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mothers (1993)

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“Magda,” Anna offered, “what if the man in the moon were a woman?”
“Maybe she would go be the seventeenth moon of Saturn.”
Magda’s house was tiny by comparison to the Garcia mansion that occupied the street corner. The rest of the block used to house people who worked for the occupants of the Garcia mansion in the nineteenth century; Magda’s was the last one in the row of narrow two-story adobes. For weeks now, Anna had been skipping across the rooftops to reach the roof exit at Magda’s. There wasn’t any logistical reason for this odd route; but there were whispers that Magda was showing too strong an interest in the female students at the new high school. Anna had heard the whispers; she didn’t like it. She knew from the way Magda hugged her, touched her, even held her hands and touched her face, that this was a special friendship. Anna, now in seventh grade, liked the touch; Magda felt like a dear sister to her. Magda, in ninth grade, was old enough to mean something different by it. The rumors left Anna confused. 
Still, the two girls created a little hideout on the roof for sleepovers. A small blue plastic tarp, weighed down by jagged chunks of concrete, covered notebooks, flashlights, Anna’s emergency cigarettes, a lighter, and an alarm clock. Sometimes the cigarette box contained marijuana, usually inserted into a cigarette that had been emptied of its contents. Magda had stopped lecturing Anna about cigarettes; Anna’s whole family smoked – even Ernesto the doctor. Another key piece of equipment climbed up the ladder to the roof in the hand of one girl or the other, switching hands when the girls parted. This was the foot-powered air pump to inflate the tarp into an air bed. Tonight, the bed was inflated. A shared cigarette, smoked down to the filter, exhaled its last wisp of smoke from its deathbed in the fine gravel on Magda’s side. The girls held hands, lying at an angle, looking mostly at the moon. 
“The only difference, I guess,” Anna picked up the metaphor, “is whether she would cross the Asteroid Belt.”
The night was just a bit too warm for early May, even in Puebla. A breeze came from La Malinche, rustling both girls’ straight hair. Magda’s belly button contracted from the breeze, peeking out in the moonlight under her bare-midriff white peasant blouse with an embroidered white-on-white neckline. Anna smiled at her friend. She lie on the volcano side, from whence the wind had come. 
Ja, I even covered you. Shall I give you my coat?” Anna was only wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Magda squeezed Anna’s hand and continued. “I wonder which I would like less, if the moon swung back to Earth orbit from time to time, or if it crossed the Asteroid Belt.”
Some time passed. The girls listened to the Puebla evening. In the stillness of the hour before midnight, they could hear the passage of each car or truck on Avenida Vicente Suarez. Even on a weeknight, one salsero played clarinet in the background. You could tell that this came from the neighborhood, not el Zocalo, the open plaza at the center of town. Magda thought the rhythm must be coming from a synthesizer, because it was just too perfect. Beside, there would have been few people to play for. The sound was faint, and no singing could be heard. The only distinguishable voices were those of the nocturnal owls seeking mates.
Anna brought the metaphor back to Earth – or more precisely, back to Puebla.
“My mom left when I was eight. She was really separated from my dad for a year already. She had her own bedroom, and for all I knew, she might have had a boyfriend. Our family had been falling apart from the time I went to first grade.”
“Where did she go?”
“She flitted back and forth to Cozumel. She didn’t say who she was seeing or what she was doing, but she just took money and comes back every now and then to make my life mierda. I haven’t felt anything except anger or hate for her since last summer.”
“But she taught you to smoke?”
“We all smoke. Some gift, right?”
“I like smoking joints with you. Didn’t you share that?”
Chinga tu – mi madre, no! She slapped me in the face when I lit a cigarette in front of her.”
“Hipocrita.Did she slap you a lot?”
“Slap me, shake me, yell, always yell. She hasn’t been back for six months.”
“What happened?”
“Magda, I just don’t care.”
A statement of such utter disdain for the woman in whose womb one grows tends to burrow itself in one’s consciousness. Both girls fell silent. 
“My mom didn’t divorce my dad, either. She just left.”
“You come by your big sister role honestly.”
“Yes, I have no complaints about that part – I feel closer to my dad. He needs me. It feels good to work in the store. The vendors drive in and ask for me. I do work that my mom would never do. I just hate being abandoned, that’s all.”
“Magda, how did your mom get here?”
“It had something to do with politics. Puebla and Copenhagen were talking about a sister city relationship. The PRI wanted to show the people that they were doing good things outside the capital. My mom came on a development mission, met my dad, and they got married. 
“I don’t even know how she decided that she didn’t love him. Mostly, I don’t know how she could have ever decided that she didn’t love us. She has two girls here in this town, under this volcano, breathing this air and listening to these owls and that salsero. My father and I built a little shrine, not to Jesus, but to Heike Hjort da Silva. I wonder what she tells her Danish lovers.”
The last line shot like a ballistic missile in the direction of Denmark.
“It should have been so romantic. Sharing cultures, languages, hopes, dreams, futures, bodies, souls.”
“My own parents met in the boring way, family, church and all that. Your mom was probably full of romance, but it sounds like the Gringo romantic writers and the Tainos, the …”
“Noble savage,” the girls said the phrase in unison. Anna was studying U. S. literature from the Romantic period in her Language and Literature class. Magda remembered the class well. That phrase left a permanent hole in her character. She developed a loathing of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. 
She found a poster for a production of Moby Dick, stenciled, “Comen los Blancos” on it, and drew a crucifix behind the “savage” Queequeg. 
The full moon cast enough light on Magda’s face that Anna could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Anna stroked Magda’s hair and curled it behind her ear. The gesture was too close to home. Recalling the exact same touch from her mother when she was five or six, Magda burst into tears. Anna took her friend deeply into her embrace, absorbing Magda’s shaking and her sobs.

About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at

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