- Fiction, Folio, Reading, Writing

Blessed Believers in the Unreal, by Lyn Di Iorio

 

Her name is Guanábana. One of her parents is a tropical fruit, a guava, say. The other is more like a pear, the kind that grows on trees in Brooklyn backyards and usually can’t be eaten unless cooked.

Guanábana herself grows up on a tropical island that considers itself to be, and not to be, the U.S. This to-be/not-to-be-ness is something Guanábana identifies with in her early years, as she has inherited only a few of her mother Guava’s tropical traits. So she is somewhat tropical, but not in a completely recognizable way. Her skin is blackish green and scaly on the outside. On the inside, however, she is sort of mushy, grainy, white, and sour-sweet. In the English Caribbean, she would be called a soursop.

But as our tale concerns the Spanish Caribbean, let’s stick with guanábana, a good Taíno word. The greedy Spaniards who came to the island for gold found little of it, but made sure they killed most of the native Taínos. Some, such as Guanábana’s grandmother, say a few Taínos escaped the killings by hightailing it to the mountainous interior where they mixed with runaway slaves and a few outlaw whites and maybe gave rise to a bunch of island types, including the Jíbaros (more about that soon). But what’s left of the Taínos are mostly words: guayaba, Guánica, Guanina, Guavate, guayabera, Guantánamo (but that word was left by the Taínos of another island), and, most important of all, guanábana. Words that contain the tropics in them, words that sound innocent but have depths that have mostly been forgotten.

Before she realizes it’s not the height of fashion to have scaly, green-black skin, Guanábana is happy with her mother, Guava, her father, Brooklyn Pear, and the island palette of greens, blues, purples, and reds pulsing and billowing in the sweet and salty tropical heat.

 

The concrete house her family’s ground level apartment is in is a rental and the furniture in it is makeshift. The couch is a wooden board with a pillowed layer thrown on top and two long pillows as a backrest. Still, Guanábana, Mami Guava, and Daddy, the inedible Brooklyn Pear, live more or less comfortably. Guanábana laughs at Daddy Pear’s jokes, which are in English. Mami Guava smiles in puzzlement at the jokes because her English is too poor for her to catch all the dazzling nuances.

Mami Guava complains all the time that she wants to live in a real house.

Daddy Pear answers that he lived in an apartment his whole childhood in Brooklyn and he thinks apartments are just fine.

Guanábana has an idea. “Why don’t we live in a bohío?” She is exhilarated by the notion of living in a hut thatched with palm leaves, one like her Abuelita lives in.

“A real bohío would never survive a hurricane,” Mami says.

“The Taínos did okay,” Daddy says, ruffling Guanabana’s scales. “Ain’t that right, kiddo?”

“Abuelita lives in a bohío and nothing has happened to her.”

“We’re not in the big leagues like Abuelita,” Daddy says.

Abuelita’s bohío is cute but a bit low-life, this much Guanábana understands. She also understands that Daddy doesn’t believe Abuelita’s magical powers are real. Now she sees that the nuances in Daddy Pear’s jokes, of which Mami Guava is mostly the butt, are a little hurtful. Still, he makes her smile with this.

So at first Guanábana thinks it’s cool to be maybe a little cruel.

 

Mami Guava speaks English poorly; Daddy Pear speaks no Spanish. Guanábana translates for them. After a while, Mami and Daddy fight a lot. Guanábana, as their unofficial translator, cannily mistranslates.

One day, after Daddy Pear comes in way past the usual time, Mami Guava shouts, “Guany, ask him where he was so long. Where are the groceries, carajo? And why does he smell so bad, coño?”

Guanábana smiles blandly. “Mami says you look tired. She feels bad for you. Would you like to go for pizza in the Condado? Pizza cheese has something in it that relaxes you.”

Daddy Pear has smooth tight skin, but if he could frown now, he would. “Ask that fruit where she thinks I can get the money for a restaurant in the Condado?”

“Mami, Daddy says he’s tired. We can order pizza so you don’t have to cook.”

Mami Guava narrows her little pale Guava eyes, “Ask him why whenever we order food, it’s always pizza? Are we too good to order Criollo food?

“Huh?” Guanábana says.

“What did she say? Guany, hey, where are you—”

Guany closes the door to her tiny room off the kitchen, and decides to enroll Mami and Daddy in, respectively, an English and Spanish class at the university the first chance she gets.

