“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she pours a cup of coffee for herself – six creams, no sugar. With the cup in her hand, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó. Tomorrow is the 23rd; only eight days until the end of the month. She counts the days, caressing each boldfaced number as if, like a magic lamp, doing so would return the days. “Catorce,” she mutters aloud. It’s been fourteen days since the last time her son called. Before then, it had been eleven. “A new record,” she thinks. The thought, like an onion, stings her eyes. “Run cold water.” Her mom taught her that. She turns the faucet and proceeds to wash dishes, ignoring how numb her hands get.
“Y Ériq, ¿cómo está?”
“Pues bien. El pobre anda trabajando mucho.”
Carmen looks down at her coffee cup. Staring hard at the conch swirls of the cream, she wishes they would reveal something: how he’s doing, where he’s been, or even when he’ll call again. But her mom never taught her how to read coffee grounds. Even if she had, this one’s instant.
The phone rings.
“It’s him,” she instantly assumes. Wiping her hands on her apron, she picks up the phone.
“Would you like to change jobs? Are you tired of working from paycheck to paycheck not knowing if this is the month where you fall under? Do you have mounting…”
Carmen sits down and listens to the recording loop over and over again, quietly nodding to herself.
“Hola, mi’jo. Qué bueno escuchar tu voz. Sé que has de estar ocupado, pero cuando puedas, llámame por favor. Te quiero mucho.”
She hangs up.
“He’s at work,” she assures herself. “Yes, probably busy at work.”
But it’s 9 pm.
She wakes up late. It’s past 9 am; she has missed morning mass.
Instead of doing her usual daily cleaning, Carmen goes down to the basement. From inside a large, blue Tupperware tub, she takes out all of her photo albums. Upstairs, as she flips through it’s yellowed pages, she comes across a lock of Eriq’s hair. She remembers it very well.
It was from when he was 18 months old. On his highchair, he had been eating his vegetables, most of them ending up on his head instead of inside his little tummy. He had been giggling, shaking his head, peas and carrots flying everywhere. When he stopped, a curl – a little upside-down “e” – landed squarely on his forehead. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She couldn’t help but want to remember that exact moment forever. With her manicure scissors, she carefully snipped it and placed it in the album.
It doesn’t seem like 26 years have since passed. She takes out the lock and smells it, but it doesn’t smell like the Johnson & Johnson’s shampoo she recalls using. Instead, it smells like nothing at all.
She drops her cup. “World’s Greatest Mom” shattering on the floor: a birthday present from Ériq from when he was 9.
She bends over and attempts to pick up the pieces, but slips and falls on her knees.
She angrily bangs her fist on the broken shards, pieces of cheap porcelain puncturing her skin.
“¡Con razón no te llama!”
She burns her hands on the hot coffee – six creams, no sugar, some blood, plenty of tears.
“¡Eres una vieja inútil! ¡No sirves pa’ nada! ¡Mejor ya muerta!”
Sobbing, Carmen lies in the hot coffee until it turns cold, reading her misfortune in the pieces; “World’s Greatest” now reads “Wor/st”
“He didn’t call today,” Carmen thinks as she carefully pours a cup of coffee for herself; the bandages on her hands make it difficult for her to hold it by the handle. With the cup in both hands, she walks over to the calendar and writes it down: no llamó.
The phone rings.
“Hola, mami. ¿Cómo estás?”
“¡Mi’jo! ¡Qué bueno que llamas! Yo muy bien. Ya pensaba que ya te habías olvidado de mí.”
“¿De ti ‘ma? ¡Nunca!”
As her son proceeds to tell her, with white lies and half-truths, what he’s done since they’ve last spoke, she walks over to the calendar. Scratching out the previous sentence, she writes “hoy se acordó.”