Be My Guest

Step inside,

You’ll find skeletons in closets,

Mysteries and lies hanging from dusty chandeliers like dirty diamonds,

Fun house mirrors line the hallways,

Whispers follow you from room to empty room,

and all the windows are boarded up with gnarly wood and rusty nails.

Rest your weary head,

Let me show you my heart,

and stay awhile in this troubled mind of mine.

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Intertwining fingers, sharing meals and updating relationship statuses, it was all happening as she stood there, her lonely hand tingling, her hard eyes witnessing the coupling of people like puzzle pieces.

Even the sad people she’d dismissed as doomed to be alone were finding love.

It was as if people were preparing for the Great Flood, pairing up to board Noah’s Ark.

Yet, she was still partnerless and loveless!

Maybe she is Noah in this scenario and her prince charming would be lured in by her impressive carpentry skills.

But no, she thinks. Spending countless hours pounding nails into wooden boards just isn’t her calling.

Maybe she is destined to be alone, in the midst of all the couples and partners and pairs,

the sole white dove looking for safety and stability, possessing only a single olive branch, thinking that everything will be alright.

Ansiedad

I gave birth to my daughter as I sat on the steps of the library, the rain soaking through my gray wool socks and spattering on my glasses. She materialized from my breath vapor, appearing in front of me in her black skintight turtleneck and pale skin. Ansiedad, that’s her name. She took my worries from me, carried them in the old leather suitcase she found behind the Chinese restaurant downtown, the one that I took her to on the rainy day of her birth, the one where we discovered her love for egg drop soup. I’ve never told her I loved her or served her warm cookies with milk. She crawled into my bed late last night, and stared at me, her little finger tracing the outlines of my lips. My eyelids were too heavy to stay open; sleep was a thick blanket into which I disappeared. Sometimes, I imagine her on a train, my worries bouncing slightly in the suitcase on the worn seat, the world passing by in a blur outside the window. I imagine her tucking herself to sleep, bringing her bony knees to her chest and falling into a dreamless black nothing. When I look in the mirror, I see the black circles under my eyes and wonder if she has them too, my daughter. I tried to look for her. I went to the market on the corner of Hill and Slide, to the abandoned theme park by the rotting pier, even to the smelly movie theater.  Ansiedad , I cried as I stood in the middle of the tall pines of the forest, hearing my voice slipping though the spaces between the trees. Since she left me, I do not worry, she took that ability away. I cry, I laugh, I sputter but I do not worry. I visit the Chinese restaurant, the one that I took Ansiedad to on the day of her birth. The red pleather seat squeaks as I slide into the booth, the air slightly thickened with cigarette smoke and the smell of eggrolls. The egg drop soup is as warm and salty as I remember. The foolish thing is that I expect my daughter to round the corner, holding the old leather suitcase in her delicate hand. I expect her to give me back my worries. I expect her to return to me as she came, materializing into breath vapor. Inhaled, then exhaled.

Free Spirit

Wet kisses down the curved spine of her back,

shivers, shudders,

curled white fingers, nails biting into her skin,

it’s too late.

In the morning, she feels it,

the pull of the shrouded mountains to the east.

Front door left open, leaves blowing in,

floating into dusty teacups.

The grandfather clock tells time to the yellowing wallpaper,

ignorant of

seconds,

minutes,

hours.

The chill is piercing, her feet are bare.

She climbs a tree.

Up, up, up,

above the canopy of clouds,

audience to the retreating sun and the chasing moon.

 

Her hairs whips her stinging face.

Old and white, her husband searches are fruitless,

his calls echo against the pines, against the deaf mountain.

A bird, black as the ocean depths,

circles, round and round, above the house

abandoned by the woman that long ago

morning.

A quick flash of a wing outside the window,

a glimpse is all the husband sees,

then the shine,

beckoning him, come.

On the sill, a perfectly round gold band,

her wedding ring,

ruins of a broken marriage.

 

The Beach Ball

The heat of his coffee mug seeped through the ceramic to his calloused fingers, the steam of the black coffee rising onto his face, fogging his thick eyeglasses. At the far end of the diner counter the only waitress on duty read a tabloid magazine, noisily chewing on her gum. She looked up at him looking at her, blowing a bubble. Pop! He looked away, out the window. The wind chimes by the front door were tinkling like crazy, right on the verge of flying away. The gray waves of the ocean slammed against the rocky cliffs, violent and repetitive. Sand blew across the empty road, the whistling wind making it dance.

