VÁSQUEZ FLOWERS AND GIFTS
Four days before Abuela’s funeral, Mama and Tía and I go to Vásquez Flowers and Gifts to buy
an arrangement for her altar at the church. But this place has always been something more, a
staple of my childhood—before we even reach the nursery at the back of the store, before we
even step through the door, I run my hands over ceramic watering cans, bunches of dried
lavender tied together with string, cacti surrounded by small pebbles in their pot. Fountains
pouring water out of their spouts and into themselves, statues of frogs, several holding umbrellas in their webbed hands, a large crate with blankets inside, the space missing its occupants. Inside, Mama and Tía discuss their vision with a woman named Cathy and I regret not bringing my money and having to leave behind a crinkled plastic package of Lupy Lups!, the world’s softest cotton candy, instead of taking it home where it would stain my teeth pink and leave my lips chapped and sticky and wanting. I mourn for the pearl barrettes, too, the bracelets woven out of string and carrying cactus charms like offerings, crowns for quinceañera girls, rosary beads, face masks with a sign pricing them $10.95 “except when marked different,” purple crystals, a grey and white-furred cat meowing to be let outside, comfort rocks with Bible verses engraved into their faces, black ink stiff against the stone. Mini chandeliers, tiny staples stuck in the ceiling and one loose string of hair, ceramic kitchen tiles, caramel tobacco scented candles, earrings with tassels like the ends of curtain ropes, statues of fat angels reaching for my knees, a tortoiseshell cat stealthy, avoiding my legs, fairy lights and sun hats, cookies shaped like Beetles and three-tier cakes and Easter eggs. Cheap wedding dresses, tie-dye and bohemian wear, recycled clothes I would never wear in a million years, and there, Cathy with a clipboard and a click-top pen, Cathy who leads us through an inch-wide aisle in the mess, the small world of so many things, Cathy in front of Tía, Tía in front of Mama, and Mama in front of me. Then all the flowers in front of us four—angel’s trumpets, pink carnations, chrysanthemums, tulips in every color. We examine, we deliberate, we pay $32 for a bouquet of white lilies and marchesa boccellas because Abuela loved roses and flowers that look as though made of paper mache, halfway through blooming, unfolding, opening up, flowers that make Tía go, a pleased note in her voice, I just knew you would have what we wanted. We make plans to pick them up that Saturday, write down Cathy’s note to host the stems in water for the next two nights—it’s a funeral, no wilting, she says—and I try to imagine if Abuela would’ve been pleased or picky as usual but as judgmental as she was, she hardly ever voiced her thoughts because her face was so often enough. And suddenly, I think, Will she like what I’m wearing on the day she is buried or do I have to change, will I have to dig out the iron, what, if anything, would she say about what I’m wearing now—loose-skinned leggings and sneakers with holes opening up in the toes and, zipped up beneath a sweatshirt from previous days but still visible to passerby, an old striped t-shirt with the same illustration of a Boston Terrier printed on the fabric over and over again? What do you wear when you’re buying flowers for your grandmother’s funeral? I asked Mama before we left but we were about to go shopping for the dead, so maybe that’s why she didn’t know and why nobody else did either, despite the silence. Despite feeling the same.
Sofía Aguilar is a Latina writer and editor originally from Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Palabritas, Melanin. Magazine, and The Westchester Review, among other publications. As a first-generation college graduate, she earned a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a two-time recipient of the Nancy Lynn Schwartz Prize for Fiction, a Best of the Net nominee, and a finalist for the Academy of American Poets College Prize. You can find her at sofiaaguilar.com.
"Dia de los Muertos is a time to celebrate the dead and passed on collectively with my loved ones, to remember them despite the ache is may cause inside. Because it's only by remembering that we keep the deceased living forever."