Spirit of Tabascoby Author / Richard Diedrichs
Spirit of Tabasco
“Everything, Julian! He sold it all,” my mother shrieked.
I stepped into the dark living room. “What are you talking about?”
My mother’s face glowed in the light of her phone screen. “The storage unit. We didn’t even divide it up yet. Everything we owned.” She lowered the phone and reached for her wine glass.
I wanted out, but I sat on the edge of the chair, across from her. “Why don’t you let some light in here, Mom?” I said. “Open the curtains. It’s depressing.”
“I don’t want light in here. I don’t want to see this dump.” She sipped her Chardonnay. “I will get even with that man, if it’s the last thing I do,” she sajd. The gloom of the room and the stress of battling my father made her face look tired, haggard beyond her forty-four years.
“Great attitude, Mom. The cold dish of revenge. That will fix everything.”
“You listen to me!” my mother said. “That man has gone too far. If he thinks he can cheat me out of my half, he’s in for a very unpleasant surprise.”
“What does that mean?”
“He has crossed the line, Jules, and there is no going back.”
“Wonderfully ominous, I must say, Mother. And good luck with that. Now, your National Merit Scholar of a son has homework to do.” I walked out as she drained her glass and I stood in the kitchen. I could have brought her the wine bottle, but I figured it would be enabling. I never understood why she left the bottle in the next room. Did she think it showed restraint? Maybe by the time she reached it, she figured she earned another glass. Or maybe she worried that if the bottle was right there in front of her on the table, she would finish it off. I don’t remember my mother being much of a drinker before my parents split. Every night when my father got home, she mixed him two or three Vodka Collinses, and they debriefed his work day. Usually she nursed a glass of wine. At their parties, she was propping him up by the end, while he staggered around making an ass of himself. And she certainly was not the parent who drove through town running Saturday-morning errands with an open pint of vodka jammed in his crotch and two young sons standing behind him on the back seat.
Fantasia of a bygone era. I did not have time to indulge. I had too much else to think about, including three hours of homework. It usually took me an hour a night just to do Chemistry. I was in all Advanced Placement classes, as a high school junior. I don’t know how it happened, since no one in my family had ever gone to college. In fact, none besides my mother made it through high school. But I was a star student from the start. In Kindergarten, I was the first to string together paragraphs. By Sixth Grade, I headlined the District Forensics Tournament. I spent all six semesters in middle school and the first four in high school on the Honor Roll. I am not trying to impress here. It was a fact that succeeding in school was what I did. It came natural. Some kids are beautiful, some musical, some athletic. I was studious. It got me praise and attention from my distracted parents. My father seemed most invested in my scholastic success, since he quit high school as a senior to become business manager for a rock band that he and his friends started. “Soon, you will be my lawyer, Julian, my consigliere,” he said, more than a few times. “Just think what a team we will make.”
I sat at the cramped table in the ten-by-ten bedroom that I shared with my older brother, Johnny. I looked at my Chemistry textbook and read the homework questions: Explain which is a polynomial and why: x2 − 4/x + 7x3/2 or x2 − x/4 + 7; Explain the difference between the oxidation number and the valency number of an atom.
I heard footsteps in the hall and slouched in my chair. Johnny whisked into the room. He leaped back in a Fosbury Flop on to his bed. “Mom just told me. She is pissed. Maybe we should pay the Old Man a visit. Kneecap him. Readjust his attitude,” he said.
“I’m trying to work here,” I said.
I pushed the textbook aside. “Maybe we can water board him, as well.”
“The guy deserves it. He’s cold.”
“Johnny, this is your father you’re talking about.”
“Tell him that. He could care less. You’re his shining star.”
“If this is shining, my heart goes out to the stars,” I said.
“Who you: Alfred Lord Tennyson?” Johnny laughed.
“You know Tennyson?”
Johnny sat straight and threw out his cleft chin. “…`the moon may draw the sea; The cloud may stoop from heaven and take the shape, With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape.’”
“Just because I flunked high school doesn’t mean I don’t know poetry?” Johnny lay back down and leaned on his elbow, head cradled in his palm.
“You didn’t flunk. You quit.”
“Same difference. A waste of everyone’s time.”
“Teachers don’t have patience for underachievers.”
“I seem to be right on course, working in a laundry and facing a felony charge.”
“Circumstantial. But leave Dad alone. For now. We’ll figure this out.”
“Aye, aye, Capitán. It’s in your capable hands. I need to take a shower and meet Thuy.” He grabbed clean underwear from his drawer in the dresser and loped toward the bathroom.
I slid my textbook in front of me and stared at the questions. I could answer the second one. I could finagle words. For numbers, I turned to Thuy, Johnny’s girlfriend. She was brilliant in math and a Cal Tech dropout. But I left my phone in the kitchen. I had to go get it in a hurry.
I crept into the hall, listening for my mother bawling or banging things around. If she was in a state, I would forget the mission and call Thuy later. All I could hear was the sound of Johnny’s shower from the bathroom behind me. I put my head through the doorway to the kitchen, and took a couple more steps. I heard the clock ticking in the living room. “Mom?” I turned the corner.
“It’s okay. I’m okay. Come here, Jules.” My mother sat up on the sofa and lowered her smartphone. “Come sit by me.”
I walked through the shadowy lamp-lit room. In the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something skitter under the chair. Roaches around there were about as big as mice. Or it could have been mice. I sat next to my mother on the couch, watching my shoe tops. I put my hand in her open palm on the cushion. She and my brother were the only context I had, exiled to this shabby duplex, after living my whole life in our family home in a better part of town.
“We’ve suffered a great loss, Sweetheart,” my mother said. The wine glass was gone. Her eyes looked clear. She seemed steady and alert. “Your father has taken something from our family.”
“Mother, I know. We will survive.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t mean our family, me, you, and your brother. I mean our family--the Suarez side.”
“Dad took something that belonged to Nana?”
“Oh yes. Something of great value. Something of great power. He has no idea.” My mother straightened and raised her chin.
“This sounds foreboding. What did he sell?”
“Do you remember that obsidian disk that I had hanging on the wall in the den, across from the windows?”
“That flat black thing? I never knew what it was. I always thought it was some kind of weird art piece.”
“It was a mirror, Sweetie, and it belonged to my grandmother, Mariana.”
“So, Dad sold a mirror.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
Johnny strolled into the room. His slicked-back black hair topped his sleek and shiny face. His white long-sleeved Arrow shirt and black jeans snapped with crispness. “What are you guys talking about?” he said.
“Dad sold something that belonged to Nana,” I said.
“Man needs to be turned upside down and shaken. But not by me, I’m afraid. I’m late for my date.” He was out the door.
I slid up to the edge of the cushion and turned to my mother. I smelled the lavender and vanilla air freshener she installed in the living room. She had not totally given up hope. “What do we do? Do we try to get the mirror back from Dad?” I said.
“I don’t know that he has it. He sent me a message saying he sold everything a week ago.”
“What’s the problem with the mirror? Why is that so important? Nana’s passed. And your grandmother, and my great-grandmother, are gone. That’s ancient history. Why is this object such a great loss, as you say?”
“Mariana was a bruja. Do you know what that is?”
“A bruja is a witch.”
“The English word is so loaded. ‘Witch’ is not something she ever called herself. Nor did anyone who knew her powers. She practiced folk magic. In fact, the women in my family practiced folk magic for generations. My mother finally broke the chain.”
“As did you.”
“Yes. And me.
“How does this mirror fit into the magic?”
“Mariana called up some very powerful energy in the mirror. You might call it a spirit. His name was Jose Maria.”