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The family was quite content in their existence. The girls were dressed, always, in matching outfits. They had pinafores and petticoats, with white patent leather shoes of just the slightest length, and were always together. Although Melanie, the eldest, steeded from a previous marriage, the two, her and Rosa were as close as could be. They spent laqsidaisical days gathered around the picture wall in the front room, where paintings by Melanie’s father hung. There, they plotted and planned various adventures. Four years marked the difference in their ages, and so it was that their differences disappeared as they performed pranks on all of their neighbors. One such devious task included theft. It became apparent to them that all the households had received downy fabric softener as samples in their mailboxes, and since the little bear on the bottle was so cute, they had to have all the “snuggles” in their neighborhood. They went in secret, before any adults had the chance to come home from work, and stole every which detergent they could find. On another occasion, Christmas loomed right around the corner, and it was their grand idea to gather presents for their favorite family, Solimar’s family, which lived just across the street. It was the older sister’s idea to make packages of “gum”, which they delivered just at dinner time to their second story apartment, at the height of a long, steep staircase. Poor neighbors! Right at the dinner table they encountered a soft package, one whose softness they had questioned earlier upon their delivery. Unbeknownst to them, it was not a large wad of gum as the girls had declared, but rather a handful of dog phase which the urchins had gathered from the street and carefully wrapped in red, pink and blue decorative paper. Oh, the ghastly abhorrence they felt as their dinner was ruined! The young lads were then subsequently forbidden from playing with their favorite friend. It was such that the two then felt a loneliness come over them, yet one which was quickly dissipated when they found new games to play.
Since they had gathered the mess from the ground, they decided that the best thing to do was not to soil themselves any further by playing “can’t touch the floor”; it was a fun game, although perilous. It was largely constituted by encasing the house as if in a circle, where all fences and low roof tops became their common walking ground. As akin to the game’s name, they were not allowed to touch the floor. Oh, the times they spent frolicking amongst themselves atop the world, gazing from up above their previous misdemeanors. Upon these stealthy trips they found themselves privy to the fantastic secret lives of the homes adjacent t to theirs. The one big frame house next door had always been quite a mystery, but not any longer. It was the biggest housed in the neighborhood, and had alarmed gated and barbed wire fences. Due to their extensive system of air conditioners, its windows were always closed, and so the mystery was even richer in its province. The most alluring or perhaps annoying part of the house was its bug zappers. Any time a flying mosquitoes or happenstance roach neared its electrical exterior, they were quickly and noisily extinguished form life. “Crackle, snap, and drop, as the backs of these ill- fortunate insects were quieted forever. Yet it became apparent to the girls that the homestead held many more secrets. Those which were kept hidden by the fruits of the owners labors, as his home was encased as in a fortress.
One day as they played, Melanie heard the ringing of music. It was the lightest most whimsical song she had ever heard, and came from the floor as if dejected angels sang in fallen anger. It was thus that hey discovered a bird house. Yet it was not just any bird house, ‘for it was at least ten feet in length and likewise in stature. Ideally, they would have continued upon their games as if nothing were amiss, but their curiosity was great and their boredom even grated, so their lithe bodies managed to escape past the guardian fences to see the extent of their discovery. Amazing indeed it was. There before their very eyes what seems to be a thousand birds, loomed about, flying this way and that and shrilling their cries as eyes met eyes. Sneaking into the enclosure was the easy part, and stealing the eggs and birds was bit more difficult. Indeed, the fast flying creatures and their high nested babies were unacquired playthings, so the pair then their eyes and feasted on a greater sight: a swimming pool. Rosa and Melanie partook in a variety of nighttime baths while the quiet of night enshrouded them, until they were deviously caught and spent days punished and apologetic to the would-be sellers of the fine gardened dwelling. Only then did the pair start socializing with the people that lived there, partaking from their ice bin during times of drought, and enjoying invited visits over.
The parents of the two rascals were sound and safe. They guarded their girls with utmost care, and relished doting upon them as they paraded them around homes for Halloween romps and Christmas visits to grandparent’s homes. Yes indeed, Jose and Maria were perfect parents indeed, complemented by the fact that Melanie’s father kept her during the summers, and so she’d arrive form the sates with all sorts of wonderful conjurings, like a color TV. And the newly released fruit treat, roll ups. Agile in their ability to spoil their daughters with wealth, one as an acclaimed tennis player and the other a psychologist, holidays were a glorious time during which presents were hidden, and found, much before Santa came. It was such that life passed on ideally, without remorse or consequence, until José’s use of drugs and alcohol, the onslaught of forthcoming children ,a the agony of professional failures sent him into a reeling tails spin. ‘Though let it be known that the consequent children were very much wanted, loved and appreciated by the rest of the family.
In the springtime in Puerto Rico, it is as if nothing was ever started, or finished. The waves brought on by winter are quickly forgotten, and the next days are languid, as if in a determined gait, ‘for the people that have survived the hurricanes of August, and the depravity of the consequent reign of endless winter storms…For those that have survived them, it is as if everything remained the way it was before. Memories were forgotten in the struggle for survival. Walking outside is like a rainbow of steps, one following close to another, without the disparity of dissimilarity, nor difference. They are in the same manner that the colors of a rainbow are always the same, in the same order, pattern, and sequence. In this same way, the first steps of spring are methodical, glazed, and always the invariable.
In this state of sleeping awakenment, she walked through spring like one walks through death…unaware. Dormant, she made her way through thousands of springs it seemed like, until one when she killed her dog, spiritually. She broke its spirit, and its soul.
