The man I loved as my grandfather was a tall, strong, broad-shouldered man who carried a fake ear in his back pocket. With his indigo skin and smile brighter than the white sands of Nicoya, I imagined he resembled a warrior trekking through the Savannah instead of a cook in a Chinese restaurant. Families in Limon were women and children, so my mother took my sister and I to her mother’s house for weekly visits. While they cooked mondongo or line hung clothes, I’d crawl in my grandfather’s lap, rest my head in his chest, and talked about my week – fighting with my older sister, sneaking out of bed to watch the nightly soap operas, studying English from old books San Jose vacationers left on our black sand beaches or at cafes, in case we Caribbeans wanted better. Since men left for better jobs and rarely returned, my grandfather was one of the few men at school plays or teacher conferences. He’d shake my teachers’ hands and ask about my progress, was my future bright? One evening when we drank pinolillo on my mom’s porch, he declared that he wanted me to live somewhere as rich as my spirit. Perhaps become a teacher – in America! His voice sounded smoother than fresh coconut milk, dripped off his tongue like mangoes. He felt like this for me and no one else.
He hovered, welcoming like the rainy season showers. My quiet nature bothered other children, but one Saturday a boy classmate invited me to soccer on the overgrown grass fields before the day’s heat stormed through. Before leaving my mother said this boy would love me in the future. I believed my mother because of my grandfather. When I missed kicking the ball at the game, he groaned, but when I retrieved the ball, my grandfather passed it back. My schoolmates asked about my grandfather. He bent down and greeted the classmate who invited me and said, There’s something on your ear and put the fake ear behind his head. He touched it and squealed, and the others’ eyes widened with surprise, then pure joy. They shouted, cool!
I believed my grandmother loved my grandfather, but I didn’t ask until I was stood up at the altar. As adults, I believed the boy classmate and I loved each other. I was wearing an ivory lace gown and my grandmother’s pearl necklace; the same one my grandfather had given her. We’d planned a morning wedding to avoid the hurricane warning, but my stomach was upset before the minister pulled me aside, confessed he couldn’t find the groom. Instead of boarding a bus for bird watching and the hot springs of Arenal, where our grandparents were once banned, I ate cold chop suey like every night. My two cats slept on the train in my dress. My fiancée’s mother knocked on my door and offered the biggest, most expensive red snapper she could afford, fried to crispy perfection. She apologized and assured me he was okay, he wasn’t dead. Our love was.
I wasn’t hungry but I ate it, the last bite my goodbye to her, his family, and a life
I’d never possess. My grandmother and mother wiped plates clean of plantains, olla de carne and soupa negra, delicious yet wasted food. I asked my grandmother if she ever loved my grandfather, because she’d known another man in her teens; a charming man who found her home although she’d never given him her house number, only to lose contact after getting her pregnant.
“I never loved your grandfather,” she said as she scrubbed dishes, “not in the intense, romantic way. He was a good choice. Your mother needed a father.”
For laughs, my sister played Gregory Issacs’ “Night Nurse.” Imitating him, she covered her eyes and swayed her hips like a junkie, but I couldn’t laugh. I thought about the whispers along the dirt roads, rumors about the money I’d spent, that I was different, but not different enough to live in San Jose. A few days before the wedding, my fiancée and I argued over potential. At 32, my looks still disappointed him. He was right. I looked down and saw the veiny, sweaty hands of a mediocre old woman: hands worn from cleaning cafes, from drinking too much Cacique, from working too much at the hostel. I felt lost. At least my grandfather had his magic trick. I didn’t know what I had anymore.
Christina Marable is an emerging writer, VONA alumni, and short story aficionado currently working on a novel. She is passionate about vegan baking, swing dancing, and reading.