Floradita Pamakan laid out an elaborate breakfast for a death anniversary. Rivkah was very late, but Floradita was a patient woman, with no other plans. So many dishes crowded her small table and kitchen counter that it could be considered a dinner buffet for twelve. In reality, the spread was for just Rivkah and Floradita. Every other year when it was Floradita’s turn to host the breakfast, she would make one new thing, something special to show off her Filipino cooking. This year, she made too many of them perhaps: lumpia shanghai lined up in neat rows next to a bowl of orange dipping sauce, putong puti stacked into a pyramid, a mocha roll, a bowl of garlicky peanuts.
Floradita had wondered what to do about the breakfast. Should she cancel it? Lately, she was out of the house less and less. She had her excuses—San Francisco’s winding streets were getting too hard for her to drive, its restaurants were getting too crowded, friends retired in less expensive places. Anything she needed could be delivered, so there had been no reason to leave home. Aside from sleeping, bathing, and eating, there weren’t many reasons to move about the house too much either.
Why should she keep the appointment with Rivkah? Everything about her life felt almost dead. What would be the use of keeping up with a woman whose only connection to her was her dead daughter’s dead fiancé? She felt ashamed to allow Rivkah a peek into her shrunken life. And yet, this year was the twenty-fifth anniversary of their kids’ car accident. Didn’t that call for a special commemoration? Wasn’t she deserving of just a little connection with the outside world?
Floradita freshened up her makeup. Her hair had gone gray long ago, but she’d been dying it for decades back to the black of younger years, bobbed to her shoulders. This was the style that her daughter, Maren, had always preferred on her. Maren wore her hair that way too. Floradita loved all the times people would say they looked like twins. Just before she died, Maren threatened to cut all her hair off, just so she wouldn’t be mistaken for an “old lady.” Floradita would love to have joked with her now about what an old lady Maren herself had become. She would have been fifty-three years old.
Rivkah Golding tiptoed out of her lover’s house early on the morning of the anniversary of her son’s death. She hated not saying goodbye, but she had an early appointment and it was a long drive home from his house in Inverness to hers in Sausalito. She was in her mid-seventies but thanks to his little blue pill she found that she liked sex for the first time in her life. The end to her nearly loveless, nearly sexless marriage happened in her twenties when her husband didn’t come home one evening and instead explained in a letter that he wished to live a new life far away from her. She was pregnant with Lem at the time. Raising him was the only source of joy during those years after her husband’s abandonment. Then when Lem died with Maren, instead of falling into despair with another loss, Rivkah threw herself into a frenzied life of fundraising events, gala openings, dates and trips with girlfriends, as if there was no moment that Rivkah dared to live alone. She had lots of money from her husband’s many prescient investments in real estate and so she spent it frantically, knowing no heirs need benefit.
Rivkah dreaded this year’s breakfast with Floradita. She felt that after twenty-five years maybe they should move on and stop this remembering of their children’s deaths. Their car plummeting three hundred feet to the ocean below played like a horror film in her head again and again each time they met. And each time she revisited the question that she was unable to obliviate—was she to blame? Did she push Maren over the edge?
Their meals were not completely unenjoyable, though. In fact, Rivkah was always pleasantly surprised at how much she liked seeing Floradita. She was unlike any of her other friends. She didn’t know anyone else from the Philippines, or really, anyone who didn’t look like herself with blonde hair flowing to the middle of their back. Floradita was unpredictably gentle and then bombastic at different times. Rivkah liked both of these sides of her. It was just unsettling to not know which Floradita she would get.
To make the trip to Floradita’s more palatable, she conjured up plans to meet with other friends afterwards. At the last minute, she cut flowers from her garden and wrapped up a set of framed pictures she found in the garage cleanout. No matter how many times she drove from the Waldo Tunnel reveal to the Golden Gate Bridge, to Floradita’s place in the shadow of Twin Peaks’ bosom—Rivkah’s breath still caught. She decided she would make the most of this visit. It was an anniversary year after all.
When Rivkah walked into her house, forgetting to remove her shoes, Floradita noticed. She tried not to stare at Rivkah’s shoes directly, but couldn’t help furrowing her brows at them every few moments. She wondered where they’d been. On walks you could be on trails with dirt, probably animal feces or dead insects mixed into the dirt, which were on the bottom of Rivkah’s shoes and spreading everywhere on Floradita’s kitchen floor. She warred with herself about whether she should say something. What’s the price of embarrassing herself to ask for shoes off again versus watching those shoes travel to other rooms in her home?
“Oh my gosh, I almost forgot.” Rivkah said as she scurried back to the entrance, removed her shoes, and lined them up with the others. Floradita wasn’t sure how one could forget the most important requirement upon entering her home for over twenty-five years. Rivkah’s shoes did look funny there, Floradita thought, her gigantic, sized ten colorful canoe-like shoes sitting next to Floradita’s tiny, size-five bamboo raft-like shoes. She was so huge, wedged into Floradita’s home like a giraffe in a miniature caboose.
“Floradita, it’s been a long time. How are you?” Rivkah asked, her eyes darting around Floradita’s small space.
“Oh I’m fine. I made some tea. Have some snacks in the living room,” Floradita said.
“I don’t have much time or appetite—” Rivkah started to say and stopped when she saw the food.
“Is this all for me?” Rivkah asked.
“Yes, sit down. You must be hungry. You’re so skinny now.”
It didn’t really matter if Rivkah wasn’t hungry. And if indeed she wasn’t hungry, how rude it was of her to have eaten something before coming over for a meal. Floradita suspected she had plans to meet friends afterwards and resented the implication of a quick visit. Ay naku, all that food will go to waste.
Rivkah accepted a plate, her face a little bit contorted, from disgust or frustration Floradita didn’t know. With some hesitation Rivkah served herself from each offering on the table and counter.
After a few minutes of eating in silence, Floradita said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” Rivkah looked around the room and saw the grouping of framed pictures of the kids. “I always love these shots from their engagement party. And that one at our family picnic. Look at Maren on Lem’s back. They were so playful.”
“I remember. I was so worried Maren would fall and they would both break their necks. Reckless. But it was funny, too.” Floradita put her hand on top of Rivkah’s. She could see how Rivkah shared the same eyes with Lem and remembered holding his kind gaze when they would talk.
“I brought you something,” Rivkah pulled out a wrapped package from her bag.
“Rivkah, you didn’t have to bring anything. It’s not like it’s my birthday,” and yet Floradita was so grateful for the excitement of a gift, she opened the package with the zeal of a five-year-old at their birthday party. There were two pictures, framed and connected to each other with leather. One was of Maren, Maren’s father Nicanor, and Floradita. The other was of Lem and Rivkah. Blurred in the backgrounds were the faces of friends who were always invited to their family gatherings. She set the attached frames in her lap and brought her fingers to cover her trembling lips, remembering the fullness of her past life. “It’s our families.”
“I didn’t think you’d seen these yet. I unburied them when I was cleaning out the garage. I had forgotten all about them. I think we took these on Easter-Passover in the park behind your house.”
Floradita lost herself in this memory, like landing into the softest arms. They used to get together often. There were always new people coming, friends that Maren and Lem wanted them to meet, neighbors bringing a dish, the feeling of excitement to be immersed in all that joy and laughter.
Rivkah reflected on the display of several trays of food—those compact fried rolls with the orange, sugary sauce, round cakes all stacked up, nuts, fruit, cheese, more cake. It was like thirty more people were invited but only Rivkah showed up, and now she alone was obliged to eat it all. She knew the effort that Floradita put into each dish, the generosity in each gesture of serving her. Urging her to eat more. It was so much like her own upbringing in her Jewish family in Brooklyn, far away from California. The food was love, she knew, but it was also overdone, compensating, suffocating.
She hoped not to stir up painful memories by bringing the new photos. It was risky to put a spotlight on that final gathering before Maren and Lem died. In retrospect, that Easter-Passover get together was a warning. Rivkah remembered seeing the shadow of tears on Maren’s face. A puffiness around her eyes that contradicted her smiling mouth. She tried to steal a few moments alone with her to find out what was going on.
“Is everything alright, Maren?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m good. We’re good. Why?” Maren looked down at her plate as she said this.
