71 comments

American Contemporary People of Color

“It’s time,” the smugglers mutter, steely-eyed, unblinking. “It’s time.”

“Martina,” her mother whispers a final directive. “You be Martin until these men take you over the border.” She zips up her daughter’s padded jacket and inspects her newly shorn hair. Just 11 years old. She can pass for a boy.

“Yes,” Martina replies, meeting her mother’s gaze with one just as determined. 

“You know what to do, yes?”

“I do.”

“And if any of these men try to hurt you . . .” her mother’s voice drops even lower, trailing off.

“I will slice their throats.”

Her mother recoils a bit at her daughter’s stoic expression, talking of killing as easily as picking out a nail polish color. But growing up under an utterly corrupt government, illegal drugs and violent crime rife in the streets, and schools terrorized by gun violence, there is no other recourse for Martina. 

The smugglers seem impatient, almost hostile to both mother and child. For a moment, Martina’s mother almost asks for the money back. Forget leaving her disguised daughter with these strangers to cross the border into another country. She will take Martina home and cook for her. Yet, tomorrow will offer nothing more for either of them. If Martina is to have a better life, she needs to leave this country.  

“Do what you need to do,” her mother says, giving her daughter one last embrace. She folds a small handful of crumpled foreign currency into Martina’s hand. It’s all she has. She’s sold anything of value for this chance. 

“Goodbye, mother.” Martina turns to leave, following quickly after the men who no longer wait. 

“I will see you soon,” her mother calls, but the lie dies on her lips. 

“Thank you—” Martina turns, looking back with her dark, ageless eyes. 

Martina’s mother puts her hands over her heart. Her child was always so independent, so capable. God will protect her, far away from this godless land. 

Martina knows her mother will watch until the group disappears into the night. She adopts a more masculine walk and lumbers after the smugglers, silently, a baseball cap pulled down low over her dirty face.

🜋 🜋 🜋

After several hours of walking off road, the group stops to rest in a thicket. Martina notes one of the older men has twisted his ankle. The man quickly wraps the injured leg tightly in rags while his nephew pleads his case to the smugglers. They briefly listen, staring at him with little interest. Finally, they wave him off.

“Leave him.”

“No, my uncle needs to go with us. It’s important—”

“Leave them both.”

“No! You go,” the older man says, eyes wild in pain and panic. “Take him with you, please. I’ll stay.” His hands reach out, an act of supplication. 

Cold eyes remain unmoved.

“You will both stay,” the smugglers irrevocably decide, motioning for the others to move forward. The trucks would arrive shortly, and there was no time for broken old men.

🜋 🜋 🜋

The semi-tractor-trailer truck is full of pulp and paperboard. In the midsection, a small carve out allows Martina and the others to huddle together, avoiding detection by border guards. She surreptitiously sips water from her small plastic bottle and munches on the pecans her mother packed. Sitting on a small stack of corrugated fiberboard is surprisingly comfortable, buffering her from the rough bumps and dips of the highway. The truck driver seems to find each crevice and pothole with glee. 

Martina dozes. She half listens to the others. 

“And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey,” recites a young woman with eyes closed, clicking prayer beads together. 

“Keep your God to yourself,” grumbles a middle aged man, dark face etched with life’s disappointments.

“Let her be.” Another woman interjects. Her companion motions her into silence. Best not to get involved in any altercations. They are so close. Their long, expensive journey almost at an end. 

“She should pray to the border guard.” The middle aged man laughs bitterly. “It would do her more good. You get caught—you get sent right back to hell. And there’s hell to pay to get out of hell again!” 

“She should pray to the drones,” another added. “The drones are the ones to fear. The border guards can just sit and hunt us down from the comfort of their desks.”

“I thought we were crossing over by boat?”

“The river is being watched tonight. The smugglers pay some of the border guards to tip them off.”

“For me? The truck is better. I don’t like boats,” remarks the young woman. “Too many of us have drowned already.”

“Too many of us have crossed already,” groans the middle aged man. “Even though the border is thousands of miles, we are pouring across like ant trails. Our country will soon be emptied! And the chance of our getting caught is higher than ever.”

“Why should we stay?” replies a young man. “I want to work. There is work. I want a doctor when I’m sick. There are good hospitals. Not like our country, where the rich have everything. The poor? Just broken dreams." 

“We are hated here, though. Despised,” laments another man. “They will make fun of us. Call us names.”

“Not the ones who work hard!” states the middle aged man. “I know how to work. Not like today’s young people who just want to stare at their phones and take drugs all day long.” 

“That’s not really—”

“The schools are good and clean,” a pregnant woman interrupts, rubbing her belly. “There is so much possibility. For all of us," she says, smiling. 

Most of the migrants look down, unsure, yet holding steadfastly on to that particle of faith. Does anyone want anything more than just a chance?

“Who is that boy?” one asks. “The one who doesn’t speak?”

Martina sits up, instinctively knowing they are looking at her. She pulls her baseball hat down further. 

“Who are you?” asks the pregnant woman. “Why are you doing this? Why are you making this dangerous trip—all alone?”

