“Hector—the times that test your character are what make you. When times are hardest, that’s when you have to smile your biggest smile.”
Claudia said this straight-faced. As she spoke, Hector saw his mother’s hand tremble towards her drink, nails dragging across wood grain and palm countering friction against lacquer until this, too, took more energy than she was willing to expend. A shameful false start. She relaxed her shoulder and allowed the weight of her elbow to pull the dejected hand off the table entirely. Remembering that her son was watching, the right corner of her mouth jerked almost myoclonically into some cheap knockoff of a smile, one too weighted by Charlie’s disappearance to reach her eyes or satisfy the proverb. Hector, meanwhile, couldn’t think about his absent brother while the woman in front of him was falling apart.
“Is that something your mama taught you?”
Inés Castillo Reyes was al mal tiempo, buena cara personified. Even as Claudia was left alone rolling tortillas or kicking a rock down the streets of Simpeche, the sound of her mother’s laughter echoing through hills and concrete made it feel like Inés was right beside her. After sunset she’d usually be able to pick out when her mother was about to pass the tienda de jugos two blocks from her house—that’s when she yelled ¡Héctor! ¿Qué onda, wey?—and would leap from her post in the kitchen to get a two-block running start on a bear hug. Those were the memories Claudia felt were locked inside her heart in a place not even the juice could wash away. Then there was a multi-year gap, or rather a period of time which made Claudia flinch to remember, and which she pretended she couldn’t, after which Claudia remembered holding her mother’s hand as she heard the very voice of Simpeche speak Al mal tiempo, buena cara, mi amor and then speak no more. From then on she’d listen to the echoes until they became so small and hollow she couldn’t stand it. And then Claudia took her griddle on her back to be haunted from silence in anywhere other than the city she once knew as home. So to answer Hector’s question, yes.
“Do you miss her?” Hector asked, if only to get a positive reaction from his mother. Of course she did. Inés’s photo came out at Dia de Muertos every year, along with Claudia’s best face. But any mention of Inés or Simpeche could get a reaction out of Claudia, and a reaction was a split second she wasn’t forcing herself into generating hope for her eldest’s well-being, so Hector had to run with it. “We should actually visit Simpeche sometime, and you can show me everything from your stories. Where you lived, where abuela worked—“
“—No,” she interrupted. “I can’t go back.” Home would have been wonderful—alone as a child, walking the streets of Simpeche brought her a peace so strong, it felt the city itself was healing her, reclaiming her pain and burying it deep below the asphalt—but the place Claudia knew as home died years ago.
“I dunno, Mom, a trip would probably do you some good.” Hector racked his brain for a similar destination. “How about Selvadorada?”
“SELVADORADA!” Claudia was speaking at a normal volume and lifting her arms again. “Buñuelos, curanto, baleada, arepas—“
Midway through Claudia’s recitation of Selvadoradian dishes complete with finger-based visual counting aid, the squeak of on wood on wood heralded Mike’s arrival.
“—You know they say jupa instead of cabeza in Selvadorada?”
“Nah,” Hector said, “I know it’s kind of like a dialect of Simlés but don’t know any of the special words.”
“Well, you should learn them if we’re going,” said Mike, the only person in the house not fluent in Simlés. “You know I also donated a lot to Bees for Selvadorada. Have you heard of it? It’s internationally known.”
While Hector received a well-rehearsed marketing pitch for Bees for Selvadorada, Claudia gulped down her juice so fast it barely grazed her tongue. They weren’t leaving until her glass was empty.
Selvadorada had different birds than Claudia was used to. The first thing she did in any new place was take note of the birds—as consistent as Sim engineering could be, the city planners could tweak and standardize every detail but which avian species roosted in the rafters. She fancied that, like Darwin’s finches with their assortment of beaks, she could intuit the personality of the city from birds alone. A blue-and-yellow parrot soared overhead, its wings opening to reveal an orange burst of sunshine without any of the averse photochemical effects. Now that—that was a bird! The very bird Claudia would choose to be, if she could. She waved at it.
The quaint building Claudia was using to get marginally closer to the sky and trees didn’t look like the Central Simerican buildings Claudia remembered. Her city was just as developed as Newcrest, only next to a jungle. Sometimes the jungle leaked in. Like sometimes she’d see a guy with a donkey cart next to a sports car. There was none of that here; the tourists felt it a bit anachronistic, and, as much as Claudia hated to admit it, she was a tourist here. This particular oasis of stucco and Spanish tile seemed to be where they quarantined all the outsiders.
