Nonfiction from Marina Flores
Three Things She Said in Spanish
“¡Cierre la puerta! Cierre la puerta antes de que entren los pollos,” my blind, wheelchair-bound great-grandmother repeated from the kitchen table, a cup of lukewarm coffee snug in her flour-dusted fingers. The thing is, we didn’t own any chickens. Still, I admired how each vowel in the word puerta rolled off her pruned lips. From the living room, I peeked down the narrow hallway and through the screen door and listened for the feathery clucks or broody growls. No chickens. During our annual visit, I watched pixelated cartoons on the only television in my great-grandmother’s two-bedroom home. The television had two-foot antennae protruding from the top that my family called “bunny ears.” Later, my mom told me that, decades ago, when my great-grandmother still picked cotton, and before her eyesight dimmed and the colorful world went dark like where the south Texas sky intersects with the earth, chickens once roamed here and laid eggs.
“Mi silla de ruedas está en llamas. Los vagones me rodean,” she said, serious this time, both sparse brows furrowed. In a blurry scene, I imagined the creaky wheelchair up in flames while wagons circled around like hands on a clock. My great-grandmother’s wrinkled fingers clenched the sides of the wheelchair while her mind wandered through the twists and turns of life. Although her frail body existed in the present, her mind lost itself somewhere in the winding memories of the past. I envisioned wooden wagons that inched along on an endless route in her brain’s repressed space. This place transported her like a hidden portal, and in a moment, she’d see her husband and the familiar faces of eight children and feel the cotton field sun on her cheeks. I wondered where the wagons were going, but, more importantly, I wanted to know why they stole my great-grandmother and her fading sense of time away from us.
“¿Quien es esa niña?” My great-grandmother asked this question almost every time I greeted her. She’d intertwine my small hands between her thumb and forefinger, and for an instant I’d feel the rounded edge of the flour tortilla rolling pin carved into her palm. No trace of a memory or familiarity returned to her when we spoke to one another in broken English and Spanish. Even though her almond eyes were open and as deep as valleys, I knew she couldn’t see the freckles on my flushed face, the pigtails in my hair, or the Blue’s Clues image on my shirt. My great-grandmother was the reader of palms, the all-knowing matriarch of each new generation of family secrets, and the reason for our existence. This she knew. I am Marina, the granddaughter of your daughter, I wanted to shout and stomp to refresh her already lost and confused memory, but her sunken-in cheeks and knotted veins beneath the tender skin of her arms told stories I’d never understand. With her body, my great-grandmother taught me the complexity of time seen through the touch of the fingertip, an infinite suspension of backward and forward moments that forever encircle us.
Marina Flores is a creative nonfiction writer, amateur baker, and full-time dog mom. She holds a Master of Arts in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice. Her words have appeared in Empty Mirror, Turnpike Magazine, and X-R-A-Y. Currently, Marina teaches Composition courses to university freshman and tutors at a local community college in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas. She can be found sharing her existential thoughts on Twitter from @marinathelibra.