Martina feels for the knife tucked into her backpack, just to make sure it is still there. She doesn’t respond at first. She feels the eyes of the others on her. 

“I just want—” Martina says, voice cracking. “I just want to be free.” 

The truck jolts to a stop. The small group goes silent, paralyzed with a sharp fear. Is this the end or the beginning?

Light pours in as the roll-up door opens. 

Martina walks out first, blinking in the daylight. 

“All right, you filthy Americans,” the smugglers say. “Welcome to Canada.” 


May 29, 2021 19:08

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71 comments

Aloe Plant
20:53 May 29, 2021

I love the twist at the end. Canada, the home of the free. Great job!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:19 May 29, 2021

O Canada 🇨🇦 One of the best places to achieve the American Dream...

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Helen Ross
11:20 May 30, 2021

as someone from britain, this feels like something I would be trying to do, sneaking into France soon enough! I loved the end but mainly the dialogue about prayer, is it useful, who should we pray to? incredible as always!

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Deidra Lovegren
11:53 May 30, 2021

Maybe we should all just move to Switzerland? At least we’d have really good chocolate 🍫

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Helen Ross
14:39 May 30, 2021

that is a wonderful point honestly

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Mark Wilson
16:55 May 30, 2021

Why, you should pray to God, of course - WE are listening... ; )

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Deidra Lovegren
06:33 May 31, 2021

Spoken like a first born son. Hahaha (Or maybe an overcompensating middle child?) Birth order fascinates me. As #5 of 6, I’m a ghost, but I know where all the bodies are buried...

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Mark Wilson
12:22 May 31, 2021

The former (of the two), although not the favorite. And from a #1 to a #5 (w/pursed-lips and wagging finger), "you better not tell!" ; )

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Deidra Lovegren
13:07 May 31, 2021

A disgraced first born son?! You are definitely destined to be a writer 😎

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19:34 Jul 13, 2021

Liked the sure fire free flow present tense all through regularity that lend credence and earthiness to this excellent piece. I know, and I am waiting for the next part of this highly dramatic unfolding saga. Huge fan of yours.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:27 Jul 13, 2021

YAY - my first fan :) I'm currently writing up "The Medicine Girl" as a novel before I return to teaching in the fall. It was either the MG or "The End of Days," my loony ultraviolent religious fanatic teenager. I'm so grateful to Reedsy. In doing these weekly contests, I've discovered a few characters whom I'd really like to spend time with, on their journeys and quests and whatever they spin into existence. I'm very impressed with your bio! You seem to have a handle on this writing thing. Do you use something other than Submittable for ...

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14:46 Jun 01, 2021

the twist was magnificent. the details were magnificent. the tone was magnificent. everything was magnificent. *round of wholehearted applause*

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Deidra Lovegren
16:23 Jun 01, 2021

So you are saying it wasn't horrible...

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17:49 Jun 01, 2021

i'm saying that, if i was a publisher, i'd offer you at least 50K for this. no exceptions.

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Phoenix Langston
04:37 Jun 01, 2021

I loved everything about this story! The moods flowed well, from wistful (Martina's mother at the beginning) to sad (the old man and his nephew) to determined (the conversation between migrants), and a bit humorous with the twist. I definitely didn't expect them to be fleeing into Canada, but it does seem like a MUCH better country than this screwed-up sewer. The line "Not like our country, where the rich have everything. The poor? Just broken dreams" resonated with me so much, because I've seen so much of that in my own family and beyond. A...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Jun 01, 2021

FINALLY. It does pay to proofread eighty billion times. Hopefully we have competent elected officials now that can unclog the sewer. I hope they are all brave enough to have a truth and reconciliation and hold some people accountable or it will all happen again.

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Phoenix Langston
21:47 Jun 01, 2021

It's a pain, but it definitely does pay off! Whew, yeah, it'd be a nice change of pace! Hopefully it does happen.

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Jubilee Lubov
02:09 Jun 01, 2021

Wow, absolutely incredible! I love your writing and the twist at the end made me audibly gasp. Bravo!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:57 Jun 01, 2021

Best comment ever. YAY FOR TWIST ENDINGS THAT ACTUALLY WORK :))

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Esther Kurisu
00:59 Jun 01, 2021

It’s ironic because so many people fled to America to escape violence in their home countries. Good Job!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:56 Jun 01, 2021

Let's hope it doesn't ever come to that...but I do worry.

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June King
23:54 May 30, 2021

Honestly loved the twist at the end XD. Never thought it would be Canada. I'm falling in love with every one of your stories, and this one is no exception! Wonderful job :).

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Deidra Lovegren
06:36 May 31, 2021

Of course it’s Canada. Where else could there be that much hope for opportunity? Nice people with universal health care and moose and maple syrup. Sign me up!

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June King
14:32 May 31, 2021

You do have a point XD I've got a quick question. This is my first time entering into one of these contests and I'm trying to figure out if my short story is approved or not. I can see it under my stories, but I'm not sure if anyone else can. Is there an easy way to do that?

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Deidra Lovegren
15:17 May 31, 2021

You will receive a yellow dot notification that your story is approved — usually Sunday or Monday. I will check to see if I can see it!