But what mattered right now was the parrot; her plan right now was to run down and get a quick drink before any of her family members came in, then she’d have time to find the proper words to describe exactly how cool this parrot was. She sat down and waved to get the mixologist’s attention.
“<Hey man, a Tang and Zing.>”
Just as he silently placed the drink in front of her, she heard a curt female voice from behind, saying “Leave me alone.” Was Claudia going to have to smack a douche today? She turned around to find out.
It was the one she couldn’t smack.
Mike sauntered away from the angry woman, choosing to sit next to a different angry woman. Angry woman 2 refused to divert her gaze from the bar hutch that she guarded with Cerberus-like intensity, yet still managed to fume in his direction even with her shoulders dead colinear with Mike’s. Ah, this was no good—Claudia had to make every minute of this vacation count, and she wasn’t doing a good job on Mike’s account. He’d have to be the one to cheer up the whole family again. He’s an old pro.
“Cabrón,” Claudia whispered through gritted teeth. Through feast and famine, good times and bad, Claudia’d kept a piece of her mother’s soul with her; the mother who, it seemed, internalized her dying words so strongly (before death, obviously) that she could hype in the back of a rap video during the goddamn apocalypse. Fear and anger were unknown to Claudia Espinosa Castillo. Mother’s love could spare Potter from becoming the latest tragic statistic about he-who-shall-not-be-named-induced infant mortality but not seven pretty crappy years of school; here it married with a 30-year juice chaser to shield Claudia from chronic assholishness right up to T-2 min. and then decided, unceremoniously, to peace out. Inés and Lily’s love operated on quite different timescales, if you think about it. So being, since Inés made sure Claudia here didn’t have to see a quarter of the shit she did, Claudia lacked but a quarter of Inés’s experience dealing with shit. Now protection was useless. Leave something sous vide long enough and it will disintegrate.
The woman who’d spent half a Sim-century without knowing the most carnal negative emotion now had mere seconds to figure out how to control it. She’d heard some metaphor about open floodgates being thrown around to describe anger and finally understood the desire to sweep her arm across the juice display and send every last bottle crashing to the floor. But that strategy would direct the flood toward an innocent third party—the nice mixologist—and away from its intended warnee—Mike. Instead, calmly as she could manage, she held the drink to her lips, filtering the liquid from the ice with her teeth, and tilted her head back to gulp the whole thing down. She performed the following actions like an animatronic display that was unable to face the person to her right: she rose from her seat and tripped robotically back up the rooftop stairs.
“Mamá, dame la fuerza,” Claudia whispered across the treetops. Mom, give me the strength.
“Mom, look, they have Salsa Lizano!” Hector said. This was like pointing out that a Taco Bell had sauce packets. Not that Hector, given his upbringing, had ever heard of Taco Bell.
Happy Claudia is loud. Angry Claudia is stone quiet. Mike watched a blue-and-yellow parrot fly by the window and decided not to comment.
“…Mom?” Hector pleaded. “Hey Mom? What’s wrong?”
“Ask your father,” Claudia mumbled into her plate.
Hector somewhat hesitantly looked at Mike. His father shrugged. “I have no idea why she’s like this.” You wouldn’t expect a reaction from Claudia given how preposterous this was, but in practice she felt herself giving in to visceral confusion. Jumping immediately to ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’ is the preferred strategy of nearly every guilty buttface jerk: if he kept denying reality, it was impossible for Claudia to win a direct argument against him, because she’s the only person in this two-person conflict who cares what reality is. They had slept in separate bedrooms. “Lighten up! We’re on vacation. Aren’t you excited about the big jungle trip?”
“I’m not sure we should go on the jungle trip when Mom is upset—“
“—No, Hector, everyone else here is fine.” He turned to Claudia. “Look, we came here to forget about things. Explore. Grow as people. Live a little. You know, travel is like a book, and people who don’t travel have only read one page. You’re the only one here who’s not having fun.”
Hector’s also not having fun, but saw no reason to disclose that.
“I get it, darling, you’re going through a rough patch. Don’t you have to smile your biggest smile when times are hard? That’s what your mother always said.”
