There's a Hole in the
by Kathleen Kersch Simandl
Juanita stirred the bubbling
atole, slowly. Each pop of the thick liquid seemed a hopeful release. The colorless morning light slitted around the edges of the curtain covering the front door to her aged
mother's house. The neighbor's rooster crowed.
Juanita had made the sweetened cornstarch drink extra thick this morning, and when she let go of the spoon - which
continued slogging around in circles - she reached to the splintery wooden shelf above the hotplate. This morning she would add canela. Alejandra liked her atole
with cinnamon, and this was her oldest daughter's special day.
Juanita had made several decisions
that morning. One was that she would let all five of her children, and her mother,
sleep late. Muffled snores and puppy-like snorts came from the two bedrooms. She wanted the rare time alone to make a few more plans. Now, with the rich, spicy odor of the atole drifting to fill the entire three-room house, Juanita knew
she didn't have much more time. Church bells tolling in the distance marshaled
her thoughts: (1) Alejandra would get a job as a secretary…clang (2) This would get her family enough pesos to by a real roof for their house…
clang, clang (3) Her oldest son Adolfo would be able to pay El Pinche Sanchez
to get him into Texas…clang! clang! clang! Each ring of the heavy
bells lifted Juanita's hopes higher. "Madre de Dios, socórranos en nuestra hora…" the litany rolled, without conscious thought, from
Suddenly, like a warning from
the Blessed Mother herself, Juanita caught the coppery, chlorinated scent of rain in the air.
Quickly switching her pan to a cool burner, she ran to get the sheets of plastic.
Why today! Why - on Alejandra's graduation day - should they have to deal
with this? Drops splatted, then clattered on the patchwork of cardboard and tin
panels spanning the concrete block walls of their home. Juanita opened the first
dusty sheet of plastic with a pop and draped it over her bed. At the sound, her
mother opened her eyes. Then, with a start of realization, the old woman wrenched
herself out of bed and limped into the other room to return with a second folded wad of plastic. She draped this over her own narrow mattress, then - without pause - dragged the edge of the plastic sheet
over her two cardboard boxes of clothing next to it. Juanita dashed into the
room where her niños were sleeping, and did the same. All five of the children
were stirring now, Alejandra hurrying to shelter her white dress from the violation of the dirty drops puddling around the
edges of the plastic-covered bed.
Gracias a Dios, Juanita thought,
she didn't have to work on Sunday. She didn't mind cleaning house for the rich
Gringos, and - indeed - it was only through their generosity that Alejandra had gotten this chance. But, this was a day she wanted to devote to her family… and God.
She hastily added the latter to her thoughts, crossing her chest superstitiously.
She straightened the heavy spoon which had almost submerged itself in the thickened atole, and listened to the now-pelting
rain, and jabbering children's voices, with resignation. The rooster crowed wetly,
sounding dejected to have summoned such a grey, muddy day.
Everything leading up to her
bright daughter's graduation from the "prepa" had been hard. The most difficult
was having to deny the niños the few pesos they always were begging for some dulces or a Coca-Cola. Also spirit-crushing was having to beg the señores Amhurst for advances on her salary - to buy the books
and uniform required by Alejandra's high school. But she had done it, and her
girl had done it. They both had done what was necessary. Juanita had even made two peregrinaciónes to the shrine in Atotonilco, ten miles on foot each way, to beg
the Holy Virgin for her daughter's continued success in preparing for a secretarial job.
Juanita lowered her eyes as she poured the steaming atole into their four chipped cups, feeling a little smile of pride
turning up the corners of her lips. She again crossed her chest with pious afterthought.
Now dressed in white, and looking
beautifully virginal herself, Alejandra joined her mother in front of the hotplate.
Tilting her chin up, she pulled the string to turn on the single light bulb wired above the kitchen part of the house. It flickered, and popped once in the damp, but held - brightening the gloom within
the suffocating little house. Alejandra smiled.
"Mama! This is it! This is the day I stop taking from you. I am no longer a little girl."
"Ah, but you are still my
little nena. Perhaps there have been some sacrifices, but that is a price I have
willingly paid. God smiles on the pride I have in you!"
"Mama! Everything will be good now… no more hard times. Just
wait and see."
Tears of joy threatened
to spill from Juanita's eyes, like water seeping up from the artesian well in Atotonilco.
Alejandra - misinterpreting
the font of the emotion - hastened to add, "Don't worry, Mamacita! Last night
Julio told me he wanted to marry me… he says so many pretty things. And,
Mama, he's going to get a real good job in construction. He even says maybe he'll
even let me work as a secretary… later."
A drop of rain hit the burner
of the hotplate and sizzled into silence.