April 2014

Cold Cream

The heat was penetrating, suffocating, a stifling dry desert heat. My grandma and I sat in the living room watching the evening news with the screen door open to let the breeze in. We would at least be sure there would always be a breeze in the desert. The stars were the backdrop to the large rectangular square of screen that seemed like a portal to the outside. It was scary and wonderful sitting there by the dim lamplight.

The news ending was our cue to get ready for bed. I put on my cotton nightgown and sat, waiting as my grandma performed her nightly ritual. The house, built in a neighborhood carved into the end of the Rocky Mountains, was so old the rooms didn’t have light switches. There was only a single light bulb, a beacon hanging in the middle of the room which kept us safe from the dark.

I sat in bed, legs crossed ankles to buttocks, watching as she took off her make-up. She used a pair of men’s white underwear and cold cream. The underwear were old, threadbare, with black smudges of mascara, eyeliner, and colored tinges from the many eye shadows she wore. She wiped at her face and took off any trace of the day’s eyeliner or eye shadow until her face looked shiny and glistened, as if she used the old underwear to polish her face. I wondered who they’d belonged to but never asked. I liked to imagine they’d belonged to Tony, my favorite of her husbands.

I watched, while the Mexican station played fuzzily in the background. I looked out the window and stared into the blackness. The windows’ heavy wooden frame seemed to be another portal into the unknown and the only safe place was sitting here, watching my grandma.

After removing her make-up, she sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed thick white Nivea cream in a circular motion on her feet. She complained about the bunions she always feared would appear from the countless high heels she owned but never did. The boleros came on, as if on cue. Raw voices sang songs with more emotion than I could comprehend. She sat and sometimes talked, but mostly she sang in a soft, rich voice that bewitched me. She sang head tilted back, chin pointing up with a sad look in her shiny eyes. I wanted a glimpse of what was going through her mind, and wanted to somehow fix it, but I knew whoever had put the look there had come and gone long ago.

While she talked, she told me about the Bible, and how faith in God was what would keep bad things away from us. I said my Hail Marys to her in English, and she said El Credo in Spanish. After we were done, she put out the single beacon of light and we tried to go to sleep. The buzz and breeze from the oscillating fan lulled me to sleep, as I lay in the dark, curling towards my grandma.

—Yasmín Ramírez

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