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.
“Her hair grows like tobacco plants,” exclaimed Iris. She was the no-frills hairstylist who made house calls. “Folds upon folds.”
My mother loved my thick, abundant hair and let it grow past my waistline. It was laborious to upkeep, but she was not going to allow fifth grade pranksters, who stuck a gob of gum in it, rob me of my crowning glory.
Iris pulled, tucked, and chopped off a large chunk. Any other person would have a bald spot, but not me. The tobacco-like swirls swallowed the butchered hair.
Iris charged Mom a few extra dollars for her services.
Bella stretched the elasticized material and shoved in her right leg. Then her left, much like her grandmother squeezed ground meat into casings during the high holidays. She pulled and tugged and rearranged the bulges in the midsection of her body. It’d be easier, she huffed, if she exercised and watched what she ate rather than fight the Spanx war, but the battle was not food related. Age had brought on undesirable flabs.
She smoothed her dress, satisfied everything was held tightly in place. Her eyes fixed on her neck. No amount of Spanx could stretch or hide those lines.
I waited with my mother at the admittance office on the first day of school. I was the new fifth grader. Even if I weren’t the new kid, I stuck out. There was nothing soft or round about my appearance. I was at once too much and not enough. Too much hair, sharp elbows, knock-knees, thick eyeglasses, lanky, flat chest.
Mom noticed most girls my age wore training bras. She pulled me close to her and peered down my blue first-day-of-school top. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “You’re being left behind!”
I tore away mortified. Everyone within earshot heard.
The light turned yellow. A sanitation truck barreled down the avenue to beat the light. It stirred the settled leaves. Debris flew in every direction.
Instinctively Ellen shut her eyes and for once was grateful to be wearing eyeglasses. She shook her hair and picked off bits of dried leaves, stems and the occasional acorn shells. She unzipped her bomber jacket. The faux suede from the TSS fall collection was the rage of the season. TSS was the bargain store in the area, a staple in the working class neighborhood. She tugged her green sweater and wiped her glasses clean.
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.
The story held Reader Dan captive. He shook his legs and rotated his neck. He needed to walk away and digest the story line, but the make believe world sucked him in completely. After all, a good story elicits gasps and giggles, tears and white knuckles. Storylines worm their way through brain cells rendering the reader incapable of other activity until the satisfying conclusion. Dan indulged his imagination. He grabbed Popchips and went back to the novel.
Writer Dan, though, died a little at the end of each chapter. He knew full well that he’d never match such excellent standards.
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.
Luz took a deep, long drag. Her eyes fixed on the hanging clock shaped like a cat. It ticked loudly. Deafening, in fact, in the otherwise silent kitchen. Its tail swung with each tick. Its eyes shifted left to right. That was the only truth in the silent kitchen. That, and the smoke in her lungs. She exhaled on the fifteenth tick and imagined the gray smoke formed into the shape of Ana’s lover. His expectant lips partly open. She shuddered and swiped the smoke as if to erase her dark secret. “Ana, hija,” she called out. “It’s getting late.”