excerpts by Award Winner
Dahlma llamos figueroa

The Clinic
y Dahlma Llanos Figueroa

           “Gentlemen, this one had us worried, the growth spread all over.  Gave us quite a time.  But it turned out to be a false alarm this time.  A bit messy but just a run-of-the-mill hystie.  The patient is forty, unmarried and obese but otherwise healthy.”

Fingers probed the new incision.
“Good job, Bob.”
I thought so.”  Chuckle, chuckle.
“She’ll be good as new in six weeks.”
They caught my eye, or rather my eyes caught them.

           “Miss…Ms…er…what do you think of that?  You’ll have a nice smile on your tummy for the rest of your life.”  They chuckled at his joke and moved away quickly when my face did not respond.  They stopped at the next bed and then the next and then the next, leaving a dozen women behind, like cracked eggs bleeding into their cartons. 

“Hey lady, ain’t this your stop?  We ain’t got all day, ya know!”

           I came back to the bus with a start.  Quickly, I gathered my things and headed for the exit.  The doors folded shut and pulled away, leaving me standing on the curb. 

           I thought I had been handling this day so well.  I had focused on the sunshine, rejoiced at the spring breeze as I rode down Fifth Avenue.  I had offered my fears up to the foliage that ran above and imagined them being whisked away with the leaves. The cabs were on strike so we had whizzed down the avenue, lights cooperating, traffic parting easily.  Soon, much too soon, I had arrived at my destination.

           An occasional shaft of sunlight slices through the cover of green.  I don’t remember there ever being such thick foliage on this street before.  Taking a deep breath, I step off the curb, heading for the building across the street.

The Apartment
Dahlma Llanos Figueroa

          So many of my sepia memories are captured in the musty box that was our railroad apartment of the South Bronx in the fifties.  I remember how the late afternoon sunlight filtered in through the windows and fell on the linoleum floors where I sat for hours, in front of our newly bought Motorola television.

             I remember my mother’s mermaid party dresses—tight, tight, all the way down, hugging her high breast, her tiny waist, marking her round hips and long thighs below, finally flaring out at the knees.  She was a caramel coated Jayne Mansfield, hair brushed smoothly to one side, anchored by rhinestone combs, sending curls cascading over her right shoulder.  I remember her dancing intense boleros and sensuous merengues with my father at family parties.  Sometimes, when the party was in full swing, my father would let me ride his feet.  I’d face him, planting each of my buckled shoes on each of his cordovans and he’d dance me around the living room furniture.  He taught me what to do with my feet and my mother took care of the hips and shoulders.  I learned to dance intimately through the bodies of my parents.

             Our parties were always the best times for me.  The guests came in two or threes, loaded down with cakes and flans and pans of steaming food.  My mother would protest that it was unnecessary, but add the offerings to the laden dining room table nonetheless.  And in they came, my aunts and uncles and Don Salvador, the bodeguero and Doña Sara, the seamstress and unwed Margarita and lonely Felipe and all the others.  They’d pat my head and pile their moist, snow-dusted, wool coats on my bed and later, when I tired of eating and dancing and playing with my cousins, we children would climb on the bed and snuggle into the mountain of coats.  I remember falling asleep amidst the blend of Titi Sico’s Old Spice and Titi Celia’s Chantilly and Titi Coni’s April in Paris

              There were other scents too--the strong smell or roast pork and the faint whiff of Pine Sol in the air.  The images float before me now as I look back on the big pitcher of Kool Aid that sat on the kitchen table, painted fruit trapped in the glass.  I can see the sweaty surface of the glass and almost feel the cool of those drops on my tongue as I licked the roundness of the jug.

              I remember Don Moncho’s bunched up face confronting his wife Elisa for dancing too long and too close to Enrique, the unlicensed dentist.  The men pulled him away before the rum in his gut propelled the fist he held over her head.  The women pushed Elisa into the back room and gave her advice in hushed voices, brows arched knowingly in silent condemnation.  Later, I heard my aunt whisper how disgraceful the woman had behaved and my mother swore she’d never invite them back, but she always did.

              I remember leaning out the front window, the only window, to watch life roll by on the streets below.  Double Dutch, Skelsies and Stickball out front.  Handball in the back courtyard.  Teenagers flirting openly on the front stoop and sweating secretly in the darkness under the stairs.  I’d tie my mother’s curtains into big knots so I could sit more comfortably for hours.  And then Mom would catch me and yell about how hard it was to iron those polyester panels.  And I’d have to leave my window, tiny round indentations on my forearms from the pebbles in the cement sill.

              In the summer, we spent endless days at Orchard Beach and made countless trips to Johnny’s Reef on City Island.  Johnny’s sat out on the water’s edge, an indoor cafeteria style seafood joint with a big outdoor seating area where poor Bronx families would fill up on fried shrimp and fries or calamares fritos.  Fathers washed it all down with Ballantine Ale.  My brother and I made trip after trip to the soda stand spilling Coke on our skinny, sand coated legs, as we raced each other back to the table.  

              Memories of the South Bronx come to me, mostly round and soft and safe.  But that was all before the incident with the man.

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