A Heart the Size of Your Fist

Excerpt from Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

I knew that letters were going to come but wasn’t prepared for what happened when I found one lying in my campus mail box. I flashed hot, then cold, then nauseous, and I had to go somewhere to read it—somewhere that is not home. No one must look at me.

Across campus on the other side of the railroad tracks that run behind the theatre, there is a tree I sometimes climbed. It’s a scruffy old pine with branches that are naked near the trunk—a hiding place I discovered last spring before I met Tom, when the guy I’d been in love with all year started going out with somebody who wasn’t me.

I rode my bike to my tree with the letter in my pocket and climbed up to the seat where I mourned that other heartbreak.

Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry.

I didn’t want to go home with red eyes and snot on my shirt.

Don’t cry.

The problem wasn’t my housemates. It was Tom I was hiding from. Obviously, at our house you could cry if you wanted and you didn’t owe anybody an explanation. But Tom would expect one. One I didn’t have. When he said he loved me, I said it back. And I meant it. I did.

 

I didn’t cry.

I read the letter, and read the letter, and read the letter. I held it to my face. I pressed it to my arms, to my cheek, to my heart. All I could do was think about breathing. All he asked was for me to come back, but I couldn’t move from that tree.

 

Can you love two people? If you love two people, is one fake and one real? Which one? Or are they both lies?

Can you fracture into a thousand pieces on the inside, and outside no one will know? Can you die and still appear alive? Can you live without understanding anything?

What is happening to me? Why can I not let go? Why does it matter more than air? How will I live my life?

Can you ever be alright again, ever, after you are absolutely broken? How can so much pain fit into a heart the size of your fist?

 

It was like the day in Los Rios that I reached from the shower for my towel and was stung on my pinky finger by the scorpion hiding there. I stared in dumb disbelief at my hand, as a blinding pain surged through my tiny finger and exploded into the entire room. It charged the air around my body like electric and shook the walls of concrete. All the while, my smallest finger looked exactly the same.

Un Corazón del Tamaño del Puño

Extraco de Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

Yo sabía que las cartas iban a llegar, pero no estaba preparada para lo que sucedió cuando encontré la primera en mi buzón en el campus universitario. Sentí calor, luego frío, luego náuseas, y tenía que ir a algún lugar para leerla, algún lugar que no fuera mi casa. Nadie debía mirarme.

Al otro lado de la universidad, al otro lado de las vías del ferrocarril que corren detrás del teatro, hay un árbol que yo a veces subía. Es un pino viejo desaliñado con ramas desnudas cerca del tronco, un escondite que descubrí la primavera pasada antes de conocer a Tom, cuando el muchacho del que yo estaba enamoradísima comenzó a salir con alguien que no era yo.

Me fui en la bicicleta hasta aquel árbol con la carta en el bolsillo, y subí al asiento donde lloré esa otra angustia.

No llorar, me dije. Pase lo que pase, no llorar.

Yo no quería ir a casa con los ojos rojos y mocos en la camisa.

No llorar.

El problema no eran mis compañeras de casa. Me estaba escondiendo de mi novio Tom. Obviamente en la casa donde vivía con las chicas, podrías llorar si querías sin deberle una explicación a nadie. Pero Tom me pediría una explicación. Uno que no tenía. Cuando Tom me decía que me amaba, se lo decía también yo. Y lo decía en serio. Era la verdad.

 

No lloré.

Leí la carta, y leí la carta, y leí la carta. Me la apreté a la cara. La presioné contra mis brazos, contra mi mejilla, contra mi corazón. Lo único que yo podía hacer era concentrarme en respirar. Lo único que pidió él que me había escrito la carta era de volver, pero no podía moverme del árbol.

 

¿Puedes amar a dos personas? Si amas a dos personas, ¿uno es falso y el otro es verdadero? ¿Cuál es cuál? ¿O son ambas mentiras?

¿Puedes fracturarte en mil pedazos por dentro sin que nadie lo nota por fuera? ¿Puedes morir y seguir vivo? ¿Puedes vivir sin entender nada?

¿Qué me está pasando? ¿Por qué no puedo dejarlo ir? ¿Por qué importa más que el aire? ¿Cómo viviré mi vida?

