Evan­ge­line, or The­o­ries of Child­hood De­vel­op­ment

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Kai Maristed

Bel­lied down on the bot­tom bunk, with the door barely ajar, the chil­dren are in­vis­i­ble to the three grown-ups in the big room out­side. Evan­ge­line is boss of the ipad. Seven years old, she is mostly in charge of what­ever. But some­times she lets Win­nie who is four, or Oliver who is three, pre­tend to be the boss. Be­cause it makes them happy. And stops them from scream­ing so loud that she can’t hear what the guys in the ipad are say­ing. Say­ing, and singing. To­gether, Moana and Evan­ge­line sing the “How Far I’ll Go” song, which tells about sail­ing past the reefs that sur­round Moana’s dy­ing is­land. Evan­ge­line knows all the words. Win­nie, face screwed into a hate curse, head­butts her. Oliver slurps loudly at his juice bot­tle, show­ing off. He is only sup­posed to have one bot­tle and not un­til bed­time, but when he whined, Mommy said, “Just this once.” Which she says, like, ten times a day. From the big room, Mo­ma­lee’s voice, sharp and un­fa­mil­iar, pierces the Evan­ge­line-and-moana world. “Isn’t it time to call the kids to the ta­ble?” “They’re happy. Leave them,” an­swers Mommy. Evan­ge­line nods fierce agree­ment. Mo­ma­lee, whose real name is Lee, who wants to be called Mo­ma­lee in­stead of Grandma like ev­ery­one else’s grand­mother, hardly ever vis­its them at home in DC. But she has joined in on their va­ca­tion in this house Daddy rented in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has beaches and palm trees and wild chick­ens, so it is ac­tu­ally like Moana’s Poly­ne­sian is­land as Daddy promised, ex­cept for be­ing garbagey in places, and up to now, not magic. Mo­ma­lee says, “I prob­a­bly shouldn’t ask, but did you con­sider mak­ing this a screen-free trip?” “Sure. For about five sec­onds.” Mommy’s voice. “Well?” Evan­ge­line’s in­sides scrunch to­gether. She clutches the lid of the ipad and cocks her ear to­ward the big room.

“Hon­estly, Lee, do you think we three would be en­joy­ing this peace­ful adult mo­ment to­gether if we didn’t let them watch? If that’s the va­ca­tion you wanted....” Mommy makes an im­pa­tient whoosh­ing sound. Mo­ma­lee says, “I’m not crit­i­ciz­ing your par­ent­ing, An­nie! But can you dis­miss the sci­ence? The neg­a­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween the amount of time young chil­dren spend in­ter­act­ing with screens, and their so­cial and in­tel­lec­tual de­velop—” There’s the dragon hiss of Daddy open­ing a beer. “Puleese, Mama! No lec­tures, okay? Not here. This is va­ca­tion.” “Oliver has trou­ble mak­ing eye con­tact!” “Maybe with you, Mama.” “You al­ways say such sweet things.” “I was kid­ding! Hey. I’m sorry. Smile?” Mo­ma­lee is silent. Evan­ge­line closes the lap­top com­pletely. Daddy says, “So, did I turn out such a bas­ket case? You used to let me and the bros watch TV every sin­gle night.” “For one hour, Hugh. Mon­i­tored. After home­work and chores.” Evan­ge­line has no clue what “chores” is. “Oh, Lee,” sighs Mommy. “These kids— our kids?— watch way less than your seven hours a week! No screens al­lowed on school nights. Strict rule.” Evan­ge­line rolls her eyes and slaps her hand over her mouth. “Mommy lied,” she whis­pers. Win­nie copies the eye roll per­fectly. “You gu-uys,” Mo­ma­lee calls in a chirpy voice. “Want to show me your movie?” Slow-mo­tion, like a pris­oner obey­ing orders, Evan­ge­line rolls off the bed, bal­anc­ing the ipad in two hands. Sand from her swim shirt driz­zles on the sheets. Oliver howls and throws his bot­tle full force, hit­ting Win­nie who howls louder and more fear­somely. Evan­ge­line is proud of how fear­some Win­nie can be. This is a real-life test. Mo­ma­lee has pow­ers. She has al­ready rocked the nor­mal ways of their fam­ily: what they can eat and when. Whose lap who gets to sit on in the rented Jeep. Evan­ge­line has to prove the ipad is a good thing. She sets it on the din­ing ta­ble where ev­ery­one can watch. Moana and her pig set sail against all the rules to cross the bar­rier reef. The waves are like black and miles high. Smil­ing, Evan­ge­line sways back and forth like the sea fans do. “This one could be a dancer,” says Mo­ma­lee. “So tall and grace­ful.” Evan­ge­line stops mov­ing. It’s true I look like Moana, she thinks. Ex­cept that my skin stays white from too much sun­screen. “Watch!” Evan­ge­line knows what is about to hap­pen, but still she jumps when Moana and the pig are pushed off the cata­ma­ran by the