Claudia attempted eye contact with where she thought her half-eaten empanada’s eyes would be. This turned out to be in the filling, which would be a very poor evolutionary strategy if the empanada relied at all on sight to get around. She did this because, as much as she hated to admit it, Mike was right. What other options did she have?
“Right? Now give me a smile. You have such a beautiful smile.”
But she didn’t, not during breakfast, nor while getting ready, nor upon arriving at the jungle. The jungle looked just like the picture she formed in her mind when she viewed it from afar, although she couldn’t help feeling impressed at the scale of the ruins. No matter how much Claudia saw, she couldn’t get over how big or small things were. It’s one of those things that gets lost in photographs and narratives, you know?
“Yeah! Hack n’ slash!” Mike yelled, vine-bound, machete out.
“Dad, don’t you think that’s a bit dangerous?” Hector protested from several yards out of vine-shrapnel range.
Mike laughed the way he thought a pirate would. Pirates have machetes. “Nothing we Jeong-Espinosas can’t face! We might even find a hidden temple, or treasure! Yarrrrr!”
“Any relics we find belong to the people of Selvadorada,” Claudia mumbled into the information board. It was the second thing she’d said all day and totally worth it. This opinion didn’t reach her husband, who was hypnotized by the erotic rhythm of the machete.
“Hey Hector, what’s a pirate’s favorite book?”
“No. The Fault in Our StARRRRRRRRRRs!” Just then Mike’s frantic, aimless thrusting proved fruitful, like it had three other times, and the vines had finally been cleared enough to fit three consecutive Jeong-Espinosas. “Ha ha! Et voilá!” He marched ahead, Hector tailgating his heels.
“Mom—avocados! Real ones! Not like the gringo avocados they get at the store!”
As angry as Claudia was, she wasn’t going to pass up some real produce. The arch she stomped through must have been over five thousand years old, and likely required some fascinating ancient techniques related to keystones or slaves. Claudia was however without a tour guide and simply trampled over the -30th century cobblestones to the 21st century avocados. Though in all fairness, the avocados would be of more use, preferably mashed up with some onion, lime, cilantro, and a shitload of adobo seasoning.
Past Claudia, ribbons of sky-blue water trickled down the crevices of the ancient ruins, taking with them microscopic bits of sediment whose removal over the years had transformed the dilapidated city into somewhat of a large-capacity thrill ride for water molecules. Wheee, the molecules thought as they tumbled down the cliff. Wheee.
“Come on, Hector! Claudia! Chop chop!” Mike yelled over his shoulder, chop-chopping. He’d sprinted nearly half a mile through the unspeakably gorgeous scenery to reach the next thing he was allowed to shove a machete through.
Claudia allowed herself to appreciate the vertical stream’s roar and dribble, the weathered turrets peeking out of their own perpetual mist. She found herself looking over the edge of the knee-height railing. This part of Selvadorada hadn’t yet been sued off its ass by toddler-handlers, but it was only a matter of time. From what Claudia could see through the white cotton ends of the waterfalls, the kiddo who set this off would have a grand old time on the water ride for maybe half a minute.
“Forward and ahead!” Mike yelled back at her. “Vámonos! Vámonos!“
It was no use antagonizing him any further; he’d just keep going. Pushing her to move forward, that is. Not leaving without her. He’d threaten to, maybe, but this statement was one of the things she was glad she couldn’t trust him about. Claudia took several begrudging steps until she found herself transported to a new location through the newly cleared arch.
This area was sprinkled with a couple more avocado trees, from which Claudia dutifully collected. On the far end was an object she recognized as an ancient calendar. It was a calendar she didn’t know how to read. She could stand in the middle and try to figure out the second-innermost ring of hieroglyphs or maybe infer something about the seasons in ancient Selvadorada, which is what she did instead.
Cracking her neck, Claudia realizes how long it’s been since she’s had a drink in hand. She hadn’t been thinking about that. A quick check of her inventory revealed she was only carrying a couple hundred empanadas and several stacks of plants and crap that she forgot she collected; no stray glasses. Their rented house didn’t have a bar either. She pressed pointer finger and thumb to temple and furrowed her brow, trying to externalize the building tension.
