illustrator, writer, and educator
passionate about storytelling.

(Knick Knacks)

published in v.1 fall 2022 issue

He felt la llovizna first. It landed on his eyelids like a mist before it turned into the tricklingof light drops rolling down his cheeks, towards his nose, and then the pillow. This is what awoke Tato, not the soft thuds of trees falling or the incessant swoosh of the wind. He was used tothese things. At times he would comment to his concerned family members in the States that hehad learned to enjoy the storms. Rain landing on the ceiling made of zinc was therapeutic, thepitter patter of each drop was soft until it was palpable to the ear, firm and near. It reminded Tato of his presence there, in his room, in his home, on his island; he had not abandoned it. The rainmade him feel small in comparison. On the frequent nights he struggled to fall asleep, Tatowished for a storm, or for the songs of the coqui to be louder, or, more often, for the voice of Catalina, narrating nonsense about her day. Sound brought comfort and tranquility to Tato because it calmed the restlessness of his mind. However, he particularly enjoyed thunderstormsfor how they paved the way for the community to find something new in common: a palpableboredom that provoked childlike manners of entertainment and an inexplicable urge to supportone another.The night before, the power went out early. It hadn’t even started raining and the sunwas waning. The sounds of people starting up their generators in the neighboring communitieswere faint. No one on his street could afford such technology so they collectively accepted fatein stillness. When times seemed dire, Tato, like his neighbors, would drive down to the city torecharge portable battery packs in the nearest strip mall, pick up some ice to keep the meatfrom rotting and gas to keep the stovetop running. They didn’t need or have much, so the stormcould never take much.After Tato wrapped up his evening game of sudoku by the candlelight, he peekedoutside, spotting a small group of his neighbors gathered around a lantern. Some were chattingand others had their own flashlight striking the dominos table as they intently moved the pieces.He watched them laugh through the window and grinned. He felt great joy to see his peopleexperience this fleeting delight. They deserved it after all. His people are why he stayed, whyTato hadn't given up like the rest of his family. His eyes were radiant but simultaneously heldspace for longing. He ached for the times he felt as they did, what buoyant innocence, the kindthat comes with blissful ignorance.Before easing into bed, he thought of his neighbors once more—their chatter still seepedthrough his walls. He worried for them like a dad would his children and decided to step out intothe garden. The night was breezy, and he noticed how the wind had begun to pull at the leavesof his plants. They had started to scatter across the dirt along with a few of the weakest flowerpetals. The mangos, tomatoes, papayas, avocados, and parchas, however, he trusted to beresilient. They had survived enough wind and rain to still be alive then and wouldn’t fail him now.Slowly plucking a few of the ripe and slightly unripe mangos, he thought about how much theplant had grown. Ever since he started trimming down the branches to give to his neighbors,family, and friends, it had doubled upon regrowth and flourished. As if the generosity hadreached the heart, soul, and core of the plant. Taking the fruit to his nose and gently pressinginto their skin, he singled out the most tender ones.Now stationed en la marquesina, the group outside sat in darkness, solely illuminated bya bright flashlight that reflected elegantly against the empty beer bottles that surrounded them.Tato went one by one: un mangó para don Pedro, Lala, Maria, Quique, y el Goldo. They sangpraises of his kindness and implored him to stay, as they always did. And Tato, as he alwaysdid, politely declined, excusing himself for being too old for their youthful discussions. Instead,with a handful of his favorite fruit, don Tato offered a smile and “Dios los cuide” before calmlyreturning home.The tile this morning felt cold and damp on his feet as he sat up in bed. The white T-shirtand the pair of cotton shorts he wore last night clung to his body uncomfortably and hewondered if it was the sweat from under the sheets or the rain sneaking through the window. Hejust realized the rain was sneaking in through the window. Tato looked down to find his feetsubmerged in at least an inch of water and released a long sigh. He wondered how these thingsstill took him by surprise. Why did he expect anything different when the house had beendisappointing him for decades? It had cracks and crevices in walls, paint chipped away feebly,appliances that could not last a month without needing some sort of repair and floors that he feltto be sinking; but it was the roof over his head that he was grateful for. As he went room byroom assessing the level of damage, he thought of his dad. “Cuida lo que tienes,” he would say.He wanted Tato to grow up humble, not forget his roots, and most importantly, take care of whathe had, in every sense. Because of him and this lesson he had wanted to teach his ownchildren, Tato and Catalina attempted to buy the house. Over the recent years, they had tried toget a mortgage for their home. They wanted it to be in their hands, permanently. They wishedfor it to stay in the family, maybe even serve as a home for their grandkids, the garden forevernourishing them. However, the bank was relentless, si no es Juan es Pedro, the excuses,disputes, and requests for all sorts of paperwork were endless. There was still a stack of lettersthat sat on the kitchen counter that reminded Tato of this—couldn’t those be washed away withthe flood? he wondered. Cata would never know the sentiment of relief that having a homebrings; a home would be free of the anxieties and threats of it being taken away. Tato dreadedthis constant thought; he missed his sleep. All he could do was keep going.This is why he had prepared the home for the worst-case scenario. The tablecloths werefolded up, shoes stacked on top of the dresser, carpets rolled and placed on a few chairs; thishad salvaged the articles he cared to save. He had even preemptively put out the bucket thatusually collected the water from the fissure in the ceiling, which was now overflowing andbegging for backup.What he could not protect by folding up or placing in a shelter was his garden. The onlymoment he was authentically surprised by the effects of the storm was when he had a glimpseout the window that overlooked his yard. A large branch from his neighbor’s tree had beenknocked down, falling directly on his fruits and vegetables. The growing fruits were dispersed onthe ground as if it was nature’s intention to pick them off the plant, unripe. Tato paced towardsthe door that led into the garden only to realize the wind had knocked down a few of the pottedflowers, a ceramic piece shrieking against a couple tiles below it as the door screeched open.The abundance of water on the tile and grass drowned out any plans of salvaging the plants. Inthe brown liquid, Tato spotted the same leaves he noticed yesterday, now muted and furtherdisplaced from home. During his trudge back inside, he noticed through a cluster of leaves asingle mango stuck in a corner beside the fallen pots. Ignoring the sensation of coldness thatovertook his hand as it met the water, Tato re-claimed the mango from the current. He took thefruit into his palm and examined its injuries: it had a bruised side and pierced lower corner butotherwise was in the ideal state to devour. Amidst the chaos, he turned to enjoy this mango.He sought out the cutting board, a knife, and a plate from the kitchen. Methodically, Tatorinsed and sliced up the fruit: the skin peeled and flesh cut in strips. He remembered the firsttime his dad taught him how to cut his now favorite fruit. Tato stood on his toes and placed hishands between the knife handle and papá. He still heard his father’s jubilant laugh as he, now,picked up the plate and placed it on the only free corner of the table. It had been filled with theitems he had worried would get damaged in the storm. So, by the old dolls, Cata’s jewelry box,slippers, the cardboard box of pictures that spanned generations and countless otherchucherías of sentiment and memory, sat his mango now. The fruit, a trinket of former life aswell. The nostalgic scent of its sweetness now overcame the pulsating odor of soiled water thatkissed his feet.