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Homework answers / question archive / Payne WMNST 382 Spring 2021 2 Questions x 50 pts = 100 pts ? Please be sure to answer all parts of both questions and provide specific examples

Payne WMNST 382 Spring 2021 2 Questions x 50 pts = 100 pts ? Please be sure to answer all parts of both questions and provide specific examples


Payne WMNST 382 Spring 2021 2 Questions x 50 pts = 100 pts ? Please be sure to answer all parts of both questions and provide specific examples. ? Please use 11 or 12pt. Times New Roman font and please 1.5 or double space. ? Please insert page numbers and a header with your full name and section number. ? Folks should aim for approximately 2 pages (double-spaced) per question. More or less is okay, though I would caution that a one page or shorter response to either of the prompts is not likely to be fully addressing the question. Question #1 We’ve been reading Marge Piercy’s science fiction work: Woman on the Edge of Time throughout the semester. As you know, Piercy’s novel is centered around Connie and her experiences in and out of medical institutions. The novel toggles between a dystopic present-day reality and the future (or does it???) First: Do you find Piercy’s version of a possible future (the attitudes, behaviors, social structures, norms etc. found in the future she describes) appealing or compelling? That is, are there elements in Piercy’s imagined future that you find worth aiming for? If yes, what and why? If no, why not? On the contrary, are there elements of this future that you find less or not at all appealing? If yes, what and why? Second: Consider the various aspects of science, technology, medicine, and society that we’ve discussed this semester, especially as they relate to questions of gender, sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status/social class. Consider what you have found most inspiring or promising and what you have found most limiting or problematic as regards the historical and ongoing relationships between science and society. Now, step into Piercy’s shoes and imagine what the relationships between science, technology, medicine, and society might look like in your preferred future. In other words, please reflect on how the ideas, beliefs, practices, and values 2 Payne WMNST 382 Spring 2021 pertaining to the relationship between science and society could be – from your perspective – made better going forward. Can the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and society be different? Better? How? You are welcome to approach your response in a broad sense, reflecting on large-scale social structures or institutions. On the other hand, some may find it helpful to narrow in on one particular aspect that we’ve explored. The choice is yours! Question #2 As we’ve come to understand over the course of our class, a central aim of feminist science and technology studies involves persistently posing the questions: what counts as objective truth, who decides this, and on what basis are claims to truth legitimately made? During the last half of the semester in particular, we’ve explored the relationship between various understandings of expertise and their relationship to power, privilege, and the possibility of equity, justice, freedom, and democracy. From your perspective, is there a fundamental tension between the exercise of scientific, technological, and/or medical expertise and democratic deliberation and decisionmaking? If so, why? If not, why not? In answering this question, please specify what you understand expertise to be. Please discuss a minimum of three distinct examples that speak to your answer. Any relevant course materials may be used in responses. Praise for Marge Piercy and WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME “The novel is a brilliant and shocking indictment of a society in which the powerless are manipulated by those in power.” Library Journal “Persuasive and involving … Piercy has created this ideal society with such passion, eloquence, and energy that the reader not only believes in it but feels a kind of reverse nostalgia for it … even the cynical reader will leave it refreshed and rallied.” The Kirkus Reviews “Connie Ramos’s world is cuttingly real.” Newsweek “Piercy gets better and better … a new level of sophistication, drama, and power.” Hartford Courant “With each novel, Piercy demonstrates increasing mastery of the form. In this one, she weaves her heroine’s past, present, and futuristic fantasies into a profoundly a ecting work.” Booklist By Marge Piercy: Fiction GOING DOWN FAST DANCE THE EAGLE TO SLEEP SMALL CHANGES WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME THE HIGH COST OF LIVING VIDA BRAIDED LIVES FLY AWAY HOME GONE TO SOLDIERS SUMMER PEOPLE HE, SHE AND IT THE LONGINGS OF WOMEN CITY OF DARKNESS, CITY OF LIGHT STORM TIDE THREE WOMEN THE THIRD CHILD SEX WARS Poetry BREAKING CAMP HARD LOVING 4-TELLING (with Emma Jarrett, Dick Lourie, and Bob Hershon) TO BE OF USE LIVING IN THE OPEN THE TWELVE-SPOKED WHEEL FLASHING THE MOON IS ALWAYS FEMALE CIRCLES ON THE WATER: SELECTED POEMS STONE, PAPER, KNIFE MY MOTHER’S BODY AVAILABLE LIGHT MARS AND HER CHILDREN WHAT ARE BIG GIRLS MADE OF EARLY GRRRL COLORS PASSING THROUGH US Other THE LAST WHITE CLASS: A PLAY (with Ira Wood) PARTI-COLORED BLOCKS FOR A QUILT: ESSAYS EARLY RIPENING: AMERICAN WOMEN’S POETRY NOW THE EARTH SHINES SECRETLY: A BOOK OF DAYS (with paintings by Nell Blaine) Books published by The Random House Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-7333000. This is a book that took a lot of help to write, although nobody who helped me should bear the burden for what I made. I owe a great debt of thanks to Michael Galen and everybody else at RT: A Journal of Radical Therapy; to Nancy Henley; Phyllis Chester; Michael Brown; to Mary Waters and others of the Mental Patients Liberation Front; to Dr. Paul Lowinger, especially strong thanks; to Jon Levine; to Mary Lou Shields; to Rosario Morales; to Frank Mirer of Harvard and Bernie Bulkin of Hunter, who helped me with the poisoning; all the people at HEALTHPAC and the Somerville Women’s Health Project who fed me information and helped me with contacts. Above all I am grateful to people I cannot thank by name, who risked their jobs to sneak me into places I wanted to enter; and grateful to the past and present inmates of mental institutions who shared their experiences with me, outside and inside. Thanks to the students at Old Rochester Regional High School, amused but supportive of my interest in Mattapoisett. Finally I’m in debt to the folks from Mouth-of-Mattapoisett who worked so hard to make me understand—who found me dense and slow of wit, but always told me that at least I try. M.P. ONE Connie got up from her kitchen table and walked slowly to the door. Either I saw him or I didn’t and I’m crazy for real this time, she thought. “It’s me—Dolly!” Her niece was screaming in the hall. “Let me in! Hurry!” “Momentito.” Connie fumbled with the bolt, the police lock, nally swinging the door wide. Dolly fell in past her, her face bloody. Connie clutched at Dolly, trying to see how badly she was hurt. “Qué pasa? Who did this?” Blood was oozing from Dolly’s bruised mouth and she grasped a wad of matted paper handkerchiefs brown with old blood and spotted bright red with fresh. Her left eye was swollen shut. “Geraldo beat me.” Dolly let her peel o the blue winter coat trimmed with fur and press her broad hips in pink pants back into the kitchen chair. There Dolly collapsed and began to weep. Awkwardly Connie embraced her shoulders, her hands slipping on the satin of the blouse. “The chair’s warm,” Dolly said after a few minutes. “Get me a handkerchief.” Connie brought toilet paper from the hall bathroom—she had nothing else—and carefully locked the outside door again. Then she put some of the good Dominican co ee she saved for special into the drip pot and set water to boil in a kettle. “It’s cold in here,” Dolly whimpered. “I’ll make it warmer.” She lit the oven and turned on the burners. “Soon it’ll be like that hothouse of yours … . Geraldo beat you?” Dolly opened her mouth wide, gaping. “Loo … Loo …” As gently as she could she poked into Dolly’s bloody mouth. Her own esh cringed. Dolly jerked away. “He broke a tooth, didn’t he? That dirty rotten pimp! Will I lose a tooth?” “I think you have one broken and maybe another loose. But who am I to say? I’m no dentist. You’re still bleeding!” “He’s crazy, that pig! He wants to mess me up. Connie, how come you wouldn’t let me in? I was screaming in the hall forever.” “It wasn’t ve minutes … .” “I thought I heard voices. Is somebody here?” Dolly looked toward the other room, the bedroom. “Who would be here? I had the TV on.” “It hurts so much. Give me something to kill the pain.” “Aspirin?” “Oh, come on. It hurts!” “Hija mía, how would I have anything?” Connie lifted her hands to show them empty, always empty. “Those pills they made you take, from the State.” “Let me give you ice.” Dolly had heard her talking with Luciente: therefore he existed. Or Dolly had heard her talking to herself. Dolly had said the chair was warm: she had been sitting in the other chair, in front of the plate from her supper of eggs and beans. She must not think about it now, with Dolly su ering. His story was unbelievable! No, don’t think about it. She wrapped ice cubes in a kitchen towel and brought them to Dolly. “That prescription ran out a year ago.” Not that she had taken the tranquilizers. She had sold the pills for a little extra money, for a piece of pork or chicken once a week, soap to wash with. She found it hard to believe anybody would take that poison intentionally, but you could peddle any kind of pill in El Barrio. Still, there had been the nuisance of going down to Bellevue, since she had been living near Dolly’s when she had been sent away and never could get her case transferred. “Consuelo!” Dolly leaned her swollen cheek on Connie’s shoulder. “Everything hurts! I’m scared. He punched me in the belly, hard.” “Why do you stay with him? What good is he? With your daughter, why have such a cabrón hanging around?” Dolly gave her the mocking glance that would greet any comment she might make for the rest of her life on the subject of the welfare of children; or did she imagine it? “Consuelo, I feel so sick. I feel lousy through and through. I have to lie down. Oh, if he makes me lose this baby, I’ll kill him!” As she supported her niece’s weight into the bedroom she felt a ash of fear or perhaps of hope that Luciente would still be there. But the tiny room held only her swaybacked bed, the chair with her alarm clock on it, the dresser, the wine jug full of dried owers, the airshaft window incompletely covered with old curtains from better days. She undressed Dolly tenderly as a baby, but her niece groaned and cursed and wept more. The satin polka dot shirt was streaked with blood and blood had soaked through her black satin brassiere with the nipples cut out. “But it won’t show on your nice bra,” Connie promised as Dolly mourned her clothes, her body, her skin. Bruises had already clotted under the velvety skin of Dolly’s belly, her soft arms, her collarbone. “Mira! Is there blood on my panties? See if he made me bleed there.” “You aren’t bleeding there, I promise. Get under the covers. Oye, Dolly, it isn’t that easy to lose a baby! In the sixth month, if he beat you, maybe. But in the second month that baby is better protected than you are.” She put the alarm on the oor and sat in the straight chair beside the bed to hold Dolly’s limp hand. “Listen, I should take you to emergency. To Met.” “Don’t make me go anyplace. I hurt too much.” “They can give you something for the pain. I’ll get a gypsy cab to take us. It’s only fteen blocks.” “I’m ashamed. ‘What happened to you?’ ‘Oh, my pimp beat up on me.’ In the morning I’ll go to my own dentist. You take me down to him in the morning. Otera on Canal. You call him up at nine-thirty in the morning and tell him to take me right away. Now hold the ice against my cheek.” “Dolly, how do you know Geraldo won’t come charging up here?” “Consuelo!” Dolly drawled her name in a long wail of pain. “Be nice to me! Don’t push me around too! I hurt, I want to rest. Be sweet to me. Give me a little yerba—it’s in my purse. At the bottom of the cigarette pack.” “Dolly! You’re crazy to run around with your face bleeding and dope in your purse! Suppose the cops pick you up?” “I had a lot of time to sort my purse when I was leaving! Come on, get it for me!” She was fumbling through Dolly’s big patent leather bag, clumsy prying in another woman’s purse, when she heard heavy steps climbing. Men in a hurry. She froze. Why? Men ran up and down the steps of the tenement all night. But she knew. Geraldo pounded the door. She kept quiet. In the bedroom Dolly moaned and began to weep again. Geraldo hit the door harder. “Open the door, you old bitch! Open or I’ll break it down. Bust your head in. Corne on, open this fucking door!” He began kicking so hard the wood cracked and started to give way. He would break it down. She yelled, “Wait! Wait! I’m coming!” Not a door opened in the hallway. Nobody came to look out. She undid the locks and hopped back, before he could slam the door to the wall and crush her behind it. He strode in, thumping the door to the wall as she had known he would, followed by a scrawny older man in a buttoned-up gray overcoat and a hulking bato loco named Slick she had seen with Geraldo before. They all crowded into her kitchen and Geraldo slammed the door behind. Geraldo was Dolly’s boyfriend. He had been a vendadero and done well enough, keeping Dolly and her little girl, Nita, from her marriage. But some squeeze in the drug trade had cut him o after he had been busted, although he had not ended up serving time. Now he made Dolly work as a prostitute, selling her body to all the dirty men in the city. He had three other girls that perhaps he had been running all the time on the side. Dolly made four. Connie hated him. It owed like electric syrup through her veins how she hated him. Her hatred gave her a ush in the nerves like speed coming on. Geraldo was a medium-tall grifo with fair skin, gray eyes, kinky hair—pelo alambre—that he wore in a symmetrical Afro. He was elegant. Every time her eyes grated upon him he was attired in some new costume of pimpish splendor. She dreamed of peeling o a sleekly polished antiqued lizard high-heeled boot and pounding it down his lying throat. She dreamed of yanking o his nger the large grayish diamond he boasted matched his scheming eyes and using it to slit his throat, so his bad poisoned blood would run out. “Tía Consuelo,” he crooned. “Caca de puta. Old bitch. Get your fat and worthless ass out of my way. Move!” “Get out of my house! You hurt her enough. Get out!” “Not anything like I’m going to hurt that bitch if she doesn’t shape up.” The back of his arm striking like a rattlesnake, he shoved her into the sink. Then he strolled over to lounge blocking the bedroom door. Always he was playing in some cold deathshead mirror, watching himself, polishing his cool. “Hey, cunt, stop blubbering. I brought you a doctor.” “What kind of doctor?” Connie shrieked. She had slid under his blow and caught only the edge of the sink. She cowered, half crouching. “A butcher! That’s what kind of doctor!” “That bughouse taught you all about doctors, um?” “You leave her alone, Geraldo! She wants to have your baby so bad, she can stay with me.” “So you can cut it up, you nut? Now turn it o or Slick will bust your lip.” Geraldo leaned on the doorframe, lighting a cigarette and dropping the lit match on the oor, where it slowly burned out, making a black hole in the worn linoleum. “Time to rise and y. I brought a doctor to x you. Up now. Move!” “No! I don’t want him to touch me! Geraldo honey, I want this baby!” “What shits you pushing? You think I sweat bricks for the kid of some stupid trick with dragging balls? You don’t even know what color worm you got turning in the apple.” “It’s your baby! It is. In Puerto Rico I didn’t take my pills.” “Woman, so many men been into you, it could have a whole subway car of daddies.” “In San Juan I never took my pills. I told you already!” “You tell me? Not in this life, baby. How you pass the time while I was busy in La Perla, um?” He icked lint from his vest. “You wouldn’t take me to meet your family!” Geraldo had taken Dolly with him on vacation. Connie felt pretty sure Dolly had tried to get pregnant, believing that Geraldo would let her quit whoring. Dolly wanted to have another baby and stay home. Like gures of paper, like a manger scene of pasteboard gures, a fantasy had shone in Connie since her conversation with Dolly that morning: she and Dolly and Dolly’s children would live together. She would have a family again, nally. She would be ever so careful and good and she would do anything, anything at all to keep them together. She would never be jealous of her niece no matter how many boyfriends she had. Dolly could stay out all night and go o on weekends and to Florida even and she would stay with Nita and the baby. As if anyone would ever again leave her alone with a child. The dream was like those paper dolls, the only dolls she had had as a child, dolls with blond paper hair and Anglo features and big paper smiles. That she knew in her heart of ashes the dream was futile did not make it less precious. Every soul needs a little sweetness. She thought of the stalks of sugar cane the kids bought at the fruit and vegetable man. Sweet in the mouth as you chewed it, and then you spat out the husks and they lay in the street. Hollow, imsy, for a moment sweet in the mouth. Cane with which her grandmother had sweetened the chocolate long ago in El Paso. “Shut o that fucking kettle!” Geraldo shouted at her and she jumped to put out the ame. The co ee she had never nished making. The kettle had boiled almost dry. She shut o the oven and the burners because now her two small rooms felt sti ing hot. How she had jumped to the stove when he rapped out that curt command. She resented obeying him automatically, instinctively jerking at the loud masculine order. His beauty only made him more hateful. His face with the big gray eyes, the broad nose, the full cruel mouth, the hands like long talons, the proud bearing—he was the man who had pimped her favorite niece, her baby, the pimp who had beaten Dolly and sold her to pigs to empty themselves in. Who robbed Dolly and slapped her daughter Nita and took away the money squeezed out of the pollution of Dolly’s esh to buy lizard boots and cocaine and other women. Geraldo was her father, who had beaten her every week of her childhood. Her second husband, who had sent her into emergency with blood running down her legs. He was El Muro, who had raped her and then beaten her because she would not lie and say she had enjoyed it. She had had the strength then to run, to cut her losses and run. On the evening bus the next day she had left her home in Chicago, her father and sisters, the graves of her mother and her rst (her real) husband, Martin. Dolly lacked the coarse strength that had saved her that time. But Dolly had Nita already and a baby in the oven. “Fíjate, Geraldo,” she screamed. “She’s carrying your child. She came back that way from San Juan. I told her she was carrying the rst time I saw her back here. What kind of tailless wonder are you to have your own child butchered by that doctor of dogs?” Pivoting, Geraldo cu ed her back into the stove. The hot metal seared her back in a broad line and she clamped her lips tight, unable to scream, unable to issue a sound from the suddenness of the pain. She sank to the oor and could not speak or move. “Puta, get up and go with Dr. Medias, or I’ll have him do it on you right in that witch’s bed. Move!” “No! No!” Dolly was thrashing around in bed, screaming and sobbing. Geraldo stepped into the bedroom, out of Connie’s line of sight. She tried to roll to her feet. The scrawny doctor sat on the edge of a kitchen chair. He was in his fties. His clothes were new and conservative, his manner was tense, and his foot tapped, tapped. Slick was leaning against the outer door smoking a joint and grinning. Connie asked in Spanish, “You are really a doctor?” “Of course.” He did not look at her but replied as softly as she spoke. At his accent her eyes narrowed. “Where are you a doctor?” She rolled on one elbow and tried to rise. “My back hurts me, it’s burned so bad. You’re Mexican.” “What is it to you?” “Where are you from?” “Mexico City.” “No. From Chihuahua, no?” “Leave me alone, woman. You ask for trouble.” “From you? You have enough troubles. Practicing medicine without a license. Why do you want to hurt us? My parents too came from Chihuahua.” “Chihuahua can sink in a pit!” “Her father’s a businessman in New Jersey. He has a big nursery business. Did that stinking pimp tell you? D’you do this thing, her father will make trouble for you, it’s the truth.” Dolly let out a long, terri ed wail that scraped on the inside of Connie’s skull. She had not heard such a desperate scream since she had been in the bughouse. Geraldo called Dr. Medias. Medias rose slowly to his feet and fumbled for a bag he had set beside the chair. Connie pulled herself up by the table leg, kicked him as hard as she could in the shin, and ran into the bedroom. She must stop them! Dolly’s mouth was bleeding again. Blood ran over the tattered nightgown Connie had dressed her in, onto the pillow. Dolly was trying to thrash free of Geraldo, who held her pinned. He would kill her! With his treachery he would kill Dolly and her baby too. Dolly would bleed to death in that bed. Connie seized a bottle from the corner, the wine bottle that had once contained a half gallon of California burgundy and now held dried owers and grasses, from a rare picnic with Dolly, Nita, Luis (Dolly’s father and her brother) and his current family. With the nostalgic grasses scattering, she waved the jug and ran at Geraldo. He did not let go of Dolly quickly enough to defend himself. She smashed the wine jug right into his face. His nose attened like a squashed bug on a windshield. He fell back against the wall, bellowing rage in no language. She raised the jug to hit him again, but her arms were caught behind her. She twisted. Someone struck her hard in the nape and she tried to turn. The st caught her again and she went out. She lay tied with straps to a bed, staring up at a bare bulb, shot up with meds. Thorazine? It felt worse, heavier. A massive dose. Hospital tranks hit her like a bulldozer when she had taken nothing for a long time. Prolixin? Whenever she sank into unconsciousness, she was tortured by clamps on her hips, her breasts, she was trapped in her old Chicago at in a re. The ames licked her skin. Her lungs lled with choking smoke. She tried and tried to pull clear of something that had fallen on her, to escape. She could not move. Her body ached. All of her head ached. Geraldo and his carnal Slick had beaten her twice: once right after she had broken Geraldo’s nose, and again on the way to Bellevue in his car. Her ribs hurt terribly on the right side and she suspected one or two might be broken. Probably Geraldo had kicked her as she lay on the oor. In the car she had come to and he had begun punching her again in the face and chest and arms. He had beaten her until Dolly begged him to stop and began to weep and threatened to jump out of the car. Each breath she drew stabbed her. How could she get the hospital to x-ray her for a broken rib? So far no one had heard a word she said, which of course was not unusual. Geraldo was so damned smart—bringing her to Bellevue, for instance, instead of to Met, on Ninety-sixth. Bellevue had records on her from before. He pretended she had attacked him and Dolly at Dolly’s apartment on Rivington. He would take no chance that they might not accept her as a crazy woman. The doctor had not even interviewed her but had talked exclusively to Geraldo, exchanging only a word or two with Dolly. Geraldo had Dolly gripped by the elbow, her face still swollen. Dolly had lied. Dolly had sold her into Bellevue, and for what? For her own skin, already polluted? For the nose of her precious pimp? For the opportunity to fuck more johns? How could Dolly sit there sniveling and nod when the doctor asked if Connie had done that to her face? Connie