Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés

Everything is a Shit


Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés was born in New Jersey to Cuban parents. Educated in Miami and New York, her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry appear in numerous journals, including Southern Humanities Review, Flash Fiction, Saw Palm, Literary Mama, Kweli Journal, Guernica, and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Her story collections, Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You (2015) and Marielitos, Balseros, and Other Exiles (2009), were #4 and #5 on the Guardian’s list of ten of the best books to help understand Cuba. She teaches literature and writing at the University of Central Florida in Orlando where she lives with her family.

webpage: www.oyechica.net
Twitter: @CeciliaMilanes

          The overpowering stench of sewer woke her. Again. God, why, Lucy wants to ask Him, yet she didn’t wish to question His will. She wanted to question, no, confront the irresponsible individual who allowed their upstairs toilet to overflow, back up, break down, or whatever the devil was going on up there. It was the second time. The first time, the homeowners’ association president had been on vacation and, anyway, he wasn’t going to do anything—he’d proven himself ineffectual many times over by then. At that first flood, the upstairs condo owner had been notified and sent the bill after her son Rasiel and one of his workers had cleaned up her bathroom and replaced the ceiling tiles. No acknowledgement or payment were ever received. It was an affront that intensified as the days and weeks went by.

          This time, Lucy could see the dirty, putrid water from her bed puddling all over her master bathroom; when on the brink of angry tears, she couldn’t bring herself to call it anything other than sewer water. Lucy wouldn’t allow herself more than glance at the newly dripping and sagging ceiling tiles. But the stink. It assaulted her. Without the strength to get herself out of bed, she called Sergio, her used-to-be-lover and upstairs neighbor, who let himself in just minutes later and started complaining as soon as he came inside.

          “Ave María, que peste!”

          “Come and see,” she called to him. “It’s incredible.”

          “Ay, yay yay.” He rushed into the bedroom and then stood at the threshold of the bathroom looking up and down and then closing the door, a pained expression knit his brows.

          “And now what?” She needed to relieve herself and was anxious to get to the half-bath in the hallway. After a vigorous shaking of his head, Sergio finally realized he hadn’t gotten on with his daily obligation, an act of kindness she would have gladly extended to him if he were in her condition, and gingerly grasped her hands to lift her from the bed after slipping her slippers on one at a time. He handed her a sky-blue seersucker housecoat, her favorite bata because it was so light and airy, and placed the walker before her. El burrito, the despised and saving little burro, without which Lucy could neither walk nor stand for long. Who would have thought her an invalid even a year ago? But life takes many turns and only God knows what he does, she often told to herself when on the verge of despair.

          Lucy could neither resist nor refuse help—anyone’s, whether her sister’s, children’s, or Sergio’s. This was abundantly, bitterly clear after her second hospitalization—the first time it was just a small scare of “dangerously high blood pressure” that took various medicines and almost five days to bring down and then, thank God, she was just fine. There were months of normalcy. Later there was the sudden onset of trembling in her left leg that left her unsteady and terrified which led to the dreaded outcome, a bad fall and she was back at the hospital. Catarro, caídas y cagaleras—the three Cs that did elders in—colds, falls, or diarrhea. So many neighbors were liable to repeat it whenever they heard about a so-and-so’s passing. As if we had anything to do about it, Lucy would answer; it’s always up to Him.

          They rounded the corner out of the bedroom into the apartment’s entryway and Sergio opened the guest bathroom door a crack then violently shut it and steered her away.

          “But . . . ” From the smell, she knew why and started fretting over how long she could hold it. She had flatly rejected the adult diapers they gave all the viejitos at the clinic because she wasn’t that far gone.

          “Pero nada. You can’t go in there either; it’s flooded. Vamos para mi apartamento; you can use the bathroom there and even stay while Rasiel and I get this resolved.”

          “But I don’t believe I will make it upstairs,” she said and started crying softly. “What a disgrace.”

          “No, no, no, no, don’t worry.” He patted her forearms. “I’ll ask Chela to let you use her bathroom,” and with that he left her clutching the walker’s handles and concentrating on squeezing tight what few bladder muscles she had left. She could hear him outside explaining then Chela rushing over. Her next-door apartment had the same floorplan, so she knew if she made it through the threshold, she could step right into the half-bath.

