Juan Cruz :: Not Dark Yet ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. I moved to the US when I was in my twenties. I lived in South Carolina for almost a decade. I earned a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of South Carolina (the original USC) before moving to Clinton, SC, where I worked as a part-time adjunct professor for a year. I currently live in Bucaramanga, Colombia, but I intend to visit my friends in South Carolina as soon as I am able. I still prefer not to travel North of Virginia, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Not Dark Yet

“Mecum onmes plangite.”


It was Winter, 1938. Maggie was eight years old. Her father, Hank, had died of pneumonia a few months ago. He was fifty-five. Maggie was still very sad about her father’s death and she missed him a lot. Hank had fought in World War I, where he lost the middle finger of his right hand. His daughter would remember Hank’s strong, asymmetrical hands for the rest of her life. Maggie used to wake up every night; she would sleep soundly until around eleven or eleven thirty. She often walked around her silent house, looking for a sheet of paper and color pencils to kill time. Sometimes, she would steal a cookie or two from the porcelain jar her mother kept in the kitchen. She would fall asleep again around one in the morning.

One night, everything was slightly different. Maggie was unable to find her color pencils, and there were no cookies in the old porcelain jar. The jar also looked strangely unfamiliar; it seemed to be pink instead of white, and the shape was a bit off too. The entire house seemed to have changed suddenly. Maggie felt confused and frustrated, she tried to go to her mom’s bedroom, but she couldn’t find the right door. She felt like crying, but her mother did not like to see her cry. Her mother was strong, vigorous, and determined; Maggie had only seen her cry once, at Hank’s funeral.

Maggie walked back to the living room and sat down on an armchair she didn’t quite recognize. She could hear a prehistoric choir of cicadas outside the house. A cold breeze moved the trees, making them dance to the rhythm of the season. Maggie realized that it couldn’t be Winter, otherwise, the cicadas wouldn’t be out there. She concluded it was Spring.

Maggie heard footsteps in the corridor. Perhaps it was her mother. She didn’t want to be found strolling around the house in the middle of the night. She ran towards her bedroom, but when she opened the door, she found herself in a bathroom she had never seen before. The footsteps grew closer, she turned around and saw an old woman standing behind her. The woman was tall and blonde, she was wearing pink pajamas and purple slippers.

—Why are you awake, mom? Do you need to use the bathroom?  

Maggie was terrified, she didn’t recognize the woman standing in front of her. When the tall lady noticed Maggie’s confusion, she asked:

—Don’t you recognize me, mom? It’s me: Anna.

The name was familiar: it was her mother’s name. But that was not her mother. On the other hand, how could she have a daughter? She was only eight years old.

Anna tried to calm her down. They sat down in the living room, where Anna told her that she was her oldest daughter. They had been living together for the last five months. Before that, Maggie used to live with her son Frank and his wife Nidia, but Frank had passed away after getting Covid-19 in December of 2020. Anna and Maggie had been living in a small house in Clinton, South Carolina, for almost half a year. If all of this was true, Maggie though, she could not possibly be eight years old. She did the math in silence and concluded that she was around 91. The names of her two daughters and her son Frank started to come back to her. She suddenly remembered her youngest daughter.

—Anna, if we live together, and Frank is dead, where the Hell is Claire?

—Claire moved to Los Angeles in the eighties, mom. She married Ricardo, remember him?

—Ricardo? What kind of name is that? Is he Mexican?

—He is Mexican-American.

—My mother wouldn’t have liked that.

—No, mom, she sure didn’t.

—Is she going to visit us soon?

—She was in South Carolina last month, mom. Don’t you remember?

—No, I guess I don’t.

—She will probably visit us again for Christmas. Maybe she will bring her son, David; if David comes, you’ll get a chance to see your greatgrandchildren.

—I have greatgrandchildren? Boy, am I old!

—You have six, mom, and four grandchildren. None of them are mine, though. Do you remember their names, mom?

The conversation went on for the better part of an hour. Anna showed her some family albums and a few photographs on her phone. Maggie remembered most of the people in the pictures. She felt sad when she remembered Ben, her husband. He had died shortly after suffering a heart attack in the Summer of 2007. Anna offered her mother some chamomile tea, and they drank it quietly, as the night grew colder. Finally, Maggie said that she was tired and went back to her bedroom.

Maggie understood that she was not sad because of her father’s death, she was sad because of Frank’s death, which had been devastating for the entire family. She remembered that Frank and her father had the same blue eyes and the same big nose. Even their pale and strong hands were similar, except for Hank’s missing middle finger. Maggie thought that it was monstruous to be as old as she was. Perhaps good old Ben had been luckier than her; after all, she had to mourn her dad when she was a little girl, her mom when she was in her fifties, her husband fourteen years ago, and now she had to mourn Frank, who had passed away only a few months before that night. To make things worse, she had to mourn her son all over again, because she had forgotten about his death. How many times would she have to mourn the people that she loved? How many times would she have to forget and remember all the loved ones she had lost? Maggie cried, alone in her bedroom. Outside, beyond the prehistoric choir of restless cicadas, the whole world cried with her.