Christó was the baby, the last before Papá left, and Mamá loved him best for it. I used to hate him; he was so spoiled. Whenever he did something, I was the one who got yelled at. His share of the fault was paid to him in candy.
But I don’t hate him anymore. I can never hate him again.
The only thing Mamá asked me to do the Friday before Easter was check the mail. Although she still didn’t feel like it, she went to the salon with Tió León. The whole family would be there, even my cousins, Yessie and Licette, got the day off from Our Lady of Refuge. It was good day for business, but a bad day for carrying their blame. So I pleaded sick and stayed home.
The mailman came at one o’clock. I was still in bed. That’s the only place I wanted to be since Palm Sunday. Not that I got any sleep. Too many things kept me awake, but mostly this: I told Mamá that Christó was getting too big. He was only eleven, but he looked fourteen or fifteen because he was so tall and fat. It was a bad idea to let him shave his head like some cholo and allow him to call everyone ese. You don’t see me dressing like a . . . you know. If I were a boy, I would never leave the house in anything but a priest’s habit.
There was no room for us in the house. Tió León did the best he could for his family, but with his own two girls plus his wife’s mother and younger brothers living here too, the only place left for us was a converted camper shell in the backyard. It wasn’t so bad—not cold or dirty or anything—just small, ugly and inconvenient. I had to go into the house to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. And now I had to go into the house to get the mail.
Glad that no one was around to see me, I stood on the porch and unlocked the mailbox. There was a lot of mail. Most of it was for my cousins: college brochures for Yessie, every Quinceañera magazine on the planet for Licette. After everything that happened last weekend, I couldn’t believe the world could function normally. How could there still be balls and parties and proms and a future? But mis primas never belonged to my world. I was the poor step-sister.
Standing at the formal dining room table, I made a big show of sorting the mail out into piles. College brochure pile. Senior hoopla pile. Big party pile. Fashion magazines. Easter cards. Pictures of my nephews from one of my older brothers. Bills. Things for the business. Catalogs. Flyers.
It was the last piece of mail. A tiny pink envelope addressed in calligraphy to Eva Lisa Marín. Me. Except my name is Ivelis not Eva Lisa. The note was from a stranger.
Flipping the tiny envelope over, a perfect gold wax seal held the flap closed. A dusty pink silk ribbon completed it like a signature. I had only seen a letter like this once before. It was in a movie about a boy being invited to go to wizard school. At fifteen, it was a little late for me to run away to wizard school. At any rate, a wizard school should be able to spell my name right.
Pulling at the pink ribbon, I lifted the seal in one piece. A handful of tiny pink rhinestones spilled on to the table, telling me to be more careful or I would make a huge mess. In the envelope was a card.
Even though I couldn’t get him off my mind, there are two things that stopped me from seeing his picture right away. The first was that the card was covered in so much lace and ribbon and rhinestones that it was hard to see anything other than . . . chobacano. The second thing was the gift card that fell out of the envelope when I removed the card.
It was easy to throw the card aside and look at the gift card. Six kids smiled at me from the front. I recognized a few of them. Zac Effron. Vanessa Hudgens. And some blond girl. She might have been Hilary Duff. High School Musical was written in big yellow letters off to the side. I winced. Christó watched that movie with our nephews last Christmas. My cousins knew all the words of the songs and sang along while their abuela buried us in masa.
In the corner of the plastic card, I read the words Disneyland Premium Annual Pass Gift Card.
What the hell?!
What kind of stranger would send this? It was worth almost five hundred dollars. And why would they want me to go to Disneyland every day for an entire year? The last time I had been to a theme park was before Papá had left.
I set it aside and took a closer look at the tacky lace covered card it came with, careful not to send rhinestones flying everywhere. At first, I only saw a man dressed in one of those amusement park suits. He had a giant, slicked back wig and padding all around his chest and arms to make them look absurdly muscular. A plastic white smile was plastered to his face. Something about it made me think that his teeth were fake. Strapped to this back was a giant hunting riffle nearly as big as he was. After I had stared at him enough, I saw woman with bleach blonde hair squatting next to a pile of rags. She reminded me of some movie star or maybe a reality star. Her skin was painted darker than mine and her chichis were pushed all the way up to her neck, looking bigger than her head. She might have been forty, maybe even fifty, but she was dressed in shorts that barely covered her down there and a camouflage bikini top. A normal sized rifle balanced across her tan legs.
Finally, the ornate gold lettering swam into focus through the haze of lace. Thank you from Gaston’s Island.
I threw the card away from me. Rhinestones went flying everywhere.
That’s were they took my little brother. That’s where Christó died.
Thank you? How could they be saying thank you? Was there some fundamental part of the English language I was missing? Since when did Americans say thank you when they really meant screw you?
As in screw you for having a little brother that looked like a gang member. As in screw you for not watching him closely enough and letting him get caught after curfew. As in screw you because we’re rich and we bought the privilege of totally messing up your life.
Oh and here, go to Disneyland. Enjoy.
My eyes glazed over and I sat there for a long time trying to figure it out. My uncle’s home grew dark around me. The tiny pink rhinestones still laid scattered over the floor. The vacuum would never pick them all up.