When her parents are at home and she is not at school, Guanábana hoofs it to Abuelita’s house.

For translation is a thankless task.

 

Abuelita lives a few neighborhoods away, in a shanty town on the rocks overlooking the Atlantic—small, houses, the old ones made of wood, the newer ones of concrete—built into the cliff haphazardly over the years, yet painted bright pinks, reds, and yellows, colors that Guanábana loves, and also envies since the concrete block building she and Mami and Papi live in is a very faint white with a cast of green to it.

Abuelita is not a fruit but a woman with brown skin and a big smile. How did it happen that she is the mother and grandmother of fruit? Strangely, it’s something Guava and Guanábana don’t ponder as often as you’d think. They see themselves as being a lot like their mother and grandmother, you see, despite the glaring difference in species.

There’s a lot of wisdom stashed underneath Abuelita’s wonderful thick white hair. And no wrinkles whatsoever. In Abuelita’s bohío—yes, a bohío, in the middle of the wood and concrete shacks, I’ve seen it—in the hierbas room, there are a whole lot of dried plants, seeds, and herbs hanging in sheaves, bundles, and bags. Abuelita packages them and sells them from her bicycle, which she rides all over the island, keeping in touch with Jíbaros and the last surviving Taínos, whom only Abuelita gets to talk to. Whenever Guany tells Mami Guava about the last of the Taínos, Mami Guava says, “That is not true. There are no more Taínos! No hay más. ¿Entiendes?” Mami Guava has gotten a little wrinkled and ugly from repeating this so-called fact over and over again: “There are no more Taínos!”

Abuelita looks way younger than her daughter. This is because Abuelita, by all accounts, is a bruja. If you haven’t read identity narratives before, that means witch, but Abuelita has told Guanábana it actually means “blessed believer in the unreal.” Maybe she used to be a fruit, and turned herself into a woman? Every now and then, she produces money that she gives Mami Guava for Guanábana’s schooling at a private school, which Guany’s parents could not otherwise afford. When asked where the money comes from, Abuelita says, “Happy customers.”

Although her daughter Guava dislikes Abuelita’s witchery, Guany is enchanted by it. Abuelita is a charmer. Not just that. Abuelita might actually be able to help Guanábana.

One day, Guanábana asks Abuelita if she has an herbal infusion for switching her into a more comely fruit.

“What kind of fruit?” Abuelita says.

“A mango.”

“Mangos aren’t the happiest fruit, you know, mijita.”

Happy—who cares about happy? Guany is thinking cute and comely. But Abuelita may be the only adult she respects, so she says, “Okay, which are the happiest ones?”

Abuelita shifts her thick long white hair over one shoulder. “Pineapples, I think.”

Guanábana doesn’t respond. The pineapple, it’s true, is an accepted fruit, a sweet and popular one. But it’s actually scalier even than a guanábana. And it has a really ugly-looking mop of god-knows-what on top. Frowning, she tells Abuelita shortly that they can talk about this later.

Guanábana goes into the living room of Abuelita’s little apartment, which is filled with rattan furniture, hand-crocheted table runners, and two old hurricane lamps from Abuelita’s youth. She stares at the old TV, but doesn’t turn it on as the reception is so bad here you can barely see the images. Suddenly, the surf slams against the rocks outside the bohío and the sharp salt breeze relaxes Guanábana.

Abuelita brings Guanábana one of her special teas. This particular tea smells like roses and tastes like honey and makes Guanábana very happy. How great to be a guanábana, she thinks as she trundles home over citified hill and dale. How very green and soupy white, and sour-sweet, a perfect combination of textures and colors. In comparison, mangoes, always so golden and sugary no matter what the variety, are pretty boring.

But at home, which is eerily quiet because Mami is sleeping and Daddy is out, probably living it up, the happy tea finally wears off.

In the middle of the night, Guany bounces off the bed, turns the overhead light on, and looks at herself in the mirror.

Not only does she have dark green scaly skin, she is fat! Lulled by Abuelita’s, “Eres mi gordita linda” and Daddy’s “You’re pleasantly plump,” she has never before noticed just how fat she is. She exceeds the boundaries of the body mirror!

Tiptoeing into the living room, she calls Abuelita on the somewhat outdated black phone. “Abuelita, can I have some more of that special tea?”

