When I founded this journal four years ago, I did not have a magic 8 ball to ask whether or not this venture might be successful, how successful, or even whether it would still be here, five years down the road. I still don’t know. But what I do know is this: Thanks to readers like you, contributors like the ones featured in this issue, and our dedicated staff, we are still here. Thank you for that.
As the years have passed, my own role with the Inlandia Institute has grown from merely an Advisory Council member to the Executive Director. I love the people of Inlandia and am proud to call this place home.
A few announcements: Because of my own limited resources (time & otherwise) this journal will now be an annual, rather than quarterly, publication. This is both a fait accompli, in that it has taken me an entire year to get this new issue up, and a necessity, so that going forward we can set reasonable and relatively firm goals for publication. Thanks for your understanding.
Also, when we began this journal, we could not have anticipated that we would be partnering with the local newspaper to form a new a project, Inlandia Literary Journeys. This project includes a weekly column every Tuesday in the Press-Enterprise, an affiliated blog, and a video interview series. The videos are currently on hold as the Press gets settled into its new location, but we are planning on filming more interviews on location this coming year. To see what we’ve been up to, visit: http://localauthors.pe.com
Another thing: The Inlandia Literary Laureate has become an integral program of the Inlandia Institute, and I am thrilled to say that nominations are once again being accepted. To see who qualifies and for a link to the nominations form, go here.
Also, just up this week is a fun interview with me in The Review Review. As these things go, it takes a little while for interviews to go live, and already some of the information is out of date, but it should give you some insight into what we’re doing here.
Congratulations to all of the contributors in this issue, and thank you to everyone for stopping by.
The Bathing Suit
“Like this.” Across the poolhouse murk, hands float
a less-loved Body Glove, manhandle me,
and drift away. I stand between a bloat
of spandex and its riding burn, Kelly
Muirshin (B.F.F.) presiding with her cloak-
and-dagger look. “That’s how it goes, I swear,”
she hoaxes. Still the lacquered eye, the smoke-
and-mirrors eye that really glints (the glare
of sunlight on the pool reflected there),
the eye the face holds candidly, the way
magicians hold productive hats. Some pair
we two girls made—the fingers and the clay,
the hot wind and the wave, the weather and
the vane, the devil and the saint she trained.
Laura King’s childhood memories are backdropped by swimming pools in some of the sunniest places in the Southland, including Riverside, where her parents still live. Her poetry has appeared in 14 by 14, Goblin Fruit, Lucid Rhythms, and the 2013 Dwarf Stars anthology.
the rubbed tooth
(lines composed in honor of Beirut’s “Elephant Gun” video)
Oh dear young man throb on lap dance seat
this hot seat rock back and forth
holding your knees to the sound of the horn’s glare
o release me to my drink
Damocles between her fine stocking needs
release me to shrink among these the ambitious
shriek to what escape
this business this business looped
town my job was
to see and cry among the ones unable to monetize
a self-scrutinized oh what was I don’t
you see something is trying to fight
its way off this page to reach you?
behind the blue: the cobalt the aqua in
digo ribbons dance seductively don’t you
see this poem is clawing out
for you the vertebra makes
a submissive circle is this what you wanted
will suckle my thumb around this
town where the milk winds
down they ring around you halo
aureole a mania
in the crowd skeletal kiss
shroud shroud throng in
thralled how we
rush to greet you.
Michael Cooper is a MFA student at CSUSB who is fascinated by the fragmentation of language. He gigs and does spoken word all over the inland empire. His work plays with diction and polyphony in an attempt to shock us back into a critical awareness of how frail we are. He feels we are at our most beautiful at our point of failure: orchids in the same vase of water.
epic mountain, holy artistry
divine bounty and epiphany
calming beauty and mystery
circling valleys with majesty
stoutly standing, enfolding
exquisite, stately, enduring
a lovely view to bespeak
snow beds on rangy peaks
steeply still, raising spirits
beckoning to holy summits
from eons ago till this day
wanting ones ascend to pray
vital to a world that spins
unbowed by battering winds
alpine, green, hues of gold
dazzling spectacle, ages old
Robert Louis Covington’s professional career was as a writer and manager for the United States Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. After 36 years of government service, including four years with the United States Airforce, he now resides in Fontana, California. As an Active Member of the Inland Empire California Writers Club, he writes poetry and other articles for the club’s monthly magazine and for other publications.
