Your grandma gives birth to a baby in El Salvador on Christmas Day, 1966. Beautiful, beautiful baby.
She lives in this very tiny place, it’s basically a village. She is twelve years old, and everyone wants to see how she’s holding up. They all come around to visit the baby—they say hi, gently touch its toes, and smile as it wraps its pink hands around their fingers. Look at that.
They ask if it is a boy or a girl, along with its name, but she says she has no idea about either; your grandma is keeping it a secret: she keeps the baby swaddled in blankets and has her own mother bathe it in order to not see its parts. She says, I’m waiting for the daddy to come home, so we can find out if it’s a boy or a girl together, and then we can find the name.
They ask where is the daddy, anyway, and she says he’s in the next town over, on business.
Your grandma speaks quietly into her baby’s hands: Once Daddy comes home, we’ll move into a very big house.
The baby dies six days later, from meningitis. The doctor says it’s quite easy for a baby to catch that. You know, he says, a cough, a kiss. A touch from someone who doesn’t wash their hands.
On December 31st, New Year’s Eve, your grandma buries her first baby, sexless and nameless. The daddy never comes back from his business trip.
But the part you’ve always really loved about this story is the part your grandma’s always loved, too: a few years later she gives birth to your mom with a brand new daddy. Your mom is a beautiful healthy babygirl and she grows up into a very fine youngwoman. When she comes over here, stateside, your mom meets your dad and a year later, your oldest sister is born. This is the pretty part: your sister is born on January 1st. You ask to hear it again.
Your own daddy runs away, too. He’s there for a while—long enough for you to call him daddy—but he leaves before you call him dad. Even now you always have to correct yourself in your own head: no one else is around to hear, but, still, it is dad, not daddy.
Daddy’s stories are all secondhand. Your uncle has one from their first job together, the paper route in Bel Air, and how it was always so cold that your dad, the genius, wore a black ski-mask in that white neighborhood (mostly white, your uncle tells you—Quincy Jones lived in that house right there and he gave us $100 each Christmas). The police pulled them over and your dad kept the ski mask on as the policeman approached them—he was cold, after all. Your dad got tazed. Everything was smoothed over, though. No reports were filed—everyone apologized and your dad threw away the ski-mask at the policeman’s request. So you just have to, have to, have to believe your uncle is telling the truth on this one. What do you think?
The more interesting thing, though, is that time when you were a bit older, and your car’s brakes stopped working. You were coming to a stop sign and no matter how much you pumped the brakes it didn’t stop so you had to yank the e-brake back and the force sent your head flying and the steering wheel cracked your nose in, basically, half.
You took the bus and saved from five paychecks.
You went to a mechanic’s, and your knees buckled: You swore the mechanic looked exactly like your dad, at least what you remembered of him. The roundness of the cheeks, the thickness of the eyebrows. The smile so big it hid the eyes. And you swore the mechanic paused when he saw you. You swore there was a brief moment, in the middle of it all, where the mechanic might be thinking, Is this the child I left?
Anyway the brake job ran about four figures. You took care of it in monthly payments. And that was it. You didn’t ask the mechanic anything, like, Are you my daddy? Nothing happened. The mechanic’s name was Ronald, and your dad’s name was Rodalfo, is really the only other part that sticks out.
But you can rewrite this. And make it so that the mechanic was your dad. A beautiful coincidence. You can write the reason he ran away. You can write the dad you always knew he was. You can write the dad, and the story, that’ll make it all make sense.
Your mom runs around barefoot every day of the 70s, no matter how much your grandma tells her not to. This one evening, her dad calls her into his room. He has just gotten over this long bout of pneumonia and is still bedridden, still coughing into the air because he’s too weak to hold up his hands. The way his bed is pushed up against the window, sunlight pouring in, your mom will always remember him as a saint.
He calls her into his room and gives her some money to go buy him a beer, his throat is so dry. As she leaves the room, he says, I love you forever.
Your mom goes to the cornerstore a few blocks away and buys the beer—the clerk says, Thank God. This means your dad is feeling better.
Your mom does what she always does when she buys beer for her dad: she sticks a straw in and sips. She peoplewatches as she walks back. And she also tells you about how much fruit there was, the trees heavy with mangoes. Guayabas so small the wind would pick up handfuls and whirl them around, slow tornadoes that could split a lip.