“Mija you should be in bed. It’s late. You can’t have so much special tea. It’s a medicine. Too much medicine will kill the cure.” Is that a whoosh of static or is Abuelita yawning?

Guany goes to bed even more discomfited than she had been before she drank the dichoso tea. Why won’t Abuelita just turn her into a mango and be done with it? The mango at school is gorgeous and seems extremely on top of the world.

 

Mango is one of those blessed golden children. The green in her skin is a perfect shade and mixed nicely with enticing tropical patches of red and orange. And though she is plump, she is not too plump. She looks cute, in short, in the gray skirt and vest of their school uniform. The girls like to gossip with her. Gawking, the boys stand around her and whisper, “Now that’s a really ripe mango.”

Guanábana doesn’t know her, but one day, just for the hell of it, she goes up to her and says, “Hola.”

Mango turns on Guany a gaze so full and content, so shining that Guany winces. It is as if the sun, the moon, and the stars are all blazing on her at once, and Guany fears she could over-ripen and rot in a jiffy so she takes one step back. She badly wants to tell Mango some good gossip about how one of Abuelita’s teas makes it so that you don’t want to sleep and you stay up all night memorizing textbook after textbook, but before the brilliance of that golden gaze, all Guanábana can do is gawk and stutter.

Mango’s expression doesn’t change but it was unflappable to start with. “What are you?” Quickly scanning her, she snickers, adding, “Whatever you are, you must be the boy version.” The sudden sneer mars her beautiful green and red skin.

Against her best instincts, Guany reaches out a hand to smooth the wrinkle, and Mango screams.

Somebody runs over and punches Guany.

She falls, making a splatting noise, then rises, alarmed, running her hands over her body. “Oh god!” she screams, touching the soft spot, soursap oozing through the skin, whereupon she drops to the ground, again with a big thud, which this time she does not hear.

 

After this terrible encounter with the queen of the school, Guanábana does not just shrink into a pit of soul-shivering chagrin—she is shunned. The other kids go around saying she is a weird, ancient fruit and an even weirder boy version of it. A boy that wears skirts instead of the pants mandated by the nuns.

“I’m not a boy,” Guany will answer miserably, but the retort is usually, “How would anyone know? We’ve got a few pineapples, bananas, and guavas, but you’re the only guanábana here.”

It’s true. This is a city school. Most guanábanas are Jíbaros, peasants from the countryside.

The kids at Guanábana’s school like to invoke the Jíbaro as myth. Some of them may never have been out on the island, but they like to sing songs about living in the mountains “Alegre Vengo de la Montaña” at Christmas and “Que Bonita Bandera” all year round. Some of them even play the traditional Jíbaro instruments: cuatro, güiro, maracas. But Guanábana’s a real Jíbara—her abuelita after all lives in a bohío. Guany is astounded that people don’t recognize a real Jíbara when they see one. Clearly, most people would rather sing songs about Jíbaros than actually talk to one.

At the end of the school year, Mango wins the “All-Around Fruit of the Year Award” and medals in math, science, Spanish, and history. Guany wins the English medal. After she has collected it and is sitting in the audience, the boy sitting next to her says, “Well, your Papi’s a Brooklyn Pear, so of course you speak English better than Mango.”

At the end of the ceremony, Guany gets up to leave but glances behind her. On the stage, all the teachers are standing around Mango and gawking, giggling, and stuttering.

 

Daddy Pear may not be a real tropical fruit but he sure acts like one. Daddy Pear has lots of “amigas” and breaks Mami Guava’s heart time after time. Finally, one day, Daddy Pear dies under mysterious circumstances with one of his many more-than-friends in the same neighborhood Abuelita lives.

It’s not immediately apparent what the cause of death is. Certainly not a knife or a gun. Or sun exposure—he was a Northern fruit, after all.

However, Daddy Pear and his mistress, Pineapple Banana, are found in her apartment sitting at a small cheap dining table, their heads resting on it.

There is a plain white porcelain teapot on the table. Cups made out of polished coconut husks—surely a sign of the degeneracy of the illicit couple—lie overturned next to the teapot.

After the police investigation, nothing detectable is found in the cups or the empty teapot. The cause of death is unknown.

