Sincere - part 3
Ximena is painting Luis’ face. They’re sitting under the jacaranda tree in the back yard – the tree not displaying its most astonishing blue-purple bloom at this point in the year, but still providing some shade from the early November sunshine. The sticks of face-paint are spread out on the table in front of Ximena and she maintains their line as she picks them up and puts them down after use. She’s making her grandfather into a skull.
Luis’ face has been covered in a bone white foundation and then the grin is painted in black stripes over his actual mouth. On his forehead, Ximena is in the process of painting a red rose and there is already a spider’s web reaching out across his chin. Around Luis’ eyes, Ximena has used black to create the sense of empty eye-sockets – it makes him look both terrifying and kind of sad.
The face-paints are of a good quality, but still they are on the edge of melting in the heat of the afternoon. Ximena sticks out her tongue as she paints, and its tip looks dry and a little withered.
“Abu, tell me about tomorrow again”, Ximena asks, putting down the red she’s just been using.
“Well, mi cielito, we’ll head on over to Azcapotzalco cemetery where your grandmother is and we’ll tidy her space up. We’ll put all the things she likes on her tombstone so she’s happy when she comes back.”
“And will she definitely come back?”
“Sure, at least for a little while. It’s All Souls’ Day and she’ll come back to visit for sure.”
Ximena rubs her nose. “Will she be very tired?” she asks.
Luis smiles beneath his rictus grin and the effect is disconcerting. “We’ll make sure she has all she needs. A pillow and quilt in case she wants a rest. Some fruit and nuts if she feels hungry, maybe a little tequila.”
“But…” and Luis can see Ximena is choosing her words carefully, “How will she know where to come?”
Luis looks at her out of his hollow eyes. “She’ll see the marigolds all over her tomb and she’ll smell their green-ness. They’ll be so bright and their scent will be so strong, they’re sure to lead her back.”
Ximena looks satisfied with the answer and this pleases Luis. She’s not been sleeping well and she keeps telling him, in a reluctant, embarrassed voice, that she can hear someone whispering in the house at night. She’s said it’s a man’s voice - crackly, being the word she uses to describe it. It’s disconcerted him like hell. And while he’s held her tight in the early morning hours, her child-sleepy words saying that she doesn’t catch what the voice is whispering, he’s thought there is little doubt she’s heard something. Luis thinks too how ironic it is that Marisol’s grave will be covered in marigolds when she’d hated them all her life. Nasty, brash things, these flowers of the dead.
The rose on Luis’s forehead is nearly complete and Ximena is just adding a little depth to the leaves when Luis feels his cell vibrate in his pocket. He shifts slightly, but waits out its call. Ximena is staring intently into his eyes. “When you’re dead for real, will you look like this, Abu?” she asks.
His cell is vibrating again and Luis goes through the back door into the kitchen to answer it. Ximena tidies the sticks of face-paint again and listens to her Abu’s words. His loud, angry whispers.
“I’ve told you, never here. Not ever in my home. No, I’ll come straight away. Yes, there, the pit off the freeway. Make sure you get rid of their hands. No, fuck them – they had their time. They knew what they were doing.”
When Luis comes back out, Ximena is ready to paint again. “I love you”, she whispers as she feels the heat of his skin, traces the bones under his flesh.
Later, Luis has got her set up in the den, a little ball of tired content in front of the cartoons. He leaves her to go the bathroom, but only gets as far as the mirror in the hallway. His skull face stirs back at him and he realises he didn’t answer Ximena’s question about whether he’ll look like this when he’s dead.
He decides he doesn’t know, but this he does know - there are things that go deep in this world. True things, sincere things. And there are the people who make masks and there are the people who wear them. A mask will always find the person who needs it. A face to match its particular shape. A face to fit.