by Tara Isabel Zambrano

The girl in my class, paints her tongue with a different color every day. When I see her, she sticks out her tongue—blue, yellow, lavender. It’s rude to do that, I say, and she does it again. In class, she sits on the last bench and I can feel her eyes on my back. When I turn around, she’s not there. The teacher takes a roll call, and someone says, Yes, when her name is called.

The girl has unusually long legs and arms, her palms are also painted. Smooth, no lifeline, no marks. She carries a mirror with her, uses it to focus light and burn bugs with it. When she laughs language falls out on the ground like pebbles shaking with sound.

In my dreams, the girl plucks my eyelashes and makes a string. She inserts the string in my mouth, says she’s pulling out my soul because she doesn’t have one. I wake up out of breath, my hand over my chest, my heart so loud, I get a headache. When I tell my classmates about the dream, they push me and laugh, call me crazy. Watching from a corner, the girl sticks the tip of her tongue out.

When I instruct the girl to stop appearing in my dreams, she claims she has no control, moving the mirror in her hand, flickering light around me, making me dizzy. I cannot stop, she says in her singsong voice. Cannot. Stop.

Go away, I yell. She shakes her head and pushes the mirror in the pocket of her overalls. What do you want? I ask.

I cannot stop, she says in her singsong voice. Cannot. Stop.

I want to play with you, she says. Her tongue is ox-blood red like Indian Goddess Kali. She pulls out a doll from her pocket. Blonde hair, brown eyes, black wool dress. This doll can talk, she says and hands it to me. Is that so? The doll looks at me, sticks out her tongue. I almost drop it. You can have her, the girl says. No, it’s fine, I say, and throw the doll on the floor. The doll gets up and floats in the air, raises her hands. Her palms are painted.

Shit, I scream, and run to my class. The girl and the doll follow me, disappear when I run inside the room. Everyone is looking at me, whispering. The girls who pushed me are giggling. The teacher makes me stand in the corner for being late. She asks me why my palms are painted.

After school, when the bus comes, the girl with the painted tongue is back. She sits behind me, quiet. Then she passes me a bag of tortilla chips, flaming hot, my favorite. I look away as if I don’t know her and continue licking my palms to get rid of the color. She whispers in my ear that she’s having a party and I should come. I’m the only friend she’s got. I think of all the times I’ve wanted to have friends, when I wanted someone to invite me to their birthday. Tears stream down my face. I turn around and look at her.

Where’s your doll?

I threw it away because she bothered you, the girl says. Her eyes, soft and wet. We are rounding up a mountain. The bus is close to the edge, almost flying. This isn’t the way to my home, but it’s beautiful wherever we are going. The valley below is filled with trees with painted leaves, little tongues hanging out. She pulls out the mirror and faces it toward me. I stick my tongue out. In my reflection, she does the same.


Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.