The River

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Treading Grapes

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Leaving their room in the Casa Graciosa, Rebeca Fuerte and her son can smell the coffee from under the door of one neighbor’s apartment, beans from another.  Rebeca holds Fernando’s hand a little tighter steering him past those doors and onto the narrow stairway that has its own smells of mildewed walls, of cat urine drying in warped corners.  Flat against her body under her free arm, Rebeca carries the tray on which she daily sells cigarettes and wax matches.  She is wrapped in a blue rebozo that has been carefully smoothed with her hands after laundering.  Though only cotton, the rebozo will be too warm before midday, but it carries her stock.

Home

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What Do I Say to Them

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We enter a cramped lobby, Lucy Banks, a nurse, ahead of me.  The lobby’s floor is a jigsaw of small, black and white ceramic tiles, some broken, others missing altogether.  In a row of mailboxes on one wall the name “Ramirez” is crudely scratched into the metal of the box labeled 3B.

“It’s cold in here,” I say.  The snow that drops from our shoes isn’t melting.

“They don’t heat lobbies in this part of town, John,” Lucy says.

“They save it for upstairs.  It’s 3B, let’s go.”

I’m glad Lucy’s with me.  She’s in her forties, twice my age, and I trust her experience.  She may be forthright in what she says, but I know she’ll never embarrass me in front of a mother.

Winter Solstice in Lourdes

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A Parish in the Bronx

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Salem: Two Windows

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A Dry Season

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“No, you’re not a failure,” Eleanor says.  “That’s nonsense.”

She sounds exasperated, downright angry, but then she laughs.  A loud, ribald laugh that Nora, after fifteen years, knows not to take personally.  The laugh is Eleanor’s typical response to human problems: it clears the air, puts the situation in perspective.  For that, Eleanor says, is what Nora has gotten herself trapped inside.  A “situation.”

Nora says, caustically, “You mean I’ve even failed at that? Being a failure?”

Eleanor makes a gesture with her hands, fingers outspread, held clutched above her ears.  Pulling out her hair.

Go ahead, Nora thinks.

“It’s just that you’re so intense, so damned serious,” Eleanor says.  She laughs again, though less convincingly.  “You’ve always been that way, you know.  Ever since college.”

“Have I?” Nora says.

Shadow Boxes

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Everywhere at Once

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