The Facilities Are for Mourners Only
by Abram Valdez
Gloria marveled at her mother Teresa’s courage at the precession of mourners but girded herself as Jesse Reina recalled a story of a recent bout with diarrhea. Two days after Gloria’s father Roberto passed, every tangled branch of the family tree and even the rotten pieces of family bark visited Teresa and Gloria. Many brought cards or flowers, and almost everyone paying their respects brought food with their condolences because grieving is easier when you don’t have to cook. But in the visits and plates—the tamales, the papas, the molé, the fried chicken—none of bereaved brought a dish with a side-story about the runs.
“It was that diner in Hobbs,” Jesse said to his wife Victoria. “‘Fins & Hens.’ I think that was the name. I had this chicken fried steak meal, and I was doing good for a while, but then, oh baby, I had to get to a commode in Albuquerque. I sat on the toilet so long, my legs fell asleep.”
For Jesse, to go from “I was surprised to learn about Roberto’s stroke” to “I got familiar with the all the toilets and some bushes between New Mexico and Arizona” was paint by numbers, and he was in mid-masterpiece—a real Boboso Ross.
“I don’t mean to get gross, but I just couldn’t keep anything down inside.”
Gloria tried to find a break in Jesse’s bathroom chronicles to aid Teresa. Her sainted mother who 48 hours removed from losing her husband of thirty years was trying to entertain someone she hadn’t talked to in 10 years. Jesse wasn’t familia familia, but he grew up in the same church that Teresa and Roberto attended for twenty years. They had known Jesse since he was messing his pampers, so he was family, even if he was still having trouble with his bathroom business.
“I thought I was going to get dehydrated. I didn’t know where all that soupy stuff was coming from. So I would eat some crackers and drink Gatorade, and nombre! Back to the potty.”
“You okay, a’ma?” Gloria asked.
“Yes, mija,” Teresa replied and slightly rolled her eyes at Gloria before Jesse jumped right back into his story, certain everyone was on the edge of every toilet seat with him.
“It got so bad, I had to see a doctor in Colorado. He wanted to put me on an IV, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip, so I toughed it out. Just kinda squeezed, you know?”
Jesse came to this story by way of asking, “Did Roberto ever get a second opinion?”
Gloria relayed to him about a doctor in New Mexico that Roberto had been in contact with, and Jesse was off to the cuartito.
Outside of that, that brief mention about her dad and New Mexico, Gloria hadn’t had time to think about her father in any other way. She was at the hospital. Then, she was making arrangements. Then, the calls and the visitors. Insurance. Bereavement paperwork. What else was there after all of it? But every time she felt the walls squeezing in, her mother seemed to do something that she didn’t expect of a widow. The day after Roberto passed, Teresa took in a movie by herself—The Incredibles Part 2—and didn’t invite Gloria. Teresa skipped out on choosing a casket to try ramen for the first time with her prima Sandy. If Teresa was in mourning, Gloria couldn’t tell from the pair of Jordans she bought for herself. It wasn’t that there was an avoidance of grief as much as there was also grief. Still, Gloria could only marvel at Teresa’s ability to nod and smile at this ridiculous man.
“Twelve pounds! I lost twelve pounds! Had to buy new clothes for the trip back. Partly because of all the weight I lost, but also… I didn’t quite make it to the little boy’s room in Winslow, Arizona, if you get me. New shoes, too.”
The little boys room was the phrase that did it. Gloria was ready to lay into Jesse. She went over it in her head: What the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear about your leaky butthole. We’re in mourning, pendejo! Say ‘sorry for your loss’ and be on your way, guey.
That’s when she saw Teresa digging her pinky fingernail into her thumb. At first, it looked like she was trying to stay awake, but Teresa drew blood. A small red spot started to reveal itself as if it was unraveling more than gushing. Jesse was elbows deep into a description about emptying the contents of his guts into four different states until the only thing he had left inside was a whistle, when Teresa put her bloody thumb to her nose.
“Oh, my,” she said, feigning an ache. “My nose! Mija, can you help me?” She rubbed her thumb against her nose.
“Excuse me, Jesse, I…,” Teresa said. “Con permiso.”
Jesse and Victoria both stood. Teresa tilted her head back, waved Gloria over, and headed for her bedroom. She put her hands out like she was lost and relying on the walls to guide her way.
At the door to her room, she was quick to the cut. “Get that cochino out of the house.” She took a tissue to wipe her thumb clean. “And don’t let him use the bathroom.”
When Gloria returned to the living room, Victoria was still standing.
“Is your mom okay?” Victoria asked.
“Just a long day. I’m gonna let her rest.”
“Jesse had to excuse himself. Sorry about him. He talks too much. I think he’s nervous. He’s never had anyone he knows pass.”
Gloria and Victoria stood, looking for something to say to each other. What else was there to talk about? His foot fungus or hair plugs? As a part of Teresa’s church family, Gloria was certain they would see each other again at the service, but what to say in the now? That led her down the path of what she could share with them in a few days. And that led to what would she share with everyone at the service?
Then, Jesse appeared from the guest bathroom, and she was almost relieved to see him.
“We’ll be on our way. We want to let Teresa rest,” he said. “You, too. We just wanted to say we’re really sorry about your dad. He was such a sweet guy to us. Please, call us if you or your mom need anything.”
Jesse nodded and Victoria joined him by the door. As they exited, Jesse cupped Gloria’s hands between his. “Dios la bendiga.”
As Jesse and Victoria walked to their car, Gloria stood in the screen door and adjusted the door’s mourning wreath. For the past three days, the house felt like it was shaking, rumbling, like it was echoing the feeling of Gloria’s stomach jumping to her chest. But now it all seemed to be leaving with Jesse and Victoria. All Gloria could feel was a settling as she waved them away. She thought about going for a walk. Maybe buying a pair of Jordans, too. Gloria could feel her breath finally leaving her body like a promise freed from beneath a paperweight. So many things to do next, but the most important? She would rush to the bathroom to wash her hands. Of Jesse. Of her dad. Of all of it.