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Things Never Stay Warm

I wear my dead sister’s lipstick around the house like Grandma told me to. It leaves my lips dry and the shade doesn’t suit me, it’s purple and dark and velvety, against her golden-brown skin luminous and edgy. On me it looks tired. Most things do. But I wear it anyway to sit in the kitchen while I do the trick that Grandma taught me to stir the soup with my mind. Grandma was a witch. She turned the neighbour’s hair red, one hair at a time. The neighbour didn’t notice at first, but she started to see it around the house and she even started thinking her husband was having an affair. One, two, three red hairs in the drain. Soon, all her hair was red like the autumn leaves.

When my sister died, Grandma gave me a bag with all her clothes. She told me to wear them often and with oomph, like my sister would have. She assured me her scent of sweet candied apples and vanilla cloves would lead her back home. But I never see her. Most days, I imagine her perky voice on the phone when she was still alive and still loved me: “Sis, you are always busy. You never have time for me, your lazy sister who lives at home with Grandma.” and I would laugh and tell her not to be silly. She would find her own way. But back then, all she wanted was to be with the baker’s son who couldn’t bake baguettes. And I, with nothing else to do when I went home to visit, would sneak out with him to throw rocks at the shore late at night, drinking mezcal and keeping the neighborhood cats company. He was the only man my sister ever loved because she liked the way he pronounced words with a vaguely French accent. And she liked how his hazel hair was always too long on the sides while sitting heavily on the top. She liked his knitted sweaters too and she liked how they always smelled musky, sparingly washed. Sis never forgave me and she never figured out a way to move out of Grandma’s house, she died, and Grandma, not ready to live without her, followed.

 And now it is only me, who came back home to try and sell the house when there was no one around anymore to shut my computer down and tell me, “enough, silly girl, sit here and eat some cinnamon cookies while they are still warm.” Things never stay warm. Which is why, in this empty home I wear her cheap purple lipstick and sing the song that Grandma taught me to sing to turn on the heater using only my words.

The house feels warm and inviting now, and the leaves are changing. They both loved the golden light and crunchy apples, and although I don’t know how to bake a pie they would like, I close my eyes like Grandma taught me and say the words that open her recipe book and flip the pages until it lands on Pumpkin Pie. The cupboards open. Flour, sugar, butter, a can of pumpkin and a whisk appear in front of me. I stand up and start to stir. I’m not in the mood for lighting a candle for them in the little altar I built with all their little keychains they liked to collect of places they would visit one day.

Not tonight. Tonight, I am in the mood for eating mediocre pumpkin pie and sitting on the couch while I hear the screaming cats and the serenade that the baker does two doors down, in the hopes I’ll hear how much he’s hurting. Sis, I say just in case she’s listening, I never cared that much about him. I think he stinks. Like dust, cigarettes and cheap whiskey. The kitchen window opens, and the cold breeze makes my chapped, dry face burn. Grandma would know what to do for that. “Sis,” I say, but the wind hits the window and closes it back.

María Alejandra Barrios is a Pushcart nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. Her stories have been published in places such as  Hobart PulpReservoir JournalCosmonauts AvenueJellyfish ReviewLost BalloonShenandoah LiteraryVol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work is forthcoming in and Moon City Review. She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow and her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center, and the New Orleans Writing Residency. She’s currently at work revising her debut novel.

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