James Ducat is a poet & photographer. Read more of his work in ILJ here.
Love Triangle With The Moon
I wait here patiently for you all the time. Sometimes it feels like I’ll always be here and it certainly feels like you think I will be. You come and go as you please; sometimes calmly and with warmth, sometimes thrashing about and white with anger. You leave little bits of trash strewn about when you come to visit, they’re little reminders that you’ve been here and that you’ll be here again and at least it’s something for me to look at until you return. It’s taken me a while to figure out, but I think there’s a pattern to your visits. I don’t know where you go when you’re gone but lately I can sense when you’re coming back and I realize my exterior has hardened in your absence; maybe I’m just trying not to crumble.
I miss you when you’re gone. Isn’t that such a silly little thing to say? I tried to think of a way to say it that would dress it up a bit. Sometimes when I’m waiting for you and sitting here alone with my thoughts I begin to feel like I don’t have enough depth for you, like you’re going to swallow me whole the next time you come. You’ve been slowly taking pieces of me with you and I worry that one of these days you’ll look at these tiny bits you’ve carried away and wonder what I could possibly have left to give – I want you to know that there is more. But right now I’m tired and I think I’m dehydrated and I can’t think of a better way to say it – so, I miss you when you’re gone.
I’ve seen my reflection in your eyes lately when you visit at night and I can’t say I’ve been pleased. There are lines on my face where there once were none and my body is dull and round where it used to be sharp. I know these things happen naturally over time but I think my being close to you has accelerated the process; still, I cannot seem to move and some days I think nothing short of a natural disaster will rip me from you. I’ve grown used to your comings and goings and it’s all become a comforting sort of white noise, even when you’re at your most violent.
I’ve come to realize that you might not be fully in control of what you’re doing to me, of whether you gently caress my cheek or spit on my face as a greeting. Though it’s true that you are a force to be reckoned with, I don’t think that the source of your power comes from within. I think it comes from her, from her closeness or her distance. From whether she’s hiding or showing her light. Recently I’ve noticed you gazing up at her in adoration, and I suppose I can’t fault you for that.
She is beautiful – glowing, even. I’d be stupid not to acknowledge that fact, though she is completely unaware of my existence and it feels unfair that I should have to. Sometimes I feel like you compare the two of us and see my imperfections in her light; it’s then that you crash into me the hardest, that you take the most of me with you when you leave. Afterwards I’m left here alone to recover, where I’ve always been and maybe where I’ll always be. I wonder if she knows about the effect she has on you, the push and pull her spinning creates; does she know you’re looking?
It’s strange; she’s so far away from us both, yet you’re frothing at the mouth and my face is salty and wet.
Rosemary Donahue was born and raised in Southern California and is currently working on a BA in English at Cal State San Bernardino. She is most interested in personal essays and creative nonfiction, and is inspired by the unseen forces that can both bring people together and make them fall apart.
Wanda and Mildred
Wanda and her mother, Mildred, first came to my yoga studio in downtown Riverside in 2003, perhaps 2002.
The sprawling space sat downstairs in what had been the Aurea Vista Hotel and then a furniture store. We had 1,800 square feet of antique wooden floor, no heating, no air conditioning and west-facing windows that showed the parking lot across the street, pedestrians and the occasional homeless wanderer. In the afternoons and evenings, the space resounded with the sounds of young would-be ballerinas thudding onto the ballet studio floor, which comprised the same boards as my ceiling.
Wanda brought her mother to the slow-paced class, so named to encourage seniors and those with physical problems.
Wanda did tai chi, got acupuncture for neck problems and sought whole health. She had other physical issues she didn’t talk about much. I learned about these when she reassured other students struggling with similar problems, telling them how much yoga had helped her.
Mildred had stiff hips, hamstrings and tight ankles. Mostly, though, she dealt with asthma in class. Any pose that involved lying on the floor left her gasping.
They both stood about 5 feet tall and had boxy builds. They loved great jewelry and getting bargains on stylish eyeglass frames in LA. Wanda had short, dark hair. Mildred had soft, white hair. They loved their family and they constantly extended that family as a way of helping others. When they met someone in need, they literally opened their doors, whether a car door to help someone get around town or, in Wanda’s case, opening her home to a teenager who needed a place where he could just let down his guard.
