Here’s a beautiful story by eco-village’s resident poet/playwright Arturo Aranda. Arturo read it at the recent Dia de los Muertos Maybe Fridays reading. It’s a great story, and even better when he reads it in person. Enjoy.
The Blood and The Marigold
By Arturo Aranda Lopez
for my dad
Ramon dijo, ‘Ojala que llueva gasolina…
Por tres dias.
Y luego, que caiga una tormenta
De puros rayos…
Y que nomas se oiga la gritadera.’
The day my pop’s papa died a whirlwind tore down the old man’s street. A little girl with obsidian eyes, awoke from her sleep in her mother’s arms, she smiled and said to her mother in her ear, “Mami, ya llego.” “Quien, mija?” asked her mama. “Ya llego el angel”, said the little girl with the most beautiful eyes in the mourning room. Her eyelids were still wet and heavy from the ocean in her dreams. It was Satan coming to pay his respects. Maybe he owed the old man some money, yeah that was probably it. He was always making bets with the angel. He probably won a few. Satan showed up in a little tornado. Where the old man is from they call the little cyclones Diablitos. Satan showed up in a spin blasting dust and pebbles into the sun baked faces of mourners gathered round the old man’s big, black, metal front door gaping open for the sleepy townsfolk to come visit their dead neighbor. The don of their town.
The gorgeous angel stood at the old man’s door in a long black coat. His coat was thick, long, and heavy like an animal’s hide. It shined in our star’s glare. He wiped the dust off his black leather shoes and smiled at the hot swamp of human tears bubbling around the wooden box. His eyes were obsidian like the shards you would find scattered all over the hills of the little town, ancient lava rocks from the earth’s belly. His silver hair was braided in many tentacles. Black beads hung at the end of the braids that shimmered and twinkled, and shimmered and twinkled, like little galaxies.
He stared down the angry sun and did not go blind. He turned his palms up to the sky. He prayed, licked his lips, and smiled. Hidden children would appear from the curtains of the angel’s coat and peak out at the gang of mourners. They chased each other around between the angel’s legs and laughed. They would pear at the onlookers, they would whisper to each other and disappear back into the angel’s darkness. He seemed to have brought two little brats with him that time.
It smelled like it would rain for sure before he showed up, but at the last minute God got the message that the old man had died so she reined in her storm clouds. She sent some cute little breezes instead. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to rain on his death party,” God said to herself.
I watched my old man’s old man die, watched him pull on his last gulps of earthbound air, watched his face sink in and out in his toothless skull as he snatched his last gasps. The nurse had his teeth in a little bowl of water at his bedside table. I felt the last little beat of his heart on his wrist. I searched for life in his neck with three fingers when his chest fell for the last time. I warmed up his heart with my right hand, readied it for takeoff. My dad’s brother, almost his twin, took the old man’s teeth from the bowl and put them in his mouth before his jaw would become too stiff to open, so he would look nice, so he would look like himself. As soon as the death silence that follows us all settled in I turned to my dad. I just now realize that he asked me with eyes, is he gone? He knew. For a moment he wanted it to not be, but it was so. He smiled back his wails. He chewed on his cries. I gave him a hug. Let’s not think of the inevitable huh? Not right now. I pulled some latex onto my hands and helped the nurse handle the man’s body. Some of my body came from this warm, dead body turning hot due to a fever that attacked him before he passed. We wrapped him up like one of them ancient Egyptian rulers. Long, white, and a belly in the center. We didn’t drain his blood and fill him with chemicals and other things, someone else did that, somewhere else, when he was not in our protection in our home. We placed something called a rosary on his chest. It was crystal and wouldn’t quite stay in place, wouldn’t quite stay centered on his chest. The holy thing lay there sort of crooked and out of place on his body.
Three days before the old man died he called for the priest. The say people know when they’re going to die. The holy man of the town was summoned, a man that the old man probably put at the altar to forgive the people of the township and promise them things, like everlasting life and things of the sort. The fat, blockheaded cleric was brought to the old man’s bed. The old man wanted a ceremony, or a ritual, or something. The old man was not looking for any type of rights or forgiveness from the cleric. The old man wanted ritual from the cleric and nothing more. He wanted it for the eyes of his loved ones that surrounded him, the ones that were going to miss him when he was gone. The cleric in his robe and block head said some words, he read from the book, he put on a sad face and spoke in a tone. The old man said, “Mira nomas la cabezota!” The priest asked, “Que dijo?” He heard. He heard perfectly clear. The cleric gave the old man a wafer for his soul and as it rested on his lips the old man told us all to go to hell. “Chingen a su madre!” said the old man. The old man was special.
Once, a few moments of who knows how long before the old man died, he waged my soul in a card game with my cousins. Poker was the game, with peanuts, not money, that’s tacky. The old man called to Satan! He offered my soul to Lucifer for a seven! The soul of his first grandchild! He dealt the card! It was not a seven. I won.
