“The Fever” – Frank Herrera (circa 1993, then a wide-eyed aspiring novelist to be …)
Crossing channels. There is a sadness in my mother’s eyes that burns like I don’t know. There is an anger in my father’s eyes that burns like I don’t want to know. There is a country held hostage in my mind populated with foolish armies and revolutions for bread. “Codfish with bread, what do you want?” There is a patriot in my finger that points the way towards freedom. There is a potential martyr in my soul that seeks a homeland like the ancient Ithaka. “Codfish with bread, delicious.” There is fecund life breathing, breeding, drinking, smoking, eating in the green hills, the green hills, the green hills of my mind. “Codfish with bread, come and dance.” “Codfish with bread, come and enjoy.” Sacred drum of affliction, our bodies resonate with pain, sacred drum of affliction. “What do you want?” “Codfish with bread.” Restless machete in fields of cane/cain. Restless hands tobacco stained. “What do you need?” “Codfish with bread.” She sat at the edge of the bed running her short, stubby, little, tired hands through my sweaty hair. I stared at the television. The high fever induced stares and transported my jaundiced body into the pixels of the lighted screen. My wandering lazy eyes stopped at the sight of my mother’s nightstand. In those sick days, the night stand was an altar. It held statues of forgotten saints. There was a saint leaning on a crutch and by his side a dog that felt his pain. Close by, a plaster statue of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. “The Virgin of Charity.” She was not the Virgin Mary of America. She was Cuba’s Patron Saint, the Virgin of the seas. She stood tall, caped, haloed and full of mercy. And below her, a small rowboat with three desperate men struggling the high seas. Los Tres Juanes looked up at her, their eyes glossy and trusting like the crippled Saint’s plaster dog. She continued running her short, stubby, little, tired hands through my sweaty hair. The saints were not alone on the bedside altar. A picture of my mother on a beach in Havana shared the sacred night stand. It was a photo of a 50’s bathing beauty in a paradise lost. This paradise lost stood before me like a glowing saint. * * * Triangles of changing shapes snapped with force of the patterned wind. The sailor calculated his chances to out-run the angry thunderhead. Fascinated by the beauty of those sails in contrast with a gray to black sky and sea level clouds of broken swells, I am still. I stood on a seawall at the end of condo-swept sands of Miami Beach. The crumbling sea wall stained red from the rusting re-bar reminded me of the photo of my mother in Havana. There she stood. One happy hand holding her floppy beach hat and the other between her bony knees made from beans and rice. She posed by bending slightly like the women in fashionable magazines might. Her bathing suit seemed old and out of style. This postcard bathing beauty stood on a Havana beach and faced the mighty Straits of Florida that divided her from the future sight of the rest of her life. Years later, I am staring back at her. And the rain began. And I still stood there motionless. She sank in Miami like a nose-pinching, eye-shutting, torch-holding Statue of Liberty -sinking in the rising flood like a tourist faraway from the Western world discovers that they will never return to their sheltering home. She continued running her short, stubby, little, tired hands through my sweaty hair.