Her father was keen on doing drugs, partying, and sleeping all day. He was a man, who lived in the shadows of his past, and every winter, all of them cooped up inside their house, his demons would awaken in the midst of cabin fever. They included nightmares of his childhood, when as the only dark- skinned child in his family, he was forced by his brothers and sisters to eat beneath the table, like a dog, only the scraps they had left behind. Her mother, on the other hand, was a rich, beautiful debutant of the lightest green eyes and fair skin. Aristocratic and spoiled by her father, an esteemed doctor, it was rumored she never learned how to pump gasoline into her cars until after her seventeenth birthday, well into her eighteenth year. When the Rosa met her, her conscious mind becoming capable of memory, Maria was kind, and usually pregnant. Although Maria was a successful child psychologist, she hid her black eyes beneath huge dark glasses, strange to all who saw her beneath the graying of evenings. On a night of the darkest skies, after a fearful day at the hands of her father, Maria woke her daughter up after midnight, clambered her to the edge of our house, close to the side door, and begged for her help. Rosa was akin to three years old, and was outfitted in a beautiful satin nightgown, one with lace decals around the shoulders and neck, with a ruffled bottom which swept around her ankles. Maria was dressed in jeans and a simple shirt, and there being no evidence of misdeeds upon her, and so at first, Rosa assumed her request was some kind of sick nightmare to which she responded no. Maria carried a bundle in her arms, a white- cloth pack. Glancing over her shoulder in dismay, she proclaimed that she had just given birth, that Rosa’s father was in a rage, and that Rosa needed to go outside and bury the baby before her father came out of his “music room”, an old converted garage at the back of our house upon which the walls were covered in a dark brown carpet, straight from floor to ceiling. It was his favorite place to beat her mother, where Maria’s screams were muffled by the carpeting and where on many evenings she became his victim. Rosa was afraid from that day forward that she would become her father’s next dead baby. Her fear escalated as the years went by, because it seemed that with every new child born, her father’s rage became worse. Upon this night, there would be no fresh rage, no crying from child, no coddling past womb, and no one to graze at mother’s breast…only an antiqued pain which her father carried. The baby boy was dead, dead before birth because Jose Sr. had beaten it out of Maria with kicks and punches to her stomach.
In her distraught and distressed form, Rosa negated my previous answer of “no” and, in a state of shock, felt the need to help Maria and appease her supplications. Informing her that she had already made the burial site, her mother told her that a sand pail and shovel were there, next to the hole in the ground, and that the young, scared girl was to wait outside until she came for her. Compliant, Rosa took the package from her hands and stepped aside for her to open the door. As she took her first step into the nightmare, Maria shut the door behind her. It was as if suddenly, a withering three year old became a giant, the pack in her arms no longer existent, and the steps beneath her small and measured. After one, two and then three paces she was at ground level, staring up into the moon and stars which mocked her in their solitude, as if proclaiming that she was now like them, forever destined to shine alone, alone in her miserable task and the sheer madness of her plight. Looking to her left, she saw how lush, tropical plants with wide leaves fanned out above a three foot hole in the ground. Just like Maria said, there on the right side of the aperture, were a little yellow pail and shovel. It didn’t take long for Rosa to get started on her task. She was in a sort of daze, and knelt before the hole in the ground on skinny knees atop wobbly legs. The cement walkway which ran the length of their yard, that which created a long rectangle of earth on either side; one larger towards the middle of the yard and the one smaller adjacent to the house; which was constituted of small pebbles, sand, and water. Now hardened, the harsh ground dug into her skin with piercing sharpness, creating rivets and dimples into her skin. Despite this fact, she felt no pain as she crouched there, the lightest of weights in her arms. Carefully placing her inconsolation into the soil, she stood up determined, and began forcing small shovel- full sized atop the mortal human. Perhaps a bit too soon to be remembered correctly, the task was finished. Rosa felt only love in her heart at this time, an incomprehensible love towards the baby she had just buried. It was as if had become hers at some point, her possession. She felt no fear at the moment, only a sense of accomplishment, as if she were of the utmost importance having helped her mother. She held her nose high in the air as she stood up.
It was then that Rosa noticed the moon. It projected its full brightness into the sky, with visible rays permeating the darkness. Clouds surrounded it in haze, wispy and fair in their graying darkness. Stars shone, yet she still does not remember them, only the moon in its incandescent beauty lighting up the sky. She spun around a half- turn and somehow made it back up to the top of the steps. Rosa stood there waiting for quite some time, aggravation and annoyance breaking up the fog she had wandered into. An eternity passed a lapse of time indescribable in human terms, as her short soot- covered feet stood planted firmly into the red tile. When the amazing wait was over, the door creaked open and there she was bathed in unnatural light. “Did you do it”? , her mother asked. It was then that she simply nodded her head yes before stepping inside. Her nightgown moist from the waist down, she somehow made it back to bed, and was left to re-live the night, with intervals of forget. Her preoccupation with the previous evenings events plagued her conscience, knowing the shallow grave was deplorable.
She set upon the task of correcting that evil, and daily knelt before the grave again, her hands laden with a collection of sticks and string she had gathered in bare feet, under a bright sun. In hastened fury, afraid of being caught playing by the grave site, she managed to construct a small cross, haphazard in its intricate beauty, which lopped carelessly to one side. It stood awry in the dirt where a headstone should have read “Here lies a son, whose life was ended before it began”.
Days continued on without incident for some time after that. Rosa’s time was spent playing with dolls, frolicking along the shores of the beach, and gathering playthings from amongst the sand- riddled seaweed. Collectables of a favorite kind included bits of colored sea glass, which twinkled in shades of pink and gray, and the occasional brown of an old Budweiser bottle. Necklaces were made of small seashells by she and her friends, and made imperceptible holes in them at the top with needles, and paraded them around the house as if they were made of gold. Unaware of the strife between her parents for awhile, she was not privy to the fact that her mother was once again pregnant. Yet her lack of knowledge was shattered, her innocence gone once on a particularly sunny day. She gazed out of the living room window at her mother, for a reason unbeknownst to her, except that one of her favorite pastimes was to spy on Maria, as is probably common amongst most children of that age. Her mother was on the opposite side of the dreaded staircase Rosa had been forced to walk on that ominous evening about a year prior. There crouched Maria, as Rosa herself had many months prior. She was digging a hole in stoic candor that was strange in its reality. Poor little Rosa soon realized what her mother was doing as another bundle encased in white was laid upon the earthly opening and soon covered in dirt. It was inconceivable that another child had been laid to rest, yet it soon became eerily evident that it was indeed the case. From that moment on, Rosa and her mother again shared another secret, although Maria was unaware of her child’s cognizance. Enraged and angry at the sheer madness of the events which were unfolding, she was startled at Maria’s seemingly calm exterior, her lack of apprehension and absence of emotion. The poor dear seemed dead inside. When she was done, Rosa made another corresponding cross of sticks and twine over the second baby’s grave and a plan began to hatch inside her immature mind. Although she knew not form where this expertise had grown, she knew enough to comprehend that bodies decomposed, and plotted to prove this theory and see a real skeleton. Thus she waited…and waited… before waiting some more. She waited until she felt it had been long enough for the earth to swallow up the remains of skin, blood and eyes from the carcasses of her deceased siblings. Rosa waited until she was sure that they were no longer babies, but shallow remnants of humans that could have been, but were never given a chance to. When she felt that long enough had passed for them to decompose, she once again grabbed her trusty pail and shovel and set out about her task. She snuck out of the house during a quiet day, and made her way outside to the first grave, the one which she had sheltered.
