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by Samuel Marzioli
When Nico was a boy, his mother told him about a world beyond our own, tucked into the
seams of reality like a spiderweb in the corner of a room. That evening, she draped herself across
his mattress at bedtime, pressed her bulk into his side, her eyes fixed on the business of her
"It's unique," she said, deft fingers making both yarn and needles dance. "A place that
welcomes people like you and me because we're unique too."
"What makes us unique?" Nico asked.
"Something in our genes? Our Filipino blood, perhaps?" She smiled, as if doubtful but
amused by her own suggestion. "Or maybe a promise to an ancestor by Bathala Himself, who
sustains the worlds and binds them all together."
"That's a longer story than we have time for now, and in the end, it doesn't really matter.
What matters is that we are."
Nico grimaced, leaned up on his elbows to better see his mother. He was a skeptical child,
especially where extraordinary claims were concerned. Ever since the veil of Santa Claus and the
Easter Bunny had been snatched away, he had little room inside him left for silly things like magic.
"Then why haven't I gone there yet?" he said, more a challenge than a question.
"It only lets us visit when we're ready."
"I'm ready now!"
She wrapped the beginnings of a scarf around his neck, a watermelon pattern with fringe
the color of its rind. "Maybe you are, my sweet. And maybe you and I will both go there
together." She smiled again, the skin of her cheeks sliding into dimples. "Only time will tell."
Nico's mother died soon after. The doctor said she had a weak heart, but Nico didn't
think that could be true. The way she'd always made him feel so loved, her heart was the
strongest thing about her.
His remaining family shuffled him from house to house for years, because they couldn't
stand the burden or expense of having him around. At 12, he moved in with his father's third
cousin, twice removed, a stern old man who radiated ambivalence from every liver spot and
wrinkle. By 17, he graduated high school and moved into his own apartment. At 21, he married
his best friend Cathy.
He didn't love Cathy enough to promise her forever, but he'd gotten her pregnant and had
no intention of abandoning her the way his father had abandoned him and his mother. Once the
child was born, he had no time or money left for college, so he took a job working as a mail
handler in a USPS mail facility. It was a ramshackle building where industrial machines hummed
and whirred, and the wheels of passing forklifts kicked up dust from the corroded concrete floor.
His workstation consisted of aluminum containers filled with newspapers and magazines, and it
was his job to clear them out before his shift ended.
You Live, You Work, You Die, someone had scrawled across the wall in the men's locker
room one night. Nico's co-workers chuckled when they saw it, but Nico only frowned. He much
preferred his own prescription, "Abandon hope anyone who dreams of happiness." Because while
ten-hour shifts made for a dire experience, work was just one wall in the prison of his life.