by Juan Rodriguez
She could not feel the distal portions of her fingers, but she could see the red hue of her blood begin to polish her nails as she dug through the snow. There was no sound. She could not hear any of what she was seeing except for the crackling of the frozen skin on her cheeks as her tears began to flow; a trickle now breaking down across her face like a torrential flood approaching through a forest at a distance. Closer and closer. She persisted, burrowing at a furious rate until she unearthed his face.
It appeared the same as it did sixteen years ago when she saw him for the first time. Her boy. A pale and purple expression of calm. Slightly misshapen, hair gelled into an eccentric mess. Skin and hair muddled with blood. She thought of shaking him, but her experience contradicted her instinct, so she slapped him instead. Slapped him hard and terrific with all the longing she had to hear him cry.
Lupe was raised, and worked, in the Rosas Del Tepeyac district of Mexico City from the eighties until the time of her death. It was a neat area to live in, a lower middle-class neighborhood by most post-industrial standards. It was within walking distance of the New Basilica Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, or simply Nuestra Senora as she preferred to call the place where she worshipped. The place she was named after. Her mother passed away shortly before she was ready to begin kindergarten. She was raised by an affluent family of grocers her mother kept house for. They were not cruel to her, they treated her well enough. In moments, however few and brief, they even provided her with love, but not so much as to make their own children jealous. Not so much affection as to blur the genetic line. As an adult she was allowed to live in the guest house on a modest rent paid for from the work she performed at the family store.
Having never really visited any other place, she could not imagine a life anywhere else. It was safe there. The summers were hot. The winters cool and fresh. Her boyfriend was a decent man. His name was Fernando. He was a butcher by trade, but poet by aspiration. He caught her attention one day by reciting a half-formed patchwork of stanzas to a headless, featherless chicken. No head, no judgement. Fernando thought even if he had a head, a chicken without feathers has greater concerns than the quality of his words.
She had never acknowledged Fernando until she saw him there behind the butcher’s counter cradling a chicken with both hands saying,
“Oh, how good it feels to go like this,
the people greet you, the birds
gather courage to step near,”
“No, no, you wouldn’t like that! Would you little chick?” He cleared his throat and began again,
“Have I been chosen?
What music could I possibly have?...
Who do I represent?
Of what can I speak?
What a strange man, but he’s cute, we will be together always, she thought to herself. “Are those your words?” she asked.
“Na, they are a blend of lines by Aura. But I do have my own. I just thought maybe this bird’s sacrifice deserved better in the moment.” He blushed and set the bird down on the wooden block.
They dated for many months before she discovered that he wanted a family. She did not. She could not bear the idea of bringing that immense love into the world, only to leave it behind. Alone, cold. What an awful thing to do. She would often walk down to the Basilica to pray for the Virgin to change his heart. To have him recognize that they needed to be enough for each other; that they began alone and so could also leave alone.
When it came time for them to consummate their relationship, she demanded he use protection. After their first time, she went over to the dresser to inspect the prophylactic packaging. “Ninety-nine percent effective. That’s good right?” She asked.
“Clearly.” He responded.
Nine months later a little boy was born. She named him Jesus.
Immensity. Lupe could not quite grasp its meaning. She supposed that was the point. That some things could not be fully understood, but rather they were meant to be felt. Felt like the wonder that strikes one while staring into the sky on a clear dark night. When she came home from the hospital with Jesus, she spent their first night alone together staring at his tiny face. It was still slightly purple. She watched the seemingly random vicissitudes of his little facial gestures; smile, then frown, then fear, then frown, then grin, then laughter, and back to smile. It was as if he was dreaming a terrible and wonderful thing.
She would place the tip of her index finger lightly on his chest to make sure she could feel him breath. The light of the moon reflected off the red polish of her nail as it rose and fell. At times it appeared as if he had stopped breathing. Each time she had this thought she could feel her heart cease beating. She could feel the cold chill fall across the whole of her body. Lupe spent many nights like this. Gripped by fear, and at times, euphoric with love. Glowing with the joy of this new closeness. Overwhelmed by the weight of the responsibility of not messing this up. He was so fragile, so warm. She felt so cold, so alone.
