Rain. I can never get enough of the calm beauty that it brings. Always a common staple for winter in Southern California; in New York, it was snow, big, large white hedges of snow, at first, soft and flaky to the touch, and then after three days when it begins to melt into sewage and harden like concrete and you have to leap like a ballerina to avoid the lakes that gathered around the curbs, you hate it and wish it had never snowed in the first place. And you suddenly find yourself wishing for rain.
I awoke this morning to the rain, gentle and kind. I found myself staring at the ceiling, thinking a familiar train of thought: that if I closed my eyes, I could be anywhere. Paris. Buenos Aires. Rome. San Francisco. The rain always sounds the same, everywhere I go, bringing with it the usual fresh air, the smell of wet pavement, the faint glimmer of an alien warmth despite the cool breeze. I always remember the rain, welcoming it like an old friend I haven’t seen in years.
For a few hours, I was able to enjoy peace and quiet and the rain, all to myself. No ambient noise, no bodies moving around; everyone was still asleep and I was alone in my own thoughts for the better part of the morning. I had this realization that in a few days, I will have been here for a month. An entire month. Did I ever think I would be here for such a long time? Not really. But things change. Life happens. The wind blows, the world spins madly on.
The first person to rise was Abuelita. She came down at nine in the morning, in her pink bunny slippers and in her robe smelling of lavender and toothpaste, her usually bright eyes drained of energy, though she still managed a smile when she saw me sitting down on the couch.
‘Hola mijo,’ she said, nodding as she walked past me and into the kitchen. I heard the snap-snap-snap of the stove burner turn on, the subtle swoosh of flames igniting, and the metallic clink of the kettle being set on the grille. A familiar noise, a morning ritual. Café con leche, Abuelita’s signature way. The house smelled of coffee and cinnamon soon after, and she offered me a cup, which I gladly accepted, even though I could not stop her from adding hot milk and sugar. It tasted like winter.
‘Christmas Eve,’ I say, as I lean against the kitchen counter. Our kitchen is small but comfortable, enough space for me to work my charms and domestic miracles. ‘Another year, gone with the wind.’
She nods and takes a sip of her coffee. ‘Winter is here.’
Winter is here, the season spinning in high gear. Yule. Saturnalia. The death of the year, with the new one ringing changes just around the corner. On our quiet street, ours is the only house without Christmas decorations on our front lawns. We have none of the plastic light-up sleighs and reindeers, no candy canes or fake snow on our lawns, no decorations of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the Three Wise Men and the manger animals. No, no, none of that. Although I do know that we have strings of lights that I could wrap around the tree in our front yard. Any air of festivity is always welcome in my book. Any excuse to join the people you love in rituals old. Everything is a game, after all. Life is but a dream.
‘Are you doing anything today?’ asks Abuelita, her somewhat red and half-shut eyes peering over her mug to me. It occurs to me that I have only seen her twice this early in the morning; I’m usually asleep until around noon (what can I say? I’m a nocturnal creature) and by then she’s usually had her coffee, twice by then actually.
‘Nothing,’ I say, looking at my phone. ‘I was supposed to come in to work today but…with the holiday and all, there isn’t much business drummed up. They’re closed until the twenty-sixth.’
She nods, seemingly understanding before she speaks. ‘Are you planning on quitting soon, mijo?’
I flinch. ‘No, not really. Why?’
She shrugs, her eyebrow raised, and she smiles mischievously, as though she’s the only one in on the joke. ‘Maybe that’ll change soon.’
I stare at her, quixotically. Why she trades in mysteries and intrigue is an answer I’ll never receive. I reach for her thoughts instinctively, staring at foam swirling in my cup of coffee, hoping that it forms an image, but all I can feel is a brick and mortar wall; nothing but clouds blowing in the wind. I sigh. I’m too tired to try right now.
Maybe I’ll find out later.
‘What about you?’ I ask, returning to the original question. ‘Are we having a dinner for Yule? Christmas or whatever?’
