Written by Iris Mónica Vargas
Translated by Claire Storey
[Originally published in Latin American Literature Today]
Hi Mom, how are you? Hope you’re ok. There’s one hour’s difference between Puerto Rico and Panama so it’s nine o’clock in the evening here. We’ve just put the baby down in his cot, he cried a couple of times—quite normal at the moment—but it looks like he’s gone to sleep now.
It’s been a long day. He woke up for the last time (oh, he’s crying again) at 6:20 am. Jason got up to him and then they went for a walk to the supermarket. Jason says the supermarket’s really interesting because there’s loads of fruit and other products you just don’t see in the USA. I’ve not been so I don’t know which fruit he’s talking about. All I know is that they call passion fruits maracuyás, not parchas like we do. Jason bought a mango and maracuyá smoothie and on the bottle there was a picture of a mango and a passion fruit so that’s how I know. Anyway, I woke up around half past seven and asked Jason if he’d let me sleep for another hour, so that’s why he and Matias went for a wander—before that, they’d been “playing” in the bedroom’s living room. We’re all in one room with a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, a mini-office and a little living room. It’s just right for everything we’ve brought. By everything, I mean baby. 🙂
“You need stop do these things, Yari,” said Jason in his broken Spanish.
“Aha, how do you say it?”
“You need to stop.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Yari shot back, abruptly setting her computer aside to look her husband square in the eyes, a challenging glare.
“What do you think I should do? You tell me, eh? You want to give my mother a patatús?” she said, but Jason didn’t know how to answer. He wasn’t entirely sure what a “patatús” was—his native language was English, not Spanish—but he got the gist of what his wife was getting at and he knew she was right. He ought to look for something to do, as well. That’s why they’d gone on holiday. To clear their heads. He was heartbroken, too, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to survive from now on. He left his wife in the room. It was difficult to breathe; he needed some air. His wife carried on typing. From the balcony, he could hear her fingers furiously hitting the keyboard. She wrote like a madwoman, non-stop. She went to bed very late every night, barely resting. It was true: there was nothing else they could do. Perhaps it was better this way.
What are you up to?
Jason’s just got back. The baby had a good nap (well, he’s still only two months old, so his whole life is just one big nap). Pues, while he was sleeping, I wrote to you and got dressed. Jason went down to the pool for a bit. Then we took a taxi to the area called Casco Viejo, a bit like Old San Juan, but much more run-down. Most of the buildings are in ruins, with a few beautiful exceptions. And the whole city’s like a construction site. Or at least that’s how it feels. They’re installing new pipes all over the place. But where you’d least expect to find a restaurant or something like that, you spot one. And I don’t mean ramshackle, ugly places. No, no! I mean top-end restaurants and hotels, the trendy type, so elegant and beautiful. So far, all the places we’ve come across by chance—hotels, restaurants, museums, EVERYTHING—have been immaculate, modern and really well designed. You look at the useless roads outside and then you see a door. When you look through it, what you see inside doesn’t relate to what’s on the outside. Like a super chic world existing in a cave. Anyway, you get the idea. Something unexpected.
We went to the Plaza de la Catedral. The church is a monumental thing—tall, grand, impressive and old. And on the square just in front of it were loads of craftsmen and women selling their wares. I bought a really colorful bag. Jason tried to haggle (you know what “Yayson” is like), but it didn’t work. The indigenous woman who sold him the bag was more stubborn than he was and wouldn’t give in. I took a photo of her holding Matias. She seemed surprised that Matias wasn’t scared of anyone. He didn’t cry at all. Not even a squeak. He just wanted to touch her face, that’s all.
Just in front of the square and the craft stalls, we had breakfast, or rather lunch, in a little restaurant. A lovely little place. We ate farfalle (that pasta that looks like little butterflies) with spicy ham—interesting taste. Then we went to a museum just next door to the restaurant. It was free to get in. It was called the Emerald Museum. There aren’t any emerald mines in Panama, but the country serves as a transit route for countries like Colombia and Brazil that do. You find Brazilian emeralds in the rock face formed from vanadium oxide, whereas Colombian ones are colored by calcium oxide (I think). If you’re in an emerald mine and you see a white stripe in the rock (the calcite), you know there are precious stones in it. You open up the rock and you find the emerald—the natural crystals are always six-sided. Brazilian emeralds are darker than the Colombian ones, but they’re both green, of course.