The first time they came to class, Wanda brought her mother, and yet smiled and detached herself from the outcome. Everyone who brings a friend or loved one to yoga knows that’s all you can do. After that, either the yoga works for someone or it doesn’t. Wanda knew that no amount of pushing would work. She loved yoga and hoped her mother would, too.
Mildred gave me looks I came to know well, a kind of “we’ll see”, her eyebrows flicking upward, accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile so slight I almost missed it. The poses I teach don’t look particularly hard, but I ask students to question their own inner workings, and that’s where the challenge comes. For someone like Mildred, I hoped to improve her posture enough that her breath might come more easily. It’s no simple thing to change a lifetime of habits. If you’ve spent six or more decades letting your shoulders weigh heavily on you, when a teacher asks you to do something that might release your shoulder blades back on the rib cage, “we’ll see” is normal response.
I thought in those first few classes Mildred had been pretty much dragged there by Wanda. Over time I learned that Mildred couldn’t be dragged anywhere, but she was willing to try, often repeatedly, something that might help make life better. A few weeks after she started, she showed up with her own tiger-stripe patterned mat. Several weeks later, pneumonia kept Wanda from class for several sessions, but Mildred came on her own.
She tried every thing I could think of to get her into some kind of inversion that might help her asthma. I tried many versions of a supported bridge pose. In one, she would come lying flat, knees bent, and lift her hips so I could slide a block under her pelvis. In another approach, she sat on a narrow stack of blankets, folded about 6 inches wide and two feet long. She lay back with the support under her spine and then let her shoulders slide off the blankets until they touched the floor. Every attempt ended with her struggling for breath.
Even the most restful position I knew, what some of my students called “day-at-the-spa” pose, left Mildred breathless unless I built up the support. Called supine bound angle pose, it involves sitting on the floor and then lying back on a narrow stack of two blankets, with the head supported. The knees are folded outward and the soles of the feet rest against each other, with the outer thighs supported. Most students find the gentle chest opening and the hip opening deeply relaxing. She could manage it, but not enjoy it, once she was sitting up at almost 60 degrees instead of the usual 30.
One day Mildred complained about how difficult her outing had been at an outlet mall. Her feet and ankles had hurt so much that she couldn’t walk much. I showed her how to do virasana, hero pose, while sitting in a chair. One leg at a time, she folded first one knee and then the other behind, stretching out the front of the ankle, then the back of the heel. About a month later, she reported that she was back in full shopping form, able to traverse the length of the Cabazon outlet stores.
For some years, we stopped having her try supine poses. Then about 10 years later, she just got herself down on the floor, and lying on her back, lifted her hips up into bridge pose. She would do corpse pose lying flat, although sometimes she spent more time lying on her side.
She had tight hamstrings and getting up and down off the floor was tough. Still, she did it, most days. Some days she didn’t, and I knew that if she could, she would. I would ask her, is this day for getting down on the floor? If not, I would set her up in the resting pose reclined in a chair. One other determining factor was the one-inch long rotator cuff tear that made it hard for her to push up off a chair. Doctors had wanted to repair it surgically. She refused and went to physical therapy. She continued with her yoga. Eventually, she dropped the physical therapy because, she said, she hurt worse afterward.
I watched over the years as she kept trying the poses that challenged her asthma, her hamstrings, her shoulder.
Finally, she could keep her breathing soft and easy while taking part in supine big toe pose, a full series done lying on her back with different positioning of the legs. Her hamstrings never became what anyone else would call flexible, but the standing forward bend that had felt like torture to her hamstrings evolved until she could rest her head on the back of a chair and find some mental quiet. The rotator cuff tear ceased to be an issue as she became able to raise both her arms skyward, where once the injured shoulder prevented her from even raising that arm parallel to the floor. In a version of down dog done seated, with the arms above her head, supported by the wall, she could reach evenly through both arms.
In the last few years, she could do it all.
Throughout the process, Wanda stayed close, protective in the way a mother might be toward an adult child who might not welcome the help. She had the same quiet smile as her mother. When they started attending class, to Mildred’s soft white hair, Wanda’s was a deep brown.