She purses her lips, thinking for a moment, before sighing. ‘I guess we should since Roberto crashed our celebration.’ Understatement of the year. ‘But,’ she says, shrugging. ‘I don’t think we will. I think I’m burned out on December surprises.’
I understand that. Six more days until the end of the year and I’m already anxious to see what changes the new year brings. Will Janus be kind or angry this time around? Will the Gods of the old world have pity and send us blessings? The rain feels like a sign, but what kind of sign it is I don’t even know how to find out. Abuelita has always been more of a seer than anyone in this family, even greater than that of Abuela Christie, and I suspect that she knows what’s in store for us.
I do always have my cards…
‘You have her eyes, you know,’ says Abuelita, suddenly.
I blink. ‘What?’
‘Tu Abuela Christie. You have her eyes. You have the eyes of the family.’
Along with the sign of the Jaguar, Ix. Guardian. Lord of the Night Sky. Healer. Genie without a lamp, granter of wishes. Therapist. I’ve heard the stories of Abuela Christie, mostly from Mother when I was younger. The only photo we have of Abuela Christie is one taken many moons ago, one where she was sitting on the back of the camel, posing in front of the Pyramids of Giza, wearing that same radiant smile that Mother has.
She was a real Child of the Wind, Mother would say; never a country too far to reach, no place too foreign to visit, no conversation too dull to have. The world was ours for the taking, she would say. This life only meant for the living.
I’ve heard bits and pieces of Abuela Christie’s background, a fragmented oral history as any other, with incongruous time stamps and contradicting details. My great grandmother is said to have been born in Egypt, the cradle of civilization, at the turn of the century to a Spanish merchant and his servant girl, Xochicalpa. Shortly after giving birth, the Spaniard took Xochicalpa back to Spain where they lived comfortably for two years, but they were miserable years; he beat her mercilessly day and night.
Now, this is when the story gets a bit murky, depending on who you ask. If you ask Abuelita, she will tell you that one night when the Spaniard was plastered drunk, Xochicalpa dreamed of a rabbit leading her to the ocean. When she woke up, she heard the same rabbit hopping around their flat. She took it as a sign from the Gods to leave, and she packed up her child, a bag of clothing, tied the Spaniard’s feet together with rope, and took off into the night, following the rabbit all the way to the port, where they stowed away on a freight ship and headed off to ‘The New World’. They arrived a week later in Mexico, and over the next three months, they slowly made their way back to Nicaragua to visit her sister, Tulpa, where they eventually decided to stay.
Mother will tell you a different story; yes, the Spaniard was abusive, but that didn’t compel Xochicalpa to leave. Instead, the wife of the Spaniard was the catalyst behind her flight. Unable to have a child herself, the wife was angry and jealous of Xochicalpa, calling her a ‘native witch’ and blaming her for her own barrenness. Things escalated, and led to the wife setting fire to the servant’s house, attempting to burn Xochicalpa and her child, ‘sending those demons back to hell’. With the help of the southern wind, however, Xochicalpa managed to escape the burning house with her child, and she followed the wind all the way to the port, where a gypsy woman, taking pity on Xochicalpa, gave her enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to Cuba under one condition: when the child was old enough, she would return to the same port to bless the gypsy and help ease her transition to the underworld, Xibalba, for it will be the gypsy’s time to pass.
Xochicalpa made it to Cuba after making a blood oath, stayed there for a few weeks, before taking another boat to Mexico, and then made her way back to her sister’s house, Tulpa, and then they eventually decided to stay. She never remarried and never had another child; she died shortly after Abuela Christie turned fourteen, who then was raised by Tulpa. Eventually, Abuela Christie made it back to the same port in Spain, where she found the gypsy, blessed her, and apparently learned a lot of the gypsy’s folk magic before she died. That’s probably why even though we’re an ancient native American bloodline, for some reason the influence of tarot cards and runes and Indo-European superstitions are held steadfast by Abuelita.
