Aguardiente (Inesita, Elbita, Mario, Silvito)

Inesita heard the soft banging on the glass panes of the window next door. She slid out of bed softly so as not to wake her big brother Silvito and her little brother Federico, or her parents on the adjoining bed. She tiptoed to her window and peered through the wood persianas. Her window looked right into Mario's window. He was waving to her. He blew her a kiss and she blew him a kiss. They were both ten years old but they knew they were each other's amor de la vida. He had told her as much when he kissed her yesterday in the root burrow of the arbol de lado that hung over the Rio Guacabon. And even if the others thought they were playing wedding, she and Mario knew this was a boda de verdad.
El Rio Guacabon was rushing white later that morning. Inesita, Elbita, and Mario stood close to the wedding tree by the cliff over the bank, watching the remolino swallow the white foam. Inesita looked up. "The sky is blue all the way to el infinito. If you look very hard you see God everywhere." Elbita tugged at the length of flowered fabric she'd taken from Mami Ines' sewing bin to make herself a long skirt. She approached Inesita and adjusted her lace veil, a remnant of encaje also from Mami Ines' bin. Inesita hummed. "My whole body is singing. I'm going to marry Mario. Every other time we played boda was in the school yard and I married a girl. I may be ten years old but Mario is el amor de mi vida."
Mario stood several feet away from the girls watching the crowd marching past them heading to the Plaza for the vigil for the Maestros Desaparecidos. Inesita and Elbi joined him just as his parents, Don Mario and Dona Carla, passed the yard. There were lots of new people going to the vigil today. Walking with Don Mario and Dona Carla was Abi, who lived in Casa Rocio, Elbi's mother's rooming house. He had his arm over Don Mario's shoulders. Just last night she'd heard Mami telling Papi that Abi was the best at getting people to join la lucha. Dona Carla wore a long blue skirt. Don Mario wore a dark blue suit. These were their church clothes. Several of the Maestros Desaparecidos were protestantes, like the new neighbors. They waved to their son. "Oye Mario, no te metas en el rio." Mario said that for the protestantes everything was a sin. Mario grinned. "Until now the thought of jumping into the Guacabon hadn't crossed my mind." Inesita laughed. "But now you want to." Elbita fixed Mario's tie, a thick ribbon also borrowed from Mami Ines. "That's the way of all grown ups."
Mario screamed and kicked at a stone. He picked it up and threw it into the river. Inesita took his arm. "Don't bother to get mad." Mario let out a loud yell. "Getting mad es cosa de hombres."
That moment Silvito ran up into the yard from the bank. He'd been out fishing with Papi Silvio. Papi was still on the boat cleaning the fish. He stood close to his sister.
Inesita pushed her brother and ran away from him. "You're just in time for my wedding but you smell like fish." They chased each other around the yard. She climbed onto the wedding tree to get away from him. From here the sky was even bluer and higher and the River was whiter and she knew Coral was the most beautiful place in the world.
"Let's do the wedding on the bank." Mario ran ahead of them. Silvito ran after him. Inesita scrambled down from the tree. She took Elbi's hand and raced after the boys. They climbed down the water worn boulders. Mario stopped where the arbol de lado jutted from the cliff side and hung over the water. He slid into the wide burrow by the tree roots where he'd given Inesita her first kiss. They all joined him and squeezed together. He reached into his pocket and produced a flat, rectangular bottle. "Where did you get that?" Silvito reached for it and Mario drew it back. "What do you care?" He unscrewed the cap, took a long swallow, and coughed. He passed the bottle to Ines. She took a small sip and spit the aguardiente out right away. "How can grown ups like this?" Silvito took the bottle from her hand, tasted, and spit. He knew aguardiente was made from sugar but the stuff wasn't sweet and burnt his mouth. Elbita took a taste and made herself swallow the whole thing. "Sabe a perfume." Mario grabbed the bottle, took another big swallow, and climbed onto the branch. He slid his body off and gripped the branch with his hands. "Estoy viendo al diablo. God isn't watching." He screamed and let go and his small body plummeted right into the remolino.