whack­ing boom. The cata­ma­ran breaks into pieces. Moana is trapped miles un­der wa­ter with her foot stuck in spiny coral. “This is ter­ri­fy­ing,” shouts Mo­ma­lee over the cries of Oliver and Win­nie. “Typ­i­cal Dis­ney crap! Do you have scary night­mares, Evvie?” Evan­ge­line shakes her head. “Wait for the next part, guys. Will ev­ery­one be quiet, please?” Her sis­ter and brother pipe down. Moana smashes the coral with a rock. The waves gather, they love her, they lift her and save her. . . “An­nie, how often have they watched this movie?” “Tonight is only the sec­ond time,” says Mommy. Win­nie throws up, just a gob, from ex­cite­ment. Daddy swipes her chin with a kitchen towel. “Four times.” Evan­ge­line holds up her fingers proudly, know­ing it’s dan­ger­ous. But four is the truth. Mo­ma­lee shakes her head. “Let’s close the ma­chine now, sweet­ies, okay? I’ll read you a story in­stead, a brand new one—” She reaches a shaky hand to­ward the ipad. To shut it. But Evan­ge­line is quicker, dart­ing be­tween the grown-up bod­ies to snatch up the ipad and pro­tect it be­hind crossed arms. She walks back­ward firmly on her heels to­ward the bunk room. Her smile keeps slip­ping off her face. In­side the ipad, Moana is wait­ing. Evan­ge­line’s other sis­ter. No—evan­ge­line is Moana, re­ally. If they de­cide to take away Moana, Evan­ge­line will just die. Al­ready she can hardly suck in a breath. Oliver and Win­nie walk back­ward on each side of her, like guards. They are all in the bunk room now. Out­side the win­dows the sky is to­tally black, not soap­suds gray like at home. She mouths to Win­nie: Shut the door. Through the closed door, she can still hear Their voices. “You let her be­have like that? You let them get away with. . . never mind. Sorry. You’re the par­ents. I’ll stop. Not an­other word out of me. Ever.” “Jeez, Mama! We all love you. Don’t pull the mar­tyr thing!” Evan­ge­line slowly lifts the ipad’s sil­ver lid, like Aladdin open­ing the trea­sure chest. The screen blooms blue and orange. She flops on the bed with Win­nie and Oliver. They watch, breath­ing hard, head to head.

2. Hugh The trip was Hugh’s brain­storm. Two work­ing par­ents, three win­ter­stressed kids, all in need of air and sun and a break from Wash­ing­ton’s post-elec­tion mourn­ing. He booked the cot­tage for five days, sav­ing the fi­nal night for an “ecolodge” in the Na­tional Rain­for­est. He would hap­pily drive his kids up a hun­dred switch­backs to the top of El Yunque

