“Under the Fifth Sun” has been named the runner-up for this year’s Annie Dillard Prize in Creative Nonfiction by the ever-impressive Dinah Lenney. Thank you to the Bellingham Review, and Brenda Miller in particular, for their work officiating this contest every year, and for honoring my work.
This particular essay (still very much in progress) is about super-imposed narratives, a family road trip across Mexico, and how we are made and unmade by the stories we tell. Here’s how it opens:
“Tell me the story of when I was born,” my two-year-old insisted from his car seat as soon as I’d belted out Señor Don Gato’s final olé or improvised a moral for some half-remembered rendition of Aesop.
To buy myself a breather, I reached into the four-kilo bag of tangerines on the hot floor between my feet, a roadside purchase I’d made on a whim before we left Oaxaca City and such luxuries behind in this interminable trail of dust. I peeled a fruit, bit the seeds out of a section, and handed it dripping to my child. My husband Steven took a hand off the wheel and gestured that he’d like some too, so I peeled and doled and ate and for a moment we were quiet.
“Mama!” my son chirped up once the fruit distraction has passed. I glanced back at him. In addition to the setting glaze of tangerine juice, his face was streaked blue, red, and orange with self-applied Crayola marker war paint.
“Maybe this time we’ll get one who naps,” I said lowly to my husband.
“Not with our track record,” he retorted, glancing at my bulge of belly.
Before I began the story yet again, I opened my window and pitched out a fistful of tangerine seeds. They flew a way from my hand far faster than the Mexican scenery rattled past. But I didn’t need to look out the window to know we’d chosen the wrong route for what was supposed to be the shorter leg of our two-day, thousand-kilometer sojourn to the coast for some theoretical down-time before #2 gets born. What was a “carretera federal” on our maps had been a bald washboard ever since we’d rolled out of Oaxaca City. Heavy machinery punctuated the roadside it had evidently stripped but not yet begun to rebuild. Our VW Pointer was old and road-worn and our CD player newly stolen, but where we came from it was Thanksgiving Day and I tried not to complain. Instead:
“It was the middle of the night and I was just going to bed, when suddenly—”