Fernando had been banished to the couch. He spent all her pregnancy and the first few days of her homecoming there. He would spend the days working and then he would come home to cater to her needs. Fernando would return home often with new things for the baby. Bibs, pajamas, diapers, bottles, and stuffed animals. With every gift she would become more determined to let him know that she was not going to be his accomplice. So, he endured on the couch like the dog who sleeps on the porch after having mauled the master’s slippers. Sad, but unperturbed. More loyal with every passing night.
He composed poems while she slept. Read them in the morning and then tore them to shreds when she woke. On the sixth night after her return, he knocked on her door after she and Jesus had gone to bed. She would not open, so he sat by the door. He said, “I wrote something for you.” She did not respond. So, he spoke,
“We, we were water particles
Riding on the backs of comets,
Determined, predetermined, of particulars.
Did we choose or were chosen to commit?
Barely standing on two feet
Across the range, to the edge of a cliff,
Trembling, shaking earth and pebbles loose, down to the bottom of the rift
One sidestep this way, one sideslip that way, what if?
Making orphans of those ones there,
Us on their backs, you on mine I bring.
Let us go with the snowflakes in the wind,
Let us, our own destiny, bend.
Silence. There was no noise anywhere in the home. Fernando could feel that strange feeling in his chest that accompanies tears as they well up in eyes. Like the tingling that occurs with the numbness of an arm you slept on wrong. Then, just before the mucus in his nose became fluid, he heard a slight rustling behind the door. The border slowly crept open and without a word she pointed to the bed. He picked himself up and with all his humility concretized in his poor posture, head low and shoulders sunk, he quietly made his way in and joined them for the night.
In the years to come Fernando would recite this poem for Jesus as a sort of bedtime story. Lupe did not approve. She preferred the Lord’s prayer instead. As amused as she was by Fernando’s eccentricities, this particular ritual annoyed her. She wanted to instill in Jesus a more mindful and cautious character. Fernando’s poetry did not, as far as she could tell, do that.
Jesus was, by any standard, a good baby. He had no health conditions. Fernando would always say when asked what he preferred the sex of the baby to be, “As long as he has all ten fingers and ten toes. Caray, I’d be happy give or take one!” This comment would be followed by a swift slap to the shoulder by Lupe. Jesus did not cry often, but instead seemed only to weep with purpose. As a toddler he was nimble. He rarely fell, and he climbed furniture with the gravity defying skills of mountain goats.
He played several sports as a young boy, but he excelled at football. He was the only sophomore in his high school to make it onto the varsity squad. He helped lead the team to a national championship that year and as a reward the school sponsored a team trip to Monterreal, Coahuila. Monterreal was the only ski resort in Mexico. Lupe refused to give her consent. She viewed the world outside of theirs as dangerous. Travel was an unnecessary risk.
Upset by his mother’s attitude, he asked “Ma, apa says I can go. Why won’t you just let me?”
“Because it is dangerous. Because if we were meant to frolic in the snow, the Lord would have it snow here!” She said. “Have you ever seen it snow here? Have you ever heard of snow falling anywhere in Mexico?”
“No.” he responded in a quiet voice. “But I know now that it does.” It was quiet for some time. Long enough for the tension to subside. “Ma, but aren’t we water particles riding on the backs of comets?” She did not respond with words. She glared at Fernando. Fernando gave her a genuine look of surprise. Lupe then looked over to Jesus and gave him a single nod.
In Monterreal he learned how to ski. He thought it a peculiar place. He had never imagined a place like this could exist in Mexico. When he thought of snow, images of European mountain ranges came to mind. He laughed at the thought; it embarrassed him a little. It was the first time he went anywhere without Lupe and she never traveled outside the city limits.
When he returned from his trip. He went on for days about how wonderful an experience it had been for him. How watching the snow fall was nothing short of a miracle. He argued that they should all go together. That he would be making his own life soon and that it would be great if they could do something exciting together. Lupe refused. For weeks Jesus persisted. They argued back and forth, always coming full circle to where they began. Lupe would not be persuaded. Fernando did not get involved any further for fear of being banished to the couch once more. However, Fernando did appreciate the poetic nature of their arguments. The oscillation of words going around in circles only to end at the place they began. He wanted badly to recite T.S. Eliot, or maybe Aura, but his instinct of self-preservation was eternally, if not frustratingly, overriding.