The calendar may as well have been floating in the sky, she noticed. A toddler who misjudged a leap across it would get maybe 2/3 of the way into a ‘Baby Shark’ MP3 before meeting its maker in puddle form.
She thought what if—what if the stone behind me is cracked, and my extra added weight of muscle and sinew and bone takes down this whole big thing after dutifully counting days for several thousand years. Madre Cosecha would take care of them both from there. Inés liked to say dying is just the earth reclaiming you. Whether that was something she actually believed, Claudia would never know. She wondered if when her mother closed her eyes for the last time, there was a point at which her beliefs didn’t matter. Maybe the part of her that could feel fear had already gone.
Fear and anger; they were unknown to Claudia and her mother. At least going down with the calendar she’d rejoin her heart in Central Simerica.
“Mom!” Hector’s voice reached from across the chasm. “There’s more avocados over here!”
She stepped back from the edge. Buena cara.
“Alright, everyone, look alive—it’s a temple! First one inside gets the treasure!” Mike ran ahead of the others, not knowing whether Hector and Claudia had heard him or even knew his latest localized fauna-destruction project was complete.
By this time Claudia had cooled down, her problematic anger now a wisp on the horizon. She was talking again, laughing at Mike’s jokes, laughing at Hector’s jokes. They’d come straight from the Royal Baths to this unexplored Omiscan temple.
Claudia examined some ominous but remarkably well-crafted skeleton guards. She wondered why the locals never came down here. The answer, or at least what she interpreted to be the answer, came in the form of a swarm of bees eager to investigate the moving yellow thing.
Hector, meanwhile, was sticking his hands into something he probably shouldn’t be when he heard a muffled clack. It startled him into pausing elbow-deep in a hole marked with a stone rendition of 1/4 of a sun. After a couple seconds of stillness the clack seemed like an isolated incident; he decided it was once again okay to start digging around in there. Then, clack, clack, clack, etc. He turned around and there was a goddamn skeleton coming down the steps.
Hector’s internal monologue at the time was pleasingly direct and succinct: something in the vein of oh crap, there’s a skeleton; oh crap, it’s coming right at me. But he found himself frozen to the ground by his remarkable friendliness, having no desire to run from anyone trying to talk to him, cardiovascular system or none. The clack of femur on patella grew louder as Hector tried to figure out where to look. So it seemed the skeleton’s eye sockets were the obvious choice, especially since they mimicked the way skin and eyebrows moved when a person with skin and eyebrows wanted to start a conversation with a stranger. The reanimated bag of bones stopped in front of Hector.
“<I am the guardian of this temple. They call me Patella.>” So synecdochically named. Patella appeared to have a passing knowledge of Simlés, despite that from context, her native language was most likely ancient Omiscan—she must have been in contact with the locals for quite a while, then. This flew right over Hector’s head. He wasn’t particularly interested in language or colonialism.
Patella cleared her throat. “<You dare to disturb my temple?>”
“<Unfortunately, yes. Would it please you if I left?>”
“<NO,>” Patella boomed. “<There is no leaving. First you must show that you are worthy.>”
“<Uh… sure,>” Hector said, squirming somewhat. “<What do you want me to do?>”
“<You must answer these three questions.>” It was always three questions. “<What…>”
“<…did the vampire say to the skeleton at the party?>”
“<Uh,>” said Hector, “<I don’t know.>”
“<Don’t drink the punch, it has blood.>” You may find this surprising, but Patella didn’t know the answer at the time she asked the question. She was frantically ad-libbing. She loved when tourists came to desecrate the temple; the locals, having been privy to her shit for ages, avoided her at all costs. This is partly why there’s a bunch of lost treasure lying around. “<Then the skeleton said: I can’t drink the punch, I have no intestine.> Jajaja!”
Patella threw a sassy gesture with both arms in anticipation of Hector’s reaction. He didn’t laugh. That was where he was supposed to laugh.
“<No? Another one?>”
More out of curiosity to see what happens if he can’t answer than legitimate interest, he agreed.
“<What did the witch say to the skeleton?>”
“<Uh… oh my god Linda, you have to tell me your diet plan?>”
“<No.>” This was indeed better than the solution gestating in Patella’s ancient brain, but it was still wrong. “<Have you seen my broomstick? I can’t find my broomstick and I think perhaps it got caught in your ribcage.>”
“<Alright, third time’s the charm,>” said Patella, “<are you ready for one more?>”
Hector nodded even though he wasn’t. In truth, nothing in his short life had prepared him for this situation.