The old man took a sip of his coffee, hot and bitter. Why he drove there he wasn’t sure. It had been years since he’d last been here, only the one tragic time. What a beautiful day it had been, opposite of this stormy day.

“God knows it’s your birthday so he made it extra warm and sunny today. Just for you,” his mother had said as she buckled him into his car seat. Her smile revealed her white teeth and a dimple on her left cheek, which the old man had too, hidden beneath his white beard.

He remembered that he could see his young reflection in the tinted lenses of her large sunglasses. His father drove and the old man, then just a little boy, dozed most of the way.

A loud clap of thunder made the waitress gasp and the lightening lit the terrifying ocean for a second.

“Baby bear,” his mother said as she shook him awake, “we’re here.”

He remembered the feeling, the first in his life, of the sun-warmed sand between his toes. His father took out a blanket, an umbrella and a cooler from the back of the car. Lastly, he took out a shiny red beach ball and handed it to his son.

“Happy birthday, son,” he said as he placed it in the little boy’s small, smooth hands.

Another boom of thunder, this one sounding closer, the lights in the diner flickered and dimmed. He took another sip of his coffee.

The ball didn’t bounce on the sand. At first, he was upset and didn’t know how to play with it. He remembered that eventually he’d gathered enough courage to run up to the edge where the water met the cooler, darker sand and he’d place the ball at his feet, sinking in the moist ground. The water would gently sweep in, softly lifting and taking his ball and then he’d lunge forward, saving it before it was taken out to sea. This entertained him for a long time. His parents called him to eat but he’d waved at them and shook his head no, he wasn’t hungry. At some point later in the day he’d looked back and saw his father lying on the blanket, hat on his face, napping. His mother was watching him and she waved and the boy waved back as a wave came and took his ball away.

to be continued…

The Day Dinosaurs Died

Wiping his little mouth with the back of his smooth hand, content after a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with milk for breakfast, Lief reached into his toy bin filled with all sorts of things to make any little boy happy. Mrs. Peabread was teaching his first grade class about dinosaurs and all he wanted to do now was playing with his dinosaurs. He’d learned that the day the dinosaurs died was no different from any other day, as far as the dinosaurs could tell. They still gathered around fresh water lakes, lapping at the crystal water, their lapping tongues creating ripples on the surface. Ancient ancestors of modern birds traversed the sky, their wings outspread, their graceful bodies free, floating on the warm breeze. Life. Human existence wasn’t even a pinprick of a thought in the universe. The searing bright light, a ball fast approaching from the zenith in the sky didn’t cause hearts to race faster, no mass panic, or looting of expensive boutiques. Plants wilted under the heat of approaching doom. Necks craned to see what this thing falling from the sky could be, eyes squinted, and then it was all over. Boom. Death. Lief played this scenario over and over, giving his mother cause for worry; her son is obsessed with dying, she thought. Sometimes, when Lief was tucked in bed, his mother would sit out on the deck, a glass of cheap red wine in hand and stare at the sun, slipping behind the skyscrapers of L.A., the ever present blanket of smog visible, she would think about  Lief until fear creeped up her throat and held it tight, the end was sooner than she was comfortable to admit if no respect for nature was given. So on this particular day, as Lief made explosions noises with his mouth, tipping over a t-rex toy, she prayed that their own apocalypse was a distant, distant event, not even a pinprick of a thought in the universe yet.

Rae & Tru

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A predictable rollercoaster ride, with its steep climbs and sudden drops, twists and turns and abrupt finish, this is what it’s like. Tru, Rae’s sister, had no appetite or more than a bite to eat all the previous day. Rae wishes she could take away the pain that feels so physical, yet has no cure. It seemed like he was hers and she was his, but now he hides from Tru behind the glossy green door to his house. Tru’s eyes are puffy and red after a night of soaking her pillow with salt tears. Rae could hear her quiet sobs floating down from the top bunk of their bunk beds. I am here, Rae says but it doesn’t matter. To Tru there will be no others. She does not want to see him; she needs a day to forget she says. Rae knows that it will be just the opposite, a day of remembrance.