writhed on the bed, pinned down with just enough play to let her wriggle. They had pushed her into restraint, shot her up immediately. She had been screaming—okay! Did they think you had to be crazy to protest being locked up? Yes, they did. They said reluctance to be hospitalized was a sign of sickness, assuming you were sick, in one of these no-win circles. The last time she had not fought; she had come willingly with the caseworker, believing in her sickness. She had come humbly, rotten with self-hatred and weary of her life. Her left calf began to cramp. She wanted to shriek with the sharp pain. She longed to knead the calf in her hands. The hard ball of muscle formed and held rigid. If she screamed they might never release her from restraint. They had forgotten her, locked her away in this broom closet to starve. She had pissed on herself. What could she do? Now she lay in her own wet stink. Cold at rst, creepy cold, now warm from her body. And stinking. She turned her head, craning to watch the slit in the door. Wide and low, like a mouth. If only she saw an attendant look in, she could signal. Her back festered between her shoulder blades, where it had been burned by the stove. The two attendants had put her neatly into restraint, the injection entering her veins like molten lead. Folding a sheet warm from the machine in the laundry room— ip, ip, bang, fold. Already the processing had begun. The attendant at check-in had held by one corner her worn red plastic purse mended with tape, held it like something dirty, a piece of garbage from the streets. Casually the woman arrayed her fragile possessions on the counter and, with a gesture like emptying an ashtray, dropped them into an envelope and locked them away. Her purse, her keys, her scrap of brown paper on which she had been guring April’s budget, her rent receipt, the ballpoint pen with the name of a stationery company that she had found in the subway, her black plastic comb, her old loved compact with the raised peacock gure that Claud had given her for her birthday, selecting with his sensitive ngers the “look” of the design, her dime-store red lipstick that she wore only for best against the day when it would be used up and she would lack the money for another— unless Dolly gave her a lipstick. Dolly! Who had betrayed her. Who had abandoned her. Who had sold her into bondage. At the desk her counters of identity had been taken: welfare ID, Medicaid, old library card, photos of Dolly with Nita, of Angelina as a baby, at one held by her father, Eddie, at two with herself, at three holding Claud’s hand with that grin like a canoe—the way she had drawn mouths. There were no pictures of Angelina at four, or afterward. Through some bond of blood like a ghostly umbilical cord, could Angelina in Larchmont or Scarsdale feel her mother on the rack? Her back hurt so, her calf ached, her face throbbed, her rib stabbed her as she breathed, her shoulder was wounded where Geraldo had twisted her arm in the back seat of the car until she had thought it would snap. Her tongue was swollen and her mouth full of blood as Dolly’s had been. A foul taste: herself. The smell of her own piss rose into her nostrils. She began to weep. Then she choked on her tears and stopped in panic. She could not wipe her nose. The tears ran into her mouth. She was trussed like a holiday bird for the oven. That doctor. What was his name? Youngish, with ne thin brown hair worn straggling, not quite long, not quite short, he kept yawning and trying to suppress the yawns so that his jaw muscles exed strangely as he questioned Geraldo and wrote entries on a record form. Geraldo was almost demure. He had a good manner with authority, as any proper pimp should, respectful but con dent. Man to man, pimp and doctor discussed her condition, while Dolly sobbed. The doctor asked her only her name and the date. First she said it was the fourteenth and then she changed it to the fteenth, thinking it must be after midnight. She had no idea how long she had been unconscious. “Listen to me, Doctor—I didn’t hit her! You take my niece into another room away from him and ask her if I hit her. He hit her!” The doctor went on making notations on the form. She was a body checked into the morgue; meat registered for the scales. She tried to tell the nurse who gave her the injection, the attendants who tied her to the stretcher, that she was innocent, that she had a broken rib, that Geraldo had beaten her. It was as if she spoke another language, that language Claud’s buddy had been learning that nobody else knew: Yoruba. They acted as if they couldn’t hear you. If you complained, they took it as a sign of sickness. “The authority of the physician is undermined if the patient presumes to make a diagnostic statement.” She had heard a doctor say that to a resident, teaching him not to listen to patients. She had been through that last time in, when she had had a toothache. It had developed into a full abscess before the nurse and the attendants stopped interpreting her complaints as part of her “pattern of illness behavior.” Fool, poor fool she had got herself locked away again. She had jumped into the re. Why had she done it? Why? Yet lying in enforced contemplation, she found that clean anger glowing in her still. She hated Geraldo and it was right for her to hate him. Attacking him was di erent from turning her anger, her sorrow, her loss of Claud into self-hatred, into speed and downers, into booze, into wine, into seeing herself in Angelina and abusing that self born again into the dirty world. Yes, this time was di erent. She had struck out not at herself, not at herself in another, but at Geraldo, the enemy. She had not been wrong to try to defend Dolly, her closest one now, her blood, her almost child. How could she allow Geraldo to carve up Dolly’s body? She had smashed his nose, yes; for all her pain, she smiled as she saw that moment. She had smashed his nose and he would never look quite the same. Last time in she had accepted the doom of sickness; the weight of the heavy judgment they passed out here she had bowed to. This time she was not ashamed. She would get out fast She would be clearly competent, sane, together. How long did she lie strapped to the bed? Day was the same as night. They had forgotten her and she would die here in her own piss. Sometimes she could not stand it anymore and she yelled as loud as she could and begged the walls to open. Moments were forever. She was mad. The drugs made her mind strange. She was caught, she was stalled. She oated trapped like an embryo in alcohol, that awful thing the Right to Life people had in that van on the street. She was caught in a moment that had fallen out of time and would never be over, never be done. She was mad. Yes, now she was crazy. How could she doubt it, lying wet in her own piss while her body screamed and the drug thickened her to lead. Sometimes she slipped down into a hot, muggy doze and sometimes the pain from her back or her rib or her mouth tore through her sleep and she woke wild with grief and wept. “Please, please, please come. Please let me out. Someone. Please!” No response came. That was madness. To weep and cry out and curse and scream, and it was as if she had done nothing. She was dozing in that feverish half-sleep without rest or relief, when the door banged open. Two attendants came in and untied her. She pitched forward, weak as string. She could see in their faces disgust, boredom. She smelled bad. She stank! They hauled her along the hall like a bag of garbage and they paid no attention to what she tried to say. “Please, I beg of you, listen. I was beaten before they brought me here. My rib hurts so much! Please, listen!” “So I said to her, it’s all right for you. You don’t have to deal with these animals all day.” The woman was a husky dyed blond who spoke with a slight Middle European accent. “All you do is come in two days and play games with the better ones. It’s easy for you to pass remarks.” “Those OT’s have it easy.” The other woman was six feet tall, hefty and black. “You better believe it. We just don’t live right, Annette. We just the muscle around here.” “But Byrd gives me a pain. She’s no better than she ought to be. You know, she lives with a man she’s not married to. Lives with him openly in an apartment in Chelsea.” “Mmmmm.” The black woman wore a bland, noncommittal look. “Here, into the bath with you, snooks,” she said to Connie from over her head. They began pulling her clothes o . “I can undress myself.” “Whew! Me-oh-my, is this one a mess? Did she jump out the window or something?” “I was beaten up. By a pimp. Not mine,” she added quickly. “He was beating my niece. It’s him who brought me here.” “Now what have you been into?” the black attendant wondered, shoving her into the shower like a dog to be bathed. “Some gorgeous bruises you got yourself!” “She’ll smell better when she gets out. You wonder how they can live with themselves, never washing. But that’s part of being sick,” the blond said loftily. “Probably she’s been sleeping in the street, in doorways. I see them around.” She wanted to scream that she washed as often as they did, that they had made her smell, made her dirty herself. But she did not dare. First, they would not listen, and second, they might hurt her. Who would care? Because her clothes were lthy, they gave her a pair of blue pajamas three sizes too big and a robe of no particular color. Rotten luck to have been shoved into restraint on arrival. If she had simply walked up to the ward, she would have been able to keep her street clothes and more things. Here a scrap of paper, a book, a handkerchief, a nubbin of pencil, a bobby-pin were precious beyond imagining outside, irreplaceable treasures. She found herself walking strangely, not only from the bruises: ah, the old Thorazine shu e. She could no longer move quickly, gracefully, in spite of her plumpness. The black attendant walked her into the day room, a big bleak room between the men’s and the women’s sides of the ward, right by the locked door to the hall and the elevators. She looked around slowly. She caught sight of a clock on the way in and she knew it was eleven in the morning. She was not hungry although she had not eaten for a long time. The drug killed her appetite so that she felt hollow, weak, but not hungry. The rib stabbed her. She felt feverish and might be. Nothing she could do. Her only hope was to catch a doctor as he made his ight through the ward or to persuade one of the attendants that she really needed medical help. Then the attendant would tell the doctor. It would take days to reach that kind of relationship with an attendant, and in the meantime she could die. How hot the ward was. Steam heat from the old radiators turned on full blast. She ngered the plastic identi cation bracelet sealed on her wrist. Women in street clothes or the hospital clothes issued to them were sitting vacantly along the walls or staring at the television set placed up on a shelf where no one could reach it to change the station or alter the volume level. It was less crowded than when she had been in last, markedly so. Just opposite her, two old women were chatting animatedly in strong Brooklyn Jewish accents, like two gossips on a park bench instead of two madwomen on a plastic bench in a mental hospital. But they might only be elderly and not mad. At their feet a young girl lay motionless with her hands over her face, like a pet dog snoozing. There were many less old women this time. Was there a new waste-basket for the old? Four Puerto Rican men were playing dominoes with bits of paper at a card table in a slow motion brought on by all of them being heavily drugged, like everybody else. The game seemed to occur under water. A child, a boy of eight or nine, sat near them picking his nose in the same kind of slow motion with such a look of blank despair on his small face she had to turn away. Most of the women were sitting on the plastic chairs that came in ranks of four against the wall, but there were more women than chairs. Though some were old, some children, some black, some brown, some white, they all looked more or less alike and seemed to wear a common