“<Where did the skeleton go to get her bones manicured?>”
“<…How are you talking if you don’t have a voice box?>”
“<No. She went to the regular salon like everybody else. But she was still a skeleton, so the manicurist freaked out a bit.>”
Perhaps the test was that he had to laugh, Hector thought—but try as he might, he couldn’t even squeak out an ersatz high-end-salesperson-type giggle. Patella waited a beat. It was time to pull out her real punchline: dislocating her entire head and screaming like a banshee. Hector started screaming along with her. Screaming has all the contagion of a yawn but with the opposite degree of lethargy.
Patella reattached her head and jawbone. “<Ah, you’re a good kid. You’re free to explore the temple,>” she said with a permissive wave of her hand. Hector looked around for any type of living thing, living or not-Patella, that he could pull a you seeing this shit face at, but was instead left staring wide-eyed into the void as the temple’s guardian bounced off, very pleased with herself.
Claudia had left her son upstairs to authenticate artifacts for the people of Selvadorada using her unaccredited knowledge of architecture. She thought she saw something pass behind her, maybe also smelled a faint whiff of mystical remnants of a lost era.
It’s probably nothing.
“Oh my god,” Hector squealed, waving his phone in the air. His family couldn’t read the notification he was reacting to because it was too small and being waved. “It’s the new season of The Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show! It’s today!”
“Oh, how nice! The baking show!” No question—Claudia was back, in full, spreading joy and tortillas to all four simultaneous 4-day time corners of the globe.
“We gotta get out of the temple. Is there a TV back at the house?”
Mike shrugged. “Nah, but there’s one at the bar.”
By this point we can guess one of three J.-E.s needs a drink for sure. She dutifully vanished with Hector into a jungle arch to reappear at Puerto Llamante. Then Mike couldn’t be left without an audience, of course. As luck would have it, the premiere was starting at 2:17 P.M., the exact time they turned on the TV.
“I can’t wait to see what crap these people think is acceptable to put in a pastry.” Hector and his mother both had opinions on Windenburg cuisine, and they were mostly the same opinions, and they were the ones you’d expect. “How much blood do you think this one’s going to involve?”
Before Claudia could hope, she happened to look past Hector’s 5, to a giggling, blushing redhead. There was the answer to Hector’s question. The other patrons were about to get up close and personal with reality TV levels of drama—we’re talking North Simerican reality TV with the fast cuts and screaming.
“Girl, are you a bee box? Because you’re the only thing I can seem to think about in spring and summer.”
“Jaja! I would also like to have one of those bee boxes.”
Claudia tossed away her seat at the bar and took off husband-ward. She, too, thought about bee boxes nearly every day.
“Yeah, but I can’t ever seem to talk myself into buying one.”
“WHAT the devil do you think you are doing?!”
Hector gasped. He gasped because in the background, in Windenburg, a contestant dropped something on the ground they weren’t supposed to.
“Oh, Claudia,” Mike replied. “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t like this? If you don’t like it, I’m going to back off.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you ANYTHING.” Claudia’s voice was rising like the flour-water-salt-yeast masses in the U.W.B.S. competitors’ mixing bowls. The redhead took her chance to flee the scene. What was left for the bar patrons to see was Claudia hysterically yelling at calm, cool, and collected Mike.
“Settle down,” he advised, “we’re in public.”
And beyond that, a master like Mike didn’t have to say a word. All he had to do was sit back and let the status quo do the heavy lifting. Behind him, Claudia seethed, flushing her emotions so quickly she felt her brainstem was about to pop. But she didn’t say a word.
Inés never even had electricity with which to listen to people on TV bake in funny accents, much less a husband to be angry at, and yet she would put the last spoonful of rice and beans on her little girl’s plate with a smile. It was probably because Claudia herself was complaining. God; how could she be so useless to her own mother? And to herself—why couldn’t she do what came naturally to Inés?
