At the Edge of the Kitchen's Light

Ana Reyes

2013 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose Honorable Mention, selected by Robert Coover


Inside my house, there is another house. Painted concrete, single story and   close to the ground. Little air conditioners jangle in the windows. The little house is beside my bed, slightly shorter than a night table. I'd rather have a night table, but instead I have the house. It's the house I grew up in. I rest a glass of water on its roof each night.

Tonight I'm almost asleep when the smells come. Intestinal pigs feet smells. She's cooking again, my grandmother, inside the little house. Abuela was a night person. She rises in the dark to stir her vat. Hominy, tripe, pigs feet, sweat. It cures hangovers. It takes all night to cook. Most people wouldn't dream of sneaking into Mexico. Except for where my grandmother's from. She tiptoed up silent, silent across two borders to Texas. Spices stashed in her sock. In Mexico someone slipped her menudo—and she must have known she'd need that recipe. Because the men in her family. Every uncle, brother, father. They got a lot of hangovers. Her son would too, and her grandson, as though someone cast a spell.

I'm so tired and none of this is how it sounds. Everyone used to seem older than me, now suddenly they don't. Of course no one really lives inside the house beside my bed. But here come the smells nonetheless. Slipping through the mail slot like silk  through a needle. Menudo wilts the potpourri. Here comes her pursed-lipped humming. Quiet as electricity. It sounds like my brother has come home tonight. Speakers flex the window glass. We never know where he's been. I picture him in his car, bass exploding, flying, fighting, dipping across the border and back, fumbling with guns until the sky marbles pink. He sleeps a lot when he comes home. Abuela does not. He collected Batman comic books. He was MS-13. Mara Salvatrucha. He bled out one night in the street.

Tomorrow he will have a hangover, so she rises to stir her vat. She doesn't care about my sleep. I get out of bed and kneel at the foot of the little house. Make sure all the windows are closed, but still the smells seep through the roof. There's a light on in the kitchen. My eyes fill the window above the sink. A little pot simmers on the stove, an enormous pot the size of a thimble. I've seen a whole cow's tongue inside. Hair-thin tendrils of steam rise. Red chopping block in the sink. A scattering of roaches. There's a hall leading out of the kitchen, receding into darkness, and I almost catch sight of someone turning. A leg blurring lightly at the edge of the kitchen's light. A high white sock, a tattooed calf.