for them to ex­pe­ri­ence the riches of this stu­pen­dous sanc­tu­ary. What could go wrong? Doubt kicks in at six a.m., as they bag up wet swim­suits while the kids mur­mur wist­fully, philo­soph­i­cally, about how sad to leave the cot­tage, the iguana at the bot­tom of the gar­den, the tame thrush in the lime tree, the sea tur­tles and jacks and par­rot­fish (in five days, Evan­ge­line has be­come an in­trepid snorkeler), Rocco’s Ta­co­ria, and can they at least keep the her­mit crabs? Oliver squats in a cor­ner, scratch­ing a bloody bug bite. When his grand­mother ap­proaches with Be­nadryl, he shrieks in ter­ror. They spray the kids 24/7, but arthro­pods find chinks. The word Zika is taboo. How bad are the mosquitoes in the rain­for­est? One self­ish Daddy. Ob­sessed with want­ing to show them the puls­ing, steam­ing world of El Yunque that he dis­cov­ered at age seven, on an im­promptu es­cape with Lee. Small boy, sin­gle mother, both awestruck at see­ing plants known only as tame win­dow dec­o­ra­tions in the States—ferns, poin­set­tias, or­chids—ex­plod­ing up to the clouds like Jack’s beanstalk. Citric green, red, yel­low, ooz­ing pur­ple . . . This won’t be the first time he has pushed the en­ve­lope to turn a vi­sion into re­al­ity. “But hey, Jerk­face,” he re­minds him­self, heav­ing pink plas­tic suit­cases into the back of the Jeep, “there’s times you nailed it.”

Casa Galena, nes­tled into the ver­dant flank of El Yunque, could be the set for A Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude. A ram­shackle war­ren of out­door cor­ri­dors and low-railed ter­races that a bois­ter­ous child could eas­ily tum­ble over. Tree­tops two hun­dred feet be­low. Some­where close by, a cataract roars non­stop, only its high-spi­ral­ing spume vis­i­ble. Are they the only guests? The grim pro­pri­etress, some­where be­tween eighty and in­fin­ity, shakes like a spi­der thread in a breeze. Her hefty son, on his knees, fid­dles with a balky modem. “No in­ter­net, so no phone. Sorry, folks.” “Oh, no prob­lem!” Hugh as­sures. But no restau­rant ei­ther? Win­nie whis­pers, “Daddy, I’m starv­ing.” Hugh lifts her up, a slimy bun­dle of car sweat. Jeal­ous Oliver tack­les his leg. “Easy, soldier, I’ve told you, don’t pull Daddy’s shorts down.” An­nie hag­gles with their hosts for food. Who cares if the innkeep­ers la­bel them ir­re­spon­si­ble, im­prov­i­dent par­ents? Evan­ge­line moans, eyes rolled up white, clutch­ing her lit­tle stom­ach. She is ninety-fifth per­centile in height and per­ilously beau­ti­ful. A Bot­ti­celli maiden, one friend said. Hugh suf­fers night­mare flash­for­wards of his daugh­ter at fif­teen be­ing ab­ducted by aliens to a Paris Vogue photo shoot.

His mother, her ex­pres­sion un­usu­ally con­tent and con­cen­trated, is spoon­ing the last cup of yo­gurt into three kids’ ea­ger bird beaks. Now they will let her come near them! Some­thing vel­vety ca­resses his leg. Star­tled, he looks down at shim­mer­ing cop­per feath­ers. Puerto Rico must have more chick­ens than hu­mans. They are ev­ery­where, peck­ing, fly­ing, perched in trees to scold the mangy cats be­low. An hour later, the pro­pri­etress’s homemade chicken sand­wiches taste de­li­cious.

