The Masters Review Blog

Apr 24

New Voices: “Río Negro” by Lynn Sikkink

What happened to Kirsten in the Amazon? That’s what her sister Dalia wants to know in Lynn Sikkink’s “Río Negro,” this week’s New Voices story. Determined to find out, Dalia travels to the Amazon herself, to the village where Kirsten was last seen, to try and uncover a truth she may never find. Tag along below.

Dalia had let herself imagine, during the drive to Detroit and flight to Miami, a sleepless flight from Miami to Bogotá, small plane to the provincial capital in Mitú, and a shorter flight in an even smaller plane to the mission before the boat trip, that she might find Kirsten waiting at the end of the long voyage, with a laughing story of an adventure in the jungle tracking monkeys. Today’s arrival had narrowed Dalia’s hopes to finding some clue of Kirsten’s whereabouts.

Even with the motor stilled, momentum propelled the boat through the root beer-colored water. “Is this it?” Dalia asked her guide.

“Si, señorita,” Fausto replied, his eyes on the shore.

If Fausto was right, the boat’s prow pointed to the village where Dalia hoped to find her missing sister. Dalia searched for a breach in the wall of hazy vegetation that had lined the river for endless miles since they left the last tributary. As they neared shore, the teakettle-whistle of the Amazonian cicada ceased, and her ear drums felt like they were beating against the receding insistence of the insects’ calls.

Fausto knelt, rummaging in his vinyl Adidas bag and pulling out a gun.

“For the wild animals,” he told her in Spanish, the last syllable a hiss.

“If you insist,” she replied in English, which had been her only recourse to the total lack of command she’d felt on this trip, which began, really, when Kirsten quit sending messages home. This close to their destination was no time to lobby for gun control.

At first, she thought Fausto had summoned the wildness when a four-legged creature emerged from the trees. But it was a thin dog, nose held high. With a sideways glance at them, the dog turned, disappearing into a thick green hedge of vegetation.

The boat slowed in the dying current’s tug and the stagnant smell of waterlogged vegetation filled Dalia’s nostrils. The river had narrowed as Fausto steered from larger to smaller channels, passing others by, though Dalia could see no difference among them. A jittery headache had crept up from her clenched jaw along with the disorientation.

The sand on the shore was as white as bleached bones. Fausto stepped over the side and drew the canoe through the shallow water. Dalia disembarked with more finesse than earlier in the day, but the boat rocked. The skin from her knee down turned tangerine orange underwater. She imagined her sister’s skin looking bronzed below the water’s surface before she’d come ashore six months earlier. Kirsten had come to this remote location on the Amazon to try to locate the rare monkeys she planned to study.

“Buueenooss!” Fausto called up the short incline, in the direction the dog had fled. A few canoes pulled high on the bank signaled that people lived close by.

Silence. Even the bird squawks ceased, as if driven back by Fausto’s shout.

Dalia stood by the canoe holding her flip-flops out of the water, mimicking her guide’s posture. The missionary who’d introduced them at the closest Colombian outpost told her that Fausto was familiar with this part of the Rio Vaupés, having grown up in the forest. The breeze puckered the skin above Dalia’s knees, chilling her despite the heat. She wondered if it was Amazonian etiquette to wait in the water to see if the villagers were at home, like knocking on a door.

A slight woman crouched through the greenery at the top of the sandy bank, followed by the dog. As she stepped clear of the brush, the russet dots across the upper half of her face appeared. Two swooping lines along her eyebrows made her look owlish.

“Bienvenidos,” she said. Welcome. But her expression didn’t change, as if stitched into place by the facial paint.

To continue reading “Río Negro” click here.

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