Todo y Nada

By: Cían McCarthy

“Turn them, facing the wall,” barked the guard.

He was not scared. He turned without a word or a gesture. The bag allowed some light to pass through. A bird flew in front of the sun; he caught a glimpse through a gap in the burlap. He closed his eyes.


His heart quickened a step, but fell back into pace. The man on his right lunged towards forgotten freedom, and was put away.

Maldita sea, move him out of the way!”

His mother had told him to take care of himself and pray. He had spat at her feet.


She was always cursing him and hitting him when he snuck home after drinking with Nacio and Luz and some of the others. He always denied it, but she knew better. She wanted him to follow the cloth, a noble profession. But there is nothing noble about wasting life away chasing ghosts.


The sun was bright that day, the day he first met her. He was young, four or five, and was taken by a man in a gray suit and driving a Cadillac. She greeted him at the door with a stern look of disapproval, and the man tried complimenting the weather. He remembers the pit over which she would cook tomato paste, rolling it out on the stone tablet and boiling it down into nothing. She would throw the fish on the stone and it would sizzle at him, asking him questions and talking about the man, the woman, the weather. He would talk back. He cried every night at dinner.

“I’m harsh because you make trouble.” His mama’s mantra. “You troublesome little––”

Púdrete, he had thought to himself.


Everything went so fast. Nothing went so fast. Todo y nada. One and the same. La nada, finally arrived.

His comrades to the left and right cried out. Bodies fell, some quiet, some in agony.

His feet wobbled. He puffed his chest. He coughed and opened his eyes to see his blood darken the burlap. He heard his mother’s voice wailing somewhere in the crowd.

He wanted to say something, anything to show to them he was brave, he was courageous, he was. He stood tall for a dozen more seconds. His posture was his message. Púdrete mother, púdrete weather, púdrete fish, púdrete vida.

He had no regrets. He wished for nada.

Shooting his body around, he bolted for the guards.

She was not important. The guards weren’t important. Everything went to nada and his nada was just as unimportant as her nada, their nada, fish nada, priest nada. Their todo was nothing to his todo; his todo was nada, their todo was vida.

He wondered for a fleeting moment if he could pull it off.

The rush of his feet on the cobblestone felt good.

Uno, dos, tres, cuat––


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