. ‘Mija,’ they called me. ‘Prima.’ ‘Tía.’ ‘Hermana.’ Was it true? Was I one of them?

I looked at my husband, the mountain I had chosen to climb, the green veins on his forearms popping as he tugged the baby-piñata up and down, the skin on his nose, once taut, now loose as alpine scree, the strains of its recent activity marring it, perhaps forever. ‘Mi corazon,’ my husband called me. ‘Mi vida.’

I thought of the plastic-wrapped arm rests on my grandmother’s couch, that day my mother walked away. Those little white worms, abandoned on a black rock.

I thought of Adam’s moths, their wings, their antennae, kissing my lips, fumbling at my blouse.

Adam’s warm eyes caught my gaze and handed it back to me. His eyes were wet with yearning.

My husband. His family. Me. Us.

Prima. Tía. Hermana. Mija.

I stepped back into the circle.

“Otra, otra!”

—It all happened so fast. Ixta inching forward, raising the Ugly Stick. The baby-piñata jumping and skipping, just out of reach. Popo, wanting in on the game, toddling towards his big sister. Me shrieking “Wait!”—the “t” a diver cracking the water’s black surface. Adam dropping the rope, scrambling for his nephew. Ixta, jaw locked, swinging. The Ugly Stick punching through the air, splitting wide the space before it. The baby-piñata, hovering in the air like an angel.

And then, its wings severed, the baby-piñata plummeting to the brutal ground and bursting open like an Easter egg and the Ugly Stick bashing Adam full force in the face and pink candies gushing from the broken body of the baby-piñata and red blood gushing from Adam’s Mayan nose and the screaming kids, a teeming mob, knocking the blindfolded Ixta aside and swarming for the blood-spotted candies at Adam’s size thirteen feet.

But the Valdezes. The Valdezes sprang into action, as if executing a well-practiced play. The tíos pulled the kids away, one by one, sending them off to the yard’s four corners. “Give him space! Give him space!” The tías took Adam’s elbows and ushered him up the front steps and into the kitchen. “Hold your head back, it’s going to be fine, don’t moan, you’ll scare the kids.” Adam gave himself up to their shepherding.

Within minutes the entire right side of Adam’s face had swelled up and turned blue. Ramona pressed the bridge of his nose with her index finger, making him wince.

“Ow!” he said.

“Broken,” she declared.

Elena stanched the bleeding with a tampon. Teresa handed him a bag of frozen corn. Adam’s mother made a prediction. “It will be crooked the rest of his life.”

And me, I helped too, pouring Adam a glass of water and shaking some ibuprofen into my hand. “You’ll need these,” I told him. He palmed the pills and took a long draught of water, draining the entire glass.

* * *

Adam did not snore that night and no moth was birthed. In the dark, I contemplated his sleeping form, draped in our pale bedcovers like a high peak under snow. His mother was right. His nose would never be the same, its shape realigned, its ability to fully function eroded. I let my eyes wander to my grandmother’s dresser, with its split drawer. Adam’s body would give way, too. Eventually, it would fail. There was no stopping it.

I left him there, sleeping peacefully despite everything, and went to my office. The moths slipped out of the room’s pink curtains and began knocking against the ceiling. I stood there beneath them, Adam’s moths, their wings gray like dried out leaves in November.

One moth slipped down and grazed my cheek. Its touch was soft, barely there, already fading. I lifted my nightgown over my head and let it drop to the floor. The rest of the moths rained down from the ceiling. Like mist, they wrapped themselves around my naked body. Their frail wings brushed my bare stomach, their antennae tickled my pubis, their proboscises stretch towards my nipples as if I were lactating sugar solution.

With a clap, the overhead light blasted on, and the moths shot to the ceiling. “What in the world?” It was Adam. He rushed to the window, threw it open, and shooed the moths out into the night. I just stood there in the middle of the room, naked and dazed, watching them leave. When the last of the moths had been whisked away, Adam turned to me with questioning eyes, one of them bruised and swollen.

I thought of his aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, siblings, father, mother. The Valdezes. A safety net stretching across the well of time. Backwards. Forwards.

“Aimee?” Adam asked.

His broken nose was a ridgeline trail split by rockfall. There was a single white hair on his chest, something new.

“Aimee,” he sighed. My name. My given name.

I stepped forward, wrapped my hands around his eroding body, lifted myself onto my toes, and kissed him.

“I gave her a name,” he confessed.

I dropped from my toes to the soles of my feet. A cold breeze blew in from the open window and I shivered. “Who?” I asked, buying time. I knew who. Of course, I knew. Adam braced my naked hip with his mammoth hand.

“Sophia,” he said. “That’s her name.”

I looked away from Adam toward the open window. Some of the moths, I imagined, were even now being snapped up by hungry birds. Others were beating their wings fruitlessly against the incessant buzz of the overhead streetlights. Would any find their way to my garden, where they could suck the nectar from my musk-scented swamp mallow, shelter themselves in my silverleaf nightshade, latch their eggs onto the lanceolate leaves of my buttonbush.

I turned back to Adam. The single gray hair on his chest. The swollen eye. The broken nose. I cupped myself around him. He grew hard in my hand.

“Sophia,” I said to him. To her. To myself. “Sophia.”

Dino Enrique Piacentini grew up in Los Angeles, lived in San Francisco for twenty years, and has also, at various times, set down stakes in Houston, Oaxaca, Champaign, and Prague. His writing has been published in 
Pembroke, Gulf Coast, Confrontation, The Globe & Mail, The Atticus Review, and The Massachusetts Review, among other places, and his debut novel, Invasion of the Daffodils, about a Mexican-American family living on an island off the coast of California during the Korean War, will be published by Astrophil Press in Fall 2024. Currently, he lives in Denver with a mini-Bernedoodle and a full-sized husband, and teaches creative writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and the University of Denver. 


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