“It is not my place to be in the snow! It is not my place anywhere outside of this city. It’s just not possible!” she said. “Son, you should stop wasting your energy on this and focus on your future. I Love you. I see you as a miracle, given to me by the lord himself, but it would take another miracle to get me to agree to do this crazy thing.”
“That’s only true because you choose it to be true.” said Jesus. “Besides, what can we know about possible, if we always choose to not test its limits?” He remained silent for a moment. He thought maybe he should just convince her to at least allow the boys to go at it alone but remembered the stories of the couch and the times he witnessed his father spend nights alone on it. He smiled, looked up and said, “What if I can perform a miracle? Would you indulge me then?”
She laughed. With an incredulous look on her face she said, “If you can perform a miracle then I would have no choice!”
“I will prove to you that the lord will grant me the power to breath underwater!” he said. He closed his eyes and placed his palms together. Fingers pointed up towards the heavens, centered in front of his chest and said, “Our father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, bestow upon me the power to breath underwater so that my mother may believe this is a thing, a thing we must do.” With his eyes closed he reached over to the table with his right hand. He grasped a glass of water, sat it on the very top of his head, and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes, smiled, and said, “See. I didn’t drown!” Fernando burst into laughter but was quickly quieted by Lupe’s glare.
Her lips began to quiver and with her voice trembling with anger she said, “Well then. ‘With the drawing of this love and the voice of this calling…’,” She looked over at Fernando who was beaming at the words she spoke. “What? Do you believe I was ignoring you this whole time! Its still the couch for you tonight!”
When they arrived at Monterreal a storm had just come through and settled a record snow fall onto its peaks and sides. Jesus jumped out of the bus and dove straight into the snow. Lupe and Fernando followed with respectively diminishing lower levels of enthusiasm, but both donned smiles. They made it to their rooms to settle in. Jesus quickly unpacked and urged them to hurry so that they could rent equipment and head out onto the slopes before dark. He had promised them it was not difficult to learn to ski and that he would teach them in only a few attempts.
On the way to their first slope there were several signs warning skiers of the dangers involved in skiing. Lupe hesitated, frightened by their intensity. “People still do this even despite all these warnings?” She asked.
“That’s normal ma,” said Jesus, “don’t worry about those. If this were really dangerous we would not be allowed to go out.”
“Still, if its ok with you two, I’ll watch your first try from down here,” she said.
“Of course ma,” said Jesus, “I am just happy you’re here.” They both gave her a big smile to set her at ease.
As they were half way down the slope she heard a loud bang. It was like a clap of thunder directly overhead. The earth trembled beneath her feet. She could see the snow begin to cascade down the mountain. Gaining on them like a wave behind a surfer on the coast until it over took them and settled just yards away from where she stood.
She did not run away. She was frozen by the terror of it all. She regained her senses and ran over to where she saw them last. In the distance she could see the limbs of trees shattered like twigs. Lupe stopped and stood in silence hoping to hear them call for her. She did not notice the strange quiet of the place. A quiet like outer space. Nothing. She continued to scan the debris until she noticed what she hoped was her sons coat. It was, only he wasn’t in it. She went a bit further where the snow was beginning to turn red, like a street vendor’s snow cone. She dug with all her might.
There he was. Hysterical, she slapped him with the kind of force that ends relationships. She did all she knew to do. She could do no more. He would not cry. And now, she could not cry. Lupe was overcome by a calm. Greater than any she could ever recall being. The words came to her mind and then slowly out of her mouth, “We were water particles riding on the backs of comets, determined, predetermined, of particulars. Did we choose or were we chosen to commit?” She removed her coat, then her boots, and then her cap. She burrowed a bit more along his side. She lay cradling him. Took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
About the Author
Juan Rodriguez received a bachelors degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently pursuing post graduate education.