We Visit Valencia to See the Red Ink Running Through Her Veins
When we enter the cave, Maria says, “We’ve always been such simple people.” And it’s true, glancing over countless etchings of spears in antelope, we've always been the animals I fear the most. It’s the middle of December and icicles frame the outside of the cave. There are eight of us inside, not including the tour guide, Johnny, a local college student underpaid to trek to the northern hollows three times a day. Johnny steps on a slug at the entrance of the cave, and he identifies its corpse as an Arion Lasitanicus. Maria and I stop behind the rest of the group and wait for Johnny to resume his guidance. He scrapes the remains of translucent juice from his rubber sole.
As we turn the corner, we are greeted by more walls of red and black ink on beige limestone. Johnny tells us, “These paintings were most likely done to commemorate the ending of a tribal war.” I see my girlfriend, Maria, on the outskirt of the group, captivated by the image of a small boy, but refusing to look at the images of the dead antelopes. Even now, she is still a child covering her eyes from roadkill. Her retinas are avoiding the violence, but I know she is still curious about everyone who lives and dies on this surface. Her eyes scan over the images of her ancestors: First, the antelope. Then, the hunter. Watching her look at these images, I know she is sifting through her lineage because she carries these sketches in her chest.
On the hike up to the cave, Maria started teaching me some Spanish. “In English,” she said, “The verb, sift, literally means, to take out the unwanted leaving only the pure remnants,” she put her hand on the guardrail on the path and stopped to inhale, “But in Spanish, it translates to examinar cuidadosamente, which can also be read literally as to examine carefully.” She stretched her arms and continued on the path, “I’ve always wanted to examine this place.. it holds an unknown part of me.”
Now, I feel her eyes looking at me as I stare blankly at the red ink. I grab her hand and bring it up to my mouth for a kiss. On the inside of her middle finger, there is an outline that looks like this country; a birthmark that is a constant reminder of a past she never experienced. She sighs and continues looking at the horse, clunking its way over to the mountain painted in the distance.
She turns her head, stares for a second, and points straight towards the most violent figures: two white men shooting bows and arrows at each other. Above the sketch, a pile of cave moss is seeping down the wall. She grabs a pebble from under her feet and starts writing something at the bottom of the wall. Dear Grandchild, the shaky handwriting reads: I’m sorry this war lives inside of us.
As we leave the cave, I watch her rubbing her hands together, bringing blood back into her palms, taking the numbing out of her fingertips.
Learn more about the prehistoric paintings of the Pachmarhi Hills at The Bradshaw Foundation.
Lily Connolly is a recent graduate of the University of Tampa's undergraduate creative writing program. She has been published in several journals, including The Ekphrastic Review and Bending Genres, and she won the FCHC poetry award in 2019. You can find more of her thoughts on Twitter @lilyconnolly26
The Ekphrastic Review
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