Another word for superstitious is misguided. Grandma Josephine made a promise, “when I die, I’m coming back.” Mom is obedient enough to believe her but she assumes she’ll return as a haunting apparition, something out of A Christmas Carol, rolling over in to death what she gave in life.
Mom welcomed the haunt, dared the ghost of Josephine to follow through. As a child mom hid under the kitchen table, safe and cloaked in the shadow of the orange tablecloth with the plastic cover; happy watching her mom walk back and forth. Nothing much changes when you get older. The little girl grows up and she still shrinks in the dark corners of her house. It’s a year after Josephine’s death and mom hides in her closet because somewhere in this space her mom is also there, reachable, in a way. And there she welcomes the promised ghost. Both want and fear mingling, the confusing battle she felt in life when it came to loving her mother.
The closet is musty and humid one second and then pin needle freezing the next. Mom shivers and pulls her scattered cloths on top of herself. She can’t seem to find it in her to open the door, so she lays in it. “I’m not afraid of you! I miss you. I only wish you found something up there, something you never found down here and it’s only disappointing, that’s all, that you’ll never be anything but this.”
Grandma Josephine is 10 years old leading her favorite cousin Benny up her front yard magnolia tree with two straws in hand. It’s the early 1940s and her father is Don Viviano, a survivalist entrepreneur. During The Great Depression, he converted the front room of their home into a grocery store. Now that it’s ending, all the good people of South San Antonio line up not for the cans of unperishables but for his visions. Don Viviano is San Antonio’s most famous Curandero. A medicine man who can see parts of your future. The people form in front of the house waiting for their turn at a sign. This is when Josephine and Benny strike, blowing the magnolia’s red berry seeds through their straws, 10 points if it lands in the hair. When the people finally look up, Benny hides behind a cluster of white blossoms and Josephine waves.
Josephine’s mom, Vavande, arrives home later that night after four days gone. She slowly gets out of a black 1940s Ford Deluxe when a strange man in the driver’s seat pulls her back in. They scuffle a bit and Vavande gets out again, walking sideways to the front door. Vavande finds her daughter waiting up. She takes one look at Josephine’s scraped knees and, like routine, slaps her across the face, “you look like a Marimacha!” Savage girl.
The night Grandma Josephine’s heart stops she turns her dying body towards mom. She says something shocking, so shocking mom’s response is a lie, or it’s not, she can’t tell.
“You know I love you, right?”
I crack an egg straight on moms head when we’re baking in the kitchen. After the shock she grabs a handful of flour, in a giddy sort of way, and throws it in my face.
It’s 2003, I’m 11 and perfectly able to cut my own nails but most nights I refuse. I give my hand over to mom. She brushes her fingers over my blue chipped nail polish, then begins scraping the dirt from underneath. She does this almost every night after a 12-hour shift at the post office warehouse. She hums with my hand in her lap, and carefully she holds them, gentle in her embrace of something wild. She notices my hairless legs with at least 10 different nicks and she asks me plainly,
“did you shave?”
“Are you sure?”
“I didn’t, I promise.”
“Ok, well, if you do want to just let me know. I’ll show you how.”
I don’t avoid her gaze, I look right at her. And when she looks at me, she knows. She continues to cut my nails gently, helping me build something I might’ve buried. Digging the dirt. Inviting the savage girl to hum with her. She talks to the ghost in the open spaces.
Aubrey holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte. She’s been published in NPRs Worth Repeating, LatinX Literary Audio Magazine, The Mcneese Review, Fish Barell Review, and Southern Review of Books. She teaches creative writing in Austin TX through The Austin Public Library and Great Minds Learning Community. She’s a proud BIPOC writer and is currently working on her first novel.