top of page

Short Story: 'A Bag of Milk and Ghosts' by Tricia Lopez

In the mornings, as the rain clouds settle over the mountains in the distance covering the coffee farms with a thick blanket of dew, more refreshing than the humid air, the street is quiet. The clouds are white like the inside of the cathedral; it’s like heaven, or what I think heaven looks like. You can stare into the clouds and forget where you are, what you look like, what everything around you looks like, just for a moment until the clouds move like ghosts. Then you wonder if they were even there.

Ernesto and I wake up at six and fold up our mattresses to stack in the corner of the room. We sleep in the same room as our mom, who is awake at five and in her sewing room finishing up a pair of pants, or a blouse, or a dress. I like to put the Star Wars covers my cousin from Miami gave me the last time he came to León. I have never seen this movie, but the spaceship and the guy in the mask look cool. I stay up late thinking about what the movie is about. Maybe the guy in the black mask saves everyone. He goes into space and blows up an asteroid heading to Earth. He never takes off his mask because he is afraid. As I put on a shirt, my mother begins to yell:

“¡Wilton! ¡Apúrate y ve a comprar una bolsa de leche!

As I walk to Doña Maruca’s house, la colonia slowly wakes up. The old women open their doors as they sweep out the dust and dog hair from the house. They all look the same. Plump, wearing dresses that are too big for them with slippers. Their hair is short, sometimes above the ear like a little boy, and other times like the women in the magazines that my mom reads in la sala. A group of old men gather on the steps of a house and play dominos while listening to music on a radio. The music always sounds sad. A whiny trumpet and a man’s voice go back and forth with each other, about love, about loss, about life. I walk slowly by the men to watch them take away domino pieces and hear the music. I assume it is the same radio at night that keeps la colonia awake. I sit in the living room, looking at the window, wondering what house the sound comes from. Maybe I’m too young to like it, but it’s my favorite part about the walk.

Doña Maruca is an old woman that has a face of a mango left out in the sun. I could never tell her that since she always takes clothes for my mom to fix. My mom has been sewing everyone’s clothes from la colonia since I was born. The other bedroom in our house has her sewing machine and clothing racks that are always full. Doña Maruca brings dresses for her granddaughter and pants for her husband, whom I have never seen, but I hear in the back of her home/store laughing at something on the TV. She sells dog food, buckets to collect water when it rains, little bags that I see all the girls using in la colonia, and the basic food we eat here in León.When I walk in, Doña Maruca likes to ask if her clothes are finished.

“No sé. No le pregunté a mi mamá.”

“Dile que Humberto necesita sus pantalones pronto.”


“¿Qué quieres?”


“Ten. Te daré uno gratis, tal vez tu mamá trabaje más rápido.”

My walk home becomes more difficult, with cars driving through the street on their way to get to work. The honking begins. Ernesto’s friends like to play soccer in the street and throw balls at cars. They wear old clothes that their mom gets from a woman in another colonia. Their shirts are stained with dirt and food, and their shorts have some holes, but not enough to make them completely trash. Once I get home, Ernesto is ready with our backpacks made out of canvas we found on the side of a road and our Dodger caps our other cousin sent to us in a box last year.

“¡Mamá! ¡Aquí está la leche!

I can hear her heavy footsteps come into the living room. She has a measuring tape around her neck, like some sort of necklace. She’s not embarrassed to wear it. On her wrist is some kind of cushion she keeps her needles in. There is something beautifully simple about my mother. Her hair is curly, and her skin is a little dark. She has freckles like my grandfather and brown eyes like my grandmother. She looks at the two bags of milk and snatches them from my hand.

“¿Por qué compraste dos bolsas?”

“Ella me dio uno gratis.”

“¿Cuándo te he enseñado a llevarte las cosas gratis?”

“Dijo que era para que trabajarás más rápido en los pantalones de Don Humberto.”

Something about this made my mother mad. She walked into the kitchen and popped open one of the bags, letting the milk fall into our rusted sink. Ernesto was still by the door with his head down. My mother walked back to me, throwing the empty bag on the ground.

“Nunca recibas nada de ella ni de nadie en la colonia. Debería darte en la nuca.”

Ernesto starts laughing in the corner.

“¿Y tú? ¿Quieres que te pegue? Sal de aquí antes de que se haga tarde.”

Ernesto and I walk about 8 kilometers to the dump outside of the city. With our homemade backpacks, we walk together side by side down a narrow road, where cars speed through to get from León to Managua for work. My friend Carlos Eduardo has a dad that drives to Managua to sell leather at some outdoor market. I have only been to it once with my mom.

There were rats digging through the trash, and it smelled bad because of the queso they were smelling. Not to say that it’s only that queso on that day that smells. All of our queso smells, but in the market, I wanted to vomit because of that sour smell.

We reach the dump around eleven in the morning—time to get to work. Ernesto and I pick a side to start, and with our hands, we dig through the trash, looking for things to recycle. I hate the feeling in between my fingers when I dig into a nacatamale or cow fat. It makes me want to vomit; the texture feels like rotting fruit. Squishy and melted because of the sun, and it’s hard to get the smell out of your hand. We pick up plastic, glass bottles, cardboard, and pieces of wood that we can sell to come carpenters near our home. In the distance, we hear someone else digging through the trash. A little boy, maybe a couple of years younger than us, with the face of a rat, picking up large pieces of cardboard. His backpack was made out of the big bags they import rice in. He’s young, I thought to myself. He should be in school or at least helping his mother or father at home. Why is he here alone? In some dirty soccer jersey and swimming shorts, covered in sticky dirt, picking up cardboard.

“He has so much cardboard,” Ernesto said to me.

I watch Ernesto run to this little boy and rip some of the cardboard out of his hands. They tug on this flappy piece that belonged to a TV box until Ernest pushes him to the ground. I want to say I’m sorry, help him up, and give him some of my cardboard. But if he is here, there will be nothing left for Ernest and me. So I walk by him, not even looking at him, and begin to dig around the next section of the dump.

Tricia Lopez is a Nicaraguan and Salvadoran writer from Los Angeles. She has had poems, stories, and author interviews published in Dryland, The Acentos Review, Rabid Oak, The Hellebore, Marias At Sampaguitas, and other places. Currently, she is getting her MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary's University. You can find her on Instagram @trvcvv.l and Twitter @trvcvvl.

bottom of page