You fond me!
by Annette Sandoval
Approximately 85,000 words
Set in the early 1980s in San Francisco’s Mission District, 10,000 SOULS weaves through the lives of two sisters, their family restaurant, and circle of friends. They come of age when hair is big, fashion is loud, and everyone wants their MTV. These four women lean on each other for support as they navigate the uncharted waters of their futures.
Grief stricken Roxy Zamora is forced to grow up and run the family restaurant after her father’s fatal freak accident when she was seventeen. On her eighteenth birthday, she wishes for a partner to shoulder the burden of the business alongside her. When a candle flickers back to life, Roxy panics. Although a devout Catholic, she sends a secret prayer to Santa Muerte. The Mexican folk saint of death is said to grant wishes with fast results in return for pledges or offerings. She will forget to honor her part of the deal.
Roxy receives sudden attention from Jaime Nazario, the new produce man. He’s got the boyish good looks of a Tiger Beat magazine heartthrob, and the dark and brooding appeal of Heathcliff. After a brief courtship and a lavish wedding, Roxy stays home to have babies, while Jaime runs the restaurant. Caught up in the narrowly focused world of raising three sons born in quick succession, she forgets the importance of being part of her own business.
Roxy finds a roll of film in Jaime’s car and gets it developed. She sees thirty-six naked women (actually, thirty-five and a thumb), all wearing nothing, but the white satin heels Roxy wore on her wedding day! Shocked and devastated, Roxy kicks the serial adulterer out and files for divorce. Fueled by masculine pride and vengeance, Jaime decides to kidnap their sons and make "la torta" pay. Unaware of Jaime’s demented plans, Roxy misses her husband. She sends a second desperate prayer to Santa Muerte for Jaime to come home and never cheat on her again.
As Roxy makes the sign of the cross, Jaime’s motorcycle is struck by an oncoming truck. He survives the accident but is left paralyzed from the neck down. When Jaime is released from the hospital and into Roxy’s lifelong care, it dawns on her that her prayers have been answered.
Not one to make the same mistake twice, Roxy erects a shrine in her closet. She pays tribute to the Holy Saint of Death with flowers, food, People Magazines, candy, coins, and the occasional shot glass of Pepsi Cola.
Where Roxy’s biggest fear is to end up alone, her younger sister Leah, yearns for solitude. Roxy thrives in the restaurant's front rooms; Leah prefers to be tucked away in the kitchen. Food is honest, nurturing, and reliable in ways that people rarely are.
On the overcrowded streets of San Francisco, Leah tries to go unnoticed, but aggressive strangers always zero in on her. Panhandlers yell obscenities and religious zealots follow her for blocks. Nearly being gang-raped in Golden Gate Park by transients is the tipping point.
Fearful for Leah’s mental health, Roxy needs to get her sister out of the city. She enrolls Leah into the Culinary Institute of California in the Napa Valley, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Leah’s they cannot really afford. For the first time in her tempestuous life, Leah thrives. When her instructor, Chef Jacob Lasson, finds out that she was a cook at one of his favorite San Francisco restaurants, he reserves a kitchen for a tutorial on Mexican cooking. She explains traditional techniques to the chef along with the origin of each dish. They fall in love. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Leah agrees to become Jacob’s mistress.
Jacob encourages Leah to write down her recipes and cooking lore. By graduation, she has a firm offer for COCINA. Leah is faced with a decision: return to the mercurial city or remain in the lonely affair with Jacob. Choosing neither, she sets off for the bucolic Mendocino coast to live life in delicious solitude.
Dulce Racelis is an artist and has been friends with Roxy and Leah since they were kids. When her girlfriend and fellow artist, Carolyn, passes away, she bequeaths her tattoo to a bereaved Dulce: an octopus that covered the skin of Carolyn’s entire backside and scalp, with tentacles extending to the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet.
Carolyn had made the arrangements to have her tattooed skin preserved, and placed in an airtight glass frame. Dulce is moved to tears when she is presented with this powerful and intimate gesture of love. Dulce takes Carolyn’s tattoo to her next exhibit at the Galería de la Raza. When asked about the piece entitled, “Carolyn,” Dulce says, “People aren’t just good subjects in art; they make good materials for art.” The reporter writes a scathing review comparing the skinned tattoo to Hitler’s lampshade made from a holocaust prisoner.
