Elizabeth Lleonart


Loving Good and Right


Elizabeth Lleonart is a Latina, multilingual writer who grew up in Miami as a daughter to Cuban refugees. Hispanic culture and traditions have shaped her childhood, identity, and writing. Her work centers on the Cuban exile experience and the complexities that come with lives split across countries. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from the University of Miami.  


My mother wanted sunflowers at her funeral. Not lilies, roses, or hyacinths. Sunflowers. The day after she died, I ordered the arrangements from the florist and didn’t give it a second thought.

¿Estás segura, Adelicia?” Emmanuel, the owner of the flower shop on Calle Ocho, had known me since I was ten.

“Yes, I’m sure Manny.”

 I hung up the phone, which was a rotary dial Mami refused to get rid of. She loved resisting time, or rather, challenging it. I cried for three hours after.

Sitting in the third pew from the front of the altar at La Ermita de la Caridad, I tried to avoid Tía Gloria’s horrified looks at seeing the church imbued with bright yellow flowers on such a solemn day as this. She was whispering to Tío Enrique, mouthing the words “no lo puedo creer,” and then looking over her shoulder at me. But we both knew that none of this was my idea, that only Aurora could come up with something like this. The truth was that my mother always did whatever she wanted, and even now, after she died, I was still letting her.

Mami used to bring me to La Ermita every Sunday as a little girl, so it was only natural to say goodbye to her here. We’d go to mass and then wander to the ocean outside. I remember how she used to close her eyes as she faced the sea, breathing in the salty air and smiling so gently. It was like she was going somewhere, even though she stood so still. That was my favorite image of her, the one I decided I would hold onto once she began to fade from me. I knew that was how she would want me to remember her, too.

The past six months I had spent every night at the hospital, sleeping in an armchair next to Mami. I had forgotten the comfort of a bed. We knew she was terminal and there wasn’t any hope. The doctors don’t hesitate to tell you stuff like that. But even as sick as she was, it seemed more like Mami was sitting on a throne and not a hospital bed, wearing a royal gown, not a patient one. She still put on makeup every morning before the doctors would come in for her examinations. She even went into surgeries with a full face of cosmetics, her large glossed lips glistening under the fluorescent lights as they wheeled her away. I thought maybe it was war paint for her.

In the mornings, I’d sit there and watch her apply lipstick, the compact mirror resting in the center of her hand, her nails painted a sparkly cobalt blue. Her beauty rituals took up a good hour. Sometimes she’d ask me to help curl her eyelashes or paint the nails on her right hand. I did whatever she asked, until one day she asked me drive home to pick up her pearl earrings.

“But you’re dying,” I said. It came out from my lips without any emotion, like I’d just read out a headline from El Nuevo Herald.

Her eyes detached themselves from the little circular mirror, wandering above it. She held the lipstick in mid-air. Anger showed up everywhere on her face, seeping through the makeup, melting it away.


I didn’t answer her. Most of our conversations went like that. Short, clipped at the edges. I had goosebumps all along my arms. Everything in hospitals is so cold to the core.

Things went on that way for months, until the end started to draw nearer. I asked her if she wanted me to call a priest to give her the last rites. I kept thinking that we needed some peace at a time like this, the kind of serenity only God can bring. But in reality, besides the fact that she was dying, my mother was fine. It was as if nothing had changed for her.

“Padre Vera is available to come tomorrow afternoon,” I said, holding the curtain surrounding her bed open, my cellphone pressed to my ear.

She was shaving her legs, the buzzing of the electric razor competing with the static of the radio she had on. It was playing merengue music. Bent over like that, her clavicles peeked out from underneath the hospital gown. Mami always kept herself petite with all that dieting. She refused to eat pastelitos or croquetas or anything of the sort. Me, I didn’t mind being rellenita.

“I don’t want him to come,” she said, turning the razor off, rubbing some lotion between her hands and then up and down her legs.

“Why not?” I hung up the phone and slipped it into my back pocket.

“Because when he comes, I’ll die.”

“Mami, that’s ridiculous.”

“No, es cierto. Once he gives me the blessing, I’ll die. I know it. I want to wait.”

