Grandma is a hyena with black eyes. She sleeps in the yard under an avocado tree grown from a fat seed. Grandma licks her leathery skin and howls up at the moon. From my room, among the gnarled shadows, I watch her swallow fistfuls of earth. Mom chains her to the trees, or the light poles, or a rod stuck in concrete, like she would a dog. She keeps her on a heavy cable chain, and Grandma wraps herself up in it on hot sticky afternoons before she falls asleep. Then Mom takes the opportunity to change her water. Once, I tried to get close to her and she bit me so hard it bled. We raced to the ER. There, they stitched up the wounds made by her false teeth.
“Who did this to your boy, señora?” “What kind of animal do you have for a mother?”
Mom tells me that Grandmother has been alive as long as the avocado tree. It used to be that when the heat got scorching she would hole up in there; she would crouch among the roots and talk with the roly-polies. She’d be naked, stripped of wraps and coarse wool jackets and petticoats. She got rid of it all except her cane, which was her third leg, until she started crawling over the yellow grass.
Mom cries, and Grandma calls her bitch, spits at her, thumps her with stones. At night she’d leave her dentures on the sink in a jar with water in it and floating food scraps, separated by the orange beams of the streetlamps. There were days when I’d spend hours observing my grandmother’s teeth, thinking of the babies from the biology lab in their formaldehyde cribs. In the morning, Grandma would prowl the hallways dragging her feet. She’d breathe heavily behind the closed doors, striking the vinyl with the bottom of her black cane. She’d put in her dirty teeth and eat the contents of the icebox: sausages, raw eggs, frozen chicken wings. Stinky cheese that was several months old. She devoured everything with such great appetite I worried she would lose control and start to swallow all the walls, the tables, the curtains.
One day, we came home and found her chewing on an old photograph of Grandpa.
One day, Mom tried to get close and she bit her so hard it bled.
Since then, she’s been chained up on the back patio.
Since then, she hasn’t taken out her false teeth.
“What am I supposed to do?” Mom shrieks into the phone. “If I try, she’ll take off my fingers. Last time it took six stitches, Amparo. SIX!”
At times, I spy her pulling out locks of her hair and eating them, naked under the shade of the avocado tree, with the roly-polies between her legs. It looks as if she’s talking to the roly-polies. There are days when I feel like smashing in her head with a broomstick. I’d like to knock out her teeth with the toes of my boots.
For some time now, she hasn’t been moving around much. She hangs out with the insects on their black-earth beds at the foot of the avocado tree. She gets the heavy cable chain wrapped around her neck, and I want her to hang herself, want her to have marks on her neck like the dental crescent moon she left on my leg. When she becomes nothing, her teeth will remain. I watch her, and she’s still just there, in the cool of the tree, muttering obscenities and swallowing huge fistfuls of earth.
From the window, she looks more and more like an enormous worm.