At the end of the museum tour, they lead you to a little gift shop that only sells EMERALDS! Lots and lots of pieces of jewelry, all set with polished or unpolished emeralds and they’re all really expensive. The rings started at 500 US dollars and the one I liked was 1,200 dollars. So we got out of there as quickly as possible. 🙂 Jason left much quicker than I did, of course. You know how tight-fisted he is. That man wouldn’t even tip his hat! He’s like Grandpa Felix, rest his soul, but worse.
It was her first baby. The first for them both. The first grandchild, the first nephew, and they had all made a lot of noise celebrating the news of Yari’s pregnancy. It had taken five years and had only happened after multiple visits to the fertility clinic. They had started late. Yari had decided to study first and Jason had wanted them to travel the world. So that’s what they had done. Every so often, they sent photos to their friends and acquaintances showing them the places they had visited during their various trips away. In one photograph, Jason, always photogenic, sat in a canoe, his hand resting gently on the paddle, suggestive of the fact that he had been the one doing all the work to make the boat move, yet not even the slightest hint of sweat or effort appeared on his face; not a hair was out of place and his scarf was flawlessly draped. Photos like these took on average about ten minutes to perfect. Another photo showed her, Yari, her eyes gazing into the distance during an orange-tinted sunset, a majestic castle emerging from the horizon as if the sea had given birth to it. It looked more like a romantic oil painting than a photograph.
Jason had fulfilled his dream of studying medicine and was now completing a residency in orthopedic surgery. Everyone in his class had sworn that’s what they were going to do, but he was the only one who had actually managed it, despite not having mentioned his intention to anyone. She was about to finish her doctorate in anthropology. They had always thought they made a good team together. They had wanted a large family. Three children, he had said. And she always agreed. “You see, Jason has a large family and they always have big gatherings at Christmas. I think he’d like to do the same with our family, too,” Yari would explain to anyone who asked about the three children, saying to her, “What’s all that about, nena? Are you planning a whole tex-mex salsa trio?”
How are you doing? Lorna told me you had another problem with your heart. A big problem, she said. I hope you’re feeling better. I wish I could be there with you but the baby’s still so small, I don’t dare get on an airplane again, go to Puerto Rico, get on another airplane and come home again. People really cough on airplanes and we took a risk coming here, so the best bet is for us to stay here ‘til it’s time to come home. That way we won’t disturb you. Believe you me, Matias’ crying gets annoying. And you need to rest so you can get better quickly. I think the best thing is if I keep writing to you about our adventures here and that way I keep you entertained for a while as well. So anyway, today we went back to the square where we were a few days ago but this time we went to a different museum: The Canal Museum. Impressive overall although the ground floor wasn’t very interesting. It seemed a bit random, all those objects on the ground floor, as if they were only there to fill up the space, even if some of them were artefacts relating to the commemoration of the Canal. Only two things caught my attention: the first was a Coca-Cola advert from 1944. The ad, complete with the “humor” that seems to have characterized the ads from those decades (the 40s and 50s), showed how the North American soldiers could make friends with the “natives” (meaning the Panamanians) just by giving them a can of Coca-Cola. The slogan read: “Coca-Cola = What gives, pal?” suggesting that Coca-Cola was a symbol of friendship across all countries allied to the USA, even countries that were neutral. The second thing that caught my attention was a photo of two men in a wagon carrying two massive lumps of ice. They were the carts that transported ice from where it was produced to two cities in Panama (one of them, coincidentally, was called Colón, like Colón Square in Old San Juan).