          “At-a-girl, just a little more,” Sergio pushed her along, almost panting as he guided her. This time she didn’t chastise him for going faster than her usual slow shuffle.

          Chela held the door open while balancing her granddaughter Marisol on her hip. Sergio got her inside and held her steady as Chela quickly pushed the walker out of the way. He maneuvered her into the small bathroom and Lucy lowered her panties before he helped her onto the toilet just before she emptied herself. He had the decency to step out and wait until she told him she was done. As he helped her up again, he noted that there was no wet stain on Chela’s ceiling. The leak had come from the tenant directly upstairs from Lucy’s apartment. Again.


          The first flood required Rasiel’s help; thank God, he lived nearby—just fifteen minutes away in Broward. She tried not to sound panicky when she called but he had to be used to resolving problems for her by then. Mostly it was the big problems and the leaking, stinking mess spreading on her bathroom floor was certainly a big problem. Even so, Rasiel had a new wife, a successful construction business with several workers, and though his girls were all grown and out of the house, Lucy felt guilty asking for his help. He turned out to be such a good man—padre y marido—despite his wild bachelor days and own father’s poor example. Still she was proud of how she had brought him and Rita up all by herself after her ex walked out on them. Lucy didn’t dwell on that ugly chapter in her life, having long ago put dirt over it.

          For so many years, Lucy had resolved all the little problems herself with her pretty good English and dogged persistence. Since coming to Florida, she lived simply, within her small means, relishing her own space and so very grateful her children had pooled together their money to purchase outright the 1BD/1 ½ Bath condo on the first floor of sprawling seniors complex in northeastern Dade County. No menacing landlord ever again. She thanked God every day for children, even though she had had to endure years of the womanizing desgraciado who was their father. What better gift to give her family in return for their generosity but her shinning glory, cooking. Lucy delighted in showing her appreciation by preparing lavish Sunday repasts.   

          Lucy meticulously and lovingly made all their favorite dishes—Rita loved sancocho and mangú, while Rasiel couldn’t get enough of her arroz con pollo and pudín de pan. All three of Rasiel’s girls loved her pickled onions which they used to top everything from salad to habichuelas or stews though they only came to lunch on occasion—Melina was away at college, Analis was a new mother now, and Chanel, the oldest was getting serious with an Americano she brought around once. Her own pobrecita Rita was sometimes too sad to stay for the meal, stopping by early or late for her take-away cantina. Almost 35 and hadn’t had luck yet having a baby; the last miscarriage knocked her down for months. Lucy dedicated a whole rosary to her every morning, asking la Virgencita de Altagracia to strengthen Rita’s womb and heart and then made a special, medicinal herb tonic to do the same but she couldn’t stomach it.  

          It could be said that Lucy taught herself to cook, though she would never say it herself. She and her sister Dora had arrived in Nueva York as unaccompanied 13-and 12-year olds; their mother stayed behind on the island caring for the little ones. Their father sent for them to be educated en el norte but also to ready the home for the rest of the family to join them. After just two days Dori had “the nerve” to complain about the tasteless, canned habichuelas and undercooked rice; their father promptly pointed them to the stove to “figure it out” but as the oldest (by 11 months), the responsibility of cooking fell to Lucy. Dori was a reluctant helper and often nicked herself cutting cilantro, garlic, onions or peppers for the sofrito—the one, and most important rich paste that seasoned all the dishes their mother made, and which Lucy strove to replicate.

          “Mija, you have surpassed your mother’s cooking,” their father announced one day as he rubbed his overfull belly and pushed away from the formica-topped table. Instead of pride, a deep well of sadness overcame her that cast a pall on her years at school in Nueva York. She and Dori learned to defend themselves in English and were more than mediocre students but when year after year passed waiting for the immigration papers to reunite the rest of the family, the sisters chose to go home to Santo Domingo to finish high school. There they each met and married the husbands that would return them back to Washington Heights.


          Sergio helped her from Chela’s apartment, down the hall to the lobby and elevator. His apartment was the first one off the second floor. The iron door was ajar and the inner door unlocked. She made a face.

          “I know, I know. I shouldn’t leave the door wide open like that,” he answered before she could scold him. “But it’s because I was rushing to you.”