Propriety be damned, Claudia grabbed the house whiskey with the faraway, wistful gaze of a fairytale princess about to tell the viewer what she wants, the one where their eyes are like the barred windows to the soul’s tower prison where it screams in muffled rage. A grey-haired Selvadoradan local watched her with increasing concern as the bottle went from half-full to half-empty. According to the UN, two-fifths of an animal went extinct in the time she’d been pouring. This is when the local realized, ay dios, she was using the whiskey as a mixer. He was so entranced he missed the winner of the technical challenge.
The author of 300 Pupusas emptied the contents of her shaker into her ‘now’ and ‘later’ drinks. He was just going to have to deal with it.
“Mom, did you see the guy making empanadas on the Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show?”
She had not. Claudia was aimlessly wandering around the temple they’d temporarily left to watch the guy make empanadas, and now ignored all calls of “Mom?” and “His folding was pretty good, actually.” It also may have been possible she was too far away from Hector to hear the aforementioned, given that she’d placed herself several rooms away from everyone else, or that her full attention was on the throbbing toe she’d stubbed against some hard object without the good sense to stay off the floor. She stumbled downward to see what the corner belonged to and maybe shame it a bit. It was an ancient stone chest.
This belongs to the people of Selvadorada, she scoffed. Even juiced-up Claudia kept her principles. But provided she was careful enough to not drop it, retrieving the object and moving it to a museum—clearly where it belongs—was still alright. Plus also any warm-blooded Sim would want to know what’s inside.
In one gesture, Claudia nudged the stone lid with her left tricep and lat and threw her right forearm into the opening it created. Her hand hit metal. A shock came from her fingertips that she thought was the thrill of discovery; but no, it was an actual electric shock from the conducive artifact.
Maybe it was the unfamiliar context, but this shock felt warmer than the other times, somehow, like when Claudia tried to fix the dishwasher. It was also odd that she felt it most in her head. In another instant it was gone, branding a notification into her fried brain.
You know—as often as the universe threw shit at her, Claudia never thought it would come to this. She also never thought, no matter how justified, ‘why me.’ Her first thought was actually that her family didn’t need to bothered with the curse right now. She scaled the wall, trying to keep her light and noise generation to a minimum as Hector and Mike kept up their spirited debate about how to bypass the next trap. The wall behind her tapered, meaning she was on one side of the staircase. She found a handhold to pull herself up onto the nearest step, stumble to her feet and skip every other two. Steps, not feet. Any less dextrous person attempting the route she took to El Mercado de Puerto Llamante would have started two jungle fires and sprained their ankle three times. A local couple passed her by at the entrance, assuming the pounding of her heart was from cardio.
Claudia looked up into the face of Madre Cosecha. Inés’s face stared back. This was her introduction before she joined them both forever.
Madre, she thought, my name is Claudia Espinosa Castillo.
I was born in Simpeche. I am going to die in Puerto Llamante.
I know you’re expecting me to ask you to dispel the curse, Madre, but can’t bring myself to. You’ve given enough already.
Now that I think about it, does anyone ever visit you unless they want something? Madre, she continued, the world knows what you’ve done. You have a statue and a legacy. But imagine you didn’t. Who in the world would love you then?
Madre, did anyone ever ask you what you were feeling? And if they did, could you even tell them?
Madre, did anyone see you as anything but what you could give?
Because I don’t know, Mamá. I don’t know. I am here, holding on to what you gave me, and I need nothing else. But even if you had given me nothing, she pleaded into the eyes of the statue, Mamá, I would still love you.
I would still—
Even though crying while possessed by magic lightning isn’t recommended, Claudia found herself choking into sobs in public. She looked at her tear-soaked arm in disbelief. Her hairs were no longer standing up from static charge. Her fist started to glow with white light, a glow that spread through all four limbs and met at her heart in a burst that lifted Claudia up into the air with angelic force. The curse was lifted. Madre Cosecha decided to bless her.
Ah, Madre, she thought, you wasted a miracle on a woman whose life was full of them.
And then Claudia realized something—she wasn’t angry, not at the universe, not at the relic, not at Inés. It wasn’t Inés’s fault she failed to clarify that al mal tiempo, buena cara meant ‘unless you can get yourself the hell out of there.’ No idiot would smile at an approaching tornado. Inés taught her to smile at the people she loved; Inés taught her that no one who loved you could ever cause you pain. Inés was wrong. And yet Inés couldn’t possibly sit ten-year-old Claudia down and drill into her every counterexample of each inherited core belief. So now, fortyish years later, that little girl was still figuring out the interesting parts on her own; without Inés and without a dogma.
