A glass of crazy, p.19
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.19

           Tina Laningham
 
Rafa wasn't on Skype or IM or anything because on Thanksgiving Day he was doing what everyone in the United States of America was doing-sitting down to dinner with his family. That's what you do on Thanksgiving Day, no matter what. How did I get stuck with the only family that didn't understand that concept?

  A car ignition started in the driveway and I watched Dad back out the SUV, but I didn't see the Kat. Even if Rafa was busy eating, it was a sure bet he had his phone. I emailed the photo of Kat with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth and it only took five seconds for him to call.

  "That's what she looks like in person?" he said.

  "Freaking lovely, huh?"

  "Looks like a prostitute."

  "You wouldn't believe how much money Dad gives her."

  "Dang, that's-. Hey, you okay?"

  "Not really," I said.

  "So what did you do today?"

  "Well," I said slowly, "we went to a spa and I told Dad and Kat I hate them. That's what my family did for Thanksgiving. How 'bout yours?"

  After a long pause, Rafa slowly listed all the relatives at his house, like he didn't know what to say. I was only half listening when someone knocked on the door. "Hang on," I said to Rafa. "And don't hang up-it could be the Kat."

  Fortunately it was just Gabby. "Come in," I said. "Rafa, gotta go."

  "That was your non-boyfriend?" Gabby asked.

  "Exactly. Emphasis on non."

  "Uh-huh." Gabby crossed her arms. "Mam? wants you to eat with us. Your dad had to leave unexpectedly."

  "Did the Kat creature go with him?"

  Gabby busted out laughing. "Is that what you call her? They're both gone. Come help us make tamales."

  Considering the fact that Berta had to clean up my puke the last time I was left alone too long, I decided it was the least I could do.

  "Sounds like fun," I said with a weak smile. I really wanted to say, "Why the hell not? My own parents don't want me." But after making Rafa squirm on the phone, I had to remember what's normal in my family was probably way too bizarre to share with other people, so I kept my mouth shut.

  We went downstairs and I expected to see Berta making tamales, but the kitchen was empty. "This way," Gabby said, leading me out the back door. At the little guest house, Gabby's dad stood at the top of a ladder and pushed a new terra cotta roof tile into place. We ducked under the ladder to get in the door and even though it was bad luck to walk under a ladder, I didn't hesitate because I wasn't exactly on a lucky streak.

  In the little house, a big room with a huge wooden table in the middle held buckets of what looked like wet cornmeal and I knew from watching Rafa's mom it was masa. Next to the buckets were two neat stacks of corn husks. I breathed in the hearty aroma of whatever Berta had cooking on the stove-probably the stuff that goes inside the tamales.

  The house felt warm, not temperature warm, the kind of warm you feel inside. It wasn't just the rose colored walls or the handmade wooden furniture. It was the smiles for no particular reason, like being at home was reason enough to smile. I don't think I'd ever felt like that.

  Take our Tuscany styled kitchen in our old house, for example. Mom had paid a lot of money to make it appear warm and cozy, but it didn't feel all warm and cozy, not like this. When Gabby and her mom looked at each other, their eyes sparkled and they didn't have to speak. They were sending signals of happiness to each other, happiness that came from just being together. I had never experienced that with Mom, but I was sure it was the best feeling in the world. I remembered when it felt that way with Dad, but those days were definitely over. Gabby was lucky. She probably didn't even know how lucky she was.

  With elbows out and Fandango at her feet, Berta lifted a pot from the stove and set it on the table next to the buckets of masa. Gabby had slipped a tile under the pot just before it touched the table. Berta said something to Gabby in Spanish that involved me, but I wasn't sure how, until Gabby's eyes lit up at mine. "She wants us to start rolling tamales."

  More than anything, I wished I could return the eye sparkling thing, but it was like something inside me had died and I wondered if I would ever get it back. I turned my attention to the pot Berta had placed on the table.

  "What's this?" I asked, staring down in the pot.

  "Pork, onions, garlic and hot peppers," Gabby said. "Have you ever made tamales?"

  "No," I said, "but I've seen it done."

  "At your non-boyfriend's house?"

  "Right." I half smiled that Gabby wouldn't let go of the boyfriend thing. If only she knew what a girl he could be sometimes.

  The three of us must have rolled at least fifty tamales, which drove Fandango crazy. I slipped him a bite of pork and said, "I love your dog. He has so much personality."

  Gabby looked at me quizzically. "He is your dog."

  "Huh? Why is he always here?"

  "He is afraid of-" and then Gabby stopped.

  "Poor puppy," I said, pulling Fandango up on my lap. "Are you afraid of the mean, ugly Kat?"

  Gabby giggled and placed the last tamale in the pot. When Berta put them on the stove to steam, Gabby said, "Now for the sweet tamales."

  Gabby mixed sugar and raisins in the other bucket of masa. Berta wiped her forehead and sat at the table to rest.

  "You only need a little cinnamon," Gabby said.

  I sat next to Berta and said, "Tomorrow's my last day here."

  "Oh! What will you do tomorrow?" Gabby asked.

  "Don't know," I said in a monotone. "Not even sure Dad'll be home."

  Berta wanted Gabby to translate what I'd said and after Gabby finished, Berta shook her head sadly.

  Gabby stirred the sweet masa. "You should talk to your dad, tell him how you feel."

  "I already did," I said, rolling my eyes. "You can see how well that went. I'm here with you on Thanksgiving night." As soon as I said it, I heard how bad it sounded. I was getting really clear on why nobody liked me. I didn't even like myself anymore.

  Berta said something and then Gabby relayed the message, "She thinks you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your dad." Gabby scooped some sweet masa into a corn husk. "She wants to know what you would say."

  "I've already said more than enough."

  "She says if you love someone in your heart, you should tell them because it is a message from God."

  I kept my head down and rolled tamales because I really didn't want to talk about it anymore. Dad was once my number-one human being on the planet. But now when I looked at him, "I love you, Dad" were not the words that wanted to spew forth from my mouth.

  Later that night, we sat around the table, Gabby, her parents, Fandango and I. The moon glowed through an open window and a gentle breeze drifted in while we ate tamales and washed them down with fizzy limeade. Gabby and I spoke a little. Mostly we listened to her parents talk softly to each other in Spanish, their voices gentle like music that calmed me. I stayed well into the night and in my mind, created my first poem.

  - 20 -

 
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