My mother fancied herself as a good cook. Her specialty was goulash; all the leftover’s from the frig added to the same pot, seasoned with apathy and poverty, heated to a temperature that was certain to kill off any bacteria that may have started to multiply, served in a heaping pile in bowls or on plates, depending on what was clean, while her and dad ate fluffy white rice with their steaks and canned peas; mothers favorite that turned to mush in my mouth.
Dreaming of government cheese,
large ample hunks of salty fulfillment
eaten with bread and milk
while running up mountains with Hiedi
to golden green meadows,
delicate and colorful wild flowers brushing through my fingers,
scattering micro insects
threshing through waist high grasses,
surrounded by hillside after hillside and endless blue sky,
rocky outcrops, high waist dresses, goats for company
and the breeze for a best friend.
We lived in a complex once designed for family living. Fresh idea when built fifty years before my life but run down with neglect and poverty living for me. All the units faced a large central yard with four massive trees, eons old, that reached past the roof tops and kept the ground level apartments and the yard cool. Those trees were an oasis in the Mojave Desert; step outside the shade of the yard and, golden velvet hills rolled on forever ringing the flat hot desert of sage brush and jackrabbits. Depending on the time of year the wind would turn us into a ghost town of tumble weeds and blowing sand storms that hazed out the sun. In the spring, the only time anything felt new, there was this small yellow flower that grew close to the ground. It had the most intoxicating fragrance I’d ever smelled or since. Like perfume. I’d pick fists full to take home to my mothers allergies and complaints of “are you trying to kill me?” to have them thrown out.
The sun turned my skin dark brown and my black hair into a helmet of fire.
The neighbors next door had two daughters, my playmates. I used to sit in their mothers kitchen and watch. It was a small kitchen with a small four chair table pushed up to the wall so only three could sit. The stove was always hot even in this thousand degree desert heat, pots of rice and beans cooked all day, ready for any hunger that might come home. The back door was always open begging for a breeze, glowing daylight. Never any fat lazy flies hovering around, her pots were always covered and the dishes clean and in cupboards waiting for eaters. She didn’t talk much just the musical sounds of her voice telling her girls things I didn’t understand, her soft gentle directions and the girls’ compliant responses. She combed oil into their hair, first coating her hands and smoothing them through then combing sleek shining lengths down there backs, and braiding them into ropes of perfect. Those same hands made tortillas all day long every day. Fresh and soft, she’d feed them to me with beans I watched her cook, poured whole from one boiling pot into the hot sizzle of oil in the black frying pan that always sat on the stove after a good wipe. When the men came home they would pat the girls on the tops of gleaming heads turned up with smiles and arms ready for hugs. The table pulled out from the wall surrounded by men laughing loud and eating the menudo, beans and rice with those fresh tortillas she had cooked all day. They all were like mirrors of me, Alice and wonderland mirrors, I could only watch. Before dark, I would run home, to a box of mac and cheese and a can of peas, never asked where I’d been.