expression. She knew that in a short while this ward, like every other she had been on, would be peopled by strong personalities, a web of romances and feuds and strategies for survival. She felt weary in advance. Who needed to be set down in this desolate limbo to survive somehow in the teeth of the odds? She had had enough troubles already, enough! “Lunch, ladies. Lunch. Line up now! Come on, get your asses moving, ladies!” The dining room was around a bend in the corridor in the same ward. Back and forth they went, back and forth in the con ned space from doorless bathroom to dining room to seclusion (called treatment rooms here) to the dormitories to the day room. Lunch was a gray stew and an institutional salad of celery and raisins in orange Jell-O. The food had no avor except the sweet of the Jell-O and she had to eat it all with a plastic spoon. At least the food did not need chewing in her bloody mouth. The objects in the stew were mushy, bits of soft otsam and jetsam in lukewarm glue. She tried to think about how to get out of here, but her mind was mud. Lunch was over in fteen minutes and then they were back in the day room, milling around to line up for medication. She needed her wits to plot how she would get out of here. The e ects of the shot had not worn o . Then she held her face rigid when she saw the paper cup with the pills. Gracias, gracias. A pill was easily dealt with, unlike the liquid you had to swallow at once. She slipped it under her tongue, swallowed the water, and sat down on an orange chair. It did not do to head too quickly for the bathroom to spit out the pill. She kept it under her tongue till the coating wore o and she began to taste the bitter drug. Visiting hour came in midafternoon. Hope stabbed her when the attendant came to say she had a visitor. Dolly! Dolly was heavily made up. She was not wearing her fur-collared coat but her old red belted coat Connie remembered from the year when Dolly was married and carrying Nita. “Dolly, get me out of here!” “Honey, I can’t just yet. Be a little patient. By the middle of next week.” “Dolly, por favor! No puedo vivir in esto hoyo. Hija mía, ayúdame!” Dolly chose to reply in English. “It’s just for a couple of days, Connie. Not like last time.” Politely reminding her that to be locked up in a mental institution was something she should be accustomed to. “Dolly, how could you say I hit you? Me?” “Geraldo—he made me.” She lowered her voice. “Did you have the operation?” “I’m going into the hospital Monday.” Dolly u ed her hair. “I persuaded him not to use that butcher on me. It costs a lot, but it will be a real hospital operation. Not with that butcher who does it on all the whores cheap.” Dolly spoke with pride. Connie shrugged, her mouth sagging. “You could leave town.” “Daddy won’t let me have the baby either, that old …” Doily picked at her cuticle, ruining the smooth line of the crimson polish. “I did ask him. He says he washes his hands of me. Listen, Connie— if I have the operation, Geraldo promises I can quit. He’ll marry me. We’ll have a real wedding next month, soon as I’m better from the operation. So you see, things are working out okay. And just as soon as I come out of the hospital, I’ll get you out. It’s only for a week.” “Please, Dolly, take me out before you go in for the operation. Please! I can’t stand it here.” “I can’t.” Dolly shook her head. “You really busted his nose. He’s going to have to have an operation himself! It’s going to cost a bundle, Consuelo. He looks awful with a bandage all over his nose— he looks like a bird! Like a crazy eagle with that big beak in the middle of his face!” Dolly began to giggle, covering her mouth with her hand. Connie smiled painfully. “I’m glad I hit him!” “Well …” Dolly turned her eyes up. “I guess they can x him with plastic surgery. You really lit into him! Mamá, how you slammed him with that wine bottle! I thought he’d kill you.” “I wish I had killed him,” Connie said very, very softly. “How can you care about him with your face still swollen from his beating?” “He is my man,” Dolly said, shrugging. “What can I do?” “Listen, can you bring me some clothes and stu here before you go in the hospital?” When blocked, maneuver to survive. The rst rule of life inside. “Sure. What you want? Tomorrow I’ll bring it to you, around this time.” She went into the bathroom after Dolly left and stayed there as long as she dared. Stalls without doors. In spite of the stink, it was a place to be almost alone, precious in the hospital. How could she scream at Dolly? What use? Dolly chose to believe Geraldo, and if she tried to shake that belief, Dolly would only turn from her. Then Dolly would not help her to get out, would not bring her clothing and the small necessities that could make the passing hollow days a little more bearable. She judged her niece for choosing Geraldo over her unborn baby and over herself; but hadn’t she chosen to mourn for Claud almost to death? Outside, did rain slick First Avenue? Was the sun bleeding through a murky overcast? Was it a rare blue day when the buildings stood crisp against the sky? Here it was time for meds. Here it was time to line up for a paper cup of mouthwash. Here it was time to line up for all starch meals. Here it was time to line up for more meds. Here it was time to sit and sit and sit. Here it was time to greet a familiar black face from the last time. “Yeah, I was brought in three, four days ago,” Connie told her. “Been here long?” “My caseworker brought me in Monday. Same as last time. You too?” Connie bowed her head. “Yeah, it was my caseworker.” Here it was time to sit facing a social worker, Miss Ferguson, who looked at the records spread out on her desk rather than at her. Miss Ferguson sat tightly and occasionally she glanced toward the door. “You don’t have to be nervous about me,” Connie said. “I didn’t do what Geraldo the pimp said. I didn’t hit my niece. I wouldn’t hurt one hair on her head. Him, I hit, that’s the truth. I only hit him because he was beating her up.” “Was that how it was with your daughter?” Miss Ferguson had light brown hair curled at the ends. She wore granny glasses and a pale blue pants suit. A pimple had broken out on the end of her nose that her right hand kept stealing up to touch. “It isn’t the same this time! It isn’t!” “How can we help you if you won’t let us?” Miss Ferguson glanced at her wristwatch, shu ing the papers in the folder. Her folder. “Three years ago you were admitted to Bellevue on the joint recommendation of a social worker from the Bureau of Child Welfare, your caseworker from welfare, and your parole o cer. You were then hospitalized at Rockover State for eight months.” “They said I was sick and I agreed. Someone close to me had died, and I didn’t want to live.” “You have a history of child abuse—” “Once! I was sick!” “Your parental rights were terminated. Your daughter Angelina Ramos was put out for adoption.” “I should never have agreed to that! I didn’t understand what was happening! I thought they were just going to take care of her.” “It was the clinical judgment of the court psychiatrist that your daughter would be better o with foster parents.” The pimple was growing as she watched. Miss Ferguson kept feeling it gingerly, poking it while pretending not to. “They were wrong to take my daughter!” She saw Miss Ferguson frown. “Imagine—your daughter. I hurt her once. That was a terrible thing to do, I know it. But to punish me for it the rest of my life!” The social worker was giving her that human-to-cockroach look. Most people hit kids. But if you were on welfare and on probation and the whole social-pigeonholing establishment had the right to trek regularly through your kitchen looking in the closets and under the bed, counting the bedbugs and your shoes, you had better not hit your kid once. The abused and neglected child, they had called Angelina o cially. She had been mean to Angie, she had spent those months after she got the news about Claud’s death gulping downs, drinking bad red wine. A couple of times she had shot speed. She had thought nothing could hurt her anymore—until she lost Angelina. Maybe you always have more to lose until, like Claud, they took your life too. “The acquaintance who died—that would be your … The black handicapped pickpocket whose assistant you were.” Her face slammed shut. They trapped you into saying something and then they’d bring out their interpretations that made your life over. To make your life into a pattern of disease. Couldn’t even say blind. “Handicapped.” He wasn’t. He was a ne saxophone player. He was a talented pickpocket and he brought home good things for her and her baby. He had been as good to Angie as if she had been his own baby daughter. He had been good to her too, a loving man. The sweetest man she had ever had. As if Claud could be summed up in their rotten records, either the sweetness or the pain of him, his badass fury. They had killed him too. In prison he had taken part in a medical experiment for the money and hoping to shorten his time. They had injected him with hepatitis and the disease had run its course and he had died. Her probation o cer, Briggs, would not let her go to the funeral. That bastard—did he think they would plot together, him from his closed co n? “The Puerto Rican man you describe as your niece’s ‘pimp’—is that the same man as her ancé?” “He is her pimp. That’s how he makes a living. He has three other girls.” Connie sat forward, giving up. Don’t try to win now, just survive. “Look, please, Miss Ferguson, look at my mouth, where he hit me. Would you look at me, please, just for one moment? My side. Here. It hurts awful. After they knocked me down, he kicked me while I was lying on the oor. When I breathe, each time, all the time, it hurts. I think—” She was about to say that her rib was broken or cracked, but they got nasty if you said anything medical. “I think something’s wrong inside me. Where he kicked me on the oor.” “Who are the ‘they’ you believe knocked you down? Is that your niece, Dolores Campos?” “No! He came in with a—” She realized she didn’t want to say “doctor.” How careful she had to be with them. “—with a couple of pals—hoodlums. When I hit him, they knocked me down.” “You do admit, you remember that you struck him.” “Yes! He was beating Dolly.” “Your niece says you attacked her.” “She told me he made her say that. Ask her in a room alone. I beg you, ask her alone. She’s scared to go against Geraldo.” Her hands clasped in the gesture of praying and she heard her own voice whining. “Please, Miss Ferguson, have a doctor look at me. I hurt so much. Please, I beg you. Look at my mouth.” “You say it hurts you. Where do you believe you feel pain?” “In my side. My ribs. Also my mouth. And my back is burned. Those are the worse places. The rest is just bruises.” “In your side?” “It hurts every breath I take. Please?” “Well, you do have bruises. All right, I’ll speak to the nurse.” Miss Ferguson caressed her pimple, pretending to adjust her glasses. With a nod she dismissed Connie. Finally on Tuesday Connie was x-rayed and her cracked rib was taped and her mouth looked at. They sent her with an attendant to the dentist. She missed visiting hour, so she did not nd out whether Dolly was out of the hospital yet. But tomorrow, surely, Dolly must come and talk to them about releasing her. If she could get Dolly to tell the truth to the doctor, the nurse, even to the social worker, then they would let her go … . Even guring the whole process of release would take a day or two, she could be out by Friday night. She sat in a lopsided chair in the hall outside the dentist’s o ce, with the attendant beside her poring over an astrology magazine. How she would celebrate her release! Her dingy two rooms with the toilet in the hall shone in her mind, vast and luxurious after the hospital. Doors she could shut! A toilet with a door! Chairs to sit in, a table of her own to eat on, a TV set that she could turn on and o and tune to whatever program she wanted to watch, her own bed with clean sheets and no stink of old piss. Her precious freedom and privacy! Yes, she would rise in the morning when she wanted to instead of when the attendant came yelling. No