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by Lisa Wartenberg Vélez

The children waited, running the diamond or standing stoic at the perimeter or dangling off monkey bars in the playset that bled in. Some wore excitement in their eyes, or perched like little placid Buddhas on the grass. Some plucked grass or worms from the soil. Inés and Salomé clutched each other, their faces creased paper, eyes drawn outside the lines. The Great Sacrifice had arrived at this time every year since the Big Collapse and the children were glad. Even the hard ones. The dream-hearted ones, tender as lambs, nearly adrift in Heaven. Even the parents, who watched from the benches of the soccer field, soppy eyes behind sunglasses, alive in their shame. Watching was required. It was the only way to be set free now from looming ruin. Divinity would trail them, Mrs. Flores told her little dears, render them holy in sacrifice. When the shots began it was the frolicking ones flattened first. Then the ones pushing limbs full-speed into the wind. They saved the criss-crossed ones for last. When banks scanned tags at the end, along wrists or ankles or whichever parts most intact, cell phones pinged like techno music: debt cleared. Wails could only be masked to a point. But only the Muscle, as those children still alive were called, the ones hailed heroes and not saints, the ones with gunpowder and blood down their shirts, understood the true value of their lives.

Lisa Wartenberg Vélez is a Colombian-born writer of fiction who also grew up in Florida. She is an MFA candidate (’23) in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, where she is an Inprint Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones Fellow and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Scholar. She also has degrees in theatre and has served as Assistant Fiction Editor at Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. Her work appears in Nimrod International Journal and has received support from Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, Tin House Writers Workshop, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. She is the recipient of the 2022 Bread Loaf Katharine Bakeless Nason Contributor Award in Fiction and the 2021 Francine Ringold Award for New Writers. She was a Finalist for both the Master's Review Anthology XI and 2022 Passages North Waasnode Fiction Prize, and a current nominee for the 2023 PEN / Robert J Dau Prize.


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