After the accident the wind blew for five days. Then the sun came and burned the earth until the rocks turned into hot coals. The birds flew in long lines like ants. Maria’s grandmother gave birth to a fully formed man. Her grandfather, Abelardo, stopped believing in God and ran off into the mountains to live with the animals. All the dogs left town for two weeks and after that it was quiet except for the pounding of the ocean along the shore.
Nocensio liked the colorful underwear that Maria showed him when he went to visit her. He delighted in the quiet pastels and swooned at the black lace but once when he went to see her she had on sassy bold red roses on a triangular sea of blue. He fainted in her arms. She had to revive him with the cold water she kept in the terracotta water jug by her bed.
Several weeks passed before Abelardo came back down out of the mountains. His hair and beard had grown so long and he was so thin that everyone in the village at first thought he was a ghost. He had learned how to converse with the animals only to discover that they were not intelligent beings like he had always thought but spoke nothing but foolishness. It was an immense disappointment. He went back to church on Sundays but not to communion because he had become a vegetarian.
The grandmother’s man-baby made himself useful about the house, but Abelardo didn’t trust him. Abelardo was always setting up little traps to see if he could catch the man-baby at some mischief, but he never could. One day the man-baby ventured out into the surrounding villages and began preaching. People said that he was wise and some even claimed he performed miracles. Abelardo and the priest argued about whether or not the man-baby was a sign from God or even God himself. After carefully studying an ancient Bible hidden in the dusty files of the little village church, the priest maintained that the man-baby was a messenger from God. It was prophesized that he would arrive at this very time in this very place. Abelardo, whose heart could never accept the man-baby who never went through puberty, told the priest to stop drinking the sacred wine.
A short while after Abelardo returned, a large box arrived in the village. The neighbors were anxious to see what was inside, but Abelardo said that he wouldn’t open the box until the right time. He kept it on his front porch, and every time someone walked by they would say “Abelardo, is the time right to open the box?” and he would say “No.” and they would go away shaking their heads.
One day Nocensio went to visit Maria and she wasn’t wearing any underwear at all. He was disappointed and he left. He walked all day and all night to reach the next village where there was a store. During the dark night he was dazzled by the geometry of the stars so he purchased three pair of cotton panties all with different geometrical designs in bright colors and took them back to Abelardo’s house where he threw them in the window to Maria’s room. He stood waiting outside. Very soon after, the panties came flying back out the window and fell at his feet. He looked down and saw nothing but red triangles and blue circles and yellow lines and green dots and orange squares. He walked away slowly and sadly. It broke his heart.
The day finally arrived when Abelardo decided to open the large box. He invited the whole village, but Nocensio did not go to watch. He couldn’t face Maria after what had happened between them. He stood by the ocean and looked out to the horizon. It had been so long since the accident that things had almost returned to normal. Because no one saw it happen, the people in the village came to believe that it didn’t happen at all. But, it did. Nocensio saw it. When he closed his eyes he could still see the look on Maria’s grandmother’s face that day when she was struck by the lightening bolt. A solid white light came out of the sky and hit her in the stomach and split apart into all the colors of the universe. No one knew that he had seen it, not even Maria’s grandmother. She kept her eyes closed.
The time had come to open the box. Everyone in the village had assembled outside Abelardo’s house, everyone except Nocensio. Maria looked and looked but she didn’t see him. All at once a fire truck drove into town with sirens blaring and bells ringing. Children jumped into their parents’ arms in fright. A large fat man in a red uniform was driving the truck. A policeman came by in a blue suit but he had run out of tickets to issue. Maria’s grandmother’s man-baby threw up his hands and flew into the sky disappearing into an infinite regress. People were so startled that they completely forgot about Abelardo’s box.
When Nocensio saw the man-baby flying out to the horizon he wanted to go with him, but it was too far to swim. Just as he realized the hopelessness of his situation, he heard the loud explosion. He turned to look back at the houses and saw that it was raining color all over the village. Abelardo had miscalculated the right time to open the box, so it opened itself. He had ordered a hundred cans of special paint and the pressure from the heat building up in the box caused a spontaneous combustion. By the time he realized what had happened, he already had splats of paint all over his shirt and pants and on his face.
Maria’s grandmother had grown weary of cooking nothing but vegetables so Abelardo relented and had a lamb butchered and invited the whole village over for a barbacoa the day after the explosion. Everyone came back to his house laughing and bringing something to share. Lupita brought her famous iguana tomales wrapped in plantain leaves that had been splattered with red paint. The old fisherman brought fish tacos that had green spots all over them. The fat man from the truck had bottles of mescal with yellow worms inside. Doña Morales made a giant pot of her sweet atole. There were bowls of rice and beans and baskets of tortillas. Everyone’s clothes had paint spots all over them.
The priest had come the day before to bless the unlucky goat just before Abelardo slit its throat. Abelardo saved some of the blood to make an offering at the little altar he built when he was up in the mountains. Since coming back home, he had made several trips up the mountain to pray that the animals would soon come to their senses and stop their foolish ramblings. But, so far God had not answered his prayers.
The goat had been rubbed with dried chilies, wrapped with avocado and maguey leaves, and placed in a deep pit over a pot of burning coals. The cooking lasted twelve hours and the ocean breeze blew the delicious smells through the little village keeping Nocensio awake all during the night. When it was time for the comida, Nocensio was powerless to resist. He asked Maria’s grandmother if he could sit alone in the back behind the house and if she would bring him something to eat after all the others had been served.
Maria’s grandmother told Abelardo and Abelardo told Maria. He knew that Maria and Nocensio had been seeing each other, and he was curious why Nocensio was hiding in the back. Maria said it was nothing, not to worry, and that she would take the food to Nocensio.
When Nocensio saw her coming with the food, he got up to leave.
“Stay,” she said, “eat with me. I have something to show you.”
They ate in silence. Nocensio heard a voice inside his head, the voice of the man-baby. He tried to close his ears but the voice would not go away. The man-baby told him to tell Maria about what he saw the night of the accident. So, he told her.
“I know,” she said.
“What do you mean? How could you know?”
“I was there too,” she said, “hiding right behind you.”
“You saw the white light break up into all the colors of the universe?”
“The colors were so beautiful, like rays from rainbow stars,” said Nocensio.
“I know,” said Maria.
Nocensio did not know what to do. He just sat there thinking how Maria would look in the brightly colored geometrically designed underwear that he had bought for her, underwear she had thrown away.
“Come,” she said, and they got up and went to her room. The underwear that he had given her was lined up on the bed. There were little globs of colored paint all over it from the explosion the day before.
A happy smile broke out on Nocensio’s face.
“They’re more beautiful than I ever imagined,” he said. “I love you, Maria.”
“I know,” she said, “I love you too.”