“I dunno. You seem a bit weighed down. Are you stressed about work or something?” Rivkah was certain it wasn’t about work, but she didn’t want to be indelicate.
“No, work is fine. I just got into a fight with a friend. You know—” Maren looked up at that moment, and Rivkah saw fear. Was Maren lying to her? Was she really talking about Lem, and not some “friend?” Did she hope that Rivkah would be able to be on her side and not just her son’s?
“—we had a disagreement about something that my friend seems to think she has more say in than I do. And I feel like I have no control over something that is very important to me.” Maren was whispering but Lem looked up from the other picnic table and moved towards them. Maren changed the subject and dabbed at her eyes. Both Lem and Floradita arrived at their table at the same time.
“Oh good, I get to sit with the happy couple,” Floradita said wedging herself between Rivkah and Maren. “Are you all talking about the wedding? I have an idea about the catering.” Floradita began transferring items from her plate to Maren’s. A habit like a mother bird regurgitating food into her baby chick’s eager beak. “Try this…so good.” Rivkah wondered how Maren could tolerate this force-feeding. Even Lem ate through most of their get togethers in this way. After several ideas were tossed around about how to please both the Filipino and the “American’” palates at the ceremony, Rivkah knew that her moment with Maren was lost. It was hard to pin her down through texting and calling and emails. These gatherings were like snippets of time, and if you could string them all together over the course of a year, you might have one solid and meaningful conversation.
“Rivkah… Rivkah…Do you want some coffee?”
“Oh sorry, no thank you. In fact, I should probably head out,” Rivkah said, not making eye contact.
Floradita hated this part of their visits. Rivkah always had somewhere else to go. She wondered why their time together couldn’t be the main event of Rivkah’s day like they were for Floradita. She began planning the menu a few weeks ago, sourcing ingredients from different Asian markets, adding a few dishes that she thought were Rivkah’s favorites. Floradita felt that Rivkah was a little bit like a man in that she ate everything with appreciation for the tastes but had no idea how much love and work went into it. Meals went too fast; they were too practical. Floradita wanted Rivkah to hold each bite in her mouth a little longer and wonder about the different flavors. Floradita could tell her about the spices and the experimentation that went into each dish, even though she’d been making these dishes for years.
“So soon, please not yet. I have something special for you. I want to tell you something important.” Floradita heard the quietest sigh pass Rivkah’s lips and saw her ball her fists just under her thighs. Floradita walked across the room to sit at Rivkah’s side. With an even look into Rivkah’s eyes, Floradita said, “I’ve found Maren and Lem’s child.”
A sequence of emotions passed across Rivkah’s face, from confusion, to disbelief, sadness, and then anger. She slowly stood up, collecting herself at her fullest height and edged away from Floradita.
“What are you talking about? Is this a weird joke? Why would you say such a thing?”
Floradita was surprised by Rivkah’s anger and began to tremble a little. She pushed at the corners of her eyes with her sleeve, trying to stop more tears from coming. “It’s not a joke. I’m talking about our grandchild. I thought you would be excited, Rivkah. It’s your granddaughter.”
“They’ve been dead twenty-five years. Twenty-five! Are you insane?” Rivkah was yelling, shaking her head, grabbing furniture to steady herself as she circled around the room.
“Nicanor wouldn’t let me look for her. Wouldn’t let me say anything to you. He said that if Maren and Lem wanted us all to know they would have told everyone. Eventually, he wouldn’t even let me talk about it with him. But I found her, Rivkah, I found our granddaughter. Once Nicanor died, I looked for her.”
Rivkah couldn’t breathe. Her vision began to blur, and she heard ringing in her left ear. She thought she might pass out in Floradita’s living room. Without saying anything more to Floradita than “this is all too much,” she grabbed her shoes and left the house as fast as she could. She got into her car and pulled away before Floradita could catch up to her. She felt a pain in her chest and a panic in her gut building and after a few minutes of driving stopped the car and vomited straight into a gutter on the side of the road.