The first floor of the museum was phenomenal. Well, I thought it was much more interesting than the ground floor. It was all about the history of how the canal came about. It was in 1903 (I think) when two North Americans and a Frenchman made a deal (named after the three signatories) on behalf of Panama to build the Panama Canal. According to these documents, the USA wanted the canal—and all the land nearby, as well as the whole area they considered useful to developing the canal—to be theirs and under their administration, not just for a finite period but “perpetually.” In other words, forever. Just listen to this! Between 1913 and 1926 the USA disbanded the Panamanian military and disarmed the country’s national police force and so on. Basically, they were preparing the ground so nobody could oppose their demands. Meanwhile, many Panamanians continued their efforts to reclaim their territory or at least get the original treaty changed. Panama had been promised economic gain if they built the canal. However, once it was finished, they got nothing. It all went to the United States of America. At some point, the Panamanians thought they could perhaps make some profit if they offered things like homes or housing to visitors or those working on the canal. But the canal administration also wanted to be the one offering the housing. The incredible thing is that for years, right from the beginning of the twentieth century, the Panamanians tried again and again, pretty much every year, every decade, to get the unfair treaty changed, yet all they achieved was that the USA demanded more in exchange for the amendments. One such amendment required Panama to participate in any wars initiated or supported by the USA. The citizens of Panama had to offer themselves as soldiers to form part of the North American Army. In the end, in 1974 or 1978 (I can’t remember exactly), Carter, the president of the United States, and the then President of Panama reached an agreement to give the canal to Panama but the transition period leading up to the handover was to be twenty years. Twenty years!
They had been unable to visit Puerto Rico since Christmas, nine months before the trip to Panama. “It’s just that I’m really busy working on my thesis,” Yari had explained to her mother. Yari had also recently discovered that she was pregnant. As soon as she had found out, she had told Jason not to even think about buying tickets for a visit.
“You read the CDC report, didn’t you?” Yari asked her husband. “It’s called Zika, Jason. It’s transmitted by the same mosquito that transmits dengue and it can penetrate the placenta, so we’re definitely not going this time.”
Even though he was studying medicine, Jason never seemed to know anything about what was happening in the rest of the world, not even if it was remotely connected to his field. If the details didn’t appear in his medical books, if some professor didn’t tell him to memorize something, it simply didn’t exist. That’s how he’d been successful, breezing through his exams. He went away with Yari when he wanted to, and for everything else he seemed to have his head stuck firmly “in the clouds,” as Yari and her mother used to say, happily ignorant of anything that wasn’t strictly necessary to achieve his goal.
“Really, that Yayson doesn’t have a clue!” Doña Mili, Yari’s mother, would say.
“Yu no wara min Yayson, ¿yu no wara min?” the lady said, exaggerating the little English she knew, and Jason laughed. Most of the time he couldn’t understand what Doña Mili was saying. She spoke very quickly, and when she wasn’t speaking quickly, she spoke as if completely out of context, without offering any point of reference, as though he could read her mind.
“Hey, Yayson, you know something?” Doña Mili would ask, for example, completely out of the blue. “The yellow one’s better than the flowery one.”
“¿Qué? What’s that?” Jason replied, completely baffled, without even the faintest idea of what Doña Mili was talking about because he’d forgotten all about the conversation he’d had with her a few days earlier about two shirts he was choosing between. “Can you say it more slowly, please?” Jason would ask.
Doña Mili, Yari’s mom, laughed. She would often repeat what she had said several times, slowly, convinced the poor boy would be able to understand what she was saying. Sometimes, however, she couldn’t be bothered.
“Oh no! I’m not in the mood for repeating anything today. Hurry up and learn Spanish, you’re taking your time,” Doña Mili would say, and then, according to her, she’d feel guilty and end up giving him a shortened version of whatever it was, which he understood even less than the original.