more Thorazine and sleeping pills, the brief high and the endless sluggish depths. Nights of sleep with real dreams. She would go hungry for a week for the pleasure of eating a real orange, an avocado. All day long nobody would tell her what to do. Miraculously she would walk through the streets without an attendant. She would breathe the beautiful living lthy air. She would walk until she felt like sitting down. Around her kitchen she would sing and dance, she would sing love songs to the cucarachas and the chinces, her chinces! Her life that had felt so threadbare now spread out like a full red velvet rose —the rose that Claud had once brought her, loving it for its silkiness, its fragrance, and not knowing it was dark red Her ordinary penny-pinching life appeared to her full beyond the possibility of savoring every moment. A life crammed over owing with aromas of co ee, of dope smoke in hallways, of refried cooking oil as she climbed the stairs of her tenement, of the fragrance of fresh-cut grass and new buds in Central Park. Sidewalk vendors. Cuchifritos. The spring rhythm of conga drums through the streets. Waiting in the rickety chair for the dentist, her mouth lled with saliva and she glanced with envy at the co ee the attendant was sipping. White co ee, probably sweet too. To make conversation she asked, “What sign are you?” The woman gave her a sideways glance. “Sagittarius.” She had no idea when that was. “I’m Aries.” “Your sign is cuckoo, girl.” The attendant went back to her magazine, turning slightly away. She would be out soon. Soon! Swallow all insults. Keep quiet. She would have better things than co ee from a co ee machine! She would make herself the pot of Dominican co ee she had started that night for Dolly. She had such a hunger for Mexican cooking! Puerto Rican food was di erent. She had learned to eat it, to like it. In fact, she had cooked salcocho, mondongo, asopão, and many plátanos dishes for Eddie, for Dolly too, whose mother, Carmel, was Puerto Rican. But even the staples were not the same, all those root vegetables—yucca, yaulin, taro—the salt cod sh, bacalao, instead of the base of corn and beans. She had grown up on pintos and the Puerto Ricans ate more black beans. She had noticed a few Mexican restaurants around New York, but they were too expensive for her. Ridiculous to live in a place where the taste of your own soul food was priced beyond you. She got to eat Chinese oftener than Mexican. To breathe the air of freedom would be enough. She had not handled the interview well with Ferguson. She would talk about getting a job. She could even try again. Trekking from o ce to o ce. Maybe she had given up too easily. Maybe she could get temporary o ce work. Maybe at least she could persuade the social worker that she would. They liked that, if you could persuade them you were going to get a job. She thought of Ferguson and shrugged. Chances were it would be a di erent one next time anyhow. She hadn’t typed in … four years? ve years? Last time in, she had applied for a typing job, but they liked to use the younger women. Maybe they had a machine here she could practice on. She had to gure the angles. Best if she could manage to believe it herself, that she could get a job. Herself with a police record and a psychiatric record, a fat Chicana aged thirty-seven without a man, without her own child, without the right clothes, with her plastic pocketbook cracked on the side and held together with tape. The dental assistant pitter-pattered out to summon them, and the attendant hauled her up like a rag doll and marched her in for treatment. Wednesday and Thursday went by like long, long freight trains and nally Friday came. On her ward two patients had weekend passes to go home. Three other women were being discharged. Their e ects came up in bags and their relatives took them away. More women were brought up. Dolly did not come for her. Then the nurse, whistling a song with a Latin beat that had been on all the stations lately, even the white stations, stopped and spoke to her. “All right, Mrs. Ramos, get yourself together.” “I’m getting out! I knew it. I’m getting out, right?” “You’re going to the country. Trees and green grass, for a rest like you need.” “Don’t hand me that!” She clutched herself. “You can’t send me up. I’m only in for observation.” “Your family wants you to get well, just as the doctor does—” “The doctor only spoke to me for ve minutes!” “You’re a sick woman. Everybody wants you to get well again,” the nurse said with that false sweetness. “Don’t you want to get well?” “Who’s signing me in? Did my niece do this?” “Your brother Lewis. So you won’t hurt yourself or anyone else. You’ve been a bad girl again, Mrs. Ramos.” “Where are you sending me?” “You just get your things together. You’ll nd out.” The nurse strolled o whistling that catchy song by War that had been echoing in El Barrio for weeks. The rain came down hard. The day was clammy and gusts of wind splashed the water in breaking waves against the closed sides of the ambulance-bus. She sat so that she could see out through the slit, wearing her own clothes that Dolly had brought her. Rain drummed on the metal roof, assaulting it. Under water. She was drowning. Here she was with her life half spent, midway through her dark journey that had pushed her into the hands of the midwife in El Paso and carried her through the near West Side of Chicago, through the Bronx and the Lower East Side and El Barrio. The iron maiden was carrying her to Rockover again. Luis had signed her in. A bargain had been struck. Some truce had been negotiated between the two men over the bodies of their women. Luis, who never admitted his oldest daughter was a whore, but made her feel like one whenever he got her in his house. The iron maiden jounced roughly on, battering her. Halfway through the hard years allotted women she found herself stymied, trapped, drugged with the Thorazine that sapped her will and dulled her brain and drained her body of energy. She had lost some weight and the old yellow dress hung loosely. Her lips and her nails were split from the drug and lack of protein. The dentist had yanked a tooth and lled two others in quick repair. Her rib ached. The tape was tight around her like a corset under the loose dress. Into the unnatural darkness of the April storm she was carried blind in the belly of the iron beast. The ambulance-bus slowed abruptly. Making sharp turns. Slowing down again. She pressed her eye to the slit and stared at the budding trees, the hedges. At length she saw through the blowing veil of the rain the walls she knew too well, that place of punishment, of sorrow, of the slow or fast murder of the self called Rockover State. Perhaps she deserved punishment for the craziness none had guessed, the questions no one had asked, the story no one had pried from her: that all of the month before she had been hallucinating with increasing sharpness a strange man. That she had dreamed and then waking-dreamed and nally seen on the streets that same smooth Indio face. Then the gates swallowed the ambulance-bus and swallowed her as she left the world and entered the underland where all who were not desired, who caught like rough teeth in the cogwheels, who had no place or t crosswise the one they were hammered into, were carted to repent of their contrariness or to pursue their mad vision down to the pit of terror. Into the asylum that o ered none, the broken-springed bus roughly galloped. Over the old buildings the rain blew in long gray ropy strands cascading down the brick walls. As she was beckoned out with rough speed, she was surprised to see gulls wheeling above, far inland, as over other refuse grounds. Little was recycled here. She was human garbage carried to the dump. TWO The rst time. Was there a once? The dreams surely began with an original; yet she had the sense, the rst morning she awakened remembering, that there were more she had not remembered, a sensation of return, blurred but convincing. She lay on her back in the rutted center of the bed, the valley that made her doubly conscious of being alone. One of her braids had come unpinned and lay coiled across her throat like a warm black snake. Usually a sensation of repetition upon waking was a waking to: again bills, again hunger, again pain, again loss, again trouble. Again no Claud, again no Angelina, again the rent due, again no job, no hope. But now she tasted in her morning mouth something of sweet. The wan light leaked through the window that gave on an air shaft between buildings. “No! No, mamacita, no hágalo!” Something fell hard upstairs. She shut her eyes. Under the smooth surface of sleep what drifted? Face of a young man, hand outstretched. Pointing to something? Trying to take her hand? Young man of middling height with sleek black hair to his shoulders, an Indio cast to his face. More than her, even. Eyes close together, black and shaped like turtle beans. Long nose. Cheeks clean-shaven, skin smooth-looking as hers … had been. Never again. That smooth bronze skin with the touch of peach, the hint of gold: how beautiful her skin had been. Chicanos were more apt to call brown skin beautiful today than when she had that perfect skin. La gente de bronce. Depression rose like fog in her throat and she rolled over, began to cough. Coughing shook her hard. Riding on a back road in the cab of Tío Manuel’s truck, with dust stretching an enormous plumy tail behind them for miles across the parched land. She groped for the squashed pack; still one, two cigarettes. Lit it, sucked the sweet smoke and coughed more and then, feet on the oor, stood. Her sight prickled out, then cleared. Cold oor. She fumbled into her shoes bowed out on the sides with age. She would love to have slippers, yes, silly u y slippers. Then she saw tiny baby slippers pink on Angie’s feet. Present from Luis, who called himself Lewis. Prick! My brother the Anglo. Angelina seven years, four months, twenty-two days … eight hours. She sucked smoke hard, burst into coughing and padded into the kitchen, to face the day already bleeding at the edges. Straighten, clean, tidy, make perfect the rotten surfaces. Her welfare worker, Mrs. Polcari, came today. She had a breakfast of co ee light and sweet with a scrap of stale bread dunked in it, the heel of the last bread in the house. Then carefully she gured her budget, re gured after every trip to the superette brought higher prices. She was still hungry but she played her stomach an old trick and drank two cups of hot water, washing out the last good taste of her co ee cup with it. Then she cleaned her two tiny rooms slowly and thoroughly. Made the bed as smooth as it would go, even picked out of the pretty wine bottle with dried grasses and owers in it, a few whose stems had broken. At the picnic whose souvenirs they were, Nita, just beginning to walk, had fallen asleep exhausted in Connie’s arms. She had sat on the blanket burning, trans gured with holding that small sweet-breathing ushfaced morsel. An orange and black butter y had lighted on her arm and she had remained so quiet hunched around Nita that for several moments the butter y stood exing its wings, opening and shutting those bright doors. At eleven the knock. Mrs. Polcari was slim, with short brown hair smooth as a polished wooden bowl to her cheeks. Today she wore silver earrings with little green stones that might be jade. Large hazel eyes with long sweeping lashes looked out surprised from gold wire-rimmed glasses. She had once asked Mrs. Polcari why she didn’t wear contact lenses and been rewarded with a cold stare. But such pretty eyes. If you had the money, a young girl like her, why not? Her large ripe mouth opened to a glitter of good regular white teeth when she, very occasionally, smiled. Girlish, modish, like one of those college girls she used to see when she had worked for Professor Silvester. Mrs. Polcari smelled of Arpege. Today Mrs. Polcari was pushing a training program that sounded like someone’s bright idea for producing real cheap domestic labor without importing women from Haiti. “Ah, I don’t know,” she said to Mrs. Polcari. “When you been out of a job so long, who’ll take you back?” Cleaning