Cuba-Rican Gothic

You’re attending a quinceañera. You’ve never seen the birthday girl before. Everyone else in attendance knows you, but if you ask them how, they change the subject. The caterers kiss you on the cheek and ask you when you’ll give them grandkids. You’ve never seen them before, either.

Every building you see is made of limestone that shows the spherical grains of its oceanic birth. Any building made of something else looks sad and tragic, for even they know the doom that waits for those who dwell near the ocean and do not live within its bones.

The furniture is under plastic that sears into your flesh when you sit. Your grandparents say this is for dust and cleanliness. When you try to leave, the plastic gives up your skin only grudgingly, with a hideous peeling sound. Your grandparents delay you at the door, asking you to sit again. You notice their skin.

Your father shouts, “Because Kennedy was a Communist!” You asked him how he liked the new fabric softener.

They have paved over all of the public-facing floors with marble again, and replaced all of the kitchen appliances. The ceiling is a little closer than before. But it is worth it, if what lies beneath can be held down with another layer of mausoleum white.

The anoles are everywhere, but you only see the brown ones. The green ones fled long ago. What did they see?

You’re a thirty-seven-year-old graphic designer. Your mother tells her friends, “When she grows up, she’ll be a great doctor or a talented lawyer.”

The palm trees reach into the sky, their wiry fronds dancing like obedient fingers. Each segmented marking on each trunk marks a day when the sky took its due.

The shrine to la virgen de la caridad del cobre is a little bigger than you remember. Now it takes a whole wall, its alcove a place where the room lights dare not go. Her downcast eyes follow you. She knows.

Your grandfather shouts, “Because Kennedy was a Communist!” You asked him what he’d like on his pizza.

Opossums sneak into your trash bins at night. When you find them, they stare into you with unseeing eyes. In the morning, the trash is pristine, as if they were never there.

You try to imitate your grandmother’s recipe. None of the ingredients have the names she told you, and some the grocery clerks don’t even recognize. She smiles. Her code is unbreakable. She will save the world from what she knows. But she’ll never save herself.

Your friend brings your family a box of Cuban cigars. You can see the pining in their eyes, but they react with rage. Only they truly know what comes along with each such item, what threatens to consume the place where they landed after they fled. Later, they burn the entire box, weeping.

Company is coming. The whole house is out in force, sweeping, wiping, and tidying. A mote of dust crosses your guests’ eyeline. You nervously laugh about how hard it is to keep up with this place, with so many people, with modern schedules. Your guests are tense. From the corner of your eye, you see another mote, smirking. Every day, they probe at your weaknesses. Every day, they grow bolder. Every day, you wonder when the attack will come.

They solemnly intone, “family honor.” A murmur erupts from behind you: “family honor.” The whispers echo: “family honor.” The sound circle grows louder: “family honor.” By their loyal necromancy, what was a wound in your mind became a wound in your soul. Family honor.

Your cousin vanishes without a trace. When you ask about him, you receive only angry glares. You receive a mysterious letter a few days later. You can’t touch the envelope without the hair on the back of your neck rising. Two weeks later, you open it in a coffee shop two towns over. The paper is blank, and damp, and salty.

Your uncle shouts, “Because Kennedy was a Communist!” You said hello.

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Cuba-Rican Gothic

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