How are you doing? Lorna tells me you’re back in hospital under observation again. Oh, Mom… you’ve got to get better. You need to meet your grandson. You can’t die, okay? I wish I could be with you… I hope Dad is behaving himself. Lorna says he’s quite calm. That’s good. He loves you a lot. Lorna says he’s cooking and everything. I don’t believe it. Well, he had to learn some day, didn’t he? Lorna says he’s even had a go at some recipes for Chinese food. How amazing is that?! And to think the only thing that he could ever do well was scrambled eggs. Pues, I didn’t finish what I was telling you the other day, so here goes. We were talking about the canal. So, did you know the Panama Canal was finally handed over to Panama in 1999? Before the American president, Carter, would collaborate on the handover, there were lots of protests—injuries and even deaths—because the “zonistas,” the people who lived in the canal zone—that’s where the name comes from—many of them were foreigners from the USA and refused to comply with the amended treaties, like flying the flag of Panama alongside the American one. Lots of people erected flagpoles, making it easy for them to comply and fly the Panama flag, but the zonistas ignored them. I saw one document where people remembered how it was back then. One protester said he remembered with profound anger and pain how they had shouted at him to get out, that he didn’t belong in that zone. He said, “the fact they said that to me in my own country surprised me the most. It still makes me angry.”
There were so many interesting things at the Canal Museum, we didn’t have enough time to read everything. It was so fascinating, I started pointing bits out to Jason for him to read, so I kept interrupting my reading and then I ran out of time. But I read almost all of it to the baby. He screamed and screamed until he wore himself out and I had to put him in his pushchair with his “mi” (he says “mi” for “milk”, like a lament. It’s really funny). Anyway, he was in his pushchair with his mi until he dropped off.
That day, after the museum, we walked until we reached another square and we had ceviche (broth with vegetables and seafood—in this case prawns) for lunch. We gave a little bit to the baby to try. I think he liked it. We got a bit angry with the restaurant owner because we asked for orange juice. They said it was fresh but when we tried it, Jason said it was off, meaning they’d used a really old orange—and I must say, he was right. A bit older and the juice wouldn’t have been drinkable. So they grudgingly agreed to swap the juice for lemonade.
After that we changed the baby’s nappy on a bench in the square. He was completely covered in crap. Oops, sorry, he had a dirty diaper. He’d pooped himself—well, he is a baby (!). Everything smelt like shit, but I’m not going to say “shit” because I’ve no idea whose hands this will end up in other than yours, so I’d better say poop. Oh yes, did I tell you we went to visit Lorna in Savannah, Georgia? We went there for a weekend two weeks before her baby was born. (That Lorna has a whole house full of pictures of you and dad, did you know that? They’re everywhere. It’s really funny. By the way, Lorna’s neighbor sends her love and says she misses you. I forgot to tell you. Old greetings.) Anyway, as I was saying, we changed the baby’s diaper on a bench and there were loads of flies buzzing all around his little butt. We had to swat them away with the diaper full of “feces.” Just horrible!
“Jason! I think it’s happening!
“Can you feel it? Is it happening? Oh my God! It’s happening! Holy shit! We’re gonna be parents! Yari! ¡Vamo ser papás!”
Yari’s bag was already packed. Only that morning Jason had put it in the trunk of the car. Very carefully, supporting Yari by her left arm, he helped her down the stairs. Every minute came an intense pain that made her stop. Her whole body felt like a wet towel being squeezed by a giant hand. She’d never forget the feeling of her water breaking, that swift current of water that had emerged from between her legs, announcing what she interpreted as the urgency of life. She’d also never forget that feeling of never-ending pain. The race down Memorial Drive had seemed endless, infinite.
“My wife is giving birth! Please, let me through!” Jason had shouted to the other drivers every time he got caught up in heavy traffic, seemingly impenetrable, on the way to Massachusetts General Hospital. “Don’t worry, Yari, it’s all going to be okay, mi amor,” he repeated over and over.
No sooner had they had set foot inside the circular entrance of the hospital’s emergency department than an employee came to help them. Yari had felt so important in that moment. Someone else helped her to sit in a wheelchair and then she was steered quickly to the birthing room, while Jason anxiously searched for a parking space, biting his fingernails.
I’m pleased to hear you’re enjoying my stories and they’re keeping you entertained while you’re in hospital. Yes, I promise I’ll send you some more photos of Matias very soon. Don’t think I’m not enjoying motherhood just because I’m not telling you more about the baby. You need a break every so often… and I know you like my stories. Sometimes it’s good to live in a fantasy world for a while. It helps you survive (haha).
