Friday, May 20, 2011

Yard of the Month/Pepito, the Blue-Grey Chihuahua

Chapter 22 ~Yard of the Month / Pepito, the Blue-Grey Chihuahua

As Manda exited the passenger side of the farmer’s 1959 Ford station wagon, she could already hear the Chihuahua barking excitedly from inside the home. Two tall ash trees along the driveway shaded the red brick home from the west. The Farmers had landscaped the flagstone sidewalk up to the front door entrance. Tiger lillies, a pair of firecrackers, and elephant ears framed the two steps up to the pair of walnut doors. A hummingbird flirted with one of the flowers on the firecrackers, its turquoise-blue breast glistening. A “Yard of the Month” poster was tacked to a stake in the yard near the front door.

The fall rains had washed away the desert dust from the plants. Rejuvenated, the Tiger lillies glowed greener, as if they were freshly waxed. I won’t be needing to wipe the rubber plants, Manda thought to herself. Poor Mr. Farmer is so naïve. He has no concept of the time required to clean a house properly. He makes it a point to remind me to please wipe the rubber plants once I finish my other work. As if there are actually enough hours in the day to finish with the farmer’s housework.

“Manda, the kids have practice this afternoon, and today’s our busy day at the bank. I’ll try to make it home by four-thirty to five.” Today, Manda would be at the back end of Mrs. Farmer’s schedule and would have to wait for her ride home until Mrs. Farmer was done. Mrs. Farmer clerked at the bank. On busy days, bank clerks were expected to stay around until the day’s transactions were all posted and balanced.

Back at home, Benancio and the kids would have to make do at dinner time by warming the food Manda had prepared. She smiled, for she had raised a good family. There were no complaints from the kids since that had been their practice from early memory. Her thoughts turned to Benancio, and she swallowed almost instinctively. Benancio was the breadwinner and he insisted on sitting at the kitchen table while Manda kept the supply of flour tortillas coming. He liked them right off the griddle.

She knew she would fail him again as she so often did, and again he would complain that all her work as a “maid” for the pinches gringos was all for naught. “It isn’t worth it,” Benancio growled, bottling up his anger until the point of eruption. At that point, he would grit his teeth and make a fist and strike the table at full force.

Mama would never disagree with him. “I’m looking elsewhere for a job, Viejo. I’ve been on the waiting list at the packing shed for a year now… you know that. Once I get that job, vas a ver (you’ll see), Viejo. I’ll be home by three, and I’ll cook great dinners for all of you.”
But Manda would never be called for the packing shed job.

“Up north” remained always in the back of her mind. If the children were ever going to make it through high school, there simply had to be more money.

Pepe was the Farmer’s two-year-old blue-gray male Chihuahua, and he must have known it was Manda that would soon be entering the front door. Otherwise, his bark would have taken on that frenzied tone. But it was Manda because it was Wednesday, and Wednesdays Manda spent her days at the Farmers. Tuesdays belonged to the Trents. Thursdays were for the Robinsons. Manda had always felt that Pepe somehow knew all of that.

The folks over in the south side praised Manda. They liked her cleaning. They liked her ironing. They liked how she left a kitchen spotless and rearranged the innards of their refrigerators, removing all of the spoiled fruit and the crud. And mostly, they liked her because she was trustworthy. They told each other that and often wondered what would happen if she were to get sick or too old to work. She always showed up for work, never complained, never took anything that didn’t belong to her, and she always had a smile for them. They shared her, accommodated each other. If the Robinsons were going to host a party on Friday, Mrs. Trent would accommodate the Robinsons and lend Mama to the Robinsons so that their home could be ready by party time. Is Manda up to it? Yes, Manda was always up to it. That’s why they liked her so much, because Manda was always up to it. All they had to do was drive by the house and honk their horn and there she was at their beck and call. Benancio hated how Manda would leave whatever she was doing and run out to the car as soon she heard the honk. Even if she was eating or dying her hair, she’d drop whatever she was doing and get out there as soon as possible.

As Manda entered the Farmers’ living room, the Chihuahua circled anxiously and then jumped up on its hind legs, begging to be picked up.
“Okay, okay, my baby. I’m here,” Mama humored Pepe as she wiped her feet on the doormat and hung the umbrella on the wall tree. She pulled off the oversized men’s grey canvass overcoat and hung it up in the hallway closet. Pepe jumped up to her arms as she bent over to pick him up.

“How’s my Pepito?”
The fidgety pup continued its excited welcoming.

“Hay, mi’jo, those eyes of yours! If only you could talk, you would say you love me. Pos yo tambien te quiero mucho. (Well, I also love you very much).” Mama allowed the pup to lick her nose.

It would be four-thirty in the afternoon before Mrs. Farmer would return from her own job at the bank, so Manda began with the kitchen. The Farmers’ kids had probably rushed off to school this morning since they hadn’t finished their breakfasts. But they had at least left no milk in their glasses. Such a waste, Manda thought. She inserted the carton cap on the glass milk bottle and returned the milk and the butter to their proper cubby holes in the refrigerator. She gathered the dishes. As usual, Mr. Farmer had left his cigarette butts in the ashtray. After finishing the dishes, she headed for the bathroom.

Like a trained Arabian stallion, Pepito marched stoically by Manda’s side. But at the bathroom, she closed the door behind her. Pepito wailed and scratched at the door. Undoing her blouse, Manda stared at herself in the mirror. Peering back at her was a woman with a small frame and large hands. Gently feeling one hand with the other, she ran her fingers over her calluses. Grinning ironically, she recalled how she and Benancio had promised that someday, they would be able to afford wedding bands, but it had been so very long ago.

Looking back up at the mirror, the reflection returned a nervous smile at her. She undid her blouse slowly, revealing the left side of her chest.
The German nurse had translated for Doctor James. “Manda, the doctor says that they have to remove the breast.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. They’re hoping it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.”

“Chinita! (Darn!)” Manda buttoned her lips tightly. That had been the extent of her complaint.

“How much does it cost?”

“Well, it’s expensive. You’re going to have to go to the city hospital. Dr. James will only assist. They will have to get a surgeon.”

“Do you think it will be more than $250? That’s all the savings I have.”

“Oh, Manda.” the German nurse hugged her, and they both wept.

Inside the Farmers’ bathroom, tears came. Manda swallowed. “Please, Lord, tell me it’s all been a bad dream.”

But it wasn’t a dream—only the ugly surgical scar remained on her flat chest. After placing the false sponge breast in the bra, she snipped the bra on. And then Manda wept openly and loudly, and then she screamed until her eyes puffed. Outside the bathroom, Pepito had not stirred. Inside, he could hear Manda’s cries and offered his own low wailing in support. Drained of her strength, she sat on the commode and got her breath back. It would be months before Benancio would even notice that Manda had lost a breast.

Lifting her chin, she walked out of the bathroom and then let Pepe proudly lead her into the master bedroom. Next year, for certain, she vowed, we’re going up north, before its too late.

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Welcome to the Chuy Ramirez Blog

Works of Fiction:

Strawberry Fields, A Book of Short Stories

Toy Soldiers-to be released

Joaquin's Journey-to be released


Altering the Policy of Neglect of Undocumented Immigration from South of the Border, Vol. 18 in 1983

Igualada: Exploring The Gloria Anzaldua Link Between Powerlessness and Chicano/a Self-Expression



Chuy Ramirez at STC Pecan Library Campus