“Cubans are so superstitious,” I said, shaking my head.

She finally looked up from her legs and scoffed. “Te crees Americanita. You’ve forgotten where you come from.”

“That’s because Abuelo was the only one who used to tell me stories about Cuba.”

Her green eyes shot up at me, fierce and defiant at the mention of his name, but also shocked that I’d dared. I dropped my hand and let the curtain fall between us.

We didn’t call the priest a week later and Mami died anyway.

She never confessed her sins.



Padre Blanco gave the sermon, talking about grief and how Aurora would want us to overcome it, to rejoice in the memory of her. I was supposed to give a eulogy, but I didn’t. I let Tío Carlos take care of that one. I wasn’t planning on looking in the casket either. Mami was dead. None of that was going to bring her back to me. It had been just me and her for so long, and now that she was gone, my life just didn’t make sense anymore. I was in a room full of relatives, but I still felt all alone. Hispanic families are like that, so together and so apart. You spend your whole life fighting it just to lose.

I looked up towards the altar, where the crucifix hung high above all of us. I wasn’t sure if I was saying a prayer, or asking God how on earth this was fair. But this church, with its dim lighting and candles and wooden pews, made me feel secure, like I’d been wrapped up in the warmth of a shawl. The priest’s voice faded into the background and my eyes started to roam around the room, at the sea of heads looking forwards. I hoped I would be able to do that one day, to look ahead, and not spend the rest of my life stuck in the past. 

I didn’t recognize many people in the room, but my mind rested on those unfamiliar faces. It seemed more interesting to observe strangers than my own family. I figured a lot of them were Mami’s coworkers from la tintorería. Mami started working there after she left college, because she’d gotten pregnant with me. Abuelo didn’t want her to. He’d made enough money in the cigar business in Miami for us to live off, but Mami insisted. And like usual, she got her way. But even after everything, I think there was a softness in her heart for him, in the way she’d bring home his guayaberas freshly dry-cleaned, the creases pressed and the collars straightened.

The ushers circled around the church, passing around weaved baskets for people to give their offerings. I was so lost in thought that I didn’t even notice the young man standing right in front of me, holding a basket up to my nose.

“Sorry,” I whispered, taking a few bills from my wallet and dropping the money inside.

After the mass ended, we walked to the reception, which was in one of the buildings adjacent to the church. All of my tíos, tías, primos, and neighbors stood around the room eating pastelitos, recalling stories about Mami that floated in the air. A few words from each conversation reached me, tugging at my attention, and I felt myself pulled in all different directions, like Mami was somewhere in this room and I just had to find her. I was moving between the past and the present, like someone going in different rooms searching for something forgotten.

“Remember that time Aurora snapped back at that man making fun of my thick accent? Que mujer más fuerte.”

“Everyone knew not to mess with Aurora. She was an angelic face with a fiery heart.”

“Y también una chismosa.”

There was a roar of laughter.

I shuffled into a corner of the room, arms crossed and back against the wall. I wanted to just curl up here and pretend that none of this was happening. Sometimes I wanted to believe, even if just for a moment, that Mami was alive. I often convinced myself that upon opening the front door, I’d be greeted by her telenovelas blasting from the living room, or that my phone would ring and I’d hear her voice asking me if she should wear the little dolphin earrings for her date.

Two days after Mami died, I saw a woman at the grocery store that looked just like her from behind, long caramel hair cascading in waves down her back, even olive skin, short with wide hips. She was wearing a silver sequin top Mami would pick out. Even a mere resemblance was enough to convince me that, yes, that was her. I went up to the woman, who grew more blurred with each step I took, tears gathering on the bottom rims of my eyes. I touched her shoulder and she turned around. Alas, not Mami. The woman looked at my face, that now had tears streaming down the cheeks in an endless flow.

She gave me a hug and rubbed my back. “Ay niña, qué te ha pasado?”

So there I was, with a dead mother, surrounded by pita chips and hot dog buns, hugging a stranger in aisle five of Publix.

I watched droplets of my tears falling to the ground below. I liked the thought that I could make rain. But my memories broke the moment I saw him, or at least what I thought might be him. I considered the possibility the maybe grief had made me crazy, that I had hallucinated a ghost from the past in my mind as a way of coping, and nothing more. But as I scrutinized every feature of his face, its familiarity brought back both happiness and pain.

