(Here is some very rough freewriting I wanted to get down while my poetry students took their midterms. I will have more to come as I want to follow this and see where it goes.)
Lena is standing in Felipa’s kitchen and her crock pot boils over and rattles every once in a while spilling hot water onto the burners and the crackling sound of steam fills the room up to the low ceiling. Her kitchen is the size of a small bathroom alongside a bathroom the size of a closet and alongside a closet which is the size of a cabinet. She keeps her coffee mugs underneath the table in old milk crates because she has no cabinets. When she pulls one mug from the crate and hands it over to Carlos sitting in his broken down and rusted looking wheelchair the old man immediately blows into the mug to free it of dust and imagined spider webs before filling it with the black liquid for his morning energy. He must have coffee and toast before he can hit the bathroom and he must bring the newspaper with him, this I find out later, so he can read the Star Journal over the amount of time in there. Because someone has to help him navigate from bed to chair and from chair to toilet he tends to stay in there awhile. Especially if Felipa is on the phone or making up the beds or fixing her own lunch for the day of work ahead. Poor old man, Lena remembers thinking. The poor, poor old man, she might’ve even whispered into the air after the coffee and after Lena watches Felipa manages the old man into the bathroom and as the door shuts behind. Poor man, shit, Felipa says, pushing his chair into a corner and beginning her morning chores of dishes and then sweeping. She acts is Carlos’ daughter is not there. She pretends to be alone as she works. I’m the one who does all the work. You should say poor, poor Felipa. No one around here ever says that.
When Felipa has the man out and Lena helps the old man into a fresh t-shirt and into a clean pair of pants, the excess material cut down and unkempt but safety pinned free from his chair. When she has him settled Felipa can breathe and think of herself. She can head into the bathroom after ironing her own dress and fixing her hair. She can spend those stolen moments in the bathroom and put on her make-up, her red lipstick and rouge with her only gold necklace and hair pins. It is only then that Carlos can smoke and talk to his daughter about Bruna and Jeri. They speak in the largest room of their institutional housing—the projects as everyone calls them–the quiet of the back bedroom while Lena sits on the edge of their bed and talks to her father. He asks his daughter to open the back window so he can smoke his nasty smelling cigarillos and release the dark smoke from his nostrils.
It used tobe I went outside to smoke, hija, Carlos explains in a small and almost pathetic sounding voice. I used to go outside and she would lock my wheels and leave me for hours but the neighbors asked me what are you doing out here, Carlos? What are you doing? And I couldn’t answer them. I could just say the wife has me out here. And it got back to Felipa somehow.
And when he hears the bathroom door click he throws the vacha immediately out the window…