She crawled into the backseat of her car with darkly tinted windows rolled up so no one could see her sobbing. Rivkah had always been jealous of Floradita’s intimacy with Maren and even with Lem. She craved that connection with Lem and thought perhaps it was harder between mothers and sons. Even though her love flowed easily to him, he held himself back from her. She watched her son talk with Maren and Floradita in energetic and loving ways and hoped for just a fraction of that attention. Rivkah knew she shouldn’t still be jealous of Floradita after all these years, because didn’t both of their children die in that car accident? Didn’t both Rivkah and Floradita clutch each other in a dank and dimly lit morgue? Didn’t they both hold their breath as the autopsy technician pulled back the baby blue sheets to reveal bloodied and swollen faces, almost unrecognizable? Wasn’t it Floradita who propped her up when Rivkah’s muscles gave way as she answered the technicians’ questions about her son? Didn’t Rivkah curve her body over Floradita’s sobbing body curved over her daughter’s body on the autopsy table? Didn’t they both wail and sob so loudly, without shame, so that even the technician cried?
They survived that together. It was the reason why Rivkah worked hard since their deaths to suppress her disdain for Floradita. Rivkah had been ashamed of herself, resenting Floradita for things like how loudly she spoke. How many times she hugged everyone: as greetings, as farewells, laughing and hugging after a joke, thanking someone for a dish they brought. It was her accent, even after all those years of living in America. It was every time she saw her wearing a new outfit and had a new hairdo. It was because there was always too much food at her parties, garish and fattening. That she was short. That she was not very smart. That she preferred magazines over novels. Rivkah stuffed these thoughts deep down inside her, hidden away in the basement of her consciousness. Over the last twenty-five years, these feelings lessened and Rivkah was able to develop a quiet love for Floradita.
Writhing in the back of that car, everything that tied down those hateful feelings unraveled, letting loose a cyclonic mix of loss and envy and superiority and disgust. Floradita had twenty-four opportunities to tell her about their granddaughter. There were twenty-four years’ worth of trips to the park, or the ice cream parlor, or music recitals that Floradita had taken away from her. Floradita had done the unforgiveable and kept them to herself—Maren, Lem, and now their granddaughter.
Floradita went after Rivkah. She ran barefoot trying to catch up with her before she drove off. She wanted to tell her that she was sorry. That she wished she had told her everything she knew before the kids died. Maybe if she did, they could have helped them together. Maybe they’d still be alive.
Floradita remembered the night that she saw Maren and Lem fighting in their car after that last family gathering. She should have told Rivkah about that fight. But it was hard for her to talk with Rivkah. Rivkah became impatient whenever Floradita tried to express herself. She knew that Rivkah didn’t agree with all of her opinions on politics, on childrearing, on many things. But she also seemed to be irritated with the way she spoke. Floradita spoke two languages and Rivkah only one, and yet Rivkah’s greater command and ease with the English language was supreme. So Floradita was easily flustered in her presence and didn’t seek her friendship or her confidence. Rivkah’s son was different. He respected how she straddled the two worlds of her birth country and America. He talked often about how he loved that Maren operated in multiple cultures, weaving in and out of both, blending them at times.
Floradita had walked over to the car and caught some of what was said before knocking on Maren’s passenger side window. Something about “I want to see our daughter too.”
“Mom, hi. We were just leaving,” Maren said hastily, wiping her sleeve across her face as her window rolled down.
“Wait, no. I heard you. Is everything okay? Do you need help?”
“No inang, we’ll be fine,” Lem said.
“What do you mean ‘our daughter?’ Whose daughter?”
“It’s nothing, Mom. We’ve got to go. Bye Mom, I love you.”
Rivkah knew it was not nothing. Nicanor told her that she worried too much and to leave the kids alone to solve their own problems.
But a few days later, Floradita ambushed Maren outside of her office as she was leaving for a lunch break. “Mom! What are you doing in Oakland? I’ve got a lunch meeting.”
“Maren, talk to me. Who is ‘our daughter’?’”
Floradita saw the tiny muscles just inside Maren’s smile lines tremble as she tried to sound even. “Mom, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t lie to me. I heard you say it.”
Maren stared at Floradita and sighed. She gestured for Floradita to follow her. They turned into an alleyway nearby, one with graffiti and hidden doors to a tattoo shop, a tarot card reader, and a Vietnamese restaurant. They walked into the door of the restaurant.
