“Bendicion mami,” said Elena. She reached up and kissed her mother for the daily blessing.
Her mother wrinkled her nose. “Fó! Lávate la boca!”
Elena rushed to the bathroom. The rebuke had become routine. Up and down, side to side, but no matter how hard she brushed, a strong odor emanated from the back of her throat. It wasn’t only her mother. She began to notice classmates avoiding conversations with her. She withdrew and became the girl with bad breath. Isolation masked the discomfort behind her throat when she drank her lonely tears. Meanwhile, the lump continued to grow unnoticed.
Linda’s wiring system was such that she recoiled at human touch. Sounds screeched in her head. Images loomed large. The world was terrifying. She self-preserved in an invisible shell. There she rocked herself to sleep and blocked out sounds by counting or quietly reciting songs. Today she’d fall under the wide autism spectrum, but back then, “What a strange child,” were common whispers. Her mother felt rejected and her father alienated. Her little sister, though, refused to be ignored. She nagged and prodded. She hugged even when hugs went unreturned. Eventually she cracked the shell and forged a forever bond.
Creaking floorboards alerted Mari that cousins were fast approaching. She was their easy target in the game of catch, but today she determined to outwit the whole lot. She paused at the windowsill. The blue sky beyond the shutters revealed a path. It was a far drop, but she felt confident. She had watched them take the jump many times. She sat on the ledge and lunged forward. Her body slammed back against the wall and knocked out her wind. Her flailing body suspended in midair. Pain shot up her left arm. Her ring had caught on a hanging nail!
I’d occasionally run into Brian standing in front of the Shubert Theater. A gregarious sort of fella, with wavy hair and smiling eyes. I’d wave to him and he’d happily wave back, adding his unmistakable personal touch, “How are those headaches of yours?” I’d continue on my journey to the Port Authority anxious to tell my husband I had seen his cousin. I still feel his presence in Shubert Alley, as if guarding his beloved theater. This morning when I passed by, I whispered, “I attended your baby’s wedding. She was radiant.” He replied, “I know. I saw you there.”
“Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men,” said Jesus, according to Matthew 4:19. And it has been thus ever since. And it has been the basis of most religions, whether Mormon, Scientologist, Muslim, Catholic. All religion counts on recruiting new members and increasing its population to find the way to eternal life. Why so much strife, then? Why brother against brother in the name of salvation? We need to strip down to our bare essentials and reconfigure what is truly important and necessary in our individual lives. And then, maybe then, in our humility, we’ll embrace each other.
Teacups clattered gently as the ladies sipped various flavored teas. Their lively chatter nearly matched the trill of robins and doves exalting the cheery day. The word BUS weaved its way in the conversation. Why oh why, Priscilla, did you rouse me from the warm reverie and drop reality on my lap? The long lines, the commuters elbowing one another vying for a seat, rude passengers airing their dirty laundry into their cellphones, buses jerking in stop and go traffic. The attendant brought out scones. “Oh this blueberry is scrumptious!” In a snap, Jeanette’s words chased away the momentary relapse.
Elias’ feet turned in and his toes faced one another other. He hobbled all day long all around town with bare feet, muttering under his breath. From a distance, he looked like an eleven-year-old boy, or perhaps it was my nearsightedness rendering me incapable of distinguishing features. The first time I got a close look, his cragged face revealed day-old stubble, just like my grandfather. Every morning my grandfather left the house clean shaven smelling of Aqua Velva. Every evening he’d return with prickly stubble smelling of rum. Close up, Elias reminded me of my grandfather. The resemblance discomfited me.
It’s a sprawling community of single family homes. Some larger, some nicer, some with greener lawns. The community shares sidewalks and pleasantries. The houses share yards separated by fences. The nicer sides of the fences face the neighbors as if warning, “don’t look past my pretty fence.” Truthfully, we don’t want our neighbors to intrude in our lives. You stay there. I’ll stay here. And if I invite you in, by all means pay a short visit. Once the door closes, ignore the tension contained within. The lack. The void. Let’s continue our pretend pleasant lives and unsee ugly truths.
Before she had cancer, she was an unstoppable force. She scrambled up ladders to adjust ceiling fans or painted the whole house on a whim; packed bags and kids for day trips; beautified herself and flitted from party to party. No task too big or too small for the unstoppable force. After cancer, physical weakness momentarily took over, but her inner strength doubled. She has faced it down and continues her unstoppable path. A path not for the faint of heart The PhD candidate continues as determined as ever, even if every now and then she pauses for a breather.
Plump, red tomatoes are my favorite with deep dimples where they once clung to the stem. Sliced up and steeped in olive oil, a sprinkling of salt. Alas, they resurface on my cheeks. Cling to the corners of my nose and rise into red bumps. Tomatoes are no longer part of my food intake, but I still buy them. I cannot resist their luscious appeal. I want to feed my desire but then I remember the plump and painful bumps on my face. The pretty tomatoes languish in my vegetable drawer, longing for me to again slice and ingest them.