¿Es posible volver estar entero después de que estés completamente roto? ¿Cómo puede caber tanto dolor dentro de un corazón del tamaño del puño?

 

Era como el día en Los Ríos cuando, después de bañarme, tomé mi toalla y  un escorpión allí escondido me picó en el dedo meñique. Me quedé estupefacta mirando la mano, mientras un dolor cegador surgió a través de mi dedo meñique y explotó en toda la habitación. El dolor era tan grande que cargó el aire alrededor de mi cuerpo con electricidad y sacudió las paredes de concreto. Pero todo el tiempo, mi dedo meñique se veía exactamente igual.

 

Lambrate

Lambrate.

I find it on Google maps. It’s on the other side of Milan.

I’ve never been to a crematorium. The only picture I have in my mind of a crematorium is Auschwitz, and I know this is not going to be like that. But I know what happens in crematoriums and I know that my husband is there. His ashes are there. How is this possible?

I’ve waited for 29 days. 29 terrible days. First the sickness, over in 4 months. Then the death with the futile fight at the end. Then 29 days of waiting for ashes, for the legal papers that will release them to me for international travel. He told me and everyone that he wanted to go home to the ocean in Costa Rica after this was over, for the remains of his destroyed body to end in the ocean. So I wait.

I have an app on my phone that tells me how to get anywhere I want to go in Italy using public transportation. It tells me which buses and metros I need to take to get to Lambrate. The public transport system is easy. I’ve been in Italy now for 5 months–I’m not a beginner. I’m concerned about which side of the street to catch the bus on, but I have extra tickets so if I catch it going the wrong way, I can get off and wait for the same-numbered bus on the other side.  It would’t be the first time.  I am more worried about choosing the right stop to get off the bus. How will I know? And, provided I pick the right stop, how will I find the cemetery where the crematorium is located? I don’t expect giant signs to advertise it. Am I going to have to stop strangers to ask the way? What if I cannot speak?

I find the bus stop. It’s cold here on the shady side of the street. I’m early. I’m sick to my stomach–sick with fear that something will go wrong, that I’m supposed to bring some type of document that I don’t have. I have nothing in my hands except my passport. My brother-in-law told me that the funeral parlor said they have taken care of everything and all I need to do is go with my ID. Everything is ready. I do not have any faith that this is true. But I have nothing to bring. So I am empty-handed with an exploding heart and a knotted gut.

If they tell me I must leave without his ashes I will crumble to the floor and they will have to carry me out. I know it. I have nothing left. I can’t anymore.

My attention shifts back to the present. To the street corner I am standing on, to the thin stripe of sun I am trying to stand in, to the growing group of passengers around me waiting for the Lambrate bus.

Suddenly a chilly wave of relief sweeps over me, something warm like love kindles in the center of my frozen chest, and I know I am going to be alright. I will find the right bus and I will know the right stop to get off. I will find the cemetery and the crematorium.

I know this because I realize that I am standing in a growing cluster of old women. Furrowed faces, pea coats, gray hair, gnarled hands. In their arms, they carry flowers.

On this lost street corner in Milan on the last morning of October, my new tribe surrounds me. These are my people. Each of these grandmothers, one day, has done what I am doing–made her first trip to the cemetery at Lambrate. We are widows. We are waiting in the damp sun-striped shade to go to our husbands. I am the youngest, the newest. I have arrived earlier than usual to this place, to a bus stop on the route to Lambrate. There are men among us also, solemn-faced and wrapped in scarves, but largely, we are women.

The time is wrong. The place is right. I am in good company and will not be lost. I am not alone. My pain, perhaps fresher, belongs to all of us. I am home here in this unfamiliar place.

When the bus comes, I get on and stand in the aisle, allowing the seats for my elders. I stare out the window  at the ancient city as we travel, trying to breathe, envious of the serenity of the women and of the flowers. When the bus slows and the hunched passengers stand, I follow them out the door and down the street, through the gates of the cemetery at Lambrate, and follow signs to the crematorium.

Sudden Handcuffs

A short story about a day at work in Washington.