some white woman’s kitchen was about the last item on her list of what she’d do to survive. “You’re too … negative, Mrs. Ramos. Look at me. I went back to work after my children started school. I didn’t work all those years.” “How come you had children so young? You got married in high school?” How unusual for a white woman to have children before she was eighteen. Mrs. Polcari made a face. “Don’t butter me up, Mrs. Ramos. I didn’t get married until I was twenty-six. My mother was sure I was going to die an old maid.” “How old are your kids, then, Mrs. Polcari?” “The older boy is ten now, the younger just turned eight.” So she had to be at least thirty-six. After Mrs. Polcari left she stared in the mirror over the sink, touching her cheeks. How did they stay so young? Did they take pills? Something kept them intact years longer, the women with clean hair smelling of Arpege. The women went on through college and got the clean jobs and married professional men and lived in houses lled with machines and lapped by grass. She had not looked that young since—since before Angelina was born. Envy, sure, but the sense too of being cheated soured her, and the shame, the shame of being second-class goods. Wore out fast. Shoddy merchandise. “We wear out so early,” she said to the mirror, not really sure who the “we” was. Her life was thin in meaningful “we”s. Once she had heard a social worker talking about Puerto Ricans, or “them” as they were popularly called in that clinic (as were her people in similar clinics in Texas), saying that “they” got old fast and died young, so the student doing her eld work assignment shouldn’t be surprised by some of the diseases they had, such as TB. It reminded her of Luis talking about the tropical sh he kept in his living room, marriage after marriage: Oh, they die easily, those neon tetras, you just buy more when your tank runs out. At least her dour pride kept her cleaning for Mrs. Polcari, who was not subject to the same physical laws, the same decay, the same grinding down under the scouring of time. Let Mrs. Polcari look down on her as a case with a bad history, a problem case; but no dirt would Mrs. Polcari nd on the chair she set her little behind on and no dirt would she nd on the table from which she would sometimes agree to drink a cup of instant co ee with no sugar. After two days of scrubbing oors for the city (welfare work program), she woke very early with morning pain low in her back but found herself smiling from sleep. La madrugada—daybreak—a word that always left honey in her mouth. That taste of sweet. The face of the young Indio smiling, beckoning, curiously gentle. He lacked the macho presence of men in her own family, nor did he have Claud’s massive strength, or Eddie’s edgy combativeness. His hands as they clasped hers, however, were not soft. Shaking hands? Absurd. Warm, calloused, with a faint chemical odor. “What should I call you?” the voice had asked. High-pitched, almost e eminate voice, but pleasant and without any trace of accent. “Connie,” she had said. “Call me Connie.” “My name is Luciente.” Strange that she had dreamed in English. Me llamo luciente: shining, brilliant, full of light. Strange that with someone obviously Mexican-American she had not said Consuelo. Me llamo Consuelo. “Come,” he had urged, and she remembered then the touch of that warm, gentle, calloused hand on her bare arm. Trying to draw her along. Mostly she dreamed in English, but even yet she had an occasional dream in Spanish. Years ago she had tried to gure out the kinds of dreams she had in each language, during her precious nearly two years at the community college when she had taken a psychology course. She should not have drawn back timidly from the young man with his high, pleasant voice and his workman’s hands. She should have sidled up to him and rubbed her fat breasts against his chest. Even in sleep, she got nothing. She rubbed her arm idly where his warm hand had touched her. Coaxing. She had taken to dreaming about young boys. Maybe as she got older the boys of her dreaming soul would grow younger and more beardless, slender as matches. She rolled over, began to cough, to choke on phlegm. Cursing, she spat into a square of toilet paper and reached for the crumpled pack on the chair. Then she froze. Her ngers. That scent. She smelled her arm. Yes, her arm gave o that chemical on Luciente’s ngers. The hair rose on her nape. Idiot! They’d soon be locking her up again. So she’d got her arm in something, probably cleaning that o ce, and dreamed about it, like making the ringing of an alarm into a bell tolling. The phlegm she coughed up was brown. A little blood from her throat; that’s what she ought to be worrying about. She was too nervous to stop smoking, even though she knew it was hurting her. Oh, well, a taxi would run her down before she could die of cancer. A mugger would bash her head in. She would get cancer from eating garbage on the little money from welfare. Her neighbor Mrs. Silva knocked on her door shortly after she came back from shopping, from buying two rolls of toilet paper, bread, bananas, spaghetti, eggs. She wanted hamburger but she hadn’t the money for meat. Her niece Dolores, called Dolly, was on Mrs. Silva’s phone: Luis’s oldest, by his rst marriage. Luis had got married a lot and by every wife he had kids. Her favorite was Dolly, who was twenty-two, plump and sweet as a candied yam. When Dolly had to get hold of her, she called Mrs. Silva. Dolly asked her to come down to Rivington Street and she grabbed her old green coat and her battered plastic purse and headed for the subway. On the express down to Brooklyn Bridge, she had a little piece of luck. As she was getting into the car she saw a ballpoint lying at the foot of a seat, and when she tried it, it worked. It had the name of a midtown stationer on it and wrote with blue ink. She had not had a pen that worked in months. She had to write her letters in pencil. Now she would write in ink, the way it should be. Tonight with her new pen she would write to both her sisters. She tucked it carefully in her purse before she changed to the QJ train, checking that the tape was still making a repair so the pen would not slip out. She also picked up a Daily News that a man had left in his seat. At Essex and Delancey she headed north to Rivington, aware with a heavy lopsided sense of Norfolk a block over, where she had lived that year with Angelina in one room, that bad year after Claud had been sent to prison. That room like a box of pain. Dolly had found it for her after she had been kicked out of the apartment she had shared with Claud, three big rooms with their own bathroom just two blocks from Mount Morris Park. Dolly had lived then with her husband on Rivington, where she lived now with her daughter Nita, and the occasional presence of her rotten pimp, Geraldo. There was the bodega where Connie used to try to get credit till her check came, there was the liquor store she had known too well, with its racks and racks of cheap sweet wine. It was steamy hot in Dolly’s apartment, it always was. Nita was eating in a highchair getting to be too small for her, nishing coconut instant pudding and putting most of it into her mouth by now. “Ahora comes como una santa!” Connie hovered over her grandniece. “She eats real neat now. She’s such a good girl. Give me a smile, Nita? Hazme los ojitos! Yes? Qué preciosa!” Dolly’s face was swollen with tears and she rolled up the ru ed sleeve of her blouse to show a bruise. “Some john did this to you?” “Geraldo did it!” “Why do you put up with him? He’s bad to the core.” Dolly sighed and rolled a joint in the licorice- avored paper she liked. “You know how when I got back from San Juan you told me I was carrying?” Connie nodded, accepting the joint. As she let the smoke seep out she said, “You knew it already. You wanted a baby real bad.” “I still do! I went, I got one of those tests? I haven’t had my time since then.” “What did the test say?” Dolly patted her belly. “I told Geraldo yesterday. He starts yelling at me, that it’s by some john. He starts hitting on me!” “He makes me so sick. He makes you go with men and then he puts you down for it. It’s his kid. You came back from Puerto Rico with that baby.” She had known as soon as she saw Dolly. Dolly drew herself up. “The johns are a business thing. Don’t put it down, I make good money. I don’t bring the johns here—I do them in hotels or at Geraldo’s. Listen, every woman sells it. Jackie O. sells it. So?” “So how do you like it with them?” “It’s a job.” Dolly sucked in the smoke, glowering. The minutes thickened between them. Finally she sni ed. “You hate yourself, you hate the trick. I never met one woman yet who didn’t hate every stupid trick.” “Leave him, carita, leave him. Never mind him. He’s not worth your little ngernail.” “He’s smart, Connie, his mind works like that.” She snapped her ngers. “He has style. The other whores all standon their heads to catch his eye when he comes around … . I thought, why not have a baby with him? Then I can quit. It’ll be like it was before, only better. A man respects you more if you have his baby. Why not?” “So you didn’t take your pills in Puerto Rico?” “I left them here. I didn’t even put them in my purse. I thought too it might be lucky, a baby made on the island. I want to have this baby, Connie!” “Why not? One child is lonely. Why not have another? You’re a good mother. You quit this whoring and have the baby.” “He won’t let me! He says I got to have an abortion!” “No.” Connie banged her st on the table. A strange gesture for her. Dolly stared. “You have it! Tell him to o.d. and sell his body to the city for rat bait. You come live with me. I’ll help you with the children. I’d love that, you know it’s the truth—” The phone rang. It was a john. Dolly ran o to the bathroom to x her face and get herself together. Connie kissed her, fussed over Nita for a couple of minutes, and then reluctantly picked her way down the stairwell. In the street a damp, jagged wind o the East River scraped her face. She pulled her old green coat closer. The lining was gone. She felt high and loose with the grass, too stoned to endure the subway just yet. She decided to walk all the way over to the Spring Street stop on the IRT and take the local uptown, even though it was ten blocks of walking. In a playground on Elizabeth, some little girls were playing red light, green light. She hunched against the wind, not deciding to walk closer, to stop and stare, but nding herself pressed suddenly into the fence. Brown-skinned mostly, about the right age. Angie would be one of the lighter, one of the shorter girls. Eddie, her father, had been light and short. She could be that lean quick one with the black hair and creamy skin and big love-me grin. Getting caught and making a big show of kicking herself. Yes, the girl who kicks herself would be mine! Two men wheeling a cart on the sidewalk looked at her, and one spoke laughing to the other. Tears were rolling down her face. Rotten dope making her sentimental. Crazy Connie. She started to walk while the street bellied out before her. With the sleeve of her coat she tried to rub her face. The tears ran from her sore eyes, faucets that would not be shut o . Warm and wet over her cheeks. She turned onto Prince and sat down in a doorway, on a cement step recessed into the entrance to a loft building, the door big as a barn door behind. She spread the newspaper for her butt. Nobody around. She blew her nose hard in a wad of toilet paper. Anybody would think she had loved her daughter. A shadow across her. She began to get up but that hand was extended again. “What’s wrong? You’re weeping. Connie, did I frighten you?” Shorter than in her dream, just a few inches taller than she would be, standing, he bent toward her, moon face, black turtle bean eyes, that gentle smile. “I’m going crazy! But it could be the dope. Really powerful—” “I’m here. I’ve been trying to reach you. But you get frightened, Connie.” Luciente grinned. Really, he was girlish. Mariquita? “What do you want from me?” Childhood scary tales of brujos, spells, demons. A lot of garbage, but how could this boy creep into her dreams? “Just to talk. For