In honor of my grandma visiting me this week, I’m posting this short fiction story that was inspired by my childhood days and lovely walks spent with her.
The hairs of his Super Mario Bros. mustache moved as he spoke, brown bristly hairs with some grays in there too. The fluorescent lights of the store shined off his oily bald head, it was dazzlingly distracting because his lips were moving but I couldn’t make sense of the words at first. All I knew was that I had gotten caught.
It wasn’t my fault; I’d be surprised if most six year olds hadn’t made the same mistake, honestly. Plastic wrapped Rice Krispy treats in a little wicker basket on the checkout counter with no price sticker seemed like an invitation to help oneself. They looked like the homemade treats advertised in Rice Krispy cereal commercials on TV, where a paid actress and paid children laughed and smiled in false joy over their bonding together. These treats looked like the kind of homemade goodies that we never had time to make at home, but sometimes we bought the commercially made ones if they were on sale. Those came in shiny attractive blue packaging.
No visible price sticker meant free to me, so as my grandmother paid for whatever it was we had been there to get I nabbed one. And at the exit the mustached-bald man was there to stop me in my delinquency as I held my grandmother’s hand in my right hand and the deceiving treat with the other.
As the man leaned down towards me and asked if I had paid for the treat (as if six year olds usually pay for their own things) my grandmother shook my arm, asking me what he was saying.
“Que te esta deciendo?” I had lost my translating ability at this moment and my hands were getting sweaty. I had been fooled by this sticky treat, too young to know that free Rice Krispy treats were too good to be true. I held it out to the man without saying a word. Good riddance.
“Que paso?” asked my grandmother as we walked out. I mumbled something about it not being “gratis”. I worried that my grandmother would rat me out and I thought about this as we walked home from the store. I did not know this grandmother, my paternal one, very well. She was strange, loud-spoken and exotic, hailing from South America. She was not like my Mamita, my Mami’s mom.
I spent much of my early childhood with Mamita and I loved it. Eating bittersweet kumquats right off the tree, squishing ants on the coffee table with my little plastic toy car, playing in my Papo’s old white incapacitated car, it was my perfect world. The best part was going out for our daily walks in Mamita’s old Pasadena neighborhood. She would plan to go after breakfast, before it got too hot for comfort. I always held her hand, which was always so buttery soft; the veins on her tanned skin always raised just enough to make them visible, and warm. Her hands were always warm, as if the warmness of the morning radiated from her. I remember the sun always shining. The rain stayed away and never came to bother us.
Mamita’s house was on the corner of a quiet street and a busy main street, where once we saw a practice run of the Rose Parade floats pass by. As we walked off the main street into the quiet residential street, we would enter into a world of subdued light, the sun being filtered out by a canopy of lush tree tops. It was as if the trees were coming together in a hug above us. There was silence and the smell of freshly cut lawns, moist from the sprinklers that were invisible but there nonetheless. Occasionally, a dog would bark at us, but I don’t remember ever seeing one materialize. Sometimes, I would like to challenge myself and not step on any cracks in the sidewalks. I’d skip over them but I wouldn’t let go of Mamita’s hand.
The tree canopy would give away to the bright blue sky and indulgent sun when the street became a bridge. There was a shiny gold sign that had the name of the bridge, but it’s not of importance to me. What was important was dropping the no crack-stepping game and focusing on looking straight ahead, walking briskly. The bridge was held up by sturdy cement columns, but the thought that we were above the Earth on this man-made thing connecting two separate pieces of land was not comforting. Even my shadow was different on this bridge; my shadow was thrown in front of me and looked much taller than I was.
As we stepped off the bridge, we would again be in the cool shade of the trees. To the right of me was a house that had gone all out for Halloween one year. Usually, the blinds to this house were drawn but that night was different for one of windows displayed a scene. My group of trick-or-treaters had walked up the brick walkway since it was permitted, just for this one night, in order to be able to come up to the window and see inside better. The window was the one looking into the dining room. Their long table was covered in a graying white tablecloth and on top there was an array of food. At first the food seemed like the normal kind of food that I might even have for dinner, but then I saw a spider on the potatoes and then I saw other spiders on the potatoes and eyes floating in dark liquid in the wine glasses. In the center of the table, there was a large silver dome and I wondered what was beneath it. The table was set for six, yet only two people were present, each at the opposite ends of the long table. Both of them held a fork and a knife in each hand, pointy sides up and they were both dressed in what seemed to me fancy black clothes. One was a man and one was a woman, both looked quite old but then most people look old to a little girl. I remember the woman’s hair was fashioned into a tight looking bun that seemed to pull her eyebrows up severely. They seemed to be looking at each other, but I think they were looking through each other as if they weren’t aware of any other person, as if I wasn’t watching them.
The chandelier above the table was lit with the flickering flames of black candles, the shadows in the room danced to the loud organ music that was seeping out from the house. I remember being tugged at, let’s go they said. I was not ready to go, I wanted to stay and watch. A thin man came into the room just then and stood in front of the silver dome, his back to me. I could see him reaching for the dome and then placing it to the side. With a little bow, he left the room.
Its eyes were closed and all around it were vegetables with the blue-green fuzzy patches of mold. Then the eyes snapped open and the mouth opened wide and it was speaking, the head of a man was speaking in the center of the uncovered serving platter. It was looking at me, eyes wide and mouth moving fast but I wasn’t getting the message. I wanted to see if everyone was seeing this too, if it wasn’t just me but I couldn’t look away. Suddenly, the man that was sitting at the table stood, walking towards the center of the table where the man’s head was. He looked down at the head and raised his knife, poised as if considering where to cut first. The woman came towards the window, not looking at us. I took a step back, although I knew the window glass separated us, I was scared she could reach out and take me. Serve me as dessert. What she did do was slowly twist the rod until the blinds were closed.
“Vamos,” Mamita said. Everyone else had gone off already, in search for more candy. I let her take my hand and pull me away. As we walked back down the brick walkway, I was sure that I heard a man scream. I didn’t look back.
I tripped on a pine cone, falling onto my knees and into the present, away from that night.
“Ay, niña!” Mamita lifted me up by one arm and rubbed my knees vigorously, asking me if I was alright. Only if she would sing me the frog song, I replied. She bent down to my eye level, smiling. I pouted, if only to prove that I really did need the frog song.
colita de rana,
little tail of the frog,
Si no sanas hoy,
If you don’t heal today,
you’ll heal tomorrow.”
She kissed two of her fingers and touched both of my knees and I couldn’t help but smile.
“Ya!” She grabbed my hand and on we went. I looked up at Mamita, she seemed so tall to me back then, my tower of security. I am slightly taller than her, now. I knew back then that one day this would all be over and I will only be able to visit her in my dreams. Even now, I worry and dread the day that I won’t be able to remember our sunny walks, the sound of her voice, the warmth of her hugs and that she isn’t just a few hours away. I have often thought of heaven and whether there is such a place and whether I believe. A paradise in the sky. What I know for certain, is that if there is a heaven, I hope Mamita will be there with her outstretched hand to me and that we will walk throughout the splendor of eternal mystery together. Maybe there will be bittersweet kumquats too just as there was at her house, my little slice of heaven on Earth.