The House Novella Part 5 - Baby Jesus and Fireworks
Chapter 11 The Baby Jesus
It was Late Spring, and the family was getting around to putting away the Christmas tree. The final item that was to be put away was the Nativity Jesus. Lucero said to her mother, “Can I play with the Baby Jesus?”
“Sure, I don’t see why not. Just don’t drop our savior,” said Angelica.
Lucero took the porcelain icon with her to the front porch. There was a nice breeze and it seemed like a good a time as any to play. She saw outside Eufrasio talking with Judas. He was telling Eufrasio, “Look, in movies, you see people kicking a lot, but if you want to defeat your opponent all you truly need is a good punch. Since this is a playground fight, and not one of regulation, you can try the rabbit punch.”
“Rabbit punch?” asked Eufrasio.
“When you get close the kid, you can punch the back of the head or neck, with a curve punch. That usually disorients the opponent and it allows you to get a few more good hits. Also, use your common sense. Hit the softest part with the strongest parts of your body. The face has a few cartilages, which are pretty soft, and easy to break, like the nose and ears. Contrary to logic, don’t punch the mouth. The teeth are a super bone, you can break your wrist punching the mouth, unless if they have prosthetic teeth,” explained Judas with a playful smile on his face.
“I do not plan on using my fighting techniques on old people,” said Eufrasio.
“Look, people here loose their teeth real early, cause of the lack of milk,” said Judas.
After this lesson, Eufrasio started his straight punch practice. While he punched, Judas asked Eufrasio, “What’s that weird doll you sister is playing with?”
“Dunno. Why don’t you ask her,” said Eufrasio.
“I don’t want to be a bother. Her teacher says she is so serious, and quiet, and shy,” said Judas.
“Only when she is out of her element. If I am here, she will speak normally to you,” explained Eufrasio.
“Hey, Lucerito, show me your cute doll,” gestured Judas.
“Fine, I guess, but don’t break it,” said Lucero getting up. She added, “Why are you called Judas. Nobody I know is called Judas, because of Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus.”
“My father betrayed my mother, and when she had me, she was still angry at him. And, so she named me Judas because I looked so much like my father, the betrayer,” explained Judas.
Lucero held the savior to Judas. He frowned, when he noticed that it was the Nativity Jesus. It had its halo and everything.
Judas asked, “Isn’t it sacrilegious to play with Jesus?”
“I don’t know. An icon is just a piece of stone, we worship what it represents, not what it is. So, if she treats it like a normal baby, and not baby Jesus, I think it will be fine, maybe, I don’t know. The Bible is very contradictory on most things like idolatry,” explained Eufrasio.
“I don’t really get all that religious mumbo jumbo,” said Lucero.
“Me neither,” admitted Judas.
“Can I ask you a question?” asked Lucero.
“Sure,” said Judas.
“Where did you get those scars?” asked Lucero pointing at Judas’ wrist.
“I will answer that question if you tell me where you got your scars,” inquired Judas.
“Fair enough, but you first,” said Lucero.
Judas said pointing at one scar before telling the story of it, “I got the one near my chest, from a stab wound. I was playing with a knife when I was small, and I fell on it. The one on my wrist, I was trying to see if the knife was sharp, and it ended up cutting me a bit too much. The fists, I was testing to see if the walls were made of bricks or not. The scratch on the face, I was showing my aunt that I wanted to go to the beach and so I jumped off the table. The one on my tiny finger, I was running and gave a bad step, and so I fractured my bone, if got out of the skin and everything, it looked real nasty. The two burns on my forehead are from the electric shock therapy… am I forgetting one? Ah! I had my appendix removed.”
“Sheesh! What a mess. God, forbid, I am that foolish as well; but I do make my own share of mistakes,” said Lucero.
Pointing to her chin, she said, “This is one of my newest scars. I got it last year. Mother said not to run into the bathroom because the floor was wet, and I did it anyway. I broke my chin, blood everywhere. I got a couple of stiches…”
“She cursed like a bloody pirate. It was really quite unpleasant for all those involved,” Eufrasio added, “It sounded as if they were killing you.”
