Liuva’s gone crazy. And it’s the night Mama’s left for the banana festival.
Every year around this time, when the air’s thick and soggier than blankets left out overnight in the rain, Mama raises her old gray head and sniffs the air. Her left nostril flares and shrivels. Liuva used to watch her for hours just to catch a glimpse of her extraordinary nose in action.
There’s a certain scent the humidity squeezes from the gnarled old peach trees in our orchard at this time of year. Before I was nine I could tell almost to the day when Mama would disappear. She never failed to leave a note: “Gone to the _____ festival.”
Each year it was a different fruit, and Liuva and I, when we were still young and foolish, used to wonder what Mama was really doing. We hung out the wash as usual when she was gone, knowing the faded yellow floral sheets, pillowcases, and towels would be even wetter in the morning.
Liuva asked around the wooden clothespin in her mouth, “Where d’you think she’s wandered off to this time?”
I shrugged. “Last week she was complaining her feet hurt. Maybe she’ll bring us back some new shoes.”
“I remember the year she spent days talking about how lazy we were and ought to get the back end of the orchard weeded — ”
We shuddered in unison. We both know the back’s death for us. Whatever’s down there is locked tight only by the cage of tangled weeds.
Liuva went on, “She came back from the mango festival with a load of hoes and rakes and stuff. And what did she do? Throw ‘em all down the well. I don’t know where she gets the money, but I do know those festivals have never done us any good.”
“Then let’s just forget about it.” And that was that, I thought.
I still keep expecting Liuva to laugh and say it was just another one of her spells, one of those bad times that come upon all of us every now and then. But no, she keeps on chomping away at those peach trees. It’s been three hours and she’s polished off nine of them. If she keeps going at that rate she’ll run out of trees in the weeded area and have to go into the back end. I don’t want to be around when that happens.
Mama did say just last night, “You kids are too crazy for me. An old body like me needs some peace before she dies.”
What if Mama never comes back, and Liuva eats all the trees? How will I keep the house going? I don’t know, but it’s getting dark and I think I better hang out the wash. I don’t want to tell Liuva that Mama didn’t leave a note this time, but I found her hard and cold in the clothes basket we use to store bunches of green bananas.
CECILIA ARAGON’s six-word memoir reads: Programmer, pilot, professor, poet: what’s next? The daughter of immigrants, she lives in the only city she swore she’d never visit, where she teaches people the beauty of data. Her fiction has appeared in Cricket Magazine and the Purple Aardvark.