That evening there were twelve kids at our lawn party. The grownups were noisily conversing to notice that the littlest boy was eating away at the candy from the colorful bottle sitting next to the ketchup and relish on the food table.
I really don’t remember when or who it was that introduced our family to our first bottle of whatever that was, but I remember that the introduction was followed by “It’s what they take in such and such a country for heartburn and sour stomach.” Since then, that good old bottle of whatever that was has been an integral part of all our celebrations.
Some of us had gotten used to seeing that plastic bottle on tables that it made us think that not having it meant a lack of proper hospitality.
On one similar celebratory occasion, we had been made to understand that we were only allowed to have one tablet for the entirety of an evening. The tablets contained in the bottle came in all different colors and each color was a different flavor.
Leonora and I were fond of the color purple and we each took one of the grape flavored tablets when offered. It wasn’t caramelized like hard candy and neither did it dissolve easily in our mouths. Yet its sweet flavor was released slowly enough to entice even the young palate of children. The part about these being for heartburn and sour stomach, registered only as grown-up talk, as none of us knew what having a sour stomach or heartburn even meant.
Leonora and I lived next door to each other on a street closest to the beach. Never did a day go by without I going over to Leonora’s house, or she coming over to mine. Our houses were separated in the middle by a green mesh fence that was removable. Long iron poles with hooks at the top and at the bottom held the mesh in place. The mesh ran all the way around the four corners of our yards. Our families each raised chickens and they didn’t want our chickens to roam too far away from their respective coops.
This fence was a good fence. At times it acted as a great net for when Leonora and I played badminton and also for secretly calling out to each other when we didn’t want anyone else to hear us calling. A few simple kicks in the right place and our suzus would ring out with secret messages to one another. Some messages would say ‘meet you at the library or at the park in 10 minutes’, or ‘I’m angry or sad’, or just plain-old ‘wanna come over’. We referred to our fence as our very own Morse-code device.
Our parents were friendly to each other as well, but they didn’t have a way of calling out to each other like we did. Our mothers would stand close to the fence and talk and laugh with each other, but that’s all they did.
On some special occasions like national holidays or long weekends, we’d shu all the chickens in after their morning strolls around the yard, lock the coops and roll back the fence on the side where we shared a green lawn. Our parents loved to have cookouts. They would set tables to sit our two families and sometimes they’d even invite one or two other families. Then there were the other tables on which they’d place the food and drinks for that day.
Leonora and I liked it when our families did this, as then we were allowed to stay out longer than usual without having to think about whose turn it was to do the dishes or to empty the trash cans or tiresome decisions like that. We would eat and drink as much as we wanted and we’d play games as long as we could.
The food was always very good, but it always disturbed us to see our parents and all the other grown-ups eat too much and drink too much of everything.
“This is an amazing party,” the kids would say and then we’d continue playing our childish games.
Minutes later, Mrs. Garcia was running behind Mr. Garcia who carried little Marvin curled up and unconscious in his arms. In her haste, Mrs. Garcia left her shoes behind in our yard. Mother found them and had me and Leonora run after Mrs. Garcia to return the shoes.
The couple and the boy were nowhere in sight. Stopping by their house revealed to us that home was not where they had headed with their child.
“Let’s go to the hospital,” I said to Leonora.
The Macondo Hospital wasn’t far from where we lived, so holding one shoe each, we raced each other to get there.
A full day out in the sun and now the exercise found us gasping for fresh air when we arrived. We gulped down a big breath of air to replenish our starved lungs but copious amounts pee and something else scurried in instead. It wasn’t a pleasant smell. Neither Leonora nor I had ever been in the emergency room before, so the unfamiliarity of the smell and the place had us feeling light-headed and weak at the knees. We determined to take short, sporadically-paced breaths as we sat there and waited.
People came and went in the emergency-room, yet no one seemed available enough for us to make a quick inquiry about the whereabouts of The Garcias. Still, we waited thinking that perhaps The Garcias were being held up in consultation with a doctor.
“We’ve been here long enough already” Leonora reasoned after a while, “new patients have gone in and have left already. Perhaps The Garcias didn’t come here after all.”
On our return home, we had no energy for running. The unfamiliar odor had impregnated our nostrils, and it seemed to have penetrated all the way up to our brains causing us to walk with lethargic movements.
The early evening sea-breeze felt good on our foreheads. We each still carried a shoe in one hand just like before, but we held it with a little trepidation.
The adults had cleaned up the party place, put all the garbage in bags and left-over food had been properly distributed among the families. The tables were folded and returned to the shed, and the mesh fence hung back on the poles. They lingered waiting for news of little Marvin and his family. The women collected all the tablets that were scattered on the ground.
“The yellow tablets are fewer than the other colors,” someone said. I saw them exchange glances but no words were spoken after that.
With slouched shoulders and heavy feet everyone walked out of our yard.
“Please God,” I prayed, “don’t let this be true.”