Something stops Maya cold after Stroi turns his back to her. It is the detached gaze, the indifferent observation. He is so completely tone deaf, oblivious to the heartbreaking shrapnel from his own past that she’s carried since the ugly standoff with Father Moses. She’s avoided him for weeks out of some misguided protective urge—because what she had seen of him was too painful, too private. Maya glares at the salt and pepper curls as her mouth and chin darken. Asshole. She considers taking in the rest of whatever else lies behind that cultivated indifference just to spite him. Or maybe just a quick affliction of some sort? A small seizure or a couple of days of explosive diarrhea? It is tempting. Presumido. Her mouth tightens. It would be so simple.
She sits in silence with her abuela on the porch helping to clean the fruit of the nopal. Her fingers are barbed and stained magenta from the prickly pear tunas. Her father is dead. Two days ago she was excitedly chatting with him about her upcoming quinceañera and now he is gone. It is a hurt so profound that she can’t let herself feel it at all. It’s too much. She will leave for London tomorrow, attending the funeral with the mother she hasn’t seen for months. Maya’s grandmother finally speaks without looking at her. She tells a story of the gente del pozo, poor unfortunates who were so afraid to feel anything that they carved deep wells in themselves to contain their sorrows. The wells grew deeper and deeper, until there was nothing left of the gente but a hunger that could never be sated. You cannot hide from your anguish without starving your joy, Mayita.
Maya lets go of the anger at him. He is the scorpion who stings the frog. It is simply his nature. She will walk to the cottage. She will sit in the garden with Oso. She will drink too much. She will smoke Berry’s cigars and sing sad songs along with Chavela Vargas at her kitchen table. She will call Ian, Sonia and her mother. She will leave ridiculous voicemails for Carlos. She will feel like she wants to die but she won’t. She will feel all of it. She has to in order to survive it. It is what keeps her from carving wells in herself.
Wiping the bitumen from her mouth with the back of her hand, Maya realizes that she needs no magic to divine Mihai Stroi’s most terrible secret. She moves to face him and before he can say anything else, she places a delicate hand in the center of his chest. “Thank you, desgraciado, for the reminder of what I could have become. I am no frog,” she says, pulling her palm away with resigned calm. “I’m going home now to weep for the both of us,” she adds on her way out the door.