What shall I tell you about today? Well, yesterday, we walked and walked and came across the National Theatre. It’s small but extraordinary. The inside is incredible. It’s got balconies and more balconies stretching all the way up to the sky (I’m exaggerating, of course, but the ceiling is really high and there are about five floors of balconies). They’re made of gold and the detailing is all in the baroque style, again, all made of gold. It’s an incredible place with impressive acoustics.
Afterwards we stood in the old town and took some photos of the city at sunset. Seeing the city from afar is an amazing sight. It shimmers like some sort of fantasy. There are quite a few skyscrapers. You’ll see in the photos.
In the early evening, we started for home and stopped off at a restaurant for dinner. We ate empanaditas—little fish and pork pastry turnovers—and washed them down with water. We’re on a diet.
The baby had his photo taken with the waiters and everyone was going crazy over him. But Jason insisted on taking them with his analogue camera and the film got damaged so the photos aren’t going to come out very well. I can’t remember what got spilled over it. Anyway, one of the owners said how beautiful the baby is and he showed us a video of his fifteen-year-old daughter who’s a singing superstar—fifth out of thousands of participants in Panama on a program like that American Idol Kids in the US.
The baby started crying and screamed really loudly, deafening everyone there, but they were all understanding because he was really tired, poor little thing. We took a taxi back to the hotel. We stopped at the swimming pool and dangled the baby’s feet in the pool—he loved it. We got back to the room and all had a bath together and again, he loved it. I think he thought it was funny, but a bit weird.
Then we got him into his pajamas, put him down in the cot provided by the hotel and gave him his “miiii.” Then he cried a few more times and finally fell asleep. Jason joined me at the table with his computer and I continued writing this letter until I’d told you everything and sleep came over me like the rain falls on the sand. I stopped writing quickly and started writ ing slow ly.
Ok. Bye for now. I love you.
Yari was lying on her side, but Jason knew she wasn’t asleep. He knew she hadn’t been able to sleep much since the business with the baby.
“Are you awake?” he asked her.
She didn’t reply. He took her hand and held it in his. He rubbed her back for a moment, kissed her cheek and realized she was crying. There weren’t any handbooks to tell him what to do. Sometimes he regretted having gone along with Yari, but there was nothing else for it now. They had faced it as well as they could and, if his life depended on it, they would survive. This he was sure of. Somehow, they had to survive. They were a team. She was the most beautiful being he had ever met and he knew she loved him, too.
Now, the only thing that helped him to get to sleep was imagining he was singing to Matias, the same song his mom used to sing to him when he was a child. It wasn’t a song in his language, English, but Spanish. His mom had been an anthropologist as well, like Yari, and had spent her life studying the Mayan civilizations in Mexico. That’s how he’d inherited his respect for other cultures.
“Sleep with the angels,” he said to Yari. She started sobbing again.
“I’m sorry, Yari, I’m so, so sorry…”
I hope this email finds you keeping well. Let me know how you all are. We’re fine. Right now we’re in Panama City, in another hotel. I’ve just got up (at 11 am—Matias was up several times during the night and Jason knew if he didn’t let me sleep, his happiness for the rest of the day would be in peril, haha). Matias has just dropped off after having been singing to himself for about half an hour—finally!), and Jason, guess where he is? If the words swimming pool spring to mind, you’d be right—haha.
Today we’re going to take one of those double-decker buses—called guaguas here—that’ve recently started running through the city. We’re going to do the “City Route” and then, if there’s any time left over (which I doubt), we’ll do the “Panama Canal Route.” If we run out of time, we’ll do the Canal tomorrow. It must be a really impressive sight. As we approached Panama on the plane, we saw some boats crossing the canal, going across from one side to the other, and others on their way out to the Pacific Ocean. The size of it is just incredible. I can’t wait to see how they lower and raise the canal fifty-four floors (54!). I’m not sure if you can watch it or whether you have to be content with a video. That would be a bit silly, coming all this way to watch a video…
Please tell me how you are. It’s been days since I last heard from you.
