The Next Chapter
0 DAYS SINCE LAST WORKPLACE ACCIDENT
On the morning after Roxy’s birthday party, she attended mass alone, like she did every Sunday. God’s clean and clutter-free house smelled of Murphy oil soap, paraffin wax, and what she guessed to be myrrh. The hour spent sitting on the polished pew every week was the only time she had to herself. As soon as mass began, Roxy tuned Father Lucas out and started working on the to-do list in her head.
Mass was running late thanks to the dozens of church announcements the priest threw in before offering the blessing. As Roxy did a quasi-genuflection, she glanced at her Timex wristwatch. She dashed out the back door, managing to stay ahead of parishioner foot traffic and the inevitable gridlock on the cement steps. She reached the front doors of the restaurant in good time.
Roxy huffed “Good mornings” through the restaurant where the day shift prepared for Sunday brunch. Having been raised above the family business, Roxy and her sister spoke a mixed dialect of Spanish infused with the slang from a dozen Latin American countries. The idiomatic expressions mutated with changes in kitchen staffing, creating a sub-language foreign to anyone outside of the restaurant.
She could hear Dulce in the kitchen, giving Pedro an English lesson. "A bathroom is the one at home. A restroom is a public bathroom. Think, ‘restaurant,’ ‘restroom.’ That’s the way I ‘member the difference.” She began to explain the many English uses for the word "up."
The thick-accented voice of Pedro said, "What et mean en 7-Up?”
Roxy shouldered the swinging door to find Chucha arranging fruit on a platter for the buffet while Dulce sat on a galvanized table, her legs dangling. Seeing Roxy, she did a quick jerk back of the head. "¿Qué onda Jefa? Great party. What time did la chota leave?" Dulce’s way of asking when the police left.
"The Orient? Are you insane?" Roxy nearly shouted.
Dulce made a clicking sound with her tongue. "Busted."
"I cannot believe you are going halfway around the world just to cut rocks and weren’t going to tell me!”
"Sculpt,” Dulce calmly corrected.
“What is something happens to you? I mean, what if you get arrested?" Roxy demanded.
“I’ll bribe the guards," Dulce said. “Look, vieja, I’ve been saving for this since I was twelve and you know it. I’ve delivered groceries, babysat criaturas, washed cars, pulled weeds, walked dogs, been paid to wait in line at the welfare office. And, I worked here.”
“Yeah, but I thought you’d be going someplace around here. Or would change your mind,” Roxy said.
“The only classes are in Southeast Asia,” Dulce said.
Roxy shook her head, briskly. “No. I don’t think you should go.” Using her fingers, she counted off all the terrible things that could happen in such a pagan corner of the world. Dulce nodded like she was paying attention as she hopped off the table. Still nodding, she took the bolo tie out of her pocket. When Dulce knew Chucha and the guys were watching, she pretended to hang herself with it.
"Ja, ja, Cantinflas!” Roxy angrily laughed. “What are you doing here?"
"I’m covering Kyle’s shift. He said he cleared it with you."
Roxy nodded, while scrutinizing Dulce’s wrinkled busboy clothes. One black sock had been washed in a load with bleach and was now that ambiguous shade impossible to pair. Dulce tucked the bolo under her collar and slid the concho up with her thumb and index finger. Roxy stared at the crooked silver ornament and knew Dulce had intentionally left it that way. Her nostrils flared, a signal to Dulce that her pissed-off battery was now fully charged.
“It’s eleven o’clock. I need to flip the sign over," Dulce said, attempting a diversion. She pushed the swinging door and held it for Roxy, saying, "Hustle!"
Roxy could not help but laugh at the inside joke at their third-grade teacher’s expense. Sister Phillip had tried to urge Roxy, Leah, Dulce, and Tessa back from recess by shouting for them to "Hustle!" This only caused the girls to stop and look at one another, to see if anyone knew what "hustle" meant. Dulce said it sounded a lot like a dog sneezing. Being the early seventies, Sister Phillip interpreted their hesitation as an act of student defiance. She placed the budding hippie protesters in detention. While in detention Tessa looked hustle up in the dictionary. When she whispered that it meant apúrate, they laughed and have been laughing about it ever since.
Roxy and Dulce burst out of the kitchen laughing. Mrs. Zamora was sipping coffee while folding cloth napkins from the corner barstool as they passed, certain that their laughter was at her expense. Now that she was back, she was expected to pitch in more. One of her newly self-appointed tasks was to keep an eye on the Sunday buffet to ensure that the guests did not abuse the limit of one complimentary glass of champagne offered to customers ordering an entrée.
She spotted Frutos by the entrance. He was an old Sunday patron she had first met when she started working as a waitress. He had been so dashing at the time and still wore starched guayabera shirts. If she ignored his volleyball belly and old man shuffle, he was still handsome. She smoothed out the creases in her black floral print dress. “Welcome back. I just stopped by to see if you were here, and to say hello.”
“¡Ay qué milagro!” she said, feeling like the teenager she had been when they met. “That’s so nice of you. Have you eaten? I was just about to order some menudo.”
“Well, I don’t want to interrupt your meal,” he said. He ran a hand through his thick silver speckled hair. Definitely one of his best features.
Longing to lament the restaurant’s changes with someone, she said, “It’s my treat.” She patted the seat next to her.
