hot cheeto tongue
by JJ Peña
Reading time: 3 minutes
In this flash fiction piece, JJ races us through place, time, and memory, starting in Zion National Park and ending up somewhere else entirely.
"hot cheeto tongue" first appeared in Issue 18 of Tahoma Literary Review.
at the top of angel landing’s peak in zion national park, my best friend lina dared me to kiss the dirt we stood on. she read someplace that taste helped a memory last longer. neither of us did it, but i imagined picking up stones & filling my mouth with misty sunshine, with sweat & spit from a thousand strangers. lina busied herself taking selfies & biting into her pb&j, raging over a boy she met just last night. he’s a perfect paper gangster. all cholo. all heart. after that, she shoved some bread slices smeared with cherry pie jam down her throat & lectured me about living up the rest of our blue-jean youth. you know, we have only a few years of denim left in us. i listened & daydreamed about anne-maire, my old step mom, who used to take me on hiking trips throughout my childhood. i imagined her appearing, walking up the trail, her sun-grazed face rising from the shadows, putting an arm around my shoulder & saying, i told you i’d take you to the place where angels live in the sky. i keep my promises. but, anne-marie didn’t appear & lina didn’t leave me much time to linger in the past. she passed me a bag of hot cheetos & we trucked down the mtn fast. i followed right behind & held the bag pressed to my chest, reaching in every now & again to snack, breaking fire with my teeth, just like i did when anne-marie dropped me off at a curb, with tears sloshing out of her eyes, telling me her belly burritoed with a baby not my dad’s, but that i’d always be her baby, that she’d stay in touch, that we’d still go hiking, she’d take me high, high into the sky; yet, she drove away—face stilled water—without saying goodbye, without looking back, without dropping breadcrumbs for me to follow, leaving me all alone, only with a red, hot cheeto tongue, flaming.
JJ had this to say about "hot cheeto tongue":
Whenever I close my eyes to think of my old stepmom, I see red hot Cheetos—that’s why I wrote about this experience hiking. I often think about how loss and trauma leave us with strange artifacts, which most of the time are meaningless, insignificant even, but somehow they are what linger with us, even when the rest of our memory fractures. This story was my attempt of exploring just that.
JJ Peña (he/him) is a queer, burrito-blooded writer, living & existing in El Paso, Texas. Find him on twitter @heckaseuss.