 

Dark Lady Enredadera is a feared and powerful island character. She slithers on the ground like a long green snake, but she is no snake, not she. Nor is she a fruit, vegetable, animal, or mammal. She is feared because no matter what she twists around, be it tree trunk or plant or fruit, she chokes the life out of it. She is a member of the Enredadera, or Creeping Vine, clan, which owns about a third of the island, and is trying hard to take hold of the rest. She’s devoured many native Taíno fruits, vegetables, and plants—and much land that wasn’t freely sold or given to her—so when she wraps herself around the railing of the porch of Abuelita’s bohío, the black seeds in Guanabana’s milky white interior tremble.

“Agripina,” Enredadera says, “I’ve long admired your skill at tea-making.”

Guany expects Abuelita to say something along the lines of, “Don’t you dare talk to me that way or you’ll find yourself drinking a tea you never even put to your lips.”

But instead of snapping back something fabulous, Abuelita says nothing. There is just a very strange silence, a moment of consternation for both grandmother and grandchild.

“I’m trying to get some land for my children,” Enredadera says. “You know how we love the land. There’s a certain landlord who won’t sell his land to me. This one calls himself the last of the Taínos. Ha! Doesn’t he know the Taínos are so dead there’s not even a last one?”

“Yes, there is!” Guany says, “And Abuelita knows—”

Abuelita turns to Guany, and shakes her head almost imperceptibly, so Guany continues to holds her words back.

Enredadera cackles. Abuelita’s nostrils flare, but she says nothing.

The upshot of it all is that Abuelita refuses to make a lethal tea for Lady Enredadera to give to the last of the Taíno landholders, and Lady Enredadera threatens Abuelita with handing her over to the authorities for her use of lethal tea.

Shortly thereafter, Abuelita hightails it to New York City. She sends tickets to Guava and Guanábana.

And that’s how the three of them end up in a city that seems promising, nicknamed, after all, for a fruit.

 

Everything is a bit gray and dark in this part of the Big Apple when she and Mami arrive. There are a few trees here and there but they have expended so much effort shooting through the concrete they are way smaller than island trees, with only a few pallid or blotchy leaves.

And then, after only a month or so, somebody turns on the general air-conditioning, and Guava and Guany can barely move when they go outside. Abuelita knits them sweaters, the wool warm but also scratchy. The only colors Abuelita makes these sweaters in are dark browns and greens.

More than ever, Guana misses the happy pinks, yellow, blues and corals of island flowers and painted houses.

One day, Guany is walking with Abuelita to the botánica for some ingredients for Abuelita’s fufús (that’s “spells” for you readers). They stop at a small wooden house in a gated lot painted pink.

Abuelita puts a hand on the gate. “Look, a nice pink painted house. What does that remind you of?”

“A pink, strangely tiny house in Spanish Harlem?”

“Sometimes you’re no fun, mija. It’s like a house on the island, don’t you think?”

Guanábana rolls her eyes in the manner of all pre-teens, even fruit. “If it were actually on the island, it would be, claro que sí.”

 

Guanábana lives on a block with some pretty mean Italian girl gangbangers who taunt her in English. She doesn’t understand their “streetese” very well, so maybe English and Italian. One day, Guany is walking to the grocery store with money for milk and rice. Her pants have no pockets so she’s carrying the money in a little paper bag. On 2nd Avenue and 105th Street, she gets stopped by the gangbangers.

“Hey, Kid, whatchu got there,” says a girl who has both a big raised scar on her forehead and a startling, glossy dark brown mane flowing down her back. All the other girls look tough too; one is wearing just a t-shirt in this shivering weather, which showcases her tags on one of her forearms.

Guany understands these words as a prelude to an attack, and puts the paper bag behind her back, trying to channel invisibility powers. Please don’t let them see me, please, please, please let them just turn around and—

The top girl with the scar and flowing hair does a double somersault and lands behind Guany, grabs the paper bag, looks in it, takes out the fold of dollars and puts it in her mouth, holding it between her teeth like a full red rose, and the girls go running off, laughing, and shrieking in Italian and English.

Needless to say, there is no milk and rice that evening.

Just beans and lots of special tea.

Maybe it’s because she hates beans and had only happy tea for dinner, but the next day early in the morning, Guany takes Abuelita’s hammer and lies in wait in the space between two buildings because even girl gangbangers have to go to school.

She crouches in the damp gloom and when the fearsome girl with the spectacular hairdo comes up the street, a bit rushed like any other kid on her way to school, Guany runs out of the shadows and hits the girl on the foot with the hammer.

