All tagged long in the tooth
Every human being, like every machine, was created to do something. Trains carry people over land, under sea; a fan moves air; an iron presses cloth; a mug holds tea. Likewise, a nursing mother makes milk, a doctor sews skin, a tailor sews clothes, a spy watches people, a philosopher thinks, a judge makes decisions, and Sister Mah prays. She prays all day the way some people hum while they knit or chew gum while they’re taking your order.
My mother got knocked up in New York City, 1960, and never let me forget it: how she’d sweat standing still, her belly swollen and sore; how the rats would taunt her, perched on the stovetop, finding crumbs to eat no matter how well she cleaned. She soon learned not to bother. She moved to Florida before I could form memory. I never got around to moving myself. By thirty, I knew I wasn’t one for change; by fifty, it was best I stay to help out.
A couple of guys at the home said she lured them to the cornfields at the edge of town spitting sugary promises between her few good teeth and sneaking peeks at their pleated bulges. Those same fogies would come back panting in the night, leaning hard on their walkers and crying wolf something about that witch bringing a rusty Fiestaware blade to their shriveled okra. I ain’t scared.
Tía Chaparrita runs a midnight poker game twice a month and deals the best mota in L.A.—tropical bud she moves in from Aguas Calientes four times a year. She lives off my dead tío’s VA check and her door, her kitchen, is always open to everyone. Beyond cool, I see to my Tía’s every want, her every need.
Grandmother kept a diver’s knife strapped to her thigh. Daily, before the night could fray into dawn, she dived half a mile from shore, inhaling three minutes of air at a time. All morning she pried abalone and sea urchins from slick rock.
Did you see that? That was the third nurse to go by. They’re rubbernecking, OK? They’re not used to seeing me with family. I get more visitors than most, but they’re all a certain type, you know. Well, maybe you don’t. You’re a sweet girl, I can tell
She reeked mostly of the cigarette smoke that had yellowed her long, tangled hair and what few teeth had not yet rotted out of her mouth.
Tonight, however, there was an old man sitting on the steps next to the entrance. His huge marine-blue plastic tub full of soggy clothes was blocking the entry. I appeared in front of him with my shopping bag packed full of clothes and waited. We stared at one another.
He unscrewed his car’s radio aerial from the front fender and took it up as if it were a sword. He lunged forward with the blade outstretched as if thrusting at an opponent. Ducking an imagined swipe—sprightly for an old man—he sidestepped and withdrew.