browsing category: Fiction

Photo by Eric Williams
Fall 2019Fiction

An excerpt from “A Radical Existence” – Jennifer Morales

Sunday, 9 November 2025, 3:15 a.m.

Delia was awakened by a pounding on her front door, the classic cop knock she remembered from life back in Milwaukee. The noise was brutal and insistent, casting her instantly into a panic.

She rocked her way out of bed, drawing down the zipper of the bug net as she went. She was at the door of the enclosed porch within seconds, but not before the banging started again.

“Yeah?” Delia drew herself up to her full 5’5”. Since the Changes, she always slept Ready, fully clothed in leggings, a skirt, and a thin, long-sleeved shirt in spite of the heat, never knowing what a night might bring—an unpredicted tornado, looters scavenging in the shed for gas cans, a neighbor looking for one of Delia’s herbal remedies for a sick kid.

There were two police officers, at least as far as Delia could see in the moon’s half-light and the gloom of the front stairs. The nearest artificial light was the dim one at the end of her long, dirt drive, powered by an old solar panel that had seen better days.

“Ms. De La O?” the taller one asked Delia, shining a flashlight from his phone into her face.

“Yes, that’s me.” Delia raised a hand to her eyes.

The shorter one stepped closer and, in the sidelight from the other’s phone, she was able to read his badge. Montero.

Montero said, “We’d like to talk with you about your son.”

Delia’s stomach dropped. She looked over her shoulder into the dark house. She hadn’t heard Álvaro come in, but she hadn’t really expected him to, either. It was a Saturday night. He’d be off doing whatever a 17-year-old boy would be doing.

“Álvaro? Is he OK?”

“Ma’am, we’d like to come in,” the tall cop said. Stumpf. He put his hand on the knob of the screen door behind her. Delia had closed it behind her, of course, to keep out the buffalo gnats. In the thick of a warm autumn night like this, letting in a swarm could be deadly. Those bugs would smother you in your sleep.

The cops hadn’t answered her question, but they all would be better off having this conversation inside. “Come in, quickly. The bugs.”

She led them through the screened porch and into the living room, clicking on a table lamp as she went. In spite of her urgency, a haze of biting gnats obscured the top of Stumpf’s yellow hair, like an ashen halo.

Delia felt an abrupt need to sit down. She did, on the arm of the side chair she often sat in while reading. She gestured to the corduroy sofa but neither cop took up her offer. Montero hooked his thumbs into his belt, shifting his feet until they were spread shoulder-width apart, riot stance. Stumpf was scrolling through his phone.

“What happened? Where’s Álvaro?” Delia gripped her knees with sweaty hands, leaving marks on her gray leggings.

“Ma’am, says here that your son was arrested at 2:30 this morning, fleeing the scene of a crime.”

“What crime?”

“A bombing at the Sandex quarry. Several pieces of expensive equipment have been destroyed.”

Delia started to her feet.

Montero held out a hand. “He’s OK, ma’am. He wasn’t hurt.”

“But where is he?”

“He’s being booked at the station right now.” Stumpf looked up from his phone, his expressionless eyes locked onto Delia’s. “What do you know about your son’s involvement with eco-terrorist organizations?”

Delia couldn’t help but laugh. She sat down with a relieved thump. “Now I know you have the wrong kid. Álvaro? An eco-terrorist? My Álvaro wouldn’t dare risk anything—including a Saturday night out with friends—to be involved in ‘eco-terrorism,’ as you call it.”

“He was out with friends?” Stumpf asked, his thumb poised over the keypad. “Which friends?”

Delia looked from one cop’s face to the other, her mouth open. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know who he’s with.” She would have to remember to be more careful with her words. “I don’t know if he’s out with anyone.” She gave the cops a shrug. “Teenagers, you know?”

Montero intervened. She felt he’d been studying her face for signs of something, of what she didn’t know. “We have a positive ID. What we need to know now, ma’am—” he took his hands from his waist and gestured with both in an almost pleading motion “—is who he might be involved with, whether he’s mentioned any plans or said anything suspicious.”

