The Grand Calabaza
The gourd appeared three days after my miscarriage. Its massive body, swollen and puckered with warty growths, stretched from one end of the butcher’s block to the other. Bulbous and green with a light-yellow underbelly, it sat there in the center of the room unbothered by its own mysterious appearance in the household.
Nothing about the 32-pound gourd made sense. It was the middle of winter, not to mention that we hadn’t grown gourds that year and that its preposterous size suggested that it was freshly cut from the vine. All this, on top of the fact that it had somehow made its way into our house through locked doors and windows to be set gently in the center of the kitchen. But no one cared.
No one cared that its skin was warm to the touch and that its sides seemed to stretch and turn orange as the days passed. My mother, with her waste not, want not attitude, saw only work in its eventual dismantling and processing, its flesh to be turned into empanadas or fed to the dog for fiber. Dad didn’t give a shit where it came from, or how big it was, he just wanted it off the butcher’s block so he could stand and drink his bitter cup of Maxwell House and read the business section like he did any other morning. As long as it didn’t interrupt his rote daily motions he could care less about the calabash interloper. “At least I can smoke around this one,” he joked, puffing on his first Camel inside in six months. The acrid fumes turned my now hollow stomach.
I found myself spending more and more time with the gourd. Running my hands gently over its growing sides feeling the ridges in its skin start to rise and plump. Now a glowing orange, the gourd had a new elastic softness to its once hard rind. At night I would press my ear to its side and feel its warmth exchange with mine as it reverberated my heartbeat back to my eardrum. Despite its warm comfort I couldn’t help but feel envious of the gourd’s fullness. I wanted its fulfillment to be cut short like mine. Every time mom would touch the gourd and say it was rotting from the inside, I hoped she was right, that deep inside there was something “wrong” or “off”, some sort of deficiency latent inside its swollen body.
As it approached its third week with us no one could pass the gourd without placing their hand on its bulbous side. Even dad would pause and gently touch the gourd as he would pass it taking his paper and coffee to the counter by the window. All the subtle affection he had lost towards me slowly manifesting in small gestures toward the inanimate object.
Soon came the day to butcher the gourd. Its presence in the household was becoming overbearing as it began to hang over the edges of its perch. Mom insisted I be there to help her, her arthritic hands no longer possessing the dexterity to wield such a large knife. She chose the same blade we used to cleave ham hocks and split oxtails to cut through the gourd’s massive collar. She said that’s where the most meat would be considering the rest was probably hollow.
I stood on my tiptoes and placed the point of the knife to the gourd’s flesh. Using my entire weight I slowly slid the blade into the gourd until the hilt pushed against its skin. Sticky red juice and pulp bled onto the floor as the first chunk fell away. Dad winced and turned his head. Mom pushed forward; her arms stained red up to her elbows. A slight joy raised in my chest as I peered into the hollow vessel now scraped clean of whatever magic it once held.
Diego Ulibarri is a writer based out of Colorado’s Front Range. His work centers around authentic and humanizing sketches of Chicano life throughout the Southwest. He grew up on P.I radio dramas, beat poetry, and the oftentimes stranger-than-fiction stories of his family. He believes that writing should probe, explore, and celebrate the strangeness that lives below the surface of the everyday. His work has appeared in Southwestern American Literature.