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Keening

She wakes with no memory
of pain, only the taste of steel
and three drops of blood on white bed sheets.

In the distance, the whistle of the afilador,
the man who sharpens knives. He appears
at dawn or dusk, or when called.

Her abuela, slicing onions, told her,
“Put a trapo on your head and make a wish
in front of the afilador, and it will come true.”

A trapo dries on a palo by the door.
Did she make a wish? She cannot tell
if the afilador is leaving or coming.

His whistle echoes, ragged notes sliding
up and down the scale like a blade
drawn along a sharpening steel.

Her abuelo had different whistles
for every family member, to call them
when they were too far to hear a shout.

He is too far now to hear anything but prayers.
Her abuela rests in a motorized recliner,
unhoneable. Name lost as a wish unmade.

The sun rests in a sky flaming
red and orange, rising and setting.
The moment cusps infinitely in all directions.

Around her, the air sparkles
like a cloud of metal filings. She holds
her breath in a terror of possibilities.

Blood and steel. Rags and wishes.
The afilador whistles and she wets her lips,
whistles her name back, clear and sharp.

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Valerie Valdes

Valerie Valdes is a co-editor of Escape Pod and the author of the Chilling Effect trilogy. Her next novel, Where Peace Is Lost, is forthcoming in 2023. Her short fiction and poetry have been featured in Uncanny Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, and several anthologies. In her spare time, she streams video games on Twitch and roleplays with the Strange Friends crew. She lives in Georgia with her husband, children and cats.

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