Evan­ge­line leads the way down to­ward the first rock pool, her se­quined sneak­ers sparkling on the sun-dap­pled path, Win­nie at her heels. Next go Lee and An­nie with back­packs. Hugh cov­ers the rear, wear­ing a mas­sive pack from his ser­vice days sten­ciled “Sea-raiders.” Oliver strad­dling his shoul­ders. “An easy hike to the first rock-pool,” the pro­pri­etress as­sured them. But un­der the tree canopy the path quickly nar­rows, steep­ens. Pea-shot peb­bles al­ter­nate with patches of wet leaves big as plates. The chil­dren are laugh­ing, slip­ping, ac­cel­er­at­ing. Lee says, “Watch your feets, you guys! Don’t go head over teacup out here. We don’t want any sprained an­kles.” “Lis­ten to Mo­ma­lee. She’s giv­ing you some good ad­vice.” Hugh smiles at his mother’s back. She is a trooper, pat­ting the rock face for hand­holds, brac­ing her­self, de­ter­mined, for a leap from root to root. She’s thin­ner than Evan­ge­line. And not as strong. Maybe it’s her he should worry about out here on the climb, not the kids. He tends to for­get her age— Well, just as she does. Sud­denly the water­fall sur­rounds them. Above, ahead, and rush­ing down moun­tain to the dis­tant sea. A per­pen­dic­u­lar white­wa­ter tor­rent, sluic­ing over boul­ders big as ele­phant rumps. Hugh, peer­ing up moun­tain into the sun’s glare for the in­dis­cernible ori­gin, is un­bal­anced by the clamor, the bright­ness, the height. The re­lent­less power of the churn­ing wa­ter. He crouches, to set his son down on solid ground. Although the rock pool here looks calm and invit­ing, it un­nerves Hugh and An­nie. On the north edge, a wide lip pours like a tipped caul­dron over boul­ders and ra­zor-edge crags down to where the next pool waits, in­vis­i­ble, maybe a quar­ter mile be­low. He and An­nie wade in, strug­gling and slip­ping, to cor­don off the lip. Team­work. The kids have put each other’s wa­ter wings on and are al­ready splash­ing into the shal­low side. Their grand­mother—test­ing her foot­ing and the cur­rent, and pre­oc­cu­pied, as often, with her own sit­u­a­tion—pays them no mind.

She even throws Hugh a look he reads as scoff­ing, as in, Aren’t you two be­ing some­what over-pro­tec­tive? She’s thrown that look be­fore. Evan­ge­line dog-pad­dles up­stream against the cur­rent to Daddy’s out­stretched hands, pip­ing with pride like the lime-tree thrush. Win­nie’s sil­hou­ette darts above him along a boul­der, a baby goat scram­bling over the rocks, herded by her biped mother. Mo­ma­lee holds naked Oliver up to ex­am­ine a pur­ple orchid that hangs from a crevice like a bellpull. This is the other Hugh, the one con­stantly track­ing and check­ing those he’s re­spon­si­ble for, those he loves, vig­i­lance swivel­ing 360. The Hugh who trained as a Ma­rine Sea Raider and served in a jun­gle that was Hell’s dou­ble-down to this rain gar­den’s Eden, where no one knew or would ever ad­mit U.S. op­er­a­tives were present. The Hugh who was lucky not to have come home with de­bil­i­tat­ing para­noia like too many of the guys. With the Raider ap­peased, the Vi­sion Maker re­turns. My God, look at these kids! They’re in heaven. A day of shared dis­cov­er­ies, mem­o­ries... is what makes a fam­ily. He lifts Evan­ge­line high out of the wa­ter and calls, “Hey, every­body! Who’s feel­ing the burn? Who wants to push on to the next pool?”

To pick up the trail again they still must tra­verse two thirds of the water­fall, scal­ing slip­pery boul­ders. Hugh shoul­ders first his pack, tow­els dan­gling from its davits, then his son. The girls are nim­ble as geckos, but Lee, chary of heights, strug­gles and falls be­hind. Drop­ping to all fours she even­tu­ally pro­gresses, spi­der-like. Hugh watches with pained ten­der­ness. Lee won’t give up her ratty bikini, while An­nie, lovely and rounded after three preg­nan­cies, wears a mod­est one-piece. It’s An­nie who leads in­land now, hold­ing Win­nie’s hand. Here, lower in the canopy, only iso­lated shafts of sun­light strike through the gi­ant bam­boo and ferns. Rope-thick vines loop down­ward from roots an­chored high over­head. The ground is pud­dle pocked, lit­tered with enor­mous palm fronds, five or six feet long, clubbed at one end. Win­nie and Evan­ge­line try to lift one. Too heavy. A mud­hole sucks off Evan­ge­line’s sneaker. Her com­plaints are ig­nored. “There’s no turn­ing back now, guys!” Why not, Daddy? he asks him­self. Be­cause. . . giv­ing up is not part of the ex­pe­ri­ence he planned for them. “There! I see it! The next pool!” Evan­ge­line jabs her in­dex fin­ger down through the green to­ward a sil­very glow. “Good job,” praises An­nie. Win­nie prances. But Hugh’s mother stops short. She looks back, up­ward at her son. Is this too much, has her stamina sud­denly run out? The nar­row stretch of trail ahead is nearly thirty-five de­grees steep, paved with rot­ting mango leaves.

