I don’t remember what festival it was, but I remember the way the duck looked at me.
The crowd hummed with excitement as I sat on Papi’s shoulders, my hands lost in his thick hair. His hair was still black then, his shoulders still strong enough to carry me and the weight of all my questions.
I squinted down at hundreds of cream and black sombreros, watching spectators wave their sandinista flags and jeer. The stadium reeked of sweat and smoke, children and women crowding in close. The villagers pushed one another towards the edges of the muddy clearing, each hoping to get a better view of the group of rancheros who were lined up in a row. All of the men were blindfolded and wielding machetes.
Near the center of the clearing, a duck sat buried in the mud. Only its head was visible, a dusty brown that turned this way and that. It quacked at its audience through a mottled orange bill, its face speckled with black spots.
Papi rattled his cowbell and the bystanders let out a cheer as they pushed the first man into the muddy clearing. He squatted as he walked, the mud sucking his boots as he swept his machete in long, low arcs.
¡Izquierda, izquierda! the onlookers chanted. When a swing came too close to their ankles they screamed.
Another man, and then another crossed the clearing without any luck. Mud squelched and wood creaked as the spectators stamped their feet on the shoddy wooden stands. Then finally, somebody hit the duck. A roar rose from the crush of bodies, and I almost pulled Papi’s hair out from the roots as I struggled to stay afloat.
The duck’s head was split, and the slow trickle of blood and brains had turned its pretty beige feathers a frothy pink. The man hadn’t finished the job, so the crowd shoved another out. The duck looked into me with its pleading, beady eyes and blinked as the mob shouted ¡derecha, derecha!
I cried when it ended, and Papi laughed at me. It’s just entertainment, he told me over the multitude of voices as they began to bury a second duck. A glimmer of silver peeked through his hair as he lowered me from my perch and rubbed his back.
J. L. Bermúdez
J. L. Bermúdez is a queer Nicaraguan-American from sunny South Florida. She received her BFA from Emerson College and is an MFA student at Florida Atlantic University. She currently serves as the Editor in Chief of the Swamp Ape Review. Her short fiction can be found in New Delta Review and is forthcoming in Quarter After Eight. When she isn’t writing, she loves going to the beach and playing fetch with her Boston Terrier, Odysseus.