Rosa began the arduous task of digging through hard earth and dirt. She stammered to herself sad songs, as in to keep with the mood of her work, although what she really felt was excitement. It mounted as layers pelt away, revealing a softer, lighter colored filth. It was not long before the dust of days past exposed what she was looking for. Bare- naked to the open eye, a figure appeared before her. The bony frame of a baby was exposed, perfect in its constitution. Intact appeared the skeleton, without flaw or error. It made Rosa was happy, almost exuberant, to see the fruits of her labor so flawless. It was just the justification that she needed. Vindicated, she staggered over to the next grave, remembering exactly where it was. Again, she began peeling away layers of dirt, until the revealed another carcass. It was another skeleton, indeed, yet this one much different than the last. Instead of being perfect in it’s composition it was very much flawed. Flawed and broken, the baby had a large crack in its skull, certainly created by one of her father’s punches in- utero. That was not all. The baby also had several broken ribs, once again symptoms of the never ending abuse towards her mother. Although it may seem a strange emotion to harbor, what Rosa felt was not fear ‘nor disgust. It was not shame over what she had done. Instead, it was disgust. Rosa felt that the second baby was abhorrence, something which she quite detested at the time. Compared to the first beautiful child she had unearthed, this mangled, disturbed being seemed to her ugly in its appearance. She felt no sadness for what had been done to the child, but rather disgust at its absence of conformity. Anguish dissipated these feelings as the minutes ticked by and she stared at what she had uncovered. It was an overwhelming urge to make the second baby disappear; she wanted nothing more to do with it. Erasing from her mind its existence was what she craved, and did so with fortitude by encasing the cadaver with loam. Stealthily then, she moved on over to her first job. Afresh, she covered the next grave over, and that was when her little miniature Daschund dog, Juana Pena, meandered over to her. Rosa picked up the small canine, and sat cross legged on the cement beneath her, staring in a daze at the handiwork before her. A song perhaps she had herself created, maybe the one which had permeated her mind earlier, escaped form her lips…”Juana, I don’t love you…Juana I don’t love you…Juana, I don’t love you”, she repeated over and over again in dismal reverberation. Poor little Juana just bowed her head, as if understanding the cruel words uttered to her. Poor little Juana just rested her head on Rosa’s leg, and died. Not literally, of course, yet something inside her vanished, as if extinguished. The light in her eyes, her vigor at games, and her exuberance became no longer. Indeed, Rosa had killed her dog. She murdered its soul.
Regardless, Rosa’s childhood continued on as the ones of most children do…loving her mother, her family, and forgetting the past by a sheer lack of will to remember, seeing as children are mostly ID personalities and lack real comprehensible memory. This being the case, it is common for kids to continue on with out concrete images from years, months, or even days before. In this manner, survival was the key in Rosa’s life, that is, emotionally. So, she forgot. She forgot the pain, the anguish, and she forgot to hate. She forgot to bathe, brush her hair, or complete daily tasks. In Montessori, she was awestruck by the beauty of her hands, suddenly, as she placed plastic fingernails atop her fingertips…you know the type- the kind that cover the entire tippity- top of the finger, like a beige plastic eggshell that has been broken in half, to then reveal a long, polished nail in colors of varying flowers; pink, hot maroon, or red. She was incandescent that day; sexy and hot. It was such, her beauty, that her long hair flowed against the wind and a boy caught just a wisp of it between his lips. He gazed at her hands then teetered, tottered, and fell from the tree top which they played on. It was quite the uproar! Oh, my goodness…Oh, my gosh…a poor lass has fallen from the climbing tree. Quick, everyone run to get him some help! Parental guidance scrambled from lazy minds as the growing babies needed help. Paramedics were called, and he was rushed to get help at a nearby hospital, whilst Rosa squealed with the delight at the madness of her joy.
Her self- confidence grew as she matured, mostly over her feline body and wicked eyes that seemed to captivate only the cutest members of the groups of boys whom she attended school with. It was her physicality that endured past previous tribulations, at first, yet the latter is something that revealed itself over time, and is of no consequence now. Taking strides towards feminine equality, she beat out all the girls and even some of the boys during a race at school. Two baby chicks were her prize, adew with crazy yellow feathers and beaks that hushed, never. She brought them home faithfully, proud of her strong legs and chubby cheeks, which drew all the attention as they quivered and beat with her quickstep. It was like she was famous at school after that, everyone exalting her for the fine job she did setting the table during a course in hospitality, and pictures were taken of her at the end of the school year, smiling next to a fair- skinned boy she had set her eyes on, that photo being the culmination of her chase. Despite all of her success at The Sacred Heart School, it was much to Rosa’s dismay when it was announced that the institution would only become a university, as she had hoped to follow in her mother’s footsteps and complete the extent of her studies there.
She and Melanie then began attending a private catholic school named La Piedad, the piety. There was a chapel adjacent, and nuns which lurked allover searching for ill –fated children who refused to fit in. Their uniforms were always just a little dingier, slightly unwashed, and as happenstance would have it, worn out. Most of the other students came from very wealthy families, those in which the fathers had steady jobs and acquiesced their children with the subtleties of necessities. Unlike them, the two sisters only had one uniform each, which Maria tried to mend over the years as they grew. The only time Rosa felt like she fit in was during her first day at the school, when she sat in front of a girl named Desiree, her peer in Kindergarten. Desiree began running her fingers upon and down Rosa’s hair, twisting snarls of it this way and that, creating in her new friend a burning desire (as it aptly is named) in the young learner. She disappeared after that, her new friend, and Rosa sat lonely at her desk for the months to follow.
