So since this is the first one, I felt like I should explain how I want to format things. Each SNS post will have a rating for the story, a bit of background about it, the length of it, and then the story will follow afterward. Hope you have your popcorn, ladies and gentlemen. Let's get this party started!
Also, here's the hint for next week: I don't know about you, but things are about to get steamy!
Rating: PG-13 for language, mild violence, and touchy subject matter.
Length: 14 pages
Background: I wrote this for a competition hosted by the Carpe Articulum magazine, and it was partly inspired by an argument my father and I got into at one time regarding life choices I was making. The story didn't get very far in the competition; it was rejected from the get-go, which was depressing, but it's all right. I had my writer's group go over it before I submitted, and the reception ranged from liking it a lot to thinking that at some points it was too melodramatic, but over at DeviantArt it was received well. This is the finished project that was handed in for the competition.
They go to her parents’ house for Christmas and bring the new baby with them. She says this is a terrible idea, that they should go to his mother’s for the holiday and skip her parents’ house all together, but he still clings to the idea that there might be a chance for amity between all parties, and so she gives in with a shrug and an ill-feeling in her stomach. They drive in a tense silence, she praying that dinner doesn’t end in disaster, he hoping that things will have changed over these past few years, and the baby thinks nothing aside from wet, squishy baby thoughts punctuated by moments of shrill squelching. They have to pull over three times to get him changed, and when they finally end up in New Jersey, they are forty-eight and a half minutes late and the baby is entirely pleased with himself.
The baby looks more like his mother than his father, with browner skin and darker hair, but he’s inherited a mix of his parents’ eyes, brown from his mother and green from his father mixing to produce a creamy hazel-eyed gaze that stares wonderingly out at a world just out of reach.
She hoists him up on her shoulder, and his pudgy little fingers clench in her hair and pull hard. She takes this as a bad omen, bites her lip, and tries to uncurl his grasp without hurting him in the process. Her husband tries to help by picking up the Christmas gifts. The baby gurgles in her ear.
“I can’t do this,” she mumbles, closing her eyes. “I really, really can’t do this.”
“You can at least try. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Papá will stab you with a steak knife and I’ll be a moneyless widow with a child to support.”
“I think you’re overreacting a little.”
Her strained temper snaps a bit and she rounds on him, the baby cooing along for the ride. “You said that when we first started dating. You said that when we got engaged. You said that when we got married. All those times, was I overreacting?”
He shrinks back a little, and in any other situation it would be funny to see a grown man duck away from a woman who doesn’t quite clock five foot five, but in this situation, it’s just another bad omen. She continues to puff up in righteous indignation, and he rushes in for a hug.
“You weren’t, you weren’t. But it’s gotten better since then.” He doesn’t see her face twist in skepticism. “I know it has. Honestly.” He pulls back to look at her, and she schools her features into neutral support. “We’ll get through this together. We always have.” She smiles, and they kiss, and the baby grabs at his hair. He laughs and loops his arm through hers. Together, they head for the stairs.
The concrete steps seem to lead away into a centralized oblivion, focusing into a single point off on the horizon, distant and tiny. She experiences a moment of vertigo, and her mind reels with dizziness. Her hand grasps at the railing, and her husband gently pushes at her back.
She hasn’t been home in several years, not since she married and certainly not since she had her baby. Her parents hadn’t even come to the christening. She falters.
“I don’t want to do this. Let’s just go, please.”
“We have to do this. We said we’d be here.”
“We’ll say there’s traffic. An accident. The car sprung a leak. The spare was flat. Please, please, let’s just go, please.”
“Your mom probably already saw us out the window anyway. We’re here for better or for worse.” He smiles. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.”
No it’s not, she thinks. It really isn’t going to be.
They make it up the stairs after what seems like an eternity of climbing, stopping, and doubting. She opens the screen door, hesitates, then knocks. She hears sounds from the kitchen, grumbles and scraping chairs, and the doorknob turns beneath her palm. Her feet take an involuntary step back. The baby pulls on her shirt. Her mother answers the door.