Wanda showed up in class one day with a gray buzz cut. She had gone gray when she was 18 and had decided: Enough hours had been spent dying her hair brown. She looked beautiful with half-inch long hair. She had as many or more health issues as her mother, but I didn’t hear about any except when she needed help modifying a pose, primarily to deal with neck pain.
More often I heard from her when something was going right: “Thanks to you. Thanks to yoga” she would tell me. I always contradicted her: “No. Thanks to you and yoga.”
After a while, Mildred was the one bringing people to my class, some with minimal problems such as a dowager’s hump and tight shoulders, another one with Parkinson’s. She would make sure to tell me when the woman with Parkinson’s was having a particularly bad balance day or if she had fallen and been injured. Mildred would help out with bringing chairs, bolsters or wooden blocks to her friend. Usually, these things were ready to hand because Wanda had brought them over, making it easier for her mother to help her friend.
Once after I had been gone for a couple of weeks, I started a class by saying “next we’ll do” and Mildred filled in the pause with an answer: “jumping jacks!” I learned how she had faced down a substitute teacher when he was teaching the class to jump their feet apart for wide-leg standing poses. After asking his age, she told me, she had said, “Well, you’re 28 and I’m 83, and I’m not jumping.”
I burst out laughing and said, “Good. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?” And I turned it into a lesson for the day: that yoga is done by cultivating discriminative intelligence, according to the Yoga Sutras, the earliest writings on the subject.
Mildred was what I want from all my students: to be a discriminating student of yoga. She questioned, prodded, experimented. She never gave up. She was attending class until just a few months before she died of cancer. She was 86.
At the Riverside National Cemetery, dozens of family, friends and her fellow church members gathered on a day swept clear by Santa Ana winds, mallard ducks and black coots floating on a nearby pond. The minister talked about Mildred’s family and the things she loved to do. I was surprised to learn she had been a teacher. I had known only that she had been knowledgeable about gems. She had left her native Puerto Rico to go to college in the Midwest and there she had met her husband, who was in the Air Force. Given how acutely Mildred tested me, maybe I should have known she had been a teacher herself.
The minister said Mildred loved good cooking, particularly when someone else was doing it. We laughed. Then he said she loved yoga and dancing. My guard dropped, and I cried.
It was a few months after that before Wanda came back to class. She had stopped coming before her mother died, she told me, because she couldn’t stop crying at the end of class when she was in corpse pose.
When Wanda did return, it was to encourage another friend to come to yoga. This woman arrives in a Dial-a-Ride bus. The driver gets out and opens the back door and lowers the wheelchair platform so Lesley can roll up the wheelchair ramp . The bus is usually late, so Wanda leaps up and goes to open the door and to greet her friend, who suffered brain damage in a terrible car accident years earlier. Lesley rolls in with a sad smile, but always sharply dressed, sometimes with a sparkly hat and silver arm band. She was struggling with depression and Wanda thought yoga might help. Lesley says it has, she told me, partly because she feels she belongs.
Wanda still sits at the back of the class, along the wall where students go who are not so strong or who have balance problems. Now someone else sits next to her in Mildred’s spot. Wanda finds new students to help, most recently assisting a gentle woman with Alzheimer’s who became easily confused and needed constant small reminders on what was happening.
At first, Wanda would do an alternate pose at the end of class, but now she can do corpse pose again without crying.
The slow-paced class has a wide range of ages and abilities. Some people sit on chairs instead of the floor for the beginning seated pose; some use a cane to negotiate the studio; some people grab straps and blocks for others.
The slow-paced class is always packed, but even so, there’s an empty place there along the back wall near Wanda.
Christie Hall finally found herself rooted to the Inland area by her years of teaching yoga, first at a gym in Lake Arrowhead, then at her own studio in Riverside, at Riverside City College and Moreno Valley College and lately for another studio in Riverside. It’s an unlikely profession for someone who dreamed of being a foreign correspondent while attending Chaffey High School in Ontario and Pomona College in Claremont (where she earned a bachelor’s in international relations). Her journalism career had nothing at all foreign about it: She spent more than 20 years as an editor for the newspapers in Riverside and San Bernardino.
She had never thought of herself as “la otra,” the Other Woman. All she knew was that she had loved him better, and it was only natural that he should leave his fiance and marry her.