I love you lots and lots and lots.
She’d been in labor for four hours. At the beginning, the pain was so intense that she thought she was going to die. Later on, her body was so tired that even dying seemed like too much of an effort. It would have just been much easier to slowly fall asleep, but the nurses who kept on cheering her on wouldn’t let her close her eyes.
“Push, Yari, push! It’s coming. Come on.”
It wasn’t true. It was never true when they said the baby was coming. They only ever said it to make sure you kept on pushing, so you didn’t give up.
Later on, the doctor came to see her. The best plan was to perform a Caesarean.
“It’s the safest thing for the baby. We’re a little bit worried,” the doctor had told them.
Yari cried. She had cried so much that the anesthetist on call had tried to get her talking to help calm her down before giving her the medication.
Finally, they managed to administer the sedative. She could no longer feel her legs. They had restrained her hands at each side; it was normal for this sort of surgery. She looked like Christ on the cross.
Very soon, she stopped hearing sounds and went to sleep. When she awoke, she wanted to see her baby. They showed the baby to her wrapped up in a small white sheet. Its tiny eyes were shut and its eyelids seemed stuck down onto its skin. “They must have given it that antibiotic they give them,” she thought. But her baby wasn’t sleeping. She knew it as soon as she looked for an explanation in the nurse’s face, when she noticed that the little chest was not moving, by the abundant, deafening silence that was growing around her. She could feel the weight of the tearful look on her husband’s face.
She didn’t cry right then. Instead, she asked for details. How much did the baby weigh? How long was the baby? What time was the baby born? She dictated a new message that read: “Mommy and baby both doing well, and very happy.” Suddenly, she locked her gaze on Jason’s eyes. Her eyes seemed to be asking him something, but Jason didn’t understand what she was trying to say. She pointed the lens of the camera in the direction where the baby lay. He hesitated for a moment but then did it: took a photo. And then some more.
“They all look the same when they’re born,” she said to Jason, her eyes dry, her gaze dry, too.
He felt like his legs were going to give way beneath him. His chest rose in visible, exaggerated arches with every intake of breath. He could hear the rhythm of his pulse in his ears, but he said nothing. He let his wife’s finger find the send button. Yari had posted the message she had written on social media, alongside the best of the pictures of the lifeless baby—the ones where the baby appeared to be sleeping. The other photos they had kept “for later.” Not even a minute later, her phone started beeping, bringing messages of happiness and wishing them good fortune. “Congratulations,” one person wrote. “What a beautiful baby,” said someone else. “He’s gorgeous,” somebody commented, asking, “what’s his name?” They had forgotten to give the baby a name. Yari unglued her eyes from her phone to look at her husband.
“It’s a boy, isn’t it?” she asked him, as if unable to recall, no sign of emotion visible on her face.
Jason nodded sadly. Every movement of his head weighed a ton.
“Matias,” she wrote. “His name’s Matias.”
My darling girl,
I’m so pleased you’re having such a great time! Tell Matias that Granny says he has to let Mommy sleep so everyone will be happy! Haha! Tell Yayson to look after you as well as the baby! And tell Matias it’s high time we met.
Anyway, sweetie, take care, rest well and enjoy this moment together. God bless all three of you! I love you!
P.S. Don’t worry about anything. The doctor finally came by today. He said what happened yesterday was another heart attack, so I’m not allowed to leave here just yet. You’re going to have to keep writing to me about your adventures with Matias. Tell him his Granny loves him, she’s very proud of him and she hopes to meet him very soon. I’m not going anywhere without meeting him, ok?
Send me photos of beautiful places but please include the baby in the photos because he’s the most beautiful thing over there, more so than buildings and stuff like that. We still don’t have any new photos of him and he’s three months old already. OK, I love you!
