Mara sings. She sings more than she speaks. When others are around, her melodies are soft and distant, as though stretched into wisps through a shortwave radio rather than released from behind her own lips. The hum lingers with a longing for something, someone, somewhere.
As the skinny girl’s voice wafts above remnants of sidewalk, Mrs. Santos in her lawn chair begins to suck at her teeth, nursing a ghostly mango from her motherland. Next door, Andy finds the girl from last summer’s fair bursting into his thoughts. He stumbles from his board and rolls into the grass, dizzy again with the pull of that first kiss. It goes on like this all the way down the street.
Mara steps inside her house and shuts the front door, breaking the spell for the rest of the neighborhood. For her, though, it is just beginning. She kicks off flip flops, peels off lilting clothes, and as she climbs the stairs to the bathroom, she plucks bobby pins from the bun looming at the crown of her head. One by one the pins drop, their succession of clinking upon the tile a makeshift metronome for the emerging song:
Como el agua clara
que baja del monte,
así quiero verte
de día y de noche.*
She turns on the shower and slips behind the curtain. Under a hot cloud, the stream of black hair joins forces with the one falling from above. The waves reach downwards and press against her frame, coaxing out louder and lower vocals. She closes her eyes.
Ay como el agua,
ay como el agua,
ay como el agua.
While he was alive, no one could belt this one out like Papi. Except for Don Camarón de la Isla, of course. There was a time when, in their home, Saturdays were reserved for paying homage to this god of Nuevo Flamenco. His entire discography would go for a spin on the turntable, with Dad accompanying at full throttle. “Como el agua” always came last, as a culmination of their marathon of cante jondo (how fitting that it was called deep song!).
Once he had translated the verses for her. Today she tries it out in English, too:
Just like the clear water
that comes down the mountain
I want to see you
day and night
Oh like the water,
oh like the water,
oh like the water.
She is pleased to find that the swap of tongues hasn’t hindered the flow of the tune. She savors Dad’s willful baritone rising in her lungs and flooding the air, paying this world a much-needed visit once again.
*I invite you to listen to the song by Camarón de la Isla featured in this story: