Next year, this story will appear in Burrow Press’ 15 Views of Miami anthology, a literary portrait of the Magic City told through 15, loosely linked short stories.
When the earth opened up and swallowed her husband Jonah whole, Pica feared that her life and all its private lies would be exposed. Reporters from the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel swarmed her mother-in-law’s botánica, curious about the newly widowed Pica and the Little Haiti Man who’d been gulped down by the sinkhole. She tried to look devastated enough, but truth was she and Jonah had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for a while now. She’d considered leaving him, but Bruno needed the money, and quite frankly Pica enjoyed being kept. Jonah had money in trust funds—lots of it—and Pica didn’t want to go back to waitressing at Le Bébé, the Haitian diner. Jonah hadn’t pushed for a divorce; he loved showing off his young and beautiful wife at banquets and fundraising galas, her body confident and tall, and she knew to hold him close in public and whisper in his ear as other investors drank martinis and referred to the neighborhood as Buena Vista, not Little Haiti, a name that brought images of dark-skinned boat people.
She’d spent that Thursday afternoon with Bruno, her raven-haired Italian lover, while Jonah, recovering from allergies, took a nap in the claustrophobic, soon-to-sink master bedroom. Bruno and she drank Chianti and ate loaves of bread with imported French cheeses on the uneven wooden floor of his bare little flat behind the Little Haiti Cultural Center, read Miami Times, fucked on his old pullout sofa under the big picture window, sunlight streaming in through the curtains, talked, and smoked Comme Il Faut cigarettes. They were a tangle of arms, legs, mouths, hands, and skin, and could not say where sex began and ended.
Pica felt womanly, testing the world for its possibilities. While Bruno pleasured her, she lost herself in his paintings, brilliant colors over dark tones, dashes of pure white paint, bright reds thickened with sand to build up textures.
* * *
She’d returned home just in time to hear the deafening noise and find Jonah’s room gone—his king-size bed, his mahogany dresser, his wide-screen TV. Pica jumped into the hole and frantically shoved away rubble with her bare hands, mapping in her mind the irises of Jonah’s eyes, the palms of his hands, the sound of his voice. She didn’t hear the police sirens; she didn’t feel the landslide pinning her body parts. Although it was as if her body was sinking into flames, she didn’t realize she was trapped waist deep in rocks until a sheriff’s deputy pulled her to safety, next to her mother-in-law, Philomena, a woman gone mad, hollering at the sky, blaming Pica, la bruja, for this tragedy. You don’t want a baby—and the baby dies. You don’t want my son—and the earth swallows him whole. Maybe Pica still smelled of sex. She’d wanted to shower, but in Bruno’s apartment the water was brown no matter how long you ran it.
Something rumbled the next street over and Pica thought: another sinkhole while she waited for the ground to crack and crumble. But then there was the beep-beep of the truck backing up.
* * *
On Saturday, the rescue team gave up on looking for Jonah, and on Sunday a giant red backhoe gouged into the Little Haiti home as the neighbors watched, whispering in rushed Creole, everyone sluggish and greasy-looking in the heat rising off the engine in cellophane waves. Pica finally wept as a worker in an orange uniform and helmet handed her a family Bible that bore claw marks from the backhoe’s bucket, along with a framed portrait of her husband. In the picture, taken only a few weeks before, Jonah was fit, in early middle age, with alert, hawkish features and a trim goatee. You could tell he was a man of immovable solidity. He had kept Pica from falling apart after she’d lost the baby, taking care of her with the kind of efficiency and calming confidence that made him what he was: solid granite.
By Monday afternoon, all the walls of the house were gone. Philomena reluctantly opened her doors to Pica, allowing her to take refuge in the back of the botánica, in Jonah’s teenage bedroom, where the pillows were plumped, fluffed, and patted to prefigure sleep. A dull, dry ache had taken root in the back of Pica’s head; she wanted to sleep but her eyes kept flipping open, and she looked out the windows at the backyard, overgrown and colorless as an old man’s chest hair. She turned the TV volume down so low she couldn’t hear anything but the mumbling of Philomena in the room next door. When Pica looked up, she saw a sinkhole pixilated on Channel 7.
A baby was crying somewhere, and Pica thought about the soft, lavender color they’d planned to paint their baby’s room. She imagined the baby lying asleep on his bed, one fist clenched and raised over its head. Pica remembered her morning sickness; she once vomited on the sidewalk, drenching a colony of ants. Even though she hadn’t wanted it, the baby inside her was so much a part of her, Pica often talked to it as she smoothed her blouse down over her slightly rounded belly.
Pica checked her cell phone for a text message, or any acknowledgement of her existence, from Bruno. She stared at her iPhone, touched the screen, tried to will messages to appear.
“I wanted to give you some time,” Bruno said, when Pica finally showed up at his doorstep. His hair smelled like old cigarettes and pine. He was working on a painting of a couple waltzing inside a cage. Rich and glowing, the color harmonies captured the play of light and shadows and the sharp contours. The brush strokes blended harmoniously in warm yellow-gray, pink and green shades.
Leaning into the cushions, chewing a thumbnail, Pica focused her attention on the scar on the bottom of his chin where his skin was cut and the scab was prematurely picked. Then she rolled onto her back, corpse-like. “I couldn’t get him out,” she said. She curled her feet in toward each other and then pointed them straight down. “I tried so hard.” Her voice was a shiver. “I wanted to tell him I was sorry about the baby. I’m haunted by his astonished look of hurt and disappointment when I told him I didn’t want to keep it. Maybe he thought I did something to lose it.” Pica rolled onto her side, pulled her knees up as much as she could stand and cried into her hand.
