Silk Skin Excerpt: “Visions of Samara” – by Sandra Del Rio Madrigal

She came loose-limbed, bones bent in all the wrong places. She didn’t breathe, didn’t require air, didn’t gasp for air as one should have. From my room, all I saw was a rag, a burlap sack perhaps, slumping its way across the small yard.  

I had first assumed a neighbor’s remote-control racecar drove the rag beneath. When she stood up, though, her shape revealed a strange form, an imitation of what I looked like. Where I stood ramrod straight, she curled against herself, and where I was tense, she was soft. Where I was clean and pristine, she was dirty, stained, and bloody.  

When she took two steps forward from the edge of the property, her feet flapped, like overgrown socks being pushed out from underneath her toes. Her long hands almost held her head from the waist as she hunched with tremor. Then, she extended upwards to face me as I faced her from behind my window, yet her back arched backwards exaggeratively. I feared she would fall from the unbalance, but she gracefully continued her steps towards the backdoor. Her hands dragged on the dry grass behind her as she advanced.  

When I waved, she waved. When I craned my neck, so did she. When I ran to the door to welcome the disfigure, she looked inside my home before coming in.   

The burlap that coated her body was rough to unstitch.  

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I flustered as the silk knotted beneath the needle’s steady beat—again. The light layers of fabric were difficult to piece together as a novice. Despite my careful effort, the sewing machine ate the brown silk and chewed until the bobbin thread ripped. I sighed and pulled hard until the fabric came loose with a small snapping following it through. The loose threads looked like small body hairs coming out from the seams. It didn’t look unnatural. It added texture.  

After cutting the excessively long thread from where the stitching began, the piece almost looked completed. To me, at least. Doña Esme didn’t think it looked like anything.  

“Mija, look here,” she pointed at where the fabric had been chewed, “what kind of needle are you sewing with?”  

I shrugged. I had no idea there was difference between certain needles.  

“Mira, silk is slippery, verdad? You’ve probably noticed that it slips, and that it’s thin. That’s because silk is a very special kind of fabric. You’ve chosen it for a reason, no? The fact that you are using it means you have good taste. But, you must be gentle with it. The needle you are using is thick, and it pushes it all the way down into the machine, down to the bobbin. And then it won’t come up. Use a thin needle, like this one right here. You have all the needles you need in the pouch next to the machine. Let’s fix it up so that you can so your, uh, your ropita right here.”  

She taught me to change the needle, along with the foot. After, she left me to complete the piece.  

I had taken Samara’s measurements, had wrapped the tape around each angle and curve of her body until I knew everything I needed to know to replace the burlap skin. The burlap had been dirty, had been stained by countless shades of browns, greens, reds, and yellows. What was contained on the inside was worse—her muscles and bones had consisted of shards of glass, sticks, dirt, grass, along with gooey gunk. When I had asked her what the unfamiliar materials were, Samara only shook her head and waited for me to move on.  

But I had seen that gunk at the markets where my mother stood in line to ask the butcher for specific quantities of meat. I had seen that gunk when she bought chamorro de res, carne ranchera, diezmillo, and trozo. I had seen the way this gunk oozed with blood as our sharpest knife came down to pull chunks off a bone. How all that meat could dry and become brown, sometimes green if we forgot to make a stew before it rotted.  

Instead of saying, so, though, I went through her contents, pulling sticks through thick, long paper straws, and replacing the gunk with fabric scraps, or old buttons and beads. She molded herself with a light attitude, and asked me to discard the burlap sack (which now contained the gunk we had taken out.)  

I promised her I would bring her a prettier fabric for her to wear as a new skin. She asked for one as pretty as mine. Now, she only needed to shimmy into the silk skin I had assembled for her.  

© Sandra Del Rio Madrigal 2021