A bluish-colored vase has stood for a couple of days between the plants in our garden, fourteen stories up. We still don’t have a clear idea of what we are going to do with the ashes of my grandparents. For now, they are sheltered among the ferns and shaded by the trumpet tree that grows over the balcony wall. My mother managed, after appealing to friends and materially encouraging the necessary officials, to cremate her parents, who were lying in a public vault in Columbus Cemetery. After the action of the fire, the result came to rest inside a clay container which shows, in every inch, that it contains the remains of a person.
Inside the amphora are Ana and Elisha, the two grandparents with whom I was born and raised in a tenement in Central Havana. She washed and ironed for the street, he worked on the railroad and smoked his pipe before two curious little girls who were my sister and me. Both semi-literate, they had raised a small family to the pounding of the washboard and soap, the pick and shovel on the railroad. The two of them exhibited that mix of genius and authority that made us love and fear them. They had Asturian and Canary Island blood, maybe that’s why “Papán” delighted in country music and everyone in the neighborhood nicknamed Ana “the Galician.” Their prized possessions were a wardrobe and a mahogany bed, and a china cabinet with cups we could never use because they were only decorations for the small dining-living-bedroom.
My grandfather died the same year as the Mariel boatlift. His heart was padded with the fat from the pork cracklings he liked so much. He went in peace and left Ana in her new state of widowhood for at least five years. Her leaving was much sadder: she was sitting in the wrong chair in El Lluera cafeteria, when a couple of drunks came in throwing bottles and one hit her on the forehead. Our time with our grandparents came to an speedy end. Goodbye to being spoiled, stockings mended by skilled hands, and warm milk to see us to bed. In all this time I never went to see their graves, but the grey granite could not replace the memories I had of them. Today — stubbornly — they have returned to be with me, in a small vase as simple and ephemeral as their own lives.