Flash fiction published in The Normal School – November 5, 2015.
Under the editorship of Dagoberto Gilb, Huizache has been called “the Paris Review of Latino literature.” I’m proud to see my short story, “The Presidents at Table” published alongside Chicano luminaries in this gorgeous journal. Get your copy here.
Feature published in The New York Times – Sunday August 31, 2015.
Originally published in Tin House – Winter 2014
My parents meet on a blind date in 1976. Richard with his leather cowboy hat and hand-painted jean jacket, Meridy with her purple turban and kohled eyes. He reads her aura; she reads his tarot cards. The first time they make love he has an epileptic seizure during the night and urinates in her bed. Nothing is simple.
On their third date, he takes her to an Italian restaurant in the Castro, the kind of place where “That’s Amore” plays on an infinite loop. “There’s something important I have to tell you,” Rich says. “I am carrying a spirit-child with me, a little boy, and he’s ready to be born into the here and now.”
Most likely, Meridy doesn’t believe him. But there is delirious magic in his way of speaking. A few weeks later, he looks into her eyes after lovemaking and says, “There. Now you’re pregnant.” So she is.
This cat Fritzel was odd. She wasn’t pretty like Angel or Bon Bon, and she wasn’t smart either. Just one of those weird, piebald cats with personality issues. Maybe I didn’t like this cat so much. But once you have a cat, you keep it until it dies. When Fritzel was a kitten, she charged face-first into my dad’s knobby middle knuckle and half-blinded herself, turning one eye opalescent. That didn’t help her looks.
Fritzel often napped in a spiral beneath my mom’s painting chair. Late one afternoon, turpentine sloshed out of its jar onto her back, and she licked herself dry. She did the strangest of death dances, cruised sideways and backwardsall around the house with her tail stick-straight, frothing at the mouth and gurgling and grunting. Which was the end of Fritzel. So I know what turpentine can do, though I’m still guessing about its flavor.
Turpentine smells like Coca-Cola stripped of sweetness, with a dash of fiery death, and it’s the pervasive scent of my youth.
“Interpreter,” I announce, entering the examination room. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Oh good, you’re here,” says Dr. Lichter, without looking up from the file in her lap. “We got through most of it, but find out what Mrs. Magaña wants to ask.”
I hang my purse on a hook beside the sharps disposal box. Mother and patient sit on folding chairs against the window, striped in sunlight leaking through the blinds.
“Cuál es su pregunta?” I ask her. Mrs. Magaña answers in Spanish and I transform her words into English, almost without thinking, without analyzing. I assume her voice and mannerisms. We speak in near unison.
“MAIL CONTAINS DRUG, YOUNG WOMEN SEIZED” reads an August 22, 1969 headline in the Milwaukee Journal. Below, in grainy black and white, floats Meridy Domnitz’s mug shot. At twenty, my mother looks more pathetic than criminal. Her frizzy hair has gone renegade from a sideways ponytail and she wears what appears to be a paisley kurta.
My mother never disguised the fact that, throughout my childhood, she made her living selling marijuana. I grew up listening to her spin vivid yarns while she rolled joints or counted cash, usually sprawled sideways on her king-sized bed. Customers would climb aboard the bed — nicknamed “the barge” — and linger for hours, enveloped in a miasma of smoke and stories.
I’ve heard my mother tell the story behind this article a hundred times, and I never tire of it. This was her first dalliance with the wrong side of the law; by the time she gave birth to me, nearly a decade later, the dealer persona was center stage.
If my mother were a comic book superhero, this would be her origin story.