Why was the will of one man harder to fight to than the will of fate?
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13 thoughts on “Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara”
I want to read SimLit that you have to read eight times to catch the foreshadowing and callbacks. All the best SimLit is like that.
What will Claudia do and not do?
Will Patella get to host the next baking show?
Cathy Tea asking the real questions here, people!
You must have the world’s longest attention span. I can’t even get my own SO to read this once.
LOL! I tell you… “special interest” is the autistic person’s super power! XD
I really like how you added in all these real world values to the Sims worlds in this chapter. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, like do I do that, do I not do that? It’s obvious Angelico is or would be from Argentina but I also made him ‘be from Selvadorada’ because my universe doesn’t have real world countries… so I just pretty much allow for them mixed signals, while you actually take the effort to work that shit out into something neat. It’s impressive!
Also man, can I just say that Claudia looks absolutely gorgeous in this chapter? Because she does.
It was neat to see this chapter being devoted to Claudia to such extent. You did a really god job at that, and I really loved the whole family background stuff. You always choose just the right technique for each character to allow the reader to slowly unravel them and it’s awesome.
I felt bad for Hector, being caught up in it all. The poor thing. I can basically feel the tension from my screen, so I can’t even imagine how fucking shite it must be to be in the same room with them there, lmao.
Mike and his dad jokes, man… Mike and his dad jokes are here to give me life.
You gave one of the best StrangerVille chapters I have ever read and now here’s the Selvadorada one… I fucking love it. Everything about it, right down to the skeleton. Said skeleton appears in my story too, but of course she had to be fashionably dressed just like all my characters are (no joke, the skeleton in my game actually for some reason wore a shitload of accessories and it was awesome).
Smh at Mike getting successfully flirted with. Dude, you got an amazing wife right fucking there, man. Right there.
Oh fuck! Claudia got marked for death! I’ve explored Selvadorada at least four times by now, have not had the best of luck with my Sims and yet they have never been marked for death. Poor Claudia, man. As if she didn’t have it difficult enough already.
The whole madre conversation, got… that shit got to me. I don’t have anything constructive to say about it, except that I fucking love it. And that I did mildly fear for her shedding tears while cursed with electrocution but hey, that seems to have worked out in the end, anyway.
Obvious? Oh, right, I think I do remember Angelico using Argentinian slang. It’s effective to dance in ambiguity b/w sim and human pop culture. I made it Costa Rica as a nod to a friend. She HATES the fruit here.
Glad the unraveling is working for you. The stylistic shift between this and the first few chapters, not to mention this and the current chapter (hey future people, I’m talking about Sunshine & Laughter), is bonkers. This was another chapter where my notes were “they go to Selvadorada and something happens???” and the game decided to endlessly shit on Claudia. And it actually fit in with everything else. It’s like the RNG wanted to stick with the motherhood theme. You’ve played way more of the actual game than I have, so I didn’t know being marked for death was rare; what is this game playing at?
Hmmm—I see a way to make her Madre Cosecha monologue more mature and less angsty. Thanks for reminding me.
I’ll try a new approach to commenting and write down my thoughts as I go so that I don’t forget something.
“When times are hardest, that’s when you have to smile your biggest smile.” Of course Claudia would say that. It actually makes a lot of sense to learn about her upbringing and her mum, definitely paints a good picture lf how Claudia got to be the way she is.
Simlés is a terrific word, well done on coining that!
It’s got to be dreadfully boring to be a temple guardian. No wonder Patella got into that.
Heh I love me some Unparalled Windenburg Baking Show, as you know 😁 Who knew it reached to Selvadorada!
I’m having a hard time connecting with Hector. I think it’s that youngest child curse.
I wonder what Claudia’s breaking point is, and if we’re getting close to reaching it… oh, she’s marked for death now. Weirdly, I feel like that could actually help her. Oh wait, she’s lifted the curse already. I wonder if she takes it as a bit of a wake up call because clearly her life is not doing it for her. But we’ve known that for a while. I just realised that lerhals Charlie takes after her much more than I thought.
Yess, another BBD fan! The cross-universe Bernard Fight gives me life. Lord, those Bernards do not like each other.
Interesting point about the mark of death—is it because she can make ambrosia?