Activities at the school were divided in three main sections: education, gym class and lunch. The only other time Rosa had camaraderie at La Piedad, aside form being told that she was weird, occurred during the second section, gym class. Gym activities occurred only once a week and the girls were given nurse- liker outfit to wear. They were buttoned- down with snaps and of the lightest shade of blue, with intervening white dots, like the fabric was just discolored in that fashion. All the kids from Rosa’s class were ushered into the large auditorium, and I guess because Rosa stood out from the rest, she was called upon to complete a scary task along with another girl whose name she can’t quite remember. They were asked to please deliver a note from the gym teacher to the teacher of a classroom which contained older kids, probably in fourth or fifth grade. The classmates were excited to sneak out of boredom and just too shy at their young age to enter the presence of such pre- pubescent boys and girls. They asked the lunch lady “Hey, can you please deliver this note for us?”
Accomplished as they felt, they ran back across the corner to the awaiting athlete who stared at hem with surprise as they proudly held up their noses for all too see- accomplished. Yet this feeling of self- worth was quickly annihilated when the lunch lady came waddling up, note in hand, to accuse them of treason.
It was the case of Rosa to always try to correct all of her wrongdoings, like as if in this case, wearing her gym uniform on all occasions would rid her of the shame and guilt she felt that day. So she wore it on weekends, after school, and on many other days when she felt degenerated. One such day, she wore at home while in the care of her father. As he sat on the couch ignoring her, she proudly scampered around the house looking for things to do. She just so happened upon her mother’s boudoir, and her makeup table laden with adult playthings. There was eye shadow, perfume, and a sparkly silver tube of lipstick. It was the kind that had ridges running up and down its length. There was a full body mirror just almost opposite from where her father sat, and so it was a perfect place to try and annoy him. She, although scared, craved his attention and love, and as she put on the red lipstick after withdrawing its blossomed tube from its case, marveled over her beauty in the reflection. This exalted feeling was soon overcome by shame, and she cowered her head at the image of herself in uniform, eyes blazing above a crimson mouth. She stood there for some time, until she heard the barreling of footsteps running just behind where she stood, from the kitchen hallway. It was her father, who had unbeknownst to her marveled at her demeanor, then stealthily snuck out to retrieve a weapon in order to reprimand his daughter. Rosa then turned and tried to run away from him, yet to no avail. She ran, yet her steps were just not long ‘nor quick enough to escape him. He grabbed her long pony tail from behind, grasping at her with fast hands that jolted her into a half- leaning position in front of him. He had her with his left hand, and in his right a massive pair of shears thick enough to cut tree limbs- the kind with wooden handles and rusty blades from long days in the gardened sun.
He let go of her just instantly enough to get a good grip on the giant scissors, then with sharp fury hacked away her hair, which, still bound, he held high in the air as if a great fish he had just caught in deep seas. Rosa fell after that, fell into a deep sleep or coma state, one from she woke not from until her mother finally arrived home from work. She then squealed in anguish over her destroyed form, begging for some type of redemption. There was no consoling her cries, but just a meager attempt to fix Rosa by taking her down the street, across Mc Cleary Street, to the continuation of Gertrudis street, and into the alley. There, a small beauty shop did not await her arrival, but carefully accepted her into its hearth by perfecting the shambles on her head. Rosa just remembers the aghast look on the attendants face, as she grabbed pieces of hair at a length, as if they were distasteful or stanched a horrid odor. She snipped as if cutting threads belonging to the Three Fates, carefully as if ending a lifetime in her hands. It was Rosa’s head, snarled and badly wounded which astounded her, as droplets of blood fell haplessly upon the tiled floor.
“En una cinta rosa me converti
Roja, con extremos de seda
Como una cinta perfecta me encontraron
Era una cinta escondida
adentro de mi
con cabeza estrujada
Una cinta esclava, pues aunque bella
Rota, me deforme ante ti
Esta cinta tan bella, tanta escena enrojada que vi
Despues pena aumentada
Arreglaron a Chali
La cocieron manos extranas
A la pobre Rosa Chali
Con cautela, me convenci
Esas manos ahogadas
Pocas veces las vi
Pero me agararon y como amargadas
Hilo pucieron a mi
Con aguja extrema y llegada
Y me corregi
De una cinta, a amada
En lo que ven
Some of the events in her life were inescapable. She longed to have a normal life, and tried to socialize as best she could, yet by this time Rosa had slipped into a depressive loneliness. She played by herself, sat by herself, and human interactions, although varied, were like foggy hazes when remembered, not real, in a sense. It was like she spoke, acted and interacted with others, but had by then slipped into some sort of imaginary world. Her reality was not these moments she shared with others, but rather the solitude, the thoughts, and the fantasy world she created in her room. It was such that when her class went on a school trip to El Morro, a famed antique Spanish Castle in Old San Juan, the capital city of the island, she was mostly by herself. The children were not given a tour of the remains of the palace, this one which guarded the city from intruders by way of ocean on all sides. Instead, they each had a kite, and went their separate ways in search of good wind to send dragons, colorful triangles, and squares seeping into the sky. A meager yellow rhombus, simple and small, trailed behind Rosa as she ran about the castle grounds- a large manicured square of a lawn that was bordered by brick and mortar. Here, she gazed over the deep ocean, fantasizing about sharks and mermaids as her little legs tried to fast carry her with speed and agility. Huffing and puffing as she went, she had soon wandered away from the main group of students, her kite first grasping a bit of air and traveling up, up, before falling. So, she ran faster, with a bit more strength, trying to get the kite to go higher and higher, until up, up it went, only to fall right back down again. A try, then a retry, and one more have at it proved fruitless, and it seemed nothing could get little yellow to interact with big blue. Sun blinded eyes, and green stems crushed beneath steps until nausea, sleep, and laziness washed over her. Tired, she looked for a comfortable place to rest, finding a green knoll in the distance of the utmost curiosity. What a great place to rest one’s head, full and lush with glistening spears of grass which embedded into her hips legs, thighs and arms as she squinted against big yellow and laid down to rest. “Peaceful place, oh peaceful place, comfort my weary eyes…Find me a place to rest my head and alleviate my sighs…Keep me good and strong today so I may play with might…as other children romp and play, keep me calm and lithe…” Yet perhaps born beneath a watchful God, one laden with punishment here on Earth, only to bequeath riches only in Heaven, Rosa was not the lucky child indeed. She was an unlucky one, born at midnight between two eves, two days, and two nights. She was perhaps in this matter tainted, having not one but two birthdays, and as such not one but two beasties inside her mind. It was that everything for her came in pairs, two bouts of bad luck here and there. Two steps before fainting hard. Two siblings right now, and two parents…and two bouts of bad luck one right after the other. Everything came in pairs, yet still somehow unexpectedly. It was then to her utmost chagrin when her rest was interrupted by a stinging of fangs on her feet. It was evidently not one bite, but two…not two, but four, then not four, but eight, until the pain had duplicated itself in multiplicity and the agony sheared her body as if in halves. Red fire- ants of varying degrees of stature within their reign and of different sizes swarmed over her body. They invaded every inch and cranny they could find, feasting upon her body, ravaging her limbs, her crevices, even her eyes. Any and all openings of herself penetrated by an army of ants, until she was a screaming, running, ball of undulating fire, writhing and panicking in daylight…small embers of red emanating from her like wisps of smoke with each inch of ground she covered towards the street. The ants lapped and licked at her wounds, feasting upon fresh blood. Only in a state of confusion is the vague idea of an ambulance waiting to whisk her away and her lifeless body lying in a hospital bed as her soul meandered somewhere nearby.
