- After the Flood
The arrangement on the bed: Tonito—Altagracia—baby—pillow—wall, and on the morning of Day Thirty-Nine, a day before she would be cast out, she turned her head to a piece of green glass from a bottle; a pretty, shattered fractal next to Tonito's pillow, its dull gleam inches from her face. She whispered, "Tonito, no, no, no. Please, no." He whispered back, "It's OK, tía. Look, it's OK. Baby don't walk or nothing." He explained that he was collecting objects the baby could play with one day. One could build barriers to keep the bad guys out or invent terrible new creatures from parts. A few days earlier, she'd come across a tiny figure laid out on the floor. A black fly lolled out of the stickman's torso. She swept the whole thing out the front door as the fly quivered away.
Altagracia often found Tonito's chicken feathers, marbles, rocks, shells, and leaves gathered next to a chair leg, the edge of a doorframe, or tucked in a corner; but not the insect parts: beetle husks, dead bees and flies—the most valuable objects were hoarded under the bed. His piles were still lifes she might've composed for a drawing.
She lifted herself onto her elbows and flattened out her right hand, shoulders shrugged up to her ears. Tonito picked up the glass more carefully than she thought he would and placed it on her palm. With the baby's head resting in the crook of her left armpit, she dropped the glass in the space between the bed and the mosquito net next to the wall. A large cockroach scurried up and she covered her mouth so as not to scream and wake the baby, who had already started moving his little fists in front of his face. When the cockroach produced wings, and took flight, Altagracia closed her eyes. Best not to know where it landed. "And we have to keep the netting closed. Those are the rules." She reached out over Tonito, grabbed the mosquito net and asked him, "Do you want us to die?"
She squeezed the gap shut. "Nothing."
A mosquito perched on the other side of the net. Altagracia wondered if mosquitoes have feet or if their legs end in razor points as sharp as their proboscis. She [End Page 202] pictured many undulating legs poking through the mesh like cilia moving slowly, trapping her inside a breathing organ. She often took the grotesque to extremes until she made herself terrified or sick or inspired to pick up a pencil.
There hadn't been much warning about Tonito when her mother's half sister dropped him off a month before the baby was born, and then it was as if, at sixteen years old, Altagracia had given birth to a five-year-old along with the baby. Tonito would let out shrieks—Maaa! Maaa!—calling his mother, who was away working in the Zona Franca as a seamstress, sewing zippers into jeans for Americans even though the neighbors said that American women don't have the asses to fill them. Altagracia didn't know when he'd last seen his father. Her aunt hadn't mentioned him, but Tonito would say, "My Papa is working to buy me toys," and Altagracia would remind him that his mother was working, too, but he'd say, "Mama should be home with me." Tonito often got up to use the outhouse even though he had his own bedpan, yellow with a ring of smiling, dancing green turtles. She was supposed to be grateful that he didn't wet the bed. Once, her mother had found him curled up on the outhouse floor, and she'd had to wash the filth off his body as well as her own when she carried him out.
Altagracia was trapped in her own Altagracia-shaped hollow, her body imprinted into the makeshift mattress, an indentation in the fabric remnants that prevented her from rolling over onto the baby. Sometimes, she crawled in her trench over to the foot of the bed...