 

Camila shows up without an appointment. The receptionist calls my desk in the social work office and informs me that she is waiting. Something personal is going on, I intuit. If she came for help with welfare forms or letters, she would not have waited in the lobby through my lunch. She is asking for someone she trusts.

I call her from the lobby into an empty office where we can talk in private. Baby Diego wiggles happily on her lap when I smile at him.

“Necesito que me ayude con mi hermano,” she says.

“Ok?” I ask. “En qué sentido?”

“Necesito que me ayude a escribir una carta.”

Now she drops her eyes and straightens baby Diego’s little hat. At her full adult height she is four feet tall like her mother and grandmother, and wears clothes she buys in the children’s section at Walmart. All of them, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and a growing band of cousins have come from a remote mountain village in Mexico. They live together as they did before they stole across the border, in a decrepit three bedroom trailer heated by a wood stove in the living room. I have been there. I sat with her every month on the sagging bed in the living room, in that intimate chaos, discussing baby Diego’s growth from the time he was nothing but a little lump.

“Está en la cárcel,” she tells me.

“Qué pasó?” I ask.

He’s a good man, she tells me, and the family is very sad. She wants to write a letter telling the judge that he should be allowed to come home. He is not a bad person. He is a hard worker and he doesn’t drink. Will I help her?

“Sí,” I tell her. But why is he in jail?

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque su esposa es muy joven. Ella tiene trece años. Y lo metieron en la cárcel.”

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque la esposa tiene trece años?”

“Sí.”

Ah, I say. Yes. In this country it is illegal for a man to have a thirteen year old wife.

“Ya sé,” she tells me, “Pero para nosotros, es normal.”

“Yo lo sé,” I say, and prop my head on my hand, looking at her.

I hate this.

“Como está la esposa?” I ask, trying to understand. If he is in la cárcel, something happened. Something.

“Ella está muy triste,” Camila says. “Ella quiere que lo dejen ir.”

“Ella lo ama?”

“Oh, sí. Mucho,” she earnestly nods.

“Él la trata bien?”

“Sí, la trata bien. Es un hombre muy bueno. No toma licor, nunca.”

“Cuántos años tiene él?”

“El tiene 21.”

Well, yes. Indeed.

“Tienen niños?” I ask. I realize I don’t need this much information to write the letter she wants, but I can’t help it. Throughout her pregnancy with baby Diego, we developed a sort of lopsided friendship, and I care about things for which I can offer no remedy.

“No, she says, “Pero está embarazada.”

Quietly, a sigh deflates me.

I can see it perfectly: the thirteen year old girl who speaks no English and very little Spanish goes to the doctor with her mother, or mother-in-law, where it is confirmed that she is pregnant. They do not show their delight or any other emotion in front of the large white strangers. Their round faces are stoic, expressionless, and the nurse sends them directly to speak with a social worker. They do not know what a social worker is, but they know to cooperate with large white strangers.

They answer the interpreter’s questions in broken Spanish.

How old are you?

Are you in school?

Where is the father of your baby?

How old is he?

Where does he live?

The large white strangers note his name, his age, that his address is the same. They do not ask her if she is married, if her baby’s father is her husband, betrothed to her when he was fifteen and she was a child of seven. They read flickers of fear on the face of the older woman and they misunderstand.

“El es muy bueno, y queremos que lo dejen ir,” Camila says. The sadness in her is bottomless.

 

I write the letter to the judge, stating that Eduardo is a good man, that his family misses him very much and that they need him. That the pregnant child is his wife and that she needs him. That he is a hard worker who doesn’t drink liquor or consume drugs. That the judge may please consider that he is not a criminal and let him go.
I realize, of course, that by my country’s law, he is.

Camila hugs me gratefully and leaves carrying the letter in one hand, clutching delighted baby Diego to her small hip with the other.

I go back into the little room where we can talk in private and sit there by myself, immobilized by a sorrow that seems to expand in all directions. I say a prayer for rain in the high plains of Mexico, that corn may germinate and grow, that the goats may have milk enough for everyone’s babies, that people may find hope in their homelands far away from large strangers with our clipboards, prying questionnaires and sudden handcuffs.

