August 28th, 1965
Ana looked at her son’s white denim pants and wanted the grass and the blood to go away. No matter what the television commercials told her, no matter how many magazines advertised the wonders of laundry detergent, the grass stains created by a violent fall to the ground and the blood that came at the hands of other boys who didn’t understand her son’s pain made her freeze with anger.
The voices screamed in her head. They told her she couldn’t erase the hatred. They told her his anger was her fault. The voices shouted that his biological father was right to leave her for another woman, that he was right to replace the clothes in her closet with the wardrobe of another woman’s.
The voices told her that being a single mother with a career and fulfilling her dreams of a store filled with her own fashion was selfish.
“Look at your son!” The female voice said. “He hates you for not being there for him, back when you spent your days in a working in a store. He hates you for putting your dreams before him. He hates you for leaving Havana. He hates you for bringing him into a world where everyone hates him for his accent”.
The voices crowded her head. She told them to shut up, but they wouldn’t. The grass stains and the blood glared at her.
Then she heard the words, “Gasoline will take out those stains.”
It was a voice with a melodious tone, as if she heard it on the radio in between songs. All the other voices stopped, letting this voice say it out loud, again and again. “Gasoline will take out those stains.” It grew louder and softer, as if the voice was teasing her. Then it became a jingle, sounding like the the Texaco commercials on the radio.
The black hole. The nothingness after an explosion. The silent black screen in between commercials. The gasket was blown, the fuse destroyed. After that moment, she was unaware of what she was doing.
She threw her daughters diapers into the machine. She threw back her son’s soiled wet jeans into the lid of the washing machine. The previous load filled with her husband’s shirts were turning and drying in the dryer. The hissing sound of the pilot light flame beneath the machine sounded off.
She thought of the plantains she had so longed to make, but the local store did not have plantains to buy. She longed for the soft, sweet corn flavor of a tamale in a banana leaf, and Arros Con Pollo, papaya shakes and Cuban steak sandwiches, pork marinaded in vinegar and garlic. He mouth watered for the kitchen of her childhood, the cool tiles on a hot day where she’s lay her head down. Her mother’s kosher work space, but her mother often turned a blind eye to tradition.
But now there’s Rice a Roni and Julia Child recipes. She learned how to make ‘Chicken a la King’ from the Ladies Home Journal. She tried her hand at Cherry Rouss and Baked Alaska. Her new husband was delighted. They were made to perfection, but they weren’t as good a the caramel flan she made with dozens of eggs, condensed milk and burned sugar.
She didn’t remember going to the garage. She couldn’t recall the moment she saw the canister of gasoline her husband had bought earlier in the day to fuel the lawn mower for his afternoon of yard work. Her nose didn’t smell the acrid, dreamy smell of Sunoco’s premium regular as she poured it on the stubborn grass marks and those pesky blood stains.
Anita had things to do. She had to wax the kitchen floor. She had to feed the baby. She had to wash the dirty grimy jeans off the knees of her growing son who was getting dirtier and smellier every day as hormones created a miniature version of the man she married when she was eighteen, whose face was ripped off of every old family photo, who name was erased from records and family mementos. Anita had to erase the dirt because that’s what commercials said. That’s what the Readers Digest said.
She didn’t remember the moment the gas touched the white jeans. The dryer flashed the pilot flame as the gas touched the fabric. There was a quick roar and everything went white.
She wondered where the baby was.
In her cradle.
She wondered where her son was.
With the neighbors.
Her brother was with her husband, in a car following the ambulance. Her sister in law took her own children and left the house, bound for Bay Ridge after the trucks left.
It ended there. The white jeans and the stains didn’t matter. Hospitals and skins graphs, insurance coverage and lives blown apart and put back together again all in the name of love.
And so it began. Life within the aftermath.