Angel Silvio Rotbaum de Morales was on the roof. Again. His father sent him there. He was tired of Angel’s misbehavior and shenanigans. Angel looked at his father’s finger. There was a hair on it. His father continued, "What were you doing in your grandmother’s room? Angel didn’t say anything. He looked thoughtfully at the finger. The hair was grey. "You know you aren’t allowed in there. I don’t care. But you know your grandmother will flip if she catches you. And she’ll never come out, and your mother will lose faith. Is that what you want? Angel nodded, agreeing that's what would happen, and then shook his head, indicating it was not what he wanted.
You put turtles—I don’t know where you found turtles, this is why we have no pets —in her bathtub, and she thought they were a message from the Cartel. Why they’d communicate using turtles, I don’t know. She tried to flush them down the toilet, and we had to call the plumber, and every time anyone turned on water it smelled like a swamp! Your mother had a hell of a time with that one. Angel grimaced at the thought of his spotted box turtles being shoved down the toilet. His grandmother had no mind for nature's beauty. Or science. All she thought about was church and the Cartels. And making his mother lose faith. "And then," Angel’s father continued, "as if that smell wasn’t bad enough, that woman started waving incense and it was like going to Mass at Church. His mother still went on Sundays for her faith.
And his sister, Rachel Mary, went—also on Sundays—"because her soul needed saving as she wasn’t baptized," announced their grandmother. Angel’s brother Dov didn’t have to go; he was 11 and, like their father, Jewish. " His father was now waiving his hairy finger in the air. "Good. All right then. Angel walked towards the attic. He passed his brother’s room and watched Dov Antonio Rotbaum de Morales shout letters to a mirror. "Well, at least it’s tender. Look how it’s slumping. " Mrs. Rotbaum shouted at her husband. "What were you doing holding it? Were you rinsing it again? You do not have to rinse brisket—you brine it and cook it with marinade.
I’ve told you that a million times. And by the way, Jews eat things other than brisket. Could you change it up every now and then? She’s sleeping, it’s fine. By her window, the open one, there are cocoons there. Do you remember what a cocoon is? "Yes. Butterfly eggs. There are four on Grandma’s window. "All I said was if he pauses and doesn’t know words like loquacious, then he had better be prepared for an eighth grader to walk away with the District Spelling Bee Tournament for Grades 6-8 Trophy." Mr. Rotbaum shrugged. He's teasing. Rachel Mary! Where is that child? What is she doing?
She’s almost five—if she can’t walk down on her own by now. What is it with kids in this family? What about my room? Who was in my room? Grandma entered the dining room. Her face was covered in fresh, pasty make-up, but a seam from her pillow was visible down her left cheek. Her hair was combed and shiny. "Nothing, Mama, nothing. Were you napping all afternoon? Did you not go to Mass? "Do you feel OK? I don’t want people going into my room! Everyone is sneaking into my room. What is for dinner? This awful meat. Angelita, why you no make el huachinango ni los chiles rellenos like I taught you? "You didn’t teach her to cook, her nanny did," Mr. Rotbaum said under his breath to his mother-in-law, who started to yell in Spanish until her daughter intervened. Dov, go get your sister.
And brother. He's on the roof." Mrs. Rotbaum ignored her mother and husband and instructed her son as she carried the brisket to the table. "Why do I have to? What am I a servant? " his mother snapped. " both parents snapped, and Dov threw down his napkin, marched out of the dining room, stomped back upstairs to his room where he grabbed a sweater, and climbed up the ladder to the roof to sulk. Angel stirred and shivered. The sun was sinking and it was growing chilly. He wondered where his sister was. He wondered if he’d be out all night. He wondered about the cocoons. He wondered what’s for dinner.
Then he remembered it was Friday. He remembered the brisket. "Angel" a voice hissed. It was Rachel Mary, climbing out onto the roof—this time wearing her school backpack with both a pillow and a book sticking out of it. "Did you do other thing? "Yes." She crawled up to where he was sitting and took off her pack, pulling out her faithful companion and their favorite book. "They weren’t on the window? "They were on the table. Near the window." She scrunched Pee-O behind her and opened the book to her favorite page, one at the end that showed a swarm of the butterflies leaving Mexico and flying north.
Angel shrugged, "There were four of them? "And you put them in the Treasure box? "I did. And Angel? " She looked at him. "Can you read this to me? He took the book, flipped back to the front, and began reading. Not a moment later, their brother popped his head out of the attic and told them he was coming out too and they had better make room. Mr. Rotbaum wasn’t especially close to his mother-in-law, but he tried to be convivial because he loved his wife and she loved her mother. His mother-in-law had moved in six months ago when she became weary of the violence in Veracruz and decided to leave Mexico before she was kidnapped or worse. I am leaving my home in Veracruz before I am kidnapped or worse.
I will come to live with you. I know I am such a burden, I know I would do anything for my children. All my friends say, Santa Elena, no hay nada que no puede hacer para tus bebes . The sacrifices I have made, losing you to the United States and then to a Jewish husband—ah Dios Mio, what I have endured. And now, these Cartels. I pray to God. I pray every night. Gracias a Dios that they have not poisoned me in my sleep. They will come for me. The Cartels will come. The letter continued with a few more lines about her sacrifices and some other gossip about the Cartels and closed with her signature—large, flowery, and taking up half the page. "Like she’s signing the Constitution or something," Mr. Rotbaum always said.
"Who on earth would kidnap her? " he asked of his wife after she told him that her mother was coming to the U.S. "Incompetent criminals. That's who. She doesn’t have any money! We don’t have any. "Shhh, Joshua." His wife put down the letter and sank into a kitchen chair. "Madre de Dios," she muttered. "What are we going to do? "We’ll get her in a home," Joshua said. "She has to stay here until we find a home. She’s already sold her house! Cartels, please. She’s broke. "Send one of the kids. Where are the kids? "There is an angel on the roof? " Grandmother looked up, eyes wide. There wouldn't be confusion if he had a normal name.