“They might as well. They did not use any anesthesia or nothing. It was quite dreadful to see the sewing needle, and thread going into your face, and feeling the skin drawing closer together like a piece of fabric,” said Lucero, “I shudder just thinking about it.”
Lucero then raised her leg, to show a slash on top of her feet. She then explained, “You remember a couple of months ago, I was in a wheelchair?”
“Yes, it was pretty depressing to watch,” said Judas.
“Well, it happened like this. Mom was taking me on her bike to her workplace. She kept telling me, keep your legs out of the spoke of the bike. Since I did not know what a spoke was, I kept my legs flaying all about not knowing where to put them. Anyhow, I eventually did find out what a spoke was, the worse way imaginable. And then back to the hospital,” said Lucero passing her hand over her crazy mane. With the other hand she held onto the ceramic baby Jesus. She added, “I have a couple of surgical scars here and there, but they do not have an interesting story behind them.”
“It is truly dreadful to be sick, isn’t it?” said Judas somewhat melodramatically. In spite of pretending to be sad, he could not help, but have a smile on his face.
“One gets used to it,” said Lucero.
This phrase caused Judas to feel dreadful for real. Lucero changing the subject said, “Don’t make a big deal about it. I am going to get cured for real, like real soon. There is going to be a Saint visiting in San Rosendo. He will put his hands on me, and I will get cured for real.”
“If that doesn’t work, the experimental treatment might actually take effect,” added Eufrasio.
“I would prefer if Jesus cured me, not the doctors,” said Lucero.
“How so?” asked Judas.
“Well, if their treatments works, then it means more tests to see why it worked. I worry that they might give me some other disease, to keep me as their lab rat forever, or till I die like all the other children,” said Lucero.
“How can you be certain they are dead?” asked Eufrasio.
“Well, one day they were there, and the next they were not. At night, I heard people sobbing in the lobby. People don’t cry over good news, do they? Well, they might cry, but also laugh too. I don’t really like being there,” said Lucero.
Judas said, “At least, your sickness has a treatment, problems of the mind do not have cures in this country. All they can do is fry your brain till you behave in a way that is convenient for everyone.”
“What is Mazorra like?” asked Eufrasio.
“I don’t know… I was in Guanito. It is a smaller, lesser known asylum from Pinal del Rio, but just as bad, or so I have been told. The time I spent there; I was like out of it. I do remember coming back home with just my ribs. It took a lot of time to regain my strength,” said Judas, “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” lied Eufrasio.
Lucero did know the reason. Madness ran in the family. Irina’s uncle was often seen roaming the streets with his dogs. He had lost his wife due to his hobby of taxidermy, and one time he got in a fight with a rabid dog. His best-known antics was decapitating a dog to make a walking stick out of his head. He would roam the streets with it. As his madness progressed, he drew further and further away from his family.
Back when Irina was wee small, her uncle used to take her and her brother camping. He taught her to hunt with a bow and arrow, and to cook fish and turtles. Irina learned all her cooking tricks from him.
Aside from her uncle, there was Irina’s brother Ivan. He had a fixation for magnets, and other bizarre methods of healing. He was a bit of a weirdo and a hypnotist. He was coocoo, even for the living contradiction that was Irina, the well-educated Santera. There were other loons, here and there, but none as infamous as Irina’s brother and uncle. It seemed as if the madness blood was strongest among males of the family.
Eufrasio too thought he was going insane. When he listened to classical music, he smelled cinnamon. Other times, when he smelled perfumes he saw colors. These were all symptoms of synesthesia, but Eufrasio did not know this. He simply thought he was losing his grip on reality. There were also the occasional visual hallucinations, but they had an external reason as well. He also had Tritan color blindness, but this did not bother him in the least, since it was just a change in the way objects were perceived.
Judas was familiar with how crazy people dodged the question. Still, he hoped it was just a matter of an overactive imagination. Though, he never got how “imagination” worked exactly. What visions were considered imagination and what were things that fell under the realm of childhood schizophrenia?
