“Come on, this is lovely, isn’t it? It’s lovely. All for Katerina. We’re doing all of this for Katerina. Katerina, Katerina. Your granddaughter Katerina. With the same freckles on her ears just like you, remember? You noticed that first. Remember? We’ll go to dinner and then we will go back home. Roberto will take you home or I will take you home. Whoever is ready when you are ready will take you home. And then the nurse will meet us and we’ll put you to bed. But this will be lovely. Miguel, your favorite nephew Miguel, is here from Madrid. You must be eager to see him it has been so long. He looks so much like his father– your brother– used to look, it’s magical, truly. It’s like a part of him is alive and with us still, in Miguel. Trust me Mama, this will be lovely. I know where we are sitting. I called ahead and requested special, the seat by the window that looks out to Plaza Reial. Katerina is all finished with university now, can you believe it? And how smart she is. She took that from her father I’m sure. Book smart but good with people, too. It’s right around this bend, right here. Look how those palm trees bow down. See? This will be lovely. She is so happy you are coming. I know this is hard for you Mama, but it means so much to Katerina. And you’ll be good, won’t you? I know you will be good and you’ll do fine. We’ll put you in a chair that is near the window so you can look out. And if you don’t want to listen to us, or people are speaking too fast for you or anything, you can just look out the window and watch the people cross the plaza. With the bags in their hands, or with their families heading to supper, or the tourists from Las Ramblas or whoever they are, wherever they are going. It’s nice to imagine the places people are going, isn’t it? This will be lovely. Mama, it’s right up here. Please watch yourself with these cobblestones I don’t want you to, oh it’s here. Right here.”
Margo unwinds her arm from her mother’s to hold the door to the restaurant open. Then she threads her mother’s arm back through her own and leads her towards the table by the window that looks out to Plaza Reial.
It is seven o’clock. Early for supper but Margo didn’t think her mother could make it if it were any later. The day had been hot with a surprisingly cold breeze that must be from the ocean, Margo thought as she walked to her mother’s nursing home from her apartment near the foot of Tibidabo. She told her husband and Katerina she was going to take a cab to her mother’s and then meet them at the restaurant, but she changed her mind as she left the apartment building, deciding to walk. The nurses would have dressed her mother, there was no need really for her to arrive early.
Katerina wasn’t paying attention when Margo left, was trying on a series of dresses. Walking out of her bedroom to examine herself in the large mirror in the foyer. Her head tilted heavily to the side as she studied how the dress hung against different areas of her body. That’s when Margo noticed Katerina’s freckles on her ears and remembered what her mother had said years and years ago when Katerina was first-born–pointing out how she had the same freckles. How queer it is that these markings can be passed down from one person to the next. Who was the first person to have freckles on their ears? Margo wondered. Where did these freckles–these ancestral markings that prove I am You and You are I–begin?
No one completely knows how to interact with Antonia anymore. Katerina becomes nervous, interacting with her grandmother. But it’s only because Katerina has been away at school for so long, first boarding school in England and then university in Salamanca, she doesn’t have enough of a memory of who Antonia really is under all those heavy layers of clouds. That’s how Margo sees it anyway. Her Mama’s mind. A control tower in the middle of the densest, whitest, heavy clouds she has ever seen.
When Margo and Antonia near the table in the restaurant all the family gathers and stands from their chairs. Wine glasses still in their hands, napkins quickly dropping from their laps onto their chairs. Two cousins rush over to help lead Antonia to her seat. It has been a long time since Antonia has come to a family function, and her presence is heavily felt. “Remember to speak Catalan, she doesn’t like to speak Spanish anymore, do you Mama?” Margo smiles, guiding Antonia into her chair.
Miguel, Margo’s first cousin and Antonia’s brother’s son, lost both of his parents, Antonia’s brother and his wife, in a car accident near the Costa Brava when they were all too young. After the accident he lived with Antonia’s family until he went to university and then he never really came back to Barcelona. Not that he was not welcomed, he was just determined– is what Antonia would tell Margo when she was younger and would complain that she missed him. Now all Margo really knows is that Miguel does something important at Banco de Espana in Madrid and has a wife who did not come to Barcelona this weekend, but who everyone says is lovely. Miguel kneels in front of Antonia and collects both of her gnarled hands.
“Mama, I miss you,” he says.
“Pep. Pep,” Antonia says. Miguel looks to Margo, who is standing behind her mother’s chair with her hands on Antonia’s shoulders. Margo lifts her eyebrows and then lets them drop. She lightly pats her mother twice on the shoulders and then takes a seat next to Katerina. Margo cups Katerina’s face in her hands– Katerina’s face all plump and milky and alive– and says, You look wonderful. Katerina waves her mother away, goes for her wine, smiles back to her mother with her eyes over the lip of the glass. Goes back to talking.
“Pep. Pep,” Antonia says again to Miguel. She pauses to move her head to the side, becomes fixated on the dark wood panel on the wall. “Pep,” she says again, refocusing on Miguel. Miguel keeps his smile on Antonia. He kisses her on her check with one hand resting on her shoulder. He stands, walks to his chair, resumes with his wine. “She works like an ox,” he says flatly of his wife in Madrid after someone inquires, still with his eyes lowered, steady on the table.
