Waking up next to the stranger in a different bed, Rosa felt an intense longing to be back at home, curled up under her sheets, waiting for her mother to playfully drag her out of bed. It had been their ritual; her mother would try to cajole her out of bed, and in a fit of mock rage, would drag the thin blanket off of her, using it to swat her gently. By then, both women would be laughing softly, and Rosa would give in. Otherwise, her mother would pinch her toes, and eventually physically drag her out of bed by both feet.
This morning, Rosa didn’t know what to expect to happen, she only knew that the first light of the morning was creeping out about the world, and she needed to be alert. The man, her husband, lay on his side of the bed, snoring very softly. Her cheeks grew hot as she remembered the night, then thought best to think of other things, like breakfast, with her in-laws.
The in-laws had left the party early to prepare for her arrival, or to get away from the wedding reception, Rosa didn’t know which. Upon her arrival to her new home, Rosa’s mother-in-law, Ines, had given her a stiff hug, but her face had been kind and motherly. She was a larger woman, almost imposing in her girth. Her father-in-law Jose seemed small in comparison, more compact, and although taller, his wife was clearly the bigger of the two. He had said few words, simply indicating that from now on, she was one of their own. Rosa had been struck dumb by fear and sheer exhaustion, so she had nodded and smiled and when hugged, hugged in return.
Now it was time to eat as a family. Rosa did not know if she should wait till Ananias woke up to join him, or if she should head to the kitchen, which she had caught a glimpse of the night before. She felt a longing for sweet, milky coffee, and she thought of what she would have enjoyed if she were at home. Perhaps, since it was after a party, she would have had leftovers. Maybe tamales, heated on the hot comal, the banana leaf charred, leaving crunchy bits on the tamale. One of those with coffee, it sounded so good Rosa could smell it...no, she did actually smell it. Someone was up!
Giving in, she got up, making as little noise as possible, and put on one of her few dresses that she had hung on the nails in the bedroom wall. Their room was small and plain, with an exposed network of wood frames that now served as catchalls for knickknacks. Soon, there would be a large portrait of her and Ananias on their wedding day. That picture would remain on their wall until they moved to their own home, where it would take pride of place in the living room where everyone would be sure to see it. That’s how it was always done. Her musings rambled as she dressed, and finding her slippers, which her new husband had so kindly left by her bedside, she moved to leave the room. Standing at the doorway, she hesitated and looked at him as he lay asleep, still not moving. The air was cool, so she went back to the bed and pulled the covers over him, so he would not catch a chill.
In the kitchen, she found both in-laws working on heating up a mess of tamales. A huge mug of coffee sat on the table, pale with milk. Rosa’s mouth watered at the thought of coffee. It had been her vice, preferring to drink that over water whenever she could. As she stood at the entrance of the kitchen, observing her Jose as he put out four plates, Ines caught her gaping. An inscrutable look passed fleetingly over her face, but was quickly replaced with a smile. Jose beamed at her as well, smiling and teasing that he had two ladies tending to him hand and foot. Ines gave a short bark of laughter at that, snorting at him. Rosa knew that indeed, her mother-in-law enjoyed tending to her husband as much as she tried to deny it.
After rinsing her mouth and washing her face, she hung back, not wanting to intrude in the other woman’s kitchen. Ines quickly took care of her last vestiges of shyness, handing her the two forks she was using to turn the hot tamales on the heat. A large platter sat on the edge of the fire hearth, already holding a steaming few. Rosa deftly turned and let the tamales sizzle and splatter, losing herself in one of her favorite pastimes, cooking – being in the kitchen.
Ines watched her newest daughter, not sure what to make of the so very young girl who stood at her fogon, already looking at home. Jose watched his wife, looking for traces of jealousy on the round face he knew and loved so much. Their youngest had married, now it was time to sit back and enjoy the grandchildren. Ines, despite trying so hard not to show it, had been worried about who her last child would end up with. All her sons had married fine, hearty women, and she wanted someone who would care for her baby as much as she had all her life. It was not easy to give up the reins, but watching the young girl, she prayed silently that her youth would help her learn...as she had…
Her mother-in-law had been a fiery, hot-tempered woman. Ines had married older than most, nearly twenty, but what she lacked in youth, she made up for in energy and eagerness to learn and please. She had spent the first half a year of married life tending to her in-laws, getting up early to knead flour for tortillas, checking the chickens and finding fresh eggs to fry. It had been a hot summer when she had married, but that meant lots of fresh food to eat. Avocados were sliced and seasoned with salt, chopped onions and a little coconut oil. A quick spread of that on hot corn tortillas and a few scrambled eggs on the side, accompanied by strong coffee, well, it was a breakfast to wake everyone up.
After feeding her in-laws, husband and his younger brothers a hearty morning meal, she would remain in the kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning up in preparation for the midday meal. The men would leave to go to the family milpa by horseback, with full intentions to come back home for the midday meal. Sometimes, she would cook rice, beans, more avocados, and sliced tomatoes. Ines found ways to make a meal out of anything they could come up with, learning to cook deer and other game the way her new family liked it. Laundry was always hanging on the line, in neat orderly rows like her mother-in-law liked it. She learned to adapt to the crotchety old woman, making sure to do things the way she liked, and eventually, the old woman came to accept her. Her criticisms fell away, leading instead to gentle suggestions. Towards the end of her time with them, she was even joining Ines in the tasks, however menial they were.
On the weekends, instead of heading to the milpa, the men, joined by Jose’s other brothers and cousins would come together to build a home for them. Three bedrooms went up, ready to house up to four children; one that Ines was positive was already on its way. Small tree trunks formed the outside of the large hut, and inside, smoother wood was used to make interior walls. Jose often took his new wife to take a look around, listening to her ideas. Ines was pleased with the home, happy to have a place of her own, and when her husband showed her the large outdoor kitchen, she knew that waiting for the right husband was worth the time. He had listened to her, watching her as she ran around the smaller interior kitchen at her in-laws, sweating profusely from the closed in heat. He gave her a kitchen outdoors where the breeze would keep her cool, but it was large enough that rain would not affect the hearth.
So what if he snored loudly in her ear every night? So what if he expected her to pick up his dirty clothes wherever he left them lying around? So what if he had made her live with his difficult mother for longer than most? That he observed something so important, it made her want to be so much more pleasing.
Now she found herself understanding her old (at the time) nemesis. She had given birth to the man who now lay in bed with a different woman. Soon, that woman would have his children, and she would take on the grandmother role anew. She knew that her husband, despite his many faults, was a good man with a generous heart. When she saw the gentle manner with which her son treated the young girl, she knew that her husband had also passed down that gentility to his last child. Soon, Rosa would learn that Ananias liked his beans cooked just so, with coconut oil instead of lard, that he sometimes ate with his mouth open, and that he burped and farted whenever the need overcame him, no matter who was around or where he was. Just like his father. But, he took good care of his old parents, and was an obedient son. That meant that he would also take care of his family with great responsibility.
Ananias came through the kitchen door, eyes still sleepy and heavy-lidded. He saw his wife at the kitchen, looking contented and at home tending to the morning meal of leftovers. His mother watched her from where she sat, drinking some coffee. His father smiled at him, and Ananias bade everyone good morning. Startled out of her reverie, Rosa hurriedly pulled the last tamale from the heat and took the heaping platter to the table. She hesitated then, not sure where or if she should sit. Ananias smiled and pulled a stool out from under the table for her. He went outside to rinse his mouth and wash his face, then joined them all for his first breakfast as a married man…
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