Michael Díaz Feito ~ Cradle Song

We weren’t thinking when we made them. There are four girls in a Japanese car—Ysauery, Ruguera, Waltherita, and Glocky. They go by the brand names of their handguns but slightly modified and personalized, like the guns themselves, to which they have added hair triggers, glow-in-the-dark sights, high-capacity magazines, and neon stickers of inspirational cartoon heroes. They post so many selfies with their guns.

Our daughters. Nausea races through them as they drive around and wave their guns to a soundtrack of volume-distorted reggaetón. It is the delight of being in the world, and they are a real group, if only for those elastic, out-of-control moments. They run nicer cars off unincorporated Dade County roads.

Afterward, they are left famished. Their stomachs are void as the plethora of shell casings that cling to the statically-charged cloth car seats. (Later, they will collect these brass casings, wash them with dish soap and white vinegar, bake them dry in the oven, and reload them.) They crave the cheap croquetas, tostones, masitas de puerco, fritas, and congrí offered at the counter of their favorite Cuban diner, Cosme’s. They feast there every Friday night.

“We aren’t thinking, either,” they tell us. So we buy from the botánica and pray for the saints to intercede.

*

One night an old guitarist teetered along Coral Way as the girls were smoking in the Cosme’s parking lot. He strummed gorgeously. His eyes were big and watery, like jewels gripped by the horny skin of his face. A portable cassette player with a built-in speaker hung from his neck. It unspooled an isolated singing voice, which the old man only accompanied with the guitar. He was mute. He lip-synced, miming the song’s high romance:

¿Cómo fue? No sé decirte.

¿Cómo fue? No sé explicarme qué pasó…

He shuffled toward the girls. They became quiet. He seemed to force them into behaving as an obedient audience.

Waltherita was drawn to him. She separated from the others. She had seen him before. Maybe at the fairgrounds in Sweetwater. Or maybe on TV during a boring segment of a rerun of an episode of Sábado Gigante that Abuela was watching when babysitting her when she was a little kid, a filler segment in which the old mute clowned mawkishly while Don Francisco mocked him, buying time so the skinny ladies with flat-ironed, super-long black hair could change into rhinestone bikinis backstage, and the TV’s volume was too loud, and the blue light of the TV strobed in Abuela’s dark, over-decorated living room, and the old mute’s leather face stretched across the grainy screen, and—

It was 2 AM. They were almost alone in the parking lot. The humid night became electrically charged. It was cooled by a heavy breeze, like in the hours before a hurricane. The old guitarist now stood under the nearest streetlight. The yellow glow exaggerated and cast his shadow across the cracked pavement.

The cassette tape suddenly stopped. The voice went quiet, and the light from inside Cosme’s diner went out. Then the streetlight died.

*

Every car in Miami at that time of night is likely an arsenal. They had pushed theirs fifty miles per hour past the speed limit. High beams rose at the rear. It was not a police cruiser but a souped-up Korean car of civilians. Boys racing to outshine them.

The girls lowered their windows and shot into the air. The competing car halted. Its tires screamed. A passenger leaned out. He aimed a semi-automatic Colt AR-15 rifle. Shots tore along the headlights beaming at the girls’ car. But they were already gone, carried into the dark current of the service road off Tamiami Trail, which submerged them under a sea of first oak, banyan, palm, and mahogany, then buttonwood and mangrove canopies.

They laugh at our worry when they laugh and dare to drive. The bitter reek of burned gunpowder enveloped them. Ruguera spanked the steering wheel in ecstasy. Ysauery, sitting shotgun, squirmed and unpacked fresh cartridges. The bullets, .380 ACP jacketed hollow-point rounds, clinked as she scooped them up, and they flowed over her jittery hands like rose pearls in the moonlight. Some fell to the floor as she passed them to the backseat, where Glocky reloaded their magazines and laughed.

“I love you, guys,” she said.

Waltherita got a text message. Her phone pinged and lit the backseat blue. She unlocked the phone and read:

Please call. You’re dead
in video. Kids really don’t
sorry? We hate for you
to forget home or silence
again a last remember of
love prayers. Please call.

An unknown number had sent this text. Or at least an unsaved number. And the difference? She ignored it.

The phone pinged again. Then twice more, and three more times. She silenced it as five more texts arrived at once. It was the same message repeated. Please call…

A pang of anxiety tightened her chest. The digits of the unknown number began to seem familiar. The number itself changed, coming into focus. Where she had seen a six, she now saw a nine, and where she had seen a five, she saw a three. It was an old phone number, a peripheral memory. From when they recognized our faces all by themselves.

