Plugged, unplugged

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In the summer of 1996, Joyce’s right tear duct was blocked. She hadn’t cried since the death of her father. That is to say, he died and she didn’t cry. That was the same summer my father took the “snake” with his bare hands and plunged it into the toilet which Xavier had plugged up with too much toilet paper.
“There’s an old joke,” my father told me after he got it unplugged. He was grinning. “I don’t take any shit from my son-in-law.” The day of the snake was when I saw how blue his eyes were, as blue as his grandson’s. It was the first time I actually saw the family resemblance between my father and my nephew. The only other blue eyes in our family belong to my nephew’s sister, but neither she nor my nephew was there the day of the snake, the day Joyce sang a Gospel song in the kitchen.
Before the snake, earlier in the day, I had been standing beside the sink that Joyce had just cleaned. We were talking behind my mother’s back.
“I feel bad for her,” Joyce spoke in an almost inaudible whisper, moving her lips and gesturing with her hands so I could understand what she was trying to tell me while my mother wasn’t looking. “When you tell me how much weight I lost, I feel so bad. I know it hurt her so. She said she wanted to go on a diet before you come home. I said, we can do it together, I always tell her we can do it, but I don’t know. She don’t.....”
That day Joyce was wearing a long, black denim overall dress over a white tee-shirt. She’s very short and usually very fat and one of her eyes wanders way off to the side of her round brown face. You think she doesn’t see you but she does. After the snake I was in the kitchen, beside the sink again, about to cut up a red pepper for my daughter when Joyce started to sing. I had my back to her, knife poised, but as soon as I heard her, I put the knife down. She started calmly, but the stiller everyone became, the deeper and richer her voice grew and l could hear the love and pain and desire and hope and faith and the need to give and share all the things she couldn’t talk about. I knew that even if her wandering eye wasn’t watching me, it was taking everything in that I was thinking and feeling. As she sang about Jesus and “him” and The Lord and praised the almighty and hallelujah, it wasn’t the words that touched me, it was Joyce and the whole scene there in the kitchen after the snake, with my father and Xavier still hanging around and my mother banging pots and pans and my daughter still in her pajamas. Joyce just stood there and sang, right in front of the phone and I’m thankful it didn’t ring. It was a moment that had never occurred before. It was the most cherished moment I have ever spent in that house. It took us, each one of us, far away from ourselves, far away from the kitchen and the house and everything we had ever been up until that point in time. No one moved. We froze in our places like people in an action film with the pause button pressed. Joyce sang and sang and then she stopped. I turned around and I was hoping her wandering eye would bounce off my face and miss the tears but it didn’t.
She waddled over and put her arms around me. “I love you,” she hugged me.
“I’m crying for you,” I hugged her back. “You’re the one who has to cry.”
Her right eyelid swelled up that day. It swelled up so much, she told me, that before she went to bed that night she sat down and cried.

Barcelona, February 16, 2003

Susana Gross,
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