Evita lied awake in the corner of the room her family shared, the moonlight casting a white glow that she manipulated with her hand’s shadow. The howling of coyotes was long gone, but they still echoed in her brain as she shaped her fingers into a snout, its mouth open. The shadow was dear to her, protected her not only from the Sonoran Sun during the day, but cloaked her from danger at night. She knew this land and the darkness it cast in its folds better than anybody else in her family, and in return was respected by the shadow.
Her family, viewing this inclination to darkness as some kind of perversion, thought her cursed. In the morning, her father left without a backwards glance. Her brothers pulled at the shawl she used to cover herself, slapping her soft skin until her mother shooed them off. Afterwards, her mother would scold her. “Why do you wear this shawl? When I was your age, I hated the chores keeping me indoors, longed to roam outside with my siblings. But you stay inside all day. Tell me, what do the adobe walls teach you? Why do you lurk in the corners all day, tending to your own shadow?”
Evita knew not to speak up for herself. Whenever she wanted to explain her inclination to shadow, she eyed the ocotillo cross nailed into the wall, and remembered her mother’s devout prayers against evil: the wild beasts, the greedy men who travelled with the rising sun, her. She would wrap her shawl tighter around her, then get back to her work—sweeping breakfast’s crumbs off the ground or scraping food out of clay bowls
As she grew, the shadows grew with her, until the whole house was cast in an unusual darkness even in the noon sun. Her mother demanded that her father stoke the hearth all hours of the day. The heat and smoke forced Evita outside, and with her, she learned, the shadow. It became she was unofficially banished from the house by day, left to do aimless chores—scouting for edible shrubbery, or watching for men on horseback who emptied the land of people.
One day she sat below an overhang of a cliff. She liked these places the most—where she couldn’t tell which shadow was hers and which was nature’s. The overhang wasn’t quite large enough—there was still a circle of darkness that stretched beyond the cliff. It had been a bad day; her mother had let her brothers tease her much longer than usual, then scolded her when she snapped back at them. Evita had run off, the shadow in tow, and was now tired of the burden. “Stop it already,” she shouted at the shadow. It darted inwards, collecting at her feet, and she startled back in surprise. It followed her movement, like smoke following a bundle of sage. She tried dispersing it with her hands but it didn’t move.
Evita took a shaky breath, then stood up. “Okay,” she said, looking down at the darkness pooled at her feet. “Go…away? Back to normal.” The darkness unspooled itself, reaching beyond the overhang like it had before. Evita smiled. For all the years she spent listening to it, she never thought it would listen to her.
She experimented with the shadow the rest of the afternoon, asking it to bunch around her, cast itself as far and thin as it could, cloak her own body, and swirl about. No matter how she asked, she couldn’t get it to separate from herself. When she did, it stayed as it was. As the sun began to set and the coyotes howled their dinner bells, she made her way back home, eager to tell her parents she had finally found a solution to their problems.
She crested up the gentle hill, calling out before she saw them. “Mama! Papa! Look what I’ve—” Her breath caught in her throat, and she coughed against the pocket of air. Down in front of their house were three men mounted on horses, with their unnaturally tanned skin and broad-brimmed hats covering their eyes, so they could see out, but others couldn’t see in. It had been her job to look out for men like this. But she’d been distracted that day. A hollow pit formed in her stomach, filling itself with bile. She crouched down, hiding behind a blooming yucca, and tried to hear what they were saying. She only spoke their language when she had to go into town in times of drought when their maize stock dwindled to nothing. Now, she translated the best she could, trying to keep up with the conversation.
“If you don’t have any paperwork claiming this land is yours, then it belongs to America. That’s how it works nowadays.” The man in the middle spoke, shrugging his shoulders casually.
Paperwork? Evita thought. What would paper do that a house and family living someplace didn’t? She could tell her parents were equally as confused, and terrified, by the way they shuffled their feet into the dirt.
“We’re gonna have to move you folks, down with the rest of you about 25 miles thataways,” he continued, pointing north. “Do you understand me?”
