Roberto Cofresí Hopgood
Roberto Cofresí Hopgood is a Puerto Rican storyteller. He is the author of “Bellows: Fables from the Musical Underground” (Hmm Media) and a 52 chronicle blog about his upbringing in Puerto Rico “Cuentos del Barrio Machuchal” (machuchal.blogspot.com). His words (in English and español) have appeared in the “Once Upon Another Time” anthology as well as in, SmokeLong Quarterly, Claridad, The Write Launch, La Calle Loíza, Drunk Monkeys, the Non-Alignment Pact, Plasmotica, SPOT and elsewhere. Upcoming work in Evento Horizonte, Esencia and the “Hadouken” anthology. Currently, he lives in Chapel Hill, NC.
Angélica, Angélica María Abad, María’s mamá, lives in a double-wide trailer casita that sits on a quarter-acre rural lot that she have since María was two. What’s that now? 18 years since María’s dad did la putada? Well, at least he give her the land and the trailer as a regalo de despedida or how you say, partying gift.
“I’m sorry this didn’t work out,” said el muy cabrón, “but you will never have to worry about where to live in America.”
He was right about that. Angélica has a place in the land of the free, Comfort, Texas, USA. She never like his big money life. She never dress right or talk right or think right, and living in San Antonio was crazy stressful.
The trailer is more to her gusto. She have a garden, she have peace and quiet.
Angélica hear María and Fritz’ truck, the recognizable crunchy sound on the gravel road. She look at the clock; it is two in the morning. She hear María and her girl Fritz walk up to the grassy patch and lay down. They like to lay down under the big Texas sky. Angélica like it too. She sleep out there on the hammock when it is too hot inside.
Fritz and María say sweetness to each other thinking Angélica cannot hear. Then they fall asleep like angels.
Angélica have a hard time falling back asleep. She wasn’t always Angélica María. She use to be Ana Dolores Diaz Abad. Dolores.
Dolores is thirteen when she run away. She live in a small cement house on Calle Pedernal, in the San Bernabe sector of Monterrey México. When she was thirteen she fall in love with Samuel Lopez Losada, a boy she meet at Secundaria Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva. Samuel is fourteen and so handsome with a haircut like José José, with the short bangs over his eyes, and a sweet melodic voice. First time she see him, she smile at him, and he smile back like they are old friends. It is several days until they talk again, but Dolores know he ask around school about her. Then at the time of start of autumn, he is very brave and come to Dolores’ street.
Samuel take the long way around to Don Miguel’s store to get milk for his mama. He take the long way that pass by Dolores’ house.
Dolores try to spend as much time playing outside in front of her block house. That is where she is when Samuel turn the corner. But she is not alone, she is with her five brothers, all different ages, some little, some big. Dolores see Samuel and wave hola by mistake.
Samuel is startle and start to raise one hand to say hola back, then change his mind to use the other hand, then change his mind again to use the first hand.
Donato, the older brother call out to Samuel, “Ey chico, come here.”
“No, leave him alone,” Dolores know this is not good. “Samuel, Samuel, turn around.”
But Samuel is frozen like ice.
Then Donato say, “Oh, so you know each other eh? Chido! Come on Samuel, friend of my sister is my friend too, come here.”
Dolores bite the inside of her cheek as Samuel walk over. He is tapping his hand on his thigh very nervous. He is not looking at Dolores, only looking at her five brothers who now are huddle together and smiling like for a team photo after winning a game.
Before Samuel is even close, Pucho, the second older brother, jump like a cat on Samuel, very fast, and grab him around the neck with his arm, like lucha libre. Samuel start to get all red in the face, then his eyes fill with water. Then Pucho release the choke on Samuel and push him to Lalo who then push him to Donato who move out of the way and Samuel stumble and fall on the ground. The brothers laugh and Samuel get up and run away bien rapido and don’t look back.
The next day at school, as soon as Dolores see Samuel she go to him and apologize “They are very immature, Samuel. You have to stay away from them. Maybe today I go to your street if you tell me where you live.”
Samuel look scared, but he tell her where he live, and Dolores say “Ok, maybe I go.”
