I expected rabbits to talk; to be carrot-munching wise guys, waiting for the next pratfall victim. Imagine my disappointment when I first encountered them at my grandparent’s backyard. They were nervous, wild-eyed creatures in wire cages, impossible to hold with thumping back legs. Rabbits were neither Bugs Bunny nor Peter Cottontail. Yet, their thick fur truly was heavenly to the touch. Beautiful whites, browns and every shade between. They smelled bad, though, probably due to the heat and humidity in Puerto Rico. Unlike the fancy church ladies of New York, who wore fur on Sundays, rabbits couldn’t remove their coats.
Large black seeds filled the coral flesh of the watermelon. Its juicy scent made Lola’s mouth water. A long time ago, her grandmother had picked an extra-large Calabaza from the squash garden. The extraordinary Calabaza grew on a separate vine. Imagine her grandmother’s surprise when she cut into soft flesh rather than Calabaza’s tough flesh. A sweet treat for the entire family!
Lola pushed aside the black seeds. Most people prefer seedless watermelons, but Lola learned the morning of her grandmother’s discovery that watermelon with black seeds is sweeter and juicier than the seedless type. Give her seeded any time.
The air was so thick that if you were to swing a bat, you would see traces of a make-believe ball suspended in midair. Cousin Olga and I found refuge from the heat beneath the house. Our grandparents’ house was elevated on stilts that served two purposes: to level the house because the terrain was rocky and hilly and to avoid floods from streams that rushed downhill on rainy days. We always found treasure that had fallen through the floor cracks. Small objects such as marbles, balls, combs. We could count on finding lizards, frogs, and stray baby chicks, too.
My brother died young at age eleven. Parents were at a loss on the protocol of burying a young son. They purchased a plot in Brooklyn where he was laid to rest in a white coffin inlaid in white satin. A few years later, my grandmother took ill and joined him. That was long ago and everyone has moved on. None of us live in Brooklyn any more. The graves lay unattended, the wear of the years evident in the fading inset picture. Twice a year, though, my husband visits and places fresh flowers. Curious how things work in life.
Orange flames licked the windows across the street. Fire engines rushed down Tiffany Street. Onlookers crowded our side of the street.
“Ay, ay, ay,” cried Abuelita.
“Get away from the window,” said her son.
She ran to the kitchen and grabbed her favorite photographs. The first was a picture of Christ, eyes upturned, wearing a crown of thorns. The other was a young John F. Kennedy, smiling directly to the camera, his beautiful wife with a lowered gaze. Abuelita clutched both pictures close to her chest and resumed her position at the window lamenting the tragedy unfolding before her eyes.
Abuelita loved telling chistes colorados, especially the one about the parrot that Dona, a churchgoer, bought from a pirate. Dona taught it church hymns and invited a few parishioners over to show off her talented pet. A guest sat down and the parrot saw her underpants. It salaciously reported the event. A horrified Dona jumped out her seat and whacked the parrot across its head. The dizzy parrot repeated that it saw many red panties. By this point, Abuelita laughed so hard that she’d rush to the bathroom to avoid an accident, and we, her grandchildren, would be in stitches.
Dora, pale and small, rose slowly. She clenched her fists and opened her mouth wide. All the pent up, hurtful words that had festered within for years rushed out. At first they buzzed like annoying moths but quickly intensified to a feverish pitch. The louder and meaner the words, the rosier her cheeks became so much so that her face turned beet red. Holding back words had taken up too much energy and depleted Dora’s stamina. Now the words flew. They zinged. They screamed. They would not be kept in darkness any longer. Their ferocity, however, made everyone’s ears bleed.
My Dad recently found his two diplomas. The first one was for grade school and the second at completion of ninth grade. He was the first of his siblings to finish middle school. It was expected for boys to quit school after sixth grade, but he wanted more for himself. He begged his parents to remain in school and in turn worked the fields evenings and summers picking off wireworm from tobacco plants. Then, the middle school graduate went off to San Juan seeking fortunes. The newfound diplomas brought a huge smile on his face reflecting a life well lived.
Too many options: white, stainless steel, stackable, gas, electric, top loaders, front loaders, gadgets galore. I remember when Mom first got a wringer washer: a circular miracle with an attached roller to wring the laundry. Before that, she soaked dirty diapers in the bathtub for hours and removed stains with a washboard. As laborious as it was, she preferred to wash laundry by hand in the privacy of her home than to carry a load downhill to the river as she did as a child. Once she got that first washer, laundry became Mom’s favorite task. She still launders daily.
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.