Her father shook his head. “We no leave,” he said, in his broken English. He pointed at the land beneath his feet. “Home.”
The man on the right shifted his weight, revealing something shiny hooked to his belt. “It ain’t a request. We’re moving you and your family.”
Evita’s heart pounded. She’d seen the aftermath of those before. Guns. How they tore through a person like they were nothing but a cooked nopal, leaving them gaping and bleeding. The sun was a sliver on the horizon, and the glow of the hearth backlit her family. She could see her brothers’ shadows in the house, lumped together into one, along the back wall. As her mother began weeping softly, the men talking over her, Evita felt the shadow push against her calves, waiting.
“Circle the men,” she whispered. The shadow coasted forwards, snaking between the horses’ hooves and up their flanks, hovering at the men’s ankles. The horses’ shrill whinnies disappeared into the vast night sky, and they pulled against the men’s firm hold on their reigns. “What is this? What are you doing?” the man on the right demanded.
“Witches!” said the man on the left, kicking at the shadow surrounding them.
Her father grabber her mother tightly around her shoulders. “La sombra no viene de nosotros! Lo juro!”
Evita stood up straight, coming down the crest of the small hill. “Leave,” she said, her voice vibrating in her chest. The men struggled to look at her, their hands full with their horses. She racked her brain for more of their words. “Leave and do not return. Or the shadow will follow.”
“It ain’t my choice; the governor says you guys got to leave this place,” said the man in the middle, eyeing the shadow fearfully. “Come on now, be nice to us. We’re just doing our jobs.”
Evita shook with all she wanted to say. Why? Why does he say we have to leave? And why have you chosen this as your job? Kicking people out of the only homes they’ve known. But she didn’t have the words. Not ones they would understand. “Leave. And do not return.”
The man on the right scoffed. “You really reasoning with some child?” He pulled at the gun hooked to his belt, and Evita murmured to the shadow, watching as it immersed them completely. The horses neighed, high and fearful, bolting with their owners in tow.
“Come back to me,” Evita whispered. The shadow sucked inwards, saturating her own shadow in the full moon. It was quiet, the hour before they usually went to bed. She walked slowly towards her parents, the compact earth silent under her tread.
“Stop,” her mother said, voice shaking. “Don’t come near our house. Cursed child.” She fought against her tears, holding her chin high against their wetness.
Evita’s heart dropped in her chest. “Mama, I—”
“You will bring darkness to this family. To my sons. You’ve chosen this for yourself, ever since you were little. Playing with your shadow at night.”
Evita was pulled back to childhood when she made coyotes with her fingers in the pale moonlight. She thought she was the only one awake at those hours. She felt a lump form in her throat, and for once she looked around and was afraid of the dark. “Mama, please, I won’t—”
“You will!” her mother sobbed, the sound shaking them both. “You will hurt us, mija, whether you mean to or not. You will curse us.” Her mother wiped at her wet cheeks, then under her nose. “You must leave,” she said, more composed. “Tonight. The shadow doesn’t bother you, does it?” Her mother turned away, walking into the house, the hearth nearly burned out. Evita cried openly now, wrapped her shawl around herself to keep from collapsing.
“Papa?” she asked feebly, hoping for a different answer.
“My Evita,” he said, stepping a foot closer. “You may stay. For tonight. Tell me what you need, and I will pack it for you.” He stepped forward, closer, and gathered her cheek in his hand. “I’m sorry. Your mother is right. This is not the right place for you.”
Evita held onto her father’s hand, his fingers thick and calloused. “Yes, it is, papa. This is my home. Where else am I supposed to go?”
He grabbed her hand, loosened her grip gently and let his hand fall from her face. “You’ll know. Follow la sombra, mija. Although it’s a part of you now, it’s always been a part of the world. It will know where to go.”
Evita left in the morning. She asked for directions from the shadow, and it guided her, a small tail of darkness marking the way. It led her to more men on horses, or helpless coyote ganged up by a pack of javelina, or children, families, lost in the wilderness. The emptiness in her body replaced itself with the darkness: protector, compass, the earth around and within her.