Unease halted Waltherita’s breath, because she knew that with more effort, she might remember whose phone number it was, and then she couldn’t ignore it. She told Ruguera to turn up the radio. The other girls echoed her request. The beat crescendoed, boomp-da-boomp-boomp, and drowned out the turbocharger’s whir.

We tried to warn them. We were always tapping on the glass.

*

With the lights out, Cosme’s and its parking lot, as well as Coral Way itself, disappeared into the night. The old guitarist disappeared, too. The girls could not see him in the sudden dark. But they sensed his approach, tracking the pulse of the guitar, which he continued to thrum. It cast a percussive noise, a patter and buzz, like a clicking cicada. Then the cassette player’s sprockets squealed. They struggled to rewind. He was close.

The girls reacted distinctly. Ysauery asked if he wanted money (even though she couldn’t detect the mute’s answer) and claimed she didn’t have anything. Ruguera, saying, “Vete pa’ la pinga, viejo abnormal,” flicked her lit cigarette in the direction of the music. Glocky giggled at that. She offered loose change. She shook coins in her cupped hand.

In response, the voice sang again from the tape:

¿Cómo fue? No sabemos decirles.

¿Cómo fue? No sabemos explicarnos qué pasó…

Waltherita blinked repeatedly and purposefully, anxious to adjust her vision to the moonlight before something else happened.

Her phone vibrated. Shivering from the pocket of her jeans, it scared her, and she flinched as if dodging a slap. Eleven text messages demanded to be read. Her dread lifted, however, when the glowing screen reminded her of the phone’s flashlight. She swiped away the notification for the texts—not easy to do with the touch screen resisting her sweaty fingers—and turned on the flashlight.

The old guitarist held Glocky by the throat. Still striking the guitar with his free hand, he strangled her with the other. But when her mouth, already gasping for air, stretched even wider, he stopped hitting the strings and reached in to grab her tongue. He secured his grip. He tore it out. Then he released her. She spewed a black fluid and fell toward Ysauery, who caught her.

Our summoned spirit, mercifully accepting the weaker sacrifice of hens, begins the healing work. He tossed the tongue aside. It slapped against the pavement, and sparked into a pillar of white fire. It burned out just as quickly.

Waltherita shot first. The gun, as her nickname suggests, was a Walther PK380. Its grip was baby blue. This model, also available in pink, is marketed to women throughout the United States. In the summer of 1942, SS Lieutenant Colonel Max Pauly welcomed Walther-Werke, the manufacturers of this gun, into the KZ Neuengamme. They built a factory on the grounds of the camp. Around 1,000 prisoners were forced to produce Walther P38s. Once weakened by disease and worked near enough to death, they would be executed with the same pistol and taken to the crematorium. Rita knew this history in a horrific flash of recognition.

By the seraphic hand. Their guns misfired. And the other girls’ tongues were torn out in turn.

*

Now Ysabelis, Raquel, Milagros, and Rita stay home every Friday night, apart. Their grandmothers are happily caring for them. They rinse the girls’ wounded mouths with rum, spoon-feed them compota of fruta bomba or mamey for el potasio, heat chicken consommé in their favorite mugs (from Disney World, or else SpongeBob- or Snoopy-themed), cook arroz con leche with canela to treat the swelling, and serve their Percocet with manzanilla tea. They also light candles for San Lázaro, and thankful for the restoration of their normal families, offer the saint sesame seeds, coffee beans, and tobacco at their little household altars.

We love our daughters when they’re home and quiet. Rita sits in a rocking chair on the patio after a heavy rain. Mosquitoes, hovering at their happiest hour, whine in her ears. She watches the family dogs run in the wet yard. Chasing each other, they dash in and out of the hibiscus. The sliding glass door is open behind her. It leads to the living room, where the TV shouts the six o’clock news at her parents—RAÚL CASTRO NIEGA RESPONSABILIDAD EN ATAQUES ACÚSTICOS A DIPLOMÁTICOS DE LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS

Abuela’s cafecito has left Rita with a syrupy film on her teeth and sleepy, as it sometimes does. To stay awake, she texts her friends about replacing their pistols’ firing pins, and painfully flexes the stump of her dead tongue.

 

Michael Díaz Feito is a Cuban-American writer from Miami, Florida. His recent work has appeared in Fantastic Floridas, Bewildering Stories, The Airgonaut, and Big Echo. You can find more of Michael’s work at michaeldiazfeito.com and follow him on Twitter @diazmikediaz.

This story was first published in Hinchas de Poesía #17 (Nov 2015).

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