our bodies are meant to be loud (Winner of the 2021 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Prize)

my uncle joey’s smoking a pungent cigarette & initiating me to his favorite diva: miss judy garland. she’s on the tv, dress burning, throat exploding. she’s the only one on the stage, the camera framed to her face, the video in black & white. LOOK, he yells halfway through her rendition ofold man river,’ THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART. THE BITCH CAN CROAK. her body tenses, she fists the air, & her chest expels thunder. the audience POPS, & i wonder why all of our bodies can’t be loud. my uncle joey puff puffs, replays the video, & talks to me as judy restarts, mijo, your mom told me you don’t talk about what happened to you as a child. you can’t be shy about it. the convo catches me off guard & i don’t know how to respond, but my uncle doesn’t press me. instead, he exchanges my quiet with his truth: i was young when i was molested too. mine was from my brother—my uncle watches judy belt I’M TIRED OF LIVING BUT SCARED OF DYING—i got him back tho. my uncle sucks his teeth. know what i did?  he smiles smug, judy’s wails. i told his kids what he did to me, so they’d know what their dad is capable of, what kind of man he is. my uncle finishes speaking & then BAM! he’s singing with judy, full throated. & they roar & cacophony, & when they end, he says breathless,  don’t worry, it’ll come out. one day you’ll get tired of carrying around all that silence & it will just— BOOM.

 jj peña is a queer, burrito-blooded writer living in el paso , tx. jj’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Cincinnati Review, Massachusetts Review, & elsewhere. jj serves as a flash fiction reader for Split Lip Magazine.