There’s nothing like a little controversy to attract a lot of attention. After Carolyn’s “debut,” Dulce begins to receive letters from people from all walks of life: prisoners, businessmen, bikers, housewives, war veterans, and a Holocaust survivor—all of whom want her to take their tattoos—posthumously.
Dulce humbly accepts. Skin Deep, the exhibition by Dulce Racelis explores the human condition by highlighting the art and stories of the tattoo portraits. Photos, letters, and mementos from the deceased contributors, their loved ones, and victims’ families are displayed. In the gallery, her beloved “Carolyn” takes the place of honor. Taped onto the frame is a strip of photo booth pictures of Carolyn and Dulce mugging for the camera.
Julia Anaya is the fourth in this tight circle of friends. She cannot wait to go to Stanford and leave the medieval machismo of her barrio behind. During her junior year as pre-med, she and her boyfriend, Atticus Berger, fly back east to meet his family. When they first meet, Julia can tell that Atticus’s mother is a little disappointed. It soon becomes clear that Mrs. Berger, a Washington lobbyist, wants to use Julia to help her gain racial prestige. Julia’s fair skin and hazel eyes had thrown her off, but she could work with that.
While having lunch with Mrs. Berger and her friends, Julia learns of the rash of home burglaries taking place in their exclusive community. Several maids have been fired for stealing, two of whom were deported. Able to navigate between the housewives and the hired help, Julia does some sleuthing on her own. When she discovers that the thief is part of Mrs. Berger’s inner sanctum, Julia becomes the most hated person in the capital city—politicians aside.
Where is China? Against her parents' wishes, Christina “China” Nieves moves to New York to try to get into film school. Her parents are ashamed that she chose to move practically as far away from them as she could without a passport. Mr. Nieves implies to a nosy neighbor that she is missing. The tragic news spreads through the barrio like a cold through a preschool. Mr. Nieves is pressured to report his daughter's disappearance to the police by a house filled with worried relatives.
The media soon picks up on the story, and the couple become reluctantly captivated by the attention. Invited to be guests on “Good Morning America,” they get a little carried away and become the founders of a national Hispanic support group for parents of missing children. For someone we never meet, China leaves a profound impression on the novel. Cogent observations about familism, honor, respect, religion, and traditional gender roles within a Mexican American community are achieved through this non-character.
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...”—Compulsive Reader
“...rich plot twists, interspersed with delightful culinary details that make the recipes almost characters in themselves.” —American Library Association
SAN FRANCISCO'S MISSION DISTRICT
Mr. Hector Zamora decided to end his own life during a rerun of I Love Lucy. He was sitting next to his wife on the living room’s plastic slipcovered couch. Their two teenage daughters watched TV cross-legged on the shag rug. Leah would occasionally get up to adjust the reception by rotating the coat hanger antenna.
Mr. Zamora was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer that morning, and the prognosis was not good. He had expected the doctor to say that it was a cyst, not women’s cancer. The doctor said that the disease was rare in men, but it did occur.
Now that the shock was wearing off, he was not sure what scared him more, the cancer itself or the thought of telling his family. If he told his girls he had less than three years to live, the news would instantly age them. Roxy would start a count-down. Every day, he would see the calendar page turn in her eyes. His wife, being his wife, would make the cancer her own. Keeping the diagnosis a secret for too long would be difficult. The disease would start bringing changes that his family would notice. He pictured a fruit rotting in a bowl.
No. Death by his own hand was the way to go. With the decision made, he tuned back into the show. It was the episode where Lucy places a bet with Ricky. She was going to keep from buying a hat for longer than he could keep from losing his temper. Mr. Zamora caught himself before saying, "Why a hat? A Cohiba cigar I could understand, but a pinche hat?"
As if picking up the vibrations of the unspoken question through her jaw, Mrs. Zamora nodded once. "I hate Lucy." Her tone was so full of loathing that Mr. Zamora had to resist the urge to gape at his wife. Their daughters knew better than to look back at their mother. In the wilderness they called home, eye contact was an act of aggression.
