Photo by Anna Yarrow
I could hear the sound of a thousand butterfly wings in my ears as I ran in the late morning sunlight to catch my mother’s hand before I woke. The butterfly’s flutter had been coming for weeks now since the medicine had dripped into my chest and entered my blood. The doctors said this would happen in my ears but they didn’t mention the dreams where she carried a basket of purple and pink hydrangias on her back while walking with her sister Ceci from the fields, down the slick and foggy mountain side. I think they are preparing me for the journey while the medicine is trying to stop it. Today, my mother would come for Dia de Los Muertos and I would talk to her about my dreams.
Sunrise was creeping above the mountains as I slowly opened my eyes. The warm light entered my room through lace curtains, hitting my aching bones on mi abuela’s bed. Squinting into this new day, I can see the church through the window from memory. A yellow spot on the dark mountain’s shadow, the same hillside where the flower fields grow gladiolas, marigolds, hydrangia, roses and orchids. The church would be busy right now, even while in morning shadow. People there like my neighbors Telma and Flora, two sisters I’d known since they were born would be cutting grass, sweeping stairs while their husbands ran long orange extension cords back and forth to the cemetery for the twinkling lights.
I had overslept because of the dreams and the drip drips. They were stronger each day, both of them, keeping me rooted in this bed for longer and longer. The dreams brought laughter from my cousin Ignacio as he chased me through the rows of blue flower heads, smoke mixed with morning dew in my nostrils and the faint taste of cinnamon and chocolate left on my tongue from the atole my Aunt Ceci always made for us. It was all becoming more real each night.
I sat up and grabbed the plastic bucket on the ground to empty the tamales and blood from a stomach that no longer worked. It had become my morning ritual for the past few days.
But today I needed to get out of this bed. There was much preparation for the visitors and I so wanted to see them again. Today, with God’s help, I would do all that I set out to do and welcome them back home this evening
The floor felt even colder than my feet, like my fingers and now my chest. A chill had crept up my arm just yesterday and stolen the last bit of heat I had left. I needed a fire in the kitchen to warm me while I washed the sprouts and cabbage in yesterday’s water that Telma and Flora always fetched for me. They kept me in kindling and wood too. Their gift to an old woman.
As I chopped the brussel sprouts in quarters, I look at the pickled radishes on the table for my cousin Ignacio, dulces for my sweet baby Juliet, jamon for Carlos and a spicy sausage for my mother. They would be happy this year with what I prepared for them in the Fiambre. I had done my best in hopes they would come and maybe stay for awhile until it was my time.
Ignacio would be the first to arrive. He always was, my cousin. He used to come barreling into the house in clean clothes he washed just that morning with a fresh shaved face and his fingernails clear. He would smell my caldo simmering on the stove and spin me around the room before picking up a guitar and playing a song while I finished chopping chicken and garlic. He always entertained me and others. That was his gift but God always has a plan.
Looking down at the table now and remembering them, I realized I had forgotten pozole for my quiet Aunt Ceci. The ingredients were blurring together but I was sure I could make her some after I just sat for a moment. I needed to rest my head and then I’d make the stew and gather the flowers from the garden.
Aunt Ceci would probably not like it that I made her a special dish today. She never liked anybody making a fuss over her. Too much attention just caused her husband to rage and we’d see the bruises the next day. But now she was free of him and free to eat as much pozole as she wanted. God had heard her prayers and rewarded her with his love.
The chopping motion was beginning to make me dizzy. The up and down, my eyes on the slivers of cabbage falling to the sides with each stroke. My mother used to chop so fast I would worry she’d cut off a finger. I’d watch her hands peeling potatoes at this very table with a small sharp knife she always kept in her basket or apron. She’d make spiraled rings from the peels we’d soak in beet juice, then decorate the pathway from the chained link fence to the door. Ignacio would always help me with the decorating. He’d take the flower petals and drop them around the pink potato peels. I wish he was still here. I don’t want more blood and tamales but everytime I move, there’s more.
In the old Autumns of my memories, the field above the church would turn bright oranges and yellows from the marigolds. Their smell would be faint on the village, reminding us the days were growing shorter. I loved helping with those harvests the most as the sound of the flower heads popping off their bushes across the fields reminded me the rains were gone. Soon the fields would lie fallow and my mother and I could cook together in this same kitchen.
Now using the cold brick walls of my abuela’s house, I scooted my way to the garden and into the fresh air of a marigold day. Time had slipped. It was later than I thought. The sun already descending into a pink hood. I would need to hurry before they arrived.
I bent over to pop pop pop the flower heads, filling my bucket with their glowing faces. I will spread them out from the chain link fence to my door, as Ignacio had always done. Then I will put out the pozole, the frambia, the dulces and the spicy sausage for my mother. I’ll wait until the moon shines bright then I’ll light the candles. It’ll be so beautiful.
I know my mother will come last. As the head of the family, they will part for her so she can be the first to taste of my food. My cousin Ignacio, my Aunt Ceci, my baby Juliet and now my son Carlos this year. He will be there now. Maybe they’ll just take me with them tonight. It would be easier.
I closed my eyes to sit down in the garden dreaming of my Mother’s eyes when she tasted my offering. Her smile would be contagious and baby Juliet would giggle her baby self all plump and happy. Her eyelashes would frame her sparkling eyes that God had chosen to be his favored.
The sitting and standing and popping of flower heads brought more blood vomit I left in the garden with my eyes still shut to the dreams. I just needed a little more rest and then really, I could get up again. My chest feels so tight and the air just isn’t getting in my lungs enough. I’ll rest.
The mountain shadow was coming quick, too short of a day to get ready before Day of the Dead began. My white shirt blouse I wore at Carlos’ funeral was in my closet. I’d needed to change before tonight. I wanted to look my best when he returned. But first, a rest. I’ll just lay down next to the flowers and listen to the butterflies some more. Soon I won’t be alone. Soon they’ll come and we’ll talk about the dreams.
Her hand is warm and rough, a mass of muscles and bones holding tightly to my tiny fingers as we slipped down the zig zag path that led to the church. Her fingers were dyed green from the stems she cut all morning in the dark before the heads opened up to the sun. A color that never truly left her hands throughout the harvest season. She smelled of leaves and smoke, her navy blue skirt with the red and yellow birds embroidered in neat rows collected droplets of water like my eyelashes as we descended through the cloud.
“Reyna, look, can you see?”
“No Mama, what?”
“It’s the lights, at the cemetery, they’ve lit the candles for you and layed the marigolds out. There’s food too Reyna. Your favorites…tamales, they’re all for you. Go, run ahead. Just follow the light my sweet Reyna.”