          “Yo sé,” she felt bad that he expected her to criticize. She hadn’t been in his apartment since the day she fell. Sergio guided her to his chair, letting her adjust the power recliner to her hips, and handed her the television remote. From a quick glance around she saw that the apartment wasn’t untidy. But the tiled floor needed mopping and the coffee was covered in used tissues and splayed across the dining table were opened envelopes and their contents. In the middle of the table was a painted ceramic fruit bowl holding assorted batteries, an eyeglass case, and a miniature foam globe the clinic gave members for exercising their hands. Lucy shook her head; she used to help him organize his things, help him clean. Now she was useless. Even worse, she was making work for him, taking him out of his routine.

          “Que pasa, mama?” He pulled up a dining chair to her side, clearly out of breath. “Don’t worry. Ya Rasiel is on his way.”

          “Ay, Sergio, I’m so sorry.”

          “No, nada. For what?”

          “This. This is something that . . . ”

          “Something neither you nor I could have seen coming. Pero, it will be resolved.”

           Lucy forced a thin smile and with her good arm, reached for his hand. He seemed to calm at her touch.

          “Gracias, amor.” Lucy wished she could embrace him fully but not all the wishing in the world would bring back her strength.


          Sergio used to come to the Sunday midday meals too. They were, after all, a couple. Lucy had enjoyed his company for going on twenty years now; he warmed her bed for a very good dozen years until it became more of a chore for her. Some fool had given him those blue pills that made him over eager and too hard for too long. She lost interest but they remained a couple though platonic and Lucy suspected he found an occasional willing partner to satisfy him that way. She and Sergio had vacationed in Punta Cana every summer for string of years until there wasn’t a single new resort they hadn’t visited. He declared the beaches were prettier than his own island’s though he admitted to never having gone to the famous Varadero.

          Even when he wasn’t sleeping over, he maintained his own apartment that she cleaned once a week as a token of appreciation for all he did for her, driving her here or there for appointments and whatnot, getting groceries, and sometimes family outings—and out of affection too. Even though she made more elaborate dishes on Sundays, she cooked tasty meals for Sergio every day when she was still well enough. It irritated her whenever he fussed about going out.

          “Let me take you to dinner tomorrow. Take a break from the kitchen, mama,” he’d often protest though he ate everything she ever served him.

          “Pero, why? Don’t you like my food, Sergio?” He looked confused when she was sharp with her reply.

          “Of course, I do, mi amor. Your cooking is marvelous, truly. It’s just that you work so much.”

          “And so?”

          “And so, even the top chefs taste others’ cooking.” He reached for her hand and added, “I just want to treat you.”

          “Gracias but I don’t like food from outside of the house. It’s just not me, Sergio.” She tapped his hand. “You see and hear so many things on the television about how dirty restaurant kitchens are. Ay, what the waiters themselves have even said!” Lucy scrunched her nose and mouth while shaking her head and releasing from his hold. “It’s just not appealing.”

          And Sergio relented most times. She did go to dinner with him and his daughter when she visited but wouldn’t you know, he got food poisoning more than once though she would never dare bring it up whenever he got it in his head to invite her out. Eventually, he stopped asking. Maybe it was around the time they stopped having relations.

          When Lucy moved in twenty years ago, she wasn’t so concerned about her mobility, but now the lack of stairs proved a blessing. Northeast Dade was pretty safe then, certainly not so many people. Now there were too many. The complex so crowded, she didn’t even recognize half of the residents. Like her, most are transplanted northerners originally transplanted from the Caribbean, Central or Latin America. Sergio told her that when he first moved to the area almost forty years ago, the original residents were Jewish Americanos, also from el norte, and they filled all the apartments and condos lining the Garden Drive east from the beach and US 1 to the western limit where the next county started. Her complex was made up of six buildings connected by covered walkways and duck-feces-encrusted paths circling a large brackish lake, situated along the most trafficked section of thoroughfare because of its proximity to bagel stores, banks, synagogues, strip malls, and doctor’s offices. But traffic didn’t make much of a difference to her since she did not drive and never drove at all having moved from la República as a young bride to Nueva York.

