Girls with Barbies: courtesy of photographer Camilo Jose Vergara
©2017 E. R. Smith
Cooking is so much fun when you don’t have much food in your home. It’s like Christmas every time, ’cause it doesn’t happen every day. Today we are gonna make baked potatoes with cheese, salad, and barbecue chicken thighs. Mr. Martinez, the butcher, winked at mom, this is why we’ll have enough chicken ’til tomorrow. This is a once a month feast, at least mom calls it that. The first of the month is when she buys all of the food, she always tries to get a bit extra for feast day. The rest of the month she reminds of the weeks ahead, so we won’t gobble everything up. Feeding four kids is hard, especially by yourself. I see mom holding her head in her room sometimes. Mom’s at the laundromat right now, so I’ll help with the cooking.
Mommy taught me to cook rice when I was ten, I’ve watched her mix mysteries in all of our pots since then. Now Mary and Dalia want me to show them. Since I did promise. These guys are so excited. Mary turns on the oven. Joey just watches from the living room with a Superman comic in his hands. I’m just waiting to eat, his monthly comment. He loves cooking though, just not with the kids; only with mom. The kitchen’s noisy like the chickens are alive, gosh my sisters squeal a lot! We finished choppin’ salad. Dalia and Mary peeled potatoes. I had to touch the meat ’cause I’m oldest; and no one else would. I put on the herbs and spices like mom showed me after cleaning it with vinegar. Vinegar is one strong smell. All ready to put in the oven. I walk over to pack the salad in the fridge. I see Mary with the box of matches, Dalia marching close behind her. Putting away the salad bowl, I remind them to be careful with the oven. It’s ok I already turned it on, Mary says.
You know those times you hear things from a distance but don’t really listen. Happens a lot when I’m with my sisters all day. I come back to the kitchen to find Mary’s bottom in the air as she reaches with a lit match into the oven. Dalia’s by the sink stubbornly holding the pan of thighs; waiting her turn. Time did that thing where you want it to move backward, so it purposely moves faster. Pop!…, hot air and smoke whooshed over us, I fell/grabbed Mary by her feet out of the oven. Tears in my eyes, Dalia’s mouth is screaming but I can’t hear her. Joey is behind me. Please don’t be dead, my mind yells as I peek down at Mary’s face. She looks odd, quiet, but she’s breathing. Joey had already jumped over me and turned off the stove and opened the window. Dalia’s trying to hand me a wash cloth. I take it and wipe Mary’s face, praying at the same time to the Virgen Mary. Wow, Joeys says amazed, look at her face! Mary’s face looked kinda new, then I realized her eye brows were gone; and her hair was singed away on the sides. Dalia tells Mary about her eyebrows, then Mary finally cries. I am just glad she’s breathing. What happened? She turned on the oven too soon, Joey explains shaking his head like an old man. You could’ve killed us, luckily you just killed your face hair. Thanks Joe, great! Mary’s crying harder, so I take her to the bathroom and leave him in charge of the kitchen. Trust, no one besides mom will get past him into that kitchen. I explain to Mary her hair will grow back soon, you’re still pretty and you don’t have scars.
I hear the key turn in the lock, want to run somewhere and hold my head. Can’t though, I’m eldest. Guess I’ll show mom Mary’s cooked face and then start explaining from there.