The old man taught me how a real man walks this earth. How a man greets and smiles as he moves through space. This isn’t some macho bullshit. Do you know how to walk? Like a woman? Like a man? This is believing in things. Right now that’s our problem, humans. We think the problem is that we believe in too many things. No, it’s that we don’t believe.
So now I had to walk through the swamp of tears. I remembered my lessons from the old man and allowed myself to become lost in the jungle of mourners, never quite finding the right place to sit or the right way to be. Me, his first grandchild. Well, technically, his second. My dad’s brother had a little girl before I was born. I’ve met her. She’s beautiful. She has the old man’s eyes. I wonder if she knows. Her name is Rosalba. But, sadly we won’t speak of her now. I guess I represented his grandkids. Some said I was lucky to be there. I guess. I don’t know yet. I don’t know if I wanted to see that, but I did, so…I walk without sinking in the swamp of sadness. Just like my temper I can sit on my sadness. Eyes everywhere saying, I accompany your family in your sadness. I would think to them, You accompany us in shit! But, I can see in your gaze that you loved him so I believe you! Even if in actuality you’re happy he’s gone your eyes say that you loved him in spite of you, so I believe you! Thanks for coming! Thanks for showing up! Bring flowers! Bring sweet bread! Bring cinnamon!
Bring coffee! Bring all the tequila! Bring the whole damn field! Bring lemon grass! Please bring hugs! Bring your kids! Bring everyone! Everyone!
I knew the angel was coming. He was late. Not Death! Fuck that fool!
You say you’re my uncle. I guess. If you say so. You ask me if I remember you. I say of course I do, but I don’t. Now we hug. You say you’re my aunt. I guess. If you say so. You ask if I remember you. I say of course I do, but I don’t. Now we hug. You say you’re my cousin. I guess. If you say so. You ask if I remember you. I say of course I do, but I don’t. Now we hug. You say you’re a friend. I guess. If you say so. You ask if I remember you. I say of course I do, but I don’t. Now we hug. My cousins and I would constantly ask each other, Who is that? I don’t fucking know! Mourners would ask us, Who’s are you? Oh! Who’s are you? Oh! Ok. After every hug from some stranger I would moan to myself, Can I go now? Where’s my dad?
The gorgeous angel watched the mourners and shook his head. “Y la musica?” he asked. No one answered. “Queria musica” he said. The angel spoke in the old man’s voice. My grandfather’s voice came from the angel’s throat. “En este cuarto no quiero nada te tristesas. Cuando arranque carrera quiero dos horas de mariachi.” No one answered. “Y el mariachi?” asked the angel. A child reached out from the angel’s coat. One small, pale, chubby arm beckoned, and a little voice reminded “Monchito queria musica, hermanos. Porque este silencio en su cuartito?” Another little voice from inside the angel cried, “Donde esta el mariachi? Una tambora! Quiere una tambora! Como su vida! Pun! Pun! Pun! Pun! Pun!”
In this town they still take their dead to the temple. There the family gang of wailers stood before an altar. Loved ones took turns standing at the wings of the wooden box accompanying it to heaven. The blockheaded cleric stood before us. He read from the book. He made gestures with his hands. He put on a sad face. He spoke in a tone. He fumbled with the microphone attached to his face. The angel took his turn at the box. He found it horribly difficult to hold back the hellish wrath that painted its portrait on his faith. What did this holy man babbling before us with his voice echoing and bouncing off the walls know of community? Of love? Of family? The angel was proud of the old man in the box. What did the holy fat man know of him? His fat kind were a joke to the old man! The angel remembered the holy fat man ridiculing the old man’s grandson at his wedding a few moments of who knows how long before the old man’s death. The cleric ridiculed the grandson for not knowing his prayers and for not paying enough homage at the temple. The angel was there. The old man had invited him to the wedding. The angel fought back grins of pristine anger on his face that made the holy fat man quiver in his robe. The angel roared and shrieked a perfect song that no one heard. Only God, only the old man, only the angel. Love was the only holy thing at that moment. Not the temple. Not the fat man. Amen. Then it was time. Time to take the old man to the hill.
Men paid to move the body here and there bore the box in a big black car. It crawled alongside the river farting exhaust in the faces of the family in their sunglasses and dust coated shoes. The angel stepped into the path of the car. The driver squinted his fat face into the windshield, and hit the brakes. “O, chingado! Haste un lado cabron!” The angel smashed the front end of the car into the dry earth with his fist.
The angel reached into the car, his braided hair wrapping up the car like a giant squid cradling a submarine. He tore the driver out of the car by his hair and tossed him into a pen of squealing pigs. He opened the back of the car and pulled the box out with his right hand. The angel held the old man in the box over his head and scolded the crowd in sobs. “Ustedes llevencelo! Se lo llevan en el ombro al campo santo! Como-?! Es de ustedes. Es de ustedes!” He set the box down on the cobblestones. Six came to lift the old man onto their shoulders. Twelve grips held on to the dead and carried their loved one to the hill.
