October 27, 2000


THE RAINBOW CHRONICLES

Chapter XX

By Jeannine Diego

Sal put an extra teaspoon of sugar in his cup. The sunlight flooded Geri's kitchen and rested on his neck and back, thawing the morning chill away. Sipping on his coffee, Sal watched Geri in silence. She seemed to float about in a sleepy shuffle from the refrigerator to the stove, to the sink, to the stove again. She'd remodeled her house since he'd been there last, but it retained the smell from many years ago. It wasn't a fragrant odor. If warmth has a scent, Sal thought, this must be it.

"Bacon?" her whisper-like tone revealed a quieter, more subdued morning Geri, unkown to Sal.

"Sure, why not," replied Sal, reaching back with his elbows in a long stretch, "What happened to your plants?"

"Oh, I had to get rid of them. At least the indoor plants. I just couldn't keep them with all this going back and forth"

"I could've watered them for you."

"That's true," she replied lazily. With her back to Sal as she scooped the contents of the skillet onto two small dishes, Geri continued, "I just didn't think about it, I guess." Holding out two blue plates with brownish-red strips piled atop fluffy mountains of yellow, she headed toward him. Sal accepted his scrambled eggs as Geri placed her own on the table in front of the chair beside him. "Newspaper?" she asked, reaching for the oversized Sunday edition resting on a third chair. Nodding, Sal flipped through the bulky mass and pulled a few sections out. Helping himself to the bread basket in the center of the table, he inspected a slice, remembering then that Geri had a thing against butter. Hoping that Geri wouldn't notice, Sal casually put the toast down on his plate, readjusted his eyeglasses and opened the paper.

"Butter?" asked Geri, peeking out from behind the front page.

"Well, if you have. I mean, if not, it's okay, really."

"Sal. Do you think I would've asked you here for breakfast if I didn't have any butter? I couldn't possibly. I mean, that would be unheard of!" she joked, getting up from her chair and heading toward the refrigerator. Sal smiled, slightly embarrassed and mostly thrilled to know that she had planned for his visit.

"See anything interesting, Dracula?" Geri asked sarcastically, placing a tiny bowl with butter on the table. She was standing behind Sal, eyeing the newspaper in front of him. Sal looked up at her, then back down at the incriminating black and white spread.

"Uh...," he wasn't sure how to respond.

"I mean, really, Sal. The obituaries?" she insisted, sitting back down.

"I, uh... just habit, I guess...," Sal fumbled.

"My! What morbid habits you have, Grandma!" Geri exclaimed, laughing.

"Grandma?"

"Like Little Red Riding Hood."

"Uh-huh."

"Okay, then... My! What morbid habits you have, Grandpa!"

"Very funny."

"Well, you are a Grandpa, aren't you?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Well, you should," replied Geri, raising her section of the newspaper in front of her face.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Sal, removing his eyeglasses, a little befuddled.

"Nothing, nothing," she said, letting out a short sigh and folding the newspaper back up, "You know, I kind of miss Mohandes. Did you bring a few postcards?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Just as you ordered," Sal breathed his own sigh of relief. Happy to change the subject, he reached into his pocket.

"Just one?"

"Well, you weren't specific. You just said to bring a postcard or two. So, I brought one and not two. I had a choice, right?" Sal said, playfully.

"Alright, then. So, what does it say?"

Sal held the postcard out in front of him, pulling it closer and then further away. "I can't see anything," he joshed, "Nope. Nothing. Oh! Glasses. Yes, Grandpa needs his spectacles in order to read. Excuse me." Sal rested his eyeglasses on the tip of his nose, squinting exaggeratedly and pursing his lips. "My! What tiny handwriting you have, Mohandes! Too small for an old man like me to decipher!"

"Give me that!" snapped Geri, reaching over to yank the postcard from Sal's hand.

"Now, now," warned Sal, tightening his grip around the postcard, "Be patient, my dear child."

"My! What strong hands you have, Grandpa!"

Geri retreated, smiling a half-smile and crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"Alright, enough about this Grandpa stuff, or else I'll have to start calling you Grandma," laughed Sal, "So, here we go... October twelfth. Dear Sarita... I am once again in Mexico. I have been here for almost one week. I have very little money left..."

"Wait a minute. I thought... I'm confused. Did we skip something? I thought the last postcard said something about going to the Bahamas, didn't it?" asked Geri, grabbing Sal's hand and pulling it and the postcard closer in order to get a better look at the picture.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry. I thought you knew about that one postcard from the Bahamas," said Sal, enjoying Geri's hand around his.

"Which postcard from the Bahamas? Have you been cheating?" Geri teased, finally letting go of Sal's hand.