Delia racked her brain. Álvaro was no environmental bleeding heart—not anymore, anyway. In fact, recently, Delia had been afraid he was becoming actively anti-environmentalist, succumbing to the fatalism that infected his generation. A few months ago, she had to ground him for a week after she found out he went coal rolling with a couple of friends, wasting precious diesel fuel to smoke unsuspecting pedestrians and bicyclists. Maybe she had pushed the planetary responsibility thing too hard. In spite of a lifetime of nature walks, his daily chores tending the sprawling organic gardens surrounding their little farmhouse, all the encouragement and lectures from Delia, in the past year her son seemed to have moved beyond all that. When he was younger, he seemed genuinely interested in the land, interrupting her lessons on medicinal plants with questions, and dutifully spending hours coloring cloth with dyes made from walnuts and bloodroots or gathering wild bamboo for projects around the farm. He seemed just as interested as her daughter, Amalia, until the moment last year, when his despair over Sandex tearing down his favorite hill just shut something down inside him—

She stopped herself before she connected the dots. No, her Álvaro wouldn’t do anything as drastic as bomb something just because—

She furrowed her brow.

“Ma’am?” Montero said, his voice suggesting that he saw the look that passed over her face. “Can you think of anything? If you can, we need you to tell us. To prevent more violence. Who knows who might get hurt next time.”

“Yeah, people could get hurt,” Stumpf said. A dryness in his tone suggested a threat.

Delia shook her head. “No, I mean, he’s never even given a clue that he would get involved in something like that. His friends—” The faces of a couple of them—Brit, the hard-nosed coal-roller, and Diego, aka Go-Go, a manic but mostly affable kid—crossed her vision. Could they be involved? If so, they played a masterful game of bluff. “His friends aren’t the kind of kids who would be interested in sticking their necks out to stop Sandex’s frac sand mining. In spite of all I’ve tried to teach them, they don’t seem to care.”

She shrugged, but this last comment focused Stumpf’s attention. “What kinds of things have you been teaching them?” He kept his eyes on her while he scrolled his phone screen, prepared to take down her answer or maybe something else.

“Is that thing recording?” she asked.

“Are you concerned you might say something incriminating?” Stumpf raised one thick, blond brow. “You didn’t answer my question. What kinds of things have you been trying to teach them, Álvaro and his friends?”

This interview was not going well. A wave of vertigo washed over Delia but she forced herself to stand.

She looked Stumpf in his blue eyes and repeated herself: “You didn’t answer my question.” She pointed at the phone. “Is that thing on? Is it recording this conversation?”

Stumpf moved his thick thumb across the screen. “No,” he said, his mouth twitching at the corners in a flicker of a smile.

“I know my rights. You can’t record me without my consent.”

She was seriously off her game this late—or was it early by now?—and worried about Álvaro, but the minute she said it, she cursed herself.

Brown Civilian vs. Cop 101, Lesson One: Never, ever, ever utter the words I know my rights.

“Ms. De La O,” Montero said, casting a glance at his partner. “Please. You should tell us what you know.”

“Nothing. I know nothing,” she said. She felt the temperature in the room drop. Both Stumpf and Montero shifted, hands on belt, feet spread, a swift but perceptible assertion of power. If she had rights, they were debatable, contestable, especially in the absence of witnesses.

Stumpf spoke into the radio attached to his shoulder. “This is Officer Stumpf. Request backup at 3367 Green Hollow Road. We’re bringing in the mother of one of the suspects in the Sandex attack. She’s very upset.” Stumpf’s eyes shone as he spun an untruth into the black box. “And in her distress, she took a swing at Officer Montero. She’s been subdued, but we’re going to need a team to secure the property.”

The dispatcher’s crackly voice, another tired woman up later than her body approved of, came through the box. “10-4. Sending squad to 3367 Green Hollow.”

“How are those rights working for you, then?” Stumpf asked. He pulled the cuffs from his belt. Delia raised her chin and looked him in the eye before he turned her around and cuffed her. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

***

Delia fumed in the back of the squad. But as angry as she was at being arrested, she comforted herself with the thought that at least she would be where Álvaro was.

