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  • Broken Things, or Silent Suffering, and: The Doctor, the Curandero, and the Virgin, or, Is Magic Possible?
  • Arthur Ramírez (bio)

Broken Things, or Silent Suffering

Consider a broken toy piano and a pair of shoes split open at the seams. Soles are loose. Think of broken eggs and broken glasses. Slight, even literally trivial, tiny memories but wisps remain in the mind, and then quickly disappear. These sounds of breaking are but a little breeze, or a passing cloud, South Texas dust blackening the sky, but luminous remembrances for me—anguished.

These broken things are all tightly linked like King Ranch barbed wire, or, well, shoe laces. South Texas in the early 50s, growing up Chicano in Kingsville, in the barrio, and I'm all of nine years old. Desperate thoughts that can be summed up with: But what to do?

First, the toy piano. First, also, my sister Lele who received the little toy piano for Christmas. At eight she had asked for the gift. Fun, for sure, and the possibility of letting her musical talent develop a lot better than the cardboard black-and-white keyboard that the elementary school really pushed on all of us. These portable pianos were exactly like those keyboards played by famous musicians like Liberace, or Agustín Lara. We, too, could learn to play the piano. A few-page instruction booklet, the ability to practice anytime anywhere, and how could you lose? A dollar was all they cost and you were nobody at school without carrying around the cardboard keyboard. Kind of like we hear of Elvis or Buddy Holly carrying around their guitars from age six or seven.

But Lele wanted more; she insisted on twinkling piano sounds. The virtual could only go so far.

So Lele practiced on a real piano, although it was a tiny one. One day while playing with the toy piano, I accidentally dropped it and it broke. Right down the middle the pink piano more than cracked. Truly, it was an accident; I did not mean to harm my sister's little toy piano. Actually, I liked the little piano a lot more than the cardboard keyboard. No, I wasn't envious, or jealous that Lele had gotten a real toy piano for Christmas. I was very happy with my double gun holster.

But I'll admit I started thinking crafty thoughts. I quickly hid the piano behind the sofa. If Lele wanted to play the toy piano, she'd really have to hunt for it. I'll admit my thoughts turned to shamefully saying the broken piano, once discovered, was a real surprise to me. This made me feel bad, but maybe it could save me. Maybe I could complain about how the little toy piano was really so very poorly built that it was bound to break. This was actually true, I believe.

Really it was all just a nightmarish accident. Before I knew it, it just fell apart in my hands. It just happened. "Se quebró". In Spanish the usual expression really avoids all sense of responsibility, it just so happens. I was sorry about it all, overcome with anguish actually, but things cannot be undone. What to do? Should I own up to it and tell my parents?

Finally, that's what I did. Maybe they could just get her a new one, or whatever. I'd even accept a scolding, or whatever other punishment.

But no, that would be too simple. I had to take the more devious, oblique way to a solution. First, I put the toy piano out of sight, hidden behind the couch, so Lele wouldn't find it and get the urge to play with it and discover it was broken. Then I had to think of myself secretly replacing the toy piano. Where had it been bought? How much did it cost? I made what I thought were discreet inquiries, but people didn't give me a straight answer and saw right through me.

"Why, what's the matter? What happened to the little piano?" I was really relieved my secret was discovered. What a relief. A load had been lifted off me; I...


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pp. 123-127
Launched on MUSE
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