Funerals are for the living. The living family chose a mausoleum for the old man. A square, stone pit with concrete shelves for the bodies. The angel stood at the edge of the pit. From inside his coat came two little girls. Twin sisters. Their hair floated and bounced like they were underwater. They slipped out and climbed down a steel ladder to the concrete floor. “Con cuidado” said the angel. One child had eyes the color of marigolds. The other had eyes the color of blood. “Que es esto?” asked the marigold child. “Es un poso pa’ los muertitos.” answered the blood child. “Donde ponemos a Monchito?” asked the marigold. “Yo voy a escojer!” said the blood.
The child pursed her lips and tapped her chin with her little finger, “Aqui!” she proclaimed to the space at the bottom left. “Perfecto! Le va encantar! Un lado de su papito” shouted the marigold. Across the way from the chosen space was a short wall of bricks where my great grandfather is buried. “Mira” said the marigold child as she felt the cold, rough brick with the palm of her hand. “Aqui esta. Solito”, she said. “Juntitos! Van a estar juntitos para siempre. Para siempre!” said the blood child.
The children crawled into the designated space for the newly dead. They shouted to the angel above, “Encontramos algo, maestro!” “Dejame ver. Quiero ver!” he replied. The girls walked out of the darkness carrying a small wooden box. The box nearly crumbled in their little hands. The lid of the tiny box was of a pink turned grey. The lid was of fabric, like a quilt, adorned with bows. “Que tiene adentro?” asked the little girls. “La queremos abrir!” they shouted. The angel shrieked “No! Dejenla! Regrensela a su lugar! Horita!” The children obeyed.
The mourners brought rope and began lowering the casket into the earth. The children sat on a concrete slab and watched the grunting humans lower the old man from above, blocking out the sunlight. The box was set on the floor. The ropes were yanked up in dusty whips. The little girls with no help from the mortals pushed the coffin into it’s space. The little box was safely tucked at the head of the big box. The angel said, “Que duerma con su angelita.” The children asked the angel from below, “Ya le damos su regalito? Ya? Por favor! Ya?” The angel smiled. “Si”, he replied. “Primero le cantamos”, the children shouted happily. They sang.
Estas son las mananitas que cantaba el rey David
En el dia de tu santo te las cantamos aci.
Despierta mi bien despierta mira que ya manecio
Ya los pajarillos cantan
La luna ya se metio.
Mourners above approached carrying dirty, red bricks. “Ladrillos no.” said the angel. “Lo tenemos que encellar!” they said. “Ladrillos no.” he said. The little girls gave each other a hug and began presenting their gifts for the old man.
From their tiny mouths the little girls spit up perfect little wet handfuls of gold nuggets, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gems, amber, silver coins, and obsidian. The offerings burst in light in their strong, little fists. They went to work. They arranged their sparkling gifts throughout the confines of the dark space. They arranged light in little handfuls from their lips. They sang and laughed as they decorated the coffin with rubies and emeralds. They filled the darkness of the shelf with small bits of light. The light from their gifts grew brighter and more beautiful as they worked. Color and light swelled out of the pit and shined more powerful than the sun above. Greens, reds, gold, and startling white shimmered and pulsed out of the pit. A rain of color bubbled out and burst into the bitter heat above. The angel watched the children happily from the edge of the pit. His figure lost in the color swarm. The clouds of color seemed to carry the girls voices out into the open air. His body lost in sparkling mist. His silhouette crowned and adorned by the children’s spectacle. The family squinted into the brilliant color fog gushing out of the mausoleum nearly blinded. The little girls worked in an underwater world of brilliance. The two constructed a perfect wall to protect the two boxes, a beautiful little wall at the floor of the pit. They smoothed out the wall with their perfect little hands. Together they set the final ruby.
A smooth buzz was heard from the sky. A tiny wasp dove into the explosion of color. The insect dove into the pit like it was called. The blood child caught the bug by its wings with her fingers. She raised the bug to her sight. She crinkled her nose. The bug kicked and flexed in her grasp. She blinked twice and the wasp was slowly frozen into cold, stiff silver. Its little body crackled still. “El rosario por favor!” she called out. The angel slowly pulled the rosary from his mouth, bead by bead, from his lips, his face to sky, his left palm up, tears streaming. He dropped the rosary into the pond of lights. The children pinned the crystal rosary in the center of the wall of jewels with the silver wasp. They kissed the wall. “Adios, Monchito! Adios, Juanita! Nos vemos en unos cuantos momentitos!” they said. They sat on the floor of the mausoleum. “Que bonita” they said. They held hands and watched the wall shimmer and twinkle, shimmer and twinkle, like little galaxies.