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You wither—a dahlia whose pale, purple petals have wilted. Every time I see you it seems more of your petals have fallen to the ground.
Good thing dahlias have a lot of petals.
Dahlias, by the way, are native to Mexico. They were food to the indigenous peoples there. The Aztecs used them to treat epilepsy. Dahlias flourished when brought to the United States, and now there are hundreds of varieties. A poignant metaphor for our family, don’t you think?
As I watch you wither so much like a delicate flower, I want you to know, abuelo, that you are immortal. I’m going to write stories about you, and you will live forever.
Don’t worry. You won’t be weak, you won’t be frail. I know you wouldn’t want people to think of you that way.
I won’t tell them I cried after the last time I saw you because I remembered running into your arms as a little girl and your strong body hardly felt the impact when I slammed against you, and how this time, when we hugged, I almost knocked you over.
I won’t tell anyone how lonely you are since abuela died.
I’ll tell the readers about that time Jessica and I cleaned your gun room and three months later you were still searching for things you could have sworn you put right there.
I’ll tell them how you took us rabbit hunting and chased us around in the snow with rabbit guts. They’ll think that’s gross, especially the ones who grew up in urban areas and have never been hunting.
It was gross, abuelo. I know, now, you never would have hit us with the bloody entrails, but at the time we believed you would. I guess that’s what made it fun for you.
I’ll tell them how you named me Spider Woman because as a child I was tall with gangly limbs.
I’ll tell them about the time I invited my first boyfriend to the gun range. I remember standing with him at a table, waiting for you to show. The yellow bill of his Utah Jazz hat kissed a spot between his shoulders as he watched the top of the hill, looking for your truck. I twisted the bill to shade his cool blue eyes, knowing you would perceive his informality as a form of disrespect.
You pulled up in your black Ford truck, a cigar stuffed in the corner of your mouth. I had never seen you smoke before. You tipped your cowboy hat at me and winked.
Opening the door, you planted one booted foot on the ground, then the other and slammed the door shut. A breeze pushed your poncho back around your belly revealing the two holstered pistols on your hips. You looked like Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (if Clint Eastwood were a fifty-year-old Mexican).
You took a step toward my boyfriend who looked back at me for help.
You glared, walked a wide circle around him, your brown eyes burning holes into his head.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared down at his feet.
Satisfied that he was sufficiently intimidated, you stopped to face him, hands open and ready at your sides.
He took off his hat, smashed it under his arm and held a quivering hand out to shake yours. In a flash, you drew one of your pistols, spinning it around your index finger until it stopped to point at him. I was stunned. I didn’t know you could do that.
My boyfriend threw his hands up, startled. His hat fell to the ground and bobbed across the dirt like a tumbleweed. I thought he was going to cry.
You handed him the pistol. He took it and stared down at the shiny black weapon, unsure what to do. You nodded at the gun in his hand and said, like Clint, “You gonna shoot that thing, or just stand there lookin’ pretty?”
Later that day, you invited him to shoot your rifle.
You showed him how to hold the gun—butt against the shoulder to absorb any recoil. “Find your target first, then bring the scope up to your eye,” you told him. “You see the target, son? See it?”
“Yeah, I see it,” he said, looking through the scope.
You leaned closer to his ear. You thought I couldn’t hear you. “Remember this view son. It’s the same view I’m gonna have of your pretty white ass if you don’t behave yourself around my girl.”
Okay, that never happened. But you have to make stuff up in stories, mix lies with real life so the reader will believe the truth. Only you and I know the truth, abuelo.
Like that time in Sego, when I was pregnant and it was just you, Rosa— still in my belly—and me on that hill. You gave Rosa and me a blessing that was part Indian and part Catholic. You waved a piece of sage in the air, offered it to the four directions, spoke words in Spanish I couldn’t understand, then made the sign of the cross on my belly. I wondered if your dad, a curandero, taught you that blessing. You always had your superstitions when it came to your father’s religion. Considered it heresy.
Now, at this point you might be thinking, Spider Woman, I know this is my eulogy, but honey, what about abuela? Weave her story.
Don’t worry. I’ll write about her too. I’ll make her last words something romantic, the kind of thing you see in movies. I won’t tell them the truth, which was that she deteriorated so quickly that by the time I flew from San Diego to Salt Lake City she was already comatose. And that I can’t actually remember the last words she spoke to me.
With so many miles between us, abuelo, the same thing will probably happen with you. So I’ll tell them that the connection between you and me was so deep, so strong that I felt it in my bones when you were about to pass. Maybe I’ll draw a connection to my great grandfather, Gumecindo.
I’ll say, “His magical powers run in the family.” I’ll say, “Maybe they skipped a generation, but they lie dormant in me.”
I’ll tell stories of how those premonitions have appeared and affected my life, and then, when I get the one, the one that really matters, the one that warns me of your imminent death, it will be the biggest one of all. It will shake the earth.