I drifted through the crowd of countless relatives, hiding myself behind them a little, trying to get a better look at his face, his bearing, his mannerisms. His hair had turned completely white, no longer the salt and pepper that I remembered. But his blue-green eyes were unchanged. They would always remind me of seawater, not only because of their color, but because of how many times I had looked into them those Saturday mornings on the Biscayne beaches. I moved myself closer and closer until I was only a few feet away. He hadn’t seen me yet. Would he even recognize me now? After fifteen years?

I saw myself lying in a bed with Abuelo crouched over me, sitting on the edge, his glasses propped up on his nose as he looked down into the book in his hands. The waves of the ocean outside were like a melody that carried his voice. There was a lilt in his words as he read from his favorite poem by José Martí, “Por tus ojos encendidos.” I used to ask him questions about it because I was too little to understand that it’s about a man thinking his lover is cheating on him. A closed-lip smile always sprouted on his face, admiring my innocence, holding onto the mind of a little girl untouched by the world and all of its ugliness.

¿Pero Abuelo, como la mujer puede ser tan villana y tan hermosa? ¿mo puede ser las dos cosas? ¿Buena y mala?” I sat up in the bed and looked into his eyes, large and slanted down so that they always looked sleepy.

“Ah, mijita. Ese es el misterio, eh? ¿No todos somos buenos y malos aveces?” He kissed my forehead. My eyebrows were furrowed together, because I still didn’t understand. I hugged my teddy bear close to my chest and tried to protect myself from fear, from understanding.

¿Y por qué te gusta tanto este poema, Abuelo?” I rested my head on his chest.

“Tantas preguntas, mi corazón. Ya es tarde, por qué no cierras esos ojos encendidos?” He laughed and tucked me in under the covers, turning out the lights. I rolled over in my bed and thought about how my Abuelito, too, was so much a mystery in himself.

Now, he stood so close to me. I felt like I was no longer in control of myself. I moved my hand over the front of my black dress to rid it of any wrinkles. I ran my fingers through my hair and wiped away any moisture from my face. Standing behind him, as he talked to other people with a mojito in his hand, wearing a cream-colored guayabera, I heard the word come out, sounding like a question and a wish at the same time.


He turned around to face me, a gentle smile forming on his lips, like he knew all along I’d see him and come to him. In his other hand, he held a sunflower in a tight fist, its petals crumpled between his fingers.


I think he said my name. I can’t remember. The syllables of my name wrapped up in his voice had been one of my favorite sounds as a child. Even though he was Cuban, he’d been raised in Spain until he was fourteen and so I was forever Adelithia to him. And that was all I ever wanted to be.

He offered to get me something to drink.

“No, I don’t drink,” I said. My hands felt cold and clammy.

He laughed a little. “Ah, sí. I should have known. You were always so cautious as a small girl.”

“Still am.” Even though I’d been apart from him for over a decade, he still felt just as warm as I remembered. I was the one holding back. But really, I wanted to throw myself into him and ask him where he’d been all this time, why he let Mami take me away that rainy day in October fifteen years ago.

“You’re twenty-three now?” He asked. His voice broke a little when he said that, and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing. Perhaps he was asking himself the same questions I was asking him in my head.

“Twenty-three,” I confirmed.

“Una mujer.” He smiled a sad smile.

I didn’t feel like one, but I returned his smile anyway. Then there was an awkward silence between us as we realized we hadn’t mentioned the person everyone here was gathered for, the person that technically was the glue between us, but also the one who’d separated us.

“Your Mami loved you so much. More than anything in this world… And I loved her, very much.” I could tell in his voice that he truly meant that, despite everything that had transpired between them.

“I know.” I nodded.

He looked at me a long while, like he was mustering the courage to say something he wasn’t sure would go over well. His shoulders tensed, but his eyes grew tender. “Mira, Adelithia. I know I haven’t been around to see you grow. I know that I don’t know you, but I’d like to. That is why I came here.”

