Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hot and Cold (04/09/09)
By Betty Castleberry
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She is in the kitchen, stirring something at the stove. Tiptoeing to the kitchen door, I watch her smash a clove of garlic and peel it. Her hips are curvy, her waist narrow. Black curls trail down her back. She is beautiful, and I believe she is happy. The news I have for her today will make her sad. I must wait for the right time to tell her that I am unemployed. It is hard for me to believe. It changes everything.
She begins to sing along with the radio. I walk up behind her and kiss her neck. Her skin is warm. For an instant, she stiffens, then laughs. “James, do not sneak up on me like that. You will give me heart failure.” She turns and faces me, playfully swatting my hand.
My lunch box clatters to the floor. I grin. “See? You’ve knocked my lunch box out of my hand. You don’t know your own strength.”
Sylvia laughs again. “Yes, I am strong.”
It is true. She is strong. I think back to the first time I saw my bride. She looked adorable serving customers and cooking in her family’s restaurant. I am amazed she had worked there since she was twelve. I am even more amazed that she still likes to cook. At my request, she quit working when we got married.
Pointing to something green in the skillet I ask. “What is that?”
“Napalitos. A dish made with prickly pear strips.”
“We’re eating cactus?”
“Yes.” She drops the garlic into the napalitos pan. It sizzles and fills the kitchen with a pungent aroma. “Don’t worry, you will like it. We’re having asada, too.”
“And home made tortillas?”
“Of course. You gringos eat too many salads. You need a few tortillas under your belt.”
“Fine by me. Your tortillas are wonderful.”
“How was your day?”
I avoid her eyes. Instead, I look at the cookie jar on the counter. It is a pink pig with an enormous snout. The words won’t come just yet. I cheat. “Okay, I guess. How was yours?”
“Good. I went to Bible study. The ladies are all so nice. They’re having a luncheon tomorrow. Is it all right if I go?”
“Of course. You don’t have to ask me.”
“But I want you to know I won’t be home in case you call me from work.”
I hesitate and feign a cough. “Oh. Well, you still don’t have to ask. Just tell me.”
She nods. “I love you, carino.”
“I love you too, angel face.” I am not embarrassed by my nickname for her. It is very fitting.
“Go wash up. Supper is almost ready.”
The ancient plumbing groans in protest as I turn on the hot water. Deciding not to wait for it to cooperate, I wash my hands in cold water. It matches the cold facts I am trying to conceal from Sylvia, at least for the time being. I do not want to see her cry.
When I return to the kitchen, she is putting dishes of steaming food on the table. She plucks a jalapeno from a jar and pops the whole pepper in her mouth.
I shake my head in disbelief. “Isn’t that hot?”
“No. It’s good.
“Mama called today. My sister is having a party for Markie’s first birthday on Sunday afternoon. The whole family is going. I told her we would be there, too.”
She looks at me intently. “Won’t it be great when we have our own kids?”
I sit down and put a tortilla on my plate. “Sure. Some day.”
Sylvia stands by my chair and touches my shoulder. Curious, I look at her. Her big brown eyes are filled with tears. She reaches for my hand and places it on her flat stomach.
“Carino, some day is eight months from now.”
My mouth opens, then closes. Standing, I hug her tightly. I will find a way.
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