We returned under the usual sun, the one that stuck the tiniest of needles all over my body from sunup until the final seconds before it disappeared behind Grandma’s house. We walked back in silence, bringing up the rear, Mama holding my hand, and I could feel how her tears ran down her cheeks to her neck and then down her arms before reaching our hands. When her river of tears drenched my skin, Mama squeezed my hand ever harder, almost to the point of hurting, of cracking, and I felt how all her breaths wanted to escape at the same time and out of her into Grandpa, who minutes earlier we had left in the vault, nestled in a white pine box, with his dark woolen suit and the yellow tie that Papa had given him for his birthday and which he never wore. All of us walked in silence and I counted the clouds of white dust that rose as the small procession returned to the village with Grandma in front, dressed in black from her ankles and wrists all the way up above her neck. My body itched more than usual ‘cause Mama had me wear a black wool coat that had been made from the extra cloth of Grandpa’s coat and that now squashed my arms and shoulders as I counted the dust clouds to distract me from the squeeze because Mama wouldn’t let go of my hand. One of the village women, Raquel, swallowed her tears and tried to hum, Far beyond the sun, far beyond the sun, I have a house, far beyond the sun. I was about to sing of which lost souls among the poverty my Jesus Christ was compassionate . . . , but Grandma’s glare cut off Raquel, who then stood frozen stuck among the people who passed and left her behind. When we reached her, I saw that Raquel’s eyelashes were silvery from so much crying and she stayed unmoving, watching us keep on walking, and maybe she too started counting the dust clouds. My grandparents’ house was at one end of town, at the top of the main street, a straight line from the family’s land to Grandpa’s grave right in the middle of the other graves. The people started wandering off and I saw how coats came off, how veils revealed faces, how ties were loosened and dusty high heels were kicked off, replaced by bare feet as soon as they found a bit of shade. Few people made it to the front door, a couple of uncles who lived nearby, Grandma’s cousin who stayed with her until Papa, and Mama and I, reached the front gate. Grandma’s cousin kissed Mama on the cheek, she hugged Papa and insisted that he watch over Mama, making sure she slept that night, and she advised some shots of rum to lessen the pain. Papa helped Mama with the little strength he had and they vanished behind the house walls. Grandma would dress in black, she would dress in black, thirty years younger than Grandpa. Grandma would, she would be dressed in black, thirty years younger than Grandpa, not crying. Grandma would dress in black, thirty years younger than Grandpa, without crying, with eyes swollen in anger, listening to her cousin who was almost whispering. Grandma, who I suddenly noticed was young, hugged her cousin. Her cousin smiled, kissed her on the cheek, and left. Neither of them saw me. Neither noticed that I am here. Grandma goes inside the house and a few minutes later comes out with a small ax in her hand, not dressed in black mourning, her white sleeves rolled up. She goes over to the cactus. The cactus is huge, full of thorns, bursting with little red fruits Grandpa never let us eat. The cactus with its extended arms, with its closed yellow flowers. The cactus that rises early to the top of the two-story house. The cactus that Grandpa planted at the front of the house that he would continue to watch after dying, from the grave. Grandma takes a deep breath, lifts the ax. I see her open her eyes, watch them glow red, really red, almost the color of the cactus fruit. Grandma, thirty years younger than Grandpa, slashes the cactus flesh. She doesn’t see me, doesn’t hear my altered breath, and I disappear behind the images that she invokes after each strike, with each piece of rage falling off her body. Raquel, Beatriz, Dora, Carmen, Mona, Tula, Jimena, Nidia, María de los Ángeles, the women of the village who appear as ghosts after each strike, and with each assault the images of Grandma’s suffering appears, of Grandma attacked in bed. I see Grandpa’s enormous wrinkled fist smacking her, I see the saliva spraying from his mouth as he screamed dumb, stupid, absolutely useless, Altagracia, Sabina, Lucrecia, Angustias, Lorena, Gertrudis, Macarena, Andrea, nameless women who I don’t know, women who have the names of villages San Andrés, San Juan de las Cañas, Santa Eulalia, San Jerónimo, Las Platas, and the blood, Grandma’s blood dribbling out of her mouth, her tears, her screams smothered, Grandpa’s boots bruising her flesh, leaving a metal tip in her ribs. It falls, the cactus falls, its red fruits cover the courtyard stones, its yellow flowers, still closed, fall, never to ever blossom, the flesh of the cactus bleeds, my grandma slashes and cuts, covered in thorns, and Papa watches this from the window. He smiles and Mama cries, but I know that she still sees the women, she sees the hands, the boots, the mouth, the fists, and hears the screams of Grandpa thirty years older than Grandma.
Now the sun no longer scorches the main street where the villagers who accompanied Grandma toast and celebrate in silence. I go to my grandma and help her pull up the roots.
“Más allá del sol” © Denise Phe-Funchal. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2023 by David Unger. All rights reserved.