She walked home with her eyes to the ground looking at the cracks in the side walk. The cracks seemed to break off into an endless network of spider webs interrupted only by a wad of black bubble gum that had long ago been bonded onto the cement by the footsteps of Boyle Heights.
Her chest felt tight as she took in a breath that was painful to swallow. She observed the apartments around her; the homes that were unkempt and seemed to sag with poverty. Everything seemed gray and old. As she came up to her street she shook her feelings of sadness and walked up the steps to her home with a weak smile on her face. Her little sister looked up from her Sleeping Beauty marathon and gave her a beaming smile that made the corners of her own mouth creep up higher. Her little mini-me was always lifting her spirits.
Her mother was lying on the couch, her tired feet swollen from a full day at work of standing and taking endless orders from pushy nurses and doctors at her job as a grill cook at the hospital. She studied her mother and felt a pang of guilt and sadness for her. How many dreams of hers had been shattered over the years? Her mouth was slightly agape but it didn’t diminish the prettiness of the delicate mouth that always had the faint smell of coffee. Her face was slack deep in a tired sleep.
She waived at her brother and other sister as she made her way into her room that she shared with her older sister. She put her backpack down and sat on the bed. She looked up and sighed as she stood again. She unbuttoned her maroon checkered skirt and slipped it off being careful to fold it and place it on her cupboard for the next day. She pulled off her shirt and folded it neatly on top of her skirt. Now that her sister was in high school she had two skirts all to herself and she made sure she took careful care of them. She pulled on an oversized t-shirt and her only and favorite pair of jean shorts.
The mirror on her headboard stared back at her. She studied the girl on the mirror and admired the pretty legs that the girl had tucked underneath her. She had smooth light caramel-colored skin and almond-shaped eyes that stared back at her with hunger. Stop it, always day dreaming. There was no pretty girl in that mirror just her own image searching for something better.
“Maria! Que no hay nada de comer?” Always yelling, couldn’t he act civil to her for once instead of demanding everything. Every word that her father directed at her mother always dripped with insult and anger.
Before her mother was up from the sofa having been shaken out of her sleep by the gruffness of her husband, Lorena walked to the kitchen and began pulling out the tortillas and salsa so that her father would leave her mother alone. She tore off a piece of the Foodsaver mailer, turned on the one burner that sparked to life on its own and quickly used the paper to turn on the other three burners on the old stove. She heated the beans and the carne con chile. She warmed up the tortillas and as soon as the food started to simmer she pulled out plates and served her father. As she placed the salsa and tortillas on the table she called to her father that dinner was ready. She served him his place being careful not to serve him too much or not enough and wiped any splashes off the plate with the corner of the dish towel. She laid his plate down just as he slammed the metal front door and walked inside.
His cheeks seemed to hang off his face and his eyes were darker and smaller than usual. She knew that he was probably on his 12th beer by now so she quietly asked him if he needed anything else. He muttered something under his breath to no one in particular and she walked back into the kitchen before he could come up with anything.
They always sat to dinner together in silence. Everyone with their faces down averting their father’s eyes so as not to catch his attention. As she scooped some beans onto her mouth with a piece of tortilla she could feel his eyes on her and she focused her eyes on her food making sure she made no sound as she chewed.
“Que chingados es esto? Si no vas a cocinar bien mejor ni cocines!”
Always complaining about his food- why couldn’t he just eat and shut up? She hoped that her mother would ignore him and as the silence continued for a few seconds she started to relax and feel a sense of -,
“Porque no te callas? Siempre tomando con tu bocota.”
“Ay, pendeja. Estupida! Porque no te callas tu? Siempre en el telefono con tu hermana en vez de estar cocinando.”
Her eyes started to water as she swallowed hard. The ball in her throat precariously bobbing up and down; threatening to reject the beans she had stuffed in her mouth. She couldn’t look away from her plate. Her little sisters and brother looked frantically around them until their father finally got up but instead of going to bed like she had been telepathically urging him to do; he let his body fall back onto his recliner with a big oomph.
“Quitame los zapatos!”
She ran to get his sandals and took off his shoes. She brought him the remote before he could ask and pushed the lever back so he could rest his legs and concentrate on the Spanish channel broadcasting the news.
Her sister helped her clear the plates and shuffle their siblings to their room before any more arguments could erupt. She washed the dishes and put the food away in the fridge. She studied the salsa and beans to see if they could stand another day before covering them and putting them away in the fridge as well.
When she was sure everyone was asleep she took out her books and started on her homework. Around midnight she heard the bolt of her parents bedroom door turn so she quickly turned off the light and pretended to sleep. As the toilet flushed and the water swished down the drain he went back to bed and locked the door behind him. She waited a couple of minutes and then turned the light back on and started on her homework again. Between homework she read and wrote and pushed her eyes to stay open until they would doze off around three. The nightmares would not come if she stayed awake long enough.