Evan­ge­line be­gins a con­trolled side­ways slide down the chute. “Do like me, guys. . . Mo­ma­lee, don’t be ner­vous, I’m show­ing you how!” Yes. They are be­gin­ning to in­clude Mo­ma­lee. Let her call her­self any goofy name she wants. He sets Oliver down in or­der to reach for his iphone. We will frame this pic­ture . . . “Lee, don’t do that!” An­nie’s cry of warn­ing. “Those vines won’t hold your—” Hugh glances up from the iphone. His tee­ter­ing mother has grabbed a hand­ful of vines to steady her­self. As the im­pro­vised rope shreds, she slides down the chute, grasp­ing in panic for an­other vine-braid. This one, for the mo­ment, bears her weight. She swings back and forth on it, a skinny white bell clap­per. And then comes an in­fer­nal clat­ter­ing racket, like a downed he­li­copter crash­ing through trees. A pro­jec­tile six feet long, clubbed at one end, fans his face, barely misses Oliver and his mother. The scream comes from Evan­ge­line. She lies sprawled, head down­hill in the mud, the palm frond across her back. She is howl­ing, pan­icked high-pitched cries. His mind flashes on the caged macaws at Rocco’s, the green and red scream­ers. His daugh­ter in her red bathing suit un­der a green frond. In his mind, he sees a jun­gle in­sur­gent: green cam­mies, bright slashes of blood. Slight as a school­boy. Hugh’s text­book kill. This in less than the sec­onds it takes to reach his daugh­ter, yank away the dead weight of the palm frond. Later he will won­der at how the mind roams, in­fin­itely quick in time and space. “Daddy. Help me.” Evan­ge­line only senses him near. She stares straight ahead into the for­est, wide-eyed. See­ing what or whom? Blood trick­ling through her light brown hair. Bold red stripes down her cheek. The blue eyes spared, thank God. Shoul­der lac­er­ated. Darker, ve­nous blood welling on her thigh. An­nie kneels in the mud be­side him. “Hugh, my God, her leg.” Evan­ge­line whim­pers. “I’m scared.” “Hush baby, it’s all right, you’re go­ing to be fine, it’s over, you’re safe. Mommy’s right here, Daddy’s here, we’re all to­gether—” Try to gauge the ex­tent of in­jury. And com­fort his ter­ri­fied first­born, as he was able in her first hours, dis­cov­er­ing the heal­ing power of his low, slow voice. Deep gash. Scars. No fu­ture model this one. How the mind roams. “Evvie, hey, can you move your arms for me? Hey, that’s ex­cel­lent! And your legs, just a lit­tle? Fan­tas­tic.” Wrap the leg tight in a twisted

