Fall 2011, Volume 11

Fiction by Daniel Chacón

Broca's Area

The baby’s first word was water, which at first he pronounced as ahh-eh, and it was the babysitter who heard it. She thought he had said Papa.

She said, Oh, how cute, and, Too bad your daddy’s not here, but later it was clear what he was saying.


He said it over and over until he got good at it, from ah-er to ah-tur to water, water, water. The babysitter thought that maybe the child was always thirsty, so she would fill his bottle with water, but he never wanted to drink, he just wanted to say water, although he pronounced it not like water, with the stressed syllable on the Wa, but waTer, with the stress on the Ter.

His next word was snake.

The babysitter was curled up on the couch looking out the window past the tunnel of trees that reached across the river and across a hundred blocks of rooftops, where she lived in a humid apartment with her mother and her three brothers. She was just thinking of whatever dropped into her head, and she heard the baby say snake.

She thought he was saying cake or lake, and she pictured a cake by itself in the rain, the icing running down the sides like a clown crying in his own makeup, an image that somehow seemed familiar to her, although she didn’t know why.

The baby kept saying it over and over again, until it became very clear that he was not saying cake, he was saying snake.

Then he would say water and then he would say snake and then he would say water snake.

Did they hang from trees and fall into your bathing suit as you walked by? Did they live underneath the shadows of rocks in the shallow part of the water, waiting for someone’s ankles?

One time, as the baby played with plastic colored blocks on the floor, she was taking a bubble bath. He tossed a block inside the water, and her reflex shifted her weight in the bathtub. She created an air pocket that popped underneath her thighs, and she felt something slivering down there, so she stood up and screamed.

The baby, looking at her dripping body, screamed water snake!

She stepped out of the tub and grabbed a towel. She wiped the fabric across her back and front, but she was too spooked to finish. Still wet, she threw the towel on the floor and took the man’s robe and wrapped herself in its musky fluff.


The next word was gate.

He said it perfectly the first time, gate, and then he said it again, gate.

He repeated it over and over again—gate gate gate—at the exact moment when she was looking out the bedroom window onto the backyard and the lawn and past the pool to the gate!

And he said gate gate gate.

And, sitting in his crib under a spinning mobile of butterflies and birds, he slapped his hands up and down and said, gate gate gate gate.

He giggled and said gate and then he put his fist in his mouth, as if he had said too much.

She backed away from the boy, and she sat on the bed. Then she squirmed her fully-clothed body underneath the sheets and scooted onto the woman’s side. Maybe the baby had some special ability and could see into other worlds, or maybe the baby could hear the voice of God, and maybe the baby, sitting on the blanket with his blocks, was a messenger of God. What words might he write out to her? From inside the sheets, she peered across the bed and saw the blocks the boy had arranged in front of him. The letters seemed to be randomly placed into RFHU.

If it were a word, how would you pronounce it?


Maybe the baby was trying to tell her something.


For days and days of babysitting, she thought about water snake and gate and roofoo, and one night, when she couldn’t sleep but the baby could, she remembered what she had seen in the house’s backyard.

It was a nice yard, with perfect green lawn and rosebushes, a swimming pool, a pool deck with chairs and tables. But at the far end of the yard, there was that gate, an old wooden gate that seemed to be out of place. It stood slanted, the wood splintering, as if it had been there longer than the house. Maybe, generations ago, when the city hadn’t yet reached these suburbs where the baby’s family now lived, it was a gate that led into a field with cows and horses. It could have been standing there for a hundred years, splintering in the sun, or frozen under the snow, or wet with rain, but now it led to nothing, it had no fence. It was a gateless gate.

And it stood commemoratively in the backyard of this modern home.


She got up out of those white sheets she always missed when she slept at home, and she wrapped the cool silk around her body and got the flashlight from the nightstand on his side of the bed. She walked down the hallway like a shadow.

She walked past the pool (with the lights on it looked like it had swallowed the moon), and she carefully approached the gate like it was an altar erected by some past civilization. The blue light from the pool glowed on the wood.

She shined the flashlight on the feet of the gate. She was looking for some sign, some mark, some message. That was when she saw what had been carved into the wood.

Wanda and Jimmy, inside of a heart.

Wanda and Jimmy, she thought. Who are/were Wanda and Jimmy?

The baby’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Huerta, were from Peru and spoke English with an accent, and although she didn’t know their first names, she was almost certain that they weren’t Wanda and Jimmy.

For days and nights and then weeks and a month and a half she wondered how could all these clues could be connected. What could the baby-god or the god-baby be trying to tell her? It crossed her mind more than a few times that the child could be working for the other side, an evil baby, but with those thoughts even bathing the naked boy in the sink felt icky, his smooth wet skin in her pale pink palms, slippery like a water snake.

The next word wasn’t really a word.

He said it right to her, when she was on the couch watching some HD movie about a girl and a boy and a moon and a pickup truck parked on a bridge over a river.

The child started making baby sounds.

She turned down the volume and got up. On the floor, she got on all fours and made sounds the child liked. He was on his back and she pulled up his shirt and blew a wet one on his belly, and that made him giggle with delight. She did it again and again and the child loved it. He said, Take care, oh.

She sat up. She could tell he was talking directly to her, looking at her from his play spot on the floor.

He said it again. Take care, oh!

Take care? Was it a warning?

She got up, she looked out the window, and that was when she saw them outside. There was a full moon. She could barely see their silhouettes behind the glare and shine of the windshield where the moon was fully reflected. They looked like a four-armed creature.

She left the baby on the floor and sneaked out the back door. She sneaked around the side of the house, past the garden hose curled up and hanging on the wall.

She reached the fence and peeked through the slats of wood.

The windows were slightly down, and they were kissing.

He had his hands on her small, brown breasts--her top was pulled down—and he was kissing her all over the neck, and then he kissed her nipples. Then Mrs. Huerta maneuvered herself in such a way that she was a on top of him facing him kissing him, and both of them were moaning,

¡Ay, mi amor! words the girl didn’t understand. ¡Mi Vida!

The babysitter, embarrassed and feeling guilty for having seen it, tiptoed back into the house, across the cold kitchen tile, and back into the family room. The baby was lying on the blanket on his back playing with a little stuffed llama and making saliva sounds. When she sat on the couch and picked up the remote control, he stopped playing. He looked up at her and said the next new words. It sounded like, Tennis Steeple.



BIO:  "Broca's Area" is from Daniel Chacón's newest story collection, Hotel Júarez. He has two previous story collections, Chicano Chicanery and Unending Rooms, the latter of which won the 2008 Hudson Prize. He also have a novel, And the Shadows Took Him, published by Simon and Schuster. Daniel teaches at the University of Texas, El Paso, on the border of Mexico, in the only bilingual MFA program in the US.