          “No wife of mine will drive in this crazy city. It’s too dangerous,” Ramón had replied with alarm when she asked him to teach her so many years ago.

          “But . . . ” Lucy had only asked because she was anticipating an American future with a house where their children would grow up, a time when she would drive them to activities, and she could . . .

          “And where are you going to go, anyway?” One corner of Ramón’s mouth lifted at the same time he titled back his head. 

          Lucy had no answer.

          “Aha, you see? There is no reason.” His tone changed as he listed all the reasons it was an unreasonable and unjustified request.

          “People drive crazier here than en la República—todos locos. Y los taxis, ay mamá! Besides, there’s never any parking. Why do you think I hardly move the car?” The latter turned out to be another one of his lies; he moved his car plenty to visit his women. Having a rented spot was his parking guarantee. Lies about sending money back to his sick mother when in reality he was simultaneously supporting a second family in the Bronx. And when she confronted him with the unequivocal evidence of the checkbook—two electric bills, two phone bills, and, the greatest betrayal, tuition to a Catholic school for a “Junior” when her children went to public schools—he laughed in her face.

          “Ah, so clever, you found out. Que tonta!” He seemed relieved, not at all disturbed.

          Lucy had done what she had never done before or since, she threw everything within reach straight at his head. He ducked a frying pan, was grazed by the sugar jar and coffee tin, but he could dodge just so much in that small kitchen.

          “Are you out of your mind?” Ramón was surprised by her steely glare, silence, and most of all, power. And he did not expect the loaded plastic bowl—apples, bananas, aguacates, and tomatoes—to connect. Lucy laughed at his ridiculous figure as he held onto his head and stumbled on the spilled fruit. She kept on laughing as he grabbed his jacket and keys and headed to the apartment door.

          “You’re a stupid woman, Lucy. You had it good with me,” he turned to lodge the last words she ever heard or wanted to hear from him. “Don’t expect anything from me.”


          All her years up north, she took buses or the subway to one factory job after another—sometimes, even a taxi but Lucy never left her home until her children went off to school. Her Miami apartment faced the busy street, but she wasn’t bothered by the sounds or smells of the cars because she kept those windows closed. There were three doors into her home, well, to be clear, two entrances and three doors. One, never-opened kitchen door with a fireman’s lockbox on the outside, God-forbid something should happen to her—especially now in her condition—and they needed to get inside. The other entrance included a solid front door that opened in, and an exterior iron-barred, screened door that opened out. For more than half the year, when it was cool enough to allow the sweet lake breeze to sweep through her apartment, it was the only barrier to the outside.

          Even though the complex was seniors-only, for the last few years, the homeowners’ boards have allowed children—technically, they have tolerated the children of the adult children of the senior condo owners. For Lucy, it was pleasant listening to children’s voices rippling down the outside corridors. There isn’t a playground, yard or field for them so there are no baseball or soccer games. No tag being played behind the ficus trees or around the buildings; the entrance to the complex was only a thin strip of flowerless flowerbeds bordered by walking banyan trees, some buckling pathways dominated by large asphalted parking lots. The one place Lucy could regularly see children is at the pool. There fading signs announcing: No Running, No Diving, No Children Without an Adult Present, No Glass on Pool Deck, No Children Under Three, and Absolutely No Children under 14 in the spa, these condo grandchildren had the run of the place on any given afternoon or weekend.

          An hour or so before dusk, Lucy used to join her neighbors poolside—under the wide aluminum awning, piped in “soft” American music coming through the speakers, plenty of chairs for the taking. Sometimes it was to play canasta or dominoes but mostly just to catch the lake breeze and chat. Lucy didn’t like to participate when the others lodged into their frequent complaints.

          “Those kids are too young to be left alone,” Mayra starts. “What happens if one of them drowns?”

          “I don’t understand why there are rules if they aren’t followed.” Fefa tsks.

          When did children obey written rules Lucy wondered to herself? She liked to watch the little boy who squeezed his eyes closed and pinched his nose every time he jumped into the pool.

          “Pero, mama, this is a long time coming. Has the association ever done anything about the dogs? How many dogs on your floor?”

          “El loco tiene cuatro,” Marina answers flatly.