Now, which version of the truth is right? I’ll never know, though I suppose if I really wanted to I could stare into smoke or pull a few cards to find out. For non-obvious reasons, I can’t help but think that although Mother’s story sounds truer, I feel that maybe both are fact in their own way; maybe there was a rabbit and the southern winds and a gypsy woman and Cuba and a barren wife. The only person to prove the tale was but two years old, but she’s no longer around. If I ever get desperate enough, perhaps I’ll light a candle and some incense for her on Dia de los Muertos. Or maybe I’m okay with not knowing the answer.
After all, what difference is it going to make anyway? I can still ride the wind and read people like a deck of cards, doling out presents and gifts in the form of kindness and love. The truth won’t change a thing. And I am okay with that.
By the afternoon it was still raining, coming down in thick, everlasting ropes of water, though it wasn’t as bad as it was a few weeks ago. A simple umbrella and rainboots would do if I ever felt the need to go out. We had a simple lunch of crackers and cheese and prosciutto that Percy was wise enough to get bundles of yesterday, seeing as shops here close early for the holiday. While Dee and Percy sat down and watched the holiday themed specials (we’ve watched the Spongebob Christmas episode probably every year since it first aired, along with The Nighmare Before Christmas), Abuelita served us spiced, mulled wine, which she made in a crockpot from leftover wine, honey, and oranges, steeped in cloves and sticks of cinnamon and cardamom pods and star anise.
It tasted tangy and sweet, like dreams and desires, as warming as a lit fireplace. Christmas Eve in Playa de Oro. I’ve had my fair share of experiences. Christmas in Rome feels like a sacred, holy rite, an ancient and wonderful custom so completely enthralling you would think that Jesus was born then and there, and at any moment, the three Magi would come bearing frankincense and myrrh. Christmas in Vienna feels cold but beautiful, every inch of the city covered in decorations and twinkling lights, transforming the already stunning city into something that could’ve emerged from the homespun miracles of fairy tales told around a fireplace at night. Christmas in New York felt less traditional but still coated in every inch of magic, cackling in the air like raw electricity.
Last Christmas Eve I was barhopping with my best friend in the whole universe, Jackson Elliot Lutz, the two of us smothered in large parkas, chain smoking cigarettes in the wonderfully disgusting streets of the Lower East Side in front of Piano’s, then to Continental (always a bad idea, don’t ever let the two-dollar-shot deal lure you in), then to some dingy, underground bar where you have to knock three times on a black, unmarked door and a large bouncer the size of three people asks you for the password before letting you in. At four in the morning, we ate at Veselka, attempting to sober up on Ukrainian meatballs and their world famous pierogies, and then at five in the morning, still drunk, we stumbled into a cab and took it back to our apartment in the Upper West Side and cracked open a few beers on the roof of our building.
We didn’t exchange gifts. We didn’t say ‘Merry Christmas’. We just watched the sun rise over Christmas and slept our hangovers off for the rest of the day. It was usually like that with us. We weren’t really holiday people unless you count Halloween and Thanksgiving, where we really went all out for costumes and turkey. The simple things in life, right?
Turning over to look at my phone, I realized something that made my heart fall a few notches. I haven’t spoken to him since I left. I remember that day clearly, me packing my bags, taking apart my corkboard with photos and postcards and little trinkets and a map of European trains lines, the metro in Milan and Paris, a map of Egypt. Vacuuming my room as he watched. He took me all the way to the airport after buying me dinner at Shanghai Joe’s in Chinatown, loading up on their steamed dumplings, and after the tightest hug I’ve ever been given in my life, he watched me as I walked up the escalator to take the Air-Train to JFK Airport.
I missed him. Deadpan and sarcastic and bright, with eyes that shined even brighter with enthusiasm for every idea in the world, no matter how fleeting or absurd or thoughtless.
Cheesecake at two in the morning?
Sure. Let’s go to Juniors.