She recovered well enough, her majority recuperating with the resiliency of children. It would not be until years later, though, that the full extent of her crazies and her injuries became evident. At year thirty- six, in a moment gone and passed imperceptibly by others, Rosa saw mandibles clasp and release just once on inside her forehead. The voices in her head explained, her insectious hissing suddenly also explained, Rosa imagined the steel exoskeletal configuration of a giant ant inside her head…complete with antennae that communicate with her. She affectionately calls her queen ant harbored, complete with its slew of a crew that has taken residence upon her body, Rojo.
Despite some bad experiences, Rosa seemed to enjoy school, although her memory fails her at this time. She is not capable of remembering all the details, but remembers getting dressed up and ready for the photographers to come to her home and take her picture as she was deemed “student of the month”, and honor which the school took very seriously. She came out beautifully! And so did Melanie, as the pair was so cute, the photographer could not get enough of them both, and clambered over himself taking shot after shot after shot of them in the back yard. Rosa does remember vividly being taken to a special hall in a separate building of the school, to see her grandly displayed picture. There she was all dresses in pink, mouth agape and full of wonder as her childhood innocence was displayed on paper. Thus she felt the shame of her own existence loom above her even more. It began in kindergarten and represented itself in many ways throughout the rest of Rosa’s life. The girls had already suffered so much, especially young Rosita, who was not privy of leaving each summer as Melanie had. Yet they both endured and trudged on with a strong love and protective eye over their mother. How they cherished life so much, and then to have it extinguished on so many occasions. The family’s secret dealings were their own for so many years, until people started taking notice something was wrong.
It was such an evening when the tale of their woes seemed to escape that life seemed to take an irreversible role in the young lads’ life. It was no longer their secret pain, but rather an abhorrence for the whole world to see. On this day, when all the other children went home, they were left all lone in the school yard. The teachers, the janitor, even the principal escaped the confines of the school without taking notice of the two. So they sat, and sat, and sat as they waited for their mother to pick them up. She never came. The sky grew dark as the two sat outside the chapel, wondering if their mother was dead or alive, Rosa afraid she would have to spend the rest of her life with only her father. When people started filling in for evening mass, that being around the time of seven o’clock, the still girls were once again ignored. Melanie, being the oldest, became scared deathly, in a fit of anger. After all, school had let out at 1:45, and here they were, still sitting there. How time had passed in their invisibility, no one knows. All that is known is that the girls felt dejected, alone, unrealistically unloved. All they felt was the sting of her absence... So Melanie waited until church goers had filled almost every seat in the house, before she finally asked for help. Someone took pity, looked at them with kindness, and was alarmed at their situation. Someone had enough heart and sense to let them use the phone, and so they were able to call home, and when there was no answer, finally a neighbor answered, Solimar’s parents, who had long since forgotten and dismissed the two’ s prank so may years before. Some how and some way, Maria finally showed up. She lamented some ill- excuse about it not being her turn to car pool, even though there was no car pool, just the sisters. She groggily drove them home, as if in a daze. Looking back on it, perhaps under the delusion of a drug, or some lengthy brief of alcohol, or just probably, she was under the effects of another horrid beating. It is lamentable, and the subject was never brought up again. Only Melanie and Rosa Chali still carry the memory of that day in their hearts, and still feel the incandescent, lacksidaisical misfortune fate had for them that day.
Joyous occasion proceeded past nightmarish past, and lurid shadows dissipated when the birth of Maria’s first live boy came to be. Yes, a real live boy came upon the family, and he took his father’s name in fortitude. He was a strong, quiet baby which Rosa cared for as if he were a favorite baby doll. Dissimilarly, Jose Sr. cared not for the intrusion upon his happy home, just as he had resented Rosa previously, and the two miscarried babies that failed to be born properly. The stress of not being able to properly provide for his family loomed before him as did the abuse form his past, and he became enraged at odd times during the day, times during which another, happy man would have relished.
One such gathering was the rant of his rage, and Maria’s, the two girls, and the baby in his high chair sat ‘round the rectangular “caoba” table with glassed top. It was breakfast time, and the matriarch sat at the north facing head of the table, with the parallel seat beyond her empty. She had prepared a tasty meal of perfectly seasoned vittles foe the children to enjoy…scrambled eggs, butted toast, and raisin laden oatmeal with just a twist of lime. Umm, delicious, everyone agreed. As Maria took her first bite, Rosa’s father suddenly barreled form the arched entry way into the dining room, that which led from a short hallway adjacent to the kitchen. He stormed towards her beloved mother, a machete in striking hand and pose. He swung high and far to his left, in a circular motion which decreed a path towards the fragile woman’s head. It was then that Rosa screamed in adequate Spanish, “Mami!!!” As Maria glanced over her left shoulder, the danger imminent was apparent, and so she bowed her head as if in a prayer, and it was just the luck the machete missed decapitating her. Yet luck was not on her side that day, as the machete then swung once again left from right and cascaded down upon the table top just as Maria drew her hands back. Her ceramic plate rescinded into two halves, and glass rained upon just a bit of blood from a slivered tip of the mother’s precious pinky.
