Mom gave me Dad’s handkerchief to cover my mouth and nose. She fanned out my long hair on the bed then sprayed it with Black Flag. Yes, the very Black Flag used to kill insects. Then she wrapped it tight in a white towel. “That’ll suffocate those sons-of-bitches.”
She instructed me to remain still on the bed. I wondered why she used Black Flag on my head and not Alberto VO5.
She returned to the room. “Honey! Honey!” she called out to Dad. “Look!”
A long trail of straggling lice exited slowly from the toxic gases trapped in my head.
His room was across my grandmother’s. He paced back and forth reciting indecipherable mumble jumble. Matted hair, long sleeves, barefooted. Madness, I say, sheer madness. His eyes remained fixed on the floor he paced, retracing his steps. Occasionally he’d look up offering a vacant stare then he’d resume his march. Grandma suggested I ignore him, but his movements distracted me from the matter at hand; her failing health.
Once I heard him repeat Helene, Helene, Helene. Another time he took off his shirt. I saw a block of numbers tattooed on his forearm. His mania was starting to make sense.
A mosquito net surrounds the four-poster bed and traps the still air. The tiniest movement multiplies the dense heat. My sweat dampens the bed sheets.
It’s a moonless night. I lay with eyes wide open in the dark room listening to the night creatures. Grasshoppers and crickets chirp all night. Cats meow. An occasional dog lets out a howl. Coquis croak their love song.
A dove begins a mournful coo. Soon the whole flock joins the night’s cacophony. I cover myself head to toes with the damp sheets. According to legend, doves coo at night only when they see ghosts.
Brown leaves danced and twirled before their graceful landing. One by one and in pairs they piled beneath the tree. It had been years since Ellen had witnessed the beauty of fall. Leaves in the islands fell from trees when the unforgiving sun scorched them or if the tree were dying. In Brooklyn, they turned from greens to yellows and reds. After their final descent, they lay fallow protecting roots from the inevitable winter.
Ellen inhaled deeply expecting freshly cut green grass. Alas summer had passed. Instead, musty air filled her lungs, a by-product from the accumulation of dead leaves.
Old Man Monse spent most days rocking himself in his hammock and chewing tobacco then spitting into a coffee can. He only got up when it was time to relief himself but struggled to reach the latrine on time. His once erect back was hunched; his eyes fixed on the ground watching his every step. Hard to believe this was the town’s Judge; the very man who spied the pretty girls when they fetched water. Girls shuddered in fear when they’d notice the judge touch himself when he stared. Now they ridiculed Old Man Monse who had always lacked self-control.
Yokahú overlooks El Yunque, a fertile rainforest in la Isla del Encanto with its own climate and ecosystem. Stand atop the 142-story tower and close your eyes. Listen to waterfalls, rare birds, and tree frogs indigenous to the land. Take in the true scent of green. Open your eyes and witness to the north the Atlantic Ocean lapping Luquillo.
Ave Maria, what horrors befell on September 20th? Winds pulled trees from their roots like a giant picking off lint from its shirt. The brave mountains fought back. They battered the ferocious storm, but not without loss. Mangled trees lie everywhere.
It was the day before my seventh birthday. I was in Puerto Rico where my grandparents watched over me while my mother, far away in New York, delivered my baby brother. The New York landscape exuded grayness with its tall buildings, concrete pavements and elevated trains. Puerto Rico exuded life, its air pregnant with the greenest greens and azure skies. On my seventh birthday, though, trees bowed in every direction and shook their leaves. Midday darkened. Winds howled. Hurricane Faith swept across the island. Today I remember the fear I buried long ago as Hurricane Irma barrels across the Atlantic.
Mel stared at her twenty-year-old hands, similar to her mother’s without spots or crinkled skin. She pondered the next big move. Schooling was behind her. So was her steady boyfriend. In other words, everything that tied her to dependence. It was time to step into a fully grown up world and embrace the challenges that lay ahead. She knew two things for sure: that someday she’d buy a house like the one that she grew up in, and that she’d want her own twenty-year-old. The question was how to get there on her own, without the crutches of her past.
Elena stood by the doorway. She carried a haughty demeanor with the ease of someone born into old money. Except that she wasn’t, as her mother-in-law pointed out whenever the subject matter of grandchildren surfaced. The old woman spat that Elena was nothing but a barren imitation. Yet, nothing in her posture or poise betrayed Elena’s humble beginnings. Not then, not now.
Elena moved to the windowsill, ears fixed on the monitors. Her gaze settled on a family of four across the hospital’s courtyard, the little girl skipping. She waited for the sound of freedom, the old woman’s last exhale.
His earliest memories of adult love involved pain. Dad beat Mom because he loved her. Mom accepted Dad sleeping around because she loved him. Mom and Dad beat the children for their own good because they loved them. In the middle of the night, he’d overhear thrusts and groans coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom in the name of love. It’s little wonder he grew up afraid of grown up love. Love equaled violence and he wanted no part of that for himself. He lived a Peter Pan existence and surrounded himself with innocent children incapable of eliciting complicated love.