Hey, do you have ‘Work’ by Rihanna on your phone?
Quick, blast it. I see a crowd of drunk girls, I wanna see them twerk.
See that rally over there that’s protesting?
Yeah, what are they protesting about?
Who cares? They’re not white supremacists lets rail against ‘the man’.
Full of a zest for life that I thought was only unique to people like me, scattered in the wind without a proper home or anchor weighing me down. Us down. Two halves of a whole idiot. Peanut butter and jelly. Strange that he hasn’t popped up in my head too often since I’ve been back. Even stranger that we haven’t even reached out to each other. The last time we spoke was when I texted him that I landed and I was home.
He didn’t even reply. I quickly took out my phone and scanned social media, wondering if he’d posted anything. He never posts on Facebook, so staring at his page that hasn’t been updated since last year wasn’t surprising. No photos on Instagram. No snaps from Snapchat. Not even a Tweet.
‘I wonder how he’s doing,’ I sigh.
‘Who?’ asks Mother.
I turn to both her and Abuelita and realize that I had spoken. ‘Jack. We were roommates back in New York.’
‘Were you two close?’ asks Abuelita.
I open my mouth to reply yes, but catching her mischivious look, I scowl. ‘Just because I like guys doesn’t mean that I want to sleep with all my friends,’ I say.
Mother snorts. Abuelita shrugs.
‘He’s my – ’ I pause, feeling tension around my nose, a tingling. I sneeze, twice, in quick succession. Relief. Blissful and immediate. ‘He’s my best friend.’
‘He’s think of you right now,’ says Abuelita, nodding.
‘How can you tell?’
‘You only sneeze twice if someone is thinking about you,’ she says, knowingly. ‘And the fact that you’re thinking of him while you sneezed means that you’re on his mind.’
‘It could just be a coincidence,’ I say, then turning to look at Mother.
She smiles and shrugs, giving me a look that said I don’t know, just listen.
‘Coincidence is the language of magic, mijo,’ she says.
Before she could say anything else, my phone lights up and begins to vibrate loudly against the table, creating ripples in our mugs of mulled wine. The name of the caller flashes across the screen, causing the hairs along my arm to stand up stiffly.
‘Would that be the same ‘Jack’ you say was not thinking of you just now?’ asks Abuelita.
I ignore her, and after a moment, I answer. ‘Jack?’ I ask.
‘Hey,’ he says. It’s striking, how it sounds as though he’s right next to me. His voice, a rich, low, monotonous sound, discordant and yet harmonic at the same time, fills my head as he speaks.
‘Hey,’ I reply, shaking my head, smiling. ‘I was just thinking about you, buddy.’
I can hear a lot of noise in the background, like static, like rain. Rain. ‘Yeah, me too,’ he says. I can feel him smiling on his end.
‘Jack, is it raining where you are?’ I ask, frowning. ‘It sounds like it’s coming down pretty hard, are you outside?’
A pause. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I am outside and it is coming down pretty hard so can you do me a favor and open your door?’
I turn to look at Mother and Abuelita, and they are both staring at the door before they turn to look at me, puzzled. An eyebrow cocked, I stand up, confused.
‘What?’ I ask, weakly. Maybe the connection was bad.
‘Your door. Come on, your doorbell doesn’t work.’ Another pause. ‘I’m cold.’
My doorbell? For a moment, I wonder if he has the wrong Lucas that he’s calling, but he’s always told me that for some reason I’m the only Lucas he’s ever met. Of course he meant to call me. But that means…
I walk away from the table, phone still to my ear, cross through the living room, earning groans in the process as I momentarily block the view of the television for my sisters, and pull the door open.
‘Hey,’ he says, tall and soaking wet, a cock-eyed, tongue-in-cheek grin. ‘I missed you.’
Jackson Elliot Lutz, in the flesh, standing at my doorway in Playa de Oro.
‘Are you gonna invite me in?’ he asks, smiling.