Like Fish That Rain Down From Heaven
Sometimes the making up was harder than the fighting. The quarrels were stupid and pointless. We both dug in, refusing any acknowledgement of each other. Occasionally, I stalked out of the house, telling myself I would never go back. Then I rethought things, realizing either I was stupid and had no real place to go, thinking maybe this is what true love was, and finally saying to myself I was a coward. I would slink back.
This time it was over platanos fritos versus platanos hervidos. She was just as locked in as I was, though she never stormed out of the house. It was her domain. I often felt like an interloper even though I was the one with the salary that paid the downstroke on this place. When I snuck back in, she ignored me. This might go on several days. Then, for no reason at all, things softened up and we gradually accepted each other. It was a mystery.
We had visited a friend of hers in Chicago named Duñia, who made us a nice Honduran style dinner – sopa de caracol, pan de coca, and of course, platanos. I told Dunia and her boyfriend that Tina, my wife, usually had platanos hervidos, or boiled plantains just about daily. I was trying to establish some sort of common ground or camaraderie or whatever was supposed to bring people together. It didn’t work out that way.
Tina exploded. We wound up leaving. As we left their apartment on Whipple, I apologized to Duñia and her boyfriend, an old Peace Corps hand with a pony tail. We never saw them again. Friends came and went. I tried in the car, and later on, at home, to find out what I had done wrong. She folded and unfolded her arms every minute or so, waving me away. By now, I had learned that any attempt at reconciliation was useless. I went upstairs, as far away as possible and just stared out the window at the other houses on our block, wondering did everyone have stupid arguments like we did? Were we fated to disagree because women were the opposite of men? Or did each one of us have the capacity to do dumb things?
Eventually there was a thaw. It didn’t happen abruptly. Instead of carrying her head down, she lifted it up from time to time. Her pace gentled from a gallop to a trot. Then, at the breakfast table there was evidence – her eyes looked up and tried to make eye contact. I had been waiting for this.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning,” Tina replied.
“How are you today?”
“Bien, y tu?”
“I’m sorry about at Duñia’s.”
It could have stopped here. If I had been really smart, I would have stopped. I was not really smart, though.
“I just didn’t understand.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, apologizing for being American. “It was something about platanos.”
“Platanos hervidos and platanos fritos.”
“So forget it.”
Again, I should have stopped. Thinking myself rational I thought that since Tina grew up in Trujillo, near the coast, maybe platanos hervidos were a coastal thing, enjoyed by all the costañeros, from Puerto Cortez to Trujillo to Brus Laguna. “So boiled platanos go good with the seafood around Trujillo and La Ceiba?”
Tina shook her head. I remember her shaking her head when I met her working in Trujillo. It was usually because my grasp of Spanish was so frustrating for us both. I was something of an oaf. How she shook her head told me that.
“Look, we’re different, that’s all.”
I could have just accepted it, but went on. “I thought there was some sort of gap in my knowledge. I was just trying to understand, you know? I’ll drop it.”
We didn’t exactly establish full eye contact over the breakfast table, but we came close. Her eyes swept from side to side, brushing mine as they circled the dining room. “It’s not about you. It’s not about me. These are things that just are.”
It was coming. Tina was about to school me again on the principles of metaphysics. She went on. “You think that you are responsible for things. You’re not. These things just happen.”
“If I’m not responsible for platanos hervidos being different from platanos fritos, then why are you angry at me?”
“Because I’m not responsible, either. This is something you don’t understand.”
“I really think we could work these things out.”
She sat straight up in her chair and now looked me right in the eye. “You know every year it rains fish in Yoro, right?” She did not wait for me to answer. “Yes, you do. The year you were in Trujillo there was the biggest lluvia de pesces since Hurricane Fifi. Everyone in Yoro ate fish for a week.”
“They say the lluvia de pesces is due to waterspouts in the Atlantic.” I made my hands into the shape of a geyser, complete with a spouting action of my palms facing up so that they would shower the earth with water and fish.
“The ocean is more than a hundred miles away. They also claim it is the result of a dumb Spanish priest many years ago wanting some miracle to feed the poor. That is all mierda, murandanga, bofonada. What role did you play in the lluvia de pesces?”
“The priest – “
“Forget the priest. They are all corrupt and seduce girls from the confessional box. Girls like that whore Duñia – that puta from Tegucigalpa with her Peace Corps friends, eating platanos fritos in a Cuban restaurantlike they were tourists. Did you make it happen? Did I? No! Nobody made the lluvia happen. It just is. There is nothing we can do to stop it or make it get bigger. It is. We are here only for a short time. ‘This’ is forever,” she spread her arms to signify what ‘this’ is. She was describing something big, bigger than our fruited plains, our purple mountain majesty, the Republic of Honduras, the province called Gracias a Dios, the Horse Latitudes, the Humboldt Current, the snow that falls on all the living and the dead, the sun, the stars, all that was and will be, maybe even including God who might be puny beside it. It included everything but us, because we were at odds with It, and It would prevail.
“This is the one thing you don’t understand.” Tina refolded her arms. “One of many things,” she corrected herself.
If I had been really smart, I would have stopped there. But something happened. As her eyes swept across the room, I felt something inside me swell. We were talking. She was doing most of it. I was listening. That was enough. This was how I felt before we got married at Saint John the Baptist church in Trujillo, in love with a foreign-looking, foreign-speaking beauty whom I thought I could tame. Her eyes captivated me, and I wanted to give her a hug. Maybe this is what God had in mind. Maybe it wasn’t fate or luck or free will or where we are headed. Maybe He knew that after fighting awhile, our arms would get tired and we would lay them down and learn to forgive each other out of exhaustion. Sometimes He was right, and sometimes not. There might have even been a law above Him not even He could fix.
We both stood up. Three days of silence had softened us up like one of those mallets used to tenderize meat. I held out my arms. She came over, a bit reluctantly, and then we grasped each other. I felt her leg go between mine and had to shove my chair out of the way so I could fully latch on to her knee and make it mine once again. Her knee, though still reluctant, gradually accepted its status of a thing that I longed for and her lips let me kiss hers. I decided not to ask about platanos hervidos and platanos fritos. She told me that was not my decision to make.
“But I’m glad we’re at least talking. I’m glad we decided to do at least that.”
“We didn’t decide that either,” she said. “All of this was decided for us, just like those fishes.”