I looked away from his face and crossed my arms. I could tell that he was trying, but fifteen years is a lot to make up for. Mami took me away, but he didn’t fight her. He didn’t fight for me.

“No sé, Abuelo.”

He grabbed my arm so that my eyes would come back to him. His face pleaded with me. “Por favor, Ady.”

I conceded and grabbed a napkin from the table next to us and wrote down our house phone number, folding it in half and handing it to him. His face lit up as the little piece of paper brushed against his open palm. His eyes welled with tears as they wandered about my face, perhaps wondering how his little girl now stood before him at 5’6”, freckles mostly gone, along with ten pounds of baby fat. His hand, which now trembled a little, was brought up to my face and rested on my cheek.

“Adelithia.” His voice smiled.

I drove home in the Honda Civic to our little house in Darlington Manor. Mami and I always used to fight over the car, and it was weird to think that now I could use it whenever I wanted. There were other things I had all to myself now too, like the mortgage.

Our home appeared at the end of the street as I turned the corner. It had barely changed at all since we bought it. It was still painted that pale yellow that reminded me of a lemon. Yellow was Mami’s favorite color, but not really mine. It brought to mind a lot of things I didn’t like or want to think about, like sickness and cheese. The palm trees framed the large window in the front, the one I spent many afternoons looking out of as I grew up, imagining what my life would be like when I was older. Those dreams felt far away now. Death does that.

I walked into an empty house, with no one around to ask about my day, or to yell at me for leaving the kitchen a mess. It’s funny how much we take noise for granted. You don’t want it until it’s gone and all you’re left with is silence. I stood in front of the window and I could see my reflection in it. I remembered when the reflection looking back at me was that of a young girl, with short bobbed hair and freckles all over, freckles I hated so much back then but would kill to have now. The sky outside was growing heavy with rain, and I noticed the first droplets sticking to the glass and then trickling down it.

The day we left Abuelo’s house, it was pouring outside. I was hiding in the hallway closet. Above Abuelo and Mami’s screaming, I could hear the rumbling of thunder and the rustling of palm fronds as they brushed against the windows and roof. I prayed for hours that the yelling would stop, but it dragged on with the night and I even fell asleep a few times during it, only to be woken up again by doors slamming or Mami’s sobs. The storm was relentless, and so was their fight. They never got along well, even though they had been through so much together. Abuelo had brought Mami from Cuba to Miami on the Mariel boatlift, right after her mother had died. Her death was tragic for the both of them, and they’d passed through hell to get here, but that seemed to drive them apart more than it brought them together. Even so, the three of us had lived together relatively peacefully since I had been born. Nothing like this had ever happened.

In the early hours of the morning, I heard Mami pacing up and down the hallway looking for me.

“Adelicia! Where are you! Adelicia!”

I heard her go into her bedroom. I peered through a crack in the opening of the closet door, watching her pack a suitcase, grabbing piles of clothes and throwing them in. Some shirts spilled out from the overflowing rainbow mess of colorful wardrobe. She could barely zip it up when she was done. I shrank back into the closet and pulled some coats in front of me. I could hear her opening and closing doors and imagined her looking under beds and desks and behind bookshelves. Then all the noise stopped and I knew she was standing in front of the closet door. I held my breath.

She opened it and the bright light from the hallway hurt my eyes. I could see her purple rhinestone flip flops, but not the rest of her. Then she parted the coats, and looked down on me. Her face was full of anger, but not at me. She looked right through me. Grabbing my arm so tightly that it hurt, she pulled me out of the closet and forced me down the hallway.

“Mami, where are we going? Mami?”

She didn’t answer my questions. It was like she didn’t even hear them. When we made it to the living room, Abuelo was standing there in his red-striped pajamas.

“Me la llevo! I’m taking her far away from here and from you.” Mami’s voice boomed so loudly through the house it competed with the sound of lightening striking outside.

Abuelo ran up to her and grabbed her shoulders. My arm was twisted in her hand, and my fearful eyes gazed up at him, hoping he could fix this, fix whatever was wrong.

“Aurora, por favor, let’s talk this over. Please don’t take la niña. I’m sorry, please.”