Just then Papi Silvio was climbing up the bank with his catch in a plastic bin. "Papi, Papi." Inesita and Silvito called out at once. "El nino Nuevo Mario se tiro al rio." Silvio put down the bin just as the children reached him. "Quedense aqui." He dove into the remolino, into the sin fondo part of the river, something he'd warned them never to even dream of, and of course they all went there in their nightmares. He came up in a few minutes. "Mejor buscamos a la policia." Even before Papi Silvio was back with the Guardia Mami Ines handed over little Federico to Silvito because Inesita was sobbing and shaking, and walked to the Plaza to get Mario's parents.
"He said he saw the devil." Inesita held onto Elbi very tight. Her body trembled. "Y si se lo llevo?" Elbita hugged her hard. "There is no devil. That's what Abi says. There's no devil, only bad rich men. So the devil didn't take him." Inesita sobbed hard. "But there's the rio sin fondo. There's the remolino. What if Mario can't swim? He's probably dead already. Or he'll be dead by morning."
The sun was in the middle of the sky. When Ines brought Don Mario and Dona Carla back from the vigil they knelt on the bank and prayed. "Que sea tu voluntad." They rose and talked briefly to Sargento Ibanez. "Nuestro hijo esta arrebatado or he's possessed by the devil. We can only wait to see what God will dispose." They walked away arm in arm into their house not even looking at Silvio and Ines and the three children and the toddler, and the Guardia, and the gathering crowd of neighbors who stood by watching them.
Next morning there was a lot of screaming coming from the house next door. Inesita woke up, jumped out of bed and looked through the wooden persianas of her bedroom window right into Mario's bedroom.
"You are a devil boy." Dona Carla was screaming.
Then she saw that Mario was in the room, alive, standing by his bed.
"You are a little boy and you are hung over because you are the devil's little boy and not ours."
Just as Don Mario walked into his son's bedroom Silvito joined Inesita at the window.
"What is that mean fuck gonna do?"
Don Mario raised his hand and brought it down and struck Mario hard enough he lost his balance and fell against the bed. "Te tienes que ir." Don Mario and his wife walked out and left their devil boy alone.
Mario walked to the window and banged on the glass.
"How can he tell we're watching?" Inesita whispered so as not to wake up little Federico, asleep in the middle of the double bed the children shared, curled up against Elbita who had been too scared about Mario disappearing to go home; and so as not to wake up her parents asleep on the other bed. "Maybe he is the devil." Silvito said this laughing and Inesita punched him in the arm. They walked out into the yard.
Mario was already by the wedding tree waiting. Inesita stood close to him. "Que te paso?"
"I let the river take me and didn't fight it and the remolino threw me onto the bank close to la casa del pescador. I saw the most amazing fish. They were magic and they kept me floating. I thought, is this how the world is going to end? But it didn't. I climbed over el pescador's fence and sat in his smelly goat pen with his goats. That was when the Virgen Maria se me aparecio to tell me no matter how lonely I was the world is good. I just have to tener paciencia. I stayed in the goat pen until I dried off and I stopped seeing the devil and the aguardiente wore off."
Inesita looked at her brother. As soon as they were alone again she would ask him if he thought el amor de mi vida Mario was loco.
"Me van a mandar interno a la escuela protestante."
"How far away is the boarding school?"
"Near Arrecife."
"Maybe you can learn how to surf." Silvito patted his new friend on the back. "And your parents can learn they raised you to be good, not to be the devil. You will learn things they know nothing about."
"Y la boda?" Inesita didn't stop her tears.
Mario grinned. He was so beautiful she cried harder. "Era boda de ninos." He took her hand. He pointed to the remolino. His voice was kind. "Maybe one day, cuando seamos grandes a lo major nos casamos de verdad. Yo creo que los miedos de los grandes no existen. No hay diablo, you know. The Guacabon is not really sin fondo. And it turns out the remolino won't kill you."