Boa

Flash non-fiction from times when the jungle was wilder.

I pull the suitcase down off the shelf above the corner closet, and there she is looking at me—a boa. We are equally surprised, and both jump back. How long has she been with me in my bedroom on top of the closet? How on earth did she get in?

How on earth will I get her out?

Maybe I should leave her there, I think. Maybe I have slept in my bed with her watching over me on many nights.

Maybe so, I think, but no more. We are afraid of each other now, and in this room together neither of us will sleep.

I stand on a chair with a broom and push her onto the floor. She flops helplessly to the tile, and in a desperate speedy wiggle, dives toward the safe darkness under my bed. I swipe at her with the broom – mighty whacks that push her toward the open door. I don’t want to hit her, but I am afraid of her. She strikes at the broom. She is afraid of me.

When I finally push her through the door into the black night, she slithers into the leafy jungle. My heart is pounding fast, as if I have been fighting for my life. Does she have a sister in my bedroom? Will she try to find her way back in?

Now, if she bites me I will deserve it. I hit her hard, and she did nothing to me but enter unannounced.

I lay on my bed in the dark and I am not sleepy. I imagine eyes looking down at me from the shelf on top of the closet. I feel the flicker of a thin tongue that reads my dreams.

I have been wrong. On how many nights have I lamented sleeping alone, while in truth accompanied by a lithe and silent guardian?

The Story of Maria Pablo in Ten Scenes

This is  a revised story originally posted in May 2013 with the title
“White Buckets”

 I

María Pablo is sitting round on her bed with Carlitos when I enter.  Carlitos is eating a tortilla and cheese with both grubby hands, and María is petting his hair.  It’s another boy, due in May.  I don’t take my coat off because the room is that cold.

“No puedo dormir,” she tells me.  Her back hurts, the baby moves.  Carlitos wants to sleep with her, and Vicente and even Adolfo who is almost 11, when it is cold.  There is another bed in the room piled with clothes and broken toys.

 

 II

 “Cuántos años tienes?”

“No sé.  Como veinticuatro.”

“En qué año naciste?”

“En ochenta y cuatro.”

“En cuál mes?”

“Diciembre.”

“Diciembre?  Entonces tienes veintisiete – casi veintiocho.”

“Veintiocho!  Sí, sí!  Veintiocho!”  She laughs.

 

 III

She brings me the letter typed in little black letters with the green logo of the county courthouse.  She is dusty and her back hurts from bending between the rows of the onion fields.

“Qué dice?” she asks me.

They want the name of baby Alejandro’s daddy if she’s to continue receiving government cash to pay the rent.  I know the answer to the question.  She has told me before.

Now she drops her eyes and isn’t looking at me when she repeats it: “Es que no sé.”

This time I have to press her.  The blanks on the paper are staring at us.  “No sabes su nombre o no sabes cuál es?”  I ask in the politest way I can think of.

“Yo sé quien es,” she says looking up, “Pero no sé donde está.”

“Y no sabes su nombre.”

“No,” she agrees.

 

 IV

She comes to me with another green and black letter.  Baby Alejandro nurses hungrily.  Carlitos stands guard, beside.

“Qué dice?” she asks me, and I tell her.   She has to go to the courthouse on Thursday at 2:00 to answer some questions about baby Alejandro’s daddy.

“Es que no sé,” she insists.

I know, I tell her, but you’re going to have to tell them that in person.

“Es que tengo verguenza,” she pleads.

“María,” I ask her slowly, “Te violaron?  O fue una cosa entre los dos?”

“No,” she says, looking at the floor.  “Fue una cosa entre los dos.”

Did you love him?, I want to ask her.  Cuénteme.  But I don’t.

 

 V

I meet them at the courthouse:  María, baby Alejandro, Carlitos and this time Vicente, too.  School is out for the summer.  The courthouse clerk speaks Spanish so she doesn’t need an interpreter, but I’m already there.  I make myself useful holding baby Alejandro.

“Dónde está el papá de su bebé?” the clerk asks her.

“No sé,” María tells her.

“Cómo se llama?” asks the clerk.

