La Unión, Chile

by Rebecca Levi

There’s something wrong with the eggs. We do them over easy, as usual, and when we break them open a strange milk comes pouring out. We have three hens, one rooster, and a couple of kikirikis, miniature chickens. The kikiriki rooster crows the loudest and mounts the big hens. We call him Nacho Vidal, after the porn star. “I think the chickens are eating the dog food,” Paulo says.

They are. Yesterday I found the dog food bucket empty and the puppies hungrily chewing at our wood. Nacho Vidal would win against the puppies in a fight; at the very least he and the big hens are stealing their food, and now Paulo’s mom thinks all our chickens will get cancer.

I try to be useful. I order wine by the crate from a local guy who calls me Carmenere Girl; I collect chestnuts under our chestnut trees, stomping on the prickly pods till the nuts come shooting out, slick and warm. We sell the chestnuts by the kilo. This is our source of income now, along with the bread I bake. They say the bread is good, which is out of character for me, who can’t swing an axe, can’t start a fire without a stack of cardboard.

We drive to sell the chestnuts in a white pickup truck, which sometimes makes me feel I’m in an elaborate performance art piece called Living in the Country. On the way we get disinfected. They spray us with something and take our temperatures; one woman on the medical team always announces my numbers gleefully: “36! 34.5!” “Thank you,” I say, like I’ve done something right.

Our truck has a sticker in the window saying ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards), and Paulo’s mask has ACAB stitched onto it in a Joker-like smile. I wonder if the cop standing by our window is the same one who beat up our friend a few months ago, a gentle guy who walks with two canes and takes care of the local park. He couldn’t get out of his car fast enough, so the cop pulled him onto the sidewalk and beat him. When our friend went to the station to complain, he had to pay a fine.

A few months ago, it was all revolution and sniffing the air for tear gas. Then nothing, and the president went to the Plaza de la Dignidad, sat on the altar of the revolution, and grinned. Now I hear there are marches again in Santiago, meter-long gaps pockmarking the crowd. Here in the south, we hike up through the Alerce Milenario, an ancient forest cresting away from the volcanoes toward the sea. We crouch under the lips of moss and let them drip into our hands. We look for scraps of ancient wood for our home. Back in the truck we coast down the mountain till we meet a bull, who stares at us as we roll slowly past. Then a horse, wild and white, flanks pink in the late sun.

Published on May 4, 2020