En la #EraDelPulgar, la lengua muta y se sobrepone a los límites geográficos: con un pulgar y un clic, a otros idiomas accedemos. Lee este cuento en inglés, escrito por un mexicano radicado en Estados Unidos.
Paterson, New Jersey – 1970
Ruth Kenneth sat at the end of a blue pool chair, spitting watermelon seeds onto the hot, white floor. Her feet burned and juice from the fruit slid down and stained her brand-new pink swimming suit. Closer to the pool, her brother and cousins were playing tug of war. From her position, she could see them all, even Maddie, the youngest, savagely pulling the rope and each other. She’d wanted to play, too, but she’d decided to take care of Uncle Alfie instead. Someone always needed to be with him because, as her father had told her, he’d had an accident in the head when young.
Uncle Alfie lay beside her on a towel, with a bucket of sand between his arms. Even though there was no beach nearby, they always gave him sand and shells and a small shovel to play with. His body was coated with golden flecks of the shore sugar and varnished with sweat; his shoulders smeared with reddened skin, his lower-back darkened by small hairs. Of all the people she knew, only his and her father’s backs had hair. She didn’t know what caused hairs to grow there, but she didn’t have any herself and she was glad.
She took another bite of her watermelon, its watery sourness activating the taste buds at the back of her tongue. She licked the insides of her cheeks and bit into the watermelon again. Some dozen feet in front of her, Christopher, her brother Edmund and Soph were losing badly against Buck, Brendan and Maddie. They had tried dividing the teams fairly with Christopher, the oldest, and Buck, a friend of his from college, as captains, and then one other boy and girl, but after too many consecutive wins, they changed Buck for Christopher. The change did not work, though, for only a few seconds into the game, Edmund ended up letting go of the rope. Even though she was ten and almost half the size of most of them, she thought she could help Buck, Edmund and Soph break their losing streak.
Ruth took another bite of the watermelon. Uncle Alfie dropped all the sand on the floor and found the biggest conch in the bucket. With both his hands, Uncle Alfie took the shell, curled one of his thick fingers and tried to get it all the way to the center. The shell was salmon-colored and soft-looking, almost as if its insides had been glazed over with sweet syrup. It looked smooth, unlike Alfie’s rough skin.
All of a sudden, bitterness unfolded inside Ruth’s mouth. She opened her lips and shoved her fingers all the way to the back, only to discover a cracked seed between her left molars. She took it out and placed it in the center of her palm: it looked repulsive, like a dying insect. She pressed it with her hand with all her strength, almost enraged as if the seed had been at fault for being bitten.
Beside her, Uncle Alfie started breathing heavily. She looked at him. His hip was moving lightly. He was still trying to force his finger inside the conch. His presence beside her was annoying. She knew it was her fault that she stayed with him, but she wanted to be playing. She looked at them, who were coincidentally looking her way, and she smiled to ensuring them she was fine whilst taking care of Uncle Alfie. She waited for them to turn away and threw the watermelon rind onto the burning floor. She took another slice. She bit into it. She heard the moaning intensify.
Suddenly, Christopher and Brendan came running to her. Then, everyone followed. They circled themselves around her and Uncle Alfie. She thought briefly that they’d seen her throw the rind on the floor (which she was supposed to throw in the trash) and was about to pick it up when she realized they were not looking at her but at Uncle Alfie. They looked agitated and almost angry. Christopher and Buck got around him, grabbed his arms and started hustling with him. Edmund was telling him to stop and Soph looked worried.
“I was here. Nothing happened, I promise,” she said to the group, who were centered around him as if covering him from the world. She saw Maddie, who was as confused as she was, and repeated herself: “Nothing happened.” Maddie shrugged and pressed her lips downward, as if saying I don’t understand, either. She heard Uncle Alfie struggle, and then Christopher and Buck got their arms under his armpits and carried him back to the house.
They all stood still for a second, then turned towards her.
“What happened?” Ruth asked, scratching her right eyebrow. The sun itched against her face and her eyes burned. Edmund kept looking back at Uncle Alfie, concerned.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” answered Soph, reassuring Ruth with the three years of experience she had on her.
She took out her tongue and ran it through the space between her lips and nose. The sweat made her skin salty. She felt humiliated. What had happened and why hadn’t she been able to see it? Had she not been paying enough attention? Had she not been a good caretaker?
Minutes later, she saw Christopher and Buck return from the house. Beside them, her mother. The three walked down the stairs made of stone, her mother looking at her. She turned away and stared at the ripe fruit between her palms, red juice running down her forearms.
“Maddie,” her mother said when she arrived. “Your mother was looking for you.” She smiled. Maddie nodded and went running up to the house.
Her mother sat down beside her. Edmund and her cousins walked away.
“So, Christopher told me what happened.”
Ruth nodded. So something had happened. She kept quiet. She did not want to confess that she did not understand, but she did not want to lie, either. Had it been her fault? Had she done something to Uncle Alfie? Was everything going to be okay?
“Sweetie. You know that everyone in the family loves your uncle very much, right?”
“I—” she started, then nodded. “Mhm.”
“Good. But, well—you should know that Uncle Alfie is also not like the rest of us. He does things we shouldn’t do. And although it is not our fault if he does these things, we have to be more careful around him. We shouldn’t give him reasons to behave in those ways, yes?”
“But I was taking care of him!” she said rashly. She felt her blood pulsating heavily, throat feeling long and stuffed, as if filled to the brim with watermelon seeds. She did not want to talk with her mother anymore.
Her mother leaned in, pulled the strap from her swimming suit and rearranged the wrinkled sides. She felt self-conscious: her ribs felt swollen, her chest fatter, her stomach heavier. She moved her arm to scratch her eyebrow, and by doing so, swiftly pushed her mother away.
“I know sweetie. I know, but maybe you’re too young for that. Yes?”
“I am not. I was fine.”
“Okay, okay, well,” her mother said. “I spoke with Christopher and we agreed we won’t be swimming anymore today. So, why don’t you go inside and change. For me? It’ll make me very happy.”
“Yes. Go put on that flowery shirt you like. I just don’t want any more incidents like these, you see?”
Her mother had bought her the swimming suit, so she did not understand what the problem was with it, but with the mention of the incident she felt lost again. She could not argue for something she did not understand.
“Mhm,” She hummed, defeated.
“Thank you,” her mother said, standing up to leave.
Ruth remained seated. Before heading to her room and change, she looked down. Inside the watermelon she held she spotted a hidden black seed. Before going to change, she extended her thumb and index finger, and clawed her way into the watery fruit. It felt sticky. She took it out and placed it inside her mouth. First, she licked it until it was clean of pulp, then she pushed it back with her tongue. She bit. This time the bitterness was not violent and, when she took it out, she wasn’t disgusted. Of course: the problem the first time had been the surprise.