“No sé,” María answers.

Then she does something that I cannot believe.  María Pablo opens her purse.  She pulls out the remains of a mysteriously masculine-looking wallet stuffed with pieces of paper.  And from the wallet, she produces a Washington State ID card with a man’s name and picture.  She hands it to the courthouse clerk.

“Es él?” the clerk asks.

“Sí,” replies María.

I all but drop baby Alejandro on the floor.  I am stupefied.  She doesn’t know his name but she has his ID?  I know she can’t read.  But?  She could have shown me the ID.  María is not laying all her cards on the table.

I am somehow delighted.  I knew she wasn’t stupid.

Did he leave without his ID?  Hardly.  His wallet?  And never come back?  María, did you steal it?!

The clerk writes the name of baby Alejandro’s daddy and gives the ID back to María.  María says she thinks he’s in Oregon.

We walk out the door, baby Alejandro safe in his mother’s arms, Carlitos and Vicente in tow.  Something stops me from pointing out that she hasn’t been exactly straight with me.  For some reason, I have to leave her that little bit of dignity when way say goodbye.

I laugh out loud all the way back to my office–shocked, amazed, imagining a hundred possible scenarios.  I am laughing at myself.

 

 VI

Sandra walks over to my desk and says, “I have bad news for you.

“What?”

“Carmen was here filling out housing applications.  She said that María Pablo got beat up last night by her husband.”

The f-word flies out of my mouth like a startled bird, and then, “María Pablo doesn’t have a husband.”

“I know,” Sandra says. “But Carmen, who lives with her, was just here, and she said she does.  She said last night he was beating her up.  Carmen’s husband got involved and María’s husband threatened him, so now they have to move out.”

“Fucking María Pablo,” I say, while I turn off the computer and get the keys.  I have to go see her.

I drive to her house in dread.  But María doesn’t have a husband.  I know she doesn’t.  A lover maybe, that, out of politeness Carmen called an esposo?

Now I am going to get to the bottom of this.  Seriously.

 

 VII

María is sitting on her bed nursing baby Alejandro.  Carlitos is in a corner playing with empty cereal boxes.  She smiles widely when she sees me.

Where are the bruises?  The eyes swollen from crying?  She has nothing.  Her round brown face and white shining eyes glow humid in the July heat.  Her sleeveless top exposes two plump brown arms, unmarked.  Alejandro feeds from a perfect left breast.

“Siéntate,” she says, and I sit on the bed beside her.

This time I register every object in the room.  Women’s shoes, and shoes for little boys.  Baby clothes.  A few broken toys.  Her purse.  Adolfo’s school books, abandoned.  Winter blankets, piled.  If María has an esposo, in this world he owns nothing but the clothes on his back.  No hat, no shirt, no belt or pair of jeans, no razor, no cologne, no pair of shoes.  Or she hides him so completely I cannot find him, even unannounced.

“Cómo está?” I ask her.  “Todo está bien?” searching questions without saying Carmen came and told us what happened.

“Muy bien,” she says.  “Cansada, porque todo el tiempo este bebé quiere comer.”

“Se siente bien? Necesita algo?”

“No,” María says sweetly.  “Aquí estamos bien.”

I walk out the door more confused than I walked in.  Relieved not to see bruises, perplexed by her peace.  Somebody is selling me bullshit and I am buying it all.

 

 VIII

She comes to see me in the fall, but I am out.  Beside my desk, she leaves two white buckets overflowing with onions.

It isn’t fair.  I don’t deserve a gift.  She is my job, and everything I do for her is paid by the hour.  I would like to give a gift to her, but I may not.  When I took her the clothes that I bought for baby Alejandro that at Goodwill, I told her
they were something someone dropped off at the clinic.

 

 IX

“Nos vamos con mi hermano a California,” she tells me, as the leaves begin to curl yellow.  “Aquí es muy frío y no hay trabajo.”

The last time I see them, somber-eyed Adolfo is bouncing baby Alejandro on his knees, making him cough up bursts of hilarious baby giggles.  María, somewhere, has found the money to color her hair a curious shade of red.  And that’s it.  She’s gone.  Adolfo, Vicente, Carlitos and baby Alejandro.  Just gone.

