FoundlingReview

HomeAboutWritersGoodReadsArchives





Life is forever in the shadow of the dead. This gives meaning. In this life, we learn that sadness does not require language. We lose who we think we are when we fight grief.  We let people ravage our bodies. There are many sad things.  Let them make you beautiful, but do not let them haunt you.
— Señora Alva
 


Yesterday, Natanael stood above me on our deck. It jutted from the outside of our two doorways, overlooking Calle Lucena. It was the day after a storm and he was bent down picking up pieces of flower pots that had scrambled about over the deck – they were clay pots the color of Spain's warm, red soil. And inside were the brugmansias that Señora Alva had planted and given to us.
 
"They came from my son's funeral," she said a few months ago, when she gave them to us. "Put them out in the sun," she asked. 
 
The neighbors had her brugmansias too. They told Natanael and I that the baby was put into the dirt. "She said she will grow him all over Spain," they said. "We got once a pot with a tiny blue baby fingertip in it."
 
She cut him up herself, they told us.
 
They said the infant was a twin. His name was Gustavo, and he died falling over the deck that was across from ours. But Señora Alva won't tell us this, she won't tell us the truth. Her heart is too broken.

The sidewalk here is wide and made of sandstorm dust and old bricks that have been laid out when Spain first was carved into being by hot, red hands. I have looked out during a sunny day trying to find blood in the cracks. Sometimes I trick my eye into seeing it.
 
Do you think, I have asked Natanael, that this is where his head landed?

We stood directly under the hot sun at noon looking at the bricks but our shadows get in the way. Me in my white night gown and him with nothing on his skin — we dance around the shadows to manipulate them, looking for blood.
 
Solamente un cuento, Natanael says. None of the other families down the stretch of Calle Lucena knows if the twin was real, he tells me. 

And sometimes under the sun at noon standing under her deck, I have heard Señora Alva's living baby crying, and I have heard her wheezing. Sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes the baby wheezes and she cries. And this happens late, too, when the moon is high, and then Natanael shuts his window. I can hear this from across the hall because we share a pequeño apartmento in an even smaller aldea in Carratracas.
Natanael and I, we are strangers, but we made arrangements. I would live in his extra room so I could walk down the stretch toward where my grandmother was dying. And I would help him.

Before I came, Natanael painted the room for me and hung up some photos he took. He did this for me. And he had eyes the color of plants painted into a frame of thick lashes. Wild curls splashed down into his face and he had yellow skin. He was tall and he had strong hands. He looked like a God who had been born in the sun.
 
Natanael, I thought, did not look like a man who could do bad things. 
 
I was in Spain to ease my grandmother's death. I visited her at the senior home but she does not speak much English and I do not speak español well. But I hold her wrinkled hands; they are like gentle prunes, and I watch as her eyes trace the windowsill and hear children play outside on the street.
 
Usted oculta de la sombra, she says to me. Bleed and cry if you have to.

Her face is a painting. The fine details — her moles and her pores combine like little stars within galaxies of wrinkles. She is a tired impressionist painting, and when I leave, I kiss her forehead and cover her in a blanket Señora Alva sewed for her.

Your grandmother is ill. She is a good women. She wants what is best for you, ella quisiera que usted fuera feliz, Señora says. 
 
The blanket Señora Alva sewed is thin and itchy, with orange triangles and horizontal lines.
When I left my grandmother at night, the blanket is so colorful lying upon her that it was hard to believe she was dying.
 
I whispered buenos noches, and sing to her little te amos. I kissed her warm forehead and walked the stretch of land back down the aldeo to my room.
 
When I crawled in to stay in the hot room, I could hear the little gnats at the window flitting against themselves. There is no screen. Here, the windows are wide and the thin. White curtain falls in and out and are soaked by rain and dried again by the sun. I can wake in the morning and have café oscuro, turrijos and magdelenas and watch the street kids play. Their shadows parade over the bricks, legs and arms flailing. Reflected over the squares and cracks, they look like dark fragments of dopplegangers creeping about always at a 90 degree angle from the children. Most of their parents were dead from diseases that ravished the aldea a few years ago. They always seem sad. The world seemed sad.
 
Natanael painted for money. Sometimes he comes home looking like a man wrapped in ribbon. He is at times a deep orange and at times lighter. He appears to be a gift in this wrap. But my Grandmother says he is not good. She says, él no es bueno, and I wonder how she knows.

When I say goodbye to grandmother every night, I pick up fallen pieces of soft rice kernels from her shirt and blanket and I wipe her mouth clean.
 