In the end, he decided to dismiss the matter altogether. Changing the subject, he said, “You should put the baby Jesus back in his box. You haven’t dropped it now, but it could happen any minute now, considering everything you just told me.”
“Mmm…you do have a point,” said Lucero listening to reason.
She started walking back, but a slight wind came and moved her mane. The rough edges scraped her shoulder a bit, and this scared her. Flinching forward, she yelled, “Jesus Christ!”
She lost her gripped and she dropped the heavy statue. The baby Jesus was decapitated. Frowning, she said, “Ooh! Poop! This is all your fault Judas!”
“Why me?” asked Judas.
“It’s that negative attitude of yours, you jinxed me, and now the Baby Jesus will never grow up to die in the cross,” said Lucero kneeling down to grab the head.
Eufrasio came over and said, “Maybe we can glue it back together?”
“Do you have some glue?” asked Lucero.
“No,” said Eufrasio.
“And you…” started saying Lucero when she noticed that Judas had left.
The gears were turning in that crazy head of his. Slowly, he was getting a fixation on the idea that his negative words caused harm to people. Later on, that night, he was heard yelling at the TV, “Fall! Fall! Fall!”
Close to dusk, Lucero brought the Baby Jesus to Irina. With a sad face, she said, “Eufrasio dropped the Baby Jesus.”
“Is this true Eufrasio?” asked Irina.
“Yes,” said Eufrasio taking the blame for his sister. He was always in the habit of doing so, even when people knew he was not even in the general vicinity.
Irina stared long and hard at the statue. Eventually, she sighed and said, “We can just glue his head back on. It is a good thing he is made of stone and not of flesh, broken stone head can be repaired, a flesh one cannot.”
Mmm…that doesn’t inspire me much confidence, though Eufrasio.
Irina then said, “Well, run along then.”
Eufrasio then left to the kitchen to do his homework. He was working on memorizing a poem. Lucero had a similar assignment, but she was putting it off till the morning before having to do her recitation. She had learned that if she ate something sweet before memorizing something, it could easily be spilled out. This method got the job done, but it would so often happen that she would forget the poem just after reciting it. For Lucero’s brain, most of everything she learned in school was useless, and not worth retaining. By the end of the school year, she would have forgotten almost everything, including the students and the teachers.
Anyhow, instead of trying to memorize her little Jose Marti poem, Lucero was tackling Volume 2 of the Three Musketeers. She had seen her father read the book recently, and he had finished it rather quickly. Lucero imagined that it might be a good, easy read. She read a couple of paragraphs into the book before becoming completely bored.
The night was spent quite at ease, but for reasons nobody in the family understood Irina seemed melancholic. Irina was thinking about her first-born son. Before Angelica’s oldest sister was born, Irina had her first son Juan Carlos. She had been suffering from depressing after his birth. On a whim, she gave her son away to an aunt. She offered her son to the aunt inside a picnic basket. Years later, she went to Spain to see how her son was doing. Juan Carlos did not speak to his mother, rather he gave her this Baby Jesus inside the picnic basket he was abandoned in. This gift said it all, and since then Irina has never tried to speak with her son Juan Carlos.
Chapter 12 The Fireworks
It was early summer, and another school year ended. The children were finally free to do as they so desired. It was during the summertime that Carnival was usually held. The dates varied from region to region. This was in part due to the Cuban government’s desire to remove all religious connotations from Carnivals. As such, this event no longer took place during religious holidays. They were usually done by an institution, for a specific purpose or other. Despite living in Cuba all their life, the children had never seen a Carnival before. This year the parents felt the kids were old enough to go see one. Irina did not go to Carnival, because after seeing it for quite a lifetime, it had lost some of its novelty. To her, everything seemed like everything, even Carnival.
The children and the parents sported sleeveless shirts, and shorts. This was done to cope with the heat. For some reason during Carnival, there was never any breeze from the ocean. With so many bodies and masses, it was guarantee that by the time they got home, the family would be dripping in sweat.