          “He and his mother are getting over, saying they are those support dogs for the crazy people but why four?” Nelly speaks with authority since her apartment is next door to the offenders’. “It’s just him and his mother—who’s just as toasted as him. Have you ever seen her taking out the garbage?”

          A chorus of chuckles and one belly laugh from Fefa.

          “I don’t really care to see her naked behind ever again.”

          “It’s scandalous! Wearing that transparent nightie outside. Is she trying to attract a man, o que?” Mayra sneers.

          “Which one? There are only two left! And Lucy got the last good one,” Nelly nods to Lucy.

          “Por favor, sweetheart,” Lucy shakes her head while blushing, compelled finally to join in. “There are plenty of men at the clinic playing dominoes six days a week. Go see for yourself.”

          “Ay, fo!” Nelly acted offended. “Who wants one of those dried up viejos?”

          Lucy laughed with the others but only out of consideration; she knew she was lucky to have Sergio. Later, after they had stopped their intimacies, she learned that Nelly was one of the women Sergio visited on occasion.

          Her days were simple then but satisfying. Cleaning her kitchen after breakfast and then morning prayers. Prepare a nice lunch for Sergio and herself—sometimes Rasiel dropped by so she always made more than enough. The relaxing afternoons by the pool. She even liked watching the iguanas sunning themselves and the braver children trying to sneak up on them. But the iguanas were too fast and would jump into the lake or scamper up the trees bordering the pool deck. Sometimes they climbed so high and were so green, it was difficult to distinguish them among the heavily leafed branches.

          Evenings she had a piece of pound cake or bread and butter with her café con leche before any novela she was watching at the time. Sergio was a baseball fanatic, but he always stopped by to kiss her goodnight before he retired to “his Marlins.”

          But everything changed, not immediately which was crueler than if it had happened all at once like the blood pressure scare. It started with a slight tremor in her leg, first in her thigh. Lucy massaged in a menthol salve each morning. She maintained her routine despite a steadily progressive weakness she found harder and harder to hide. Then she fell. Lucy couldn’t say it was because she was dizzy because it wasn’t true. She didn’t know why. She just fell while standing at her beloved stove in her favorite room doing her best thing. Blood from her eyebrow dripped down her cheek. When she tasted it, she was surprised at how metallic it was.

          To name an ill usually gave a person some power over it but this was not the case with Lucy. Lucy found it increasingly difficult to walk when her leg got so shaky, she scared herself. The doctors at the clinic could not confirm or rule out the fall or the tremors were caused by a mini-stroke—something that might have happened without her even feeling it. Her endocrinologist disagreed. She said that her diabetes caused neuropathy, even though her sugar wasn’t all that high. Lucy religiously tested it each morning (this was her little joke since she always did her rosary first) and her level was always below 140. It devastated her to learn that the prognosis was incurable; she would never regain the strength in her leg and recently her right, dominant arm was tingling to numbness. The doctor, a young and pretty Dominicana, spoke to her in quiet but informal Spanish, trying to soften the blow; she said Lucy’s muscles would continue their inevitable slide to atrophy. Lucy cried and prayed, prayed and cried for days but her unchangeable reality—no matter how much physical therapy—meant that forever more she would need a walker to get from her bed to her bathroom to her living to her kitchen and back. And, God save her, a wheelchair to go anywhere further than the few feet she “traveled” in her apartment.

          In the beginning, when she still had one “good” strong leg and an occasionally weak one, she struggled to make it to the pool and her friends, the children and the iguanas, but the Herculean exertion required to shuffle along the cracked walkways eventually wore down her will and spirit. Her neighbors’ faces were so filled with pity for her that Lucy quit trying altogether. Sometimes the women would visit her in the afternoons for a few awkward minutes. Lucy was half-glad when they stopped coming.


          As God would have it, Sergio helped take care of her now. Getting her up and out of bed in the mornings, preparing her breakfast, settling her into her powered recliner, so she can start in on her morning prayers. He always waits with her until la Daisy arrives who accompanies, cooks and cares for her all day, thanks to God and her children. Then in the afternoon Sergio returns when it is time for Daisy to go home, reversing the routine, fixing her a snack with café con leche. Before they watch the roulette and quiz shows, Sergio share a story from his day playing dominoes at the “club”—a large room with domino tables, blaring televisions mounted on the walls facing a row of chair, and cafeteria-style tables and seating for the two meals provided for all the members (though in reality, they were all patients). Lucy was glad he had something he enjoyed occupying his mind but she felt bad that he ate what she knew was inadequate food for lunch. He said he did not want to give Daisy more work, but Lucy wondered if it was because he missed her cooking, something that magnified her anxiety. After their shows, Sergio helps her to bed where the alternating restless and restful hours swallow her whole.