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June King
16:58 May 31, 2021

Okay! Thanks for all the help, it's really appreciated!!

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Mark Wilson
16:58 May 30, 2021

Another great story, Deidra! Milk and Honey, indeed. But, It's not easy being 'US'(A). https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/95/submissions/69137/

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Deidra Lovegren
17:02 May 30, 2021

Very punny 😀 As a world traveler — I’m sure you’ve seen much more dysfunction. Americans do make some pretty awesome fast food, I must say. And we are *chef’s kiss* voter suppression professionals — especially in the dumb Deep South. To better days....

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Mark Wilson
17:06 May 30, 2021

Hear, here ~ to better days!

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20:52 May 29, 2021

Remarkable! You may have noticed, but every story you write I always seem to write 'Wow'. I do it because your writing is simply amazing! First off, I love how you were able to write about such a topic. You always seem to come up with the best stories. These people are looking for something more than jobs; they are seeking hope and a brighter future. You portrayed this eloquently and I'm honestly confounded with how tough you made Martina seem. It seems like she'd do anything to cross the border. She's so determined and she left her mother...

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Deidra Lovegren
21:22 May 29, 2021

Young girls are vulnerable in this world. Disguising herself may help her be less so. Especially sneaking over the border...into Canada 🍁

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21:25 May 29, 2021

Thanks! That makes sense! I can tell you really thought this through.

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Bella White
12:22 Jun 18, 2021

The dialogue is so realistic I love it :)

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Michael Martin
16:39 Jun 10, 2021

I picked up on the idea that the people would be trying to leave America about halfway through, but honestly, I thought you'd go the route of Mexico (the boat across the border was what made me think of the Southern border). I think it's a great story, incredibly well written. Truly shows the decline of our country in a way that entertains as well as informs. Great job!

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Arya Jackson
12:52 Jun 10, 2021

Love this, "Filthy Americans" kinda describe us fellow American citizens!

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Janet Lee
08:06 Jun 08, 2021

So realistic, I felt that I was that girl, in the truck, listening to all the others talk. That's the trick . . . to cause the reader to be so immersed in the story that they think they are one of the characters.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:00 Jun 08, 2021

It seems everyone is on the move, trying to find the best place to live for their families. This article from The Atlantic (a 164-year-old American magazine, which is prescient in most things) sparked this short story of mine: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/06/republican-state-legislatures-changes/619086/

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Liz Redt
07:03 Jun 08, 2021

Well Done, I love the humour in this. Great distopian world

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Amanda Fox
21:06 Jun 07, 2021

Aaaaah, that's such a fabulous twist! How I do love reading your stories.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:10 Jun 07, 2021

🇨🇦 🦌 🍁

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Carson Craig
14:50 Jun 06, 2021

Deidra, this was great. I'm born and raised in Texas and could have sworn it was about crossing the Rio. The twist to Canada was excellent.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:18 Jun 06, 2021

Maybe we can get to the point where everyone will feel safe, secure, and happy in their own country...? (Kind of a lot to ask for, but hope springs eternal.) From the New York Times: Number of People Fleeing Conflict Is Highest Since World War II, U.N. Says GENEVA — The number of people fleeing violence is the highest recorded since World War II, according to figures released by the United Nations refugee agency, as old conflicts dragged on and new ones erupted. The global population of people displaced by conflict reached 70.8 million l...

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Carson Craig
17:25 Jun 06, 2021

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and signs the tune without words and never stops at all." -Emily Dickinson That would be nice and hope may spring eternal but it needs to be achievable. For as long as man has walked the earth, as far back as Adam and Eve, in that is what you believe, there has been fighting and war. War for greed, property, religion and even for something as simple as food. If you look at history, it has been a constant throughout. Refuees from events such as these has not stopped and unfortunate...

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Deidra Lovegren
17:51 Jun 06, 2021

All very good points. Unfortunately, democracy’s ideals have to be wanted at the grassroots— not foisted top down. It’s an illiberal world these days — autocrats are having a moment...(cyclical, I guess) By the way, quoting Emily Dickinson is always 💰 You make an old English teacher very proud somewhere 😎

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Carson Craig
18:01 Jun 06, 2021

English was my worst subject in school before i dropped out. It wasn't till I had to take a fine art credit that I fell in love with Shakespeare. I ran and was the lighting designer for a one woman show called 'The Belle of Amhurt' and learned more about Miss Dickinson then I ever cared to know. 'Because I could not stop for Death' is probably my favorite of hers.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:12 Jun 06, 2021

As a high school English teacher, I totally understand... Emily was 🔥 though: Wild nights - Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury!

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Shoshana A
08:17 Jun 06, 2021

Interesting story!

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Jay Luuu
06:45 Jun 06, 2021

Ayoo nice twist. I kinda wished that there was more dialogue between Martina and her mother though. But that's just my opinion. As always, very wonderful take on the prompt. —JLU

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The Sundial
04:48 Jun 06, 2021

Wow, just wow. "You filthy american" great writing. You have my follow.

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