Your mom walks along, kind of buzzed, and doesn’t see something on the sidewalk—she still doesn’t know what it was that pricked her: Maybe, she says, it was a broken bottle or a pinecone. But either way, people soon start pointing and asking, Are you okay? You’re bleeding.
From the foot. She sits down on a curb and sees how red and brown her heel is. Some people gather around, and an old man unwraps his bandanna and begins tying it around her foot. Just pray it wasn’t anything rusty, he says, tying the knot. The blood drips down and it looks so red it looks fake. Pray, also, another man says, that it’s not a piece of wood you scraped your foot on. You don’t own a pair of shoes? someone else says. Pray, also, that it’s not shards of glass you scraped your foot on. Your mom is getting dizzy. Who let you buy that beer? a woman says. Do you know Rogelio from Granada? He was a carpenter and got a splinter in his hand. Never took it out until it just went through his body and got stuck in his heart. Your mom hears that and passes out.
When she woke up, she was already home, in bed, while people out in the living room talked. It was your grandma and another man, a doctor. They talked so quiet your mom wondered if she was a ghost.
What happened was that her dad died. And your grandma would have whipped her—your mom was drunk, barefoot, bleeding and saying OK to help from strangers—but just as some townsfolk carried her home, your mom’s dad had suddenly stopped breathing. Your mom got lucky, if you think about it a certain way.
But that’s not your favorite part. Your favorite part is how after your mom’s dad was taken to the coroner, they discovered he had a blood clot in his foot. And he must have had it there for days—his foot was all swollen—but since he was bedridden, no one noticed. The coroner said, You couldn’t have known.
Your mom shows you the scar on her right heel. It is shaped like a comma.
There is more. Your mom’s boyfriend, a U.S. resident for over ten years, who gets stabbed in the arm in Mexico for his wallet and passport, and obviously he can’t go to the police, and he’s close to the border so he decides to try his luck with Customs—who don’t let him cross because of the blood and the no-passport-having and the brown skin so he just takes off running, breaking through files of Border Patrol until he passes out within a minute and they have no choice—because of some border policy—but to take him to the nearest American hospital, since he was already on American soil. After that, he never drinks or goes back to Mexico ever again. His mother dies in Oaxaca and he sends flowers.
What else. Your ex-stepdad, after cheating so much on your mom, finds God after he crosses the street with a coworker and a grand piano falls on the coworker’s head. Your ex-stepdad heard every single note at the same time. The grand piano belonged to a church that was holding a luncheon on the roof of a downtown building. He does missionary work in Peru now.
Your sister when she’s three. A total brat who talks back in cusswords. The telephone rings one day and she has this thing about grabbing the phone when it rings and then smashing the receiver against the wall, so she runs to get it and it falls down and bonks her on top of the head and she forgets how to talk for a week, but once she starts, she’s a total angel. A completely different person.
Your brother when he’s seven. Sleeping in your grandma’s room, his back turned to the scary mirror that takes up the entire side of a wall. His nose pressed up against your grandma’s bosom. Eventually, he turns around, and when he opens his eyes a bit, he does not see his reflection in the mirror. He only sees a bright bloody red face with no skin and no eyes and straight brown hair sticking up, resting its head on the pillow. He vomits and the red face disappears. Your grandma stirs sugar into a glass of water for him, later, in the kitchen. This all means something important to him that you will never understand.
And one day your grandma dies. Your mom dies. Your uncle calls you up and tells you your dad is dead. Cancer, dementia, cancer. Your mom’s boyfriend is still alive but without your mom there you both aren’t sure what to make of each other. And your mom’s best friend comes clean to you at the funeral, saying she was in love with your mom her entire life, and she wishes, so so badly, she had said something, and you don’t know what to say so you just go, Yes, we all loved her, too.
People die from dementia, you look it up, supposedly because their bodies forget everything.
You realize that all of their stories are gone, and that one day that’ll be you, your brother, sister, and so on, dead with stories. See that one day there will be nothing to look forward to, because you’ll be too old to that. One day all you’ll have is what is right behind your shoulder. It’s a little bit like a sickness, all of this inside you. History and mythology all spooled up tight under your ribs, breeding in your blood, poking out your skin, the little lights that wink out through the pores of your cheeks like bug antennae, waving hello, testing the air, saying, Hi. How are you? Would you like to talk?
Stanley Delgado's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Gulf Coast, Mud Season Review, and elsewhere. He is finishing his undergraduate degree in Long Beach, and will be pursuing his MFA at NYU. He can be reached at stanleydelgado.com.
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