          Besides the helplessness, stronger than the regret she felt when she couldn’t cook for anyone anymore, Lucy tries to fend off resurging self-pity. There were days when Lucy prayed extra, adding a rosary to her evening prayers, meditating on the Lord’s will and His ways, asking for understanding when her otherwise accepting nature was tested and bitterness coated her tongue. But every time she looked up at the many family photos displayed throughout her home, she asked for His forgiveness.


          After the first flood, Sergio—a worse gossip than all the viejas put together—found out all the “dirt” about the upstairs tenants who were not the condo’s owners but the daughter and granddaughters of the owner, “a Jewish New Yorker,” who used money won in a lawsuit against the City when she fell and broke her arm in a slick municipal building bathroom: “There were no cameras, imagine that!” Sergio said he couldn’t find a single person who knew the daughter’s name, but he learned that she had already been in jail a couple of times for drugs, the two granddaughters had been taken away to foster care during her incarceration.

          “The grandmother said she couldn’t take care of those little girls ‘in her condition’—do you believe that, Lucy?”

          Sergio had even heard that “the best” the condo-owner/mother could do for her delinquent daughter was ship her off to Florida where she purchased the fully furnished 1 BD, 1 ½ Bath for $40,000.

          “A small price to pay to get her the hell out of her hair, verdad?”

          Lucy squirmed in her chair. Sergio talked to everyone and everyone talked to him. She wondered what people were saying about her though he probably wouldn’t ever tell her. He learned of all the comings and goings of residents in their building and adjoining buildings. Where those that were still working worked; whose parking spaces were rented out to tenants with more than one car; what size apartment they had, who was raising grandchildren after failing with their own children. At the clinic, he was teasingly called the Mayor. She also heard from Chela that many of the women there, young aides and elder patients alike, called him all sorts of endearments and were overly friendly, very familiar with him—Lucy wondered if she shared this as a favor to her.

          “Ever since that girl moved in there has been a lot of movement up there.” Sergio sighed while pointing at the ceiling. “Young guys in and out at all hours. I’ve heard them and seen them with my own eyes, Lucy.”

          Lucy could not confirm. When she was well enough to get her own breakfast, she would sometimes see the young woman who looked like a child herself, and the children walking by her kitchen window. She never got a good look at either of the two little girls except those mornings when a brightly colored van picked them up in the parking lot. They had a lot of dark, frizzy hair and wore clothes either too big or too small for them. Their mother, a blanket covering her head and upper body, apparently didn’t mind displaying her butt cheeks under ragged short shorts; she stood apart from the girls until they were on the minibus. Lucy never once saw her kiss the girls though they waved goodbye and she was nowhere to be seen when the van dropped off the girls in the afternoons when they walked solemnly by her screen door, up the steps and knocked and knocked until their mother finally let them in several minutes later. The girls never called out, just kept knocking and knocking. Once it was almost an hour. It hurt Lucy’s heart, such an aching to help, but given all one saw on television about how accusations could arise of anything from abuse, kidnapping, to God only knew what, she bit her lip and chose not to meddle.

          Sergio continued with an accretion of details that left her head spinning.

          “La policía came a couple of times. She has a bad element in that apartment, all night.” He shook his head and she lowered hers.

          “So many types too, Lucy. Negros, latinos, probably gang members.”

          “Ay, Dios, Sergio. Who called the police?”

          “Not me but how can you blame a person. Tipos probably bringing or buying drugs. Who knows? Maybe she’s a prostitute.”

          Lucy wondered if it were true, could there really be such a thing going on right overhead. To be fair, the woman and her children were not loud neighbors—on the contrary, sometimes Lucy wondered if anyone were home. The first time they crossed paths, when Lucy was still well, it surprised her to learn that they had a dog. Lucy was walking to the lobby to get her mail when a sand-colored little dog rushed up to her from around a corner, nipping and yipping at her heels. As she tried to slowly back away from the increasingly aggressive animal, the young woman from upstairs sauntered down the hall barefoot and wearing a bikini top and tiny shorts.