towel. Pres­sure ban­dage. He de­cides it is rea­son­able to lift her in his arms. Care­ful with the blood­ied leg. Evan­ge­line sobs into him, into her­self, shak­ing. He turns to his mother. What­ever she sees in his face makes her hold up her wob­bly splayed hand like a screen. “It wasn’t me, Hugh! Not my fault! I didn’t make that thing, what­ever it was, come down. And I wasn’t any­where near her—” De­fen­sive. Selfob­sessed. Not a thought for the child. She, Hugh’s mother, doesn’t give a shit about them. All that mat­ters is her fuck­ing self-im­age. “You could have killed my daugh­ter.” An­nie’s cool palm on his hot back. “Sweetie. Deep breath, okay? Let’s just—not blame. It wasn’t your mother’s fault. I saw it hap­pen. These palm fronds fall all the time. Lee. . . her pulling on the vines was.. . a co­in­ci­dence.” Hugh looks around. The lit­tler ones stare back, somber. He starts back up the trail with Evan­ge­line in his arms, her keen­ing in rhythm with his steps. His mind flashes on an il­lus­tra­tion of Abra­ham and Isaac. At the first pool he will wash as much of the mud and de­bris from her wounds as pos­si­ble. Christ knows what kind of bac­te­ria breed in this mud. Or should he not touch the leg? De­cide, damn it! The innkeeper had boasted about the pu­rity of the El Yunque Falls wa­ter. Drink­able, in fact. The peas­ants trek all the way up here with can­is­ters, for this wa­ter. Be­lieve her? De­cide.

3. Lee “I no­tice you are shak­ing, Señora. Ev­ery­thing co­pacetic?” The driver has been watch­ing Lee’s at­tempts to reg­u­late the air-con­di­tion­ing vents. “More or less, Max­imo. Been a long day. Well, you should know! I’m fine. No wor­ries.” She folds her arms to im­mo­bi­lize them, re­signed to the freez­ing AC blast. Em­bar­rassed by the echo of her voice. When had it be­come so shrill? And why not tell him the truth? I have the shakes. The neuro says there’s no cure. The truth wants out. “It’s age, that’s all. I’m old.” Max­imo, swoosh­ing the van in and out of the left lane to pass a jer­ry­built truck full of mud-caked cows des­tined for the slaugh­ter­house, pays no mind. He is re­as­sur­ingly burly, fifty-some­thing with gelled hair, knobby fea­tures, a creased neck and, un­der his pale-blue striped polo shirt, a drum-taut beer belly. His cell phone rings for the umpteenth time. He an­swers in Span­ish. They’ve been to­gether since seven in the morn­ing. They’ve used up weather and food, and bonded sur­pris­ingly over pol­i­tics—ap­par­ently Trump is ma­nip­u­lat­ing the Puerto Ri­cans so they’ll vote against state-

hood. Now the sun is set­ting over the van­ish­ing point of the high­way, throw­ing a burnt-orange wash over the strip malls, chicken joints, weed lots, frail houses, and oc­ca­sional shiny beige win­dow­less U.S. mega­s­tores (CVS, TJ Maxx) that line the ap­proach to San Juan. Since they left Lee’s fam­ily at the hos­pi­tal close to El Yunque, the van feels haunted in its hol­low­ness. The evening be­fore, after the ac­ci­dent and their ex­haust­ing trek with ev­ery­one in shock back up moun­tain to the inn, Hugh drove Evan­ge­line in the Jeep to the near­est hos­pi­tal, in Caguas. An­nie and Lee stayed the night at Casa Galena with the small ones, bat­tling squalls of mosquitoes and watch­ing any­thing Win­nie wished for on the ipad. In the morn­ing, Max­imo’s van, sent by Hugh, was wait­ing to fetch them. On the drive down, Win­nie and Oliver, each clench­ing a bot­tle by the nip­ple be­tween their teeth, clung to their mother, cry­ing in turns. An­nie kept try­ing with no luck to reach Hugh on her cell. Only Max­imo ad­dressed a word to Lee, the pariah. She tried to chat, her stom­ach awash with ap­pre­hen­sion. When they fi­nally en­tered the hos­pi­tal lobby, Lee saw only Evan­ge­line. Wear­ing dou­ble john­nies, her thigh swathed in a pla­s­ticky ban­dage; the girl was prac­tic­ing hop­ping on a sin­gle crutch. The leg wasn’t bro­ken, then! Lee’s left hand started flap­ping more wildly than usual—emo­tion made the tre­mor worse. She swiped away un­wanted tears. Evan­ge­line’s pure, pale face, now cleaned up, was scraped along the fore­head, but no stitches. So, no scars. Or maybe there’d be a slight one, more like a beauty mark... “Sweetie, come here, let Mo­ma­lee see you!” Lee dropped into a catcher’s crouch, arms spread wide. Evan­ge­line turned away. An­nie and the chil­dren flew to Hugh. Hoist­ing up Oliver, he turned to Max­imo. “Man, we’ve al­ready missed our flight. But my mother’s plane, back to Prov­i­dence? Doesn’t leave un­til seven tonight. How much more to drive her now to the air­port in San Juan?” His low­est, gravest voice. Lee straight­ened, use­less arms dan­gling. Hugh passed Max­imo a folded hun­dred-dol­lar bill. An­nie said, “Safe land­ings, Lee. Be sure to call.” Hugh touched Lee’s shoul­der. She had no idea what he wanted to con­vey. Did he know? Evan­ge­line hopped dili­gently back and forth, long auburn hair swing­ing to hide her face. Two of the peo­ple Lee loves most—the only ones left whom she can love—shut her out.