Her mother’s face is lined with deep wrinkles, especially around her mouth and eyes. She’s gotten fatter too, an exploring, gelatinous blob oozing out from under her ratty black shirt. Her hair is dull iron grey, and it’s bound back in a loose, brittle ponytail. Her lips are thin and tightly pressed.
Mother and daughter stare at each other from two different sides of the threshold. The daughter tries to smile and fails, and her mother continues to stare emotionless at her. The baby looks at his grandmother and grabs for her with his hands. Her mother’s face softens, and she steps back to let her daughter and her husband in. For him, she has a glare and a bitter silence to give him, but refuses to be put down and breaks the ringing silence first.
“Thank you for having us, Pilar,” he says. Pilar says nothing, and her eyes turn to sharpened daggers. His smile dims just a bit. “How is everything?” She turns her back on him and starts banging pots and pans around on the stove.
“You are late, Ofelia” she tells them. The baby on Ofelia’s shoulder turns its face away from the noise and whines in protest.
“We had to stop a few times, Mamá,” Ofelia says. “The baby didn’t like the car ride much.”
“Was he driving?” Pilar’s head jerks in the husband’s direction.
“Of course, Mamá. I had to keep my hands free for the baby.”
Pilar snorts as if that explains it all and goes on banging pots. The baby’s lower lip begins to tremble and his face to pucker. Ofelia bounces him worriedly and walks deeper into the kitchen.
It’s much like she remembers it, right down to Jesús staring out across the room from above the refrigerator. His placid, almost bovine eyes contemplate them in sad, unhurried judgment. Though she doesn’t really believe much anymore, she crosses herself and murmurs a prayer to the blessed virgen for protection and forgiveness. Then she turns her back on Jesús and leans against the refrigerator door.
The tiles are still dirty, the lights still yellow and mute. The room smells of rice and beans, like it always has, and of salty seasonings mixed with chicken breast. She wonders if that’s what her mother is cooking for the big Christmas dinner, a big plate of rice and beans with chicken that will leave them all stuffed for days on end afterwards. Ofelia herself has never been able to recreate the recipe just right. There’s always something off about it when she makes it, something not quite right, as if it’s a cheap McDonald’s knockoff passing off for authentic. Her cooking talents aren’t bad, she knows, or how else would she have been able to keep a cook entranced for all these years, but what she cooks is closer to the conglomeration of cultures known as American cooking than it is to her native one. Ricotta-stuffed chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce is her specialty. Her rice and beans, while still good by her husband’s standards, feel more like a dilettante's dabbling than a dish she should know how to prepare without having to look up a version of it online.
Ofelia bites her lip and jiggles the baby. He makes a grab for her nose this time and spits up on himself. She sighs, hands him off to her husband, and digs around for a napkin.
Pilar comes to their rescue with a dishtowel, scooping up the baby and scrubbing his face with the thing. Ofelia is fairly sure it’s been used to scrub dishes as well, judging from the baby’s shrieks, but the ordeal is over in seconds, and Pilar balances the baby on her hip, crooning softly to him in Spanish. Ofelia squashes the sudden, instinctual need to grab her baby and run. She plays with her husband’s sleeves instead to keep herself distracted. He pats her head.
“What is his name?”
“You didn’t get the card we sent you, Pilar?”
Stony silence descends.
“Javier, Mamá. We named him Javier.”
Pilar nods and smiles softly at the baby. Javier sneezes at her. She coos and pinches his nose.
“Do you want to sit down?” Ofelia asks her husband. She leads him over to the battered, ancient table and pulls out a chair for him. He sits in it, knees bent up because he’s too tall for the low seat, and looks awkwardly about him, like a giant trapped in a human’s house. He sees Jesús and frowns a bit, but Ofelia glares at him from across the table, and so he shrugs and looks elsewhere, though his eyes keep straying back to Jesús and his melancholy face. There’s something about his big, liquid eyes that attracts and arrests his attention.
Ofelia sighs and rests her head in her palm, rubbing her eyebrows smooth. Pilar stands in a corner with Javier and sings off-pitch to him, rocking on her feet. Her husband watches from his too-small seat and tries to figure out if Pilar’s actually singing or if she’s chanting some sort of protection spell or curse while still glancing now and then at Jesús. The absurdity and painfulness of the situation becomes too much for Ofelia, and she stands, straightening out her skirt.