Perhaps I delude myself, and the series of events did not occur in this order. All Rosa remembers is that they occurred. Perhaps the most natural order for her to remember is with the worst first, then decreasing in nightmarish reality as the sequence plays itself out in her mind. Yet the mind of a child can only encompass so much, especially when it is painful. These are after all, her memories, her existence, and her memoir. I am just a mere bystander in all of this, nevertheless not omniscient, as I feed from her mind, her poetry, and her prose. Only clues to what really happened occur in her mind. Some, slightly wiser and brighter folk might intercede that Maria was a good woman, who never “took to the streets” as Rosa eventually did. They might also comment that yes, they were left late at school, the two girls, but that maybe the poor dear mother did not do so out of spite, but perhaps because she was too busy getting her ass kicked at home. Indeed, Rosa’s memories were not all bad, and in the same manner, life does presents a varied array of nasty interventions upon even the most fatal of circumstances. Yet, I digress. Let’s get back to why Rosa hates her mother. It is because she let her down one day, and has never been quite the same since. It is not, maybe that her mother is jealous, but that Rosa has alienated herself from her, and her pain represents itself as some type of weird jealousy…maybe because Rosa has Rosa still, whereas her mother doesn’t.
The rainstorm passed over the island, much as a rainbow would, after sun and almost unnoticed in the household, as turmoil seemed to lurk in the absence of cohesion. It was again the girl’s turn to perform a task for her mother, now that she had become her most trusted advisor. By this time Rosa had learned that because she had yelled out during the “beheading” incident, her father had become, in some sense, frightful of his little daughter. Perhaps the youngster had been made strong by the events that occurred when she was first born, rabid against the machine which her father had become. It was she, Rosa, and her birth who ultimately led to her mother’s almost imminent death. It was her fault for being born that the beatings began, and that her father lived in a rage. He was a monster. It was probably Maria’s impeccable beauty which made all these following beginnings with no end begin.
Upon the day of Rosa's birth, her parents were most indeed proud to have their very own first born. Proud as they were, she exiting the hospital in the same size two jeans she had worn before her pregnancy (and in no pain) and he, well, we can’t remember about him. In any case, they exited the hospital and arrived at a local bar in good ol’ San Juan, for a beer, perhaps, or a brandy, or just to live it up a bit. That does sound ridiculous, though, because who takes a newborn to a bar? Well, these people did, although it was two days into her life that they went. Upon arrival, everything started out as fine, yet quickly turned for the worse. A "gentleman” friend of Rosa’s father began teasing and taunting Jose… "Is that YOUR daughter? Is that YOUR little girl?” implying, of course, that she wasn’t. He being the sensitive man that he was, up and just decked the guy! He flat footed him, made him unsteady so that he was knocked to the floor in inapprehensible beauty. Yes, this is all hearsay, Rosa does not remember this. Yet her mother recounted the story many times, as if realizing then that this should have been a warning sign of what was to come. So it went that Rosa's father held this rage inside him for many years, yet suppressed it and although he more or less ignored his young daughter, he still remained a figure of admiration for her, and the love he lacked in giving her mother made up for, do that when multiple gifts were presented under the tree, there was no other choice than to feel gratitude for them both. In any case, these humble beginnings of Rosa’s life are the reason a brooding paranoia loomed over her father, which only increased his madness with the appearance of more children.
Rosa hates herself, her mother for her kindness (seeing as she let down the most beautiful creature in her world) and life in general. Some would say Rosa detests everything she loves, and berates it, degenerates it, and lacks any sense of decorum or apprehension at the nastiest of deeds.
Once again, the rains passed over the world with incomprehensible beauty. Only that which remained was a sense of stillness amongst Rosa’s Barbies. Their sexual interludes suddenly interrupted by the hush which resided over the domicile. As stated earlier, Jose the first had grown weary of his daughter’s boldness, unbeknownst to him that she was enraged over having to bury her brother. As a consequence, he always made sure Rosa was never around when the beatings began, continued, and ceded. The little girl had been inexplicably attached to her mother, unable to sleep alone at night without sleepwalking. She was often found in closets, screaming words she had never heard before, in English and in Spanish. Some would say she had become demonized, poltergeisted, by two creatures unearthed before their time. They still haunt her she says, one kind to her and one angry: the intact and the broken. Sometimes they come in pairs, dressed as twin girls in braided hair and pigtails, urging her to leave her happy homes and perform awful deeds in order to escape feeling any love, security, or friendship at all. Sometimes, though, they come by themselves, in the guise of night between dream state and awake, and climb atop her as wolves that growl and beseech to crawl inside her. Even still, sometimes they permeate her mind as ghouls, those which climb walls and terrifyingly precede a game of her death…a dream of which she cannot awaken. Even in daylight, she sees them play shadows, folded over clothes or running across the room, always like a little girl hiding in a corner. Other times, they warn Rosa of impending danger, preclude her suicide with a fair game of who can play nasty, and challenge her to find culprits amongst men. On one occasion, they made Rosa stand on the railing of a balcony, asleep, thirteen stories high, as she yearned for her mother during a sleepover- which were the worst of times for her son ambulance. It was often cries for food “rice and beans! Rice and beans!” which awoke her kindred family and friends. On this day, though, they did not hurt her in any mean manner, just made her space out and forget whatever was going on. She was more in a daze than ever, blank- eyed staring at nothing as she sat on her bed.
As her father sat down to lunch one day, Rosa trotted up to where he sat with his favorite, only basketball in hand. She placed it on the ground nearby the rounded kitchen table.
“What are you eating?” she asked innocently.
There is a common saying in Puerto Rico which is unlikely for any other culture to recognize. When people are mad, and don’t want to answer a question, they respond with the statement “bread and cheese” (“pan con queso”), which is basically a dismissal of whatever topic is at hand. One might retort “pan con queso” after being asked “How was you day” if they are in a particularly bad mood that day, or “pan con queso” could be the answer to an uncomfortable question they might not want to answer, such as “why are you so sad today?”… “Pan con queso”. Typically, it was just plain rude to answer in such a manner, so Rosa became insipidly unruly when her father responded
“Pan con queso”.
The one time he seemed to be in a good mood, the one time she tried to reach out to him and converse with him, now that she was growing up, why did he have to respond in such a deject able manner? So she asked again, “Yes dad, but what are you eating?”
Once again, the same boring response “Pan con queso”.
At this time, Rosa became quite enraged with Jose Sr., and began playing a game she was sure would end in disaster. She balanced the ball so that she could place her body atop it, trying steadily to make her legs and arms not touch the floor. Her belly wobbled this way and that, careening to one side, when then she would lift herself off the ground with one uneasy foot, or a hand, or whichever body part was not flying. After some time, the ball rolled over to Rosa’s genitalia, causing her great pleasure. It undulated over her clitoris, creating a sensation she had never felt before. Oh it felt so good, that Rosa kept going, making unbeknownst love to the ball as she teased her father “What are you eating, dad, oh…yes…what are you eating?”