There was no getting through to her. She pushed him away and walked towards the front door, fumbling for the car keys. When she found them, she turned around to look at him once more. Her voice was calm for the first time in hours. “You lied to me, Papi.”

She opened the door where torrential rain splattered onto the asphalt driveway. When I realized we were really leaving, I started screaming, too.

“Abuelo! Abuelo!”

My calls were stifled by the tears trapped in my throat. I could hear myself crying, but all I could think about was trying to free myself from Mami’s grip to run to Abuelo. The harder I tried, the fiercer her clutch got. He just stood there at the door with tears in his eyes as she pulled me outside into the pouring rain and down the driveway. Abuelo was saying something, but I could only see his mouth moving. I couldn’t hear anything beyond the rain and the sound of Mami’s wet flip-flops squishing as she walked. She put me into the car and the tires screeched as we left the house behind. My drenched hair clung to my face and I shivered as the car AC blew cold air onto me. I still remember wondering why the windshield wipers fought so uselessly against the storm.


I waited days for Abuelo to call me. Sitting in front of the rotary dial, I drummed my fingers on the table, wondering if maybe he’d changed his mind after all. I knew I felt like I was dishonoring Mami by speaking to him, but it was hard to fight this little fountain of rebellion that had spurted within me. Like all mother-daughter relationships, some days I vowed I would be just like my mother, and other days, exactly the opposite. But ever since the breast cancer diagnosis two years earlier, I had tried to be her perfect daughter. Mami always told me that when she looked at me she sometimes mistook me for herself, the way she was ages ago – young, beautiful, and spirited. I tried to remain that way for her sake. Now that she was dead, I didn’t have to be perfect anymore. For once in my life, I could make mistakes.

The phone rang. I sat up in my chair and cleared my throat, but I still hesitated to answer it. I hadn’t really expected it to ever ring. Picking it up could change everything. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that, but my hand was fearless and it reached for the phone without my permission. I pressed it to my ear. It felt cold against my cheek. I swallowed hard before speaking.

“Hello?” My voice sort of quivered and I hardly recognized it as my own.

“Adelithia, is that you?” His voice, however, was unmistakable to me.

“Sí, Abuelo, it’s me.”

“Cuànto me alegro that you answered. I want to see you, Ady.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Would you like to come here?” He waited patiently for a reply, but I knew I couldn’t go back there, to our little condo in Key Biscayne. It had too many memories associated with it. I could see myself looking out of my bedroom window at the ocean outside. Abuelo had poured his entire life savings into the place, just to be near the ocean like he was in Cuba.

“Abuelo, I can’t go there. Not yet.” My hand was getting sweaty and the phone felt like I was slipping out of it.

“Lo entiendo. How about Domino Park? ¿Te acuerdas?”

A huge smile spread across my face. I remembered Abuelo teaching me how to play dominoes there in Little Havana when I still barely knew how to add. The scent of the older men smoking cigars drifted back to me from a hidden place in my heart.

“Yes, I remember. Today at four?”

I met him outside the gate. He wore a teal blue guayabera, almost the same color as his eyes, with khaki pants. Wide rectangular glasses sat on his long nose and he smoked a fat Montecristo cigar. His white hair was combed back. He looked like a real Cuban caballero. There was no other way to put it.

It was a hot day, but certainly not the hottest for the city of endless summer. I was wearing a short red floral dress and had even curled my hair. When he saw me, he kissed my forehead and said, “Hola, belleza,” which sent a pang deep in my chest. It had been so long since I’d heard that old sobriquet.

We walked together into the overhead patio and sat down at a table that needed a second pair. The other two men we were playing against were both Cuban and over fifty, which meant we’d actually have to strategize. Even so, I’d knew we’d win. Abuelo was the best domino player in Miami, and possibly in the country. I’d never seen him lose, even when paired with the worst partners imaginable. Our condo had his trophies all over the place. I used to polish them with wet toilettes, because even at that age, I thought I had the coolest grandpa in the world. I bragged about him everywhere I went.

We all threw the dominoes in the center of the table, which always made such a satisfying sound, like ocean waves crashing against rocks, only louder. Abuelo winked at me as we shuffled them around with our hands, and all of a sudden, I felt eight years old again.

