Lucía Retta – Feldman Prize in Fiction, 2021

This is a beautifully written story about a narrator and family deeply rooted in the desert land, and of a journey both literal and emotional.  We are immersed in the desert, the horses, the magic of a temazcal prayer ceremony for a sick mother that is unsuccessful, despite the family’s deep belief (“We wanted too much. We believed. I believed. We waited under the stars and we sweated in the dark and we prayed and none of it was enough.”). The death of the mother is the catalyst for a journey that takes the narrator out of the family home, into a school run by Spanish-speaking nuns; then into the desert, where the narrator is taken up by a man on a grullo horse and borne away into a cold northern city.  There, watching the neighbors’ daughters, both of whom are named María (“The elder is Eva María, her first name in honor of the mother of all men; the younger is María Luz, her second name in honor of the undying light”), the narrator falls in love.  I was struck by the story’s deliberate pacing, its detail, its well-calibrated tone, and its wonderfully poetic language. “Sometimes I take the shapes of their name into my mouth, and think perhaps it is a prayer, perhaps I could turn it into one, perhaps the desire to be lost inside any dark thing is a prayer, perhaps I have not been abandoned by God after all, perhaps the room in which I now wait is a penance, and I can one day open the door, and walk out into the blue-gold evening, and she will be waiting for me.”