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Friday, July 25, 2008

Enough

I read to you while you sat before your tray, chewing determinedly at the leg of chicken while I carefully, lingeringly, just short of happily narrated the story of Macondo and the Buendía family. Almost always someone would come in before you were done and I would fold the book around my right index finger in the vain hope that they would hold up in the doorway, smile and back out to let you finish, to let us finish, but eventually I would slip the red ribbon in the place held by my finger (forever now between pages 264 and 265) and put Gabo aside.

After the tray was whisked away and the pills dispensed and the shots administered, you would place your long fingers squarely over the arms of the chair and slowly unbend yourself into a standing wobble, reach out to give my shoulder a squeeze before you settled your feather weight on it for the slow, bathrobed shuffle along the busy corridor. Taking a right, down the longer way you would head first, nodding to the jaunty executive who trailed his wheeled drip behind him. As we crossed the nurses’ station you would smile at the young nursing aides, who would regale you with wide, surprised smiles of their own. Past the still noisy visitor waiting rooms, you would avoid the open doors of the elderly and the semi-conscious, turning around at the stairwell where you would often give me a kiss and lace your fingers through mine to head back up the home stretch to the opposite end of the second floor Palliative Care ward.

Your father would usually end your constitutional, hailing you from the doorway of your room: “Què tal un massatge, chato? Com tenim aquests peus?”, rubbing his hands with our almond oil as you settled back into the dingy brown armchair to pull up your pajama legs and lay your swollen ankles in my lap to let El Jefe work out his perplexity and fury on your calves and shins, purportedly to bring the swelling down with his energetic chafing.

Once he and whoever else who remained had straggled their way out, heartily encouraging your speedy recovery, I would curl up next to you for a few minutes, then run my hands softly over your shoulders and arms, your thighs and calves until your brow softened, your eyes began to droop and I could feel you relax. Then I knew I could leave you for the night. I would stand, press my lips to yours, collect my things, check your water, your pillow and edge toward the door. “¿Estás bien?” I would ask every evening with a warrior’s smile and wait for you to smile back and nod. But that night when I asked instead “¿Cómo te encuentras?” you raised your head, boring your eyes into mine with a look that was more defiant than tender, and clearly, emphatically replied: “Enamorado”.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Foggy

Summer in a beach town in New England is the epitome of freedom. Long days spent biking to the beach or the harbor or to the bridge over the creek the next town over run into long evenings that are never called nights because then it would be bedtime, even for a precocious twelve-year-old. But where summer vacation is freedom, family vacation is something else entirely. Primarily, of course, the vacation is for Dad. Dad’s a sailor, so the family vacation involves sailing, for which Dad keeps a boat, of which, naturally, he is the captain. And what, besides a boat and two weeks of vacation time, does a captain need? A crew, of course; preferably an obedient, willing and cheerful crew. Instead, Captain Dad, who for the other 50 weeks of the year leaves the house early and returns late, has four crew members who spend their time in separate rooms, when not separate yards and even neighborhoods, and who are not necessarily gung-ho about spending 14 days and 14 nights in that large boat’s itty-bitty living space, where Mom has nowhere to sneak a butt, Brother has no cookie jars to rob, Sister has no doors to slam or hallways to stomp down, and you… Well, you are twelve!
Eventually, a day or two in, as you are wont to do when stuck out at sea at the mercy of Captain Dad and his crew, you become acclimated. You learn to duck when Dad’s boom whips across the deck on a jibe, regardless of whether or not you heard or understood his casual “hard-a-lee”. You remember what the halyard is, where to stow the winch and how to secure a fender with a half hitch. If you are twelve, you also learn how to keep the radio low enough so no one realizes you’re below deck listening to the top 40 and reading in your bunk, when everyone else is heaving over the side into the long high waves, while you savor what is your newly-found, most-prized possession: solitude.
Then one day you’re cruising on an overly calm sea while the sun seems to diffuse, weakening in a sky that fades from blue to yellow to white, as the ocean stills and the sail does more luffing than billowing until it goes slack in the dense graying air, and Captain Dad sends you forward to go stand at the bow and watch out for lobster pot markers and buoys, because you are sailing right into a bank of misty, then silvery, then thick-as-pea-soup fog. At first, you concentrate with all your might (you still want to be Captain Dad’s favorite First Mate, after all), staring into the dirty gray-green water below the blue Keds you dangle over the bow pulpit. As the whiteness slowly closes in around you, you stand and call aft, “Lobster pot to starboard!” You listen hard for the sharp clang of the buoy, but when it comes it is much softer and more muffled than you expected, and you can’t see even its shadow. “Bouy to port, I think!” you call back, glancing past where you ought you see the outline of the mast, but the cockpit, where your family should be, is blank and silent, as if it were lost to you.
Looking back out over the bow, down at your hand as it tightly grips the rail, you notice tiny drops that have gathered to glisten atop each hair that stands straight up on your bare arm. You breathe in the damp air, alone in this foggy universe for a few silent moments, when even the slap of hull against water is barely audible and your scope of vision consists entirely of your own tanned, beaded forearm.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sour

Thin lips, painted an orange-tinged red, stretch to near oblivion before they begin their slow puckering. They pucker in, not up, and the eyes droop down, mated in disapproval.

A storm has gathered. More like a squall. Guileless you in your metaphorical boat have not correctly calibrated the gathering cloud cover, and if you don’t just drop the sail and ride it out, you will be tossed and sprayed and bandied about until you either heave or capsize (or both). But you never drop the sail in time. You never see it coming. So you hunker down without your foul-weather gear and remind yourself that, once it’s over, the sun will gradually reappear and the seas will calm.

Yet you have not mollified. You have not redeemed yourself. The thin sunset-red lips remain puckered, and there is nothing left to do but usher out the day gone sour.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fierce


He took my hand, leading me around the cups of beer, the elbows and knees beneath the fireworks and symphonic bursts of the pyrotechnical show at Montjüic fountain, and I would have gladly had our knuckles weld. I wanted to loose my hair in wisps of grape-vine tendrils when, later, he stretched his left arm out under my pillow.
He used to say that he was the one who gave the final push when Julia was born, pulled out of me with suction cups and black-eye forceps (unlike her sister, who was reaped with a scalpel).
Now I want to grow tentacle fingers and place them –airtight- on the sleekly polished backs of my girls and so guide them past my stumbling blocks.
I have no tentacles, no tendrils, no welded knuckles, so I pull at the heartstrings I left dangling behind me on my long wanderings, to reel in the friend who croaks back, crouched down in his own homegrown jungle camouflage.
I form fierce attachments.
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