POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: facts of life (and death)

For Jorge. Who most definitely does not have fleas.

You’ll be able to listen soon. Audio production on this postcard went sideways, but I didn’t want to delay sending the text out any longer. I hate breaking my own deadlines. 🙂


In the meantime… read:


On the way to Market 70—they say, the best stocked supermarket in Havana—we step over a…

Flora: “What is that?”

Jane: “Um, I dunno. A dead something or other.”

Cinder: “It’s a chicken. Well, half a chicken. Look, it’s still got its feathers on.”

Flora: “That’s terrible! That’s awful!”


Friend to and lover of all animals, even the gross ones, Flora’s been extra-sensitive since the dead cat incident of the previous week (don’t ask) and I see her teetering on the edge of tears, and so…

Jane: “Sweetheart, you know all the chickens we eat were once people…”

…ok, that came out wrong…

Flora: “What?”

Cinder: “You mean we’re cannibals after all?”

Ender: “Chickens are people?”

So what I meant to say is…

…but they know…

…and the point is…

Flora: “I think we’re going to be vegetarian for the rest of our stay in Cuba.”

Cinder: “What, you’ve got something against eating meat that used to be people?”

I’ve always wanted them to eat more lentils.

I just didn’t think it would happen in such a traumatic way.



Cuba’s stray cats and dogs—and the occasional free range chicken—cause Flora constant angst.

Firstly, “Because they are so cute!” and I won’t let her touch them… or bring them home.

Jane: “Look, ooh, aaah, all you like, but don’t touch them.”

Flora: “But why not?”

Jane: “Because I don’t want you to get fleas. Or lice. Or mange.”

Flora: “Mange?”

On cue, a mangy dog runs up to us.

Jane: “Mange.”


Secondly, because stray cats and the occasional free range chicken do not co-exist peacefully, and there are the feathers, and the not-fully consumed corpses…

Flora: “Why can’t they just live in peace?”

Cinder: “Don’t think of it as a dead chicken, Flora. Think of it as well-fed cat.”

Jane: “Not helping.”


Thirdly, because they keep on wandering into traffic…

Flora: “Mom, there’s a dog just running down the street—look, he’s running in-between the cars, there is so much traffic, he will die, we have to call someone!”

I try to convince her that Havana dogs know how to safely cross streets. They clearly don’t—but the drivers don’t seem to speed up and aim for them the way they seem to do for pedestrians, so their chances of survival are good. Plus…

Jane: “We haven’t seen a single carcass, right, honey? So you know they must be all right?”

Why, why did I say that?



So. Since you’ve asked.

The dead cat incident .

We see a carcass.

Cat, I think.

Not fresh. Been there for days.

Right outside a nearby hotel. Well, not right outside. On the other side of the street. I suspect if it was on the hotel side of the street, it would get cleaned up. As is, it’s far enough away that the hotel disavows responsibility.

Flora freaks.

We avoid the place for days. When we come back…

Cinder: “Cat’s still there. I guess Havana doesn’t have a road kill department.”

Jane: “You’d think the vultures would take care of it.”

Flora: “You are so mean! I can’t believe I’m related to you!”



Our landlord has two little dogs, and a beautiful sleek cat that roams the neighbourhood during the day and sleeps in his bed at night.

Ender: “Do you think Jorge has fleas?”

Jane: “Um… probably not.”

Cinder: “Mom? You know how if we die in Cuba in a horrible taxi accident, Dad will never forgive you?”

Jane: “Yes?”

Cinder: “If I get fleas, lice or mange in Cuba, I will never forgive you.”


That’s fair.

Jane: “Then don’t touch any dogs or cats.”

Ender: “Or Jorge?”


Jane: “Just wash your hands a lot.”



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The car in front of us hits a jaywalking squirrel and as I swerve to not roll over the destroyed, twitching little body, Flora bursts into tears.

“Can we stop, can we save it?”

There is nothing to save; it is too dangerous to stop. I shake my head. She weeps all the way to the library. I reach out and hold her hand and let tears well up in my eyes.

(The mother I was two years ago, would have told her to control herself, to get a grip, to stop.)


It’s 8:30 p.m., and the sun is low even here, and so the lake beach is deserted and the lake water, never warm, freezing cold. Flora and I are swimming through it, to the floating dock. There was a dead fish floating there earlier that she really, really wanted to examine… I promised we’d come back when all the other children—who were so grossed out by her zoologist’s desire to see what the fish was, how it died, where its wounds were they screeched and screamed and called for their parents—were gone.

The children are gone, and so is the fish.

Flora, disappointed, lets tears come. Then lets them dry up. We swim through the cold water, back to the shore.

(That’s the mother I want to be: the kind who goes back to the beach at sunset and swims through ice cold water to look for a dead fish with my child. Write that on my tombstone.)


I can’t remember why they start planning my funeral, exactly—Flora and Cinder, I mean. I think it’s because we’re talking about the suicides of various famous people, and of course that naturally segues to burials and funeral rites and wakes, and I say how I really don’t want to have a funeral, but I realize it’s not about me—I’ll be dead, what do I care—it’s about the other people. And Flora, party planner extra-ordinaire, says,

“We’ll make it a big, big party! Who do you want to invite?”

“I don’t fucking care; I’ll be dead. All the people who want to come: all the people who love me.”

“We should invite all the people who hate you too; they’ll be really happy to dance at your funeral. Do you keep a list of those?”

I don’t. But apparently, I should, for my funeral.

Cinder prepares the song list. He’s going to lead with “Highway to Hell.” Follow up with “Staying Alive.”

Flora adds “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” (“Especially if you’re murdered,” she says. WTF? I think.) Also, the Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory Theme Song.” She pauses. “We end with Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ It’ll be kind of ironic, get it?”

I suggest the “Macarena” instead. They don’t get it.

(The human I want to be doesn’t want to be afraid of dying. And I don’t think, if I lead the full life I want to lead, I will be. Will I? So hard to know what will be. Hard enough to be aware, appreciative of what is.)


Ender’s favourite bedtime book right now is I’m A Seed, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by  Judith Moffatt.

“How many books are you going to read me tonight, Mama?”

he asks. I consult the level of exhaustion in my body.


I say.

He asks me to read I’m A Seed four times.

I raise my eyebrows. Feel “No” and rebellion rising in my chest, and then pause. What is the difference between reading the one book I’ve already read him dozens of times four times tonight… and reading four books I’ve already read him dozens of times?”

I read:

“I’m a seed!”

“Me too!”

Four times. Treat it as meditation.

(That’s the mother-human I always aspire to be; too often fail. Today, I achieve. Kiss his sweaty head as he falls asleep. Realize I’ve forgotten to brush his teeth. Fuck.)


“Mom? Are you still thinking about the dead squirrel?”

No. Not even a little bit. But that’s not what she wants to hear.

“Mmmm. You?”


I hold her tight.