“Where is Papá?”
“Upstairs with his guitars.” Ofelia makes a move for the stairs. “No, don’t go up there. He wants to be left alone. He’ll come down when he’s ready to face you.” Ofelia wavers at the foot of the stairs, looking up at the landing and the door where she can almost hear the mournful plucking of guitar strings if she strains her hears hard enough. Her husband shifts in his chair and the legs creak ominously, and Pilar glares at him until he stands up sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. She pushes the chair back in forcefully, rattling the glass vases on the table. “You’ve upset him greatly, Ofelia.”
“I know, Mamá. I’m sorry.”
Pilar ignores the apology and says, “If you knew, why did you do it. You knew we didn’t want you to marry while you were still in college. You knew we didn’t want you to marry the first boyfriend you had. You knew we didn’t want you to marry him.” She jerks her head again to the husband. “So why did you do it?”
“Mamá, please understand. I didn’t do it to be spiteful.”
“That is exactly what you’ve done. And now you come to our house, bringing your good-for-nothing husband and his child to present them to us, and you expect us to be happy for you?”
“Pilar,” the husband begins, but Pilar shouts at him in Spanish and the baby starts wailing, and there’s nothing but general confusion for a few minutes. Pilar continues to shout and scream in Spanish, hurling insults left and right at everyone, and Ofelia rushes in to save Javier, prying him from her mother’s grasp and taking him into the living room. She is crying, but she pretends that she’s not, sniffling furiously with her head bowed. Her husband doesn’t know what to do. But he doesn’t want to stay in the kitchen with Pilar, and so follows his wife into the living room. Pilar lobs curses he doesn’t understand at his back.
He finds Ofelia rocking on the moth-eaten couch, clutching her baby to her chest, weeping quietly. He goes to her, tries to wrap his arm about her shoulders, but she shrugs him off and says, “I told you this would happen. I told you. Why did you make me come? We could have spent the holiday with your mother, and it would have been so much better. Why did you make me come back here?”
“I’m sorry, Ofelia,” he says. “I didn’t know they were still upset. I thought things would have changed by this time.”
“I told you,” she insists. “I told you, I told you, I told you.”
“You did. I’m sorry.”
His apologies infuriate her, and she rounds on him, eyes blazing. “And you! It’s not like you want to be here.” He rears back in surprise. “Don’t lie, I know you’re uncomfortable here. I know what you’re thinking. That we’re a bunch of hyper-religious freaks who don’t understand the principles of science. That we practice Santería and animal sacrifice down in the basement or something. You and your Religious Studies lectures and degrees. You think we’re backwards, that we believe in fake gods, that we’re no better than the Mayans or the Aztecs.”
She leans back in the couch, breathing heavy, feeling ashamed and oddly lighter at the same time. Her legs tremble. Javier bites anxiously down on his fist. Distractedly, while waiting for her husband to form words, she takes his hand out of his mouth and gives him her finger instead. He sucks on it loudly.
“Ofelia, I never meant to insult you. I don’t think that way about you or your family. You know that, Ofelia, don’t you? I respect you and your parents’ beliefs, even if I don’t hold them myself.” He pulls her close. “I still love you, even if you do keep a bull in the basement for sacrifice.”
She finds it’s impossible to stay mad at him, and she gives him a watery smile and a watery kiss. Pilar lurks in the hallways and mutters in Spanish. The two spring apart like guilty teenagers, and Ofelia hides her face behind her hair and her husband twists like a pinned butterfly. Above them, her father shifts around in the bedroom, moving furniture and tromping around like an angry beast looking for food. Or a bull, for that matter.
Pilar leaves the hallway for the kitchen, and Ofelia and her husband trail behind her, chastened, quiet. Javier pulls at Ofelia’s hair and screeches, picking up on the strained atmosphere.
“I’m going back out to the car, okay? I want to make sure we didn’t leave anything we need in there,” the husband says. He moves to kiss Ofelia, hesitates under Pilar’s baleful gaze, and settles for a quick, distant hug. Then he flees, his footsteps echoing off the concrete stairs. Pilar begins to gather ingredients on the counter.
