TAMPONS WILL TAKE YOUR VIRGINITY
THIS IS THE STORY OF MEXICAN FOOD. Lots of Mexican food.
Around the dishes revolve four women who solve mysteries, help
hide China (the person, not the country), write cookbooks, and,
finally, accept posthumous donations of tattoos.
TAMPONS WILL TAKE YOUR VIRGINITY
"They tried to bury us, they didn't know we're Seeds."
— Mexican Proverb
"The reason we're so dangerous is because we're totally harmless.”
San Francisco, 1980
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
Roxy and Leah were at school when their father’s fatal freak accident occured. He was electrocuted in the kitchen of their family restaurant while attempting to unplug a faulty electric bean masher. It was actually an industrial electric potato masher, only they used it for beans. To this day, no one can explain why he was mashing the beans in the first place. Even more puzzling were the waterlogged shoes he was wearing at the time.
After Mr. Zamora's tragic death most of the regular customers stopped patronizing Sesos. It wasn’t that the neighborhood didn’t feel sad for the Zamora women, now without a husband or a father, it was just that everyone knew that his widow was running the restaurant. And no one in the Mission District wanted to spend good money on a bad meal.
On the Monday after the funeral, Mrs. Zamora buttoned the top button of the lightweight black suéter she wore over her simple black polyester-blend dress. She paused to stare at herself in the full-length mirror. Her lifelong fear of living without the security of a man, first her father, and now her husband, had come true.
Why women without the decency to shave their underarms demand more liberation than they need was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys that looked just like the ring jailers carried. With the prison image in mind she descended the backstairs for her first shift as the sole owner of Sesos.
Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies as Mrs. Zamora entered the kitchen. She nodded somberly as she selected baked goods from the pink box he had brought. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs. After a brief moment of contemplating a concha de chocolate she served herself a second strawberry roll. On her ceramic plate the pastries looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from the arriving staff. No matter where the waitresses looked, their eyes were pulled back to the burnt spot where their real boss had met God. Pedro arrived fourteen minutes late. In between bites Mrs. Zamora berated the busboy, who worked three jobs, on punctuality. She handed Pedro the tongs and her empty plate before dismissing him.
If you can’t earn their respect, take it, Mrs. Zamora thought as she headed to her husband's closet-sized office. Mrs. Zamora stopped cold. A mound of packages and paperwork were covering the surface of his desk. She picked up an invoice, then watched as dozens of envelopes cascaded onto the floor. As Mrs. Zamora stepped back a wall calendar filled with her husband's cramped cursive writing caught her attention. Two of the dates were lassoed in red ink. “Payroll” was written in both. The second “Payroll” date was in four days.
The loud crash of the front door caused Roxy and Leah to jump. They watched their mother trudge into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. As her large rump momentarily blocked the Price is Right on TV the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
The next morning the girls decided to return to school, so Mrs. Zamora would have to grieve alone. She warded off thoughts of working on payroll by escaping into television and food. She spent her days in bed, only getting up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between the novelas on UHF and the ones on ABC.
The employees were sympathetic. They brought her meals up on trays and took the dirty dishes away. If she did not feel like ‘real food’ they ordered whatever she wanted. Usually sweet and sour pork served with pork fried rice, an egg-roll and fortune cookies.
On the dreaded payday, Mrs. Zamora retreated to her bathroom to hide. As the minutes counted down she wiped her sweaty face with the lacey hand towel reserved for guests. In the restaurant’s kitchen Chucha and Pedro performed last rites while splashing tap water on each other.
The riot began at 10:06 a.m. Dressed in their puffy off the shoulder uniforms inspired by the Mexican revolution, the normally benign group of waitresses clamored for la jefa. When she failed to show her ‘ugly face' they raided the walk-in refrigerator and freezer. They took their due earnings with meat and seafood wrapped in butcher’s paper, huge blocks of cheese and butter.
Las Adelitas stormed the storeroom where they claimed unpaid sick days and vacation time owed to them with cases of beer, liquor and wine. Bottles of DeKuyper Schnapps were left in their wake. As they departed the restaurant the new mothers snatched up the baby booster seats near the back door.
The girls arrived home from school to find their mother filling two suitcases without folding the clothes first. Sensing movement Mrs. Zamora’s head snapped up. Relieved to see it was just her daughters, she said, “Don’t just stand there, Roxana! Help me!”
Leah watched from the doorway as Roxy attempted to close an overstuffed suitcase by sitting on it. Her face pinched as questions tumbled out. "How long will you be gone? What about the restaurant?”
"The restaurant is closed. Nobody wants to work here...work for me.” Mrs. Zamora burst into tears. Roxy knew this was true and was not about to go there. She hopped on the suitcase until the latches clicked.
Mrs. Zamora caught the next bus to Watsonville in the Salinas Valley where she would care for an elderly aunt who did not send for her. After putting their mother in a cab to the downtown bus depot the bewildered daughters turned back around and faced their sinking ship. Someone named Güey had recently graffitied over the graffiti on the door.
Roxy felt like she had just fallen down a manhole and was about to hit ground. As the pedestrian traffic moved swiftly around them Leah experienced the sensation of being carried away by a strong current. She parted her lips to breathe in the water.
ROXY’S ACTUAL FIRST DAY AS THE BOSS
The service at any family-owned restaurant varies throughout the day, but late-afternoon is the absolute worst time to expect to be served food. Customers are ignored by the lunch staff smoking cigarettes while engrossed in their daily ritual of counting tips. At the adjoining table, the dinner staff complain and gossip as they rolled flatware into paper napkins.