When school is over, she leave very fast out the side gate before her brothers see her. She run to Calle Esquisito and Samuel is standing on his house porch, right next to the front door, like ready to go inside fast. His house is a pretty blue color, not the cement color of Dolores’ house and has a tiny patio with a chain link fence around it. In the patio there is a ciruelo, what is that word… plum, yes, a plum tree. Dolores wave and Samuel walk to meet her on the sidewalk.
Dolores again apologize for her brothers, “They are not good, please do not come to my street again. If you think it is ok, I can visit you here.”
“I think it is ok,” say Samuel.
Dolores stand straight on the tip of her toes and hold back excitement. “Ok, I see you tomorrow.”
Every day after school, Dolores go out the side gate and run to Samuel’s house. They sit on the porch and feel the cool October breeze and smell the fragrance of the ripe plums. They sit and talk and laugh. It is only a few minute, but it feel like hours and days. Amazing how much can happen in a few minute every day. Dolores like Samuel because he is clumsy and silly and sweet and brave and never make her play monsters which is her least favorite game.
Every day, after school, they meet like this, for a very long time, like a month, and then one day she tell Samuel that there is an empty lot she know between her house and his house where they can meet so she does not have to go so far from her house and they have more time. Samuel say he is still afraid of her brothers and do not want to go, but he is brave, and say ok. Samuel is always scare, but he is always brave at the same time.
The next day they meet in the empty lot on Calle Talco. It is a big lot, probably fit like three houses in it, but it is empty since a long time. There is a metal fence around it, but the gate is never close, so Dolores and Samuel go in. Inside is like another world, like a magical world. They hold hands and walk around. They stop under a manzanilla tree and take deep whiffs. They agree that if they concentrate, it already smell a little like Christmas, but it will be a few month before the fruit is ripe.
They go to the empty lot five more time and the last three time they kiss. The first time they kiss, Dolores teach him how to kiss like a grown up. “You have to open your mouth and move your head to the side and then our tongues touch.”
They do and Dolores can tell Samuel is excited, but he do not touch her, he keep his arms straight at his side. The second time they kiss, Dolores grab Samuel’s hand and put it on her chest and he just let it be there and do not move it at all even if his hand shake nervous.
What they do not notice is that this second time, her little brother, Ricky, follow her to the empty lot and see them. Then Ricky go home and tell Eddie who tell Lalo who tell Pucho who tell Donato who then tell the monster that Dolores está puteando with a boy from another block.
The last time Samuel and Dolores go to the empty lot, the monster show up right as they kiss. Like it wait for them to kiss and then it come out. It make a sound like from the stomach and go straight to Samuel and hit him in the side of the head so hard it knock him flying. Dolores want to scream, but the monster turn to look at her and with the eyes only make her fall backward on the ground.
Dolores lay on the ground. Everything she do is wrong and the monster always find her. And now the monster is angry at Samuel because she love Samuel.
The monster grab Samuel by the hair and lift him up until he is on tippy toes, hanging there, looking half dead from fear. Dolores want to get up and kick the monster, but she is too scare. She see her brothers on the sidewalk watching, waiting for what the monster is going to do. The monster face is twisted and slobbering with wrinkly hairy skin and sweat and hate coming out of nose and eyes, and it look at Samuel really close. Samuel try to look away, but the monster do not let him, so Samuel start to cry and the monster stare at Samuel very calm which is worse because it make Dolores feel that it is saving the bad part for later.
The monster open the mouth and growl, very loud, and spit fly on Samuel’s face. The monster then push Samuel to the ground and lift its leg. He is going to stomp on Samuel’s head. Dolores feel like she is going to faint, but instead she finally scream, and she scream and she run and push the monster.
The monster turn to Dolores, and grab her by the arm so tight it feel like it going to break it. The monster drag her back to the block house. Dolores is crying. Her brothers follow behind and she can hear Little Ricky and Eddie also crying. She is not using her legs, but just being drag on the sidewalk skinning her ankles all the way to the house. Then the monster throw her inside like to punish her for her mistake. The monster turn and growl at the brothers and go inside and slam the door.