“Come here and help your mother, Ofelia,” she commands. “Get the chicken broth out of the cupboard.” Ofelia sets Javier down in his car seat and automatically begins helping Pilar with the cooking, a learned condition from years of training.
It’s strange to hear Spanish again after so long a time away from it though, and Ofelia’s brain is a little slow in processing it. She goes to the refrigerator by mistake before she realizes it, freezes, and hears Pilar scoff behind her.
“Mamá, why do you have to be so mean to him?” The chicken broth is hiding behind countless cans of Goya beans, and Ofelia weighs it in her hand as she walks over to the stove. The words taste strange in her mouth, foreign and cumbersome, and her accent is odd to her ears. “He wants you and Papá to like him, that’s all.”
“We will never like him. You are too good for him.”
“No please!” Pilar slams her spoon down on the counter, and Ofelia remembers the sharp sting of the spoon against her knuckles and flinches away. “There is no please here. You deliberately refused to listen to your father and I. You went off with him when you specifically knew we didn’t want you to. Do you know how I and your father have suffered because of you? Do you know? We had such high hopes for you, Ofelia. We had such high hopes. And you ruined them all.”
“Ruined? What?” Ofelia cries. “What have I ruined, Mamá? Tell me. I still graduated, didn’t I? I still graduated with honors, didn’t I? I still have a nice house, don’t I?”
“If you call a hovel in Pennsylvania nice.”
“Mamá! You haven’t even seen it!”
“I don’t want to see it!” Pilar bangs a pot onto a burner and shouts. “I don’t want to see where you live with your good-for-nothing husband! I don’t care! I don’t care!” Each word is accentuated by a bang of something or other within reach. Javier wriggles in his seat and howls.
“Mamá, you’re upsettting Javier, stop!” Ofelia rushes to her son’s side and tries to comfort him. He won’t be calmed, however, and continues to scream.
Pilar continues to bang the spoon.
Ofelia flees with the hiccuping Javier back into the living room and wonders where her husband has gone. She wishes she could escape like he has, under the guise of checking the car or something, but this is her family, and she has to deal with them. She sits in her father’s rocker and gently pats his back while he snuffles unhappily, and thinks about awful her life is now that she’s left the familial house.
It’d be nicer if I hadn’t left. If I hadn’t, my parents wouldn’t be so upset, I wouldn’t have met my husband, I wouldn’t have this child clinging to my shoulder. I should have just gone to a local college so I could have stayed home and taken care of Papá and Mamá. That would have been the right thing to do instead of running away and disobeying them. Papá didn’t want me to go so far. I should have listened and stayed here. Things would be so much better now if I had. I could be living here, happy and with my family intact.
And alone, her inner voice adds. Very, very alone. Unhappy. Wondering what goes on in a world that doesn’t deal with what Jesús and your father wants for you, one that doesn’t smell eternally of beans and rice and Goya seasonings. One without this new family you’ve fashioned for yourself.
“Ofelia!” A shiver passes through Ofelia and drags her away from her thoughts. “Come back and help! Stop running away from me!” Pilar shouts from the kitchen. Javier whimpers in her ear. He’s learning at an early age to fear his maternal grandmother, and in Ofelia’s opinion, that’s all right. Let him learn early so he can steel himself better than his mother has. “Ofelia!”
“I’m coming, Mamá!” Then quieter, “I’m coming.” She pauses, stretches her aching back. “Come on, Javier. Let’s go back into the fray.” She wishes she could leave him in the living room, where the noise at least will be lessened, but she’s afraid to leave him there by himself, in case something bad or worse happens. That’s last thing she needs, an injured baby. Her mother would never let her live it down.
The water and chicken broth for the rice is already simmering by the time she comes back to the kitchen and straps Javier down in his seat. “Get me the seasoning.”