The La Farge police station was small, like everything else in town, but formidable. Since the sand miners came, and since the Changes, the police force had been doubled and the station fortified with a cement wall topped with razor wire. The lot between the cop shop and the municipal machine shed was filled now with cast-off military equipment. She watched the squad’s lights play over the form of a tank as Stumpf directed the car into a space at the front of the station.

Before the fighting over frac sand, the town’s elders weren’t interested in this militarization. Even with the abundant flow of Homeland Security money after 9/11, the hamlet’s fiscal conservatism meant that those dollars were spent on things like software upgrades and new telephones, rather than decommissioned armored personnel carriers. The police chief had bragged about it to the Vernon Broadcaster. “The only thing I’d ever need one of them federal helicopters for is for tracking down the damn hippie farmers’ cows. Now, if we could use that Homeland Security money to teach those fool back-to-the-landers how to build a damn fence, that’d be something.”

His comments stuck in Delia’s mind since, at the time, she was one of those recently arrived “hippie farmers” herself, and a fool to boot.

The area’s sand was more valuable now than ever. After the devastating 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons, the wildfires, and the Great Subsidence of 2020, Americans started waking up to the reality that “the Changes” were upon them. They had to start rethinking everything about the way they lived. But the energy companies didn’t see why they couldn’t squeeze out a few more bucks before the complete collapse of the American Dream. The fracking companies had developed new machines to get at deeper and deeper oil and gas reserves in a process they called hyper-fracking and they needed the sand to do it. Nothing worked as well as the sand from the Driftless region, the southwest corner of Wisconsin where the glaciers never hit, leaving ancient sandstone hills just ripe for pulling down and hauling away. The Pence administration had subsidized the development of the Atlantic Coast Pump, in an attempt to keep its donors’ investment properties in Manhattan and Miami livable, adding enormous pressure to the nation’s energy supply even while households were drastically scaling back. Some of the profit the fossil fuel companies made keeping the air conditioners of elites in Los Angeles running and the swimming pools of Palm Springs filled and chilled, they used to buy off state legislatures and boards of education. Their anti-science curriculum was mandated for use in two thirds of the states, actively encouraging Álvaro and Amalia’s generation to see climate change as something to adapt to by buying more things. Delia chose to homeschool Álvaro and Amalia for all but their last two years of high school, when they needed specific courses for college. What was being taught in the local public schools gave new meaning to “having your head in the sand.”

Inside the police station, Delia was directed to a chair across from a matronly officer seated at a metal desk. Stumpf unlocked the cuffs and Delia glared at him while she rubbed the skin on her wrists.

“Have a good day,” he said, clicking the cuffs back onto his belt. The casualness of his walk infuriated Delia.

The officer—Burbach—took down her information and fingerprints, then looked something up on the computer. “You’re my second De La O of the night,” she said. “Hm. Never heard that name before and now I’ve got it twice in one night. Is it short for something?”

“No.”

Burbach began typing, leaning in and squinting into the computer screen. Delia asked her, “The other one is my son. Do you know where he is?”

“The other what?” She backtracked over whatever she had just typed.

“The other person with my last name, that’s my son. Álvaro De La O.”

Officer Burbach paused to look Delia in the face and her voice softened. “I booked him in earlier. He’s in the back with the detectives.”

“Can I see him?”

The officer bit her lip, drawing in a scratchy breath. “Well, Mrs. O, you are under arrest, too, remember. So, I’d say not likely until one or both of you posts bail.” She turned back to her computer.

One of the detectives came for Delia and led her down a brightly lit hallway to a small room at the back of the station. Delia strained to peer into every window they passed, but there was no sign of Álvaro. Once inside, the detective pointed her to a green plastic chair, one of two pulled in closely to a laminate table that dominated the room.

“I’m Detective Freitag,” he said, sitting on the edge of the table. He was tall and lean, and the effect of him sitting so close made him seem like a shallow-rooted tree that might fall on her. “Your son has gotten himself into a bit of trouble. And, you, too, it seems.”

“I didn’t hit anybody,” Delia said.

“I didn’t say you did.”

“That’s what Officer Stumpf said. He told the dispatcher I hit Officer Montero.”