When María and Fritz wake up with the sun, Angélica already brew the café and toast the pan in the trailer kitchen. Angélica walk out with a tray and see Fritz sitting on a patio chair, barefoot in her batik skirt and tank top. She is such a pretty girl.
“Buenos días, Fritz.” Angélica set the tray on the wrought iron table with the glass top.
“Buenos días,” say Fritz in the slow way she talk.
María is peeing, squatting over by the flower bed, next to the tomato and pepper plants.
“Good morning, mama,” she says as she pulls up her cut jeans and plod over in her combat boots. She love those boots.
“Buenos dias, mijita,” say Angélica.
Sitting on the patio they sip café and enjoy the cool morning breeze in Comfort, Texas, USA. Angélica like Fritz even if she is sort of a strange hippie person from someplace blonde in Europe. Fritz is always very calm, not like María who get upset so easy. Maybe that is why Angélica can talk easier when Fritz visit with María.
Angélica always have trouble talking to María about things. She want her to know, but she also do not want her to know.
The next day, Dolores wake up bruise and sore. It is el día de Santa Juana de la Cruz, and Dolores put on her nice blue dress. Then in a bag, she put her yellow blouse, a pair of pants she like, two pair of underwear, her hairbrush, and two rolls of bread and some cheese from the kitchen. She get the 2000 pesos (a lot less than it sound, mija) from inside a sock inside a can under the old tires behind the house. With only this, she leave to never come back. She find Samuel in front of his house drawing on the dirt with a stick. He has a black eye and she has a black eye. He has dry blood where the monster hit him on the head. She has dry blood around her ankles. Dolores tell him she is going to the United States. “Please come with me,” she says.
He look afraid, but he say “Bueno.” Then he go inside his house and come out with a backpack.
Dolores have a plan. They walk to the bus stop on Avenida Azatlan and catch the bus to the Central de Autobuses.
Outside the station, Dolores look at Samuel. He wear old pants and a brown shirt. Dolores look nicer in her blue dress. But they look like children. Samuel is taller and look a little older, so Dolores give him her hair brush.
“We cannot go together to buy the tickets. Brush your hair and try to look grown up.”
Samuel brush his hair.
“Stand straight and look serious,” Dolores say to him and give him two hundred pesos for the tickets. Samuel walk inside, like he know where he going, and Dolores feel proud of him.
“Do you want more café, mijita? And you Fritz?” ask Angélica.
“I’m good, mama,” say María.
“I’m good too, Ms A,” say Fritz.
“Ok, only a little bit then,” say Angélica and she pour a half a cup for María and Fritz.
She want the morning to be longer. She do not want them to go. She talk to herself all week. She want to talk to them as much as she can when they visit. There is things she want to say to María. But it is very hard sometime.
“How is things in San Antonio?” she ask them.
“Same ol’ same ol’, mama” say María taking a sip. “You know, tryin’ to make a living. Dealing with the crazies.”
“We had a party at the pad last night,” say Fritz.
“That sound fun,” say Angélica.
“That’s why we arrived so late,” say Fritz. “Oh darling, that is gonna be a mess when we get back.”
“We’ll see, babe,” say María. “I know we’re not on cleaning duty.”
“I hope we didn’t wake you when we arrived,” says Fritz. “We tried to be quiet.”
“Oh no, I sleep like a baby all night. Didn’t even notice what time it was when you come in.”
It was sunset time when Dolores and Samuel get to Nuevo Laredo.
The time in Nuevo Laredo is when she go from being Ana Dolores to being Angélica María. Angélica María, her favorite movie star and singer, La Novia de México, or how you say, México's Bride. Cause, mijitas, that is a dama with class, nobody mess with Angélica María.
Nuevo Laredo is a stop on the way to USA, so it did not matter that it is dusty and dirty and that every step closer to the border remind Dolores of the monster smell. As they walk to the crossing, people call to them, come here, do this, try this. Dolores is glad she is with Samuel who try to look grown up the whole time after she tell him at the bus station. When they finally make it to the bridge and try to cross, a policeman tell them they cannot cross without an adult. Dolores and Samuel can see the brown river and then everything on the other side, clean and white like new paint.
