It was dark as I clutched the hand of mi Abuelita and we picked our way over the lichen covered grave markers in the cementerio viejo, where our ancestors lay buried. Abuelita was fearless.
“Stand with your own dead,” she told me, “look death in the eye when it comes for you. Be strong and be brave. Celebrate life. It is the only way to defeat death. We all die anyway, but it is not the end. It is just something different.”
My grandmother had passed when I was ten. We had taken this walk together every year since.
The prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the Day of the Dead. It can be the Mexican holiday, a modern adaptation of it, a similar remembrance, or something entirely new. Go where the prompt leads!
There was a rattling knock at the door. It was my father, gone now for all these years.
“It’s Dia de Los Muertos, Papa. Glad you could come.”
“Thank you for inviting me TN. Who else is coming?”
“I’m not sure. You dead guys aren’t real good at RSVPing, but I’ve invited all of you.”
“Did you invite your mother?”
He grimaced a little bit and nodded his head. “Do you think she’ll come?”
“Probably not,” I said, “I have to assume that Ann invited her too. She’ll probably go there.”
Ann is my sister who lives on the other side of the state. It’s closer to the town where my mother lived.
Another knock on the door signified the arrival of more guests and, soon the house was full of both the living and the dead. Mariachi specters set up on the back patio and the neighborhood swelled with fiesta music.
I had the barbecue going and tubs were filled with beer and soda. Everyone was laughing and visiting with one another. Some of my guests had been dead a long time and there was a lot of catching up to be done. When my dad came over for more brisket, I cautioned him.
“Careful with the beef, Papa; I heard on the radio yesterday that it has been declared a carcinogen.”
“Do you think I care?” he quipped. “I’m going to go find my paints.” He turned and began walking towards the studio.
I grabbed his arm, “whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, “Do you think that’s a good idea? I mean, you’ve been dead for a long time now. We can’t have new work of yours showing up. Can we?”
“Not my problem,” Papa said. “You can say you found it in a closet or tell ‘em you did it. I won’t sign it.”
“No,” I thought about this, “you gotta sign it. Just don’t date it.”
A skeletal grin broke across his face and he went on to the studio. He gathered his supplies and went straight to work. He painted in there the rest of the evening with his friends wandering in and out. As the party wound down I went in to check on him. He was gone but on the table was a new plate, hand painted with a blackberry design. I just needed to fire it.
When Mother died all that was left was a void, a hollow in my chest where my heart had been. I would dream about her though.
Nice dreams. I had sweet dreams of music, dancing, fiestas. We would put on our party dresses and dance together while the mariachis played. We would eat freshly baked pan dulce from plates stacked high. I wish it had stayed that way but it didn’t. It couldn’t. It changed.
I don’t dream of Mother anymore because to dream you must sleep and I seldom sleep these nights. I don’t want to be asleep when Mother is home. Mother is here, in this house. She speaks to me directly now. Oh, it began simply enough, “Adelita, you should put on a wrap, hace frio.” Or, “Adelita, put a pork roast into the oven. I love the way the aroma fills the kitchen.” I would come home and find fresh cut flowers in a vase next to my bed. I knew that they were from her.
Quickly though, it changed. She became hard. You know what I mean? And demanding. The first time she led me to do it. She started slow. “Adelita, that Señor Duran sat behind you in church today. I don’t like the way he was looking at you.”
“Adelita, Señor Duran followed you home from the market today. Be careful, mi hija.”
“Adelita, Señor Duran means you no good. You must stop him. You can easily kill a man with a blow to the head. A shovel would work well.”
When Señor Duran was killed last summer no one suspected me. After that it got easier. Señora Mendez was the last. They say she fell from the bridge, hit her head, and drown in the river. In fact they almost got it right! That is pretty close to how it happened. She didn’t fall though.
You know, Mother doesn’t even give me reasons to strike anymore. She just gives me the names and I do as she asks. The last name she gave me was yours, Señor. I hope you enjoyed your tea. You should be finding it hard to concentrate now and difficult to move.
Tomorrow is el Dia de los Muertos and I must go put flowers on Mother’s grave. Marigolds, she always loved marigolds. But tonight I must prepare a grave for you.
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