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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 79-80

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Two Essays

Virgil Suárez

The Day the Police Took My Father Away

That morning a heavy downpour flooded the sidewalks on our street. I heard its rushing down to the corner gutter. My father, as was his habit, got up early with my mother, dressed in his khaki pants and work shirt, drank her cafecito, and took off to work at the Hatuey Brewery, where he sat by a conveyor belt and inspected clean bottles in front of bright fluorescent light before the beer was poured into them. Even though school had been canceled because of the bad weather, my mother was dressing me and combing my hair when the knock at the door startled my grandmother, asleep in her room at the front of the house. She came in her pajamas and slippers to my parents' room and told my mother there was someone at the door, and my mother clasped her robe tight around her neck and chest. I snuck up behind her when she opened the door, and the sound of rain stormed like horses inside the house. Two men in uniform said good morning and asked if a certain civilian--they spoke my father's full name--lived there, and my mother said yes, then asked who wanted to know, and they told her they were there to arrest my father for plotting against the state, and I didn't know, being seven, what they were talking about, but when the men turned around and walked back into the rain, my mother flew about the house, getting dressed and putting on her shoes, because she knew they were going to get him at work, and she wanted to be there, to go with him wherever they were taking him, and when she left, I stayed with my grandmother in her room, where she kept her dentures in a glass of water, and she sat with me on her rocking chair, by the open window for the light (there had been a blackout the night before, and the power had not been restored), reading to me my favorite story out of her Harvard edition of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights, trying her best to disguise her worries and nervousness as she read about Ali Baba and the forty thieves, about the cave that would open only if you said, "Open, Sesame!" while the rain fell hard on the roof, relentless against the plantain fronds that knocked against the window, my father about to get arrested and my grandmother and me sitting in the half light of her room, where we had countless times before, she reading to me as best and as convincingly as she could in hopes [End Page 79] that we would get lost in the fantasy of my favorite story: how rock can be coaxed into something soft, malleable, like a child's hope that his father not be killed.

Tin Can & Fruit-Crate Art, or How My Grandmother Spent Her Days

My grandmother spent hours cutting out the labels, scissoring around the shapes of plums, pears, grapes, and she'd make these beautiful collages of fruit or horns-of-plenty and give them away as gifts. She had cigar boxes full of the labels, and I helped her pick and choose the ones we both liked. The fruit I had never eaten off a tree, only tropical ones like mangoes, mameyes, guanabana, pomegranate, but not apples, pears, plums--those she said I'd get to eat when we went to live in the United States, and when I asked when that would be, she'd say, "No se . . . No se." She'd mention a visa, which was needed for us to leave the island, and when I said that I didn't want to leave, she'd say that neither did she, but she was worried about what would happen to my father if we didn't. My father had already been arrested twice for counterrevolutionary activities. She said he had been a beat cop in old Havana, and a lot of people knew...