The girl screams horrible things. Guany understands them and how they are all wrong and right at the same time—wow, she understands the sounds of the street now!—and she screams them right back at the girl, imitating the rhythms as best as she can.

Her words don’t sound right.

That must be my accent! She realizes for the first time that she has one.

 

At Martyr of All Fruits High School, the gangbanger girls now stay away from Guany, but so do the tropical kids. Guany’s best friend turns out to be Noodle, whose parents are also newcomers to the city. Although Noodle’s background is not tropical at all, there is something about her that is recognizable: her pasty skin that is not really white but has a white glow to it, her instinct that studying and getting all A’s will get her somewhere, and perhaps most important: her lilting sentences that are in correct, but undeniably weird, English. Noodle has almost as much of an accent as Guany does.

In line to the playground on Halloween, after Sister Evelyn has told the children not to touch the Halloween paper decorations on all the classroom doors, predictably they all end up touching the Halloween decorations. Hanging on a door close to the playground, there is a fetching paper owl with a pleated paper head and little orange paper feet sticking out. As Guany’s class files past, each child pulls, bats, or presses one of the owl’s little paper feet, like a button letting them into the freedom of the playground.

But when Guany pulls the owl’s foot, the foot falls off.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” a strangely familiar voice says, a voice reminiscent of her own.

Guany looks behind her and sees the golden, red, and green good looks of Mango.

“Hola, Mangó,” says Guanabana, happy to see someone from the island.

“Excuse me, do I know you?” says Mango, seeming to stare right past Guany.

“We knew each other. But that was on another island. Remember, you were All Around Fruit of the Year, and won most of the subject medals, and I won the English medal?”

Mango’s golden gaze glows unmarred by memory or camaraderie. “I’m winning the All Around Student of the Year award this year, and all the medals, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

“You know what? I made a mistake,” says Guany, quickly, her tone suddenly hushed and funereal, sounding strange and familiar to herself all at once, like a character on a PBS show.

And then it hits her, she has completely lost her accent! Holy hell. “Excuse me,” she says in an almost clipped British way, and turns around.

When they are in the playground, she sees Mango talking to Sister Evelyn, and they are both glancing at Guany.

Sister Evelyn comes up to Guany, screams that she wasn’t supposed to touch the paper owl, grabs her by the arm, and gives her the spanking of her life, but Guany, true to her new accent, keeps a stiff upper lip during the beating.

When Guany gets home, Mami is at work cleaning someone’s house, a job Abuelita got for her.

Abuelita, however, is in the small living room sitting on the plastic-covered couch talking to a good looking, dark-haired woman naked all but for a loincloth and a big stone collar around her neck.

“Meet Guanina,” Abuelita says.

The Guanina from the stories?”

“Well, sort of.”

Guanina says a bunch of things. “I can’t get what she’s saying,” Guanábana says.

“Well, of course, she only speaks Taíno. Anyway, she has to go back to the island now because I have to make you lunch.”

“I’m not hungry,” says Guany, staring impassively at her. If she wasn’t so upset, she would ask her questions like, did Guanina really fall in love for real with Don Cristobal de Sotomayor? Or was she just trying to get out of gold-scrounging for the Spaniards?

“Why?”

Guany tries not to tell—it’s this stiff upper lip thing she suddenly fancies—but Abuelita coaxes the story out of her anyway. And before Guany can stop her, Abuelita gets on the phone and calls the school.

With the principal on the line, Abuelita gives Guany the phone receiver, “Please translate for me. Tell them I want that nasty nun to come see me at home this afternoon.”

Guanábana contemplates a mistranslation but instead she says in perfect English, “My name is Guanábana Rica Senior and I would like to speak in person to Sister Evelyn of the Cross…No, tomorrow won’t do at all. Please have her visit me for tea this very afternoon. Yes. This afternoon.”

 

Sister Evelyn has some of Abuelita’s tea that afternoon. By the next day, she is a goner.

The family moves to Brooklyn. If possible the neighborhood is even grayer than the one in Manhattan. But this time, they get to live in a little wooden house painted a bright turquoise. Despite the lovely color, it’s not like living in Puerto Rico; on the other hand, however tiny, it’s a real house. Guany has never before slept in her own real house, built on the ground right next to grass and trees and people too.