A few minutes into the game, I already had a pretty good idea what fichas Abuelo had. A look of pride came over his face every time I put one of his down for him. He’d taught me well. I put down a double five since I knew he had a wealth of those. We’d already passed the other two guys for three rounds. By the third round, they were knocking on the table in complete resignation. “Paso,” they’d say as they sighed. The first game was going so well I thought we’d be in for a pollona.

But then Abuelo layed down an eight and I looked at him with widened eyes. I didn’t have any eights, but the other two only had eights. They rubbed their hands together and dug into their fichas. He’d just thrown the game away. When he realized what he’d done, he put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. He suddenly looked weary and tired. There was puffiness under his eyes I hadn’t noticed before.

“Ady, disculpa.”

“No, Abuelo. It’s okay.”

 I looked at him for a long while after that, wondering what was wrong. That wasn’t a slip Abuelo would have. He never had a slip. But he just went back to looking at his domino tiles on his tray, preparing for the next move.

We didn’t get a pollona and my heart sank a little. I could tell Abuelo’s did too. We left the Domino Park and went for café at Versailles, the restaurant of mirrors. Anywhere you went you could look at yourself from a different angle. As a little girl, it used to irritate me. Actually, it still did. I don’t understand why they make you see yourself. Some of us don’t want to look.

The waiter brought us the greasy bread I loved as a child, and Abuelo ordered us two cups of café con leche and a pan con lechón to split. It used to be our signature. No one there used to question why a child under ten was drinking coffee. Cubans put coffee in their baby’s bottle.

“Niña, tell me something about yourself. No te conozco.” He dipped his bread into his coffee cup.

“I haven’t changed that much, Abuelo.” My eyes wandered away from him and I found myself in a mirror.

“Not that much, and yet, a lot.” He smiled.

I thought about what to tell him. My life up to this point had been hitched to Mami’s. Now it just felt empty and strange. I didn’t have a boyfriend. I’d fallen in love once, at nineteen. Mami noticed the smile on my face after I read a note he’d slipped in my pocket without me noticing. She walked into my room right as I was reading it, and I hurriedly pursed my lips to conceal the smile and tucked the note behind my pillow. But nothing ever escaped Mami’s perceptiveness.

She stopped at my door, and said, “You think he loves you? Stop being foolish, Adelicia. Hardly anyone ever loves in this life, and those that try hardly ever do it right.”

A part of me knew that came from a place of brokenness, because Mami had gotten pregnant with me when she was nineteen and my father left her. And if there was one thing I knew it was that stories had a way of repeating themselves.

“I don’t have any plans,” I shrugged.

“No plans? But you wanted to be a poet… ever since you were a little girl. You fell in love with it when I used to read to you.” Abuelo sat back in his chair and looked at me through squinted eyes.

 “That was just a dream, Abuelo.” I looked away from him, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze, but everywhere I looked, I could see my reflection looking back at me. I felt attacked from all sides.

He shook his head. I heard his voice between sips of his coffee.

“Los sueños son todo.”


It was late in the afternoon, the sky turning into that flamingo pink I’ve only ever seen in Miami sunsets. We walked through Art Deco on Ocean Drive, but Abuelo seemed lost in his thoughts. He’d asked to see me again at the end of our last lunch, but today he seemed distant, not his usual warm, lighthearted self. He was half-present at best.

I touched his shoulder as we walked. “Abuelo, estàs bien?”

He looked at me a long time. Then he moved his hand as if brushing away all his cares. “Sí, sí. I’m thinking of your mamá. This was her favorite place when she was young.”

I looked around and breathed in deeply, the air salt-tinged and free. I could picture Mami here, in this place that was frozen in time, with its 1930’s cars parked in front of buildings and bold neon signs making palm trees glow. I imagined her wearing that iridescent pink eyeshadow that made her green eyes burn fiercer, those long dangly earrings that always got tangled in the wavy hair that framed her face, and vintage Levi’s jeans hugging her small waist. If a place and a person could fuse, this is where Mami would be.

The July humidity was growing stronger as the night approached. We passed a Lancia Astura parked on the edge of the street. Abuelo stopped next to it and looked at it for a long time.