“But that was a long time ago,” she would laugh when telling this story to Sirena, who seemed fascinated by her abuela’s past. “Back when the animals could talk.”
Anita had not been looking for a husband in those days. She already had too many men in her life – five brothers and a widowed father. She cooked and washed from dawn to night, then got up and did it all over again. When the house burned down along with half of the town, it was a relief – there was nothing to wash and nothing to cook. They had no choice but to join up with all the other refugees and walk north.
Some of the men stayed to fight. Her oldest brother, Manuel, stayed with his sweetheart’s family to defend what was left of the town. But the soldiers did not want the town. They wanted more soldiers. Both sides. Men and boys were compelled, forced, conscripted and dragooned, so that brother ended up fighting brother, father fighting son, uncles fighting nephews. It was all mixed up. The crops were deliberately destroyed three years in a row, and finally they had eaten all the seed corn. Better to walk north, where the Americanos were paying good wages.
“Bring extra money, and bring extra shoes,” was the advise Celso, who led the travellers out of town, gave to them. People brought a lot more than that, but most of it was lost along the way.
The first place of any size the family came to was Guanajuato. Los Guanejuatensos were not known for their friendliness to outsiders. In fact, the last time people had come to try to make themselves at home, they were herded into the granary and set on fire. This was in colonial times, when the Spanish rule had become unbearable. But the worker who had carried a stone on his back to deflect the bullets so he could set fire to the door of the granary was still a hero, El Pípila. No one remembered his name, just his pock-marked face.
Introspective people, used to the darkness of the mines and the insulated feel of their valley, they did not speak unless spoken to, offer information or help unless asked directly. It was here that the bedraggled Don Barcielego dragged his exhausted sons and daughter. By then one of Anita’s brothers had developed an infection. He had cut his foot on the walk, and the laceration refused to close and had begun to smell. The other members of the group said to leave him, that he would die of gangrene. Out of desperation, as she saw her brother get sicker and sicker, and her father begin to despair, Anita inquired if there was a curandera who could help him. A gnarled old woman, for Anita was at the age when she assumed gnarled people were old, came and cleaned the wound and wrapped it in a poultice made of local herbs. Then she suggested that the family pray to el Señor de Villa Seca for intervention on behalf of the ailing brother. No one in the family had heard of this Señor, but they prayed, nevertheless.
Whether it was the prayers or the poultice, the brother got well. Her father would not allow Anita to go to the church of Villa Seca to give thanks, but when he understood that it was in the mountains going north, he agreed that they could all stop on their way to El Paso del Norte. The brother who had been cured, who had a gift, painted a retablo of thanks on a broken piece of wood and left it there.
Sirena’s abuela claimed not to remember much more of the trip. She said she remembered going into towns and begging people for water. She remembered falling asleep while walking, she was so tired. She remembered hiding for hours in the ruins of a building, all of them trying not to make a sound, while armed men – soldiers or policemen, were around. She remembered a town up north that seemed almost deserted, until they found an old woman who showed them a fountain with water. How good it felt to wash her hands and face, her hair, let the water run down the front of her dress. Thirty-eight people started the trek, and thirty-two finished it. Anita remembered that one person died in his sleep, and they found him cold the next morning. Another began to panic during a time of needed silence, and was held down until he no longer moved. She does not remember what happened to the others. Maybe they stayed in some of the towns along the way, or died, or were carried away by a flock of birds.
Sirena watched her grandmother intently when she told these stories, trying to glean from her grandmother’s face and hands what she did not understand in words. When Anita got to the part where she described the missing as possibly being carried away to heaven by a flock of birds, the little girl’s mouth would go slack with amazement. When she got older, that expression was replaced by a sorrowful smile, the trademark expression of the Diamantes.
By the time they crossed the border, they were all as thin as could be – puro hueso – all bone, Anita would say, holding her fingers a quarter inch apart to show how thin they were. Not like I am now, she would add, patting her comfortable belly fat.
Sirena would just laugh at her tiny grandmother. Next to her, Sirena felt large and awkward. It was hard to imagine her abuela surviving the long walk, the hunger and thirst, the uncertainty of death waiting for them at every crossroads. But Anita Diamante greeted every dawn with the cautious optimism of a survivor, throwing water on her front steps and sweeping her walkway down to the sidewalk. Let the day bring what it will, she seemed to say – God willing, it will find me here.
