His mirror-like eyes widen when at first he sees me, then he breaks into a grin. The child has not learned to mask thoughts or hide feelings, yet I cannot tell if he’s imitating my broad smile or if he really knows me. It matters not. He willingly comes to my arms and for an afternoon, laughter reverberates through the old halls as we, Papa John and Wela, trip over each other entertaining and adoring him. At last he falls asleep and we are spent, catching our breaths. Yet, traces of content smiles remain anticipating the end of nap time.
Jiminy Cricket filled TV screens during the holidays. He sang and tap danced with flair akin to Fred Astaire. I believed he lived in Disney’s toasty house during the winter while the rest, like birds, migrated to the tropics. It was the only explanation for the harmonies they provided during the holidays in Puerto Rico. As soon as the sun descended, the first coqui tested its vocals and soon the rest joined in, filling the night air with joy. I imagined them wearing straw hats and shaking maracas and guiros, hoping to achieve Jiminy’s fame. Ah, the purity of imagination.
Manuel bullied his wife. He’d drag her by the hair like a caveman in cultureless times. She looked like a damaged porcelain doll: petite, fragile, and fractured. You’d see it in her swollen eyes and her black and blue cheekbones. She didn’t deserve the treatment her Neanderthal husband dished. In those days, though, no one dared get between a man and wife. Everyone turned blind eyes and deaf ears when he’d use crude language or slap her. Everyone but me. I’d ask why? What did she do? Mom would hush me, “Look away. It’s none of our business.” I’d stare.
The salty air of Mattituck carried the savory scents of harvest. Bundles of haystacks bordered the road stands filled with Earth’s autumn fruit. The purplest plums, reddest tomatoes, greenest broccoli, and orangiest pumpkins I’d ever seen. In each corner swayed large, ripe sunflowers. They stood majestic; their brown faces brimming with seeds, the yellow of their crowns as rich as Van Gogh’s.
The sunflowers of my Brooklyn were tall and spooky, especially at night when they resembled sad worshippers with bent heads. Even in the dead heat of summer their yellow petals paled. The urban soot limited their flourishing potential.