Iowa Writes

MAGDA MONTIEL DAVIS
She Might Die (Part 2)


        So she came home, my mother with her elephant hands and her tumor.
        We rode to the botanica on Calle Ocho for her supply of ceramic roosters and Indian dolls and that gooey corojo paste she to this day puts on the bottom of our shoes and all her other brujería abracadabras and then on to the mechanic's auto shop in the air-conditioned-less car. She wouldn't leave my sister and me alone in the house. "¿Las niñas, solas? No," she countered to my father when we appealed to him to make out a case for us, we were fine, old enough, to be left alone. She drove, slowly, carefully by now, she had lost sight in her left eye. I sagged hot against the window. I ate something sweet and delicious and yummy. A Three Musketeers maybe.
        She said, "Ay, Bebi, dame un poquito." A little bit, she wanted a little bit.
        I broke off a little bit of my something delicious, put it near her mouth and when her lips were at my fingers, I pulled back. Like the shock of the turntable on the Hi-Fi, don't touch the needle barefoot especially if a terrazzo floor, and especially with wet hands. Or the burn of the just-percolated drops of Cuban coffee spilling on my fingers as I pulled the cafetera off the stove. Quickly, now, I pulled back.
        My mother's mouth tightened closed again. "Te doy asco," is all she said. I disgust you. Not a chastising A mother should not disgust a daughter, but an affirmation of disgust of a daughter, for her mother.
        Once she said, "For hours, they would have me sit in an examining chair that went up, down, round and round." For hours she sat in silence in a tiny space behind a curtain and a team of medical students, then two, then three, then Dr. Katims would point his what? his teaching pointing stick maybe at her elephant feet and sightless eye and her hands and her mouth and her hair. Her hair too. Her once-liquid black hair now wild about her, not like I imagined Catherine's beautiful hair pin-curled under her nurse's cap then flowing behind her, beautiful in death even, and my mother's hair not like Ché's or Fidel's hair, waving high from their olive-green tanks. No, my mother's hair now hair like I imagined Rochester's mad wife would have Jane Eyre's Rochester the wild, useless woman locked in that third-floor attic.

        So she came home, my mother with her elephant hands and her tumor.
        We rode to the botanica on Calle Ocho for her supply of ceramic roosters and Indian dolls and that gooey corojo paste she to this day puts on the bottom of our shoes and all her other brujería abracadabras and then on to the mechanic's auto shop in the air-conditioned-less car. She wouldn't leave my sister and me alone in the house. "¿Las niñas, solas? No," she countered to my father when we appealed to him to make out a case for us, we were fine, old enough, to be left alone. She drove, slowly, carefully by now, she had lost sight in her left eye. I sagged hot against the window. I ate something sweet and delicious and yummy. A Three Musketeers maybe.
        She said, "Ay, Bebi, dame un poquito." A little bit, she wanted a little bit.
        I broke off a little bit of my something delicious, put it near her mouth and when her lips were at my fingers, I pulled back. Like the shock of the turntable on the Hi-Fi, don't touch the needle barefoot especially if a terrazzo floor, and especially with wet hands. Or the burn of the just-percolated drops of Cuban coffee spilling on my fingers as I pulled the cafetera off the stove. Quickly, now, I pulled back.
        My mother's mouth tightened closed again. "Te doy asco," is all she said. I disgust you. Not a chastising A mother should not disgust a daughter, but an affirmation of disgust of a daughter, for her mother.
        Once she said, "For hours, they would have me sit in an examining chair that went up, down, round and round." For hours she sat in silence in a tiny space behind a curtain and a team of medical students, then two, then three, then Dr. Katims would point his what? his teaching pointing stick maybe at her elephant feet and sightless eye and her hands and her mouth and her hair. Her hair too. Her once-liquid black hair now wild about her, not like I imagined Catherine's beautiful hair pin-curled under her nurse's cap then flowing behind her, beautiful in death even, and my mother's hair not like Ché's or Fidel's hair, waving high from their olive-green tanks. No, my mother's hair now hair like I imagined Rochester's mad wife would have Jane Eyre's Rochester the wild, useless woman locked in that third-floor attic.
        My father hired a cantina to deliver our dinner every night. He finally broke down and hired a cantina. The frozen TV dinners, meat loaf, green peas, peach cobbler were fun at first. For a whole month, they were fun. And for the second month, not so much fun. And now for this third month, even though Miami was home now, a cantina. But weren't we lucky? The cantina was owned by Cubans so many businesses in Miami now, owned by Cubans  and we got to pick: fried bistec with chopped onions and parsley of course with chopped onions and parsley; how else are Cuban beef steaks eaten?  chicken fricassee, masas de puerco pork. Smashed and then re-smashed green plantains. Platanitos verdes. Or fried sweet and ripe and mushy: platanitos maduros. Desserts of flans or arroz con leche. Sweet egg custard, or soupy, milky rice pudding, cinnamon powder sprinkled prettily on top.
        It rained hard on the cantina man. Through the dusty screened window of our rented duplex, I saw him. Through the beam of his car's headlights, I saw him, the rain hard on him, the man turning our cardboard box of food this way and that, checking if he has the right order, the right green or ripe  plantains, the right people. And my mom behind me said, "Pobrecito." Poor man. And we felt sorry for him.
        My father told my mother Jack Gordon, his boss at Washington Federal Bank, who they said had funny, pinko ideas—he even said marijuana should be legal; didn't know if it was true or not but he was a nice man, set up a scholarship fund for his employees' children, even my father's— the janitor's— children—asked my father if he had life insurance on my mother and she said, "Qué cosa, éste país." What a country. Being practical about death. And not just that, when someone dies, she said, everyone eats. They get together and eat. And the dead are buried below the earth, not in pretty white marble boxes above ground facing the sun, like in Havana's Cementerio Colón with the Virgin Mary and statues of angels with giant, bird-like wings that look as if any minute, could take off in flight.
        But I understood death. Death and rain and Catherine. I did. There was The Leader of The Pack and Bobby Goldsboro's Honey on Rick Shaw's  Ricky-Ticky's Top 56 Hit Parade, and those songs were of death. Death and love lost. And James Dean and Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison and Ricky Valens, didn't all of them die? Died young and in accidents. Car, planes. But that was romantic, wasn't it. Like Catherine. And she might die, my mother.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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MAGDA MONTIEL DAVIS

Magda Montiel Davis is an MFA student at University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program.  After 33 years of practicing immigration law, she went back to her first, true and only love: writing.  Her work has appeared in Best Women's Travel Writing: True Stores from Around the World; Bellevue Review; Cimarron Review, and others. Her favorite assignment while at UIowa was working with the talented, dedicated, and fun staff at the Daily Palette.

She Might Die appeared on the Daily Palette in 2 parts.  If you missed Part 1, be sure to check out yesterday's page.

This page was first displayed
on August 18, 2015

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