Joel D. Rodríguez-Rivera

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THE SMILING ARM –

It was around three forty in the afternoon when the sun’s rays filtered through one of the windows of the second floor of Clifton Place. Eloina González wiped sweat from her that ran in rivulets down her neck, arms and legs and onto the kitchen floor. It was so hot, just like every day in her cramped apartment. She didn’t think so much about it though, as long as her hard work benefitted her family, it didn’t matter.

“¡Ay ya mismo viene la gente, y yo tengo que terminar de cocinar!” Eloina said to herself as she browsed for seasoning ingredients for the pork in the wide bowl on the stove that was already cooking itself in the heat. She liked to use natural, fresh herbs, like oregano, salt, pepper, vinegar, sofrito and cilantro, instead of the packaged ones. She often bought them fresh at the market and added her own touches. She was an accomplished cook. Her exquisite rice, beans, chicken, roast beef, and pork were her family’s favorite.

However, there was only one man lucky enough to share her roof and her marvelous cuisine every day, Eligio Rivera, her husband. He was gentle and kind, but people knew better than to take Eligio for a fool. He was either working or at the bar that was around the corner of the street with the other men. He did get drunk from time to time, but he was passive drunk, always laughing and joking, never violent towards Eloina. Today family was coming to visit, so Eligio waited expectantly in the living room reading his newspaper.

The stove was full of cooking pots of food. In one huge aluminum pot, the white rice was kept warm with its own steam. The beans simmered in a medium-sized pot, their delicious smell indicating that they were fulfilling their potential. Eloina smiled as her dinner was almost done, well, at least the side dishes. The pork was going to take time, so she added a little more gas to the stove to increase the fire below. The oil sputtered out of the pan, but before any more popped out she sealed it with the lid.

Eligio, ¿qué hora es?” she asked aloud from the kitchen as she started cutting a piece of lettuce for the salad.

Son las tres y cincuenta y dos,” he said casually glancing at the wide, plastic, feathery-looking clock that hung in front of him. Then he buried his face back to the newspaper.

She raised her head from what she was doing and inspected the clock herself. Three fifty-two.  Yes, he was right. Not to distrust, but it’s a habit she’s always had, of reassuring facts before continuing on. People who knew her were already used her ways, so they weren’t offended when she probed for more accurate information.

It was part of her character as a strong woman. She was never the type to weep about or complain of her troubles. She just put it behind and smiled. She had wanted to be a mechanic once, but her mother and her family discouraged her because it was considered man’s work. Consequently, she got a job at a sewing factory where she still works.

The aroma of cooked rice circled around the kitchen, signaling her to stop cutting the tomatoes and celery and attend to the stove. She wrapped a thick towel around the rice pot handle, and placed it on the table. The beans followed. Now only the pork remained, a few more minutes would do it.

She continued chopping vegetables for the salad, tossing them into a wide plastic bowl in the center of the square dinner table. A brisk breeze entered the kitchen from the window, causing a cup holding four spoons to fall into the sink. Eloina gasped and hurried to the sink to clean the mess. After she shut the faucet off, the aroma of perfectly cooked pork shoulder reached her nostrils. She could almost taste the tender, juicy and spicy flavor of the pork in her mouth. She turned off the gas to the oven and opened the door. There it was, her masterpiece. Grabbing both sides of the pot with towels, she carefully lifted it and carried it across the kitchen to the table where she planned to set it on a large plate to cool. Eligio entered the kitchen and bumped into her on his way to the refrigerator.

“¡Ten mas cuidao Eligio, por poco me tumbas, y yo con el lechón este!” she said harshly to her husband as she settled the pork in the big plate, covering it with aluminum foil.

Perdoname, es que quería un poquito de agua mija,” he said opening the refrigerator door, putting his head inside to browse for the gallon of cold water. After serving himself a glass we went back to his newspaper in the living room.

Eloina’s suddenly smelled charred meat. That was strange, she was sure that she took the food out before overdoing it. She looked at around in confusion. She realized the smell was coming from the pot she had just removed the pork from.

Eloina, chequeate la comida. Huele a quemao,” said Eligio from the living room.

Pero…ya acabe de cocinar,” she said slowly.

Lifting the lid from the pork pan, she was greeted by a flash of fire erupting in the fat in the bottom of the pan. She quickly grabbed the pot with her bare hands and launched it through the window without thinking twice. Flames ignited on her right arm as the pot flew by and burned so ferociously that it exposed her muscles in her arm. She screamed out in pain but had the presence of mind to shut off the gas to the stove. She breathed slowly, grabbing a small towel to dress her wound.

Eligio was instantly beside her as soon as he had heard her scream. He immediately saw the black stain on the ceiling from the fire. “¿Estas bien?” He asked.

Sí…ahi ahi,” she told him.

Mamita, debes de ir al hospital,” Eligio clucked turning on the water at the sink and encouraging her to let the cool water run over her wound.

¡Qué hospital de qué! Estoy bien,” she insisted.

Family arrived for dinner and to the shock of the white bubbling blister consuming Eloina’s arm. She just smiled back and greeted them.

Carmen Matos, Emilio’s favorite cousin, examined Eloina’s arm. Eloina had figured that when Eligio had bumped into her, she had accidently collided with the stove and turned on the switch for the gas that lit the flame under the empty pot.

No lo pensé dos veces tirar la olla por la ventana,” she said.

Victor, Tia Arcadia’s adopted son answered, “Eah rayo, Eloina! Ahora sí que te contratan pa’ bombera!” Everyone laughed. They ate Eloina’s wonderful dinner. The pot remained in the back garden, forgotten.

At the end of the evening, Carmen took pictures. “Dale Victor, al laito de mami,” she said smiling, poising her camera in front of her eye.

Vamos muchachos, digan ‘cheese’!” she said.

“Cheese!” said Eloina with a radiant smile while opening her arm towards the camera without the slightest hint of pain.

 

2 Comments

  1. I love these names. Eligio, Eloina, Arcadia… I like your writing style. Most people who have a good grasp of English tend to be very verbose in writing, but you struck a balance between being concise in English and deadly accurate in terms of the Spanish dialogue. I understood exactly the type of traditional family situation you wanted to convey.

  2. Very entertaining account of a typical family gathering in olden times P.R. The way it is written gives off a very genuine vibe and i enjoy the character interaction with one another. I love how you manage to give a certain empowerment to the woman, and reminded me a lot of my own grandmother. Very nice read.

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