“Won’t somebody break in?” she asks Abuelita the first night.

“Worry less, do more.”

After which cryptic remark, Guany hires a locksmith to put three locks on the door.

 

Far from the scenes of Abuelita’s previous crimes, Guanábana grows up speaking perfect English and looking back with melancholy on her childhood on the island. She has vague memories—which she sometimes realizes are made-up—of playing with the Taínos and working the land with the Jíbaros. After applying to colleges, she is finally admitted to an Ivy League school.

One day, Guany arrives at the turquoise painted house. It has been entirely consumed by enredaderas, and Mami is crouched on the ground in front, crying.

“What happened?”Guany says, dropping her school books.

“The enredaderas came when I was at work. And you see what they’ve done.” Mami points. The little house is so completely covered in vines that not a stick of wood is visible. I couldn’t get inside. I don’t know if she…I mean, I think she—” A strange groaning starts up and Mami stops her sobbing.

The earth underneath the pile of vines suddenly shifts, the mass of vines and the house sinking into an abyss.

And then the creeping vines start to grow rapidly over the sinkhole.

Abuelita never appears again, so they assume she must have been in the house. Guany takes time off from school so that she and Mami can recover somewhat from the trauma. She doesn’t say anything to Mami because she doesn’t want to get her hopes up, but she prays that somehow Abuelita was able to escape.

 

Almost a year passes. Mami Guava moves to Florida, where most tropical fruit flourish, and Guanábana finally goes to college, where she joins the Hot Tropical Fruits Association. At the first meeting, she is sitting by herself, when she hears a voice say, “You’re not a real tropical fruit.”

She turns and sees a small, young enredadera leering at her. She’s never met one of the young ones before.

“I am part tropical fruit, and that part most certainly is a real tropical fruit. And the other part isn’t tropical, but it is a fruit, so I’m—”

“Yada, yada, yada. That’s not enough,” the enredadera says, its leaves all slick and sinister.

“Order, order,” a familiar voice says.

She looks up and sees Mango, looking more golden, green, and red than ever. Of course Mango would be the President of the Hot Tropical Fruits Association. And it’s Guanábana’s misfortune they ended up at the same school. This isn’t even the most selective of the Ivy Leagues, so what is Mango doing here?

“All tropical fruit are welcome at these meetings, whether they’re half of one quarter hot tropical, or urban tropique, or country fruit, or non-parasitic epiphytes or parasitic strangling vines like you, Enredadera Junior.”

“Excuse me, am I hearing this right?” Enredadera Junior says.

Although she is just as surprised as Enredadera Junior, Guany starts to feel a warm glow in her mushy sour-sweet insides.

“You are hearing right,” Mango raises her voice. “This is an inclusive organization. We welcome mixture. In fact, strange tropical and half-tropical fruits are, inevitably, the wave of the future. In any case, is there ever really such a thing as a pure tropical fruit? Hybridity is often the basis of evolution.”

“Híjole!” a Mexican tomatillo says.

“You tell him,” a half Chinese, half Guatemalan Pomegranate says.

“Mango,” Enredadera Junior says, “You won the presidency of this organization because I backed you. I got my family on the island to help you. I spent money on the campaign and I got all my soon-to-be rich friends to vote for you.”

“I represent all the fruits, veggies, plants, and creepy creepers who come to these meetings,” says Mango. “And I care about all of them.”

Mango and Guanábana are now a powerful force to be reckoned with even though the Dark Lady of the Enredaderas has sent word through Enredadera Junior that Guanábana is on her blacklist.

Under the electric blue skies in the yard in the center of the campus, they talk about the past. Mango tells Guany that when she was a freshman, another student told her she looked too delicious to be a real student. That mode of objectification, commodification, and blatant fruitism made her realize how poorly she’d treated Guanábana, Mamey, Sapote, Níspero, and many other odd fruits people barely recognize anymore from back on the island.

As Mango and Guany get closer, Guany starts to have dreams where Abuelita sits naked in a loincloth, her face wrinkled, her hair as white as snow, but her body that of a young woman’s. In the last one of these dreams, Abuelita tells Guany, “I have passed on my powers to you. Use them well.”

“But Abuelita—“

“How do you kill an enredadera, mija?”

“Well, you chop it off at the root.”

“And? What else?”

