Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #181: Hungry

Image: San Pascual

Another excerpt from Scarred Angels:

Two more people came into my life that summer, the first in late July. I was on the second floor at school, piling up the junk my old friend Lipscomb had left behind. His revenge, I suppose, for any number of unnamed offences I had committed. I looked up and saw Mrs. Garcia from the rectory standing about two feet inside the door of the classroom. Behind her in the hall was a short gray-haired woman in a flowered print shift, holding two grocery bags.

Mrs. Garcia spoke first, though tentatively. I imagined her days with Bastrop left her gun shy around men in general.

“Mr. Bollinger,” she said, “I was wondering if you’ve hired anyone for your kitchen job yet.”

I hadn’t. Between having to face the actual fact of Mary’s leaving and the likelihood of playing footsie with Bastrop about the money for wages, I’d just left the thing alone.

“No,” I replied.

“I think I have the person for you then,” she said, walking further into the room. The other woman moved into the doorway and stopped. “This is my aunt, Mrs. Gloria Martinez. Until last week, she ran the kitchen for forty years at my grandfather’s restaurant on the south side of town. It burned down a week ago, and my grandfather decided it was as good a reason as any to retire.” As if reading my thoughts, she smiled and added, “Don’t worry, my aunt had nothing to do with the fire.”

I smiled, a little embarrassed at having my mind so easily read. “Perhaps your aunt and I could sit down and talk for a few minutes.” I started to the door to help the woman with her bags, but Mrs. Garcia took my arm gently.

“She has no English, Mr. Bollinger.”


“None. She would, however, like to cook for you.”

“But I’ve got no food in the kitchen.”

“That, Mr. Bollinger, is what’s in the bags.”

The three of us went downstairs to the kitchen and while Mrs. Garcia and I made small talk I watched Mrs. Martinez take charge of the kitchen. The first two things she pulled out of her bags were an apron and a candle in a tall glass, with the picture of some holy man plastered on the side.

“San Pascual,” said Mrs. Garcia. “He’s the patron saint of kitchens.”

I noticed the saint was holding a stack of bread loaves in his hands, and had a jug tied around his waist. Mrs. Martinez lit the candle, which in time filled the kitchen with a vanilla scent. She then rolled her eyes at the state of what I had considered a clean kitchen and set about scrubbing and mopping the work area before pulling any of the food out of her bags.

“Tia Gloria’s kitchen was always spotless,” said the interpreter at my side.

After the cleaning, I think I got a little delirious in anticipation of the foods I smelled cooking. I didn’t eat cheese and bologna because I liked it. That was just pure laziness on my part. And though I’d come to appreciate the goodness of Agnes’ healthy alternative lunches, they didn’t make me drool the way the mere sight and smell of the old woman’s stack of hot flour tortillas did.

She went overboard, but I was in hog heaven when she set three platters in front of me filled with cheese enchiladas, flautas, chicken and beef tacos, carne asada, rice, beans, salad, and guacamole. She pulled out a jar of salsa which stung my mouth for several minutes before I’d shoveled in enough buttered tortillas to act as a salve. Mrs. Garcia ate a small plate of the food, but Mrs. Martinez just sat and watched me like I was some starving ape at the zoo.

I left a little on the plates, but I should have left more. I pushed back from the table and looked at both women. One small worry clouded my mind.

“You know,” I said, “this is wonderful. But can your aunt handle franks and beans for four hundred kids?”

Mrs. Garcia turned to her aunt and translated the question. To my surprise, the old woman spat an answer back that left her niece blushing.

“What?” I said.

Mrs. Garcia blushed some more and then said finally, “It’s probably a good thing Tia doesn’t speak English. She is, I guess you’d say, a little raw.” She paused, still blushing. “She says if she can handle a three hundred seat restaurant, she can sure handle the shit you’ll have her cook.”

I laughed and swiped my finger through some leftover beans on my plate. “Tell her she starts August 30th.”


Not surprisingly, the second person who entered my life came accompanied by John Bastrop himself. That should have told me everything I needed to know, but it was a long time before I started seeing things that clearly.

In late August, about a week before school started, Agnes and I were lunching under the oak tree when a back door opened and Bastrop stepped out with a woman on his arm. I had never in two years seen anyone, not even any of his cronies, touch him in such an intimate way. The few times I had felt his touch it made my skin crawl.

Bastrop and the woman laughed at something he whispered and then walked our way. I tried to extend the woman the same disinterest I typically gave her escort, but I found that impossible. The mere sight of her set off something inside of me I wasn’t sure I had ever felt.

“Miss Fisher, Mr. Bollinger,” the smiling priest said as they reached us, “I’d like to introduce Miss Charlotte Hunter. She’ll be joining us this fall as Director of Development.”