“In Cuba, they only have old cars like this. They have no way of getting new ones. Here they are art, there they are chains.”

I ran my fingers along the car. “You still think about Cuba?”

His glasses grew foggy from the moist air. “Cuba… sí, nos tenemos que ir.”

I peered into his face, confused. “You want to leave? Did I say something Abuelo?”

“Nos tenemos que ir de Cuba, Aurora.” He grabbed me by the shoulders, panic growing all over his face. “Ahora, vamos.”  

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I shook him off of me. “No, Abuelo. It’s me. It’s Adelicia.”

He didn’t seem to understand. He grew more anxious, slightly shaking me, shouting “¡Quien eres!”

 “I told you Abuelo! I’m Adelicia, tu nieta!”

He let me go and I felt the pressure release from my arms. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Where is Aurora? Mi hija? Aurora?”

We were standing in the heat, with no place to go but back. Our bodies had the tang of sweat and tears.

“Aurora is dead, Abuelo. She died.”

When I told him the truth, his head fell on my shoulder and he cried weakly, sniffling and whimpering like a child. Now, I knew why he wanted to see me so badly, and I knew why he’d slipped in the domino game. He was forgetting, and fast.

I took him back to his condo. I helped him lie down on the couch and I sat on the coffee table to watch him sleep. The house looked the same, crucifixes and Virgen Maria’s everywhere, the popcorn ceiling and vinyl floors, and that picture of Mami at sixteen hanging right by the door. She always smiled with her lips closed, which left people wanting more of her.

I wonder if she did it on purpose.

After I spread a blanket over Abuelo and closed the vertical blinds, I went to my old bedroom, its fuzzy pink wall-to-wall carpeting untouched as well as the teddy bears that left no room on the twin-sized bed. The ocean lived beyond the large window that almost extended all the way to the floor. I could see it glimmering under a full moon, the way it looked on so many nights as I waited for morning to come so that I could go to the beach with Abuelo. It used to be beautiful, now it just haunted me like a promise unkept.

This house had been filled with the songs of the ocean, the lyrics of poetry. It had held all my dreams and stood by them as they grew. Until one day it didn’t. Abuelo and Mami were exiles, but I think they failed to notice that they’d made me lose everything, too.

I heard movements stirring in the living room. I hurried out and left the room without peace. Abuelo was standing up, adjusting the pillows on the couch. I stood in the hallway, and he turned to look at me. He was lucid now. I didn’t move from the hallway.

"Abuelo, you have to tell me.” My voice cracked and I huffed, trying to hold back tears.

“Lo sé, Ady.” He rubbed his forehead and his eyes.

“Why did Mami take me?” I demanded.

His blue eyes were bloodshot, veins crawling over them. He didn’t say anything.

“Why did she take me?” I lingered over each syllable.

“Aurora was stubborn and hot-headed. She couldn’t understand.”

“Understand what? What could be so bad that she’d take me away forever?”

Anger washed over his face, and for a moment, my sweet Abuelito was gone because in this moment, in my fierce demands, in my boldness, he saw her in me.

“Mia, my wife. She wasn’t dead. She chose to stay in Cuba with a man she was cheating on me with. A man who worked for Castro.”

He sat back down on the sofa, bringing his hands over his face.

“Por tus ojos encendidos,” I whispered to myself.

He looked up. “Now you know why I liked that poem,” he shrugged.

 “I had to get Aurora out of there because we were starving. To make things easier, I told her Mia was dead.”

“So you lied to her? And she found out?” I felt rage growing within me, at the both of them. Their past had torn my whole life to shreds.

“Ady, no te pongas brava.” Abuelo walked toward me, but I stepped back in fury. I started for the door, running out of there as fast as my mom had fifteen years earlier. I reached for the doorknob, but I hesitated. I didn’t turn around.

“She never forgave me. You’re not mad at me. You’re mad at her. You’re still mad at her. You don’t have to see me again, but you have to forgive her.”

