She’s like a piece of peach pie. Or like a peace pipe, fragrant and sweet with a bite in the air around her. Mafiala is my daughter. She was born to the mob and I took her away when I gave her that name. Mafia-la. A-la. O-la-la. She is my daughter, not yours. When I am a just a little girl myself I am with the gang, the gang of hostile idiots, the gang of hostile takeovers. They make me pregnant and then pull my wings out like I am a butterfly, a butterfly made for torture and fun. Problem is, of course, I am not a butterfly, I am not Mariposa, no, more like Kali, more like Cain than Abel and in my religion, vengeance is mine, vengaza es mio, like my grand-dad always said. He’s from Naches, blessings, bendiciónes, as far away from Lubbock as you can be and still be in Texas is the best thing about Naches, he would say. My old jewish grand-dad, who snapped one day years ago and ran away to India. He ran away to India and learned to play the sitar, to charm the snakes, the politicians, the incubi and succubi of public life in an old old country. He ran naked with the Indian dogs and fakirs, he washed in the Ganges. When it was time for the revolution he led elephants through the city, pounding their dinner plate feet into the ancient street, pounding flat, each sensitive searching trunk like a big angry eye looking for corruption, for forgetfulness, the unforgivable elephant sin.
Mafiala is my daughter, my sensitive child, the child who came to me through rape or incest or maybe it was both. I did not have my pedigree, you see, my where-did-you-come-from, my you-look-just-like-your-daddy credentials. Who knows? One day I am nothing, the next day I am a big belly sitting in Dunkin Donuts looking for someone to come claim me and give me a place to have this baby girl so I can go to school somewhere and be in the witness protection program or something. That might work, I think and I rub my 15-year-old belly and sing a song, half Yiddish half Spanish to the little gypsy princess who will be my baby, sister, and mother all in one.
Katalpa is a tree that grew there in Naches. I almost named my daughter Katalpa, until I realized on the morning I went into labor that really I’d been working for the Texas mafia, on my back, since I was 9 years old and I decided between screams and murderous plans that I would claim the name for my own. Mafia, la mafia, mafiala, my girl, my home, my road away from these criminal bastards.
You want to know the truth – you get good treatment when you’re carrying a baby, until the baby is born and they take her away to be with some more fit parents. O-la-la, my Mafiala. That didn’t happen, you know. I’m reading the paperwork, they say you can wait to sign it later, and I walk out to the baby room where all the newborns are lined up together, with little name tags at their feet.
My baby, Baby Girl Gorgon, does not have a first name yet. I see them standing in front of her, leaning their light blond heads together. Prospective daddy turns his face toward prospective mommy, he looks up and right through me, blue eyes cold and vacant. He doesn’t recognize me, old blue eyes, he’s just another moral bastard with a secret life waiting to adopt a baby that he’d let die if he didn’t own it. They turn away and step out, probably to get some coffee. I asked the nurse for some lime jello. When she goes to get it for me, I take Mafiala and leave.
She and I grew up together in a small town that was hurricane prone and unloved, where no one would notice us and that suited me just fine. I learned how to sew and how to play the piano. Mafiala learned how to dance and how to tell stories in the firelight in the long summer evenings. She sang songs like she was dressed in red velvet and I always wondered where she heard them, torch songs, leaning against my piano and making smoky eyes at me and Jimmy. Jimmy didn’t come along until Mafiala was almost 10, and by that time I was 25 and ready to think about skin and sex and juice and forgiveness. But a lot of things came before that time, and a lot of things came after, too.
Before a big storm can destroy everything in its path, certain things have to happen, or have to not happen. For example, in a strong walled city in an ancient port town, there has always been a history of reinforcement, of respect for storm and wind. There are traditions and times of restoration, these come with storytelling, firelight, dancing and god. Here we’ve reduced it to a Disney story, a feature film, the three little piggies, the big bad wolf. The big bad wolf cannot blow down a house that is cared for. If you want to destroy a city, first thing to do is ignore it. Let it get run down around the edges. Keep it hungry. Then let the winds blow. The winds blow, the children sing stormy weather, the elders sing hallelujah, the dogs drown on their rooftops, and the rich thank god that their insurance is paid up. After the storm, they rebuild. A new day has dawned. Hallelujah, amen.