“That was my son call­ing.” Max­imo slides his cell back into its car-hol­ster. “I have two girls and a boy. Like you. But all three grown up now.”

“Those aren’t mine, you know that, I’m only the grand­mother. Max­imo, I apol­o­gize for all the cry­ing on the drive this morn­ing. It’s not the way I raised my chil­dren—” “Oh, tell me about it! But you can’t say zip, right? Just makes for bad feel­ings all around.” And so, they are off to the races, as Lee’s own mother would have said. Lee about the ipads and teeth-rot­ting bot­tles and lack of re­spon­sive­ness, Max­imo about talk­ing back and shoplift­ing and dope and hang­ing with the wrong gang. “And now, will you be­lieve it, here in PR they passed a law you can’t phys­i­cally dis­ci­pline on your own child.” Lee says, “Well. . . I don’t think spank­ing ac­com­plishes much. My kids were sent to their rooms. Or—some­times a look was enough.” She is proud of that, still. “When noth­ing else works? My boy who I just talked to. Diego. To­day he has a good job and a fam­ily, but a cou­ple years ago he was on the wrong track, smok­ing weed, cut­ting school. He said, ‘You can’t stop me!’ My wife said, ‘You go­ing to let him do that, talk to you like that?’ I waited. One day he came in stink­ing drunk. I hit him across the face. A few times. He said, ‘You can’t do that! I’ll call the cops, they’ll put you jail!’ I said, ‘No prob­lem, you go ahead and call them. While we are wait­ing for them to ar­rive, I’ll give you a beat­ing like you never had. Then they can put me in jail. And when I get out, I’ll come beat you all over again and maybe worse for your dis­re­spect!’ And I laid into him at that point. I let him have ev­ery­thing I’d saved up. My hands hurt for a week after. He was hurt very bad, bleed­ing on the floor. ‘ Now call the po­lice!’ I said. He just lay there cry­ing. For days he didn’t talk to me. He lost a cou­ple teeth, couldn’t hear too well for a while. And you know what?” The last thing she wants is to know more. “One day he comes to me and says, ‘Dad, I am sorry. I was wrong. I want your par­don.’ He thanked me. He saw he needed the dis­ci­pline. After that, he never smoked or got into any kind of trou­ble. My boy Diego. See what I’m say­ing, about rais­ing kids? Give up the au­thor­ity, you have failed the job. You and me, Señora, we know.” Lee stares straight ahead at the red ball of sun sus­pended be­tween the sturdy high-rises of San Juan. See­ing the man be­side her in a cold, an­i­mal rage, smash­ing the face of his son who is down plead­ing on the floor. A shiver grips her from head to foot. In­com­pre­hen­sion. Re­vul­sion. Let him think it’s the blast of the van’s AC. She pic­tures her three rooms in Prov­i­dence. The win­dowsill plants dried out in her ab­sence, maybe past re­viv­ing. And then she re­al­izes what the driver’s just told her: that in fam­i­lies, ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble things are for­given every day.