The menudo arrived in the lead-glazed ceramic cups Mrs. Zamora had brought back on her last trip to Mexico. As they garnished their bowls of spicy soup with minced onions, pinches of dried oregano, chiles, and squeezes of limones, she recounted the trauma of coming home to a restaurant that was no longer here. She felt betrayed by the changes that her daughters had made behind her back and the huge risk they had taken with the family savings, and their future. “Their father would be so disappointed in them.”
Without taking a breath, she moved on to the latest installment of her daughters’ mistreatment. "This morning, I found all of our music for the restaurant in boxes in the hallway closet upstairs. I said, ‘Ay, mija, why is all of our music up here?’ You know what she said? She said, ‘Amá, this is the eighties. Nobody listens to 8-tracks anymore. We’ve moved up to cassettes. Look at how small they are!’ How small they are, ha! Do we look like we’re running out of room?” She waved an arm around to prove her point. “I could see Cuco Sanchez’s face sticking out of the box." Her voice began to quiver.
"What did you do?" Frutos said.
"What could I do? I left them there." She tilted her head while looking down. It was a pose she had seen in some old religious painting. Unbeknownst to her, the pious are always painted looking up; sinners looking down.
“Well, this is your restaurant. You can listen to whoever you want. I can carry the boxes down for you if you want.”
She shook her head. “Thanks, but I only own part of it.”
“Oh?” he said, surprised. “Is that what the will says?”
“He didn’t have a will,” she said.
Frutos smiled knowingly. “If he died without a will, his closest relative inherits everything. That means you.”
Mrs. Zamora looked confused. “Shouldn’t it go to the girls? I mean, they are related to him by blood.”
He shook his head. “The first in line to inherit is always the spouse, then the children, then grandchildren, then cousins, then the IRS.”
Mrs. Zamora knew Frutos had been an attorney before being disbarred for stealing money from a client. But just because he was no longer allowed to practice the law didn't mean that he didn’t know the law.
“So,” Frutos said, nudging her with his elbow. “What's it like to own the hottest restaurant in the neighborhood?” Mrs. Zamora’s face lit up. “Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get back into the trenches?”
Mrs. Zamora’s face darkened. “What do you mean? I already have.” She held up a napkin she had just folded.
“Oh, you know girls. One minute they’re enthusiastic about something, the next minute they’re bored. It’s like when kids want a puppy. They make all kinds of promises to feed it, pick up their caca, and take it for walks. They will do it for a few weeks until they get bored. Then they’ll want to go disco dancing with their friends and you’ll end up having to do everything around here. You’ll have to deal with the customers and staff…make schedules…do payroll.”
He watched her shutter at the last word. “If I was you, I’d think about selling. If you put it on the market while it’s still hot, you’ll get pretty good money for it. They might want to buy the building, so you should think about that too. You have sacrificed so much for this restaurant and your daughters, it’s time for you to live like a queen.”
“I don’t know,” she said, touching her lower lip with the tips of her fingers.
“If you sell the business and the building, Roxy will have the time she needs to find a husband. Leah too.” He could see the skepticism in her face. He dropped his voice to a confidential whisper. “If your daughters don’t get married you won’t have grandchildren."
Mrs. Zamora knew that the only true measure of success in life for a woman is having children, who would get married, then provide her with the requisite grandchildren—mostly male. She pictured her future self, fake smiling as the women in the neighborhood past around photos of their ugly nietos. She was not sure which would be worse, their pitying or pitiless glances in her direction. “I never thought of that,” she said.
The bar phone rang, startling her. She hated answering the phone, and not just because of Roxy’s stupid phone greeting. She would be accused of forgetting something, like the number of people in their party. Later, she would get yelled at again for writing down the wrong phone number. Mrs. Zamora could not understand why her daughter got so upset; all of her questions would be answered when they showed up. And besides, if Roxy did not make her so nervous, she would not make as many mistakes. So, in a way, it was her fault.
The phone rang again. Mrs. Zamora looked around. The bartender had three blenders going and the waitstaff were darting around like hummingbirds near hibiscus hedges. The phone rang again. She got up and snatched up the receiver. "Good morning…and thank you for calling Sesos Restaurante. How can I service you?" she said, pretty sure she had gotten the phone greeting right.
There was a confused silence before a gruff male voice said, "Uh…this is Detective Yavorsky with the San Francisco Police Department. I’m trying to reach Mrs. Zamora?"
Mrs. Zamora was not fazed by the call from the police. She assumed it had something to do with raffle tickets. "Yes, this is Mrs. Zamora, but are you looking for my daughter, Ms. Roxana Zamora?"
"Actually, I’m trying to reach Carmen Zamora."
"Oh, oh, yes." Her heart started racing at the sound of her name. She stood straight up. "I am me."
"I’m calling about your daughter, Leah. There’s been an incident at Golden Gate Park..."
As Mrs. Zamora listened, she became as still as a mannequin. After a moment, the phone dropped from her hand. It fell into the tall garbage can where it sank to the bottom. Only Frutos saw her lose consciousness, but several customers heard the gong-like sound her head made when it struck the hollow brass rail at the foot of the bar.
Early blurbs are in:
“...some of the most interesting, well-drawn characters in contemporary Chicana literature.
I’m sure it will garner many awards. It shines.” —Rudolfo Anaya, author of Bless Me, Ultima
“The yarn Sandoval spins of their lives would make an HBO show-runner proud...”
“...rich plot twists, interspersed with delightful culinary details that make the recipes almost
characters in themselves.” —American Library Association