Today, my aunt tried to convince me that I had a guardian spirit.
“She’s an India with long, black hair. Brown eyes. Dark skin…”
“Mami?” I asked, my usual skepticism shattering as if I had ripped the string holding the rosary beads together.
“Your mother? No, no. Not her. Nydia doesn’t follow you anymore.” She pursed her lips around the yellow cigarette filter, shaking her head as she inhaled. When she spoke, smoke slithered from her nose and lips. “She only appears in my dreams now.”
My mother died the summer before my ninth grade year. In contrast to my aunt and my grandmother, I never again saw her afterwards, not in my dreams, not standing next to my grandfather’s spirit at the chinero, which Helga Luz claimed was a favorite observation point for the spirits. Only once did she come to me, on the very night of her murder. I had not been with her, instead asleep in the room my grandparents reserved in their house for me. When the police arrived, I was forced to confront a world in which she no longer existed.
My other aunt, Letty – gentler, kinder and less afflicted by the supernatural then Helga Luz – took pity on me and slept next to me that night. My grief was so unbearable, I didn’t think I’d find rest. But somehow, I did. Mami visited me that night and comforted me, though I can no longer recall the details. The dream had been so real, I’d forgotten she’d died until I woke and found the wrong woman sleeping next to me. I screamed for what seemed like hours and maybe that’s why Mami never came back.
“Now, about this India —”
“You’re just making her up.”
“Aye, mija. You grab at your mother like you are trying to hold on to water.” Her slender, heavily ringed fingers swiped at the cloud of death in front of her. “La India is here with you. But you need to tell her to stop scaring the other spirits. Your grandfather won’t come out of the bathroom because she keeps looking at him with fire in her eyes.”
“I can’t control what doesn’t exist.”
“She exists —”
“And even if she does, I didn’t even know until ten minutes ago that she was following me around.”
Helga Luz sighed heavily, sucking in the white-grey fumes which floated around her. She should be dead by now, living on such contaminated air. “You young people. You come to this country, forget the saints, and then you wonder why the spirits are upside down. Let me make an altar for you—”
“I don’t want an altar.”
“If you make an altar and bind her to you, La India will behave. Right now, she is too angry to control, just like you.”
“I’m not angry!” I slammed my hand down on the table.
She stared at me as if bored, then lit another Newport menthol with the butt of a nearly expended cigarette, the burning tip flaring like the light of a train emerging from a tunnel each time she took a drag. The smoke hung in evanescent cobwebs on the forest of her thick, auburn-tinted hair. She blew the smoke slowly, deliberately, into my face. The world froze, then shifted out of focus. Her eyes, deep green flecked with amber and brown, grew large and brightening, forcing me to turn away.
“Bind her to you,” she whispered.
I leaned back, then rocked sideways, the air having turned to the thick consistency of heavy cream. It surrounded me, lapping at my skin, my eyelids, my lungs. I gripped the table.
Her eyes flared brighter, and the regular hum of the old, aluminum refrigerator became a howl of fury and distant grief.
“Bind her to you,” she repeated, though her lips did not move.
My skin prickled, even beneath my warm sweater and jeans. My feet were freezing, though they were swaddled in socks and boots. The old, worn chinero was a presence looming over me, a dark woman stretching her web of dead arms to touch me. I wanted scream, but knew it would only emerge like a gurgle in air which had become unbreathable.
“Bind her to you.” she chanted, over and over, her eyes and hair on fire, blocking out everything in my vision. The world was unreachable and I was going blind. But I had the certainty that it was there, it must be there, even if I could not see it.
“Bind her to you.”
“No!” I shouted, shoving myself upright, the chair falling back with a loud thud on the linoleum floor. The noise snapped my vision back into place, sweeping away the flaming hair, the penetrating eyes, the viscous, suffocating air. I didn’t realize until I heard my rough, raspy breathing that I was gasping for air.
Helga Luz sighed. She stood, picking up the seashell ashtray, flicking the ash from her cigarette. She no longer spoke to me but to some point beyond the bookcase next to the corridor, in the direction of the bathroom. “I tried, papá. You’ll just have to wait in there until she leaves,” she said as she made her way towards the corridor.
“Where are you going?” I gasped, still struggling to breathe.
“Get twenty dollars from the top drawer of the cabinet and go buy me olive oil and rice. I’m laying down for a nap.”
I shook my head, freeing myself of what remained of that moment, and unable to believe that everything had returned to its same monotony. I was nauseous and my head was still swimming. “That’s it?”
She ignored me, her cigarette cloud following her like a retinue as she disappeared into the darkness of the corridor, leaving me alone in the company of those unrequited spirits.
NOTE: *chinero – china cabinet
About the Author:
Sera Taíno was born in Jersey City, NJ to Puerto Rican parents. She studied English Literature in Rutgers University and has a Masters in Education from Stetson University. A teacher by day, she is also a published writer. Her credits include contributions to multiple romance anthologies. As a cross-genre writer, she also writes poetry and literary fiction, all with romantic elements. She is currently at work on a New Adult Romance, tentatively entitled At Summer’s End, and various other short works.