you to relax and talk with me.” “Ha! Nobody ever wants to talk to me. Not even my caseworker, Mrs. Polcari. I depress her.” Connie rose sti y, brushing o the seat of her old coat, and folding her paper, she slipped past him. Her arm grazed his. He was real enough, his arm muscular through the leather jacket. Her belly hardened with fear. El Muro and the way he would wait for her. Then she had been young and succulent as a roasting chicken. Now she was what Geraldo always called her, a bag—a bag full of pain and trouble. She wanted a cigarette bad but she was scared to open her purse in front of him; so easy for him to snatch. She had the plastic pocketbook tucked along with the newspaper between her elbow and her body on the side away from him as he walked beside her with a casual springy step. No, he didn’t walk in a swishy manner. He had a surefooted catlike grace. He moved with grace but also with authority. In her purse were seventeen dollars, some pennies and two subway tokens, also her welfare ID and the keys to her apartment. Where would she replace the seventeen dollars? He could steal her little TV set to pawn. She had two weeks to wait till her next check, if she got it on time. He wasn’t dressed like a bum. Although nothing was new or ashy, his clothing was substantial and well made. Big heavy boots like the kids wore, black pants cut something like jeans, a red shirt she could glimpse at the throat, a worn but handsome leather jacket with no insignia of gang or social club but instead a pattern in beads and shells in the sleeves. He was without gloves and his hands she remembered. She would have liked to take the hand toward her and lift it to her nostrils. The skin was stained but not with nicotine. What kind of work would stain hands purple? Like the dye used to stamp grades on meat. She made her voice harsh. “How long you planning to follow me?” “I’d rather talk to you at home, if you’ll let me.” Luciente recoiled as an ordinary truck roared by. He covered his nose. “No. Why should I? Who are you?” “You know my name, Connie. Luciente.” “Bright boy. What do you want with me?” His eyes watering, he took a large bright intricately dyed handkerchief out of his pocket to dab at them. “You’re an unusual person. Your mind is unusual. You’re what we call a catcher, a receptive.” “You like old women?” She’d heard of that but never really believed in it. She was scared but slightly, slightly intrigued. “Old?” Luciente laughed. “Sure, only women over seventy. I’ll have to wait on you. Tell me, am I so scary? I’m not a catcher myself; I’m what we call a sender.” He kept staring past her at cars, at the buildings right and left, up and down like a jíboro just o the plane; like her own grandmother, who would pass into the street in downtown El Paso by crossing herself, refusing to look at the cars, and stepping straight o the curb as if plunging into deep water. He’s crazy, she thought. That’s it. She quickened her steps toward the subway station. “I’m running hard over too much, but where to begin so you’ll comprehend? So you’ll relax and begin to intersee. A catcher is a person whose mind and nervous system are open, receptive, to an unusual extent … . It’s a hard ride explaining.” A jet passed over and he stopped to gape till a building blocked it from sight. “To explain anything exotic, you have to convey at once the thing and the vocabulary with which to talk about the thing … . Your vocabulary is remarkably weak in words for mental states, mental abilities, and mental acts—” “I had two years of college! Just because I’m Chicana and on welfare, don’t try to tell me what poor vocabulary I speak with. I bet I read more than you do!” “You plural—excuse me. A weakness that remains in our language, though we’ve reformed pronouns. By your language I mean that of your time, your culture. No personal slinging meant. Believe me, Connie, I have respect for you. We’ve been trying to get through for three months before I chanced on your mind. You’re an extraordinary top catcher. In our culture you would be much admired, which I take it isn’t true in this one?” “Your culture! What are you into anyway—a real La Raza trip? The Azteca stu , all that?” “Now I lack vocabulary.” Luciente reached for her arm, but she dodged. “We must work to commune, because we have such di erent frames of redding. But that we see each other, that feathers me fasure!” The two cabs met at an intersection and both slammed their brakes. Luciente started muttering. “So where are you from? The high Andes?” Luciente grimaced. “In space not that far. Buzzard’s Bay.” Every time they came to a street, Luciente acted barely in control. He must have escaped from Bellevue. Her luck. He kept looking up and sideways and then trying not to. They were almost to Sixth Avenue when he said, “Look. I have to leave. This place unnerves me. The air is lthy. The noise shakes me to the bone. I admire your composure. Think about me when you’re alone, would you?” “Why should I? You’re crazy as a loon!” Luciente beamed, capturing her hand in his dry, warm grip. “Ever see a loon, Connie? It’s the sound they make that’s crazy. They’re plain but graceful birds that glide with only the head full out of the water. Like turtles, they swim low. Maybe I can show you loons when they migrate through … . Don’t fear me. I sense you have enemies fasure, but I’m not one … . I need your help badly, but I mean you no harm.” And with that Luciente abruptly was not there. Not till she was standing in the subway, wedged in, did she cautiously raise to her nose the hand he had seized. Yes, that chemical scent. She was afraid. She stood swaying between people to her right, her left, her back, clutching her purse and Daily News against her breasts with one hand while the other just reached the strap above. He was right about the whatever he called it—receptive part. Queasy things happened in her. She never talked about those happenings much—a little to Dolly, who consulted palm readers and bought herbs from the botánica in spite of speaking Spanish almost as badly as her father, Loois, who prided himself on having forgotten. Sometimes Connie knew at once things about others she should not know. She had known Luis was going to leave one of his wives before he knew he had decided. Her husband Eddie had called her a witch more than once—for instance, when he had been with another woman and came home with that presence and his pride and guilt ickering sulfurlike around him in small yellow ames. “Who tells you this garbage? Those gossiping women! You do nothing all day but listen to lies!” “You tell me! You tell me yourself when you walk in!” Wise she wasn’t. Never could predict, not for herself, not for others. She had tried to tell fortunes and always guessed wrong and knew in her heart she was just guessing. The other event was not something she tried to do any more than seeing that there was a rat scuttling away in the hall. The information entered her as a sound entered her ears. Often when Eddie was about to strike her, she knew it and cowered before he drew back his hand for a blow. If this was a gift, she could not see what good it had ever done her. When Eddie was going to hit her, he hit her anyhow. Maybe she had a moment to raise an arm to protect her face, but if he knocked her down it hurt as much. Her bruises were as sore and shameful. Her tears were as bitter. Her knowing that he had been with another woman did not make Eddie love her, did not give her esh back that spicy tang it had held for him brie y, did not make him want to carry her o to bed. It only meant that she was deprived of the comfort she might have felt when from time to time he was sweet to her for the sake of getting some small thing he wanted. To read his contempt for her had turned love acid in her veins. It had made their marriage last a little less long than it would have. She could have used some of her mother’s resignation. When she fought her hard and sour destiny, she seemed only to end up worse beaten, worse humiliated, more quickly alone—after Eddie had walked out, alone with her daughter Angelina and no man, no job, no money, pregnant with the baby she must abort. She was late for an abortion, past the third month, and it had gone hard with her. When the doctor told her she had been carrying a boy, she had felt a bitter triumph. In fact, she had gone to the bar where Eddie hung out, marched in and told him. He had for one last time beaten her. A catcher, that’s what the cholo called her. The contemptuous word grated on her, leaving in her mind a trail of sore pride like a snail’s slimy track. Like black people calling each other nigger. She was angry at Luciente’s airs, his beautiful accent in that highpitched voice. “By your language, I mean that of your time, your culture … .” What scheme was he working on? What could he hope to get out of her? If he wanted her welfare check, that was a matter of a blow on the head. She was scared. He had wiped Dolly from her mind, leaving her almost envious of Dolly’s sorrow instead of this mystery that must cover some common evil like a cockroach under a plate. Receptive. Like passive. The Mexican woman Consuelo the meek, dressed in black with her eyes downcast, never speaking unless addressed. Her mother kneeling to the black virgin. Not of course that her mother, Mariana, had lived her life as a peasant. Mariana had been uprooted from a village near Namiquipa, Los Calcinados, and migrated with her family to Texas to work in the elds. In El Paso Mariana met Connie’s father, Jesús, and bore the rst three children who lived, Luis, the oldest and most important son, then Connie, then her brother Joe, her favorite, who had died just out of prison in California, closest to her in age and temperament. And in defeat. When Connie was seven, they moved to Chicago, where Teresa and Inez came and the last male baby, stillborn. That baby had almost carried Mariana with him, and never had she been well again. They took her womb in the hospital. Afterward that was a curse Jesús threw in her face: no longer a woman. An empty shell. Wearily she hauled herself up the steps at 110th and Lexington. PASAJES SEGUROS, the awning apped. That was a dream. She looked down at herself in a battered green coat. She too, she was spayed. They had taken out her womb at Metropolitan when she had come in bleeding after that abortion and the beating from Eddie. Unnecessarily they had done a complete hysterectomy because the residents wanted practice. She need never again fear a swollen belly; and never again hope for a child. Useless rage began to sleet through her, and she turned her face blindly toward a pleasant smell. Cuchifritos, jugos tropicales, frituras. She crossed Lexington by the CHECKS CASHED, FOOD STAMPS, UTILITY BILLS, where she brought her welfare checks. Hell Gate P.O. Her knees felt rubbery, her back ached low down. Wind o the East River chafed her face. The dark railroad like the walls of an ancient city, the cars going under in tunnels. Home was at least a refuge, as a mouse must feel about its hole. To crawl in and collapse. Yet she was not safe there from Luciente any more than she had been safe in her apartment in Chicago from El Muro, who had simply shaken down the janitor for the key. I have lived in three cities, she thought as she turned on to 111th Street with its three straight lines—and seen them all from the bottom. Kids played in the street outside—P.S. 101; mothers fetched their little ones from the day care center in the sawed-o -looking church across from her, Spanish Methodist. Drumming everywhere. It was spring, although she could hardly believe it, with the mutter of salsa music as loud as the roar of tra c, the growly pulse of the ghetto. At fteen she stood in the kitchen of her family’s railroad at on the near West Side of Chicago, braced against the sink in blue jeans and uorescent pink sweater. She could remember herself at fteen and it did not feel di erent, only louder, more de nite. “I won’t grow up like you, Mamá! To su er and serve. Never to live my own life! I won’t!” “You’ll do what women do. You’ll pay your debt to your family for your blood. May you love your children as much as I love