Bruno put down his paintbrush and went into the kitchen to make them each a rum and Coke. He handed her a glass and she sat up to gulp it down. He lay on his back and sipped his. “What are you talking about?”
She grabbed him by the chin, forcing him to look at her. “Bruno, don’t you want us to be together?”
He steadied the drink on his chest. “We are together.” He took up the glass and tipped an ice cube into his mouth and crunched it. “Fucking Jesus,” he said. “You need time to grieve.”
“Do you hear it?” Pica asked.
“The baby. I hear it crying.” She looked at him. “I have no idea whether it was going to be a boy or girl.”
Bruno was pale. “There’s no baby crying, Pica.”
* * *
On her way back from Bruno’s, Pica stopped by Simonise’s apartment, not too far from the Libreri Mapou bookstore. There was an old cot with a broken leg propped up against the porch railing, and a rusty old grill with a layer of mummified charcoal from who knew when. Pica perfectly understood Jonah’s need to find comfort in the bed of his Cuban mistress. After she’d lost the baby, she’d become cold and distant, toxic even. When she didn’t withdraw completely, she screamed, banged doors shut, threw things. Until she met Bruno—someone who didn’t know her too well, didn’t know about the baby she’d lost months before the affair. She found herself again.
“Do you know about Jonah?” Pica asked as soon as the Havana woman opened up the door.
Pretty but unmemorable, Simonise looked exhausted, a crying baby in her arms, maybe two weeks pequeño, wrapped in a yellow blanket like a little enchilada. “I heard about Jonah,” she said.
She is too tired for sadness, Pica thought. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. Or maybe it’s me. She couldn’t tell. The one thought was overwhelming: Her husband and child both somewhere without her, not breathing. The baby in Simonise’s arms was still fussing, and Pica wanted to offer him her breast. She wanted him to feed on her, hungrily.
* * *
Bruno didn’t answer his door and his cell phone went straight to voicemail. Pica tried to get a glimpse of him at every intersection, every street corner, every parking lot. On Friday and Saturday nights, she looked for him at Churchill’s Pub on Second Avenue. She attended art shows at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, hoping to see him appear in his beret, turtle neck, and faded jeans. At the Sunday Stroll, in front of the abandoned Methodist church transformed into a “funky” arts space for the occasion, she passed young couples with strollers and she ran her hands over her stomach where her baby had been, and she cried on the inside at its slack flatness.
She didn’t want to imagine some other woman spreading her legs as Bruno pushed himself into her wet body. She remembered her lover’s cock—how it pulsed, stretching her. Fuck you, Bruno Taravella! Eventually you’ll be home, Pica thought. There was a baseball bat sitting next to a chair in Philomena’s garden. She grabbed it, then drove once again to Bruno’s apartment on 59th Terrace. She would smash the bat into the side of his head, sending him face-first into the dirt.
She turned off the car’s lights and waited in the dark—waited and waited—her hands trembling around the bat, until she finally spotted the pick-up truck around the corner—an old black thing with a Dave Matthews Band sticker on the back window. Maybe Pica would aim for the mouth—crack!—and Bruno would be spitting out blood and chunks of shit that he would only realize later to be his God-given teeth.
Pica used to believe in an all-encompassing love. She used to believe that love was a force, similar to a god, which was bigger than humans, bigger than loneliness and alienation. But, in reality, love always ended. Lovers had a glimpse of paradise, but humanity prevailed: mistakes were made, lives and loves were lost, and grief made the most bitter sort of loneliness.
As soon as he came out of the vehicle, Pica swung. The more Pica missed, the angrier she became, and then she started swinging even harder.
“Pica, stop,” Bruno said, dodging, retreating behind an ylang-ylang tree, but she didn’t want to hear.
She kept swinging, and swinging, and swinging.
Until she heard the baby crying again.
“Do you hear it?” Pica asked. “The baby?”
“There’s no baby, Pica,” Bruno said.
She put down the baseball bat, and Bruno didn’t try to stop her as she started down the street, swallowed by the Miami shadows, invisible to the Little Haiti hookers, the unshaven men making drug deals beside a dumpster. She followed the baby’s cries to her old street, to the place where the house Jonah had built her used to tower above palm trees and bougainvilleas and hibiscus trees.
A woman stood there, and she held a crying baby in her arms. It was Simonise.
“I’ll never see Jonah again, will I?” Simonise said, looking at the hole in the ground, its perimeter surrounded by police tape.
Nothing beat a sinkhole for swallowing a life, Pica thought, to absorb the bitterness of loss and betrayal, the gallstones of desperation and deceit.
Simonise held the crying baby toward Pica and said, “I never wanted it.” With her one free hand, she touched her belly. “I considered getting rid of it, you know. But Jonah begged me not to; he said he would bring his son home once you were ready.”
Pica remained quiet, scared and terrified.
Simonise frowned. Her jeans matched the gray pavement so her legs sort of melted into the road. “He’s your responsibility now. It’s either you or the firehouse.”
Only when the baby stopped crying did Pica take him from his mother. He smiled.
“Good,” Simonise said. “The doctor says he’s normal, healthy. He cries a little and sleeps a lot.” She looked Pica in the eyes. “Jonah loved him.”
* * *
On her way back to her car, Pica sang to the baby, sang to the moon, her eyes unblinking in the dark that lay over her, thinking thoughts she wouldn’t turn into words out loud, thoughts she would swallow whole and force into inexistence. Bruno’s pick-up truck was gone from the driveway. She wouldn’t worry about him. She was a mother now. A mother was warm and good, not cold and fearful. She sang to Baby Israel, and she sang to the moon, her heart pumping a passion that caused both pleasure and pain.