Slowly, from all the houses started emerging all the performers. To the children, the faces were both strange and familiar. One of the people they recognized was Mamadou. He was playing the drums dressed in a colorful costume. The checkerboard pattern alluded to the mad Harlequin, but the Caribbean element created quite the structural dissonance with the European looking costume.
The Cuban Carnival has been performed since the 16th century. During those festival days, the slaves and the descendants were allowed to practice their cultural traditions. Over the centuries, the African traditions and the Spanish European ones blended into the Carnival of today. Still, some aspects remained immutable. It always started at sunset, with the main performers coming out of their home to meet ther others in La Calle Real or The Royal Road. Sure, they could have all met, and started in the same location, still there was a nice drama about a trickle of performers combining into a large mass of people.
Soon, the beating of the drums began, and the show was allowed to start. The floats stood out in dazzling lights. They were pillars, that towered over the Neoclassical Spanish buildings that littered La Calle Real.
The children noted the dancers, the light and the fun. Since this was Carnival and not Mardi Gras, the people in the floats did not throw beads. Instead, they threw streamers that the Cubans called serpentinas. The celebration was all about the rhythm, dancing and music. The spectators, entranced, also started dancing, as they saw the floats passing by. On top of each one, there was the main dancing lady.
Back when she was in school, Angelica had been the main dancing girl on top of the float of her school. When she had told Lucero this, naturally, the girl had asked how one was chosen. Angelica invented a story about a rigorous dancing competition. The reality was that there was a simple list one used to sign up for it. The head of the institution arranged for all the positions, and one simply had to follow in suit from here on out.
As most things in Cuba, one did not try out for a specific role, rather it was given to you. The overall themes of the floats depended on what was in style. At the moment, a lot of the heads of the institutes were particularly hungry. For this reason, many of the floats were fruit themed.
When the main float arrived, it was themed after a Papaya. In the middle of the fruit, there was a lady dancing. This caused a lot of giggles and hooting for plenty of Cuban reasons. The fruit name is slang for the lady parts. Anyhow, from this float there erupted fireworks. They were pretty cool, but as they started falling down, people instinctively sought shelter. The fireworks still glowing landed on the floor. They would have scorched anyone who had stayed there when the sparks landed.
This was not a new occurrence. For as long as Eduardo and Angelica remember, the fireworks had always burned people. It was part of the reason why the parade float that shot the fireworks had a canopy. It was usually clear of dancers and performers. They knew to stay the hell away from the fireworks.
Eufrasio and Lucero followed the movement of the fireworks with their eyes. Since their parents drew back, they knew to follow in suit. The children who did not were dragged away. This was the first time the children had seen fireworks, and they were fascinated by them.
The celebration ended around midnight. The people dispersed as the last float passed by. Some followed behind it, as it made its final round in La Calle Real. As long as there was music turning, there was still a party to be had. The parents carried their exhausted children back home. When they arrived home, they knocked on the door.
Angelica yelled, “Mother, we are home, open the door!”
There was no answer.
Eduardo added, “This isn’t funny! Open the door now!”
After ten minutes of knocking, Judas came outside and said, “Some people are trying to sleep!”
“Mom fell asleep. Can you climb on top of the roof and see if you can wake her up. Her bedroom is the first window on the left,” explained Angelica.
“What a bother,” said Judas.
He did as he was told, climbing onto the roof of his own house, and then walking to roof of the other house. From there, he climbed down the antenna to get to the interior garden. Following, he knocked on the door of Irina’s room.
Yelling he said, “Grandma, you left your grandkids locked outside. Please do have the decency to get up and open the door.”
The door opened after hearing a lot of locks and turning of keys. Irina had a machete and she had a half-asleep kind of look. Her eyes opened wide when she saw Judas. She took a swing at him, and Judas said, “Woah! I am your neighbor. It’s me! Judas! You know me. Or have you gone senile.”