Before long, the swimming pain between her legs caused an amusement far beyond the feeling of joy or happiness. It augmented and swarmed over her body in rivets, like rays of sunshine warming her skin in a series of lightning jolts. She came, orgasming thrice, no, four times, over the ball which still clung to her now limp body.
At this point, her father stood up, and practically flung the half sandwich that was left on his plate at her.
To Rosa’s dismay, it was indeed, just bread and cheese. Simply, “Pan con queso”.
It was a jolt to her systematic way of life, where all she did was play and behave badly, ‘for now she had found a new toy: her body. It became of her utmost pleasure to regain self- confidence and self- worth by extracting orgasm after orgasm, after orgasm, even at her young age. Filled with a still innocent naivety, she began her daily routine by grinding against furniture, odds and ends, and even the floor. Hours rolled by with no other daily activity than masturbation. It became such a problem that her parents were called in to her school one day with a serious complaint: Rosa climbs up to the jungle gym every day at lunch and cums all over it during the lunch hour…she doesn’t even eat. Of course, she was sat down to a serious reprimand, a nice lecture by her mother. “If you keep doing that, you won’t be able to have any babies”, her mother retorted. “I don’t want any babies”, Rosa yelled back! And yes, at that point she didn’t. She could care less whether or not she had children. All she wanted to do was pleasure herself.
The little talk she had been forced to listen to worked for awhile, but in the secret of her room, behind closed doors and hushed windows, she began a game of awry sex with her Barbies. They began to have affairs…the rich ones in the dream house with the butler- who prepared their baths and were summoned to test the temperature of the water with Gidget still in it. Or of course there were the divorcees’ who resided in condos when the dream house was broken up due to extra- marital affairs…they were the lucky ones who had pots full of rice water, clothes on hangers, and pink corvettes that swung all around the house tied to shoestrings, much as they had swung off the proverbial marital tree during their stay at the mansion. They didn’t have much sex, but salons which catered to the permanent curls on their blonde heads and ponies, horses, and au- couture dresses handmade by their hand maiden herself. Hot oink dresses with sweetheart necklines, black sleek evening gowns made of silken threads, and even Ken sported a pair of loose- fitting pajama pants made from a lonely sock from the bottom of her father’s drawer. The Barbies engaged in a wide variety of sexual, and non- sexual activities, until one day Rosa had a friend over, and suddenly the game became much more risqué.
She and Francine mulled over who would fuck who that day, and who would get eaten out or fingered. It was just such a shame that they had no real genitalia to play with, as their games became more intense and mischievous. The fetish of the two friends led them on to wild fantasies about each other, although nothing ever occurred. It is improbable to remember where Rosa or Francine learned of these perverted acts, but after having so much sex with inanimate objects, how did the knowledge even escape them?
This frenzied game of cat and mouse that the Barbies played…mothers after lovers and husbands’ smothers were enough to satisfy Rosa for a time, but her quest for friends, of which she only had a few, prompted her to exalt herself at the wrong place, at the wrong time. It occurred one day during religion class, when suddenly all the children were called to gather around the teacher’s desk… a frail- looking nun with large, hollowed eyes and fingers burnt to the core by long- ago smoked cigarettes. As the kids that were seated close to Rosa began filing out, one by one, she suddenly became the teacher…she stood up, grabbed a few girls with a whisper, and began to show them her technique. It was a short- lived education at that school.
It is hard to encompass who then became real and who fictitious, although there is a vague sensation that Melanie was also in the room one evening, meek and shy as ever, and in her innocence unable to carry out the task which Maria now needed performed. So, it was up to the sassy one, the conniving one, the “evil” child hidden in the cloak of a lamb dressed in black. Yet the outfit she wore did contain elements of Melanie, which is what made her brave on this day, seeing as Rosa has no self esteem, and would never seriously call herself brave (the ghosts keep her down!) In a yellow slicker and Melanie’s hideous matching yellow galoshes, with a yellow hat or an umbrella with a yellow ducky on its handle, Rosa set out to brave the storm and head out into the wet night to help her mother. She was given ten cents, with the urgent demand to run to the corner at the end of the parallel block next to hers, and to call the police, as her father had ripped the phone off the wall. So, eager to nail the bastard and rescue her mother, the little girl, let’s say of an undeterminable age in the sequence of time and space, left her house and secured herself right in the middle of the street, walking purposefully down the slick street. (She always walked in the middle of the street, as she hated to follow any order, yet yelled at those that followed in her behavior, with a nasty and rash tongue from the time she was a toddler). Urgently carrying foot over foot until she reached appoint she had never crossed before, not on skates and not atop the handlebars of her sister’s bicycle, Rosa became weary and afraid as unfamiliar houses stepped out in front of her. It was then that she ambled over to the sidewalk, that opposite her house. Once again walking like some kind of zombie, Rosa kept going as drizzle fell around her. Turning the corner was the worst part, and it is unknown whether cars passed by, or whether the storm kept them at bay. Finally, she reached the end of the next block, Yardley place, the next street over form Gertrudis street number 15, where she lived. She gingerly crossed the street, happy that she would make her mother proud and accomplished her task. Where the phone was, there was also a bar with blue light. It was a motel, one with blue lights. It was rumored to be a gay bar, as many men from the U.S. that were homosexual and rejected by society found solace in the admiration of foreigners common to the folk on the small island.
There she was, eager to call the police. She knew to press 0 for the operator, and whether or not the call was free, she was sure to reach the other end with ten pence in hand. She was then to ask for the police, give her address, which was easy, and save her mother’s life.
Poor Rosa! The dejection and anger she felt! The lack of fortitude that left her body! The dejection of herself which followed, as she realized the horror of reality! Even on tip- toes she was too short to reach the coin slot! Grasping at the sides of the steep phone booth, she tried to climb this way and that to reach it, but there was no way.
I write this in pieces because that’s how it was broken down. Not a series of occurrences, but short spasms of fury and pain.
It was suddenly and without warning that a man appeared form the shadows. He was tall and dark, with a white face that grinned at her
“What are you doing here, little girl?” He asked as the glow from the bar lights glowed across his form. It was with a sense of needing help that Rosa gazed inside the large picture windows of the establishment, only to find the people inside gaily laughing and drinking away, unaware of the outside world at all.