“Abuelita, are you coming back?”

“You have to start thinking for yourself,” says Abuelita, “You’re the first of your kind to go to this fancy school. Don’t waste your poor Mami’s money. She’s been through enough already.” Then she vanishes.

The summer before their senior year, Guanábana suggests to Mango that they have a special meeting of the Hot Tropical Fruits Association in Mosquito Bay, a phosphorescent inlet on Vieques Island.

Mango says she needs to invite the whole Enredadera clan to the retreat so she can express her gratitude for their support of the association, but she promises, nonetheless, the association will continue to be inclusive.

Guany doesn’t care for that kind of inclusivity. All year long she’s been pondering the enredadera problem. And then one day, she remembers how best to eradicate the insinuations of the enredaderas on a plot of land on the island. You chop them off at the roots, yes, but that’s not enough. Afterward, you have to burn the whole thing because if you leave it on the ground, it will regrow roots anywhere it can and choke whatever it takes hold of.

“Let’s just invite the Enredaderas to this meeting,” Guany says, “to show them our appreciation. We can have another more entertaining gathering for the association later.”

Mango nods. “That’s very political of you, Guany.”
“I’ve learned a lot from you.”

The reds in Mango’s skin deepen, “And I from you.”

 

Evening in Vieques. From a small wooden pergola on the shore and near a group of mangrove trees, the phosphorescent waters of Mosquito Bay look like a black sky filled with thousands of tiny stars, mobile bright little bodies darting and swirling and sometimes jumping into the air. The boat they will all take a tour on later lies docked and waiting.

While Mango and Guany sip a little rum, Dark Lady Enredadera and her clan languorously twine around the pergola’s railings advancing toward the sky, almost as dark as the water.

“Once we’ve eaten the pergola,” Dark Lady says, “we’ll eat those delicious mangroves over there.”

“And the ones beyond them, too,” Enredadera Junior says.

“I tried to buy this land years ago to develop a resort for all the land eaters of the world but, no, they turned me down and had to make it into a bio-bay. ¡Por favor! Who cares about a few manatees and a bunch of bioluminescent dinoflagellates?”

Mango stops sipping her rum and coke. “But I thought you wanted to come here because the water was beautiful.” She stares at the dark and leafy grande dame. “‘Shining,’ you said—”

Dark Lady cackles. “Those little worms will wriggle and shine just as bright when we’ve eaten all those mangrove trees.”

And, the enredaderas start to coil more quickly around the railings of the pergola. Some even start to thrust roots into the ground.

Once they root themselves in the ground, it’s nearly impossible to uproot them. It’s now or never.

Guanábana says she is going to get more rum and goes on the boat where she takes a hose attached to a gasoline can, which she has been hiding aft.

She comes out running as fast as a guanábana can and sprays gasoline on the enredaderas, all the while chanting:

One Guanábana to rule them all
One Guanábana to find them
One Guanábana to bring them all
And in the darkness burn them
In Vieques, where the shadows no longer lie…

Mango throws her a lighter, and Guanábana burns the vines and the pergola itself and then she and Mango jump on the boat and watch how the blackened creepers on the shore hiss for the last time. Mango pushes the throttle forward and starts the engine; and a few minutes later, the boat is floating in the waters smelling gloriously of salt, jasmine, and burned creeper vines. Then, as the smoke rises into the sky, Guanábana laughs and jumps into the water, where the dinoflagellates spark her up like a Christmas decoration.

After a long while, Mango, too, giggles, just a little. Gawking at Guany, she stutters, unable to formulate a sentence.

Guanábana gets back on board the boat. “What, are you a boy?” she says to Mango.

“Huh?”

“You know, when you first met me, you said—”

But before she can finish, Mango gives her a delicate kiss.

And, then, under the smoking sky of Mosquito Bay, they look down at a new constellation in the starry waters.

 

Note: This fiction part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

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Lyn Sandín Di Iorio is a 2021 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellow in Fiction currently working on Hurricanes and Other Stories, a short story collection. Her novel Outside the Bones was a top-five finalist for the 2012 John Gardner Fiction Prize and won a Foreword Indies Silver Award and her book of literary criticism Killing Spanish focuses on Latinx literature. Her story “By the River Cibuco” was named a “Distinguished Story of 2020” in Best American Short Stories 2021. She teaches literature and creative writing at the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center.

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