Mac and Cheese

My sister and I are home alone. A Gloria Trevi tape is blaring on the radio; my sister shaking her long wavy hair up and down and in a circular motion along to the lyrics, “A mi me gusta andar de pelo suelto, Aunque me vean siempre con enredos”. I strum the strings of an imaginary guitar as I stand on top of the sofa’s arm and jiggle my body in all directions and we yell out the lyrics on top of our lungs.

After the songs ends we wipe the sweat off our foreheads and head into the kitchen to rummage up something to eat. I pull up a chair and open the cupboard, my eyes scanning the interior but seeing only containers full of flour or beans. My sister is done with the fridge and has managed to come up with a couple slices of bologna. Nice! I look in the last cupboard with false hope since it’s where mom keeps all of the medicine bottles, many long past their expiration date. As I close the cupboard I spot a blue box out of the corner of my eye – oooohhhh – I try not to let my mind say it until I am sure – a box of mac and cheese!

We pull out the milk and add some water to make up for the rest and wait eagerly by the stove top as it boils; the little packet of powder turning the frothy boiling liquid into a neon orange tint. We grab plates and relish every bite of mac and cheese with bologna.

Mac and Cheese and I go very far back – we have a very loving relationship that makes me smile for hours after I’ve swallowed and licked the last spoon full dry.

Little legs swing back and forth in the tiny blue chairs surrounding the half-circle table in the cafeteria. At the center sits my beautiful mother with a pot of delicious smelling mac and cheese. I look around at my friends and smile as I hear my preschool classmates whisper that this is Susie’s mom, this beautiful sweet creature that has taken a day off of work to bring us lunch. My mother surveys the room, making sure everyone has had their fill and I try to make eye contact with her – but scared that if she looks at me in the eye I will wake up from a dream.

Wisps of fair curly hair frame her lovely face, her dainty jaw set in concentration as she helps some of the clumsier kids eat. Her eyes are relaxed and lined with a sky blue shade, her thin mouth reminding me of a canary about to sing. I am giggling inside, I can’t help but feel special. Even if she doesn’t look my way or help me eat; I know she cares or she wouldn’t be here. What a beautiful sight, that elegant woman, making mac and cheese seem like a feast prepared for Princes and Princesses.

The sound of a car coming up the drive way jerks me awake along with a beginning of a panic attack. Mom is home. Rosie is scrambling in the kitchen and I follow suit as I rinse my plate and toss it into the microwave so she won’t see it. I run to the bathroom and make sure it looks clean, their bedroom seems fine, my room is… The key is turning on the door knob as I quickly hide the days wash in drawers so I can fold them later.

I run to the living room as mom walks in wearing her white uniform dress, white nurse loafers, coffee mug in hand, and a Styrofoam container wrapped in saran wrap. My eyes light up as I imagine what may be inside.

“Limpiaron la casa?” “Si mami.”

We wait as she places her things on the table, goes to her room and undresses; she emerges from the bedroom in jeans and a t-shirt. I start to relax until my ears are pierced with the common calling, “Suuuuusaaaannnnnaaaa!!!! Ven para aca!”

I walk to the bedroom I share with my sisters and approach my mother thinking she has found the clothing crumpled up in the drawers. She stands in the middle of the room, her face flushed red; she points at the carpet and demands, “Limpiame este cuarto Susanita! Voy a regresar en media hora y si no esta limpio, vas a ver!”

She leaves and I duck as she passes by me. I tidy up my books on the shelf, give the carpet another sweep – bristles of the old broom bent in different directions don’t cooperate with me. I manage to get all of the dirt in a corner and scoop it up with my hands to get every last bit.

I sit up just in time as the door slams hard against the wall skimming my hair. My mother looks around the room, checking the surfaces, the closet, the drawers (I folded the clothing by now). She turns around, her jaw set in bitter anger and fatigue.

She pushes me aside and bends over, inspecting the corners of the room. As she stands she grabs my hair and forces my face down to the ground, yanking my head back and forth. “Se mira limpio? Crees que esta limpio?!” I don’t reply or utter a sound which makes her angrier and meaner. She shoves my face into the corner and rubs my nose on the dust that I was unable to pick up. “Te dije que limpiaras mocosa! Nunca haces lo que te digo!” Her hand keeps coming down all over my back, my arms, my legs. I trip on her foot and fall to the floor. She kicks me, thinking I was trying to push her as I fell. Her ugly anger having been fed subsides and she gives my head a final push against the drawers as she walks out the door.

Tears stream down my cheeks in silence, the sound of birds singing outside my door, the sunshine streaming in illuminates the red welts and splotches all over my arms. I hear someone in the hallway and jump to close my door but it’s only dad. He stops in the doorway of the bathroom, pauses and looks at my wild hair, my face wet with tears, then walks into the bathroom without a word.

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