On Saturday November 2, Día de los Muertos, Caridad’s day began with her son crying at five in the morning, which wasn’t the most auspicious start. Ever since she had entered the Gallegos family by way of marriage, Caridad, born and raised in Havana, felt that her Cuban essence was dying out in the New Mexican desert like a raindrop under the sun. Ah, but she wouldn’t let that happen. Her mother-in-law considered herself the matriarch of the family, the mera mera, the one who yelled the loudest, but Caridad would show her who she was.
She was fed up the uppity old woman, and with her son as well. Her son, who believed that women were supposed to be only mothers and housewives. (Michael had missed the memo on the feminist movement.) Where did the idiot get the idea that she, Caridad Perez Diaz, should spend countless hours changing diapers, washing, feeding a baby and cleaning floors? The Taoseño and all his kinship were very mistaken, but that day she had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. She would show them who they were messing with.
Caridad was in the baby’s room. His name was Michael Junior, but everybody called him El Mike. And she was mad. Everything seemed placed there to annoy her—the cradle, a rocking chair, a high chair and a table cluttered with dirty diapers, a milk bottle, stuffed animals, and that hideously pink cough syrup. A red dress hung limp from the back of the chair.
Caridad, wearing a nightgown with coffee-and-milk stains, put the dress in front of her body.
“It won’t fit me even if I put on four girdles,” she said angrily and threw the dress to the floor. “And whose fault it that, eh?”
She turned to the cradle with a threatening gesture.
“You’re ruining my life, boy!” she screamed. “It wasn’t enough to make me as fat as a cow, now you are driving me nuts too. Last night I didn’t get any sleep because of your crying, you know? I got up more than ten times to give you cough syrup. For nothing!
She grabbed the pink bottle, gave it a dirty look and set it on the table again.
“You kept coughing like a train every half hour,” she went on, furious. “And your father, that good-for-nothing, snoring like a pig so I was the one who had to take care of everything. As usual, God, as usual!”
She kicked the cradle and the wood screeched.
“Why don’t you cough now?” she raised her voice even more. “Why don’t you scream? Do it, desgraciao, and I’ll give you a reason to cry then. Come on, cough! Come on, cry! Cry!”
Caridad became more agitated as she spoke. Foaming at the mouth, she grabbed the chair and hit the cradle with it. She stopped, gasping, and returned the chair to its place. She then leaned back against the wall, muttering obscenities.
There was a distant lament, almost a howl. Surprised, Caridad walked to the window and opened it. The Gallegos’ acequia ran softly in the backyard. Twigs and yellow leaves floated on the water.
Caridad’s eyes narrowed. Somebody was walking through the water.
“Who can be so early?” she muttered.
She stood by the window, holding the frame tightly until her fingers ached. As the stranger approached, she could make out her features. It was a tall girl in a flowing, old-fashioned dress. She walked away from the acequia, dripping wet.
“Hey, you, where did you come from?” Caridad yelled at her. “Don’t you know this is private property?”
The girl didn’t answer and approached the window. Alarmed, Caridad stepped back.
“I’ll sick the dogs on you!”
The Gallegos family had no dogs.
The intruder showed no sign of hearing her. She didn’t stop when she reached the window, as Caridad expected, but walked nonchalantly through the wall.
“I can’t believe my own eyes,” the Cuban muttered, crossing herself.
The girl went straight to the cradle, looked inside, and shrugged. Caridad watched her, her fear giving way to curiosity. Something about her was familiar, but she could not put her finger on it.
“Who are you?” she asked, her voice quavering a bit.
But she didn’t need to wait for the answer. She remembered with a shudder that this was the same girl in the black-framed portrait that hung in the Gallegos' room.
“The late Angelica,” she whispered.
You can read the Spanish version of this story here.