When the sounds from the street crept into her apartment she felt the orange flowers poking in from the square that lay just outside the door. Lia moved the couch around to against the wall and placed a table by the window. The hymns of the corner church left a rhythm throughout the apartment, a slow rhythm that made her slow down her movement here in her living room. She placed the flowers on a chair by the door, just as Ana had shown her. “Put as many as possible,” she had said. “It’s almost like you want to make sure he smells it. When he comes.”
Lia put the picture of her Dad, one hand cupped around her ear, whispering to her at her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. His shirt rolled up his forearm and one blonde nephew on the other arm. He smiled as he spoke to her, eyes closed, crinkles around his eye traveling right up the side of his face.
Lia’s phone buzzed quickly. Even the sounds of the phone buzzed differently here than New York- carrying a different weight to their call. “Let’s go!” she texted. Lia left the picture and the flowers, and shut the door behind her. Walking down the building foyer, she could already smell the mixture of the incense candles, flowers, coca cola and sweets.
“Hey there squirrel! Coming out of her tree,” Ana said smiling, proud of her new nickname. She had on dark skull makeup, her eyes outlined and meeting her mouth, which matched her dark black hair.
Lia immediately worried if she should have dressed up for today as well.
“I guess you didn’t dress like he would come,” she said. “Or maybe he liked your pale skin, and old shorts- but definitely not those shoes?” Ana pointed down to her Birkenstocks. They burst into laughing.
Tonight Ana walked slower and quieter, stopping at each bunch of flowers, looking through the large photos of grandfathers, mothers, sisters, friends surrounded by the orange flowers on all sides as if they were suspended in the air by them.
A group of women, all dressed in bright pinks and greens with white color shirts passed by them now. Their faces painted as skulls with blue and yellow flowers around the edge.
Death seemed to parade the street, present in everyone’s faces. The skulls comforted her. Usually her father’s luke warm hand and last frustrated “Lia” as he tossed in the Hospice bed in the Bronx was with her, carried invisibly. Tonight she could see it on the faces around her. The loss that the city breathed in was decorated on their faces.
“Here,” Ana held Lia’s arm, her steps leading them around a corner from the main plaza to more displays. Her hair mixed with Lia’s, and her makeup almost touched her face. Ana playfully took some of the black makeup from her face with one finger and placed it onto Lia’s cheek. “Now everyone knows how you feel. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yea,” she responded quickly, “but I’m not sure I feel like a yellow flowered skull.” They both broke into laughter again. Ana’s loud and gleeful, Lia’s a little quieter. It seemed somehow normal tonight to break into laughter, even while surrounded by the portraits of dead loved ones. The bright flowers, smells of chocolate and kids candy somehow gave permission.
“So are you dressed for her?” I asked Ana. Her aunt had passed away the year before, just after Lia had moved to Mexico, a picture decorated her entrance way, and would never fall even as her two dogs yelped and jumped for the scented candle that always lay by its side.
“She’s coming tonight, I brought her favorite gorditas at the gordita lady, how could she not.” Her voice went softer.
Lia had bought as much as she could from the convenient store on the corner and the Teresa Market. If she had been in Queens, she would have decorated her small apartment with roses, he had recommended she cut the stems a few times last summer to have them really grow, the table would be filled with breakfast foods, a brunch of all brunches with French toast still dripping with a little bit of orange juice that would make it just a little tangy, he said each weekend.
Here in Queretaro, she had bought as much chocolate as she could put in her bag. White chocolate mostly, but also every dark chocolate with nuts they had.
“He’ll meet you there if you leave his favorites,” Ana reminded her. Lia had heard a lot of “He’ll be with you” and “In your memories” ways that cousins and friends had tried to comfort her in New York.
Nothing seemed so strange but also so tangible as Ana’s. She knew he wouldn’t be back. She had seen him wrapped up in the Tallis, led away by the rabbi and 5th floor Hospice assistant down the hall. But this had given her something to do with her grief.
This had given everyone in the town something to do with their grief. They put the grief into the soda bottles, and used it to fill up the bowls of candies.
“My favorite ofrenda–,” Ana let go of Lia’s hand and pointed ahead.
Covered in yellow and red flowers, the street had together put up a stage. Each portrait was guarded by a large skeleton, drawn and painted with bright greens, pinks and yellow, the stage seemed to light up the small dead end street.
“They are here.” Ana said quietly, looking up as hundreds of Marigold petals mixed with the shine of the lights above. The dead danced around them. Grandmothers’ smells of the kitchen flooded the street. Fathers’ whispers spilled out from the petals. Mothers’ laughter echoed back and forth in this corner.
Ana walked from one side of the ofrenda to the other keeping her finger along the top of the table, feeling each grove in the table clothes.
“I wanted to bring you here, so you could see grief. You said you wanted to see it.” Ana lifted her hand from the table and touched Lia’s hand. Lia pulled her hand back.
It seemed like the echoes were getting loud. The brightness of the flowers seemed to be blinding and they were dripping with tears. The sweetness of the soda in the air couldn’t cover up the sadness.
In New York death was tucked away, found in private tears behind doors and behind phone calls. Lia had spent the few months leading up to her new job with many private moments in her apartment.
Lia left Ana, and walked back along the dead end, reaching out to the walls around her. Touching each dark crevice in the walls, keeping her focus on the wall, keeping her eyes away from the celebration.
The door to her apartment swung open loudly. It scraped the floor a little as it bounced along the tile. Death wasn’t here. He wasn’t here.
A petal floated into the door. It floated across the floor, slowly, up and down. It floated across the floor and right under her foot. The yellow mixed with the brown of her Birkenstock, getting stuck between her toe and the shoe. Another petal floated in, flying up into the chocolate on the table, falling right on top. Another petal came in, this time orange, right into the room floating onto the couch. Petals came in, and whispered into the room. They flew in slowly and carefully, moving around her. She sat on the couch, leaning back calmly, her head looking up and around her as she was comforted by them.