"Why, I wouldn't dream of it! Oh, oh! Now I remember. I read that one a while back. Well, anyhow... I'll just have to tell you about it. Mohandes doesn't make it into the U.S., if I remember correctly. I'm not sure why. Oh, and something about his passport being taken away."

"So now, he's back in Mexico?"

"Apparently so."

"I'm still confused."

"That makes two very confused grandparents. It comes with age, you know. Or, so they say."

"Ha-ha," said Geri, articulating the sound rather than actually laughing.

"Okay, Mohandes. Reveal your mysteries to us!" Sal commanded and went on, "let's see, he's in Mexico and he's been there for a week... I have very little money left and I am very, very sad. I did not want to tell you before but I must tell you now. I was with nineteen other people on the boat from the Bahamas to Miami. There was a fire on the boat. We had to stay in the ocean for thirteen days. An American coastguard saw the boat and took us back to the Bahamas and took away our passports. It was morning when they came and I thought Kushi was sleeping but he was not. Shibu and Kushi and four other people did not make it," Sal's pace slowed down and his tone became somber as he continued reading, "It was too many days with no food and no water. I am sorry I have to tell you this. I know that it is difficult for you for me to tell you. Kushi was like a brother for me also. It is a miracle that I am still alive. William is okay also. I must continue trying to go to America. I think that I cannot give up because now I have to do it also for Kushi. Do not think about the problems with him now. It is normal between a brother and a sister. I am very, very sorry about this. Love, Mohandes."

Sal put the postcard down quietly. The feelings from a few months ago came rushing back. He felt a tickle in his skull. I shouldn't be reading this, he thought. This is an intrusion, this is none of our business.

"Am I... did I understand correctly? This Kushi guy was Sarita's brother?" Geri asked timidly.

"And she doesn't even know he's dead," said Sal numbly, without looking up.

They both sat in silence. The jokes and the laughter from a few minutes before now seemed obscene.

Finally, Geri broke the stillness, "Sal. There's something we need to talk about."

Still lost in his own cloud of culpability, Sal turned to look at Geri who all of a sudden seemed her age. She looked tired and worn out.

"Sal," repeated Geri, "we need to talk."

"About what?"

"About Lauren."

Sal felt faint. He lowered his eyes, grabbed the unbuttered toast and bit it absentmindedly.

"What about her?" he asked, uncertain of and nonetheless dreading Geri's response.

Geri breathed deeply and started, "Sal. I want you to stay calm when I say this. Please. Try to listen first, okay? When I'm done, you can say whatever you want. Just don't interrupt me, cuz it's not easy for me to say this."

"Mm-hm."

"You know that course out in L.A.? Well, I haven't been teaching a course, Sal. I've been taking care of your grandson. Lauren's kid. She's here, in San Diego. Downtown. She's been going back and forth to Tijuana, and that's why I've been kind of babysitting. She's moving down there any day now. The thing is... the thing is that her boyfriend can't get his papers in order to work here. They've been trying now for two years, but he's got something on his record... he did something as a teenager -nothing serious- but, well, it might take years to straighten it out. So, they're kind of... they have money problems. So, they're moving to Tijuana cuz his family offered to help them out, and everything, plus he can work there and he doesn't have to be hiding or anything. Apparently, he's got a big family and they really love the kid and, well, you know, they can help out with that, too. And Lauren can still work here, part time. They can have a better life there. Sal?"

Sal just stared at Geri, immobile.

"Sal?" pleaded Geri, "Sal. Please, don't be upset. I gave Lauren some of the stuff from your storage shed. Her stuff. Stuff she needs. Sal, she's a good girl. Well, she's not really a girl anymore. She was really struggling for a while there. Two years ago, she got back together with the kid's father. They had separated shortly after she gave birth, but now they're okay. Really okay. He's a good kid, too, Sal _the father, I mean- he really loves her, Sal."

"Since wh...," Sal tried to speak, but his breath was too short.

"What?"

Sal picked himself slowly, pushing the chair out with his calves. He remained standing in the very same spot, looking far beyond his immediate surroundings, at nothing, as if expecting to be carried. He felt as if the floor and everything around him had just fallen out from beneath his feet, as if getting to the door involved walking a tightrope without a safety net. Everything stood still. Somehow, he glided past Geri, past the kitchen table, across the living room and toward the front door, without actually feeling his feet that moved despite him.

...to be continued...

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rainbow Chronicles is a sponsored project of inSITE2000, a non-profit arts organization operating in both San Diego and Tijuana. The Chronicles will be published in La Prensa San Diego for 19 weeks. For information on the project visit www.insite2000.org.)

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