On the barstool in the cocktail lounge twelve-year-old Roxy was enjoying the afterschool snack Chucha had prepared for her. Halfway through the Doritos topped with melted cheese and slathered in packets of taco sauce—Roxy’s creation—she watched another potential customer give up and leave. When she complained about the loss of business to her father, the bartender, he gave her a ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ shrug. He refilled her glass of Pepsi, which was actually a generic cola and only cost pennies per pint.
Well, Roxy was gonna do something about it, alrighty. She started doing her homework on the corner barstool so she could keep an eye on the entrance. Customers were greeted by a smiling chubby girl dressed in a parochial school uniform. Her long ponytail was more frizz than curl. Most thought she was cute in the way that all children are cute. Even the ugly ones.
Roxy seated four regular customers who worked at the National Dollar store at the best seat by the window. She offered each one a complimentary Pepsi Cola, Diet Pepsi or 7-up, before turning to glare at the wait staff. A quick game of piedra, papel, tijeras (rock, paper, scissors) ensued to see who would wait on them.
As Roxy headed back to the bar she glanced at the overhead TV showing local news though the sound was off. Video footage of Patricia Hearst wearing a beret and weilding an M1 carbine was on the screen. Since the bank robbery had taken place in the Sunset District they felt a certain ownership of the story. The reactions of the customers seated around the bar were mixed.
When the debate, mostly in Spanish, was dying down they began to make things up. An older customer staring at the raw egg floating in his beer said, “I heard the Siamese Liberation Army is still around and they’re planning on kidnapping a politician next. I think they said Mayor Alioto.”
“Why?” Mr. Zamora said, mesmerized by the fruit flies hovering over the liquor bottles in the well.
“Because they want to destroy the state capitals.”
Roxy thought, capitalist state, but said nothing. Correcting adults was just showing off. She knew ‘Siamese’ wasn’t right either, but she couldn't come up with the actual name.
“What if they go to the mayor’s house to kidnap him and Governor Brown’s there visiting? A customer said. “Wouldn’t they take Jerry instead? I mean, the mayor is like a full house, which is pretty good, but the governor is a better hand, more of a straight flush...”
“What hand is Nixon?”
He took a swig for effect. “A toilet flush.”
They laughed uproariously. Her father’s words were drowned so he gestured toward Roxy to remind them that his daughter was there. Roxy tuned them out. She flipped to the back of her school notebook and started a tally of the customers she seated.
ROXY AND SCARLETT
With some reluctance, Roxy, age seventeen and Leah, sixteen stepped back inside the restaurant. After Roxy’s eyes adjusted she stared at her surroundings candidly. The chunky dark furniture and the red carpets were straight out of medieval times. The blackish stain in front of the hostess stand could pass for dry blood spilled by a serf bearing bad news.
Roxy was scanning the dusty statues of conquistadores when her eyes landed on Leah. Roxy realized that she had stopped seeing her sister right after she was born. Leah looked so much like their father. Two brown greyhounds caught out in the cold rain. Their father’s dark curly hair was kept short and tamed with Brylcreem. Leah’s black spirals coiled down her back, bringing virgins and volcanoes to mind. Roxy sighed. It had been a 50-50 shot, but Roxy had drawn her mother’s Olmec genes.
Noticing that Leah was more jittery than usual, Roxy said, “Why are you shaking like that? It’s over 70 degrees in here.” Her concern came out more like a rebuke.
Leah’s eyes were burning. To keep from crying she had been biting hard on her bottom lip. The front tips of Leah’s teeth slightly flecked with blood wrenched Roxy out of her grief cocoon. Oh my God! What am I doing? We’re about to lose everything...for good! Our business, this building, our home! Roxy wondered where the overbearing adults were when they were finally needed.
Dad’s never coming back! Mom can’t fix this. She’ll only make it worse because she’s mom! Roxy had seen “Gone with the Wind'' a bunch of times and thought back to the scene where Scarlett takes charge of Tara—also by default. Roxy held up an imaginary fist to the orange glow of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sky. She thought, with God as my witness I will not be licked and I will save Sesos! To Leah she said, “Come on.”
At the corner hardware store Roxy bought a thick steel chain and the biggest padlock they carried. Back at the restaurant Roxy threaded the chain through the two front door handles. Leah shifted the lock from hand to hand taking pleasure in the cool feel of the weighted steel on her warm palms. She realized Roxy was staring at her. “You done?” Roxy said, snapping her fingers.
Leah's cheeks tinged purple as she handed her sister the padlock. Roxy fastened the hinged shackle through the chain and clamped it shut. She tugged on the lock twice, and then tried the key to make sure it worked. “Now this will get everyone’s attention,” she said with a certainty that confused Leah, yet somehow made her less afraid.
Roxy Zamora, recent high school graduate from Saint Joan of Arc High School, also known as St. Juanita’s, although most people called it St. Juan’s. Roxy was incharge of a restaurant with no food, no wait staff, no customers and no idea what to do next.
Papa Marco died from a ruptured bladder. He was hit by a baseball bat when he stepped too close to the pinata at a birthday party. Like Roxy, her father had taken over without any warning. Now that she thought about it, her grandfather had also died before his time. The difference being that her father had been in his thirties at the time and had transitioned into the position years before...
EARLY REVIEWS ARE IN
“The yarn Sandoval spins of their lives…
would make an HBO show-runner proud."
“Some of the most interesting, well-drawn characters
in contemporary Chicana literature...It shines.”
—Rudolfo Anaya, author, Bless Me, Ultima
"...female friendship and empowerment strikes
universal chords that will resonate with all readers.”
—Michael Nava, author of The City of Palaces