A little over three months had passed since Matias had briefly visited the world and since Yari had shared the photo of the new-born with the world. They had taken lots of photos during those first hours after he was born when she had asked for a few hours to be together with her baby. She looked at them every day, like she was examining them carefully. She was desperate to remember her baby, and, at the same time, she was scared by the certainty that time would take with it the details of him that still lived in her mind, and that so much life would be reduced to a stupid portrait. It seemed unfair to only be able to remember the general details. Then, when those photos were no longer enough for her memory, she wanted to create new ones. She had found a Puerto Rican artist online, who sculptured beautiful wax dolls that perfectly imitated the poses and gestures of a newborn baby. She sent the photos she had been able to take of her baby and she commissioned the artist to make her a doll—a wax replica of her child, three months older. Yari didn’t discuss any of this with her husband. She was sure he wouldn’t agree. And she was right. At the beginning, Jason had refused to take part. He thought it was repulsive, seeing his wife using a doll to replace the dead baby in photos where she pretended to be feeding him, cradling him or giving him one of the new outfits that close friends and family had sent.
Soon though, however, he started to come around to the idea. However worrying he found it, he also felt something violently urgent and necessary in his wife’s act of pretense, as if she were able to exist again, or as if she did exist, truly, in another dimension. So he began to help her take the photos. In one, Yari sat next to the cot, the baby wrapped up in a sheet, mommy looking at him and smiling. In another, mommy and baby appeared to be sharing a nursery rhyme that nobody else could hear. In other photos, daddy finally appeared holding the baby in his arms, the look on his face unreadable or a half smile concealed on his lips. “You look exhausted, Jason! But you look really happy, buddy,” commented one of Yari’s friends online when he saw the photo.
Another photo showed the baby alone in his cot, a doll among the other toys given to mommy and daddy in celebration of their new family, the replica of a baby that only existed in their own universe. “Sleeping sweetly,” wrote Jason as an explanation for the photo. “What a doll!” commented one of their acquaintances when they saw the photo, and Yari felt the hole in her abdomen expand, growing deeper, and drier.
“Jason?” Yari asked one of those nights.
“What is it?”
“This can’t go on forever,” she told him. Jason was silent for a long time, so long that when he eventually answered, Yari had fallen asleep at his side.
We’re back in Boston. How are you doing? I heard from Lorna that you’re feeling a bit better. That’s good. Lorna says you’re out of hospital and that the doctor says you’re recovering very well. Is that right? Sorry I haven’t written for a while. It’s all been a bit hectic because Jason has gone back to work at the hospital. The holidays are over… I love you so, so much. Thank you for the love you’ve always given us. You know I’m always going to be grateful to you. You are the best mom in the whole world. You know that, don’t you? I miss you a lot. I have a lot to tell you, but I hope to tell you soon when I come to visit.
I always remember that day when you looked me in the eyes, I don’t remember why, and you said something like “I will never hurt you, not even with my eyes, don’t ever forget that.” I’m not sure why I remember that now. We love you so much, you know that? Even though sometimes we’re not perfect and all that, we love you lots.
Do you know what I heard today, by accident? In the United States, when a baby is born, they give its mother a birth certificate. But if a baby is stillborn, if it’s born dead, they give her a death certificate. They don’t give her a birth certificate. Can you imagine the pain that would cause her?
As if you’d never given birth to your baby. As if they had never been born.
Iris Mónica Vargas grew up in Barrio Bajuras, Puerto Rico. She has published two volumes of poetry, La última caricia and El libro azul, and received a PEN International Puerto Rico Award for the latter. She has been a translator for Science@NASA and a science writer whose column Ciencia Boricua, for El Nuevo Día, was awarded Best New Column of the Year. She formally trained as a physicist at Universidad de Puerto Rico and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, holds a master’s degree in science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), and is currently studying medicine at Saint James School of Medicine. Her poetry, essays and, short stories have been published in LALT, Letralia, Otro Lunes, Isla Negra, Trasdemar, Revista Fábula, among others.
Claire Storey is a literary translator based in the UK working from Spanish and German into English. In 2019, she received a Special Commendation from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in the ITI Awards category for Best Newcomer. The following January, she was shortlisted for the 2019 Goethe-Institut Award for New Translation. Claire participated as a panelist for the 2020 New Spanish Books program. She has a particular interest in books for children and young adults and is co-editor of the World Kid Lit Blog.