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. Michael and Caridad discuss their future plans and Margarita, Caridad’s Puerto Rican friend, arrives. Margarita and Caridad discuss the need for women to have their own money and independence.
After listening to Caridad’s nasty comments, Rita turned around and walked away from the two friends. Her face reflected both sadness and fury. When she returned to the living room, she stopped in front of the altar and crossed herself.
“The young women today, they are so rude,” she said quietly. “Just like my Angélica, may she rest in peace.”
She closed her eyes and recalled the way the altar looked the night she had seen her daughter for the last time. There were no pictures of Michael’s father and Angélica. There were no flowers or candles, either, though there was some papel picado, plus a few Gallegos family portraits and the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. On the opposite wall hung a large antique mirror with a brass frame.
It was raining hard and Rita had just come from the grocery store. From the window, she could see Angélica walking around the room, wearing a short black dress. She was made-up and her lips were painted red. The cry of a baby came from the bedroom, but the girl didn’t seem to notice. She looked in the mirror, pleased with herself.
“If Mom sees me in this dress, she’ll have a heart attack,” she laughed. “But she has to understand that I’m already a woman. I am 15 years old!”
“Woman ni woman, you’re still a little girl – and a spoiled one at that,” Rita whispered before coming into the house.
“What an evening!” she said to her daughter. “The streets are full of puddles and mud. And those ditches are overflowing! Here, take these packages to the kitchen.”
She handed Angélica the bags, then looked at her reprovingly.
“Why are you all dressed up?” she asked. “You know you aren’t going out tonight, don’t you?”
Angélica defiantly threw the bags on the coffee table. Rita ignored her attitude and went on talking.
“Ay, Guadalupana, I’m exhausted,” she sighed. “There are still so many things to do and it’s already 6 o’clock. I have to make the posole and the chocolate and finish the tamales.”
Her daughter chuckled.
“Mom, why don’t you just lie down and rest for a while?” she said. “Take a nap and chill out. After all, your parents won’t be coming to eat tamales. These are superstitions, oiga. The dead won’t rise from their graves to visit anyone.”
“Is that what you learn at school, to disrespect the religion of your elders?” Rita asked, annoyed. “I’ve never said that the dead come to visit us. But their spirits do, Miss Know It All. They don’t drink or eat, but feed on the essence of our offerings.”
Angélica put her hands on her waist, determined to infuriate her mother.
“And how do you know that? The bread and the chocolate are still there the day after.”
“I know that because the food loses its flavor,” Rita answered. “Haven’t you noticed? The tamales that have been offered to the spirits need a lot of salt to taste good afterwards.”
“Well, if the spirit already ate the ‘essence’ of the food, then we shouldn’t be eating the leftovers, don’t you think?”
Contrary to what her daughter expected, Rita didn’t get mad. She liked to talk about her beliefs and Angélica seldom gave her a chance to dwell on the subject.
“Why not?” she replied. “Spirits are not selfish – like some people. They love to share the food with us. It feels good to them to be with their family again.”
Angélica smirked, but her mother didn’t notice.
“Go unwrap the candles,” Rita said, remembering all she still had to do. “Put the flowers in vases and make sure they have enough water.”
The baby cried again. Rita ran to the bedroom and returned after several minutes, angry, holding a dirty diaper in her hand.
“Poor Michael was soaked!” she yelled. “Why didn’t you change him? I had told you to take care of your little brother and all you do is waste your time and dress like a — “
“Why do I have to take care of Michael?” she asked. “You are his mother. Put up with him or throw him to the dogs if he is too much for you, but leave me out of it.”
Rita shuddered and came back to reality. She looked at Angélica’s picture on the altar and shook her head.
“I wonder why these young women are all so rude,” she said to herself. “I never talked like that to my parents. They would have slapped me silly had I dared to be so mouthy. But Angélica, Caridad – they seem so alike. I could love Caridad if she were different, just because she reminds me so much of my poor daughter. But she is just like Angélica: pricklier than a cactus in bloom.”
You can find the Spanish version of this story here.