Detective Freitag leaned back and crossed his arms. “That will all be sorted out soon enough. But in the meantime, I’d like you to tell me what you know about your son’s eco-terrorist activities. The sooner you give me that information, the sooner I can help Officer Stumpf clarify what he remembers happened, or didn’t happen, tonight.” The detective gave her an indulgent smile. “I can tell you’re an intelligent woman, Delia, so I doubt I need to lay any of this out for you in detail.”

Delia nodded slowly. She recalled the pure indignation when Stumpf arrested her, when she thought the arrest was happening for no reason, but now she saw that there was a reason. They would keep the threat of an assault charge over her head until she told them what she knew.

The still air of the tight space was filling quickly with the scent of his cologne. Delia stifled a cough. She found it hard to believe that anyone was still spending precious dollars on things like cologne.

“How long has Álvaro been planning the attack on the Sandex site?”

“He didn’t plan an attack. I mean, he wouldn’t.” Delia gasped with frustration at the way everyone here seemed to be working to entrap her. And Álvaro. “I mean, I don’t know anything about it.”

“Delia, if you don’t know anything about it, you don’t know anything about it. And that means, you don’t know that Álvaro didn’t plan the attack.” He leaned toward her, just an inch. “Right?”

“I want to talk to a lawyer.”

Detective Freitag threw his hands up in the air and let them fall to his lap. “OK. You could be out of here in half an hour, if you wanted to be. But I guess an overnight stay it is.” He stood and went out into the hall, closing the door behind him.

Delia tried to think of lawyers she knew in the area, but the only one that came to mind was the guy who worked at the property title office and the one from La Crosse whose mug was plastered on half the billboards in the county. “Injured? Make the call.” In these desperate times, personal injury law was a booming business.

She would have to get someone from out of town anyway. Nobody local would dare represent her or Álvaro against Sandex’s legal team, and she probably shouldn’t ask them to try. Everyone knew the story of Jenna DeLap, who ran for state assembly on an anti-frac sand platform. Some thugs broke both her legs and made it clear they’d do worse if she didn’t drop out of the race. She withdrew her candidacy and the pro-fracking incumbent won unopposed. Bucking the hyper-fracking industry got more dangerous all the time.

There was the legal helpline at that organization in Madison. She learned about it from some neighbors going door to door with a petition to get a mining impact study done by the county. She kept the flyer on her bulletin board until it faded, thinking that she might need it sometime. What was the name? ERL. Environmental Rights League? Then the slogan for their toll-free number bubbled through her memory: 1-800-ERL-not-OIL

Sunday, 9 November 2025, 11 a.m.

Amalia came home from UW-Madison on Sunday morning, hoping to surprise her mom and brother with a visit. Instead, she was shocked to find the house empty. Álvaro’s absence was especially unusual. Like most 17-year-olds, he liked to sleep in every chance he got, so Amalia was confused when she peeked in his room and saw the vacant bed. Maybe he stayed overnight at a friend’s?

Her mom could be anywhere, out feeding the goat or harvesting late-season tomatoes or talking to the trees. Or maybe even in church. Once in a while, Delia would go down the road to the little Methodist church for a “power boost,” as she called it. “It feels good to pray in the company of others, even if those others aren’t totally sure they want me there.” As a single mom, a Mexican-American back-to-the-land transplant from the big city, sitting in the pews among the old Norwegian and Swedish American dairy farmer families could be complicated.

Amalia made a pot of coffee on the woodstove in the kitchen. She had to start the fire from scratch because the stove was cold. And when she emptied the filter into the chipped casserole dish they used to collect scraps for the compost pile, there were no other grounds inside. The idea of her mom skipping her a.m. brew was outlandish. Delia drank a pot a morning, her one post-Changes luxury, though it was cut half with chicory, to extend it.

So neither of them had slept at home last night. Still, her mom’s rusted red Ford 150 sat in the driveway. Puzzled, Amalia took her coffee out to the porch to wait.

Church hour came and went. Amalia knew because of the burst of “traffic” on the road out front around 11:30—five or six Sunday Buicks and SUVs, their waxed sides reflecting the sun as they snailed their way toward brunch in town, anachronisms in this era of small, electric cars.