Ofelia digs it out and hands it off without word. She watches as Pilar douses the pan with it, spreads it over the cutting board, rubs the chicken into it. Her mother’s hands are gnarled with arthritis and age, her skin leathery and cracked, but her fingers work with an efficiency that is still impressive, even to those who know her. These hands are strong, hands that have raised a child and a household most of her life and that have slaved and sacrificed for years to keep these walls up around this family to keep them safe from the rain. They are not hands to cross. They’ve seen strife and horror and terror and bitter disappointment, and in this moment, Ofelia is sad that she’s hurt them to such an extent.
“Mamá, here, let me do that.” Ofelia reaches for the chicken, but Pilar shrugs her off, as if her touch will somehow spoil the food. “Please, Mamá?”
“I have it,” Pilar snaps. “If you want to be useful, go get me a can of beans and open it.”
The can-opener is old and rusty, and to Ofelia, used to modern-day marvels like electric and automatic can openers, the thing is terrifying and confounding. She fumbles with it, manages to rip the paper label off the can instead of the top, mangles the poor thing to an inch of its life, and then Pilar grabs it out of her hands and has it open in three seconds.
Ofelia’s fingers are long and graceful, made for pianos and flutes and other once-leisurely qualities. They are strong only in the sense that she has a good grip and nothing else. Desperate battle is something that her hands have never seen. They are too dainty, too flighty for anything like that.
Shoes on the concrete, a knock at the door, and Ofelia unlocks it and ushers her husband in. Javier gurgles and grabs at him from the table.
“Can you take Javier?” Ofelia asks him. “It would help a lot.” Pilar grumbles something in Spanish, and Ofelia stiffens, her shoulders rising. Her husband takes the baby wordlessly and heads for the hallway.
“I do not want him in my house,” Pilar says. Ofelia’s husband stops and stands there in the doorway like a tall, lanky, awkward lump in this tiny, claustrophobic space, holding his baby awkwardly on his waist
Ofelia answers back in heated Spanish, and after a few choice words, the two begin to yell, waving their arms, their faces turning ugly shades of red. Ofelia’s husband retreats to the bathroom and the lock clicks.
The fight doesn’t last long, they never do, though it feels like it goes on for days and weeks and months and years. When Ofelia knocks on the bathroom door to retrieve her husband and her son, she sports a dim crimson stain on her cheek, and it looks as if she’s been crying.
“What happened?” her husband asks, reaching with concern to her face, but she turns her head and ducks behind her hair.
“Mamá and I are going to cook dinner now, okay? Why don’t you and Javier go for a drive somewhere?”
“I don’t want to leave you alone here, Ofelia.”
“I’ll be okay, honestly.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t like this.”
Her strained temper snaps again. “You wanted to come here.”
He lowers his gaze. “I know. I’m sorry.”
She sighs. “I’m sorry too. Look, just take Javier and go to the bookstore or something. The GPS is in the car, right?” He nods. “I’ll text you when we’re going to have dinner, okay?”
“I really don’t like this, Ofelia.”
“It’s what has to happen. Mamá won’t cook if you’re here.”
“So I have to go, is that it? I have to be put out like a dog?”
“I’m sorry.” She doesn’t sound very sorry. She sounds more tired than anything else, tired and bone-weary. “I’m sorry,” she repeats, and her voice is hollow and empty.
“Ofelia,” he warns. “I’m not going to put up with this.”
“You wanted to come here.”
“I didn’t think it would be like this.”
“What did you expect?” Ofelia hisses. “That they would welcome you like some long-lost son? Is that what you expected?”
“Don’t take this out on me. Don’t you take this out on me, Ofelia.”
Ofelia sighs, brushes her fingers across her bruised cheekbone. Her husband watches her with mounting, conflicted concern. She’s told him stories of the violence in her household, but this is the first time he’s ever seen it in person.
“I’m sorry, okay? I don’t want to be angry at you. I don’t want to be angry with you. I’m just trying to make this work out.”
“Having me run away isn’t going to make it work.”
“You staying here isn’t going to make it work.”
He reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear. She leans into his touch, wincing slightly as his palm glances across the bruise.
“Maybe I can talk to your mother.”
“Mamá won’t talk to you.”
“But if I can sit down and just have her listen to me.”
“How do you know that?” Ofelia lets her silence speak mountains for her. Her husband makes a small, agonized, and frustrated noise in the back of his throat, and jiggles Javier distractedly. He tries one last time. “Are you sure I can’t talk to her?”
