And Other Circular Things

Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez

It’s a nosebleed heat in mid-February. When it’s warm like this I circle around the block, find shell casings by gutters. My dad’s dad sold guns on this street. Dragged his leg and a bottle behind him. He died on Valentine’s Day—kidney limp and heart beating. If I wondered about him as a child I could find him hidden in the mouth of the VCR player. A gun where a tape should wind its tongue. Beside a loaf of sandwich bread. Behind my grandma’s sewing kit. Beneath my Tío Rafa’s portrait. If I wonder about him today I find him in the sound of a gunshot or in my father’s face. But now I can’t find him either.


My grandpa’s first son disappeared Thanksgiving of 1986. Everyone says my Tío Rafa died of leukemia but now that I’m grown my mamá told me the truth. Someone different in his body. Something different in his blood. My father told me no one visits him at the cemetery because it’s too shameful. He said my grandpa almost killed him the day he came home with his right ear pierced—he pulled the thread from the puncture and tore the lobe in half. They spent that afternoon scrubbing his contaminated blood from the carpet while my grandpa sold on the street. Between the prayers, they wondered how much time my Tío Rafa had left.


I never saw my grandpa be violent but I’d listen to it all. During birthday parties I jumped rope while he hosted cockfights. When we sliced the cake I heard the blood. I wondered if he ever felt its warmth on his hands or found his son beneath his fingernails. Years later when my father broke my dog’s legs I never understood why—today it all makes sense.


When we would go to the liquor store my grandpa crossed the street without looking. No one ever looked him in the eye, not even the cars passing. He bought and sold and traded brown bags in tight fists. Silver metal for cold bottles, slate bullets for bottle caps. Back inside the house I heard my father say that if he kept on drinking he would drown. I never remembered him saying it before, but my mamá said my father changed after my Tío Rafa died and he became the eldest son.


When my grandpa’s kidneys started gasping we took him to the hospital. In the grey of mid-February he reached an open palm for my father’s forgiveness. My father did not rise from his seat, but when his father finally died he wept and drowned into something different. On Father’s Day my tíos dig the lip of a tequila bottle into my grandpa’s grave and watch the grass dampen. My father does not go with them.


I was thirteen when Mamá told me she was thinking of buying a gun. She was by the stove, one hand on her hip and the other stirring the rice for dinner. “Just in case he tries something,” she said, thinking of my father.


He hadn’t been the same after his father died and lived like the blood was all on his hands. Like he was trying to understand where it all came from and found it on my mamá’s hair and my sister’s face and on my neck. On days he was still I asked him if he ever missed my grandpa and he shook his head. I didn’t understand how this could be, but I later realized it’s hard to miss the thing you are becoming. I thought maybe it made him feel comfortable, like his father was still with him.


I wondered who would sell my mamá the gun now that my grandpa had passed. I focused my eyes on her hands, thinking they were too small to hold something so big. But when I measured her hands onto mine I realized they were the same size—veins in all the same places. Years later, after she’d been practicing on a shooting range, she tried to wash my father from her memory. She measured my hands on her hands and realized we wore the same ring size. She gave me hand-me-down jewelry from my father she couldn’t bring herself to pawn, and when I saw those diamonds shine the way they shone on her fingers I realized both of our hands could hold the same things. I thought that maybe my father carried his father with his same violence and I’d carry my mamá with our same hands. Later I wondered where I would find my father in myself, but when I began noticing his hair growing from my scalp I began to feel sick.


When I have these memories I walk this block to cut it all off. My hairdresser dated one of my tíos in high school. I see him in her laugh lines. If she’d dated my father I’d hear him in her silence. Below my feet are pieces of me and my father scattered onto the floor. Beside me sits a boy with silver teeth. I ask how old he is and count the fingers on his spread palm, his other palm holding a wad of bills tight. After we count them together I ask what he’s going to buy. “Una pistola,” he tells me, “con balas de verdad. Es que mi papá tiene una pistola en la casa.”


I look at his hands and imagine his father beside him, a different silver in his mouth. I look at my hands but my imagination can’t make those ends meet.


My father disappeared sometime last year. He folded into himself and his father and his father’s father and disappeared into his own silence. When my Tío Ed was close to dying on Easter I dialed my father’s phone number and listened to an automated operator. The phone number had been disconnected, and he had moved without a word. My father used to say he was not equipped to be a father because of my grandpa. But when I looked at his brother gasping for air I saw his son beside him—a house arrest bracelet around his ankle, a Bible open on his lap. I could not understand my father’s excuse. Still I tried to call and walked in circles around the roundabouts in the hospital parking lot. Nothing changed. In the heat of April I wondered if I would sit beside my father and read Bible verses to him as he died, but realized I’d have to find him to lose him again.


When I loop around the block now I look for him, and all I find are memorials left on Oakland intersections. No one knows how these people die, though the shell casings say something different. I pass cars with perforated windshields—sometimes there is broken glass by flower vases. Sometimes there are no flowers. After a haircut one Sunday I see people filling vases with bottled water. I circle the block and wonder if anyone ever watered my Tío Rafa’s grave. I turn the corner and wonder if I’ll ever know when my father has died.

Carolina Ixta Navarro-Gutiérrez is a writer from Oakland, California. Her work is primarily focused on the intersecting veins of urban communities, the Latinx identity, and personal trauma. She is primarily a fiction writer, but experiments with the forms of memoir, flash fiction, and prose poetry. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and she is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an elementary school teacher.