An excerpt from Teresa.

February 12, 2012

The call came early in the morning. My mom sat at the head of the dining room table and I watched her face as the bad news purled through the receiver. Her hair looked grayer, and the right angles of her jaw and chin seemed softer, less beautiful. She drew a circle with a pencil on a sales flyer and nodded thoughtfully.

She stood up to return the phone to the wall. The glass she was holding hit the floor and orange juice rolled down the slope of linoleum, collecting around the base of the cat food dish. She followed, landing flat and hard on the ground. I grabbed my stomach and stepped back, as if fainting was contagious. The knock and bounce of the glass echoed down the hall and my dad entered the kitchen as if he expected to find a mug toppled over by the cat.

“She’s dead,” I reported. I meant Lita, he thought Mom.

Lita was my mom’s mom. It wasn’t her real name, just what I called her as a kid when I couldn’t say Abuelita right. My dad never called her anything. Sometimes when he heard her car rattle into the driveway he’d tell my mom, “your mother is here,” but that was it.

Lita took care of me every day after school while my parents worked. She taught me to add milk to my refried beans and showed me how to flip tortillas over the flame of the gas burner. She was always talking to her steamy lids in Spanish, bending over to raise or lower the temperature beneath the pots.

There was a history in everything she made. When she fixed menudo I knew I’d hear about her trek across the border and her first American butcher, the one who practically gave tripe away. “No one knew how to cook it except the Mexicans,” she’d say proudly, sampling her broth with a wooden spoon. Tamales meant a memory of Christmas Eve, when she had spent the entire day sitting still in her best dress, curling her hair with rags. That night when the deaconess saw her curls, she dragged Lita by the collar to the church bathroom and drenched her head under cold water. “I guess we weren’t supposed to look nice,” she’d tell me, patting her hair.

I would shrug behind her skirt and apron and sneak out the swinging door, my mouth full of avocado on toast.


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