“On the other side is the United State,” she say. “They cannot find us there.”
During the first days they sleep in the train station close to the border and try to go across. But after a few weeks Dolores realize it is mucho mas harder than she imagine in her dream. It is so hard, one time Samuel suggest they go back even though he deadly scared of the monster. Samuel say maybe he can get a gun and kill the monster. But even if Samuel kill it, it do not matter, Dolores, she nunca, better you kill her first, never will go back. So they try to cross again. Even with all the fences and police and dogs and bad people.
They learn a little English. They get shirts that say Nike and Lakers. They try to call each other Sam and Dol but cannot get use to it. Samuel find some work and they save and pay some polleros to take them across, but they trick them and steal their money. They try until they cannot try anymore, then try some more because that is all they can do. Samuel look sick. He lose a tooth in a fight and have a cut on his leg that look infected. They are hungry. Kind people give them food or they steal or sometime find some in the garbage. But the most sad part is that there is no love anymore. At first, they always kiss and sleep in each other arms even when sleeping behind the trash cans on Calle Washington which is the worst with the rats. But even if love fade, Samuel was good, mijita, he was so good, and every night he find a place to sleep and try to protect Dolores. He never look scare anymore and he is very brave every day.
Every day now they move farther away from the border, because around the bridge is scary. One time, someone try to grab Dolores, but she kick the man and run away. They do not think very much of crossing now, just of getting food and a place to sleep at night. Then Samuel find a good place on Avenida Cuauhtémoc. Around the house is a concrete fence but the car entry has no gate, so they sneak in at night and out before the sun come up. The patio around the house is big and has lots of overgrown chaparro negro bushes and a tall palo verde tree. It remind Dolores of the empty lot on Calle Talco, except this one had a pretty house in the middle. An old abandoned pink house with madreselva, you know, honeysuckle I think, growing in and out of broken windows, all blooming. The place was like paradise. They only go inside the house one time, but it was prettier outside.
While they are there, life is like two dreams. A bad dream where they are like rats hiding in alleys, trying to find food to eat, stealing, scared. And a good dream, inside the garden where they eat the sweet stems of the madreselva and lay under the stars and whisper and feel love again. And sleep. Sleep a nice sleep. The best sleep. Then they wake up before the sun and go out to the bad dream again.
Angélica can tell María is anxious. She know her daughter. She know when she want to go. She always want to leave. Leave school. Leave the casita. Leave Comfort. Leave one house. Leave another. She is always leaving, and Angélica can tell when she want to leave again.
Every time María leave, Angélicathink she is not going to see her again. Maybe if Fritz go with her, they will stay in touch better.
“One day I am going to tell you a story,” say Angélica.
“Oh mama, not another one of your stories about dad and his crazy family.”
“I like to hear your stories, Ms A,” say Fritz. “It’s like music the way you talk.”
“Maybe old Tejano music,” says María and laughs.
“Mija, I do not know why you have to be so rude. Sometime you are like your father.”
“Mama, do not ever compare me to that asshole.”
“Ay María, es imposible hablar contigo.” Angélica stand up and take the tray with the plate and cups inside the trailer.
It is hard to live a life when every part of the life is hard. But it seem harder when a little of that life is like paradise. Dolores is not sure, but she think that is why Samuel decide to go back. They stay at the pink house too long already; they both know it is time for a new place. That’s the way it is, even if they come in and out after dark, they have to go.
Neighborhoods have eyes, houses have ears, the ground tell messages.
But the pink house is so comfortable.
Dolores notice Samuel is talking more and more about Monterrey, remembering thing that did not matter, like a store, or a teacher. So Dolores is not surprise when he say he is going back. Not a question, because he know that Dolores will not go. Dolores do not say anything, she just look at him with sad tired eyes. The next morning she startle awake and the sun is up on the sky.
Samuel is gone. He leave the food from the day before.
Dolores never see him again.