All she could give was her love and support. And breakfast. Rae splits an English muffin in half, failing to keep all the crumbs on the plate. English muffins always seem resistant to toasting; she has to set the toaster to inferno level just to get a meager tan on the bread. Meanwhile, with one quick swift flick of the wrist, she cracks open an egg into a microwave safe bowl and whips it with a fork. The pepper mill produces a fine powder of black pepper which she dusts one top of the whipped egg. In the microwave, the egg will grow three times in size, and then quickly deflate. The sun is out this morning, the sun coming through the windows, illuminating the kitchen with its warmth, the deep red of the tulips, freshly picked from the garden radiate from the vase on the kitchen table. What a difference to yesterday’s gray skies and ice frosted lawns. The sound of the toaster popping out the muffin punctuates the morning silence. Rae turns on the TV, putting on cartoons, the perfect breakfast entertainment. The cheese she puts on the English muffin quickly melts into a gooey mess; a slice of ham goes on next and to finish it off goes the fluffy egg. Rae serves this with a hash brown patty and a little Cutie tangerine. It’s a simple, yet beautiful breakfast. She imagines that all the words she can’t say, all the love she feels for Tru is also layered in the sandwich. She takes a picture of it all, plated and ready to eat. There is an immeasurable joy in making food for someone you care about, Rae thinks.

When Tru saw the sandwich Rae had made she told her she appreciates all that Rae does for her and for always being there. Rae could hear the crunch as Tru bit into the sandwich, the sound of pleasure as she tasted it, mixed in with the upbeat music coming from the TV.  Rae felt so happy to make something Tru could enjoy and take her mind off her boy problems; who needs boys, right?

Even though breakfast didn’t erase the pain of a break-up, a happy tummy and the love of sisters was enough to make this a beautiful moment that both girls would remember for a very long time.

Suenos (finale!)

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Jordan yawned and stretched his little arms above his head. Then, he remembered. “I dreamed Mamita had got me my Thomas the Train toy, mami. And papi was there too and he wanted me to go with him somewhere, mami.”

“I thought Mamita had told you not to talk about your dreams before breakfast. You should listen to what she tells you.”

He curled back into a dreamless sleep; his mom carried him out to the car. When he saw the small, yellow single story house that was his Mamita’s, Jordan felt butterflies in his stomach. He had talked about his dream before breakfast. But what could go wrong? He ran to the front door, which was unlocked.

“Mamita!”

“En mi cuarto.”

Jordan ran down the dark hallway. The light from the sun hadn’t reached the windows yet. He pushed open the door to Mamita’s room and there she was, sitting on her bed. A newspaper wrapped box was beside her. He leaped onto the bed, pulling on the plaid bed covers, and greedily clawed at the newspaper. A Thomas the Train toy revealed itself.

“Buenos dias.”

“Gracias, Mamita!” He showered her in kisses. His mom and grandmother chatted as he ran outside to the driveway to play with his new treasure. The driveway was inclined, making it perfect for rolling his train down the bumpy, cracked concrete.

“Bye, Jordan.” His mom blew a kiss to him as she sat in the driver’s seat, ready to go to work. When he looked up to wave at her, he let go of his train, and it started rolling down the driveway, towards the main road.

“Hey!” The train was picking up speed and Jordan couldn’t stop it before it reached the main road. The train was rolling into the road, slowing down in the middle of the lane as a car was zooming in that direction. Jordan ran as fast as he could towards the road. His mom watched in her rearview mirror, frozen in horror as the car drove closer and closer to her child, who running in the street to reach his toy.

“Jordan!”

The car swerved, honking at Jordan to avoid hitting him but its tires crushed the little plastic toy.

“NO!” Jordan fell to his knees and his jaw went slack. He had known this toy for minutes, but its death had a major impact. He shook from nearly being killed himself. His loud wailing brought Mamita out of the house running, his mom got out of her car, already at Jordan’s side. Mamita scooped him up like an injured kitten and letting his salty tears soak her shirt.

“I’m so sorry, baby.” His mom stroked his hair. “What were you thinking, running in the street like that? You could have been seriously hurt.”

What could go wrong? Jordan looked at the blue, red and black shards of plastic and thought bitterly that he should have listened.

