After Thanksgiving dinner, the men sprawled on the plastic-covered chairs in Comadre María’s living room swigging beers and yelling at fútbol on TV while the women chattered loudly over the stove and sink in the cocina. Handing each other plastic containers, they were putting away the leftovers of traditional American fare – turkey, celery and cornbread stuffing, mashed garlic potato, green bean casserole with onions, corn with red bell peppers, yams with marshmallow, and cranberry relish. Papá had always insisted that his children fit in and be acculturated, but not assimilated. Selena couldn’t help but smile at the fact that all the traditional “American” foods were indigenous to Mexico, except for the cranberry.
Lorenzo’s two kids pulled out a Serpientes y Escaleras board game on the parlor floor and argued about who should go first.
“Hey, none of that!” Lorenzo barked. “Los niños hablan cuando las gallinas mean.”
Selena and her brothers had heard it often: Children speak when hens pee. And everyone knows, pues claro, hens don’t pee.
“The chipotle and chive cornbread was yours, wasn’t it Selena, dear?” asked Auntie Big Hair, who was stuffed into a satin dress two sizes too small for her.
“Sí, that was mine,” Selena said. “New recipe.” She got it from Latina magazine.
“Delish-io-sho,” Auntie said, mouth full. She licked her fingers and glossy nails. “At last you are learning to cook. Why aren’t you cooking for a man yet? ¿Cuando te vas a casar? When are you going to settle down?”
“I’m trying to establish my business,” Selena said.
“What would your mother say?” Auntie Big Hair said. “Do you want to end up like la Cucarachita Martina?”
It was a familiar fairy tale – the little girl cockroach Martina finds a nickel and after much thought uses it to buy powder to look pretty and find a husband. She refuses the proposals of the dog, cat and rooster because they bark, hiss and crow “Aqui mando yo,” I give the orders here, when asked what they will do on their wedding night. Finally Perez the mouse wins her amor by his caring and gentle demeanor, because Latinas at heart desire a gentleman like that. But as Cucarachita Martina is making a stew for the wedding feast like a good wife and una buena mujer should, Perez gets impatient and while trying to taste it he falls in the pot and drowns. Lesson: el destino will take you away from the good man you hoped for and you’ll have to settle for a man driven by machismo.
Auntie Giggles bare-shouldered her way into the conversation, floral taffeta swishing. “What’s this I hear? Hee-hee! Selena is going to settle down? You found a man at last? ¡Que milagro!”
“It’s – it’s not like that,” Selena struggled.
“So there is someone,” Auntie Big Hair gushed. “Who is it? Tell me. Does he have a car as nice as yours?”
“I’m not seeing anyone right now,” Selena said, wishing that Reed, chivalrous, chisel-chinned and smart, were here to take the pressure off her.
Auntie Giggles pouted. ”¿Qué pasa? A curvy chica like you still sola?”
Selena firmed her lips. Every Latina knew that an unmarried and childless woman hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the familia.
“I guess I want Señor Right, not Señor Right Now,” she said. It was a ragged cliché, but it might stop the women’s badgering.
Her brother Lorenzo belched wetly and called out for more black bean dip. His wife Elena scooped some from a plastic bowl into a decorative dish.
“And another beer!” Francisco hollered. Then a player muffed a kick and both brothers stood with Uncle Hairy Nose and Uncle Baldy and three cousins to shake their fists and shout insults at the TV.
Elena grabbed four beer bottles from the fridge and closed the door with her knee.
“They’re big boys, Elena,” Selena said. “They can get their rumps up and get their own beers.”
“I’d answer for it later,” she said quietly. “Excuse me.”
“Hey, that’s not the one I want,” Lorenzo complained. “The Corona Light. And put a little wedge of lime in it, ok?”
Francisco shook the chip basket. “We need more chips, too. Those blue ones.”
Elena set down the dip. “Sure. Right away, mi vida.”
Selena crossed her arms. “My brother is a lazy slob,” she told Elena when she re-entered the kitchen. “You’re encouraging him. Make him get up now and then. Why serve him hand and foot?”
“Your Mamí did,” she said, brushing past her. “All Mexican mothers do. You know that. Or maybe not.”
Comadre María asked Selena to step aside so she could wipe the counter top.
“Oh, let me do it for you,” Selena offered, uneasy about Elena’s snippy remark.
“No, no. I’m fine,” Madrina said. “You relax and enjoy. There’s plenty left over. Take some home.” She squeezed Selena’s arm. “Still so skinny. Take it all home. If only you weren’t so far away. Why be so far away? You have to drive all that way in that old car. And it sounds worse than the last time you were here. Maybe you can have the mecánico de auto look at it before you leave.”
Selena smiled. How could she explain that it was supposed to be loud? “Madrina, it is best for everyone that I live where I am right now.”
“Your mother felt the same way as me. Why so far? Living alone in that big house? How can your brothers protect you when you are so far from the familia? We just want you to be safe.”
Lorenzo belched again and Francisco laughed like a burro.
“It is best for all of us that I am far away,” Selena repeated.
(That's because she's on a drug dealer's hit list! This is an excerpt from VIPER, due out March 25 from Sophia Institute Press. For details, visit http://www.johndesjarlais.com).