Friday, July 25, 2014

"Mal de Ojo" - Vignette

*** Here's another little bit of story, part of what's already become the longest piece of fiction I've written so far, a story about a lonely person and the few individuals they're close to and a search for. . . ***

At exactly 3:00 PM that old, familiar wrapping of Grandma’s cane on my door jars me awake. The headache is gone, but everything else still excruciates.

“Get your lazy ass out of bed! I need to go to the bazaar. I need to get some things.”

The shock of such a discourteous awakening pales in comparison to this announcement. Grandma never leaves the apartment. Never.

She’s been inside since before I moved in with her as a teenager. I do all of the gophering for our dirty little home. Always have. What in the world could she need that would be so important to her that she wouldn’t just send me out as she always has?

I groan and roll out of bed, pull on my threadbare navy trousers and undershirt and red-piped nehru-collared jacket. My fingers tremble as I lace my standard issue black boots. I have a feeling of dread and anxiety. I hate surprises.

Grandma says nothing, but ushers me out the door to the stairwell the moment I emerge from my room. We’re up four flights, and the elevator in this building has never worked, as far as I know. The stairs will be a killer, as Grandma is heavy and has gout in her left heel. I have to hold onto her arm with one hand and support her lower back with the other as we descend; she grasps the handrail white-knuckledly. Her breathing is heavy.

“What are we doing? Why didn’t you just ask me to get whatever you needed?”
No response.

My injuries and sore muscles from last night’s chase and fatal fall kill with the added burden of Grandma’s weight. I ought to still be in bed. It takes us forever to get down to the foyer. As we emerge into the overcast afternoon, she breathes deeply and gains a little spring in her step. We head to the City’s outdoor market, four blocks away. Fortunately, we’ve already missed today’s uprising.

At the bazaar, she purchases a single brown chicken egg and a Guadelupe candle. Not another word passes between us until we are once again safely bolted into our apartment.

By this time it’s evening. The setting sun casts its striated yellow through the horizontal blind and across the living room wall opposite the window. It’s suppertime, but Grandma shows no signs of cooking anything. She comes to me with a glass of water and the egg. “Let’s go to your room.”

Panic instantly, irresistibly grips me. She hasn’t seen my room in years. What does she want in there now? I’ve managed to keep her out of there for so long. It’s my refuge. My sanctuary. What will she do when she sees the state of it?

I unlock the door and we go in my room. She looks around silently, just standing there holding the egg in one hand and the glass in the other. I feel as though I’m going to die – sweating, heart racing, hands shaking. At length she shakes her head and her eyes rest on mine.

“Lay down on the bed there, mijito chiquitito.”

I comply. What is this? That’s what she used to call me when I was little. My face reddens as the tears well up. I don’t let them fall, and it’s just as well since she’s not looking at my face anyway. She sets the glass down on a pile of books next to the bed and lights the Guadelupe and says an Apostle’s Creed and then begins tracing over my entire body with the egg, whispering. A long muscle in my back twitches uncontrollably. I’m in a cold sweat.

“Roll over.”

She repeats the process on my back, lingering over the area where the muscle is spasming. She says nothing as she cracks the eggshell and lets its contents slip into the clear water. There’s a foul smell. She looks at the egg for a long time, frowning, turning the glass around and around, passing it back and forth between one hand and the other every once in a while. Then with effort she crouches down and shoves aside a few books beneath the head of my bed and she places the glass there. I know it’s a ritual of some sort. But I’ve never seen this one before so I’m not sure of exactly what she’s trying to accomplish with it. Grandma is a curandera. Under most circumstances, I hate her superstitions and her little rituals and throwing of salt over the shoulder and all of that. But today is different. I’m in severe pain and feeling vulnerable. And I can see very real, genuine concern for my well-being in her eyes, a look I haven’t seen in ages.

“Now get some sleep,” she commands. She leaves the room quietly, shutting the door behind her.

It’s dark when I wake, early morning. Sleep was long and deep and indigo. I smell bacon and frying corn tortillas. The soreness has lessened and I stretch and yawn. Grandma has made me tacos con juevo y papa with bacon on the side and her special salsa. Did we have eggs here already? It doesn’t matter at all as I devour everything on my plate, picturing that obsessed wolf that I inadvertently killed the night before last. She touches my shoulder gently and makes her way to her room, stopping on the way to retrieve the glass from under my bed.

What now? I’m supposed to work in a few hours in spite of the persistent aching of my limbs. There’s no way I can miss another day there, especially because the manager has a strict “one strike and you’re out” rule about attendance, which he has mercifully overlooked twice already for me. If I call in today, he’ll surely fire me.

But the suspense from Grandma’s little egg ritual is killing me. What did it tell her? What’s next? I need to know what that was all about before I can pull myself together enough to go to work.

She ignores my knock. I knock again. And again. Finally she answers.

“We’ll talk after you get back from work.”

I can barely breathe as I walk the seven blocks to work. My heart is racing. I’m sweating again. This time I know I’m dying. Everything spins. My mind is out of control – it’s racing, thoughts flash in and out with lightning speed, some in the form of images: vivid, full color tableaux, and others are sensations or feelings. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to my job or what I’ll do when I get there. What will my manager do when he sees me in this state? Will he fire me? What will I do for another job if I lose this one? Suddenly everything is confused and uncertain. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Oh, God help me. O lord. . . What’s Grandma going to tell me about the egg? Shit. I’ve never believed in all that superstitious nonsense of hers, but what if she’s right? What if it’s real? What if someone gave me mal de ojo or something? Lord help me. What if it’s her – my one true love? What if she is the one responsible for whatever’s wrong with me?