As hard as it was to get her grandmother to tell the story of their migration to the United States, it was even harder to get her to tell about how she met her husband, and took him away from his intended. She did not tell this story to Sirena until she was older – old enough to know better, old enough to have gained the sorrowful smile.
After all their travails, and several false starts, Anita’s family went to work picking oranges in Southern California. They settled with other refugees on ground too high and rocky to cultivate, but close enough to meet the foreman at dawn in the orange groves. Anita’s father and brothers built a one room stone house with a cooking shed on the back. Anita asked for one window on the wall facing the street that was a little larger than the small, high windows on the other walls. This had a piece of tin that fitted inside of it to close, fastened by a piece of wire. In summer, Anita took down this shutter and sold aguas frescas to people walking by. Later, she began to sell a few canned goods, and after a year she had a small store where the orange pickers and farmworkers could obtain a few goods near their homes from someone who spoke Spanish. By extending a little credit until payday, “Anita’s Tiendita” became popular in the neighborhood.
At first, her father was nervous about Anita being home alone all day with cash in the house, but she assured him that she knew how to handle things. He got her a dog they named Flojo, after the mayor of their town in Mexico. When her father saw how much she was able to make, enough to save, he allowed her to handle all of the finances for the family. Anita was the only one who could make change and count to ten in English. On Fridays, she was accompanied to the bank by her four brothers, where the American clerk nervously counted the small bills and wrote out a receipt under their watchful eyes.
With all of this brotherly love and attention, Anita despaired that she would ever marry and start a household of her own.
Whenever her grandmother got to this part, Sirena grew pensive, staring deep into the pattern on the carpet to hide the feelings she knew would show in her eyes.
“Pero ya, mira,” her abuela would say, drawing Sirena’s attention back to the story. “One day a car drove up and parked across the road. A Model A. A man was driving, and he got out to help a girl from the other side. She was well-dressed, but she acted completely helpless in climbing out of the car.”
Here her grandmother would flop her arms, like a rag doll. “But once she got on her feet, she grabbed the man’s arm like he was the big prize. I could tell that he was embarrassed by her, and I knew then that I would make a better life mate than she!”
Abuela would cackle in remembrance at this point, and Sirena would smile in anticipation of the rest of the story.
“It turns out that they had come to our place in the woods to tell us about hygiene. Hygiene! As though, just because we were poor, we didn’t know how to take baths. She talked to the women, and he talked to the men. But she was so embarrassed, and used such funny language, that no one knew what she was talking about!”
“You went to the talk?”
“Seguro que si! Of course! I had to find out what was going on.”
Sirena squirmed in delight. Anita was fully animated now.
“Afterwards, I went up to that man – and I could see that he was handsome, too – and I told him that I could do a better job than that girl.
“He gave me this look – the way you look at something to see if it has more value than it appears to have.
“You think so? He said. All right then. Here is the address of the next talk. It is right next door here, in Corona. And here are some of the brochures that we give people. Take them home and read them, and if you still think you can do a better job, come to the next talk.
“And so I started going around with him, giving the talks. I was from the people, so I knew how to talk to them in their own language. And then we got married.”
Sirena knew there had to be more to the story than that. Like how her father let her go. And what happened to the store, and all her brothers. But she also knew that was all she was going to get out of her grandmother today.
“Bueno,” said her grandmother. “Let’s go to Pancha’s for lunch.” Pancha’s Comida Mexicana was about two blocks away, on a busy commercial street, but they could walk. And her grandmother could order anything she wanted, on the menu or not, and get it. Sirena never turned down a chance to go to Pancha’s with her grandmother. Pancha’s offered tamales and hope.
The scuffed linoleum floor, a fake brick design, held six small tables and a counter. Sirena’s grandmother favored a table by the window, not too far from the kitchen. Settled with sugary hot teas, Sirena ventured another question.
“What was he like?”
Anita looked outside to the parking lot, as though she could see the Model A on the hot pavement. “Like I said, he was very handsome. You have seen his pictures. He was handsome enough that people admired him when we passed.”
“They weren’t admiring you, too?” Sirena teased.
