Rinconcito is a special “little corner” in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
Did your father ever swear?
By Jenny Irizary
Come to think of it my father only ever swore in Spanish Maldito sinvergüenza some verb porquerías I could never catch what was being done to the porquerías or if it was their being-made getting done to him when I didn’t do the dishes fast or often enough (it was me he usually muttered that phrase to) stoic not angry but yes, sometimes he was angry. You asked me did he ever take me fishing? Yeah, and I was disobedient or something I don’t remember and he slapped me. No, he didn’t do it a lot just when I was being contrary. My mother? Never calm even that time I came home and she’d stayed to do laundry caught her hand in the press lever (we didn’t have tumble machines) it looked like a crushed pomegranate and sidewalk gum boiled into beet juice but she didn’t cry and my dad explained what had happened he wasn’t at work, either, which was odd only happened one other time I can think of because he drank too much and when the guy he carpooled with to the factory came by my mom peaked out the door whispered he had a hangover (she knew vernacular like that words her relatives slipped on into other verbs I could never tell which ones so she talked to officials or just anyone speaking English or I did). So that was the other time my dad didn’t go to work. I was usually the first home to take care of my younger brother no, not the one that died in my mother’s arms at the bus stop the one that got tied up in the umbilical cord wrapped up inside came out blue not breathing he’s why I always thought the Blues was a good word for music you choke out when people didn’t want you to breathe my brother didn’t speak in the same sounds assigned actions as other people but his exclamations aren’t exactly passive and he never was, either, which was why I watched him like when he climbed out the window onto the roof maybe searching for kites or just a different view when my dad showed up at the front door I was staring down at my shoes willing his eyes anywhere but up when he looked and saw my brother climbing smiling the rest of us were panicked (but my brother seemed very relaxed) took a hand off the roof reached up and our dad started to coax him down telling him not to be afraid even though he clearly wasn’t “Come back inside where it’s safe” that kind of thing he rarely spoke so soothingly to me although when I threw a baseball through the garage window and pieced the glass back together with glue he grinned a little at the notion I could put one over on him. I wasn’t a good liar and I felt guilty so I usually just confessed like when my brother and I were jumping on the bed he seemed to stay in the air longer than I could have sworn he was up when I came down feet hard on his belly sloshing like the sound those fish would have made if I had caught them instead of being a good-for-nothing like my father said (or whatever he said in Spanish like I said I don’t know Spanish didn’t teach you Spanish but life sticks dictionaries you can’t shake to your shoe and you walk around like that sometimes for a lifetime maybe just for a childhood anyway my brother and I we were young and the diagnosis was around that time I cried when I told my dad I thought I knocked the quiet voice out of him made him loud with the sounds people use to excuse the fear they already have maybe call the police (and later, they did and that’s why my parents decided if I was going to college they couldn’t take care of him so I’m kind of the reason he was institutionalized in a way because otherwise he might have gotten arrested or hurt but that place we dropped him rotting mattresses lined up smelling of semen and urine out of the movies or books or the records those kind of places didn’t keep or worse, the ones they did). And the diagnosis when they called my little brother “Retarded” then “Developmentally Delayed” then “Autistic” and always “unacceptable” this kid who loved to fly kites with me at Wrigley Field until he took a roll of receipt tape from a vendor and the guy yelled for some police and they tackled him my English almost wasn’t good enough to get him off not using language like other people is one of those inexcusable cardinal sins I guess or maybe stealing while Puerto Rican and what you kids call it non-neurotypical and running smiling bent over looking up a kite soaring overhead we’re supposed to be docile shouldn’t be able to hunch over and move that’s some trickster terror to some people that day when my brother and I almost both got booked for stealing juvenile delinquents was the one time I saw my father cry and he didn’t swear in English or Spanish nothing he could get done with words.
Jenny Irizary grew up along the Russian River in Northern California and now resides in Oakland. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and an M.A. in literature from Mills College. Her work has been published in Label Me Latina/o, Atticus Review, Sick Lit, Snapping Twig, District Lit, Communion, and other journals. Her poem, "If You Want More Proof She's Not Puerto Rican," was the winner of Green Briar Review's 2016 poetry contest.