by Natasha Cordova
a Huehuetenango espresso
Abuela Eliana's porch was wide and shaded, a welcoming haven for her family's activities. It was hard to discern from the front of the house the tangled mess lurking in the back. Although the family suspected havoc, they did not want to confirm it, so no one looked.
Such is a family—especially the large and old ones.
Children would play soccer out in the front, set off sparklers, or play tag. The adults would sit in the cool shade on parched rockers and discuss manifestations against the government and conquering the country. Abuela Eliana would totter to the kitchen to prepare sweet drinks from the papayas outback and bring out pictures she'd received of relatives who'd left for faraway places. She was the matriarch and keeper of the stories. And she shared the ones that were to be shared.
The secrets she defended.
And the family protected her.
So when she casually mentioned that there was a tree growing into her upstairs bedroom, the words had scarcely left her lips when her sons and grandsons took action. Machetes flashed in their hands, seemingly out of nowhere, and they marched into the backyard they hadn't explored since their children had been children.
Hacking at the foliage, some questioned how their mother managed to navigate it to fetch the fruit for their drinks. But they reasoned that the forests crept back in fearful respect for her. The haughty vines and scornful branches defied them, however. They slapped the men like school nuns, reminding them that the jungle knew them as children and wasn't taking this behavior.
The men finally found the culprit, a rogue tree that had indeed breached the walls and penetrate their venerated mother's bedroom. Daughters and granddaughters opened the windows above to relay the damage within. The men were incensed by the intrusion but paused in discussion to determine how best to approach the situation.
Don Rafael had no hesitation and no plan. He only saw an opportunity.
When the sons and grandsons saw the 89-year-old man climbing the tree with a machete in his teeth, they were incredulous. Half could not recall exactly who he was, and the other half had no idea why he would be doing this.
Their wives, knowing the things women know, immediately notified Abuela Eliana.
Later, neither the knowing women nor the clueless men could agree on how Don Rafael got there. Did he happen past as the men were going out to their cars to get their machetes? Did he slip in amidst the chaos? Had he been squatting in the backyard, subsisting on papayas, guavas, and the hope of love?
When Abuela Eliana heard that Don Rafael was scaling a tree to her bedroom to rescue her, her chin pointed to the air, and she set her jaw in determination. She pressed her hands on the arms of the rocker and lifted herself from her chair. With heavy steps, she started up the stairs. "Does that ridiculous man thinks he can do anything that will make me forget what he did to my Juan Carlos? You all know what he put our family through. And daring to claim it was out of love for me? He should be knocked off that tree!"
No matter how many arguments Abuela Eliana had thrown his way since Juan Carlos's death, Don Rafael's heart had only managed to beat faster because of the faint hope. And now, with an opportunity to demonstrate his love, it hit his chest even stronger. He hacked the branches and vines lustily, sap and sweat running down his arms. The frantic shouts of her children of the danger only served to embolden him. "I will prove my love! I will prove myself!"
And he was rewarded. Abuela Eliana's face appeared above him in the window, framed in leaves. Her hair had changed to snowy white, but otherwise, her skin remarkably unblemished and unlined for her age. Her dark eyes flashed at him with the same intensity that had sparked him years ago. To him, it was a sign to continue. Even if all that fire was fueled by rage.
"Get down, you fool! You do not impress me! You're going to get killed!"
"I would gladly die for you, Eliana!" Don Rafael called up.
Abuela Eliana grabbed a rifle from the side of the window and aimed it at him. The women beside her in the room screamed, and her boys in the forest down below scattered.
"Get down, or I'll shoot!" she warned.
"I do not believe you! I have been granted a pathway to your bedroom by God! What other sign do I need?"
And with that nonsense, Abuela Eliana shot him in the heart. He fell to the ground below. By the time the men reached him, he was dead. Abuela Eliana heard the pronouncement with a satisfied nod.
"Get rid of this tree, uproot it and bury him in the hole," she commanded.
Carlos, the oldest, shrugged and noted. "He will just turn into a tree and try to climb into your bedroom, the way the last man you killed did."
Abuela Eliana looked at the sad, lovelorn corpse and shook her head. "I will be nearly 100 by the time he is tall enough to reach. If he is still interested then, maybe I will be in a better mood about it."
So her sons and grandsons did as they were told, as the family always did, and covered up the secrets. And the encroaching jungle moved in behind them and covered their trails.
About he author
Natasha Cordova is a physician by training, writer by passion. Currently juggling writing between managing three children's online learning schedules. Hobbies include distance running and screaming into pillows.