“I need to call the police on my father! But I can’t reach? Will you help me?” Rosa begged and tried to explain where she lived and that her mother was in danger...
“Well, sure I will! Let’s see…” He said, and sauntered over to the payphone. Not dropping the dime into the slot, he merely laughed and stared at Rosa with a grin.
“You don’t need to call the police. That’s not why you’re out here, is it? You’re not out here to call the police, are you?” He retorted. Only years later did she realize what he meant, when at eighteen years old au unfamiliar woman came up to her at the beach and questions…” aren’t you that little girl we found on the street corner that day” The only answer she could stammer was “yes”, feeling like some kind of detestable prostitute. So the past becomes present with us again, as Rosa still feels that way in many regards, perhaps because of an acquired taste for lewd behaviours. It is in fact, an essence of her life which she has never quite escaped, and in some strange fashion, the way in which the family was able to escape peril…sans the father, that is. We never quite finish the tale of what occurred, yes, he sent her home, gave her back her money said in a chastising tone…
“Now you run along now! Go, run home! Run Home! So she did. She ran all the way across streets, past scary homes, and all the way home. Breathless as she arrived, her mother greeted her at the door, kneeling, proud and eyes wide with anticipation. “Did you do it?” she asked as she had on nights earlier “Did you call the police?” she asked. All Rosa could do was bow her head, and not nod, but move it side to side in slow motion, saying “no” wordlessly. There was no time for explanations as Rosa handed her dear Maria back her dime. There was no explanation worthy, or fit to fix the look on her mother’s face- utter fear and disappointment as she merely held her right hand to her daughter’s left shoulder, and turned to run from her room, eager to face her doom before Jose could escape the confines of wherever he was at and attack the children. So the sisters stared at each other, one from the bedroom doorway and one from the front door way. Then there was no more. No noise, no cries, no words, just quiet and the darkness of night.
The apprehension the two felt for one another began to represent itself in many imperceptible ways. Rosa began doing things that were wrong. She knew they were wrong, but began performing odd deeds just to get attention. Only perhaps in retrospect can the impact of that night truly rise to perception. It was not long after that when salvation happened to come to the household in the form of a very peculiar stranger. Word must have spread of what had transpired, because suddenly there was a presence unbeknownst to the children. A man one day was there…a waiter. He was dressed in a purely white, crisp, and ironed white shirt. His shoulder- length brown hair cascaded just past his pale earlobes, and as up she stared, Rosa was incensed by the candor of a tight- fitting pair of faded blue jeans, brown leather belt, and Wide open, laughing eyes which seemed to mock at the child in innocence. Rosa felt an immediate love for the man, and wanted to be his, in some strange fashion. Although she must have been only about seven years old or eight years old, it was her first love. So handsome was he, that she instantly clambered up into his eager arms, resting her head upon his shoulder just for a bit before he made her wake up with a sway this manner and that. Beneath her mother’s increasingly green stare, he hastily put the young girl down and commanded in a pleading voice…”we are taking her with us tonight”.
“Yes, look at her! She is just so! Let’s take her with us!”
The pair was already an item, and the date included a jaunt to Old San Juan, where the streets were lined with bars, and center squares named “plazitas” provided places for open drinking and cajoling. Rosa never remembered her father going away, just Geronimo’s first appearance into her life.
He became one of the most influential people in her life, and her lust for him, her exhaustion to negate the rejection she felt that very first night led to an impetuous act. It is unknown how she awoke, yet naked and wrapped in a white sheet she emerged form her bedroom, to the front porch, where Geronimo laughed at her jovially as she began a dance of burlesque for him. It was her first…unfortunately never her last, although that story ending will have to wait.
At first, she was uncomfortable, almost barren, unlike a lack of fortitude or strength. Her wit prevailed, a sly smile crept over her lips and she covered only her intimate parts carefully, only revealing shoulders, legs and thighs as the cotton merged then unmerged with her body. There was no music, but the rhythm cadenced to a lullaby…”Rock a bye baby…” It lasted as long as it took for her to make her way from the doorway over to the chair where he sat, and he stifled a smirk and rolled his eyes towards the sky as a myriad of tears stuck to the outer corners of his eyes. He never said a word, just stared at her as she finally stood before him like superwoman’s cape rolled around her and ended in points, triangular spaces inhibiting nakedness. Geronimo’s lack of reaction just made her return to the normalcy of childhood, so she simply sat her ass on the plastic chair next to his, crossed her legs up to her chin, and tented herself like an Indian for a time. Her head bowed, and not long after there was a sense of shame to which she ran away from, as her mother just stood with arms crossed, a weird half- smiling pout pursed on her fair lips, by the entryway to the front yard. It wasn’t a reprimand, as at some point she had just passed behind her daughter during the dance, and imperceptibly was suddenly also seated. She had been in a state of shock, nevertheless this digressed to anger, and the truth of where red embarrassment pierced young cheeks was at light.
This first instance never led to any other misdemeanor, except for the one occasion when Chali and her second cousin Ali found him sleeping in Rosa’s bed one afternoon, passed out after a long evening. Why he was there is unclear, and the almost identically aged, twin forgery of them had just arrived at the house. Maybe he was hiding the fact of where he had really slept all night, as back in those days, the early 1980’s, affairs of the like were very much frowned upon in society. Rosa Chali, instantly wanted to flee from the room, but Ali was a bit braver. She had known Geronimo longer, evidently one of her mother’s friends who had met Maria at some pivotal point of marijuana- smoking reunions. In any case, Ali’s idea of fun became a game of “let’s see what’s under the sheets”, which turned out to be nothing less than perfectly rounded pale white butt cheeks. After a couple of swipes at the bedding, where it ballooned up and fell back down squeezing wind from below it, the kindred children ran away from the scene as soft eyelids remained closed, perhaps another sly smile finally waking up as they rumbled out. It was just another skyward glance at the fat sun face that was painted right above the bed, one which had been painted by Ali’s mom, and which occupied the entirety of the space.
Visits from Geronimo were few and far in between after that, in fact, he was rarely seen. Only after a slumber party of only Melanie and Chali in what had once been the music room, did the sisters sneak a glance of his shadows encased in the embraces of their mother. In some strange aspect, Geronimo&rs
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