The temptation is there. Every time my daughter rubs her elbow against it, the sliver opens underneath like a tomb.
I did that. I cut the plastic that covers our table, and through the tablecloth itself. I did it earlier, right before dinner as I was cutting my basted quilt pieces with the rotary cutter. It went unnoticed until I served her plate and saw her picking at it, her small fingertip tracing the line, the plastic and cloth torn apart, each held together like skin.
Don’t, I tell her. It will get bigger.
Her curiosity measures the damage on that tablecloth passed on from my tía to me, the plastic an imposed suggestion from my mom to protect what is visible beneath the artifice.
This, she had said, will keep your tablecloths from ruin.
She knows our table is the domain where everything happens: the homeschool, the meetings about our ministry projects, the fellowship where guests are hosted, the daily occasions of parting bread together.
I grace my sewing projects there too, laying my hand on the spindle over a cumbersome machine that stitches raw edges together. This table is the deconstruction zone, where arduous lessons are learned, where character is shaped, where hard conversations surface from reluctant lips, bitter tears, frowned noses.
A checkerboard cloth covers the table, like a vida de cuadritos. A life made of squares, angular boxes stacked against our will. There are too many to count, I’ve tried. One horizontal lane beams at a rapid pace, colors caught in the myopia of my gaze.
Decades earlier, the aroma of sausage links and golden white eggs stitched in-between its threads like a needle puncturing the thick ray of morning entering my tía’s kitchen window. I’m sitting as a child, waiting for the spread of food she offers me on a plate dotted with daisies, her thick hands wiping grease on her floral gingham apron. She takes a tissue from one of the big pockets and wipes her forehead under her diadem of graying curls.
My tía, who bore no children of her own, had her hands filled at age thirteen with two orphan sisters inching their fingertips over her waist. Food was scarce, but her stamina to work outside of their one room tenement for bread and water and a sliver of meat was plentiful.
Today, she collects morning dew in her pockets because she can’t offer food made with her own hands. She eats at my table now and is satisfied every time.
We have more than we can ever dream of, she says. More than we deserve, only by the grace of God.
I fill my pockets with napkins to dry a chronically wet eye the Lord has given me to nurse, a thorn that afflicts as it chastens.
I’m running to catch a bus, a gray old polluter that used to be blue in its prime, red orange stripes marked across its ribs. It’s blasting its muffler off into Colorado Blvd., and I run just enough to grab the arms of the side door.
Through the window a woman in a demi afro puts the bread of sorrows into her mouth. Bit by bit. She doesn’t see me even after I stretch my arm up toward the roof of the bus. I keep my right hand gripping the bar parallel to my legs and the bus takes off. It hums and whistles past the graves of pets. One capstone reads Teri. Here lies my lifelong favorite friend.
The streets are wet with morning dew, puddles glaze the asphalt where pedestrians jaywalk, and still, nobody around me sees me. All the lights are green, and cars keep up their own speed against the bus—who wants to drive next to black exhaust, with noisy synchronized coughs?
I’m hoping the lady in the brown sedan saw me and can flag the bus driver: Hey you have a lady hanging onto your bus! But she is set on passing and leaves us behind.
Moist air blows through my hair and it beats like a banner, a warrior’s flag marching to victory. I hold my grip and the bus speeds up, when a helicopter overhead hovers like a hummingbird, its wings a white noise. I can’t see it, but what does it see, I imagine?
A speed so great, unencumbered by traffic lights, pedestrians, halted vehicles. This driver owns the road and this chopper owns the sky. The boutiques and patisseries lift their shutters, the light of dawn scrolling into secrecy. I can’t hold on much longer, it seems, and my arm cramps and my footing is lost in the race to the end.
I wake clutching the blanket in my hands. Where is my life headed?
My daughter continues to pick at the slit in the plastic exposing my tía’s tablecloth, the cut a marker of my error—my negligence at heirloom preservation, a heritage that only the material world can summon.
It’s no use. Things, mementos, furniture meet their slow demise in the throes of activity and time, coming to the day when they’re relegated to memory or a box in the back of the closet for moths to consume.
She resists the urge to slide her finger, to feel its tender cut over her fingertips. To be curious like that, to trust why I forbid it, and to let defects normalize into the fiber of this table, our gathering place—where we collect our joys—echoes the Lord’s meekness.
We are those faulty things we carry, those dirty rags we cannot shed from our flesh, but he loves us despite our faults, making room for our failure, keeping our legacy on display for eternity.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Eréndira Ramírez-Ortega
Eréndira Ramírez-Ortega has work featured in The Washington Post, The Millions, Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, Mothers Always Write, iBelieve, Fathom Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Origins Journal, L'Éphémère Review, Faithfully Magazine, The Tishman Review, Cordella Magazine, The Review Review, and others. Her fiction is published in West Branch, The Puritan, Day One, The Cossack Review, The Black Warrior Review, Fourteen Hills, and others. She's writing a novel.