|Lupita Checking Out: Day of the Dead & The Scorpion Queen|
Jan Baumgartner - PVNN
A Fictional Story from Mexico
|(MiMundo.org, courtesy Flickr)|
Not even the sound of Mariachis serenading a wedding posada along her street got her to run up to the roof terrace where before, she would breathe in the lively music and the energy of the revelers following close behind, their laughing faces only watery memories of how life once felt.
The small burro draped in bright flowers led the procession, followed by ten foot papier mache puppets of bride and groom, but the burro, too, seemed tired as if in a trance and the weight of paper roses and sunflowers made it look even smaller.
Music, now, made her feel even closer to the dead than the living. She had tried, struggled valiantly to walk amongst the living, to let go of the shadows of death and the dying, the losses that had plagued her often and steadily in life. But now, she took only half breaths and rarely exhaled. The shadows that longed to pull her deeper into oblivion sucked what little life still held some fragile footing in the world of the living; too frail to take root and the dusty soil that clung, broke off too easily to hold promise.
It wasn't that she feared the shadows; they were familiar faces after all, her mother, father, siblings, her husband, her dreams - they were family and they were together now but gone from her world, leaving her behind and alone. She only felt alive one day of each year, on El Dia de los Muertos, Day of The Dead, when she could walk alongside her family enroute to their graves, make alters of orange marigolds and sugar skulls and light candles all day and night while she wept across the open flames and loaves of pumpkin bread, begging the angels to take her home. Sometimes, she would drink the mescal that was left as an offering. She didn't much like the taste but the numbness made her feel something other than empty.
The Siamese cat across the street howled and moaned, sounds all too familiar to her. Lupita knew she was walking on that thin, delicate lip of the terrace wall, but no one else did; they chose not to believe, to see the blackness in her pale tea colored eyes, the shades pulled lower and lower each day, the dying geraniums on her windowsill. Who wants to know this of someone they love? Or maybe they didn't recognize death in the living, or the slow fading of life when the display or façade was always painted in tints that pale the sun, forever laughing, chin up to the wind, flipping off devils and darkness that clawed at her ankles.
People never see the slow fading. They never know of the going. And for one reason only; they don't want to. They can't bear it. Better to live for laughter and words of hope than acknowledge the despair, the desolation of one pulled under by the tow of moon and tide and family ghosts.
Too many losses replaced only by sporadic care, equal measures of indifference and malevolence, add up to less than nothing. Lupita felt nothing. She felt like one of the grainy candied skulls that sat motionless on the offering table.
How many years, she wondered, did she have to lose? Did she have to lose all around her that touched her skin with a human connection that reminded her she was indeed alive? She no longer had family, no old friends close by, nor lover, partner, pet. Small child, grown child, neighbor - anyone to remind her that she was still a part of the living who knew what fresh roses and mangoes smelled like before they were cut and bled.
Skin left untouched withers. Hearts left unloved atrophy. When Lupita saw only darkness and shadow and felt only cool skin, she knew that the smell of the first spring plumbago, pale green blade of grass, the lifeforce of damp soil bearing the sweet breath of jasmine and eternal hope, had passed her by. She was left buried in the depths of soil and earth that no longer could support beating hearts.
Hers slowed down even when it raced or skipped beats. It made no sense other than it was kicking and screaming before the dying. Life all around, fireworks and singing, children laughing, lovers whispering, planning, animals howling at the moon and stars, babies born and elderly sitting in tight silence groups with one another, around a kitchen table with cups of strong coffee and platters of sugared donuts, no words but energy, still, palpable beneath a single roof made her realize that she had become invisible, she could no longer walk with the living, she had stopped breathing the day the car slid off the mountainside and her family left her behind, one small surviving breath. She had stopped breathing long before her last breath had given way.
It wasn't fair.
The peculiar thing was she looked alive. She looked real and people said strange things to her like how beautiful her smooth, brown skin looked in her pale yellow blouse, and "Lupita, you always make us laugh!," that she was a "rock" and "valiant," a real "survivor in the face of tragedy," that she was still young and, and, - meaningless words, to her. They wanted to believe that was what she was, it gave them strength, reason to go on, reason to believe in something higher, but in fact, it was someone else, she was other, different than they and that is why they couldn't recognize what and who she had become - an empty husk but for a trace of salt and sand, but still pretty in her pale yellow blouse.
She couldn't be their strength, their hope. That was too much of a burden. They had to find it within themselves. She didn't care any more that they no longer wished her to grieve. They wanted a time limit, a cut off date when all the world would be better again. But they didn't know of how she suffered. So many days and nights do not fade all memories. She would not find replacements for a mother, father, sisters and brother, her husband. They pleaded with her to stop baking Pan de Muerto, but she couldn't stop herself from buying pumpkin.
Her death was confirmed when from the corner of her eye she saw a large, dark brown figure. It had claws and an upward sweep of a tail, it had born young and weeks earlier, in fright, she had slain one of the small, and now the mother, very much alive, sat before her, unafraid.
I am death, the creature seemed to say. And here she was, Lupita, checking out, so afraid of being stung, hurt, killed by claws and tails and venom, and yet so ready to say goodbye, in her dilemma, the dichotomy of feeling ready for the final shadow and yet determined to survive, she chose half breath over the small creature. She hated to take life, any life, no matter what, no matter how small. She had witnessed too much death and it was not hers to decide on fate, but she felt threatened. Even though she stood on the lip of the terrace ready to jump and fly up into the heavens where her family awaited, she chose to live. For that moment. She saw the faces of her family dotted in between sugary visions of candied skeletons and flickering candlelight and all at once, they shook their heads and blew out the flames.
She whispered to the small yet threatening life form resting near her, she apologized, agonized, how, what, where, not wanting anything to suffer any longer on this earth, not suffer as she had and did, so she made it swift.
In its death she apologized again. She knew one day she would follow suit. But for tonight, Lupita's checking out took a deeper breath while another took its last.
A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a writer and book editor dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico. Her writings on Mexico will be included in the new literary journal, Lady Jane (San Francisco Bay Press, 2009) Her background includes scriptwriting, comedy writing for the No. California Emmy Awards, and travel writing for The New York Times. She has worked as a grant writer for the non-profit sector in the fields of academia, AIDS, and wildlife conservation for NGO's in the U.S. and Africa. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous online and print publications including the NYT, Bangor Daily News, SCOOP New Zealand, Wolf Moon Journal, Media for Freedom Nepal, and BanderasNews in Mexico. She's finishing a memoir about her husband's death from ALS and how travels in Africa became one of her greatest sources of inspiration. She is a Managing Editor for OpEdNews.
Click HERE for more articles by Jan Baumgartner.