Amalia itched for a cell phone. She had one for a few years when she was in her tweens and her parents’ farm was doing well, selling gourmet vegetables to the locavore restaurants in La Crosse and Madison. Milwaukee, too, sometimes. Then the weather shifted and people got scared. “Local” food became hyperlocal, and her parents, like many other small, organic growers, were forced to reduce their horizons. Amalia got to go to college—with a lot of scholarships—and she got her dad’s Prius after he died (and pay the $14 a gallon for gas) but a cell phone was no longer in the budget for anyone in the family.

With no way to call or text Álvaro or her mom, she thought about who was reachable on a landline who might know where they were. She had been away at college for over a year and was out of the loop in terms of her brother’s crew. Go-Go for sure was still part of it. She went to the kitchen and dug out the phone book from the grains cupboard. Diego’s parents were Mexican immigrants who came to the area to work the flower farms before he was born. Amalia dialed the number listed in the book for “Leguizamo, M and R,” and hoped her Spanglish would suffice.

Diga?” a woman’s voice said. The voice sounded too old to belong to Go-Go’s mom.

“Uh, buenos días, señora. Habla Amalia De La O, hermana de Álvaro? Álvaro, el amigo de Go-Go? De Diego, disculpe.” Amalia wasn’t sure if Go-Go’s grandmother would recognize his nickname.

Ah, sí, buenos días. Diego no está aquí al momento. Sabes dónde está? No lo hemos visto desde ayer y estamos muy preocupados de él.”

That wasn’t good news. Go-Go’s family didn’t know where he was either. They hadn’t seen him since yesterday and they were worried.

Pues, no sé, señora. Uh, con quién hablo?

“La abuela de Diego, la mamá de Rosa.” So it was his grandma.

Amalia’s Spanish was running out. “Señora, no sé tampoco dónde sean. I mean, están. I mean, Álvaro y Diego. No sé nada de mi hermano ni de Diego.”

Bueno. Llámanos otra vez si los encuentres, ah?

Amalia didn’t like the way this conversation was making her feel. Like something was truly wrong. She should call the Leguizamos if she finds Álvaro and Go-Go? Where could they be?

Sí, llamaré a Uds. si …” She would call them if, what? If she found them? Of course she would find them. They weren’t lost. Were they?

Sunday, 9 November 2025, 5 a.m.

One thing Delia learned from her time with the Ready Clan was “twitching.” The Readies learned twitching from their clan animals, the rodents. A rabbit, for example, might sit in a nice patch of grass, chewing peacefully, seemingly oblivious to danger. But rabbits are never oblivious. They’re constantly scanning their environment for threats. A twitch of their ears will focus their entire attention on a single distant sound. When the sound is determined to not represent a threat, the rabbit’s attention will be released, free and ready to be directed at some other noise or movement, no energy wasted.

This quick-focus practice was proving useful in Delia’s time in the La Farge jail’s tiny holding cell. Even at this early hour, the building was busy, with police officers coming and going, doors slamming, the laughter of someone leaving for her meal break, the dispatcher’s voice coming through from various radios large and small. Delia’s trained ears were waiting, though, for one sound in particular: Álvaro’s voice. There had been no sign of him.

She drifted off for a while but, like the rabbit, she lurched to attention when she heard a young man say, “I need to call my mom.” Her eyes sprang open in time to catch a glimpse of Álvaro’s dark hair as he was led to the cell next to her.

“Well, you’re in luck, kid,” the officer who was escorting him said. “If you know Morse Code, you two can tap on the wall.”

Now that Álvaro was in the cell, his voice was muffled, but Delia was pretty sure he said, “She’s here? Why do you have my mom?”

“Álvaro!” she called out, after the officer had walked away.

“Mama!” His voice sounded small, not just because of the cement and rebar between them, but scared, the voice of a much younger kid.

Delia’s heart broke against that worried sound. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

What she could say in this setting? Surely someone here was listening, either through mics or just tracking the sound of their voices bouncing down the hall. Surveillance was a given. “I don’t want to ask you anything about what happened, OK?”

“OK.”

“I just want to know that you’re alright and to let you know I’m going to find us a lawyer as soon as they let me make a phone call.”

“Alright.” It sounded like he might be crying. “Why are you in here?” He snuffled loudly. Definitely crying.

