My mother. She don’t talk now–she only got a few days to live. She got cancer and the doctors give up and send her home.
Can you go to be with her?
It’s hard, ’cause it’s far. She’s in Puerto Rico. It would be a waste of time, she wouldn’t even recognize me. I’m just waiting for that call and then I’ll go down.
Three days later, C’s phone rang at 4:13, just before the time he’d normally get up for work. It was his Tia Erica, his mother’s sister, and he didn’t need to be able to hear her words to understand her. He left a voicemail for his shift supervisor and flicked through his phone to find the tickets he’d bookmarked, free to someone flying for a funeral. He took the number 20 bus to the airport in a chilly dawn, and stood in the security line in the thin cold air of not-feeling-yet.
The funeral was what everyone needed it to be, with a song for each of his mother’s years of courage and cruelty, work and love, and plenty of wailing, rum, food, and dancing. People from the life squads, wearing their green armbands, talked about Gloria’s cancer and her work at the drug manufacturing plant and their plans to honor her life, and other people’s lives, by making it safer to work there. People need that medicine, they said, but what’s the point if putting it together makes you need it? They talked about shorter shifts and better safety; they talked about building other ways to make a living; they talked about older and newer forms of medicine and healing. They had sat by Gloria when her children and siblings had to be elsewhere; they had taken turns washing her; they had brought mofongo to the funeral, enough for three times as many people as were there.
As they described their plans, heat soaked into C’s bones. He felt like he was the same temperature inside as outside. He felt like he belonged to the place he was in.
Seven months later, the first of the walkouts; two years later, the last of the six State Guard murders; ten years later, the medicinal farms; twenty-four years later, the last shipment of drugs outside the country; thirty-nine years later, the epidemic and the hurricane in the same year; fifty-two years later, gardens in what was left of the parking garages; a hundred and nine years later, a third of the island fell into the sea, taking trees and plants and lizards and rats and insects and empty houses with it; a hundred and twenty-eight years later, C’s great-grandchildren walked in the land and swam in the water, time bombs quiescent in their genes, ever less likely to explode.