Charlotte Hunter was tall for a woman, about 5’8”. In her heels, she was about my height. She towered over the priest at her side. Agnes and I stood from our chairs, and Agnes took the hand offered her. It looked like alabaster, I thought, an unfreckled, snow white hand with red-painted nails. She seemed to touch Agnes’ hand with the softness of a feather, smiling beneath the sunglasses on her face.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Fisher,” she said, in a voice low and soft.

Turning to me, she pushed her glasses up into a thick mane of auburn hair that fell in waves to her shoulders. Her eyes were green and held me as firmly as the hand she placed in mine.

“Mac, I believe. John has told me all about you.”

Meaning what, I thought, still trying to resist her pull. The anxious feeling in my gut was the kind I had previously used drink to quell. As if sensing my struggle, she relaxed her grip on my hand, but left it there for another fifteen seconds or so. The effect was that of a first shot of bourbon flooding and feathering out into my stomach.

Bastrop picked up the beat. “Well, I just wanted to let the two of you meet the new face in our family.” He was at his oily best, sporting, if I was not mistaken, a new black costume to go with his new fall loafers. To me he said, “You’ll find Charlotte on the second floor of the A-wing. I’ve given her the spare librarian’s office.”

I’ll find Charlotte. Was that a command? The two of them turned and walked arm in arm back into the school building.

“I guess you’re the sacrificial lamb this year,” said Agnes. She looked at me hard, checking to see if I understood what had just happened. I saw later, much later. At that moment, of course, I saw nothing.



Anonymous Teresa said...

Yay!!! More excerpts from one of my favorite books in the world!!! Cloudia at Comfort Spiral said that Google is providing a service to print all or part of our blogs. If you put this all up, you could get it printed into a book... Then you can send me an autographed copy, and I'll send you money!!!

3:23 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Yo, Fan-girl: You ain't payin' for your copy; you're writing one of the blurbs...

3:46 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

I. love. this.
bloviating? don't think so..

8:00 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Wow. I have to get to work on my degree to add cachet to my blurb!

8:04 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Ms D: Naw. I've just been wanting to use the word; one of my eighth graders fell in love with it this past week.

That Mac - he's a hungry boy...

8:20 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Cachet? Degrees? As long as you belong to the Moose Lodge, that is street cred enuff for me...

8:22 PM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

I love the word and today in my "word of the day" was farrago - I am tucking it into a drawer to use later..I may have quite a bit in common with your eighth graders.

8:55 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: We play a game I call Surreal Vocabulary, just a riff on the old dictionary game. I throw 20 words at them, have them make up their own definitions. The next day, I give them a "test": for each word, pick the definition you think is correct and then pick the one you think is BEST. These 8th-ers rock. Mr. JG fell in love with the game and went in search of his own hoard. I'll pass "farrago" on to him...

9:09 PM  
Anonymous missalister said...

This excerpt is pure enjoyment. I loves me a well-crafted work on a lazy Sunday, especially. Any day of the week, it’s being in good hands that I like most about the reading experience. No bony elbows, no awkard moves, only intuitive bliss.

I dig the urchins’ new game. Maybe we fogeys should play, like we did the exquisite corpse. The purveyor of Purple Houses used to do posts called “Words I Made Up While Doing Schoolwork in a Hurry” which was very much fun. Well, we’ll have to think on it some.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

And how do you get away with such pedagogical techniques in the fair state of Tejas with all its standards?

12:53 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Lady Day: I am happy to oblige. Thankfully, elbows have a hard time traveling the blogosphere.

As to the new game, remember that you're the flowchart girl. I just connects the dots. Think we might have some new playas.

Enjoy that lazy Sunday, Ms A.

1:11 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Sista T: Private school, cher. Besides, while certainly certifiable personally, as a teacher, I am uncertified: the Instituto values teaching ability over paperwork.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Uh-huh. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to check up on your content. As long as them urchins are happy and parents are forking over the dough, you the man! ;)

Making up definitions to words like bloviate, my eye. And in the 8th grade, too, just when they are at their felonious best. I call that contributing to the deliquency of the minors there, Bro. Murat. You are producing a whole new generation of subversive authors who may actually be able to change the status quo with their words. Have you thought of what that will do to our social system? You may even incite a revolution. (Power to the people!--oops, did I say that? :D)

btw, I WILL need that degree to write your blurb, as I am NOT a member of the moose, the elk or any other lodge. The cloven-hoofed feet are from another source...

8:44 PM  
Anonymous quin browne said...

miss alister said it for me. bless her for that...

well done--well, well done!

8:56 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Sista T: Well, the thought (re: status quo, topsy-turvying thereof) had crossed my mind. I know that when I started writing poetry, it certainly upended quite a few things in my life.

Degree, schmegree: we can all bloviate on the blurbs without them, and Moose membership was just a silly suggestion. Your cred as the Tesseracting Heirophant is all the cred you need...B'lieve me.

9:10 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

qb: Glad you liked. Hope you're settling into your mountains again. That "Tattoo" story you wrote is still henna'd to the inside of my head. Just beautiful.

9:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home