In the first chapter, Caridad, a Cuban married to a Taoseño, is having trouble adapting to her new environment. To make things worse, a family ghost pays her an unexpected visit.
Señora Rita’s voice was at once mellifluous and bossy, which bothered Caridad to the utmost degree.
“Where are you, m’ija?” she asked.
Before answering, Caridad rubbed her eyes. When she looked around again, Angelica was still in the room, but Caridad decided to ignore her.
Her mother-in-law came in with the baby in her arms. At 60 years of age, Rita looked older than she was, with her huge shell-rimmed glasses and her hair tucked into a ragged bun.
“Mike hasn’t stopped crying,” she announced. “I think he’s hungry.”
“He can’t be hungry because I fed him an hour ago,” she said.
“But something is wrong. Babies cry for a reason.”
“Not this one,” Caridad said dryly. “Put him in the cradle and let him cry his eyes out if he wants to.”
Rita crossed herself.
“Ay, what manners! Is that what your people do in Cuba?”
Caridad glared at her before answering:
“That’s what I do. Put the child in the cradle, I told you.”
Rita obeyed reluctantly. Angelica put a pacifier in the baby’s mouth and he stopped crying right away. Caridad watched the scene in disbelief, but her mother-in-law did not notice Angelica’s presence and went on chatting.
“Thank God that he’s quiet now. Why don’t you make his bed?” Caridad pretended not to hear her, so Rita started arranging the sheets herself. “And you could sing to him a little bit. Don’t you know lullabies?”
Caridad muttered under her breath: “I’ll give you lullabies.”
“You have to pamper him,” Rita sighed. “Childhood passes so quickly. Before you know it, your baby has turned into a man, has girlfriends, goes to college ... and you missed the happiest years.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Caridad said with fake sweetness, “but I will raise him my way. If I spoil him too much, when I go back to work, you’ll be the one dealing with his brattiness, and you will not like that.”
Rita covered her mouth with a hand.
“Back to work? I thought you were going to stay in the house at least until Mike was 1 year old. Children need their mothers when they are little.”
“With you always ready to clean his nalgas, I don’t think he’ll miss me that much.”
Rita froze up when she heard the word nalgas.
“My, this Cuban is vulgar,” she mumbled.
“Ah, but at night, you sleep like a log and I am the one who has to get up and take care of the kid’s cough, give him milk and whatnot.”
“Well, you are his mother,” Rita replied.
Caridad puffed up like an angry hen, put her hands on her hips and faced her mother-in-law.
“Isn’t Michael the father? Or I got pregnant on my own? Now, everyone knows how to order me around. But at 3 in the morning, nobody moves a finger to help me with ‘the baby.’”
In the meantime, Angelica was tidying the room. She picked up the dress from the floor and looked at it approvingly. As Caridad had done before, she put it in front of her body and smiled. It fit her to a T. Caridad followed her movements out of the corner of her eye.
“The pot that I smoked last night must have been pretty strong,” she thought, worried. “But I do not feel high, not even dizzy.”
“Who knows what else that stuff had?” she whispered to herself.
“Excuse me?” Rita asked.
“There is nothing to be excused for, señora,” Caridad said. “Here, we know that you are the one that bosses everybody around.”
Angelica nodded, but Rita replied with a resigned sigh.
“That’s so not true. My time has already passed, fortunately or unfortunately. My son is the boss now, seeing that he is the man of the house.”
“He’ll boss you around if you let him, but me — ñinga!” Caridad was about to show her middle finger to her mother-in-law, but she caught herself. “I start to work on November the 10th. And if your son doesn’t like it, that’s very much his problem.”
“What about Mike?”
“You take care of him, since you are always offering to do so, or I’ll send him to a preschool.”
Noticing that Angelica was still playing with the red dress, Caridad snatched it away.
Look at this cheeky ghost.
“Do you want me to fix it for you?” Rita asked.
“Are you a saint to do miracles?” Caridad sulked. “I’m a size 10 now and this is an 8.”
“Whatever. Now, may I ask where you plan to work?”
Michael’s voice came from the living room:
“I’m home, honey.”
Rita walked to the door.
“You and your husband can talk about all this,” she said. “Ah, I’m preparing our altar for the Day of the Dead. If you want to add pictures of your loved ones, give them to me.”
“I’ll see to that,” Caridad said. “I may have a photo of my mother somewhere.”
Rita left, looking anxiously at the cradle. Angelica followed her.
“Your loved ones!” Caridad repeated. “As if dead people were to rise from their graves just to solve my problems! Ay, sorry, mami! Why didn’t I bring you with me? Then nothing bad would have happened to you. You would be here with me. And I miss you, you know? My life has turned into a horror show. But someday – someday, I will do something, and it’s not going to be anything good!”
Find the Spanish version of this story here.