Readers like that sort of thing, abuelo. They like drama. Just like you and me.
I’ll tell them that, because of that premonition, I make it home in time. That you have a good death. That we say goodbye.
Would you like to die at home, abuelo?
I know how you love looking out at the mountain from your window. You lived your entire adult life in that house at the foot of the mountain, raised eight kids in it. The infant feet of fifteen grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren have trodden through that house in your lifetime. In your backyard, you molded impressions of their hands and feet into the cement.
You’re dying at home now, abuelo.
You’re lying on your bed, in your hands, that rosary I brought back from Rome and had blessed by the Pope. There are no tubes, no doctors, no stale, colorless rooms with the stench of other deaths clinging to the walls like shadows. It’s just you, and me. The room is dimly lit. The daughter you haven’t spoken with since abuela died is there with her four children. You never told me what came between you two, but she’s forgiven you and with that look in your eyes, you’ve forgiven her too.
Forgiveness makes a good story. So does romance.
You deliver your final words and, unlike abuela’s, I remember them forever. You’ll say something simple like, I’m proud of you. Or I love you.
The truth lies in the simplicity of words.
With your final breath you’ll say something that rivals the great poets. You’ll say it in Spanish, and I won’t understand it. I’ll wonder for the rest of my life what it meant. It will haunt me and I’ll replay it over and over again, cursing myself for never learning the language of my culture, and you for never teaching us.
And those words will be a prophecy, and by the end of the story, my fate will consume me because I couldn’t understand it.
“Spider Woman,” you might say, “this isn’t a Greek tragedy, mija. And I never read poetry. Spin a different story.”
Maybe, on your death bed, you’ll call for me. The last to say goodbye, I kneel at your bedside and metamorphose before your eyes. Suddenly, the Teotihuacan Spider Woman, goddess of the underworld, is gazing down at you. You can’t believe your eyes.
The three fangs hanging from my rectangular nose piece frighten you. You stare into the face of the green bird on my giant, frame headdress, your hands wringing the sheets, until I tell you that it’s just an owl, a symbolic decoration. You think you’re already dead, but I reassure you.
I help you die peacefully, weaving your story from the silken threads of your memories. The arachnids hanging from my arms are my helpers. You lived a long life and have many threads. I read your story out loud to you to pass the time. You cry during the parts that reveal your failures.
When your final breath escapes your lips, I gather you in my arms, wrap you in your story web and carry you to the underworld myself. I lay you next to abuela and you whisper that I was always your favorite.
After you die, I won’t tell anyone what you said. They’ll be grieving for you like I am, and I won’t want to hurt them further, or make them jealous. Or maybe later they can be jealous.
Maybe ten years later. Yeah, ten seems like a good number.
Ten years later, Jessica and I will be talking on the phone and I’ll mention it to her and she’ll say, “He said the same thing to me.” We’ll figure out that you said it to all the cousins and we’ll laugh. But we’ll decide to keep it secret and let the others continue thinking that they’re each your favorite.
Which one of us is your favorite, abuelo?
Here’s what I don’t want to tell my readers. I live so far away from you now that I’m lucky to see you once a year. Even though you were such a huge presence in my life, you are nearly a stranger to my son. You’ll never take him hunting and he’ll never go to the gun range with you. Not once.
Irony is another kind of lie that tells the truth.
I understand now why you never left that mountain. It’s because family is important and when you’re young and brave and thirsting for life, the pursuit of something bigger is all you can think about. You don’t know that one day you’ll be raising your kids, watching your parents age, your grandparents die, and you’ll look into the mirror and see that you’re beginning to pale and you’ll realize that courage is a friend only to the young. It’s what they have instead of wisdom.
I didn’t know then, that when I became an adult, my courage would flee and I would experience regret for the first time.
When I picture my mom handing you this story, I see you reading the title and laughing. “Andy,” you’ll try to say between gasps of air, clutching your belly. (This is how I most often like to think of you, laughing.) “I’m not even dead yet and Spider Woman has already written my eulogy!” (At least, I hope you’ll have a sense of humor about it.)
Mom will smile, having read it herself already, and say, “Just read it, dad.” And so you will.
You asked me to write your eulogy the last time I saw you, abuelo, don’t you remember? I know you meant after you died, but I thought, what fun are eulogies if the person they’re written about can’t read them?
Why would somebody give a shit what people say about them after they’re dead?
I’m writing now, abuelito, because I want you to know that you are immortal. I’m going to write these stories so you can live forever.
Kristine Hall-Garcia currently lives in Chula Vista, California with her husband and two wonderful children. She enjoys listening to Mozart and telling dick jokes to her kids. Just kidding, she doesn't actually listen to Mozart. She has previously been published in the Fall 2013 issue of the Yellow Medicine Review.