          “He won’t bite,” the woman said as she scooped up the still yipping animal, never apologizing or even exchanging glances with her.

          Lucy had been so upset, she went home without picking up her mail and made herself a cup of linden tea to calm her nerves.


          That week, waiting for what caused the flood get fixed, dragged on with each day adding to her anxiety and helplessness, as if being an invalid wasn’t enough. She could not bear the smell, so Sergio helped her gather a few clothes, her medicines, puzzle and prayer books, cellphone and charger before getting her down the hall to the elevator and then into this apartment which wore her out so much, he insisted she sleep in his place until the repairs were completed.

          Daisy was with her most days as she had after Lucy was too weak to be left alone. Rita visited more often too though not the consolation it sounded like when she saw how unchanged Lucy’s condition. On this day Rita was finally and blessedly pregnant and optimistic for the first time in a long while. She asked about the people in the picture frames as she sat next to her on Sergio’s sofa.

          “And is that the one who died?” Rita pointed to a framed photo of a dark-skinned, bearded and heavyset man whose smile always seemed sad to Lucy.

          She was glad to be able to help comfort Sergio when his son got sick three years ago but, el pobre, there is no real comfort for a parent losing a child, God help him.

          “Sí, mi cielo. That’s Marcos, que en paz descanse. He was the youngest.”

          “And he only has a daughter left?” Rita looked around for evidence.

          “That’s her with her family in that one.” Lucy pointed to a studio portrait where a family, all dressed in shades of blue, were posed around a ladder. “It’s a shame they live so far away.”

          “Tampa’s not that far, mami.”

          “It is when you don’t see your family and you’re old. Sergio can’t drive that far.” She knew he wished he could and, like him, she didn’t want to obligate her children to visit, even less so her grandchildren. Their visits certainly cheered her but lingering beneath was ugly resignation at being incapable of doing anything for them or herself but talk on the phone, change the television channel, or wipe her own ass. They sat with her, chatted her up, gave her stacks of word find books that she used to pass the interminable hours between her morning prayers, Despierta America, and the one afternoon novela she and Daisy watched together. Fridays, Analis brought her little boy Zack—the first greatgrandbaby but after five minutes of her questions, hugs and kisses, he’d retreat to the bedroom to watch his muñequitos and her granddaughter struggled to find topics she could engage with while her eyes drifted back and forth to her cell.

          “I’m so sorry, I can’t even make you a cafecito in my condition.” Often her eyes would well up and a lump in her throat formed but the most astute guests rushed in to change the topic. Rasiel’s wife Martica was especially adept at directing the conversation away from Lucy’s before-hospitality, asking about the latest plot twist on the afternoon novela or grabbing an ¡Hola! magazine and commenting on the most recent European royalty embroiled in scandal.


          On the third day of the second flood, Rasiel asked Sergio to see what he was up against. By then there was no hope of ever recovering any money for the repairs to Lucy’s apartment and, even more bewildering, it was clear that if upstairs toilets weren’t repaired, the problem would continue. Rasiel took it upon himself to get it done, regardless of the cost—God bless that boy.

          “Ay, Lucy, what I tell you is little compared to what I saw.”

          Lucy sighed and wondered how much longer she would need to stay in Sergio’s apartment; it wasn’t uncomfortable. It just wasn’t hers. His cable package was 500 channels with sports of every kind except for a handful of Spanish language networks. Daisy was shocked on the first day at the state of Sergio’s disheveled kitchen. Sticky floor and countertops and grim-coated pots. In the refrigerator, there was only milk, water bottles, a few eggs, and two drawers full of mangoes and only empty ice trays in the freezer. Sergio would have to bring food upstairs from her own kitchen because Daisy couldn’t leave her alone for long enough to cook a meal. It was too complicated, and her blood pressure and sugar reflected the stress. Hearing about the repairs wasn’t helping either.

          “Can you believe that bold woman even dared the association to try and evict her daughter?” Sergio was more agitated than usual. “And do you know what Ray told me?”

