Hongos. (Reprise)

Maria sat with her legs crossed tight enough to amputate a man’s hand if it found itself anywhere near them. She didn’t know much English, she carried all her money in cash, and she didn’t have her husband next to her. All she had was three children waiting in her suburban, pining for mushroom pizza.

There was only one other customer in the lobby with her. He was the oil rig type. The ones with callused hands and tired eyes. Looks like he got electrocuted he was so charred, but really it’s the grease, sweat, sweat, and sweat coating his person. Octavio, Maria’s husband, used to look like that Monday to Friday. Saturdays and Sundays, Octavio would just be sweaty. Maria saw the beads of sweat on the man’s forehead form to the size of pinheads. The bead of sweat was finally released and it traced the man’s round face.

It was hot. Maria didn’t know how long she’s been there in the pizza shop. Maybe ten minutes. The cashier said eight minutes, or at least that’s what she thought he said. Regardless, the cashier was nowhere to be found. He was probably making all the ruckus in the back. Pans and pans and pans dinging against each other. It shouldn’t be too long for her pizzas. She went through the transaction in her head.

“Hello, welcome to Dan’s Pan Pizza, how can I help you today?” the cashier asked her.

“Can I have, uh, two pizza pepperoni?” she replied. Her accent was thick. It made white men’s tongues hot.

“Yes, of course! Anything else for you today?”

“Eh, yes. One pizza…” she hesitated. What was the word for mushrooms? She remembers Octavio used to order all the time when they went out. He knew a bit of English. It started with an M. An M. An M. Maria had no idea. “Eh, hongos? You have hongos?”

“Pardon? I’m not quite understanding.”

Maria traced a mushroom in the air with her fingers. It looked like a penis to the cashier. He blushed and shook his head.

Maria let out a whimper. “Hongos. Please? You have?” God, she wished Octavio was here. He would know the M word. The cashier stood behind the counter in confusion. He raised his brow in sympathy. Maria caught on and avoided eye contact by digging in her purse. “Pepperoni es okay,” she finally said in defeat. The cashier exhaled.

“Okay. anything else for you today?”

“Si,” Maria replied shuffling for her purse for 20s. She never looked up. The cashier stood there for a bit before finally giving her her total.

“Okay, it’s going to be $13.20, ma’am.” Maria gave her a 20. She then sat down and crossed her legs.

Maria came back from her daydream. She was looking directly at the sweaty man’s feet. Maria looked up, and the sweaty man gave her a kind smile. Her brown cheeks turned rose and she just managed to twitch her mouth into a smile.

Octavio died at the wheel. He was hauling lumber when he fell asleep and drove off the side of the rode. His truck dove nose-first off a cliff. He died on the clock. This was nothing out of the ordinary. It feels to Maria that Mexicans always die on the clock. They almost have to. If Octavio was still alive, he would still be working, and would continue to work until the day he dies. That’s how it was to Octavio. That’s how it was for his parents. That’s how it was for his parent’s parents. That’s how it is for paisanos.

Maria was tired too. Raising three kids is no easy tasks for a mother to take on alone. She babysits for a living. It makes enough money for rent and other expenses like pizza. Her oldest son Junior is turning 15 in two months. He can start working then and help out will bills. Junior wants to go to college someday. Si dios quiera, it will happen.

She leaves Junior in charge of the kids on Wednesdays after school so she can go grocery shopping. On Mondays, she doesn’t take care of any kids except her own so she takes them to the park for an hour before she has to go back home and make lunch. By the time that’s done, she has to get started on dinner so it could be ready in time. On Fridays, she babysits six kids plus her children. It’s her busiest days. Couples come to her home dressed up and leave their kids so they can enjoy a nice night of dancing. Maria doesn’t remember the last time she went out. The other days of the week are just days. They come and go by and she survives them.

Sometimes, Raul nextdoor helps out Maria. He is in love with her. When Octavio died, Raul was the first person to visit Maria at her home. Maria would cry into his chest and Raul would revel in the fact that he got to hold her. The next day, Raul came over again and brought his Juan Gabriel tapes to listen. He also brought tequila and bad intentions. They sang the into the night, shaking their wine glasses of tequila around carefree. They spilled on the wood floor where it mixed with Maria’s tears. Se emboracharron. The more drunk Maria got, the more Raul looked like Octavio.

“Ven aquí que estoy sufriendo,” Maria told Raul.

“Querida,” Raul responded, “dame un beso.” He hadn’t learn any English in the six years he lived in America.

The next morning, Maria looked onto Raul’s sleeping body. “Te extraño. Perdoname.” It no longer Octavio sleeping next to her. The man that took her in the night wasn’t the man sprawled out before her. From then on, Maria kept Raul around because of the man he became at night. He was possessed with Octavio’s image. He helped out with the bills and kept them all fed.  The kids never called him by any name. When they needed him, they’d get his attention by saying oiga.

“One mushroom pizza!” the cashier called out with a box in his hand. Maria snapped out of her grief. That’s the word she was looking for. Mushroom. The sweaty man across from Maria got up from his seat with a grunt. He took the box from the cashier with both hands and a smile. He walked out the shop, leaving Maria by herself, waiting for her pizzas.

Not soon after, the same cashier came out. He called, “Two pepperoni pizzas for Maria!”

He was looking directly at Maria. But she ordered three. But she was already embarrassed as it was. But she wanted three. But she got two. But she didn’t know how to ask for a third. But she knew the word for hongos now. But she had kids waiting on her. She grabbed her two pizzas from the cashier, gave defeated smile, and exited.
In her van, her kids were going wild at the sight of pizza. She opened the passenger door first and handed her son, Junior, the pizzas who quickly examined their quality.  She then got in the driver’s seat herself as her kids bounced in their seats. Junior asked his mom, “Dondé está del hongo?”

She replied, “Se fue con el señor de aya,” pointing at the sweaty man who climbed into his truck. Junior let out a sigh and settled for a slice of pepperoni. The other two kids cried over the mushroom pizza.

Maria did too.

 

Translations

Dame un Beso: I need a kiss.

Donde esta?: Where is he?

Emborrachar: You know very well I don’t know how to suffer.

Hongos: a failed assimilation.

Juan Gabriel: A man who cures heartbreak.

Junior: The haunting of a man you used to know.

Oiga: The name of someone you never want to know enough to learn their name.

Paisano: To be perpetually brown and always tired.

Perdoname: Forgive me.

Querida: My love.

Se fue: He left.

Si: No.

Si Dios quiera: God willing.

Te extraño: I’ve been missing you greatly. You’ve left a silence in your wake that I can’t bear.

Ven aquí que estoy sufriendo: Come here. I am suffering.

-Hec

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