mine.” “You don’t love us girls the way you love the boys! It’s everything for Luis and nothing for me, it’s always been that way.” “Never raise your voice to me. I’ll tell your father. You sound like the daughters of the gangsters here.” “I’m good in school. I’m going to college. You’ll see!” “The books made you sick! College? Not even Luis can go there.” “I can! I’m going to get a scholarship. I’m not going to lie down and be buried in the rut of family, family, family! I’m so sick of that word, Mamá! Nothing in life but having babies and cooking and keeping the house. Mamacita, believe me—oígame, Mamá—I love you! But I’m going to travel. I’m going to be someone!” “There’s nothing for a woman to see but troubles. I wish I had never left Los Calcinados.” Mariana closed her eyes and Connie had thought she might burst into tears. But she only sighed. “I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of miles of a strange country full of strange and violent people. I wish I had never seen the road out of the village where I was born.” From her mother she inherited that Mayan cast to her face, the small chin, the sensuous nose, the almond eyes. They had all traveled far, and all of it bottom class. She knew her mother’s family came originally from Campeche, near Xbonil. Troubles had driven them north, and north again, and again north, generation after generation plodding northward into the cold, into bondage, the desmadrados: taken too early from the mother; or the mother cannot nourish. Her mother had died when Connie was twenty, the year of her rst abortion. Year of blood. At fteen, at seventeen, she had screamed at her mother as if the role of the Mexican woman who never sat down with her family, who ate afterward like a servant, were something her mother had invented. She had shrieked how much better she was going to live her life, until her father came in and gave her the force of his sts. Yes, like the teachers she admired in her high school, she was not going to marry until she was old, twenty- ve even. Like Mrs. Polcari, she was going to have only two children and keep them clean as advertisements. Those beautiful rooms, those clean-looking men who wore suits, those pretty sanitary babies, not at all like Teresa and Inez when she had to change them and clean up their spilled food. Yet she understood now, climbing her stoop, that she had wanted her mother’s approval. She had wanted her mother’s comfort. She had wanted Mariana to come with her in her pursuit of knowledge and some better way to live. She had never been mothered enough and she had grown up with a hunger for mothering. To be loved as Luis had been loved. Only the very youngest girl, Inez, had had that. After Mariana had been robbed of her womb, she had lavished a ection on the youngest. So who was the worst fool, then—herself at fteen full of plans and re, or the woman of thirty-seven who had given up making any plans? Despair had stained her with its somber wash and leached from her all plans and schoolbook ideals. In her box she found a letter from Teresa, married with four kids in Chicago, several miles farther west than their childhood at. Teresa lived near the old Midway airport in a little house on a street of identical boxes. That Connie should sneer was absurd! What did she live in but a stinking slum? Teresa wrote in her large handwriting with all letters of one size: “Little Joey is sick with a cold and sore throat again, the poor thing. It seems it is one thing after another. I hate to see him so sick. Laura had it too but not so bad, she is big for her age and strong. The dr. says he may have to have his tonsils out. I hope not, not only the expense but it costs so much and the pain it gives him. For kids to go in the hospital. I have been going to Mass whenever I can except lots of times I can’t get away from the house because of children. I don’t want to have to take Joey to the hospital and leave him there. “Marilyn’s birthday is April 28, I know you remember. What she likes best is dolls with real hair the kind you wash and set … .” Connie put down the letter on her kitchen table. Now, what did Teresa think she could do? She couldn’t come up with money for any kind of present. She hadn’t had money for a birthday or Christmas present since she and Claud had been busted, almost four years. Teresa had married young, from high school, and never had she worked. Her man drove a bus. Connie wanted to remember her nieces and nephews, and when she had been working she used to send every one of them presents twice a year, to bring toys and pretty clothes to Luis’s various families, all conveniently located in the Greater New York metropolitan area. Number one wife (Carmel, the Puerto Rican) was in the Bronx. Number two (Shirley, the Italian) was on Staten Island. Number three (Adele, the Wasp) was with Luis in Bound Brook, New Jersey. She scanned the rest of the letter for catastrophes and decided to read it carefully later on. She had an urge to go back out, tired as she was. If she lay down she would get more depressed. She turned on the kitchen light. Evening thickened in the noisy streets. In the refrigerator she found pinto beans in chili sauce, good still. With reheated beans she would fry a couple of eggs. She was tired of eggs and yearned for meat. How she would like to sink her teeth in a pork chop. Her mouth watered in faint hope. She turned on the little black-and-white TV she was always hauling back and forth from bedroom to kitchen. The news came on. She listened with half an ear; she did not have it turned loud. The set was company, a human—or almost human—voice. She tended to leave it on even when she was cooking or reading. It was her family, she had once wryly told Mrs. Polcari, who had not understood. She stood slowly stirring the beans and waiting for the oil in the black frypan to heat up so she could break the eggs. She was in no hurry. What would she hurry toward? Below in the street evening hummed to the rhythm of high and low drums, a rising tide of dealing and hustling, the push of the young and not so young to score, to get laid. At a simmer, the slow bubbles rising through the thick air, sex and tra c quickened El Barrio. In thousands of meetings—accidental, accidental on purpose, clandestine, dating and courting—men were picking up women on corners, on stoops, in the family apartments, couples were going down the rotten stairs shoulder to shoulder, to restaurants and movies and bars and dancing. Women with no money were working magic in front of dim mirrors, frowning with concentration, as they waited for men to arrive. Couples climbed into cars and shot o into the night. Couples picked up barbecued ribs and chicharrones, couples carried packages of Chinese-Cuban takeout and beer upstairs to their rooms. Men met their pushers and their dealers, or missed them and turned to ash. On the roofs pigeons were released to y, to circle together uttering like clean handkerchiefs among the chimneys where kids turned on and shot up and packages and money were exchanged. That electricity in the streets brushed static from her. She longed to be moving toward someone. She wanted to have someone to go to, someone to meet, someone to come to her; she wanted to be touched and held. So long! Maybe never again. What did she live for? The beans were sticking to the bottom of the pot, so she turned the ame low and stirred. Protecting Dolly? Could she protect Dolly, really? A fantasy of someday recovering her daughter? Who would not know her. This is the woman the court saw t to take you from, your evil and criminal and crazy mother. How Angelina had cried. So small, so thin, and so many tears. So many tears. “I’m too proud to kill myself. Too proud to watch myself o.d. and die,” she said out loud. She turned up Walter Cronkite and seated herself to eat supper with him. Not that he would willingly eat with her, but boxed in her set with his public face hanging out, he had no choice. “Have a bite of chili, Walter?” She held out a fork with bent tines. Ojalá! If only she had a glass of red wine. Even beer would taste good and blur the knife edges, but she had only supermarketbrand cola, and not much of that. At one time she had bought The New York Times every night, when she had been working as secretary—let us say, secretary-mistress—to Professor Silvester of CUNY, another short time, like her almost two years in the community college, when she had been happy. She had got the job shortly after she had arrived in New York from Chicago. She had adored being secretary—should we say, secretary-mistress-errand girl-laundress-maid-research assistant—to Professor Everett Silvester. It was civilized. It was, if she shut her eyes just right, almost where she wanted to be. “In fact, you make me think of Professor Everett Silvester,” she said to Eric Severeid, and shut the sound o . Eric made sh faces in the TV and she grinned, wiping up her eggs and the remains of the beans with a shoe of bread. Eric had been calling down labor unions, about how they were greedy. Everett Silvester had been fond of calling down the world, one item at a time. A ght was creeping through her wall from the next apartment, a ght in Spanish about money. Even though an oil company ad featuring an oceanful of singing sh was on now, she turned the sound back up. Finally she spread out her Daily News and skimmed it. GIRL SHOOTS M.D. IN L.A. LOVE SPAT She smiled, tucking her small chin into her palm. She saw herself marching into Everett’s Riverside Drive apartment and pulling out of a ratty shopping bag a Saturday Night Special. Mamá, how scared he would be; he would shit in his pants with terror. Would the newspapermen ask her to sit on a table showing her legs? It would be sordid but not unsatisfying, to pump at leisure and with careful and by no means wasteful aim several bullets into Professor Everett Silvester of the Romance Languages Department of CUNY, who liked to have a Spanish-speaking secretary, that is, a new one every year —dismissed when he went away for summer vacation. He called them all Chiquita, like bananas. So many years had run over her since then, he might not recognize her, he might confuse her with some other year’s hot Latin secretary. The anger of the weak never goes away, Professor, it just gets a little moldy. It molds like a beautiful blue cheese in the dark, growing stronger and more interesting. The poor and the weak die with all their anger intact and probably those angers go on growing in the dark of the grave like the hair and the nails. Ah, she should be thinking about Dolly. Dolly must leave Geraldo; and do what for money? To try to get money out of Luis was squeezing orange juice from a paper clip … . Dolly and she would live together. This place was small here for all of them, but it would get Dolly away from Geraldo and then they could look for another apartment together. Money. How to get money? She would wake again in a house with children. She would help Dolly through the pregnancy and cook and clean and rub her back. But would Dolly trust her? Leaving a child-abuser with your little ones—for shame! That’s how Luis would make her feel. Carmel would op back and forth, a little jealous, a little relieved. Carmel worked in a beauty parlor and always her hair was some new neon color and crimped into curls resembling the colored excelsior that used to come in Easter baskets, but she stood on her feet in a blast of hot air for ten hours a day, evenings too, just getting by. Little enough she got from Luis, because she had truly loved him but had not been able to get him to marry her legally. She had been his common-law wife, a consensual marriage the whole family had viewed as a perfectly good marriage until the lawyers of Shirley’s family had proved that it never existed. Her father, Jesús, had brought them Easter baskets one year when Connie was ten, little baskets from the dime store full of shredded cellophane and jelly beans and a chocolate bunny wrapped in foil. Tonight she could use something sweet, a chocolate bunny, even a purple jelly bean. She lit her after-supper cigarette and icked the channels all around. Nothing.

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