Good point, I completely forgot she can make Ambrosia! I just meant that the brush with death might be good for her to reevaluate, get some new perspective – which to a degree seems to have happened, it just all went down quicker than I expected! We’ll see if it makes a more lasting approach to her in the long run. (well, I’ll see, you already know haha!)
I could just tell from the introduction that this was going to be a “Mike being an asshole chapter.” And they hadn’t even left yet!
I’ll refrain from talking about all the turns of phrase that made me chuckle, because there were too many; I think this is SUCH a representative chapter of your writing style. (Okay, maybe I’ll mention that “dead colinear” got a genuine chuckle out of me.)
So, once we get to the making-eye-contact-with-empanadas scene, I was able to really nail down what makes this chapter so nauseating to me (in a good way, I’ll clarify). You’ve presented the situation so believably and evocatively that I felt I was on the receiving end of Mike’s mistreatment, and the thing is — especially from Hector’s viewpoint, for example — Mike is doing nothing that seems immediately abusive. Yet, he’s severely hurt Claudia, messing around (and being a dick) to another woman, and is denying it. If you don’t have this information — which Hector doesn’t — Claudia is upset, and Mike is simply trying to cheer her up. (“C’mon! We’re on vacation.”) So for him to use her mantra (“Smile your biggest smile!”) to shut her down further, and to save his own asshole skin, feels perverse.
But on the surface, all it looks like is “I can see that you’re sad, but cheer up, yeah?”
In the suicidal ideation passage. Damn, that’s powerful. Claudia is so accustomed to putting on a brave face that she’d almost rather die than have to face very understandable emotions. I know I said something similar in my comment on S&L, but Claudia does seem to absorb everyone else’s negativity without complaint, and I can feel the pressure building in this chapter.
HOW MUCH BLOOD. OMG. God. And the way Mike makes Claudia look like the asshole for nearly going ballistic? Makes my blood boil. And the fact that I was still laughing at sim!GBBO jokes throughout the whole thing? It’s like Vonnegut or DFW levels of irreverence. Love it love it love it love i—
I’m just going to leave this here.
Manny’s incoherent ramblings because she has a lot of Thoughts about this chapter:
claudia wanting to smack that woman’s harasser before realizing it’s her husband, claudia asking the statue if she would still be loved if she didn’t give anything, claudia always giving everything and sacrificing her own well-being but never expecting the same in return and somehow still expressing gratitude for what she has, it’s killing me-
and oh fudge i just noticed when her thoughts switched from Madre to Mamá aaaaah more feels
will we get more context on Claudia’s childhood and mother Inés? I feel like i had trouble parsing her whole background story here
I am realizing i have devoted very little brainpower to thinking (and caring) about Mike as a character and this chapter reaffirms this subconscious decision
is that a gas-lit lantern in the screenshot??? because i like to think Mike is into gaslighting in every sense of the word.
also the parallel between Inés telling claudia, al mal tiempo, buena cara and Mike telling her that in a way that belittles her. same message, such different meanings behind it
I just started reading BBD so I’m fangirling about this Sims metaverse!!
I’m rooting so hard for Claudia right now. Are you gonna get there, Claudia? Are you gonna get out? please get there claudia, please
In what might very well be Fate, as soon as I finished reading this chapter, my mother called. She asked me how my paper writing is going and I said slow and she said her catchphrase, “Paciencia y buen humor.” She might as well have been saying, “Al mal tiempo, buena cara.” So, that’s a couple reasons why Claudia resonates so much with me.
Did I say this chapter is well-written? This chapter is well-written.
also i couldn’t think of anything to say about the motif of intergenerational reflections on motherhood, except maybe that i like the recurring symbols of faces and statues (re: The Faceless Mother)
Thank you for noticing, thank you thank you thank you!
It’s challenging to respond to this with anything other than frenzied nodding and “yup, them be the themes.” ‘Cause them be the themes. For a mostly female reader base, “you know how wholesome messages get twisted by manipulators in a way that benefits them at your expense?” doesn’t need elucidation and should hit hard.
(Fair enough on parsing the background story: I can look at it again, since this writing style is hard to pull off and sometimes I muddle things by accident!)
Hooooly crap, that coincidence with your mom, though. I hope she’s doing better than Claudia is.