Disturbing the Spirits

Years ago I served hot chocolate every Wednesday to residents of an elder care home, wandering the halls waiting for a resident to wander the halls looking for someone to talk to. Secretly I loved best taking advantage of a faraway gaze to watch the TV program the occupant wasn’t really watching. Something in me twinged when I thought about the faraway gaze. What it might mean. Where they had gone. Where were they wandering?

A series of images, as it all is. All memories are. Isa stands beside me, describing seasons I can’t imagine.

The mountains, Johann says immediately when I ask what he will miss. It’s so immediate it’s almost like I didn’t ask the question.

Later I notice a slight tear in the skin of my thumb and cannot remember where it came from.

In minutes the weather goes from chilly to baking. This sort of dry, lifted heat reminds me of being smaller, time I spent being warm. Summers in southern California are so damn hot. Afternoons yawn on. Slightly removed, hanging in the heat, objects, even. A series of images, as it all is. All memories are. Isa stands beside me, describing seasons I can’t imagine.

I return to a coffee shop to take a picture of the square-jawed, small-faced woman who heats chocolate cake for me. She gives me the ring I left on the bathroom sink. Las almitas protect her, she says when I mentioned angels, little souls, little souls flying about her sweaty face. On her day off she cleans her daughter’s house; her son-in-law does not work.

I awake to sunlight on heavy tie-dyed blankets. Isa and Johann, back from the market, stop the music every couple of seconds so Johann can write down the lyrics Isa slowly repeats. Maria and I smoke out of her carrot. She leafs through an art history book. The old kitty is one Maria put into her pocket for keeps when she was eight years old. The kitty was scurrying through the market. Johann writes these words down: Nunca fue fácil, como explicarte. Maria tells me Angelina Jolie is amazing — “the voice of the ‘80’s,” is the way she puts it in Spanish, and to say it’s true she says no ve, don’t you see — because she does whatever she wants and people are still in awe of her. Another kitty, this one thirteen years old. Another stretch of lace fabric. I let sun lie. Outside everything is pale mountain. Lace flickers its shadow on my jeans.

The Diva has a white-cloaked death figurine on her shelf. My mother loves death, Isa explains. It’s the one thing we’re all afraid of but it will happen to all of us.

Bridge higher up than you would believe. Many people commit suicide here, Maria tells me. “All those who are tired and carrying heavy loads must give themselves to God” is painted along the edge and maybe it’s just my translation but that seems just the thing to tell me to get me to jump, stains of red in the mountains, here where we are lifted higher than belief, parsed out whitely, they slide over each other; here between towering mountains like turrets I might just fly.

The Diva has a white-cloaked death figurine on her shelf. My mother loves death, Isa explains. It’s the one thing we’re all afraid of but it will happen to all of us. On top of her shelves, which overflow with every kind of book, a headdress from the Beni region, plus all the cats and dogs whose distinct personalities are part of the household. I find a perfect purple pen at the end of the day, near a Rancid album and a copy of Lolita. Walk out into the unbaked unmasked mountains the color of blood mid-soak into the earth, houses of the poor wherever earth is even remotely flat, stuck in crevices.

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