Two Sides of A Fence (Brinca La Tablita)

Two Sides of A Fence (Brinca La Tablita)

A Story by kickstart gal

The hypocrisy of borders, through the eyes of a small child.



Two Sides of a Fence
          By J.G. Nicholson
     In the town of Cananea, just inside the Mexican border, there is a small, brown store by the name of Tienda Quetzalcoatl. Its walls, dingy and brittle with age, are held up by a few rotting posts and the sheer will of its owners. Sometimes, travelers come to stoop beside its walls to share a final repast before venturing quietly into Texas or Arizona.
By the water pump, the horses and mules drink their fill before they are auctioned off or set loose by families ready to make the journey away from their homeland. Men squat around a nearby fire to tell stories, make trades, and inquire about family members who have already made the cross. Out back, the women sit in a patch of green garden, clucking their tongues at the men as they secure provisions for the remainder of their trip. The children shell beans or paint each other with the wet, red dirt.
A small girl raises her round, dark eyes to the woman on her left, who is nimbly repairing the hem of a torn trouser. "Mother," she says, rolling a bean between her thumb and first finger thoughtfully, "what is the name of the earth?"
Her mother, surprised at the weight of the question, smiles. "Lupe," she says.
The girl frowns, thoughtfully. "But that is my name."
"Yes," says her mother. She takes a bean from Lupe's bowl and pops it into the mouth of her youngest,  who is chasing ants nearby. "The earth has all of our names. It was made by us and is sustained by us."
     Still dissatisfied, the girl presses on. "But Mother," she says, "if the earth has all of our names, then how do we know who it belongs to?"
     The mother shakes her head, allowing a few dark strands to fall from underneath her handkerchief. "The earth belongs to no one, mi hija. It was given to us by God so that we might have somewhere to plant our beans and raise our children."
     Lupe nods, her curiosity temporarily quelled. In the field, her brothers and cousins use sticks to dig up worms and rocks out of the sticky clay beneath them. Her mother, Alma, says a silent prayer for protection from the cold night as she inspects her family's blankets. The baby, finally tired of his excursion in ant-chasing, dozes fitfully on his mother's knee. The young women braid their hair and sit adoringly by the storefront. Lupe continues shelling her beans until another question rises within her.
     "Mother," she says, "how will the earth know my name in America, if they do not speak our language there?"
     Alma, now busy packing a surplus of tortillas to feed her host of hungry sons, places one hand above her face and looks down at her young daughter. In the shade, the lines around her mouth and forehead look like valleys of cool, languid darkness. "Hija," she says, "the earth speaks all languages, in all places. It listens to the ground to find out when it needs to bring the rain. It waits for the bird's signal to bring about the Fall. The field mouse tells it when the harvest is ready. Why do you not think that the earth would always know that you are Lupe?"
     "Then why do you make us talk in English?"
     "Because, niña, the people who live in that land will not understand you, if you do not speak their language. They do not know how the earth speaks, and it makes them afraid. If you do not speak their language, they will think that you are dumb."
     Lupe frowns, indignant. She puts her bowl of beans aside, rising toward her mother's standing figure. "But I'm not dumb. I know how to shell beans and make tortillas. I can catch bugs better than Mateo, and I can sing all of the hymns in the church." She pauses, taking a silent account of her attributes, then decides to add one more. "And now I know who the earth belongs to, and who tells it to make the rain."
     Alma smiles, running a thin-boned hand through Lupe's wave of chestnut hair. "Then you will go far. But you must go to school, and speak English. You must learn all that you can about America, because one day, you will have to take care of your family."
     Lupe sits, wiping soiled hands along her bright red shirt before returning to her bowl. She again picks up her beans, but she remains perplexed. "Mother, I'm not big enough to take care of anyone."
     Sensing the unease in which such a heavy conversation has put her tiny daughter, Alma puts aside her duties. Bending low, she tucks her long dress under her knees and sits face-to-face with Lupe. "Yes, daughter, you are small now. But one day, you will be a wise old woman. And you will know all the secrets of the earth." She places a gentle kiss on her daughter's forehead, cupping her sweet brown cheeks inside her hands.
     Enticed by the notion of unclaimed knowledge, Lupe smiles. "When will I know them all?"
     "Not now," says her mother. "But one day soon."
     Later, once every bean has been shucked, every tortilla accounted for, every blanket and trouser mended, and every muddy son of Alma's washed clean, the small group of travelers sets out again under the cover of twilight. The walls of Tienda Quetzalcoatl give a groan as its supporters move away across the muted terrain, leaving it once again unadorned in the stifling dust.
     Alma, Lupe, and the baby bring up the rear in party of family and friends. Where once the chatter of daily activities rose in the air like a birdsong, the travelers now walk carefully, silent like the dead. Under her breath, Alma hums a song to entertain the baby.
"Brinca la tablita,
Yo ya la brinqué,
Brincala de vuelta,
Yo ya me cansé."
     When they reach the border, Alma breathes a sigh of relief. No one is dead. No one has been bitten by a rattlesnake or taken by a coyote. They have only to make it to the other side. A wire fence with a hole ripped in it becomes their gateway to a new world. As the men and boys begin to pour through the hole like sand through the fingers, Alma again feels that familiar tugging on her sleeve that means little Lupe has another question.
     "Mamá," she whispers in her native tongue, "Qué es esto? What is this?" In her hand, Lupe holds a flier with a picture of a brown man in a sombrero scaling the wire fence. A vivid red "X" is drawn over the crude depiction of a Mexican national. Beneath it, the caption reads: "THIS LAND IS THE PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS NOT WELCOME."
     Through gritted teeth, Alma barely manages a smile. "It is a welcome sign." Silently, she thanks God that Lupe has not yet learned to read in English.
     "But what about the man going over the fence, and the red 'X'? Are we doing something wrong, mother?"
     Taking hold of the torn wire, Alma pulls open the gap in the fence to usher her daughter through. "No, hija. We are not going over the fence; we are going through."
     With that, mother and daughter cross the threshold into a new land. Only one of them knows that the secrets of the earth matter little on this new side of the fence.

© 2009 kickstart gal

Author's Note

kickstart gal
Feel free to correct the Spanish; I did some of the translation myself, but the rhyme I found online; it's supposed to be a Spanish jumprope song.) All reviews/comments welcome!

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register


It's a bit anecdotal, as it should be (and, indeed, I can see where it would be intended as such) part of something larger, but you don't find this kind of feel for dialogue everyday. Very, very nicely done.

Posted 14 Years Ago

You accurately captured the young girl's curiosity, but i did not get the hypocracy. This is very well writen, the tone is spot one. Nice job.

Posted 14 Years Ago

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


2 Reviews
Added on March 6, 2009
Last Updated on March 6, 2009


kickstart gal
kickstart gal

Greenville, NC

I'm Jess. 34-year-old Sothern PsuedoBelle, mom to three future changemakers (and current members of the stinky-feet club), snarkmaster supreme, nagging ex-wife, occupational hazardess, hardcore Faulkn.. more..