I look for her everywhere.  Maybe someday she will come back.  Maybe in the summer when California gets too hot.  I hope she finds a clinic, there, that will give her a shot in three months.  If she doesn’t, there will be more babies for Adolfo to play with.

 

 X

María Pablo, with her Nahuatl dialect, her broken Spanish, her sunshine smile and her fearless heart.  We’re even.  We told some truth, told some lies, everything scripted by the state.  Everything but the generous white buckets of onions.

I stand in my kitchen slicing, and giggle at my silly onion tears.  She’s somewhere in the world this morning making quesadillas for her boys, working in the fields, telling nosey social workers with bleeding hearts just enough of the truth to get what she needs: help making a phone call, free second-hand baby clothes, a feeling of friendship.

Reading #4 from “When the Roll is Called a Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood”

In this final reading from “When the Roll is Called a Pyonder,” learn about Mother Zimmerman’s foray in to swimsuit design, discover how to catch a snapping turtle without a trap, and ponder the pros/cons of culotte skirts with “flaps.”

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, find out what on earth prompts little pig-tailed Mennonite girls to begin writing things in notebooks.

Here’s to little Mennonite girls!  Cheers!

 

Reading #3 from “When The Roll is Called a Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood”

Birthday month rolls on, and here’s another short reading to celebrate!  In this segment, learn about the danger that geese pose to little girls, discover my brief drumming career and find out how I resolve the dilemma of which is worse:  risking going to hell for having stolen something, or getting spanked for confessing it.

 

The Laundry Experiment

From The Summer of the Riotous Walls, a work in progress

Before we even ran out of clean underwear or decided something had to be done about the bedding, the kitchen towels presented a problem. At least to me they did. How do you clean up a mess with something that’s dirty? Believe me, I tried. But no matter how careful you are, you only make the mess bigger. We started the summer with three towels, but there were only two left since Sheila accidentally set on one fire. They had to double as hot pads for removing boiling pots from the flames of our gas stove—an excellent way to set their little fringes ablaze, burn yourself, nearly set the house on fire, and destroy a perfectly good kitchen towel.

A coffee spill or two, cooking oil that missed the pan and has to be mopped from the stovetop, milk that landed outside the bowl, then a quick rinse in the sink, and soon the dish towels were crusty, molded, greasy rags, unrecognizable as anything intended for use near food. The classic trip through the washer and dryer wasn’t an option. We didn’t have a washer, nor had we received the revelation that we were living practically beside a laundromat. And yet something had to be done.

Finally a thought pecking at the back of my brain hatched itself into daylight and I knew what to do. The obvious is everywhere you look. Laugh all you want. Nothing I could do was going to make it worse.

In Los Rios, where I woke up on sunny mornings a few weeks ago, my mamá Hilda didn’t have a washer. She had soap, water and a cement wash sink against which she scrubbed our clothes to a fierce cleanliness never produced by an agitating tub of suds. I clicked off the list in my head: I didn’t have laundry soap, but I had various other kinds of soaps. I had water. No cement wash sinks anywhere, but there’s a cement slab at the base of our wobbly steps. Why wouldn’t that work? I filled a bucket with water, and grabbed a small plastic bowl to use as a scoop. I never did this in Los Rios. My mamá did it for me. But I watched, and how hard can it be?

“What are you doing, loca?” Beth asked when she saw me heading toward the door with my bucket of water and supplies.

“An experiment.”

“What kind of experiment?”

“A laundry experiment.”

“I hope it works!”

“Me too. These towels are terrible.”

“Can I watch?” Sheila asked.

“Sure. Don’t laugh. I’ve never tried this before.”

“Did you learn it in Costa Rica?”

“Sort of.”

I had to fetch the broom and sweep the dirt from the cement slab before anything had hope of getting clean on it. I dumped a scoop of water on it to wet it, then spread the immoral dish towels out and poured water over them, too. I squirted them with a generous amount of dish soap. Then, I commenced scrubbing them back and forth against the rough cement, which—of course—produced more mud, even though a minute ago, it had appeared clean. I rubbed and scrubbed, slopped and scraped, dumped more water, squirted more soap.

