The Human Cornucopia
Is your life like a sandwich,
Full of bologna?
Are you caught in the middle?
Do you feel kinda phony?
Could it be like a smoothie,
All mixed up and cold?
Or are you more like A-1,
Saucy and bold?
Do you live like a caper,
Sour and green?
Or warm and quite sweet,
Like a cup of hot tea?
Are you obnoxiously bubbly
Like a glass of champagne?
Or feel lost like a grape
That just slipped down the drain?
Are you more like a turnip-
Buried and bitter,
Or make others feel guilty
Like donuts and fritters?
No matter the food group
To which your life takes
We know what it’s not—
And that’s one piece of cake.
-A.T. Saturday, August 12
Five staggered frames around fading elementary school photos knock rhythmically against knotty-pine wall panels. The invasive buzz of rickety car parts rattled by amped bass echoes in the single-pane living room windows, shivering in their own frames.
Maria rises from her laptop on the ring-stained kitchen counter. Her pink toenails traverse from scuffed flower-print linoleum across light brown carpet. She separates brittle, sunbaked plastic blinds with two fingers and sneaks a peak.
The racket rattles out of an old purple Cadillac. Gold paint peels from her hubcaps as she idles on the shoulder of the pothole-riddled street two doors down.
“Is that another cockroach?” Alisa whispers, wide-eyed behind the kitchen counter.
“I think so, Mama.”
“Then get away from the window, Maria. . . Please.”
Maria hesitates as she spots two of the neighborhood’s least appreciated residents. They emerge from a mildew-tinged yellow house two doors down and swagger up to a dark-tinted driver’s side window. The glass lowers an inch, a lazy ribbon of white smoke knurls into the sunlight. It vanishes, no match for the dankness of a Dallas summer evening.
A brown hand mounted with crusty yellow nails emerges with a baggie between two spidery fingers. It exchanges a wrinkled wad of cash for a fist-bump and slithers back into the hoopty.
“Yes, definitely la cucaracha,” Maria reports, “Why can’t the creeps be satisfied with killing off their own kind?”
“He stopped? . . . Did he? I call police.” Alisa reaches for her flip-phone.
Maria shrugs, “The crackheads’ll be gone before cops can get here . . . if they bother to come at all. I’m sure they’re way too busy with domestic violence in Park Cities.”
The rear passenger-side door of the car squeaks open. A lean young Latino emerges. He swaggers down the crumbling concrete mosaic toward Maria.
“Ah–” disappointment cracks her voice, “I knew it!!”
“What? What did you know?”
Maria’s hand falls to her side with a sigh as the blinds snap home. She shuffles back to the kitchen.
“Nothing Mama . . . I– I’m just sick of those creeps. Where were we?”
Alisa looks deep into her daughter’s inquisitive brown eyes through a fresh film of anxiety.
“This memories is not easy for me, Maria.”
“I know you don’t like to talk about it, but he was my Papa. This is my history.”
Ms. Sanchez leans back against the range and shifts her tearful gaze to the ceiling fan in the adjacent living room. Her creased hands search for stray bobby pins among the multitude that confine her long, greying locks to a bun—as she always does when nervous.
The lines in Alisa’s face, weathered by years of emotional hurricanes, are the mark of wisdom that only comes from steadfast perseverance over cards stacked against her. Her warm, melancholy countenance conveys empathy and understanding without a word—the weary, but genuine kind that only flames of grief and despair can temper.
“I know, Chihuahua . . . you should have all the story.”
“Papa was a butcher, right?”
Alisa forces a half-smile, and rounds the kitchen counter. She sits down on a three-legged stool. She sweeps a portion of her daughter’s long dark hair back over her shoulder, and looks into her eyes like a mirror.
“I met Jorge in Laredo, when I worked at a Chevron. He drove to Texas every day for work and then back across in the nighttime. He would always come and talk to me when he put gas in that rusty Lariat. He would say ‘you are 5 miles from freedom, chica!’ . . . . Ah! He was so handsome! Big arms!”
Maria reflects her mother’s wistful smile and tries not to roll her eyes. She barely remembers her father, but is too familiar with the romantic side of the story.
“I know. . . I know all that, Mama, let’s skip ahead four years. You lovebirds get married, you get into Texas, you have Aciano, Christina, then me . . . we’re eleven, ten, and seven.”
Alisa purses her lip and checks her bobby pins as her mind reels through time.
“Yes. . . okay. . . . We lived in Palestine. I was waitress at Little Cabana—I walked all day. Gave salty, cheesy meals to the biggest people I ever see in my life . . . Ugh, that oily food!” Mama shuddered, “I felt so ugly when I came home—greasy hair, baggy dress . . . I washed so much, but always smell like onion . . . . But Jorge . . . I’m sorry.”
Tears work their way through cracks in Alisa’s dam of resilience.
“Ah! Jorge. . .”
Maria wraps an arm around her mother. She whispers, “I don’t remember much, Mama, but I loved him too.”
“He worked harder than any other man . . . on the same line with lots of people. They killed many cows every day. He offer to show me where he worked, but after his stories . . . I really did not want to see.
“Papa was a cutter—he had two very sharp knives, like hooks. He had to sharpen every day. I did not let him bring those things inside the house for you to see. He told me if he hit bone in the wrong place or did not work very fast, he could get cut up himself.”
Maria turns back to her laptop, “Is that how he got hurt?”
“It was just a little cut, completely an accident. Jorge laughed with his friend that did it—one of his best friends. He joked that he never thought José would stab his back. I put cream on the cut, but it still got bad.
“When his back swelled up and Papa got fever, we went to the emergency. I do not know if it was the first infection or another one he got . . . later in hospital that . . . .”
Alisa’s voice fades. Her countenance begs for a reprieve.
“I’m sorry Mama . . . we can finish later. I need to get ready for a date tonight, anyway.”
Alisa perks up as her mind changes channels, “A date?”
Maria’s loneliness never flies below the radar of her mother’s intuition.
“Maybe I should have said appointment.”
Alisa knows better than to pry.
A shaved cranium ringed by a green bandanna headband and sporting a wispy mustache swings around the corner from the mudroom and into the kitchen.
“Oooh! You have a date?!” It coos, “Is it Bobby or Paco?!?”
Mama jumps, then scowls, “Aciano! Make sure you lock the door!”
He grins, “I’m just here to protect you lovely ladies from the gangsters of the dark side . . . . and, of course, to be a chaperon when duty calls!”
Maria rolls her eyes, “Why don’t you worry about getting your own act together?! Some golden knight you are—dropping out of school, refusing to work a decent job, strutting around like a wannabe MS-13 member!” Her cheeks are hot as she pumps the brakes, “I just saw y– mmmm . . . You don’t have me fooled—and where was the chaperon ten years ago when– ”
Maria finds the pedal, and not a moment too soon. Aciano’s wiry frame hangs emasculated in the entryway. The blank stare he gives the floor masks his elevated heartrate. He turns on his heel and makes a quick exit.
Maria and Alisa flinch in unison as the front door slams.
“Ah Maria, Maria.” Mama pleads, “Love your brother.”
“I’m going to be late,” she growls. The Latina claps her laptop shut and snatches her journal from the countertop, “I should be home by ten.”