“Dios mio”, she wrote. “Que dia sera”! What a day it will be! How will I survive and do what I must do?
On this day, we will bury my mother, and I will become the eldest woman in the house. Before she died, my mother, God bless her, asked me to promise her that I would care for my brothers and sisters, supporting my father and keeping the family together and healthy. She said, “I know that this is a big responsibility for a girl of thirteen, but there is no one else to take my place, and your brothers and sisters need you.”
How I cried that day, asking her not to leave us. I cried in her arms and fell asleep with my head in her lap. Later, she woke me up with her coughing, her coughing that would not stop, even when the blood came, bright red against the towel she always held in her hand. How I hated those towels and handkerchiefs! They were my enemies, soaked with sickness, the sickness that would finally take away my mother.
I woke up extra early this morning, boiled a large pot of water for extra coffee and made fifty tortillas just the way she taught me. “Not too much salt, but just enough,” she told me. If my tortillas are a failure, I can always run down the calle to Dona Castillo’s, but that would cost so much more, money that Papa can’t really afford. Still, it’s nice to know that I can make up for my mistakes.
After the coffee had boiled, I put beans on the stove that had been soaking all night, fed the chickens, ironed my dress, and washed myself using the extra boiled water that I had set on the table to cool as I made the tortillas.
How did Mami do all of this every day for so long? She never complained, at least not to me. She always smiled, except when the coughing became so strong that she couldn’t bear to move a muscle. Can I really take her place? Can I do everything that she did, every day? And what about school? How will I go to school? Will I ever have time to play in the calle again when my friends come by and call my name? How I wish abuela—grandma---was here, but she’s in Heaven too, and I bet they don’t have to make tortillas in the morning up there.
After I ironed my dress and made sure the beans and tortillas and coffee were ready, I woke my brothers and sisters, but not before I stood in the doorway and watched their faces as they slept, three girls in one room, two boys in the other. Little Maria cried in her sleep last night, and I know she must have been dreaming that Mami had not died, that she would be in the kitchen this morning, barefoot as always, her hair hanging over her forehead as she prepared our breakfast, a smile on her lips.
(c) 2008 NurseKeith