By Carolina Rivera–
I like the brick wall my dad built. The other walls are made of corrugated metal, like my friend Cande’s house; although mine is shiny and new, while hers is rusty and decaying with holes.
My little brother yells to Cande from the street, “ your house is a colander,” as she hurls the first stone she finds on her patio that are always filled with dry fallen coffee tree leaves; her house is inside a coffee grove and mine is on the edge of a gully.
I defend Cande and invite her in the afternoon to touch the brick wall, and we play tic-tac-toe on it.
One night Dad tells us he built the brick wall from bricks left over from the last mansion he had finished in the Escalón neighborhood.
People from my neighborhood, my girlfriends, my sisters and brothers are jealous because I love my wall. They tell me that I nurture the wall like I do my baby sister, the bay of the house. I give my baby sister kisses on her little face and comb her fine hair.
Before Christmas arrives, my brothers, sisters and I remove everything from the wall to paint it. My sister and I are the oldest ones, so we give orders to the little ones.
My older brothers don’t want to paint the wall with us because they say it is a game for kids, and not for them. They leave the house wearing their bell pants and long hair that covers their face; the oldest takes his guitar.
When I go out to see where they are going, they have already joined their friends who are parked on one corner of the street.
Nevertheless, today they mixed the whitewash for us before they went to work with Dad.
They mixed the whitewash in a barrel they cut to our size to reach the wall. The oldest, Juan, drew a blue window with clouds that look like a mice and an orange sun on the wall in the outside, and said, “do not even try to paint the wall from the outside.”
On the wall, hangs the most important things of the family. Three days before Christmas, my sister and I took down the gifts we gave to my mother for Mother’s Day: the calendars the lady from the store gave us last Christmas, a poster from El Divino Salvador del Mundo, a fake stone necklace that hangs from an rustic nail and two bough made of soda cork covered with a purple and red terciopelo; mine is a bough of grape, and my sister’s is a strawberry.
When I take them down, I sneeze and layer of fine dust fades out into the air. My little brother’s gifts are colored pencil drawings inside of a heart-shape construction paper.
My sister is in charge of taking down photographs of my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and father when they were in their twenties, and pictures of my older brothers.
In reality, the photos are pencil sketches drawn by my oldest brother’s friend.
One day his friend visited us and mom gave him some colones and seven oxidized photos. In one month, we had them framed in black and white, even better than the original pictures. We hang them on the wall with all the important things that go on the brick wall.
My little brothers’ shower the wall and after they dry it with pieces of clothes, they find themselves in the house.
My brother Antonio is in charge of taking out the nails from the wall. He likes that job because he can use papá’s hammer, as he hangs it on his belt like Dad.
I always invite Cande to help us paint the wall, and if there is some paint left we paint her corrugated metal walls; although last time we painted it, the whitewash didn’t go well because it dissolved into a color like mom’s old photos. Nevertheless, Cande said it doesn’t matter because the Orin yellow color is better than the soot from the oven.
My sister and I bring the barrel filled with whitewash and the brushes of mescal that look like a horses’ tails, and my little brothers are ready to paint. When the barrel comes, my brothers’ surround them and before they immerge the brushes, we interrupt them.
Their happy faces changed into disappointed faces, as they bend their heads down and place the brushes on the floor. After a brief silence, I explained to them that my sister and I will paint the top part.
“Don’t get too close because if whitewash falls on your face, you will be blind. And if it falls on your skin, you will disappear,” I said, as the seven of them moved away.
Clara accommodates them into a vertical line away from the wall where there are only four paintbrushes. I call Antonio and Javier, the two youngest, and I take Antonio and my sister takes Javier.
“Close your eyes, you have to paint with your senses,” I said to Javier.
Javier takes the paint brush and as he lifts it, whitewash falls on his face. We take him down from the chair fast and to the barrel under the mango tree that is full of water from the last storm. We threw two buckets of water on him and he started screaming.
“ I can’t see, I can’t see, the white wash left me blind,” he said, as we laughed. The others moved far away because they were scared and alarmed from Javier’s screams.
We come back to work and Javier falls sleep; my sister put him to bed and covered his eyes with a piece of cloth.
Clara, Antonio and I finished painting the wall, while my siblings help us with pieces of cloth that they manipulated into sponges; like the one Mom used to feed us when we were babies, my siblings fed the wall.
Mom and Dad arrived home and congratulated us for the work on the wall.
I see the wall wide and I imagine it like the sea. In an instant, it transforms itself into a desert with short pathways. The wall is my bed, I dream there. It transforms into a canoe and takes to the other side of the world. I interweave in the wall and now we both are a blanket that covers the roof while my brothers and sisters sleep.
Mom tells us to go sleep and Papá tells us later that he will paint the wall to even out the white color.
The night divides me between the light that reflects from the wall, and the dull light from the corrugated metal walls. I imagine the wall is a moon from a fantastic purple Christmas, and if I had another paint color, I would paint it the color of a red afternoon; however, we only have whitewash and my dad can’t afford the purple paint. Nevertheless, I have seen my wall painted like a sunset in my dreams.
Late at night when everyone is knocked out, or dizzy, like my dad says, I get up to see the wall. She doesn’t want to go sleep either, so we illuminate into the silence of the night.
I kneel and contemplate her like she is my saint that makes miracles. I like her eyes and I’m the only one that knows where they are, because I invented her eyes; they are black and almond-shaped, and her May sunflower eyelashes cover me when I hear the dogs barking.
When the paint is dry, I run my fingers on her and carefully take out the mescal hair that stays on when we were painting.
The hair prints look like skinny drunk serpents that don’t know where are they going; the long prints are veins in its white body.
From far away, I observe the wall and I see it is like the sky of a new year. Christmas always finds the brick wall ready to be dressed with a new piece of jewelry for the yew year.
Carolina Rivera is an educator, writer, performer, and filmmaker. She was born in El Salvador, and lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Rivera completed her undergraduate degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing at University of California in Los Angeles.