“Good question.” She rested her head against the wall between them. “I think so they can ask me what I know about what happened.”

“That’s not a crime.”

“Ah, mi’jo. Let’s not talk about it,” she said. Álvaro didn’t respond. “OK, chiquito?” It sometimes surprised her how, in moments of stress, she became her mother, peppering her English with these little Spanish endearments.

“Go-Go’s in the hospital,” Álvaro said.

Delia sat up straight and pressed her face to the bars. “In the hospital. Why?”

“He burnt his arms. On the— “

Cállate.” Delia interrupted him. “Don’t tell me on the what. We can’t talk about the what right now.”

***

By the time the lawyer from the Environmental Rights League arrived from Madison, it was already early afternoon. Seema Bannerjee interviewed both mother and son, then got on her cellphone to her office to see about bail funds.

“I think the national ERL is going to be very interested in your case.”

“Good,” Delia said.

Seema put her notes in her briefcase and closed it, spinning the lock. Delia noted that Seema’s hands were smooth, the nails recently manicured. She often forgot that city people still spent money on those kinds of vanities. That, for some, there was still money to be had. “That is good. Our work recently attracted the attention of a certain Hollywood retiree who’s particularly concerned about this latest ramping up of hyper-fracking. He’s originally from Oklahoma, so the Big Subsidence of 2020 freaked him out pretty badly.”

“I think we all should be freaked out about it. Killed over 200,000 people.”

Seema nodded. “The hole swallowed not only his hometown but also the town where he met his first wife. He’s throwing a lot of money at us to defend any client whose focus is fighting fracking. I think you two are going to be in good shape.”

Delia turned out to be in good shape, at least. The police released her on a desk appearance ticket, ordering her to show up for court later that week. But they wouldn’t release Álvaro. Because it was a Sunday, and because of the seriousness of the charges, he would be held until the judge came on Tuesday.

Seema suspected that, when they did release him, bail would be set high. “The fracking companies have spent a lot of money promoting more stringent practices in the justice system, not just in Wisconsin, but all over.” As she drove Delia back to the farm, she told her about her experience with other cases. “They’ll make sure to put out a news release with the amount of bail and a detailed list of the worst possible outcomes, to send a message to any other activists who might have ideas of repeating your son’s action.”

“What are they? The possible outcomes?” Delia swallowed hard.

“Delia, let’s be honest. This is felony territory.” Seema looked over at Delia in the passenger seat.

“Turn here.”

Seema eased the car off the paved county highway and onto Delia’s dirt drive. “Álvaro, and whoever he was with, could face fines in excess of the value of the destroyed equipment, prison time, or both. Sandex will go for anything and everything they can get.”

In spite of the afternoon heat, Delia shivered. As Seema parked in front of the farmhouse, Delia asked, “Did he do it?”

“Yes. At least that’s what he said in our interview.”

“I didn’t know.” Tears flooded her eyes. If he could hide something like this from her, what else didn’t she know?

“Mama!”

For the second time that day, Delia was jolted to attention by the sound of her child calling her. Amalia bounded down the stairs of the front porch and toward the unfamiliar car.

“Mama!” Amalia leaned into the open window and looked from Seema to mother and back again. “What’s going on? Where have you been? Is everything OK?”

Delia wiped her face with her hands and said to Seema, “We’ll be in touch, right?”

Seema nodded.

“Thanks for everything.” Delia got out of the car and put her arm around her daughter. “Everything’s OK.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“It’s a long story. Let’s go in and make some coffee. My head is killing me.”

Delia and Amalia sat on the couch in the living room—Delia wrapped in a blanket to smother the chill pervading her body, her hands warming around her mug—and filled each other in on the details of the last 12 hours.

“I went everywhere, looking for you two.” Amalia had gone to all the neighboring farms, then to town—on a bike she pulled from the shed, to save gas. “Then I found out Go-Go was missing, too, and I just flipped out. I ended up back here just pacing and chewing off my nails. Look.” She held out her hands, the nails gnawed down to the flesh.

“What brings you home?”

“I wanted to talk to you about something, but it all seems stupid now.”