A shadow falls on the pale light filtering into the bathroom. Pilar looms behind her daughter, her arms crossed, her wrinkled face stormy and dark. She speaks sharply to her daughter in brusque Spanish, then stalks back into her domain. A pot slams onto the stove, and both Ofelia and her husband wince.
“Just go,” Ofelia whispers. “I’ll text you when dinner is ready.”
Her husband looks as though he wants to argue with this decision further, but Javier tugs at his shirt, and the fight goes out of his face all at once, leaving him looking drained and miserable.
“All right, Ofelia,” he says. “If that’s what you want.”
It’s not what she wants, but it’s the best that she can hope to get at this point.
Dinner itself is a lesson in catastrophe. Ofelia's husband returns with Javier after about two hours lost to sipping a sickly sweet mocha in the bookstore cafe and driving around in a general bad mood. Pilar ignores him and sets down a steaming dish of beans on the dining room table, and Ofelia barely acknowledges him, rushing around with forks and knives to finish setting the table before her mother is done arranging the food. The two women look eerily similar, with their hair tied back and their faces flushed, jaws set in a bulldog scowl, Ofelia like a younger, prettier version of Pilar.
He shivers and looks away.
Ofelia brushes past him and gives him a quick peck on the cheek. “Dinner in five minutes,” she whispers, whisking away an errant cooking spoon. “You have chocolate under your nose.” Pilar snorts into the chicken and otherwise continues to ignore him, and he takes a seat in the kitchen and waits.
Upstairs, like a thunderclap, the bed creaks, and Pilar’s husband begins his journey downstairs to dinner. Ofelia’s husband stands to greet him and is forcibly pushed down by his wife, who shakes her head and glares him down into submission. Her father treads heavily down the carpeted steps, one aged, wrinkled, spotted claw clinging to the railing. He is old and frail and short, much shorter than Ofelia’s husband, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in presence. It’s as if some sort of anachronism has wandered into their midst.
He surveys his family the way a king surveys his lands, his eyes passing over Pilar, Ofelia, Javier, and the dinner table. What he sees doesn’t seem to please him because he grunts, sighs, and then saunters over to the table, taking the head seat. Pilar scurries after him, clucking at him in random syllables of Spanish, and then takes a seat next to him, still clucking. Ofelia, her head bowed, chooses the one at his left. Her husband is left to take the seat facing him.
The two men’s gazes meets for a millisecond over the beans. Her father curses at her husband in curt English and then switches to peremptory Spanish again, ordering his wife and daughter around with agitated gestures and grunts.
For a while, there is no talking, just the slurping sounds of eating. Ofelia and her husband pick at their food. Pilar chews noisily and her husband shovels forkfuls of chicken into his bristling mouth. He finishes before all of them and licks his plate clean while he waits. Ofelia smooths out her eyebrows and grits her teeth.
Animals, she thinks. They’re all animals. I must be adopted. I hope I’m adopted.
Pilar speaks first. “I hope you liked it, dear,” she says to her husband, smiling. He deigns to look at her and shrugs.
“It was okay,” he answers. “Ofelia, what did you think?”
“I thought it was very good, Mamá.”
“That’s a good girl.”
Noticeably, Ofelia’s husband is left out.
“Would you like desert, Emilio?”
Emilio frowns and pats his stomach. “I need to lose weight. You keep bringing home sweets and cakes and baking things and making me fatter by the day.” His tone is far from gentle teasing.
This starts a small fight between Pilar and Emilio about who is making who fat and why, and it goes on for a few minutes until Ofelia, in desperation, begins clearing away plates. Pilar immediately begins to race her daughter through the task as if not to be left out, and the two disappear into the kitchen, leaving Emilio and Ofelia’s husband alone.
The silence settling over them is uncomfortable, sticky, the kind that makes people blab silly things just to get the conversation started and kill the quiet preying on them. Ofelia’s husband makes such a mistake.
“You have a lovely home,” he says for lack of anything better. Emilio stares at him as if he’s uttered some kind of obscenity. “And a lovely wife.” Sweat beings pouring down his back. “And daughter.”