In the end it all came down to this: nothing could change the past. I couldn’t go back and save him. I could only move forward. I could only decide what to do next. And what I would do next was pick up the rhinestones one by one, read the card and destroy it. My mother and the rest of my family could never learn about it. I would try to get cash for the gift card—use the money to figure out a way to stop this from happening to my nephews.
I could only move forward. There would be no more crying. No more staying in bed. I swore to myself.
I picked up the rhinestones one by one until my fingers went numb.
How many girls have had to be where I was at that moment? The weekly anti-gang sweeps have been going on since before I was born. Gaston’s Island opened when I was five, maybe seven. I remember watching them build it off the coast of Corona Del Mar. How many boys with shaved heads and baggy pants have been kidnapped for the hunting preserve? How many rich and famous monsters have hunted there?
I counted three hundred and seventy eight rhinestones. That number was too small, I knew. There wouldn’t be enough to go around. The Press Telegram, our local paper, listed almost fifty names a week. A lot of brothers were caught.
I shuddered. At least we were spared that.
When all the rhinestones were back in envelope again, I reached for the card and flipped it open. I had to know her words, her explicación, for this . . . gesture. A flurry of gold lettering danced across the tiny card. It was hard to read in the dark, but if I delayed long enough to turn on a light, my courage would leave me.
Forward. There was only forward.
My Dearest Eva Lisa,
Every year my darling, dear wonderful hubby brings me and our dogs, three of the cutest pure bred Pom-Poms you’ve ever seen, to Gaston’s Island to celebrate the day we bought our first yacht. Never in all of my short life have I ever had such a delightful time as I did last weekend!!!!!!! Your brother, Christiansen, was superb prey, absolutely, unabashedly, unexpectedly superb. Not only did he put on an excellent show when my first bullet found the back of his leg, but when I learned that he was only eleven!!!!!! I’m a huge believer in early intervention! In the end, we decided to go with just the one bullet. Meat is so much more tender when the blood leeches slowly from the flesh. He called your name for hours!!!!!! I do believe they were his last words. My, but you have a beautiful name! Our personal chef handled all the butchering and grilled steaks for us on the yacht. I’ve never tasted a more flavorful filet. We’ll be making tamales with the rest later in the month for my meeting with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Bobby Flay has a wonderful recipe!!!!!! Have you tried it? I just love him, don’t you? The man makes the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted!!!!! Don’t worry that anything will go to waste. We aren’t those kind of people. We will be drying his heart and bones for the dogs!!!!!! I hope this note finds you well, Eva Lisa. Give my regards to your mother and please enjoy the year at Disneyland on me. My nieces love it there and it warms my heart to see a little girl happy!!!!!
Hugs and Kisses,
A. Candy Seymoure and the Poms:
Lady Boo-Boo Kissyface
Marquis de Lovey-Wawa
Little Sir Charles the Sweet Pants IV
I wanted to throw up. This Candy woman was thanking me. Actually thanking me—for the privilege of murdering AND cannibalizing my little brother.
If there is a God, he would make her boat sink. He would make her stupid little dogs eat her in the middle of the night. He would smother her slowly in her own chichis. I would sell the annual pass and find a nice anarchist group to donate the money to.
The card crumpled in my cold, sweaty hands. Without meaning to, I looked at her face again. Would I know that it was her if I ever saw her on the street? Would I know who to kill? I studied her, there in the fading light. I studied everything about the picture.
And then I finally saw him.
That amorphous pile of rags between her and the Gaston impersonator? That was Christó. What was left of my little brother. His dead body. She wanted to show it to me. Probably thought it was a lovely gesture!!!!!!
I couldn’t sit there thinking those thoughts. There was only forward. I had to get up and move if I wanted closure, since there would be no peace in this life again.
I took the envelope, the rhinestones and the card out to the backyard and buried it under the camper where Christó played with toy trucks when he was small. I went back into the house, took a shower that scalded my skin, changed my best black dress, taking special care to iron my hair straight and highlight my face with a light hand of make-up. I would look like this every day from now on. No one would ever see me in my pajamas ever again. Then I made myself an omelet with rice for dinner because it was Good Friday and I wasn’t supposed to eat meat. I took the gift card from the dining room table and hid it where I didn’t have to look at it.
My family came home late, each giving me the darkest of looks. I bore it because I knew the Candy woman’s truth, nothing was bad enough to hurt me anymore. We went to the late mass and Yessie insinuated that I should go to confession in the morning. I don’t think the priest was man enough to learn what I knew.
The next morning I left for confession bright and early, wanting to leave no margin of error that would see me captive after curfew. Through tears, I asked the priest to bless me because I fought with my little brother, because I failed to take care of him. Without handing me a tissue, he just absolved me in Spanish too broken to understand and asked me to say a rosary for the end of abortion. Instead, I went to the altar and lit a candle without paying.
We should pray for Christó. After all, don’t the wanted dead children deserve our prayers too?
The walk back to Tió León’s was short. In the driveway was a big brown truck. UPS. A man in a brown uniform smiled at me and climbed out. He was carrying a giant pink gift basket covered with lace, ribbon, silk flowers and rhinestones.