Linda M. Rodríguez Guglielmoni**

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Somebody brings me a doll’s house. It is Christmas again. I look at the kitchen. The chairs and table. The four bedrooms upstairs. A big house with glass windows. Not like houses here. The house opens up and closes. Then the house is gone.

I would like a doll’s house and a doll, a Barbie, like the ones my cousin Carmencita has. When I visit her I play with them and all their clothes. My mother says I do not like dolls and tells this to everyone. I do like teddy bears, and soft kitties and puppies, but I do like dolls too.

I remember the one advertised on TV. She was a ballerina. She wore a short pink skirt and turned pirouettes on satin shoes. She wore a silver crown on gold hair.

“No, you cannot have her,” my mother finally says.

I know why. She never had one during the war. She had a Mickey Mouse gas mask and slept in tunnels. She practiced how to hide under her desk at school. And she remembers…it comes at night. It looks like a flying torpedo. A V-2. Silence. Suddenly the hum stops. The hissing sound begins. Silence. Then a shriek. It falls quickly. It falls towards the dark city and my hungry, scared mother below.

Paper Boats

My grandmother Isabel, I call her Nonna, makes them for me. After the afternoon rain. We must wait for the rain is heavy and every drop feels cold on our warm skin. The thunder and lightning scare me. I want to hide behind a sofa or under a table. But then the storm moves on.

“Nonna, let’s make paper boats. The sun is shining now.”

Las brujas… the witches are just finishing their baths,” she answers looking out the window as the last drops fall through the bright light. And then she picks up some old newspapers from the little table in the balcony.

The street in front of the house slopes, a slope to slide down on a big cardboard box like the one the new color TV came in. I ask if we can open the marquesina gate, move our game outside, on the street, move on from the garden pools and rivulets flowing round the roots of the lengua de vaca and cara de caballo, their big smooth leaves sparkly after the rain.

I want to dare the dark wide Amazon, the water rushing in the gutter before the house. As I let them free from my hands the boats tumble out, crashing into pebbles and the long black pods that have fallen from the orange flamboyán growing in the front yard. In the summer its enormous shade cools the house. Its roots break through the cement. When I play with my cousins, we crack open its pods with a swing and a brittle sound, spilling the seeds, just for fun.

The air is humid and cool and clean. All my ships drown in the treacherous gutter as I look on. My grandmother takes out a broom and begins to sweep, pushing down the hill, away from the house, the dying leaves and pods, the pebbles and broken boats.

My Innocence

I am younger. I am quiet. I like to spy on the world of grownups. I like to sneak around.

One day I catch my grandfather in his closet stuffing bills into the tip of his leather shoes. He has many lace-up shoes, black and brown, kept clean, smooth and shiny. They are polished by the shoe shine boys that work on street corners or come round the neighborhoods knocking on windows and doors, or rattling on locked gates and calling out, ¡Señora! ¡Señora! ¿Zapatos para brillar?

These boys fascinate me, with their dirty fingers, rags, wooden boxes with a handle like a shoe sole, and their collections of flat metal cans filled with polishing pastes. In plastic bottles they keep a liquid that they spurt on the shoes at the end, and buffing, so fast, hands so strong, turn leather into glass.

I try to imitate their work. I am not bad for a little girl. I do admire them. Maybe I admire how they walk the streets, all day, making their own money. Even now I watch these boys and men, in train stations and airports, and Mexican plazas, and in the narrow streets of North Africa.

“Don’t stare. It is not polite,” I hear someone say. I am in trouble. I am… spying again. I am caught standing by the door. Silent. And he has stopped counting. And my mother is told. And I defend myself. My curiosity. My innocence. But from that day on my grandfather Vidal hides his money somewhere else.

Green Velvet Dress

It is green, so green like the moss that grows round the palm trees after many days of rain. It moves as waves softly round my knees, as curly ferns in the morning dew and the sea breeze. A green silk bow and sash shape a girl’s square body. I am all green except for my shoes that are black and my white socks. I am dressed for a wedding.

Do I carry a handful of baby breath or the gold rings? Do I follow, stumbling in after the bridesmaids, a wicker basket filled with colored rice round my left arm? Or do I hold the ends of the bride’s lace and beaded train between my short fumbling fingers?

I…I do remember my mother’s sewing machine, the spools of many colors, the heavy iron scissors always ready nearby, the well-used red pincushion like a tomato, the cut threads and bits of material strewn on the floor, the hum of the charging needle, a sliver flash I would never, never let my fingers approach.

She has made this dress as so many others, and skirts, shirts, pants, and coats… she had trained in London with a tailor, and Watch me, he would say, and learn… clothes I had to try on, to endure through another pinning, a little nip and cut, to be told don’t breathe as the steely nails that held her creations together slid too near my flesh as she pulled them off.

And one day, as she bends close over her work, I ask her about death.

“But what will happen then?

“Don’t talk about that.”

“And when papi dies?”

“Don’t think… it is a long time yet.”

And she bends a little closer over her Singer machine. And I play with a sky-blue piece of gauzy material wrapping it around me, placing it over my cheeks, looking at myself in the mirror through the haze of a princess’ veil.

To a child a green velvet dress intertwines into the warm flow of jungles and mossy gravestones, spiky twigs, mushy barks and sew-saw lianas, a leafy bed, soft as a monkey’s curled back and Jane’s torn dress… a wedding dress that years later, stitch by stitch, my mother unpicks to cut out the front, or perhaps the back panel, of a square cushion for our old sofa.

A Dollar

My grandfather teaches me the meaning of money. When he paints the hallways of his house, I watch him. He uses white paint, brushes, pans and rollers.

I discover that I am talented, that I can go in with a small brush and put the finishing touches on a hurried paint job. I can do corners, and around the light fixtures, and the one or two inches near the bottom of the walls that the rollers cannot reach. I am careful and do not drip paint on the black and white tile floor.View Post

My efforts win me a dollar. Just enough to buy myself a plastic kite in the shape of a butterfly or a dragon or a bat with yellow eyes.


I fly my kites high. I let them climb up towards the clouds and the blue sky. Sometimes the wind forces me to let go.

Sometimes I open my hands. I watch my chiringas fly away or spiral and crash into the ground. I then walk back home from the park.

On my next visit to my grandfather Vidal’s, I ask him to let me paint again or to let me do some other small job, anything, just enough to win me a dollar, just enough to buy me one new kite.




Reprinted with permission. Mancha… © Copyright, Mancha de Plátano, Inc., Cabo Rojo, 2007. All rights reserved. 

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