          Lucy already guessed but let him tell the excuse the president gave to any request, complaint, or violation of the condo restrictions.

          “He said the association doesn’t have the funds! They can’t afford the lawyers. After all they collect--$267 from each unit like mine and what, $350 from units like yours . . . ”

          “$336 each and every month,” Lucy added.

          “Six buildings, it’s inconceivable!” Sergio would usually list all the people flaunting the restrictions but today he was focused.

          “Lucy, I have never seen such filth except for that hija de puta my son married.”

          “May he rest in peace.” She crossed herself before adding, “Thank God you don’t have to deal with her anymore.”

          “No, at least there’s that.” Sergio didn’t often bring up his dead son and deadbeat daughter-in-law who disappeared with his namesake’s belongings and ashes in tow. After a minute, Sergio refocused on the “puta” upstairs.

          “Sincerely, I don’t understand how anyone could live like that.”

          Lucy felt a knot form in her throat. She coughed a little.

          “Are you ok, mama?”

          “Yes, yes. Don’t worry.”

          “I know you want to be back in your apartment and, trust me, Rasiel is working as fast as he can. But honestly, when he asked me to see that place, ay, it was a hell. You think it smelled bad in your apartment? You don’t know. And those two little girls sleeping on a dirty mattress on the floor with a dog, for God’s sake! No shame. No shame at all.”

          Lucy thought that grandmother had to be shameless too to let her daughter live like that and allow her to treat the grandbabies like animals.

          “And I’m sorry to tell you this because I know you are tender-hearted, but do you know what caused all this plumbing problem in the first place?”

          Lucy wanted and didn’t want to know. It would take Rasiel five solid days working in that upstairs apartment, with his employee’s help, before she could return to her own apartment.  

          “One of them must have thrown something down the toilet that caused it to back up but instead of getting it taken care of, that woman kept right on ignoring it and used the other toilet, but then that one backed up. Ay, incredible but they kept using the toilets until they were full to the top.” Sergio’s disgusted frown intensified. “I don’t understand it, honestly, it’s just not, ay, so, it’s just so . . . I don’t even know what to say and . . .”

          Lucy braced herself but couldn’t have imagined what she heard next.

          “That individual made her children shit into grocery bags. Can you believe it?”

          “No. My God. No, don’t tell me that.” Lucy felt queasy.

          “It’s true. She made those little girls go do caca into grocery bags and then throw it down the garbage shoot. And the most incredible thing is she admitted it to Rasiel when he asked her how they could manage with no working toilet. She told him without even blinking, Lucy. Que sucia, que, que . . . ”

          Lucy was horrified. People who lived in el campo were known to “manage” in such base ways, going in the woods when there was no outhouse, but this girl was born here, was living here, in a modern American condominium, not a third world country. And she was white. Even more astonishing, Jewish. Lucy had yet to meet a Jewish person who wasn’t well educated. And decent. She never imagined a Jew—God forgive her—could be so foul, so dirty. When trying to think of what Americans said about such people, Sergio had consulted his daughter, asking, “What do you call those people, those white people that are sucios? Garbage people?” The answer she gave him was: Poor white trash.

          And then Lucy remembered the day when she finally got a good look at her.

          It was after the first flood. It had taken two days just to get that young woman to open the door; Rasiel was adamant to show her the damage her damage had caused in Lucy’s apartment. When she walked in, such a skinny thing, a waif of a girl wearing a so-short skirt and tube top pressing on more bone than bosom, with one arm completely tattooed from shoulder to wrist—green, blue, gray, black and other colors mixed together in some surreal design, paused in the entryway. The woman’s bloodshot eyes were narrowed and boring, an unlit cigarette hanging off her bottom lip under which a jeweled stud sprouted; there was a slow, deliberate sweeping gaze across the apartment and after which she declared, “It’s so clean.”

          She seemed to overlook a stunned Lucy as she continued scanning. Once again, she paused and slowly repeated, “So clean.”

          There had been no confrontation because Rasiel had taken the girl to the master bathroom before the unchristian venom she felt she was about to spew was unleashed.

          “Poor white Jewish trash,” she finished Sergio’s sentence, “that’s what.”





© The Acentos Review 2020