Dolores is sure this is the end for her. She really do not know how she is going to make it alone. She spend the morning under the bushes, eat all the food Samuel left, the old torta, the dry tortillas. She relieve herself behind the house. She did not want to leave. She collect as many of the yellow blooms as she can from the palo verde. Then she spread them on the ground in the shape of a big yellow heart, the biggest sad yellow heart she ever see.
Dolores stand back to look at the fragrant heart and she get a sudden fear, fear of staying too long, fear of being alone, fear of Samuel back in Monterrey and the monster making him say where she is and the monster coming to find her.
She scatter the yellow flowers with her feet.
The sun is high up in the sky now. Her backpack is almost empty, no money, no food, all she have is her favorite blue dress and her hairbrush. She take out the dress and it is dirty and one sleeve is torn, but she put it on over her shirt and pants. She brush her hair for the first time in days. It hurts. She brush it very slow. When she is ready she grab her bag and she listen for anyone on the street. When she feel like there is a quiet moment, she walk out, pretending like she live there and is going to market. A skinny stick thirteen-year-old girl, barefoot, dressed in a torn blue dress and skin dirty like mud, sucking on madreselva flowers and going to the market.
By miracle, no one see her. Dolores go to the plaza Miguel Hidalgo and sit on the sidewalk to beg for money. Then the day turn into a great day, people give her more money than she ever get. In the afternoon, she go to a vendor and ask for a taco and coca cola. The guy do not want to sell it to her, but she show him the coins and he said ok, give her the food and shoo her away. That was the most delicious taco and coca cola she ever tasted. Even if she threw up afterwards. It was so good the warm food and cold drink, and she feel like maybe she can make it alone. She feel so good that without thinking, she go back to the pink house like she really live there. It was dark, but the moon is full and a thousand frogs sing and the smell of spring blooms is everywhere. She walk into the patio and right away she notice there are three people, look like three ladies, standing on the driveway. They hold lit candles and are looking around her paradise. Dolores try to pretend that she walk into the wrong place and start to turn around to leave, but they hear her, and all three turn at once to Dolores.
Dolores panic and try to run, but realize she really is very tire, and instead of running her legs give up and she fall on her knees on the cement driveway. She think to lift herself up and run, but instead she sit down and cry, like really cry, mijitas, like never ever had she cry so hard, sobbing, can’t breathe cry. Then she see first a pair of feet in sandals of one lady, then another, until there are three pairs of lady feet in sandals all around her and one lady place a hand on her head, gentle, a nice soft hand, and Dolores just grab onto a pair of legs, like the world is falling under her and this is all she got to hold on to.
Dolores cry for days, weeks. It was like dying. Like a slow long dying. No, no, more like a washing. Because everything that she was, that she wish she was, that she think she was, her whole life wash out through her eyes, all her past, every pain, every shame, mijitas, every happiness, wash out through her eyes. All the people in Nuevo Laredo who knew and insult her, the kids who knew and steal their bags, the men who knew and try to steal her, the bruises on her body who knew, the running, the hiding, the hunger, the people that point at her and whisper who knew, the people she steal from and beg from who knew, the worms they pick off the food to eat who knew, Ricky and Eddie, her little brothers who knew even when they did not know to know, Pucho and Lalo who punch her and pull her hair and knew, and Donato who laugh and knew and wanted to be like the monster, and mamá, poor mamá who cry quiet and pray and knew, and the stupid god she pray to who also knew, and, and, and the closet and the belt and, and all of them who knew, all wash away with her tears and the monster wash away too with all its, “You are nothing but a puta, mal parida, y pedazo de mierda.” All of it wash away. And at the end, Dolores wash away too down the river as they say in Texas, USA, and she is Angélica María and only Angélica María, like la Novia de México.
“Well, mostly wash away,” Angélica say to herself as she walk out of the trailer with cheese and crackers on the tray.
“Mama, you’re talking to yourself again,” say María. “You’re losing it, for real.”
“I have to talk to someone if you don’t talk to me,” say Angélica.
Today Angélica have to tell her. Maybe is her last chance before María go away.