Natanael sometimes paints all day and when he comes in when the sun parts, Señora invites us to come and eat her food. She is lonely, we think. One of her breasts is very big and the other is not, and the baby is always suckling and suckling on one.
 
The neighbors said she will not let him suck from the other breast. She has saved the left breast for his ghost, they say. And the neighbors told us they sometimes see her in her rocking chair on the deck cradling an invisible child to her chest. She squeezes the breast in the hot sunlight, and all the street kids gawk.
 
Natanael says that children cannot understand sadness. When he says these things he says there is always a sudden breeze, and I can smell the brugmansias and I wonder if he knows I am sad or if he is capable of understanding sadness.
 
Natanael and I, it was not the first time he was inside me. We eat food and he watches me in the light with the little insects in my face and he does not fan them away. He wants to have me.

But this was not love, I knew. In the light with the Señora inside feeding the baby and coughing, and with the laundry blowing about enough to hide me on his lap, he inched in and out.
 
I thought about Grandmother dying down the other end of the aldea, and how I thought of Natanael more than my grief. In the mornings, when the drink from my blood wears off, the one thing that keeps me here doing this is he and I, captured under the blankets. If he didn't have me, I couldn't stay here with my grandmother, I just keep thinking, We are naked. And Natanael can see my pores and the black hairs I had not shaven, and the collections of spider veins creeping up from my ankle, and he can see the dots and scars and blips of my skin. He can see my impurities.
 
I was ugly in the morning. We were so hot when we awoke. Our chests are little maps and there are seas everywhere, strewn over the mountains and ridges of our muscles and breasts.  We cannot roll in any direction to stop the heat. Spain, I knew, was purgatory. And he tells me to go to my room.
 
I would visit my Grandmother by day and have Natanael at night and I would watch for the truth of a dead baby in the cracks of ancient bricks.
 
I remember meeting Natanael.
 
When we were wet and sweating, I told him I was sad. My grandmother is dying, I told him. And I could not find a cheap place to live. This is when Natanael gave me the room.
 
He was sad in his own way, he said.
 
As I waited for my grandmother to die, I stood outside on the deck many times and tried to spot the blood of the child. I wanted to at least see a speck of blood. I wanted to know if he had fallen, and if she chopped him up, if our brugmansias were tombstones. If the fingertip was real.
 
This is what became of my trip to Spain. I watched for blood, and sometimes I bled because my body is tired from Natanael.
 
Usted oculta de la sombra, my Grandmother said. She always said this. I wrote it down as I thought it would look so I'd remember. 
 
In my night gown and in bare feet, I walk the stairs down and out to Natanael who was patching a hole in Señora Alva's doorway. Bees were coming out, even in the late evening, stinging the little living baby. My shadow was below me, and I stomped over it trying to get past. I ran. I danced. I skipped and blinked but it was there, the shadow.

I opened the door and saw the baby on the floor. He had little red pocks from the bee up and down his brown skin. Señora sat with her one breast protruding from a gown she wore. Hola, she said. And she offered me water with limes. I asked her what the sentence meant.
 
Usted oculta de la sombra Señora. What is this?
 
Get away from the shadow, she said.

Natanael turned to look at me. I felt my body frighten. I saw his eyes follow mine down the length of my leg. Blood fell. The Señora hollered and went to stand, but she was big and slow and I left out the door. Under the glowing sky, with my legs on the warm bricks, blood fell into the cracks.
 
I had let Natanael have me so many times just for that room. I had wanted it in the beginning. But for the room and the brugmansias and the tales and the curtains and the paintings and the gnats and the leftover supper of a lonely mother and her baby and the ghost — I did not want to be my own doppleganger.

The blood fell into a puddle and a cloud washed over the light. Some street kids hid in alleys and watched me bleed. I would leave that day, I thought, and I would bring the last of my verdejo to my grandmother and I would memorize her wrinkles, tell her that I loved her. She would want me to move on. 
 
It was getting darker when the blood stopped. The sun had slid behind deep pink, paper thin clouds, and Carratracas was quiet. The ground was cool again. My gown was stained and I crawled inside to pack my bag and go home. 
 



Lisa is the founding editor of Caper Literary Journal and has work forthcoming or published in several literary journals, including Word Riot, elimae, Moon Milk Review, among others. She will have her full-length poetry book released by Cervena Barva Press in 2012. Her chapbook, White Spiders, was released by Gold Wake Press.
 




 





  


Copyright 2009