“Cool!” Sheila admired.

Not terribly. Two of my knuckles were bleeding. My mamá’s knuckles never bled, whether because they were so toughened by the constant necessity of repeating this task, or because she had learned to do it without scraping them on the cement, I can’t say. I had to keep washing the blood away so that I wouldn’t make the towels worse, instead of better.

Getting the soap out was the hardest part. I had to send Sheila up to the kitchen for another bucket of water and I was making an enormous mess. I somehow managed to soak my shirt, and a puddle of mud had formed around my bare feet. I wrung and rinsed, twirled and twisted, beating the suffering towels up and down against the cement with one hand while attempting to pour water over them with the other. Mamá made it look a lot easier than this. If I had to wash bath towels and work jeans this way like she did, I think I would cry.

The dish towels looked a heck of a lot better, believe it or not. They weren’t exactly white, but they were a lot less brown. Sheila had to get me another bucket of water to wash my feet, and then I walked up the steps and draped the dripping towels over the banister in the sun.

“There,” I said, when I walked back inside.

Beth looked up at me over top of the book she was reading.

I shrugged my shoulders and went to look in the medicine cabinet to see if, by chance, we had any band-aids.

The Social Worker In The Blue Dress

(A flash of short fact/fiction)

The social worker in the blue dress is not about to be bitten by small dogs today. She came to see you because her boss asked her to, to make sure that you haven’t killed yourself yet, that your baby is getting fat, and that your two-year-old is wearing clothes.

The social worker in the blue dress thinks the evil-spirited pack of chihuahuas is yours. She thinks you have done a particularly terrible job of training them but she doesn’t blame you, having two babies to take care of and a complicated husband. She scurries from the gate into your one-room apartment behind the main house, receiving only one slight sharp-toothed nip to the heel.

You convince her that you’re doing alright. You apologize for the mess in the kitchen. She didn’t exactly call to tell you she was coming, or ask if it was a good time. It’s not a good time. But you don’t exactly have a phone, because your husband takes it to work with him. She’s nice enough and she ignores the mess, points out to you that your baby is really good at following things with his eyes.

As she’s leaving, she asks you to call off the dogs and you tell her that they aren’t your dogs. They are the landlady’s dogs. And the landlady isn’t home.

The social worker in the blue dress walks to the door and the menacing pack of furious chihuahuas is nowhere to be seen, so she steps out into the sunshine of the yard. She is halfway to the gate when they see the intruder, and come snarling at her, needle teeth bared. They take turns lunging at her while she shouts and tries to frighten them.

They aren’t frightened. Each lunge comes closer to her ankles and their camaraderie emboldens them. You scream at them uselessly from the safety of your doorway.

The social worker in the blue dress doesn’t have much time to think, but there is one thing that she is sure of–that she is not about to be bitten by small dogs today. With complete disregard for her dignity, she breaks into a dead run, headed toward the rickrty wooden fence. She won’t have time for the gate. She isn’t even running toward the gate. She hits the top of the wooden fence with both hands and vaults. There is the flash of pink polka dotted panties in the sun.

You stare at the social worker in the blue dress who is suddenly standing on the other side of the fence, panting, safe, looking surprised and a little sheepish. The stunned chihuahuas fall silent for a moment.

“Alright,” she says breathlessly, patting her hair and straightening her blue dress.

The chihuahuas find their voices and leap at the fence.

You don’t quite know what to say to the social worker in the blue dress who just jumped over your fence. She doesn’t seem to know quite what to say to you.

“Sorry about the dogs,” you offer.

“No problem,” she answers, and then giggles a little, accidentally. “Sorry to run away.”

“Oh,” you say, because you can’t think of anything.

“I didn’t want to get bitten,” she says.

“Yeah,” you reply.

She gets into her car and drives away. The dogs look at you disappointedly and begin sniffing her footprints in the yard.

You turn around and go back into the dark, dirty apartment where your two year old is pouring milk on the floor beside a cup. But instead of yelling at her, you sit down on a chair and laugh for the first time since you can remember.