“No, of course not. You see how I am. Maybe they admired me for having him.” Anita held up her hand as though she had something important to say.
“But he was also kind. He was very good to me, not like some other men were to their wives.” She stirred her tea for a minute. “In those days, no one said anything if a man hit his wife. It was his right.”
“Some people still think so,” said Sirena.
“I know. But it is not right. At least now, women can ask for help, can get protection if they need to. Then, if a woman had children to protect, her parents might take her back, at least for awhile.”
Anita looked at her sharply. “Otherwise, she put up with it, or had to survive on her own.”
Panchita came out from behind the counter to greet her grandmother. “Como estas, Anita?”
“Bien, bien gracias. Recuerdas mi nieta, Sirena?”
Sirena nodded and smiled. “Hola,” she said.
The older ladies had a ritual they had to go through each time, no matter how many times Sirena had been introduced. They would continue to discuss her as though she was not present.
“Ay si, La Sirena! Que guapa esta! Como movie star!”
“Si como no. Y su hermano tambien.”
“De veras que si? Y donde viva?”
“En otro estado, muy lejos. Ya tiene esposa.”
“Y Sirena? ya tiene novio?”
“No, todavia no,” said Sirena, jumping into the conversation before her grandmother could say anything.
“Bueno,” said Panchita. “No se importa. No te preocupas.”
After taking their order, Panchita left the table, and Anita could see that Sirena was, nevertheless, distressed.
“Take your time,” she said, patting her hand. “You will know when the right one comes along.”
“I hope so,” said Sirena.
“In the meantime, enjoy being young. Don’t let viejas tell you what to do.”
Sirena smiled, her first genuine smile all day. “I won’t,” she said, “except for you.”
“Andale,” said her grandmother, laughing, as their steaming bowls of menudo arrived. Both stopped talking to eat.
When she had her fill, Sirena’s grandmother sat back in her chair, patting her mouth with her paper napkin. “She tried to have me killed, you know.”
“La muchacha. La otra.”
“The fiancee? The one you took him away from?”
“Yes. But that is another story.”
Kathleen Alcala was born in Compton and grew up in San Bernardino, California. She is the author of five books of fiction and nonfiction, and teaches Creative Writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. “La Otra” is part of a collection of stories about Sirena Diamond. More at http://www.kathleenalcala.com
Strange, but I don’t recall anything about that day. Not the dip before the Hidden Valley offramp that made me flounce every time I drove over it. Or the mini-blimp for Hickory Joe’s rope-tied to the unmoved pickup truck in the gravel parking lot. The thing used to scare me as a kid, the way it lit up at night like something from a movie about space invaders. Did I roll the windows up at I drove past the egg ranch, or had I let its stink linger in the cab? I know exactly how it smells, I could trace the arc of its intensity with my finger the farther you got down Pedley Road. Not from today, but from all-time.
I don’t remember if I parked in the driveway or on the street, if I remembered to stay on the walk or if I trampled the August-ruined lawn Gina had been trying to reinvigorate. I don’t remember making eye-contact with the photos in the hallway; the one with my parents after their Thoroughbred, Admiral Cooney took first at Fresno, my father in aviators snaring the reigns, Cooney wreathed with succulents, my mother looking away, an impression of a cigarette in the way her hand is bent up at her side. Another, me on the top bar of the corral resting my boot heels on my grandfather’s shoulders after my first chute dogging. The wedding, Gina all teeth as usual. Me too, smiling like a man who doesn’t know anything.
I could see all of those things. No, not with my eyes. They came one after another, polaroidic and yellow in my memory. Lying down on the floor beside the bed, I waited for Gina to come home. I wondered if I’d tell her how it went, about the CT of the brain and how it looked like a wad of used chewing gum. On the left side, a shadow like two snails fighting that the doctor said would kill me. Or would I tell her about the first bull I took down when I was seven, dig out the old buckle and shine it up nice?
Ryan Mattern is an M.A. student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Davis where he also co-runs Fig & Axle, the graduate student reading series. He earned his B.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, San Bernardino, where he won the Felix Valdez Award for short fiction. His work has appeared in The Red Wheelbarrow, Superstition Review, Black Heart Magazine, and Poetry Quarterly, among others. He is a member of poetrIE, a reading series dedicated to showcasing the literary voices of California’s Inland Empire.