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  • Ato' Matai
  • Esther Sablan (bio)

"Pork, pot fabot," Mar said as she unrolled a sweat-wet five-dollar bill and pushed it up onto the high counter. The deli man nodded and set about tonging five salted chunks of lechon kawali onto a wax-paper sheet. His round figure momentarily blocked the light from the kitchen, causing Mar's reflection to sharpen in the display case. Hers was a short, skinny, disheveled, seven-year-old reflection, diluted like dry grass, distorted by dirty handprints.

Mar looked beyond her uncomfortable image and focused instead on the steaming pans behind the glass. They were full of fresh, dense red rice, and shiny tinned tamåles. The deli always smelled like a fiesta.

With her forefingers, Mar scraped the sandy insides of her shorts' pockets. She did not have a single stray coin for titiyas. The deli man double wrapped the pork in another wax sheet, hiding the mottled bloom of hot fat stains. He handed it over the counter to Mar, who mumbled in appreciation and carried the precious package out to the street.

Mar righted and mounted her bicycle. One hand on the handlebars and pork in the other, she rolled off the curb to the left. But the drop of her wheel caught and snapped, and she spilled off awkwardly onto the asphalt. The pork packet flew forward, unwrapping as it rolled into the street. A hairless boonie dog, who had been lounging near death nearby, darted up with its last hope and devoured the meat.

Still tangled in bicycle, Mar pushed up on her searing raw forearms and inhaled deeply. It was a deep and stuttering breath, with an involuntary flutter of fear, like the receding gasp before a tsunami of tears. Mar tasted blood roll down her throat with the river of air. As she breathed in, she inhaled the time and trauma of the preceding minutes like a record in rewind, until she stood in front of the glass case watching the deli man hand over the wax-papered pork.

"In a bag, pot fabot," Mar nodded in appreciation and carried the precious package out to the street. She righted and mounted her bicycle, hung the bag off the left handlebar, and rolled off to the right along the sidewalk. She pedaled around the side and back of the deli until the concrete disappeared under a grassy mat of trail. She rode home without regret, with no memory of the curb or the crash or the boonie dog. [End Page 30]

Mar recalled only the tamer version of events, the entirely unremarkable task of purchasing lechon kawali from the village deli on a Saturday afternoon. And like so many other routine acts, that memory would not survive to be recollected afterward. The misfortunate incident of spending her mother's last five dollars on pork for her uncle's dinner, only to fall and lose it to a stray dog, had not merely been forgotten, it had been overwritten.

Mariana San Nicolas, a seven-year-old baståda from Inalåhan, could reverse the passage of time. She did this involuntarily, by entirely spontaneous impulse, as if withdrawing her hand from a hot stove. As if flinching from a thunderclap. And she did this so absolutely that she had no memory and no awareness of being able to do so. Her subconscious retained only just enough unease to instinctively change her mind. Adjust her path. Avoid catastrophe.

And so, in this way, for all her days, time proceeded and retreated at the whim of Mar's autonomic nervous system. Sometimes she would loop around lightness and laughter, savoring sweet moments like candy on her tongue. But most of the time, and all too often, her impulse to reverse was one of recoil, a fearsome reaction to horror or defeat. She would swallow shock and tears, change course, and repeat. And the time she consumed flattened and folded within her so tight and so tiny as to be no more consequential than a singular black fleck in her brown eyes.

Mar balanced her bicycle against a concrete block fence and carried the hot pork to a tin-sheltered patio...