Mrs. Zamora spoke again. In his peripheral vision, she looked just like a beanbag with a russet potato for a head. "Lucy is so spoiled. She can’t cook and never bothers to clean their apartment. She’s always spending her husband’s money and doing things she shouldn't be doing behind his back. Now what kind of a wife is that?"
Mr. Zamora was thinking about how familiar that sounded when the potato spoke again. "And what kind of a name is Ricky Ricardo anyway? Did his parents really give him the same first name and last name? You see! That’s what happens when los otros write about us. They always get it all wrong!"
Roxy cautiously spoke to the chancla dangling from her mother’s big toe, aware that she could wield the house sandal with the precision of a ninja throwing star. "Enrique. His name is Enrique Ricardo. Not Ricardo Ricardo."
"Oh." Annoyed by the correction, Mrs. Zamora crossed her arms over the line between her bra strap and belly. She sank deeper into the cushions, causing the plastic slipcovers to make a farting sound. "Poor Ricky. If he had just married a good Mexican woman instead of that...he would have been much better off."
"He’s Cuban, Mother," Roxy said through clenched teeth. She braced for the chancla.
"I know that!" Mrs. Zamora said, offended. "He’s Catholic…and he speaks Spanish. If that’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me."
“How do you know he’s Catholic?” Roxy said, pushing it.
“Because,” Mrs. Zamora said, exacerbated, “He speaks Spanish. Everyone born speaking Spanish is Catholic.”
On the screen, Enrique bends Lucy over his knee and starts spanking her. Mrs. Zamora perked up. "Harder! Hit her harder!"
Mr. Zamora watched as his wife cheered on the domestic abuser. He felt his earlier fatigue return as his vision blurred with tears. Listening to the laugh track, he wondered how many members of the audience were dead.
As he reached for the TV Guide on the coffee table, he gazed at the back of his daughters’ heads. Roxy, at seventeen, looked just like her mother. When she was a baby, he had hoped that she would grow out of it. She never did. But God had blessed Roxy with a greater gift than beauty, a sharp mind. She could do math in her head without the aid of a calculator. Leah, younger by one year, favored him. Two brown whippets in the rain, only with curly hair. Unlike her big sister, Leah was painfully shy. Her fragile beauty was already drawing unwanted attention.
Mr. Zamora could not bring himself to think of how much he would miss his girls, so he focused his attention on making sure that they were taken care of after he was gone. First thing he would do is write a will. Second, get as much life insurance as he could. He remembered hearing something about it taking a year for the death benefits to kick in but was not sure. He would have to look into that.
Escaping his fate of a painful and demeaning death buoyed his spirits. How am I going to do it? It must look like an accident. Mr. Zamora became serene. I own a restaurant. Accidents are always happening there.
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
Mr. Zamora's fatal freak accident occurred in the restaurant’s kitchen one year and one day later. He was electrocuted while trying 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. That was Pedro’s job.
After Mr. Zamora's tragic death, most of the regular customers stopped patronizing Sesos. The people in the Mission District felt bad for the Zamora women, now left without a husband or a father. The food was great, authentic, but everyone knew that his widow was running the restaurant. And no one wanted to spend good money in bad company.
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 applied a face powder that was three shades lighter than her skin tone. As she sprayed a generous amount of Aqua Net Hairspray around her head, she inhaled enough of the fumes to make her cough.
Mrs. Zamora stared at herself in the gold trimmed vanity 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 under arms demand more liberation than they need was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys, having no idea what most of them unlocked.
In the kitchen, Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies. He was a slight, effeminate man with teased black hair and sad Indian eyes. He liked to think of his work aprons as wrap-around skirts. The one he wore was his mourning apron, embroidered with flowers of the dead: marigolds, comstock, gladiolas, chrysanthemum, and baby’s breath.
Mrs. Zamora nodded solemnly while selecting baked goods from the pink box he had brought from the panadería. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs, then a second one. On the ceramic plate the jelly roll slices looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from her arriving staff. Pedro, the busboy, was ten minutes late. His bowl haircut and small stature always reminded her of one of those little Amazonian tribes’ men. In between bites she berated Pedro, who worked three jobs, on punctuality. No matter where the waitresses looked, their eyes were pulled back to the burnt floor tiles where their real boss had met God.