Floradita didn’t say anything. She wanted Maren to be the first to speak. She wasn’t afraid to hear what Maren had to say. Floradita promised herself that she’d be open and receptive.
“Mom, you’re staring at me. Stop it.” Maren seemed irritated but still smiled a little as she admonished her. “I wanted to tell you, but I was sick of stressing everyone out. I knew that you were worried about me when we moved to Argentina. I didn’t really want to go, but Lem was adamant. He wanted us to fall in love with the change, become fluent in Spanish, learn to tango and show all of our friends back home. Maybe so that he could say, “Look, we’re happy together.”
Floradita remembered Maren saying at the time that “making big changes—moving to new places, breaking off relationships—doesn’t make you happier, because there you are, still you, now just in a new apartment or all alone.”
Rivkah managed to drive herself back home. Just when she felt there were no tears left, they would wash over her again. She mourned as if the kids died that day. When two somber police officers stepped onto her front porch twenty-five years ago, she thought for a moment they might bring her in. She thought for one second that they were there to ask her questions. Did you know something was off? What did you say to Maren? Instead, the one with dark hair tied at the back of her neck said I’m sorry. It was the other one with the short hair that lunged forward to catch her as she collapsed.
Inside her bedroom, she pulled off her clothes and climbed into bed. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut, her face drenched in tears. Rivkah thought she should take a sedative, before it overwhelmed her. But her body was frozen. She lay there thinking about the other times when self-destruction showed up in their families. Rivkah was on the phone with Maren a couple of years before they died, and she talked about a fight she and Lem just had. It was so uncharacteristic for her to share with Rivkah like that and so she didn’t intervene when she heard Maren’s hopeless words, “it’s not worth it,” “don’t want to face it,” “I just want to go to sleep.” After they hung up, Rivkah made herself stay put and not drive to Maren’s apartment.
Early the next morning her phone rang.
“Lem, it’s so early, you woke me up.”
“’Maren what, Lem? Is Maren okay?”
“We’re at the hospital. She tried to kill herself.”
“Which hospital? Where are you?”
“Don’t come, Mom. There are already too many people here.”
“She’s like my daughter too, Lem. And I spoke to her last night. I should have known something was wrong, but I thought maybe I was being paranoid.”
Rivkah knew why Lem didn’t want her there. When Lem was in high school, Rivkah did the same thing. She wanted to rid herself of the bleak veil weighted over her head that let in only brief moments of light and the sounds of people around her. One day after Lem had gone to school, she swallowed a fistful each of her antidepressant and back pain medications and ended up in the hospital, alive and ashamed. She convinced everyone she was fine, that she would continue to be fine. She was sorry and overwhelmed and would take her antidepressants correctly. A week later, she tried it again. When they let her out of the hospital the second time, they sent counselors to her home where she had to listen to Lem tell her how much he loved her and scold her for not asking him for help. So, Rivkah had to be at the hospital with Maren now. She would be the one that could truly understand her. Not the counselors, not Floradita, not Lem.
Outside of Maren’s hospital room, Lem was slumped over on a bench; his hands covered his face. She didn’t expect him to be happy to see her, but when he looked up at her Rivkah sensed his irritation. She hugged him, but he didn’t return the gesture, angling his body only slightly in her direction. She moved past him into the room where Maren slept. Rivkah sat down and cleared her throat.
“Hi,” Rivkah said, touching Maren’s forehead.
“Rivkah,” Maren’s voice was muted, like her throat was filled with bunches of cotton balls.
“I know you probably feel horrible right now. And that perhaps everyone’s sadness around you makes you feel guilty, and you’re not sure that being dead is worse than this embrace of love and fear.”
“I know how you feel.”
“How could you know?”
“I’ve been there. The problem is, these feelings never really go away.”
“Wanting to try again to kill yourself. Wishing you didn’t fail. For me, it was pills too. Then I thought about stepping in front of the commuter train—”
“The feelings never go away?”
“Mom, that’s enough.” Lem appeared beside Rivkah and put his arm around her.
“I’m just trying to empathize with Maren.”