What she did wasn’t ter­ri­ble! Stupid, maybe, and clumsy for sure, and thought­less—if she did any­thing at all. What do you bet that when she walks into her apart­ment, the phone will be ring­ing like crazy? Her son Hugh call­ing, ea­ger to hear that she’s home safe.

4. Evan­ge­line The ipad only has “16%” left. That is life-threat­en­ing. “Life-threat­en­ing” is one of the new doc­tor words Evan­ge­line has learned in the past week in Alexan­dria Hos­pi­tal, which is a gazil­lion times big­ger than the one in Puerto Rico. Also “IV drip” (the yel­low tube taped into her arm) and “van­comycin” and “re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion” and “staph in­fec­tion” and “pros­the­sis.” Ex­cept she doesn’t yet ex­actly know what pros­the­sis means. But she will fig­ure it out, she al­ways does. When they talk to each other, do they think that just be­cause she’s watch­ing the Moana movie, she’s deaf? Be­fore the ac­ci­dent, she was such a baby, think­ing they couldn’t hear her and Moana singing to­gether. She’s smarter now, grow­ing up fast like Moana does: first a baby sav­ing baby tur­tles, then the Chief’s daugh­ter in the coun­cils (Evan­ge­line is so the Chief’s daugh­ter!), and soon the coura­geous one who, against the Chief’s rules, will keep on try­ing to sail be­yond the bar­rier reef un­til she makes it— Evan­ge­line slams her fist on the but­ton next to her bed. Fi­nally a nurse comes. What now, girl? Evan­ge­line holds up the ipad. The nurse shrugs and plugs it into the wall for her. Evan­ge­line can com­mand these nurses with­out any words. The grownups here don’t like her. She won’t let them! The nurse peo­ple change all the time. The doc­tor calls her “we” and “us.” “We have to be brave,” he says. We? He is a craazy dude. Here, they won’t let her get down from this cage-bed, let alone prac­tice go­ing fast on crutches. She’s not sick! Just that her hurt leg has a drum­ming in­side it, like drums on Moana’s is­land. Just that she is a lot tired. Who wouldn’t be? They make her stay in bed all day! Evan­ge­line misses Win­nie and Oliver. A lot. She cry-sings their names when she is alone. When they are al­lowed in to visit, they reach hands up try­ing to hug her, but the IV and ban­dages are in the way. The nurse pulls them back. The ceil­ing light is achingly bright and the grownups on guard. So the three of them can’t get back into the ipad’s world to­gether. But they hud­dle close, and stroke it like a pet.

She begs Mommy and Daddy: “Let’s go back to Puerto Rico. I don’t care if it’s garbagey. This room smells aw­fuller.”

They say, “Ab­so­lutely we’ll go back. Hey, it’s not like Puerto Rico is about to dis­ap­pear!” “Only, Moana’s is­land dis­ap­peared.” “That was only a movie, Evan­ge­line. Hey, want to see our pho­tos again?” “Prom­ise me, Daddy.” “We’ll go back soon as you. . . can get on a plane.”

Evan­ge­line hums, “How far I’ll go.” One thing she learned from Moana is, if you want some­thing hard enough, you can make it hap­pen.

Pros­the­sis. That’s the magic word. To open the swing­ing doors, to let her out of this bed, out of this hos­pi­tal. Pros­the­sis. Moana was trapped un­der wa­ter by the coral. She got out easy; she smashed it with a rock to make it let go of her foot. But what if the coral was stronger, and the only way for Moana to es­cape drown­ing would have been to smash off her own leg? The warm ipad hum­ming against her cheek makes her teeth buzz and tickle. She laughs qui­etly. She’s com­pletely ready for the life-threat­en­ing ad­ven­ture ahead. It’s the one way out from here, the only way Evan­ge­line and Moana can push past the reefs into free­dom. Into the fierce and beau­ti­ful open sea.

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