If you can’t earn their respect, take it, Mrs. Zamora thought as she headed to her husband's wood paneled office. When she reached the door, she stopped cold. Stacks of unopened mail, phone messages, and parcels were piled on the desk. A wall calendar filled with her husband's cramped 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. Their eyes followed their mother as she trudged into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. When she momentarily blocked Bob Barker on TV, the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
Roxy and Leah decided to go back to school the next day. Saint Joan of Arc was an all-girls high school also known as St. Juanita’s, although most people called it St. Juan’s. Mrs. Zamora warded off thoughts of working on payroll by retreating to her bedroom, where she escaped into television and food. She only got up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between the novelas on UHF and the soap operas on ABC.
The employees were sympathetic. They brought her meals up to her apartment 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 and an egg roll from the Chinese restaurant on Market Street.
On the morning of the dreaded payday, Mrs. Zamora hunkered down in the bathroom in their apartment. As the minutes counted down, she wiped her sweaty face with the lacy hand towel reserved for guests. In the restaurant's kitchen, Chucha and Pedro prepared for the inevitable uprising by performing Last Rites on each other while splashing tap water.
The riot began at 10:08 a.m. Dressed in their puffy, off-the-shoulder uniforms inspired by the Mexican Revolution, the normally benign group of waitresses clamored for their paychecks. When la jefa 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 left the restaurant, the new mothers snatched up the baby booster seats stacked near the kitchen door.
MRS. ZAMORA SKIPS TOWN
Roxy and Leah arrived home from school to find their mother filling three suitcases without folding the clothes first. Sensing motion, Mrs. Zamora’s head snapped up. Relieved to see that it was just her daughters, she said, "Don’t just stand there, Roxana! Help me!”
Leah watched from the doorway as Roxy tried to close an overstuffed suitcase by sitting on it. Roxy’s face pinched as questions tumbled out. "Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What about the restaurant?"
"The restaurant is closed. Nobody wants to work here. Work for me." Their mother burst into tears.
Roxy knew this was true and was not about to go there. “It’s okay. We’ll get through this.”
“It’s not okay!” Mrs. Zamora roared. “Did you know that your father had cancer? Breast cancer of all things!” The sisters drew in simultaneous breaths. “His life insurance claim was denied! They’re calling it a suspicious death and are starting an investigation! Now everyone is going to know!”
For a moment, the sisters went blank. As their mother rummaged through the drawer of her nightstand, Roxy silently dragged a suitcase off the bed. She sat on it and bounced until the latches clicked shut.
Mrs. Zamora was catching the next bus to Watsonville in the Salinas Valley where she would care for an elderly aunt who did not send for her. After seeing their mother off at the downtown bus depot, Roxy and Leah returned to their sinking ship. They stared up at the building and the torn awning their father had tried to repair with duct tape. Someone named Güey had recently graffitied over the graffiti on the door.
With some reluctance, the sisters stepped back inside of the restaurant. As Roxy’s eyes adjusted, she stared at her surroundings candidly. The red carpet, the dark booths padded with oxblood faux leather, and the conquistador statues were straight out of medieval times. A blackish stain near the hostess stand could have been dry blood spilled by a surf bearing bad news.
Roxy’s eyes landed on Leah. She realized that she had stopped really seeing her sister right after she was born. Leah's liquid brown eyes were raw and red with worry. The black spirals of hair coiling down her back brought virgins and volcanoes to mind. Roxy’s brow furrowed. "Why are you shaking like that? It’s over seventy-degrees in here." Her concern came out more like a rebuke.
Roxy heard a low rumble. It was not an earthquake. The moaning sound coming from her sister erupted into a full-on Llorona wail. With a shock of panic, Roxy instinctively pulled her little sister into a tight hug. "It’s okay, it’s okay! I’ve got you," she repeated until the terrible sounds softened to quiet sobs, then breathing.
Leah’s anguish wrenched Roxy out of her grief cocoon. We’re about to lose everything, Roxy thought, our restaurant, our home, this building. And she just walked out of here!
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. She held up an imaginary fist to the orange glow of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sky. As God as my witness, she thought, I will not be licked, and I will save Sesos!