Playing Boda

"Al fin el recreo!" Rocio ran out first, her long black braids flying behind her, into the patio de la escuela, to the big tree, where just yesterday she and her friends had hidden their wire ring, inside the cave, a deep hollow in the trunk.
El recreo wasn't long so they jumped into their wedding game exactly where they had left off. Charito took out a white mantilla folded on top of her sandwich in her lunch box. She put the mantilla on her tight, dark brown curls that she insisted had once been photographed for a Breck shampoo advertisement the last time she and her mother had gone to the City to shop. Mariposa took off a tiara she'd been wearing on her long black hair and put it on top of Charito's mantilla. "This wedding veil parece de verdad." Her mother was Violeta Silva, from the telenovelas, and when she was a little girl she'd gotten the tiara from one of her mother's costumes. Mariposa was good at not losing or breaking her toys. Ednita reached into the tree cave for the ring she had made by winding wire. She removed the blue ribbon from her straight yellow hair and made it into a bow around her neck. It was Charito and Ednita's turn to be bride and groom.
Mariposa squatted on the ground collecting branches. "Ya se!" Her waist long black curls bounced as she ran to the croton border on the edge of the school yard. She broke off three branches of the yellow, brown, and red speckled leaves. She looked around and saw that Mrs. Davis wasn't watching. Their teacher was on the far end of the yard. Mariposa could see the back of her teacher's short, black helmet of hair. She was sneaking an unfiltered City cigarette her husband, who was a City admiral, got for her at the base naval. Mariposa bunched the branches and handed them to Charito. "Casi flores." Rocio stood close to the bride and groom. She was almost jumping up and down from the thrill and the power of the wedding, from not having any grandes telling them what to do. Charito went over to where the swings were and began her procession to the tree. Mariposa walked behind her. Ednita stood with Rocio, waiting for the bride.
"I pronounce you wife and wife." Rocio made her voice deep. The girls laughed. Their procession now became a line all around the patio, even past Mrs. Davis who turned to look at them and waved. There was a circle of crushed cigarettes on the ground where she stood.
By the tree Ednita grabbed her reused paper sack and took out her lunch. "Mi sandwich de chocolate." It was the same every day, white bread with a black paste inside it. Mariposa reached into the sack her mother's chauffer dropped off at the office every morning, straight from the Café Plaza in the center of Coral. Rocio opened her beat up lunch box and took out her tuna sandwich. Today Mami had mixed the tuna with chopped egg. They probably would never run out of the tuna they'd gotten for Huracan Flor. Charito opened her square metal lunch box, took out her sandwich de jamon and replaced the mantilla. "Did you hear what happened to Susi?" The girls shook their heads. Charito was the one who found out everything first. "Tiene polio." For awhile nobody spoke and then Rocio said in a low voice. "Yo me muero de miedo." They finished their sandwiches in complete silence.

That night Roci lay awake in her bed in Casa Rocio long after the telenovela sounds were gone, and Papi and Mami had stopped talking in their room and gone to sleep, and the only sound was the hum from the refrigerator. She wasn't sure what polio was, only that nobody knew how to cure it, and another girl who had it came back to school wearing a brace on one leg. What was it to be paralyzed? What if Susi could never walk or run or play boda with them again?

"Vamos a casa de Susi." As soon as Roci spoke the girls decided, without needing to say a word. They stood outside the school gate on the sidewalk licking their after school snowcones; Charito, mango; Rocio, tamarindo; Ednita, chocolate. Mariposa took a lick from each. Her mother didn't let her eat granizados bought on the street, and she couldn't take a chance getting one of her own because any minute the chauffer would show up and catch her. As soon as Carlos arrived Mariposa told him where they were going. She sat on the front seat beside the dark skinned young man who looked like he could be in a telenovela with Violeta Silva. Charito said he was really Violeta's novio. Violeta was a divorciada. Roci, Charito, and Ednita sat close together in the back.
Susi lived in an old reparto with tall trees lining the streets. Carlos stopped right in the driveway and the girls got out and walked up to the house. They stared at each other and at the house. "Es contagioso." Charito opened her eyes wide. "We can't really go inside." Roci took Charito's hand. She'd been here once before. That was the day she'd found out Susi's father was a City general. "I know where Susi's bedroom is." She led the girls to the side of the house. There was a bush covering part of the gated window. The interior wooden shutters were partly opened. Through the branches the girls saw Susi on her back in her four poster cama colonial. Susi's very small, thin mother, Susi looked just like her, stood on the far side of the bed. Closer to the window, kneeling by the bed, was a dark skinned woman, in a short sleeved red dress.
Mariposa spoke in a whisper. "Nobody can cure polio and Susi's mother got a santera. They say they can cure what doctors can't. Mami said their gods are not like ours. They live among us humans, inside us. Don't you wish that we could have that?"
The woman was talking but the girls couldn't make out the words. After a few minutes Mariposa announced she needed to get home. Back in the car Carlos decided to take each girl back to her own house. He dropped Ednita off first. She lived in the next neighborhood, very much like Susi's, except the houses, just the same because they were old and big, had overgrown gardens and unhinged gates. Next he took Charito to her apartment building. She lived on the 12th floor. He dropped Rocio off last at her family's rooming house, their old family house on Calle Sereno, a side street off the Plaza de Coral. Her mother had named it Casa Rocio after her.
That night Rocio dreamed that Susi had died during the night.
Next morning Mrs. Davis walked into the classroom in her ever present wave of cigarette smoke, and told the children she had important news. Rocio held her breath. She hadn't told any of her friends her dream. She wished and wished, maybe she even prayed, that the santos were more powerful than the doctors, or than god. She thought, this is the first time I ever pray to the santos.
Mrs. Davis spoke slowly, in her deep, raspy voice. "I wanted to let you know that Susi is much better. Her mother said there was a miracle in the middle of the night."