“I know, Mom. Maren should rest. Let’s get some coffee down the hall.” Lem was like that, the one who acted most grounded, most able to see what was needed in the moment.
The coffee spot down the hall was just a cart with two carafes, one for coffee, one for hot water, and a few tables and chairs crowded together. “Are you mad at me Lem? I know you didn’t want me here. But I wanted to help.”
“By telling Maren she’ll always want to try killing herself again?” Lem whispered through lips taut with tension.
“When I went through this, the worst thing was not being able to talk about how you wanted to do it again. That you’ve failed even at this final thing. Nobody wanted to hear that coming from my mouth. Everybody’s fear was so oppressive.”
“When I was called down to the principal’s office and told you were in the hospital, all I could think of was that you were going to leave me too. I was going to be alone in the world. I’m sorry if that was too much for you to bear.”
“Even now, you’re trying to control the way I experienced my suicide attempts. I’m telling you, you don’t want to do that to Maren.”
“I’m telling you, Mom, that you don’t want to have this conversation with her. What she needs is for all of us to pull her back from despair. Don’t ask her to swim in it. Don’t make sure she wallows in it.”
The waitress at the Vietnamese restaurant served their dishes with her eyes down. Floradita knew that she had seen them both crying and moved from the table as quickly as she could.
“Lem thought that having an adventure would cheer me up. But when we settled into Argentina, I was still depressed. Everything was changed, but everything felt so much the same. I thought about pills again. Then, I got pregnant. That made it ten times worse. I never learned Spanish and so I was all alone when Lem went to work. No friends. Nothing to do. I didn’t want to have a baby. I didn’t want to abort a baby.
“I was lucky in one thing, though. Like you said it was when you were pregnant with me, I never felt sick. It was easy to carry the baby in the physical sense. But in a spiritual sense I felt that I should not be allowed to be a mother. Especially at that time, when I couldn’t imagine how I could put on a smile for the baby, or sing a happy ‘I-love-you’ song, or jump around and be silly to make the baby laugh. Being pregnant didn’t turn me into an Earth Mama, and I decided to give it up for adoption.”
Floradita tried not to be outwardly upset, about so many things. She mourned her daughter’s incurable sadness. She mourned her carrying the baby in loneliness. She mourned the moments she missed of seeing Maren with child, putting a hand on her belly, crocheting her a blanket, welcoming the baby with her kisses and happy tears. She mourned that a child that looked like Maren and Lem was out in the world, lost to her.
“Mom, please, don’t look so sad. This is better for me, for everyone.”
And instead of saying anything of what she deeply felt, she said, “How could Lem give away his child?” Floradita wished she could snatch back the words as soon as she spoke them. “Never mind. Forget I said that. What now?”
“What now? Lem regrets what we’ve done. He contacted the adoptive mother to try to open up communication with her and the baby. The agency allows for this option. If we wanted, we could be in this child’s life from now on.”
“Can you bring her home? I would help you, anak. I would do everything to make this easier for you.”
“When I started the adoption process, I felt numb. It was all very procedural. And then I was on all fours. Moaning low and moving my hips. And the baby was coming. I reached down between my legs, and I touched her head. It was warm and slippery. She had hair. I could swirl it around with my fingers. And then suddenly I wanted her, and I pushed her out of me. I reached for her but they cut the cord and took her away to the next room where her adoptive mother was waiting.
“I tell myself it was the right thing to do. That it was a generous gift to another woman who could never give birth like I could again someday. I didn’t think I wanted her, and I thought that would be the worst thing to do to a child. I can’t possibly meet her now and learn that I’ve made a mistake. An irreparable mistake.
“Lem wants to go back. He says it’s so that we can meet her and establish a relationship with her. She’s one year old now. But really, he wants to hire an expensive lawyer and wage a war for her. And if that doesn’t work I think he wants to take her. Lem is turning all of this helplessness into planning a kidnapping. We don’t talk about anything else now. Not the wedding, not our honeymoon, or our future together. He says ‘Maren, this child is our future.’ He’s unreachable. He’s so angry at me for giving up the baby. He says it was selfish of me to take her away from him. But he has no idea what it was like to feel so little for a thing growing inside me.”