The ox Antonia can see. Pulling the cart with the woven blankets and a child on those blankets. My brother, she realizes. She smiles. The pig has become the ham and is hanging by a rope on the kitchen hook.
Who will scrape it for tonight? Who will get the big knife? The slices are thin, feel like greasy pesetas. Hold the pieces to the light, look through the world is pink.
“Antonia!” mother is scolding. Her brother with ham on his eyes. Antonia did that. She did that so he could see it. “I did that so he could see it, did that so he could– Mama.
“A doctor!” the cousins gasp. Then they clap. Roberto reaches for Margo’s hand.
“She will start medical school in the fall. At the Universidad de Madrid!” Roberto exclaims for his daughter, “Katerina, tell them how you decided. Tell them the story.”
“Papa! You’re embarrassing me!”
“No, no, Katerina,” a cousin says from the other side of the table, “now is the time for you to be proud.
“Be proud, Katerina.”
Antonia is frightened. When she is frightened she does not move. She looks at the dark wooden wall. There is a strange shape of light on the wall. It hops back and forth like a hare. Will you please stay on the wall? Will you please.
The thunder claps once and forcefully. Everyone at the table jumps in their seats, gasps, presses their hands to their hearts, but not Antonia. Then there is silence. The clouds rupture and the rain comes out all at once and hard. The people on Plaza Reial hurry to the sides of the square to wait the storm out under the awnings. Margo’s face is tight and nervous.
Antonia blinks from one person at the table to the next. To Antonia it appears these people are moving and breathing collectively– wine glasses up, wine glasses down, utensils in mouths, heads hung back, heads pushed forward, eyebrows crossed, gasping in and out; one pumping heart. Moving the oxygen, moving the blood, in and out.
Antonia’s mother uses the big knife to break apart the hare. The ears chopped off with the cleaver look like soft pedals on the table. Antonia’s mother grips the big knife’s handle and drags it down the belly like a lever. This is the heart, this is the liver. She hands the organ parts to Antonia. Antonia carries them carefully to the cold bucket of water to clean. Antonia’s hands are small, the hare’s parts look larger than they are in Antonia’s hands.
Mama. Mama, here, will you try your soup, please?
Antonia is frightened. When she is frightened she does not move. “Please, here you go, mama, your spoon.”
Antonia reaches her hand into the hole she believes is the hare hole but is really the snake hole and when she is bitten she knows what has happened, and then she collapses. Blinking on her back on the dirt in the beige frock her mother made for her.
Antonia! her brother is hollering and running towards her from the porch. Antonia tips her head to the side, resting her cheek on the hot dirt. The sun is beating this land. Antonia watches her brother’s sandals slap the dirt. Baby clouds of dust follow every step. Antonia! Antonia!
Antonia! Antonia is not moving, Mama! Mama, she is hurt!
Mama, Antonia is in trouble!
The screen door is left slapping the frame, her mother is running.
Oh, oh, Antonia cries out gnarled in all this pain, Here you are. Here you are. The tears are streaming from of her eyes. The tears are creating the only puddle of mud in all of this dry dirt. The sun is beating this land.
It’s OK little pea, Mama’s coming, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. Her brother presses the wet hair out of her face. Over and over again, pushing the hair behind her ear. Even after there is no more hair in her face. He keeps pushing the hair behind her ear.
If only Antonia is able to move her hands she will be able to catch his face and then she will be able to keep her brother here. Move my hands. Move my hands. In one burst her hands lift into the air, her palms press either side of his face. Tough skin. She pushes more, this is your jaw. These are your soft ears.
Will you stay, please. I am frightened. Will you please stay with me now?
Miguel looks up at Margo. He puts his hands on top of Antonia’s hands that are pressing firmly on either side of his face.
“I love you too, Mama,” Miguel says to Antonia, though she has said nothing, but she will not let go of his face. The rest of the family has moved into the bar. Margo and Miguel remain at the table. To decide how to take Antonia home, with all this rain.
“This was too much for her. This was stupid,” Margo says with her back to Antonia and Miguel, staring out the window that looks onto Plaza Reial.
“This was selfish of me.”
Will you wake up please little pea?
Her brother is in his nightgown perched on the foot of her bed.
Do you hear all that rain? He says, smiling from his eyes, Antonia, do you hear all that rain?
“Will you please stay under the umbrella?” Margo is yelling over the rain, “You’re getting wet. You’re going to get–”
“Sick, Mama here, let me,” Miguel pulls Antonia’s arm closer to his, holds her tighter as they try to walk Antonia out of Plaza Reial to hail a cab on the street.
“This is hard, this is too hard,” Margo cries. She is exasperated. “I don’t know what to do, how to–”
“It’s OK, we’re okay, it’s just a little bit, here now–”
Mama is singing on the porch.
There is mud between their toes, there is mud splattered on their calves. Antonia is pulling her brother out from under the porch into the rain, they are squealing and laughing. You have to understand, you have to understand the drought. You have to understand how long it has not rained. The crops they lost and then the cattle.
You have to understand, it was hard and it was long.
Mama, Margo cries, Antonia is off now, zipping in strange circles around the plaza. Miguel and Margo are hurriedly following her, under their two black domes of umbrellas.
Come back. Please, will you please?