Delia pulled Amalia to her and kissed her head. “No, tell me, Mali. I have two children, and both of them get attention, no matter what.”

“Really? It’s not that important.”

“If you came all the way home to tell me about it, I bet it is. Come on, tell me.”

Amalia covered her face and took a deep breath. “I think I’ve got a crush on somebody.”

“A crush, huh?” In spite of the circumstances and her exhaustion, Delia smiled. “Who’s the lucky guy who gets the attention of my beautiful daughter?”

“It’s not a guy.”

Delia laughed, confused. “What? You got a puppy or something? Or?” She studied Amalia’s face. Sincere. Scared. Glowing a little. “It’s a girl?”

Amalia nodded. “It feels weird to tell you that.”

“It’s not so weird.” She squeezed her daughter’s shoulders. “I mean, I’m surprised. But it’s not weird.”

“Don’t tell anybody, OK?”

“No, of course not. Not until you’re ready.” And maybe, Delia thought, in the case of some of their relatives and neighbors, not ever.

“Thanks.” Amalia smoothed her skirt over her knees.

“You want to tell me about her, this girl?”

“Her name’s Trina. She’s super smart—an engineering major. She’s really funny and she has this smile—when she smiles at me, it makes me feel like I’m the best thing ever.”

“You are the best thing ever,” Delia said. “Although I’m biased, of course.”

The light in her eyes as she spoke about her crush filled Delia with a sort of relief, the relief of something normal amidst the anxiety of Álvaro’s situation.

“Where did you two meet?”

Amalia bit her lip. “At a meeting.”

“What kind of meeting?”

“The Madison Queer Resistance,” she said quietly. “Trina’s the leader.”

“What’s that?”

“They fight back against homophobia.”

“Fight back how?” Delia asked. “Not fighting like with fists or weapons, right?”

Amalia’s reticence about the type of meeting had pricked some suspicion in Delia’s overextended brain.

“No, Mom, not weapons.” Amalia always called Delia “Mom” when she was irritated with her.

“What then?”

“They protest to let people know about the religious extremists who want the Board of Regents to kick all LGBTQ students out of the public universities. The crazies have filed a lawsuit.”

“I didn’t know about that,” Delia said, but she wasn’t surprised. Since the rise of the Pence administration, with theocrats in nearly every cabinet position, it seemed like another new anti-gay policy was put in place every week.

“Yeah, and that’s not all. There’s a big research project based in the chemistry school that’s testing a drug to turn gay kids straight. Do you believe it?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“We’ve been talking to students who are considering joining the study, trying to get them not to.” Amalia’s voice grew stronger and she sat up on her knees. “And then there’s ministers—I know you’ve heard them on the news—who are out there trying seriously to blame climate change—climate change, Mama!—on gay and trans people.” She fell back onto the couch. “I think they’re trying to get people mad enough that they come shoot us all.”

“No, mi’ja.” Delia pulled Amalia close. “No one’s going to shoot you.”

She tried to sound reassuring, but after a moment a panic hit her and she pushed Amalia away to get some distance and look into her eyes. “You need to be careful, OK? I need you. We need you. Out here, not in jail like your brother. You don’t have to be the ones to save the world.”

“You don’t get it, do you? You’re always saying, ‘I want you to thrive.’ But if you want us to thrive, we have to fight. Things are really fucked up, Mom.” Amalia wrenched herself out of Delia’s arms. “We have to fight because some of those people want us dead.”

The certainty in her daughter’s voice chilled Delia to the core but quickened her resolve.

“No,” Delia said. “They are not going to get you.” She crossed her arms. “I’m not going to let them.”

But how she might stop anyone, given all the forces now arrayed against her little family, Delia didn’t really know.


Jennifer Morales is a poet, fiction writer, and performance artist based in rural Wisconsin. Meet Me Halfway (U of Wisconsin Press), her collection of short stories about life in one of the nation’s most segregated cities, was Wisconsin Center for the Book’s 2016 “Book of the Year.” Recent publications include “Cousins,” in Milwaukee Noir (Akashic, 2019); and “The Boy Without a Bike,” forthcoming in Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates (Akashic, November 2019). She is president of the board of the Driftless Writing Center, based in Viroqua, Wis.

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