“Sadness is a monster,” Frida said. “It swallows up cities and people and sometimes even entire countries. Mexico lives in its belly. Do you want me to tell you a story about a girl who tried to outsmart the monster?”
She pat her thigh, inviting me to lay down or lean on her, some support. I refused and sensing what I needed and my lifelong reluctance to take it, she pat her thigh again louder. The bells on her bracelets tinkled.
“There was a little girl. She was normal. She liked all the things little girls like. She liked getting dirty and playing games and listening to her mother tell her stories. Her world was small, but beautiful. She used to sit for hours on her bed playing with the doll that her mother made her. It had little black braids made out of yarn, and two little black eyes, and a red mouth – small with a cupid’s bow just like hers.
Every day the little girl woke up when her mother came in and sat on her bed. Her mother was so excited to see her, that unlike most mothers whose children woke them up, she found she couldn’t wait to see this child, her best friend. The little girl had never felt anything besides love in her own heart. So she had no words for how she felt. She thought this was just what life felt like.
Until one day she woke up on her own, not from the sensation of her mother’s weight pulling her body close to the place where she sat, like gravity, like the earth’s pull to the sun. The sun was in her eyes, and she decided to wait. She would close her eyes, and pretend she was asleep and surprise her mother. This would be something new, a new game they could play together. So she closed her eyes, and every few seconds she would open one just a little, just a crack. Each time she did it she could barely stop herself from laughing. Her giggling wanted to come out of her, it was like a belly bursting out of too tight pants. Just like her mother that time.
She played the game alone for a long time, for hours, until the sun went down again. She stayed in bed until the game stopped being fun. As she was pulling down her blankets, getting ready to sit up and walk outside her room, she noticed she had never done this before. Her little slippers - the one her mother said she had to wear whenever she was on the linoleum so she wouldn’t get sick from a disease people get when their feet are cold – weren’t there. Should she walk on the linoleum and risk getting the cold foot sickness? She couldn’t stay in bed anymore. Where was her mother? She was hungry – that was new too.
Many things were different, she realized, now that her mother wasn’t there. She asked herself questions she’d never had to consider. She found new things bubbling up inside her that she couldn’t understand. She had never felt uncertainty. She had never felt fear. She didn’t know what they were but she knew she wanted them to stop.
She looked for her mother, all over the house. Under the table. In the pantry. In her bedroom. In the closet where she kept her dresses. She even looked in places that her mother couldn’t possibly have fit into: the drawer with the place mats in it, the little closet where the sugar and the salt and the oregano were, underneath the big rug in the kitchen.
Her mother had just vanished. Poof. Like the smoke from the tea her mother liked so much. Like the bubbles that flew up sometimes when she was washing the dishes. Like the time she chewed 4 pieces of gum at once and then pushed her tongue into the wad making a pocket and then blew into the pocket and it expanded and then it deflated with an almost silent and completely dissatisfying ‘fooof.’
The terms of her world had changed completely very quickly and knowing nothing about anything, she started to panic. Her chest went up and down, her eyes hurt and water came out of them. But it felt different than when she fell that one time and there was blood. It wasn’t like that. It didn’t hurt inside that time, only outside.
She got mad at her doll, suspecting that she was the cause of her mother’s disappearance. She broke things, mad that each thing held a memory of her mother, her mother’s ghost.
Smash the little paper mache basket painted black and red with pink flowers that held her mother’s bobby pins.
Smash the tiny yellow plate that had the stain from her mother’s tea spoon.
Smash the mirror that they used to look at together. They played a game where mom would stand behind her and they would look at each other trying not to smile but not being able to contain how happy they were together. And then she would braid her hair, looking at her in the mirror as she told her about how the angels in heaven had picked her just for this home, this moment, this mommy. And angels never make mistakes, do they?
I guess the smashing made enough noise that the monster heard.
ABOUT THE BOOK
I release a new chapter a week on Thursdays - unless I'm exceedingly overwhelmed or whatever I write is so epically terrible I'm too embarrassed to put it on the internet.