La Llorona's Daughter - Chapter 4: A chat between friends


The story so far: Caridad, a Cuban married to a Taoseño, is having trouble adapting to her new environment. To make things worse, a family ghost pays her an unexpected visit. After an argument with her mother-in-law, Caridad agrees to display her mother's portrait on the altar, but she still fails to understand the Day of the Dead ceremonies. While Rita puts the finishing touches to the altar, Michael and Caridad discuss their future plans and the arrival of Margarita, Caridad's Puerto Rican friend.

Margarita and Caridad had met three years earlier, when Caridad, a recent arrival in town, began taking classes at University of New Mexico-Taos. They had similar accents and the same way of singing and cursing. They had become fast friends.

Margarita had taught Caridad a poem by Lola Rodriguez de Tió and Caridad was fond of repeating it at night, when she longed for Havana:

Cuba and Puerto Rico are

As two wings of the same bird.

They receive flowers and bullets

Into the same heart.

It was past 6 p.m. and the two friends were in the nursery. They talked in fast and furious Spanish while the baby slept quietly in his cradle.

Margarita wore jeans and a hippie-style blouse. Caridad was still in her nightgown.

"Chica, I get in such bad moods that I hardly recognize myself," she admitted with a worried look. "This morning, I could have ripped Mike's eyes out. Thank God that my mother-in-law had taken him away to change his diapers because -- "

Margarita cringed. Caridad approached the cradle. She arranged the sheets with unusual tenderness and caressed her son's cheeks.

"Some days, I get close to him and feel like puking," she went on, wrinkling her nose. "Not because he stinks like poop or pee, it's just - I don't know, his natural smell that repels me. The same happens with Michael. He tries to touch me at night and I say, 'Get out of here.' I wasn't like this before; I was hotter than a red chile."

Margarita laughed and Caridad began to brush her hair as she spoke.

"I didn't know that having children was going to be like this. I feel like a robot. Every day is the same routine: get up, make breakfast, do the laundry, feed the brat, burp him, clean him. And Michael is as useless as a glass hammer."

"You need to have a talk with him," Margarita said. "He has to pull his own weight here. The baby is his son, too."

Caridad threw the brush to the floor in a fit of rage.

"Don't you think I have tried? But it's like talking to a toilet. On top of all that, I've become so fat and flabby." She lifted her nightgown and pointed to the stretch marks on her belly as she screamed, "Look at this! I've lost my waist. Clothes don't fit me anymore! I'm ruined!"

The baby, frightened by her loud voice, woke up and began to cry.

"All thanks to this little twerp that I wish - I wish - " Caridad bit her lip.

A howl came from outside. Margarita gave no sign of hearing it, but Caridad stiffened.

"You should see a psychologist," Margarita said.

"Psychologist un cará! Do you think I'm crazy?"

"Well, not really crazy, but you are very disturbed. Have you ever heard of postpartum depression?"

Caridad shrugged.

"What's that?"

"It means that you reject your child and feel depressed. Something similar happened to me when I had my second baby, though not as serious as what's going on with you. Why don't you make an appointment with Doctor Carbonell at Holy Cross Hospital?"

"Why? She won't even understand me. We'll have to use sign language. Forget it!"

"She speaks Spanish."

Caridad stayed silent, considering her reply. She got up, took the baby in her arms and rocked him until he stopped crying.

"It looks like the poor thing is cold - he is shivering," she said. "I don't reject my son, as you said. It's just that I'm sick and tired of being here all day. Of course, I take it out on him. I also fight a lot with my mother-in-law and Michael. Now we have another bone of contention: He doesn't want me to go back to college."

"Nah, don't listen to him. Go back to your ESL classes and get a job so you have your own money. But there's something else - why don't you get dressed?"

Caridad returned the baby to the cradle and put her hands on her hips, ruffled up like an angry hen.

"Come on, chica, do I walk around naked? With my fondillo in the air?"

"I mean, with other clothes," Margarita replied. "It's almost dark and you are still in your nightgown. You didn't act like this before. You were always so made up and dressed up that our old teacher couldn't help staring at you. Remember?"

She smiled and Caridad did, too, but there was a tinge of sadness in her voice when she answered:

"I had more things going on then. After classes, I'd go to the Alley Cantina and have a beer, meet people. It was different. Who am I getting all dressed up for now?" She picked up the hairbrush and pointed it at the door. "My idiotic husband? That old broad so much in love with the Grim Reaper that I wish he'd come for her on the Day of the Dead?"

The Spanish version of this story is here.