As he said those words, I wiped away tears from my cheek and walked out the door. It was all coming back to me, all of the memories flooding and drowning me. That time I got so angry in the car on the way to school because Mami wouldn’t talk about Abuelo anymore, except to say that he was un mentiroso. I kicked her car seat, hard. I couldn’t control my anger. Her eyes glared at me through the rearview mirror, and she dropped the words slowly, like drops of rain falling into a bucket.

“De eso no se habla.”

And she got what she wanted. We never did.


A week later the lawyer called me to meet and go over Mami’s will. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t materialistic, and even if I was, Mami and I had always lived paycheck to paycheck. I knew there wouldn’t be much. And I was right, there wasn’t. But the lawyer handed me an old photo album Mami wanted me to have. It had pictures of her growing up, even pictures of her in Cuba. And then I found it, the one of her as a chubby little baby with rosy cheeks, carried by her mother, who was smiling and showing her a sunflower. Mami held it in her plump hands that had dimples on the knuckles.

Even at the end of her life, she wouldn’t let it go. I’d saved some of the sunflowers from Mami’s funeral and placed them by the kitchen window, but they were starting to wilt. I watered them everyday and gave them enough sun, but they were still dying on me. That’s the thing about time. You can’t stop it and you can’t slow it. It passes you by. She was too strong-willed to realize that.

I didn’t speak to Abuelo in that time. One of the things I’m best at is holding a grudge. We can’t always choose what we get from our parents, I guess. But even though I wasn’t talking to him, I couldn’t get his words out of my mind. I needed to blame someone, something. And it was hard to blame an island I’d never even known for all of the havoc in my life. After seeing the picture though, my heart broke for him. He’d lost everything ­– Mia, Aurora, his beloved Cuba. And me.

I picked up the phone and dialed him, my finger going in circles and watching the wheel spin back. He answered.

“Abuelo, can I come over?”

“Claro, mi amor. Claro.”

I brought some croquetas from a bakery near the house. He was already standing at the doorstep as I got off the car. I told him I wanted to go to the beach out back and we did. We both felt more natural there. Every time I near the ocean I take a little piece of my soul back. Maybe it’s because of our Cuban blood. It rages until we quench it.

Abuelo spread a Little Mermaid towel on the sand. It was the one I used as a kid. I remembered him wrapping me up in it as I begged to go back in the water. Then he’d ask to see my fingers, which were always really pruny. I used to tell him if I was like the mermaid on the towel I could always live in the sea.

His tan skin was wrinkled and his cheekbones were prominent on his face. He looked so fragile, no longer the sturdy man that used to chase me up and down the seashore on lazy evenings. I wondered how much time he had left.

“The ocean always reminds me of your mamá. We crossed it together, just the two of us. I thought if we survived that, we would always be together. She would always be safe with me. But I was wrong. I lost her anyway.”

The way he said those words told me that he’d been reliving the night we left every night. Even when he forgot it all, even when he forgot who we were, he still relived it, over and over.

He put his hand over mine, and in the same tender voice he used when I was a little girl, he recited,

Sin saber cómo ni cuàndo,

Sé que estuviste llorando

And grabbing his hand back, looking onto the ocean, I finished the stanza.

Toda la noche por mí.

He smiled at me, and I reached into my pocket, taking out the black and white picture I’d come to give him. His eyes lit up as he adjusted his glasses, holding the picture farther away to see it better. “Ay, look at that… mi niña preciosa.”

Then he looked at me and grabbed my chin. “Mi otra niña preciosa.”

He held the photograph to his chest and closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of the sea, the way Mami used to. They looked so much alike, in that moment. Looking at him, I could see her, and I knew he could see her when he looked at me. All we had left was each other.   

When he opened his eyes again, he stared off into the distance for a long time, and I knew he was going again. He lingered a few minutes longer and then looked at me, his eyes glassed over behind his bifocals.

He moved closer to me. “Aurora?”

I didn’t say anything, but I felt my eyes water. I know he’d tried his best to love her good and right, just like she had done with me. He put his hand on top of my head, as if I was a little girl.

¿Aurorita? ¿Mi hija, me perdonas?”

He clutched the photograph in his hand, which trembled steadily. I took it in both of my hands and rubbed it with my thumbs.

“Sí, Papi. I forgive you.”






The Acentos Review 2019