Writer in Residence · 06/27/2010

Cagarse en la leche

No more cagarse en la leche, she laughed. No more shitting in the milk, no more anger, she meant. Me importar tre leches, she laughed again, her hand in the air¾I don’t mind three milks, I don’t give a shit. We drank canya outside a bar at the Placa del Sortidor. Nora sat on the cobblestone by the table, watching the boys kick a football around the alleyway, holding a frog she’d found behind the apartment. When Caroline had packed three suitcases and left for Barcelona, Nora’s fists were the size of lemons. Now, they were tangerines. From the balcony across the alley, someone played Queen. A man who looked like Freddie Mercury stepped onto the balcony in a towel, the hair on his chest glistening.

Get up, honey. Caroline clucked her tongue. Don’t get dirty. She drank the canya and fingered the rose a man in the market had bought her for la Diada de Sant Jordi, Saint George’s day. She did not buy him a book in return, as is the custom. Will he be my father? Nora had asked of the man, her face tilted upward, as if awaiting communion. Caroline’s fingers trailed the spines of books on the table. The vendor awaited her decision, nodding, and the rose giver smiled, a funny little grin between cockiness and embarrassment, before she turned, hand empty, weaving her fingers into Nora’s.

Tener leche en las venas, he mumbled after her. Milk in the veins.

I did not ask her when she was coming home. I did not ask her when the money would run out.

A child should know her family, Mom’s letters read to her. A wife should be with her husband.

Why are you here? She asked me. Did Mom send you? We sat in the apartment, a closet with a bed and piano. She had found the piano several blocks over when she first arrived, talked some college boys traveling into moving it for her in exchange for some cerveza. When I touched the keys, it burped like a dog.

It sounds fine. Carolina sat beside me, her fingers ambling over Greensleeves, out of tune. The wrong key but the right ones. It sounds fine to us, right, Nora?

Nora banged the low C over and over, like a cartoon. Bang. Bang. Bang. I waited for an anvil to fall past the window.

Jen Michalski’s collection of short fiction, Close Encounters, is available from So New Media. Her work has appeared widely, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, failbetter, storySouth, Hobart, Gargoyle, The Potomac Review, 42opus, Pindeldyboz, Thieves Jargon, Word Riot, and others. She is the editor of the online e-zine jmww and cohost of the monthly reading series The 510 Readings in Baltimore.

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posted by Roxane Gay