Irina narrowed her eyes a bit, and then the light of recognition came into her eyes. Frowning she said, “What are you doing crazy person?”
“I could ask you the same thing! Don’t you remember? Your kids went to the Carnival thing! They are outside, you locked the door on them,” explained Judas.
“Ohh. Yes, that’s right! I forgot!” said Irina alarmed.
She ran to the entrance and she removed all the locks to allow the rest of the family to enter inside. With the noise problem resolved, Judas allowed himself to return to bed. Waiting for him was his cat Mika. He laid down on the bed, and he putted on the cat on top of his forehead. Once both were comfortable, Judas breathed in a sigh of relief, and he fell quickly to sleep.
The following day was more or less uneventful. Since Carnival happened to coincide with an important secular holiday or whatever, there was to be fireworks that night. It was around 8 p.m. when the fireworks began. The children were watching with their parents a TV show called Pateando la Lata, or Kicking the Can. It was a variety comedy show with several different skits. From time to time, it got sanctioned. One of their best jokes was about telling children to behave, otherwise they would be forced to watch Russian Cartoons.
The children came outside to see the fireworks. Eufrasio saw across the road, Yenifer. She lived in front of their house. He asked her, “Do you see the fireworks?”
“Yes, they are pretty clear from my house,” said Yenifer.
The brother and sister ran across the road to see the fireworks. Eufrasio held his sister’s hand, as he did whenever he was crossing the road. He looked left and right and then he ran across. The street itself was pretty dark. On one corner, there was a single light post. Whenever there were blackouts, it was the only light still on. During such events, it was too hot to fall asleep. It was common for the parents to bring out the couch to the front porch to play games. The main game was Veo Veo. To the English speaker, it is the equivalent of I Spy. It was an interesting challenge considering the lack of light. It was just what one could do, since there was a scarcity of candles, and the lantern only had so much oil to work with.
On this particular night, the street post was off, which was a bit unusual. As a result, the street was completely dark. Eufrasio was only able to recognized Yenifer because of her silhouette. She too was bathed in shadows, with the faint back lighting of the windows that was attenuated by the curtains. The streets themselves were pretty silent, except for the occasional sound of fireworks.
The children went back and forth between the houses a couple of times. On the fourth time they were crossing the street, they got ran over. Had Cuba been rich in cars and motorcycles, the children would have died for certain. Instead, the kids had been run over by a bicycle. This is not to say that a bike cannot kill a person. It has been known to happen, but there are no statistical data recording the pedestrians deaths caused by bicycle people. Eufrasio was the first to rise, and his sister soon followed. The impact pushed Eufrasio, and he pushed his sister to the side as well. As a result, Lucero fell into the asphalt bruising her hands and knees. Since Eufrasio had gone limp, he did not get hurt by the bike too much. Still, startled, he did what naturally came to him. Crying, him and sister, started yelling and running back home saying, “Mom, we got ran over.”
“What!” exclaimed the three adults indoor.
Angelica ran first to Lucero, who seemed quite bloodied. After getting the wounds cleaned and bandaged, Lucero was more or less good to go. Still, she would limp from her scrapped knee for the next couple of weeks.
On the following morning, Eufrasio came outside to practice his straight punch a bit. He was disappointed to note that Judas was not there. Eufrasio saw across the road where he had fallen. There were some blood marks on the place were Lucero had fallen. He also noticed that there was a blood splatter ahead as well.
What had occurred was that the cyclist had been propelled from his seat after bashing against the two children. Since he did not have a helmet, he had bashed his skull against the floor. The front wheel of the bike had been ruined. The identity of the cyclist was poor Judas. He had been returning from visiting his grandmother when he ran over the children. His bicycle had no light, and he thought he did not need it because of the streetlamp. It was on when he had left, but on his return trip the stupid lamp had gone out.
This was an unfortunate, inevitable event. Still, this did not stop Judas from becoming depressed. He was not seen or heard from till Fall. When he was spotted out an about again, he was his usual self again, all thanks to the curing magic of electroshock therapy.