4B

by Tamuira Reid

The day Luna went mad her mother thought, finally. The signs had been there, hanging around at the dinner table, in the bathroom where she ironed her hair.

It had waited patiently in the corner of a room, under a chair, in the oven with the bread. Now they wouldn't need to wonder when it would all fall apart because it just had.

The day Luna went mad she was wearing pink lipstick. Her legs were waxed and smoothed down with cocoa butter because she was religious about that kind of thing. Never know who you're gonna see, she'd say, sliding a gold hoop through each ear.

It happened slowly and over a period of time. Shop closed. Her mind just closed-up on her. Went out of business.

Luna sang to the plants as she watered them. Would be normal except she thought she heard them sing back. Her mother turned up the radio and hung wet nylons from the fire escape.

It's hard to talk about it, when it's your daughter.

The emptiness in her eyes scared her mother. The empty blackness of her eyes. They held nothing but crazy and she knew that. And somewhere deep inside, her daughter knew what was happening too but she couldn't stop it.

The police said they had found her in the fetal position, on a sidewalk in Times Square. She was licking her arms like a cat. Her clothes sat next to her in a pile, perfectly folded. She wanted to go home if that was okay.

Sit. Eat.

My hair.

Your hair is perfect. Sit.

Her mother sat her down at the table and did what she did best. Fed her. A hot plate of arroz con pollo, a Malta, tostones with the heat still rising off them.

Something is happening to me, she said and stared out the window. A plastic bag floated by, white and ripped on one side.

Eat.

****

When I first meet Marisol, it is on the stairs of our building. I help her pull a cart of groceries up to the fourth floor where we both live. Her back is humped from years of hauling heavy shit.

We don't talk until we reach the top.

You hear my daughter. This is less a question than an acknowledgement. She's not right. In the head.

I'm sorry. I catch some onions falling out of her cart. I don't tell her how her daughter's screaming keeps me up at night, but for a different reason.

How old is your boy?

Six.

Que lindo, she says. God bless him.

She takes the onions from my hands and smiles. Come over for café sometime?

****

There's an altar for the saints. With flowers and candles. With pictures of when things were okay. A time when a father still came home from work and ate dinner with his family, chuletas were his favorite. A time when a daughter sang pop songs for fun, not to calm the voices in her head.

Two cups of Café Bustelo sit between us. Birds of different colors chirp loudly and frantically from a brass cage across the room. I bite my nails, a habit I fall back on when I'm nervous. I don't quite know why I'm nervous.

Luna sits catatonically in an armchair, the TV a foot in front of her. She is both watching it and not watching. She exists in a quieter universe now, the landscape of which extends only between kitchen table, sofa, mattress. The contours of her life nothing more than tables and chairs.

Baby girl, this is Tamuira. She lives down the hall with her little boy. What's his name again?

Oliver.

Si, Oliver. Did you hear that, baby? Her boy's name is Oliver. Isn't that a good name?

Luna turns and looks at us, then at the birds in their swinging cage. Beautiful and trapped.

****

She was a gorgeous girl. And so loud and happy. Her voice trails off. She offers pictures as proof, but I believe her without looking. Marisol cleans as she talks, lifting up a bowl of fruit to dust the table underneath.

This is the third time we've had coffee this week. I have things to do but don't want to do them.

Doctors were of no real help to Marisol. You have options, they would tell her. Great places for Luna. Get your own life back.

Her place is with her mother, she'd argue, a delicate cross hanging from her neck. It shone brightly in the darkest of rooms.

I finish my coffee and Marisol pours me another.

She used to dance. Always dancing. Since two years old. I would get mad because she'd be under my feet all the time, loca. She puts two lumps of sugar in my cup. Then one day, she just quit. Said no more, done. No reason.

Then she stopped doing a lot of things. Like brushing her hair. She had pretty hair, you know? White girl hair. Same as her father's, bless his soul.

Ronnie was killed in a motorcycle accident on the Bronx-Queens Expressway when Luna was five.

Maybe that's why.

Why?

Why all this happened. Children need their fathers.

Or just a better world I think but don't say.

****

Marisol shows me the list of meds. I recognize some, the ones my son's father took when he stopped sleeping and eating. The ones he took that turned him into something slow and gone.

I try to translate, yes this one is good, I had a friend on this one, seemed to help. It is a serious cocktail of psychotropic solutions to a problem that cannot be fixed. Not in the way Marisol would like. Not in a way that will return the daughter she once had.

Paranoid schizophrenia. She says this like a dirty word. Like she needs a shot to wash it down with. I could use a shot myself right about now.

Maybe you should get some help, Marisol. It's a lot.

Now you sound like them. She moves to the window and stares down at the street, filled with people and their lives.

So I tell her. When my son was six months old, his father left to fix himself.

And?

He's still broken.

****

Everyday the giant bags of chicken and rice lugged up stairs. Laundry washed and folded. Floors mopped. Daughter dressed. Everyday the tired, aching body willing itself forward. Everyday the routine that gives hope.

I will keep her here until the day she dies. She is safe with me.

I went for coffee every week until the day I moved out. Uptown further, cheaper. More space, I tell her.

Si, yes. More space.

The morning I leave, she doesn't say goodbye. I press my ear to her door but only hear the birds.

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