She has been my grandmother for as long as I can remember, and my mother says that she has been ever since I was born, though I don't remember that. Her name is Conchetta, but everyone calls her Frances. Except me, that is. I call her Mama Rosa, because I like how it sounds. Sometimes she calls me Elena (because it's my name), and sometimes she calls me her Rojo Diablo. That is what she used to call my mother until she had children and started doing grown-up things. That makes me Rojo Diablo II, I guess, but that's not what Mama Rosa says.
She says the Rojo Diablo is all one, never more than one. The spirit is passed down, unconsciously, to the next generation of wild flame-tressed Spanish babies. My hair is red. My mother's hair is red, too, except mine comes from God and hers comes out of a bottle she buys at the drugstore. Sometimes Jimmy calls my mother his Rojo Diablo, but then Mama Rosa gives him a look and he doesn't say it anymore.
Jimmy is my mother's special friend. This is what my mother said to me.
"But really, Nacha," Mama Rosa would say, "the girl isn't a baby any more. She's almost eleven." Then my mother said that Jimmy was going to be my new dad. I told her I don't want a new dad, that she's the only one I want. Jimmy will never do. I have to be careful around him. He's pretty high strung. Sometimes he gets really mad and starts to cry, and only my mother can bring him back to us. I don't know why he cries. I used to think that once you weren't a kid, it was against the law to cry, but that was before I met Jimmy.
Jimmy works at Peter Johnson's car dealership in town. Every morning he slicks his hair back, and my mother sweeps by him wearing her Wind Song perfume, and he always says the same thing.
"Hmmm, Nacha, you smell like a summer's breeze." Mama Rosa and me say puke city. Then I giggle and sing "Her Wind Song stays on my mind," like the man in the commercial, and my mother pretends it's not funny and tells me I watch too much TV.
After Jimmy leaves for work, Mama Rosa sits down to watch Wheel of Fortune, and my mother and I sometimes go for a walk in the park, which is in the very middle of Frisco. My mother always says since we live in the city, we never say Frisco, we say San Francisco. But I say Frisco because San Franciso is too damn long. Also, my mother says that damn is not a very nice word and where do I get this stuff. I say, you say it all the time when you are late and traffic is backed up, and then she is quiet for awhile.
One day we are in the park, sitting on the grass next to the swan's pond, licking vanilla ice-cream cones, when a little girl loses her balloon. It is white and floats higher and higher until it blends with the clouds and we can't see it anymore. It's almost like it has become a cloud. When it was on earth it was nothing special, but now people can look up at it and say it looks like a unicorn, or maybe a bullfrog.
The little girl is devastated, and her face crumples faster than a flyer left on a Buick windshield on a stormy day. She is with her dad, and he doesn't really know what to say. I ask my mother to hold my increasingly drippy cone and I get up. I explain to the girl about my cloud theory, and she smiles at me. I love it when toddlers smile after they've been crying. It's like the rainbow after the storm. Her daddy looks thankful and Mama looks proud.
When we get home, Mama says she feels sick and she goes to the bathroom. Mama Rosa is watching the 49ers on the television, and I go and sit next to her on our couch. She smiles and pulls the worn afghan so I can share it. Steve Young makes a bad throw, and Mama Rosa yells at the TV. When she gets mad, her broken English words get fewer and farther between until soon she is letting loose a steady stream of mostly incomprehensible Spanish dialect. After a while she settles down, and I fall asleep on her shoulder.
When I wake up, it's loud. There are lots of people at the house and Mama Rosa is saying something about why didn't those hospital people take care of her Nacha. She starts with the dialect talk again. I get scared. I run over to Jimmy, who is sitting in a kitchen chair, with his head between his legs. When I tap him on the shoulder, he is crying. I wonder why everyone is mad. Jimmy puts me on his lap and tells me Mama had an aneurysm and died. For a moment I sit shocked, a piece of lead in my stomach. Then me and Jimmy cry together, and I realize that he isn't mad anymore.
Once I feel a little better, I tell Jimmy about the park that day, so maybe he'll feel better. Then I think, Oh, oh, because he cries even harder. He's getting my dress pretty wet. Jimmy looks up at me and manages a couple of words.
"Baby, don't you see? I was her balloon! She was my little girl; she was my connection with earth; my lifeline. Without her I'll float away. I'll never be able to come down!" He chokes back another sob. I am pretty much okay now, though a couple of stray tears trickle down my cheeks every so often. Everything is quiet for a while, and Mama Rosa is just standing and looking out the window, shaking her noble head and muttering softly, sadly.
I take my hand and lift up Jimmy's chin until I can look into his eyes. It is hard to say what I say, but I mean it. "Jimmy, I will be your little girl. I'll be your Rojo Diablo."
He looks startled for a minute, and even Mama Rosa turns. He smiles broadly through his tears. His rainbow after the storm. 1
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.