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I. The Kite

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I had a kite once. It was beautiful, with bright colors and a tail.

I was three or four at the time and the kite was bigger than I was. We’d seen them streak across the sky in the park on our afternoon walks.

Daddy and I had a routine. He would put his house slippers aside and put on his walking shoes—which were fancy by today’s standards but not as shiny as his dress shoes. Then he’d grab his fedora and I would get very excited.

This meant he was going to the store to buy a cigar. Sometimes, Daddy would also buy me penny candy.

He did not buy me candy every single day. Mama would have never allowed that. Although, according to my mother I also had some input on the candy situation and would subtly inform him, “Daddy, there is no candy in this house.”

Mama says she witnessed this herself, and the man put his newspaper down, put his reading glasses in his shirt pocket, and high-tailed it to the store to correct the situation.

“A tragedy indeed!”

The candy store he visited was a few houses and a bend away. Daddy liked the gentleman who owned the store. They were friendly. They’d chat about politics and current events for a minute or two.

If he took me along, after they had their little visit, we’d walk around the block, enjoying or candy. When we came back home, he or mama would put me down for a nap.

Before I was ready for pre-school, the storeowner died. It was sudden is all I really know. I remember he was the reason I first saw my grandfather wear a suit and his aforementioned shiny dress shoes. I remember we went to offer condolences; the body laid out in their living room.

That left quite an impression on me and I am not at all certain mama explained it away properly or successfully. If anything, that was the first in a list of deaths that led to nightmares about drowning in a glass box thrown into the ocean (because somehow that’s what I assumed would happen when you died).

Inexplicably, mama thought that telling me of a burial at sea would be gentler than explaining topping a box with six feet of dirt. I am not sure she understood that I believed that the word “dead” meant asleep because he was “dead tired.” Nobody bothered to try to explain death to me. Granted, it can’t be easy to explain this to a toddler. Still…

~*~*~*~

Our routine changed after that, and our afternoon walks extended to Main Avenue where Daddy found another candy store that carried cigars a few blocks away, across the park.  

It was a big deal for me because I got to interact with more neighbors, and see the park and the schools that I would attend later in life. My world expanded beyond my own block and my backyard, as it were.

Sometimes we would go into the park. Sometimes we’d veer past and Daddy would get me a small, cold coconut. The shopkeeper would cut it on the spot, and I’d sit quietly drinking coconut water from a coconut with a straw, while he and Daddy argued about something or other (they were the first pair of frenemies in my life).

This made me happy.

After I emptied it out, the shopkeeper would take a machete to the coconut and slam it on a slab of wood. It would break in half, and he’d hand me a half shell and give me a spoon so I could eat the white meat inside.

Most days, though, we went to the candy store across the park and the Cuban man who owned the store and Daddy competed to see which would be more obnoxious, each putting on airs and making the wife roll her eyes.

Sometimes, boys would be playing in the park – running, riding their bikes, running and screaming and frolicking, cartwheeling, throwing balls around, and flying their kites. They were doing all the things I wanted to do! But it was the kite flying that truly fascinated me.

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