Emilio’s eyes blaze. “You dare brag about my daughter in front of me?” he hisses, and Ofelia’s husband rears away, waves of heated anger pouring over his face. “You dare, to my face, tell me I have a lovely daughter?”
“I didn’t mean any harm, please.”
“You dare come to my house after you have seduced my daughter, seduced her away from her house, her family, me, her future, and you dare tell me to my face that I have a lovely daughter?” Emilio doesn’t wait for an answer. “You are scum.” He spits vehemently. “You are scum. A waste. The worst kind of criminal. You have ruined my daughter. You have saddled her with a whelp bearing your blood and name, a soiled baby no one will want. You have taken my daughter, you lecher, and now no other man can have her. She is tainted, by you.” Emilio leans forward. “Will you abuse your wretched whelp the same way you have abused mine?”
Ofelia’s husband finally breaks out of his stupor with a cry. “Now you wait a damned minute. Abuse? You’re going to say I abused your daughter? Are you really going to accuse me of abusing your daughter?”
“She was only a child when you took her, you cabrón. A child!”
“Nineteen is hardly a child!”
“A child!” Emilio shouts. “A child! And you took her! Tainted her! Ruined her!”
“I did nothing wrong!” Ofelia’s husband shouts back.
“Take a good god-damned look in the mirror before you start calling me a child abuser,” Ofelia’s husband snarls. “Take a good look and think about what you did to her growing up. I helped her see there was more to life than your damned religion and patriarchal nonsense. I helped her realize that life isn’t about what you want, it’s about what she wants. You lost your control over her when she was eighteen, but you still haven’t realized that she’s not your puppet to dance around a stage anymore. She is her own woman, and you better start acting like she is.”
“I will not sit here and be insulted by a child abuser! Get out of my house! Out!” Emilio picks up a vase and hurtles it at the wall. Shards of glass rain down on the floor, and Javier begins to scream. Ofelia and Pilar come running, and Ofelia’s husband grabs his wife and drags her clawing out into the kitchen.
“Get Javier and your things. We’re leaving,” he snaps, and she, with her eyes wide and glassy, nods mutely. In the dining room, Pilar and Emilio hurl curses at each other and at the couple, and Emilio throws another vase. It explodes into a dozen pieces and spills onto the kitchen floor.
“Ofelia! Ofelia! Don’t you dare go with him! Don’t you dare! Your place is here, with me! Ofelia! We are your family, not him! Not this abuser!” Ofelia stops in the middle of the kitchen and begins to cry noisily, dropping her face into her hands and openly weeping. Emilio stands and makes a clumsy grab for her, but her husband is faster and lither and has her out the door before Emilio is fully into the kitchen, and her sobbing body disappears behind the wall and down the steps.
Her husband throws what can be thrown into the trunk, straps the wailing and distraught Javier into the backseat, and shoves Ofelia into the front passenger seat, slamming the door in his fury and rush. Ofelia flinches and sobs harder, fumbling blindly for her seat belt, feeling useless and used and used up. Her husband begins to drive. In the rear view mirror, he sees Emilio stumble out onto the porch to howl at them, and he flips him the bird.
Then the whole unhappy scene fades into the distance, and he lets out a sigh of relief. Ofelia keeps crying until she falls asleep against the window, her face puffy and red. When they reach their home, he gently wakes her and together, they settle Javier into his crib and settle themselves into their bed. They don’t talk. It’s early yet, but both are exhausted and wrung dry, and neither want to do anything that requires thinking. He puts on the television, and she brings out a book, and still, they don’t talk. There’s not much to say. Too much has already been said.
She thinks she ought to touch him with an elbow or a foot, a friendly, intimate gesture they have both shared and enjoyed on numerous occasions, but it also feels wrong now, dirty, spoiled, and a blight crawls across her skin and down her spine. No, there will be no touching tonight. She is glad that she has long, bulky pajamas on. She doesn’t want him to see her naked or in any kind of compromising way. She can’t believe she has let him see her naked. Wrong, all wrong. Sin creeps around her belly, cold and hard. She turns on her side and cries into her pillow.