No debes de hablar de tus suenos antes de comer el desayuno.

The women took Jordan in the house and eventually his mom got in her car to go to work. Jordan stayed on the couch most of the day, watching cartoons, not even wanting to go out for their daily walk. What Jordan didn’t notice was the breeze that tousled his hair this morning, which propelled his little train to go faster do the driveway into the street, was no ordinary breeze of nature. Behind the bushes, invisible to all eyes, stood his father’s ghost, wishing with all his spirit to have his son with him again.

Suenos (continued)

That night Jordan dreamed he was in Mamita’s house.

“Mamita?” he called.

“Aqui, en mi cuarto.” In her room, she replied, her voice bouncing off the walls. The hallway leading to her room was dark, but he was not afraid. He pushed open the bedroom door and there she was. Sitting on her bed. She had a box wrapped in newspaper on her lap.

“Ven,” she patted the bed, motioning for Jordan to sit beside her. The box was all Jordan was interested in. He struggled to get onto the bed; it was huge for little legs to climb. “Abrelo.” Open it.

He didn’t need to be told twice. He ripped the newspaper messily. A Thomas the Train toy was inside. The sides of the toy car were shiny blue, the wheels tiny and spun as Jordan touched them with his finger. Just then the doorbell rang.

“Ay, mi hijito… puedes ir a la puerta, debe de ser tu mama.” Jordan still admiring his new toy, jumped off the bed and went to see who was at the door, like Mamita asked. She was right, it was probably his mom. He opened the door.

“Mami! Look what…” Jordan dropped the toy, it fell between his bare feet.

Behind the screen door stood Jordan’s father, hands in his brown leather jacket, waiting. Jordan stared, unable to move. After a moment, his father took a hand out of his pocket and reached for the doorknob, pulling open the door slowly. Jordan took a step back as his father took a step in. Jordan had forgotten how his neck would hurt after having to look up to his dad, towering above his little son.

“Papi?” Jordan’s voice squeaked, high pitched as he spoke.

His father knelt in front of him, taking off his sunglasses and Jordan looked into his green eyes, he saw the stubble of hair on his face that always tickled him when his dad gave him a goodnight kiss, he saw the sprinklings of freckles across his cheeks, and he saw the small, almost shy smile on his lips. He opened his arms and Jordan fell into them, tears silently running down his face. He smelt the worn leather of his jacket, bringing back memories of camping and eating roasted marshmellows with all the stars twinkling above, wrapped in this jacket. This jacket was still hanging in the closet by the door, as if his papi would one day come back to them and start wearing it. One day it will be Jordan’s.

“Papi, is it really you?” His father kissed his forehead.

“Si, si, It’s me.” He pulled away from his son so he could see his face, taking a large finger and swiping away the big teardrops from Jordan’s cheeks. “Were you expecting someone else?” he said, smiling wider, falling into that easy joking manner he had always had with Jordan.

“I can’t believe it’s you! Mami said we’d never see you again, that you were with the angels.”

Jordan hadn’t been allowed to see his father in the coffin.

“I want him to remember him as he was, Mami! Not lying there, pale and cold,” his mother had said to his grandmother over the phone.

“Baby, look. I want you to come with me, where we can be together. We can do father and son things, hmm?”

“Yordan?” They could hear Mamita coming down the hallway. Jordan turned to look at her when she gasped.

“Que estas haciendo aqui? Tu estas muerto!” Mamita put a hand to her chest, her eyes wide. “No puede ser. Yordan, ven aca.” Mamita reached out to Jordan, asking him to go to her. Jordan didn’t understand, his papi was back after two years dead. He was back and he didn’t seem to have changed at all in that time. What could be so wrong about that?

“I’m here to take him with me, senora,” said Jordan’s father, standing up.

“No! Yordan, por favor…” she grabbed Jordan’s shoulders with both hands, pulling him towards her. His father held on fast to his hands. Jordan was stuck in a tug of war.

“Stop! Stop it!” Jordan yelled. “Please, stop!”

“Yordan.” He looked at Mamita, but her face was blurry, as if he had fuzzy stuff in his eyes.

“Jordan. Jordan.”

His room was still dark; the sun hadn’t come out yet.

