LOS PLANES • by Christine Sloan Stoddard

I glanced at another mile’s worth of rows on my spreadsheet, put my head in my hands, and took a deep breath. When I exhaled, I stared at an entry that froze my heart. I had to call her next?

The last time we saw each other was at La Puerta del Diablo, Devil’s Doorway, a rocky vista overlooking a volcano whose indigenous name means “Two Breasts.” You see the Pacific coast, a lake, and a town from Devil’s Doorway, too, but I mostly remember the volcano and the imposing greenery. Plants threatened to tickle you from every angle, as was the case everywhere in El Salvador.  That was three years ago, the same year that Annabelle, the possessed doll from The Conjured, was reportedly sighted at Devil’s Doorway, but that wasn’t why we visited. No chasing ghost stories or conspiracy theories for us. Aby and I were there with other young Salvadoran-Americans to “discover our roots.” A brutal civil war had denied us a relationship with the motherland. None of our parents wanted to return, so we had to take a glorified field trip. Jews have Birthright, we had a nonprofit in Maryland that doesn’t exist anymore.

Earlier in the day, our chaperones schlepped us to a pupusería, an outdoor restaurant serving the national dish: pupusas, thick tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, or pork. Pupuserías were everywhere in Los Planes de Renderos, or Los Planes for short, the national park area we traversed since early morning. With my imperfect Spanish, I knew “los Planes” meant “the plans,” but I didn’t know it also meant “the plains” until a chaperone explained. Enthralled by a troupe of folkloric dancers, our fellow travelers didn’t notice when Aby pecked me. I gagged on my pupusa and kept watching the dancers after recovering. Now, at Devil’s Doorway, our only distraction was a scenic view and, while beautiful, it was static. Our generation preferred moving images. Aby, who had been standing next to me for an eternity, kissed me again. This time, everyone noticed. Our chaperones separated us for the rest of the trip, which was a blur. Nobody had to tell us that ultra-Catholic El Salvador forbade same-sex marriage. Even gay bars existed underground.

Maybe if I had gone to college like the rest of our group, I would’ve kept in touch with Aby. Instead, I Googled her name once in a while during the rare lull at my call center job in my Appalachian hometown. I had never left. Moving was expensive, but I was saving up. I still didn’t really know any gay people, at least not “out” ones. They only seemed to live in places like New York City, where Aby lived. My job required that I now call her to say her company had outstanding debts, but in the next thirty seconds, I needed to summon the courage to tell her something else, something I couldn’t tell anyone where I lived: I had plans.

Christine Sloan Stoddard is a Salvadoran-American artist making books, paintings, films, and other imaginings, including Quail Bell Magazine. Her work has appeared in The Feminist Wire, Whurk, The Huffington Post, Maintenant, TERSE, and elsewhere. Her latest books are Heaven is a Photograph, a poetry and photography collection, and Naomi & The Reckoning, a novelette. She frequently forgets to water her plants.

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