Rivkah didn’t respond to Floradita’s emails or phone calls. She had so many questions about their granddaughter. Where was she? Is she happy? Does she know about us? But when Floradita came over and knocked on the door and the windows, she hid in a dark corner of her house. After a few days she received a letter from Floradita in her mailbox. She left it on the hallway table for a while before opening it and when she did, Rivkah decided to call her.
“Oh thanks God, Rivkah. You called. I’m so happy to hear your voice.”
“Thank you for your letter.” Rivkah’s voice was so flat, she could barely recognize the sound of it herself.
“I meant all of it. I should never have kept any of this from you.”
Rivkah swallowed her rage like a bolus of phlegm in her throat. “I’ve thought about all the times you sat with me and decided to keep this to yourself. It was a selfish betrayal.”
“You’re right to be angry with me. I can see you might not be able to forgive me,” Floradita said.
“The only reason I called you back is because I’ve realized being angry with you keeps me away from our granddaughter. And I want to know her.”
“I want that too.”
Rivkah fiddled with her garden flowers in her vase on the living room coffee table. This riot of colors was the only thing she served up for Floradita’s arrival. She invited her over for the first time in twenty-five years outside of their cycle of death anniversaries.
“Come in,” without hugging, Rivkah turned inside expecting Floradita to follow.
Floradita took her shoes off at the entrance out of habit and sat on the couch opposite of Rivkah. “I’m glad to be out of the house today. I brought you some bibingka,” Floradita placed the sticky sweet cassava cake wrapped in clear plastic next to the flowers.
“Thank you,” Rivkah said.
“Are you still angry with me?” Floradita asked.
“I’m working through it. You kept our granddaughter secret from me. I felt like you were punishing me.”
“Why would I punish you, Rivkah?”
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Rivkah’s hand covered her mouth, willing herself not to say, “I killed the children.”
“Susmaryosep. What are you talking about? We, all of us, were in our homes when it happened.”
“But I told her that it would never get better. It’s my fault that she could never feel hope again.”
“And so you think Maren drove them off that cliff?” Floradita’s hands covered her face, and her shoulders convulsed as she sobbed. “No, you didn’t do this. Maren has always teetered on the edge between this world and the next. Nicanor and I spent our lives checking on her, imagining when we’d finally have to say goodbye. Her mind was at war, long before Lem, devising ends, arguing for more beginnings. I don’t think she drove them off that cliff. But I also don’t think there was anything any one of us could say that could make a difference in that struggle she had inside of her.”
Floradita wiped her eyes and stood next to the window. “All the love in the world couldn’t bring them back here.”
“But we have their daughter,” Rivkah said.
“Yes, we do,” Floradita said.
Rivkah and Floradita arranged to meet at the airport gate. They hugged briefly before flight attendants announced it was time to board. As Rivkah followed Floradita down the jetway, she observed strength in her posture, how Floradita held her head. Eyes up, like she had seen troubles in her life, and still she was ready to face whatever came next.
As the plane started to descend, Rivkah placed her hand on top of Floradita’s. “What if our granddaughter blames us for not knowing her parents?”
Floridita squeezed Rivkah’s hand, “We will hug her. We will say we understand. We will tell her stories about her parents and how we loved them.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential crisis counseling twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You don’t have to be suicidal to call: 1-800-273-8255.
For those outside the US, Wikipedia provides a thorough list of crisis hotlines here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines
Kristene Cristobal writes and works “bi-hemispherically” in California and New Zealand. Her stories provide a perspective of America through the lens of a first generation Filipina, daughter of immigrants, coming of age in the American Midwest. When she’s not writing fiction, Kristene supports communities and organizations to center equity and social justice. She was selected for a VONA/Voices’ Summer fiction workshop, has a MS in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health and is currently earning a MA in creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Kristene is working on a novel about the contemporary Filipinx American experience, carrying the history of colonialism in the diaspora.
Tsailing Tseng (b.1991 Taipei, Taiwan) received her MFA in the painting and drawing the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018, and her BFA in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in 2016. Tseng is interested in the relationship between daily life and imagination. By letting the process lead the way, Tseng creates a world from what is between consciousness, and dreams using image as her language of self-exploration.