“Wake up, sleepy head. Did you have a bad dream?” Jordan’s mom sat on the edge of his bed, stroking the side of his face with her soft, cool hands. Sweat plastered his hair to his forehead, his shirt to his chest.

“Mom?” he looked around for his father but he wasn’t there. It had really been just a dream.

Suenos (continued)

Jordan’s mom turned off the lamp on his dresser. He was a brave little boy but he still wasn’t comfortable sleeping with the door closed. She walked out and left the door open a crack; the light from the hallway making a thin strip of light across the carpeted floor of Jordan’s room. She stood there for a moment and watched as her son rolled to his other side, facing away from her, snuggling into sleep.

Jordan closed his eyes and hoped he would dream that night. He would tell his mom his dream before breakfast, just to prove his grandma was worrying over nothing. What could go wrong?

Grabbing the nightlight from the hallway bookshelf, Jordan’s mom plugged it into the outlet that was halfway between Jordan’s room and the bathroom. Thomas the train’s round face lit up and illuminated the hall. She turned off the hallway light and walked past the bathroom to the other electrical outlet that was between the bathroom and her bedroom. Here she plugged in another nightlight. Like a trail of bread crumbs, there was a trail of light for Jordan to follow in case he got scared in the middle of the dark night and went looking for her.

Her room wasn’t a bright as Jordan’s, which was a shrine to his favorite show; it was calm and peaceful and all hers. She walked to the bed, only six steps from the doorway. The lamp by her side of the bed cast a soft light, perfect for reading. She tucked herself in and reached for her book, with all the best intentions to read, but her mind traveled to when she was Jordan’s age.

It had been a few days before Christmas and the Santa Ana winds had kept it warm. It was perfect weather for bike riding, if she had had a bike. A purple bike, with plastic streamers cascading from the pure white handles and a little wicker basket in front to put her lunch pail: that was all she wanted and prayed for. One night, in her dreams she had felt what it was like to have her dream bike. She rode down the sidewalk of her palm tree lined street, the eyes of all the envious boys and girls staring at her from behind lace curtain covered windows. It made her pedal with a sense of pride. When she woke up early the next morning she got up looking for her mom.

“Mami! Soné que tiene una bicycleta! Sera verda?” Her mami was in the kitchen, making breakfast when she had told her that she’d dreamed of getting the bike. Could it be true? she’d asked.

“Mi hija.” Her mami had curly hair that went halfway down her back. That morning she was wearing it in a ponytail. Her shorts were plum purple, the same as the bike in her dream. “Tu sabes que no se habla de suenos antes de desayunar.” She frowned, and her smooth skin was no longer perfect.

“Porque, mami?”

Her mami, which is Jordan’s Mamita, just raised her hands up in the air, scrunching up her thin shoulders. The gold bangles on her wrists made musical sounds as they clinked together.

“Porque asi me dijo mi mami, como su mami le dijo a ella.” Because that’s what her grandmother had told her mother and her grandmother’s mother had told her before that, she’d replied

Jordan’s mom held her closed book in her lap. She pushed back the covers and brought her right knee to her chest. Lifting up her pajama pants to reveal the faint, faint scar on her knee.

She had received the bike she had wanted so badly for Christmas. How her mother and father had managed to afford it, God knows. But at least she got it. She took it for a spin as soon as she had the chance and remembered the pride she’d felt in her dream, just the same as she felt on that first ride. There was a hill at the end of her street which she envisioned herself flying down, her long black hair trailing behind. Her legs weren’t used to going up big hills, so she’d had to walk it up. At the top, she sat down on the bike’s never used seat and took a deep breath. So, this is what it feels like to be at the top of the world, she thought. She kicked herself off and soon was speeding down the hill. But she couldn’t control the bike, it was going too fast. Panic coursed through her veins. She crashed into a neighbor’s garbage tins and flew off the bike, landing hard on the concrete sidewalk. The skin of her knee was scraped clean off and her arm had been broken. The neighbor had to carry her home and her mother took her to the emergency room. While the doctor stitched the gash on her knee, she thought of her dream turned nightmare.

No debes de hablar de tus suenos antes de comer el desayuno.

Jordan’s mom put the book back on her nightstand and turned off the light. She hoped Jordan wouldn’t make the same mistake.