I Live in Grandma’s Kitchen
I live in Grandma’s kitchen. The walls are the blue and white she painted them a few years ago. The cabinets have the tiny white knobs I reached for when I learned to walk. Through the window above the deep sink, tonight’s overcast sky creeps its way over the setting sun and into the chilled gray room.
While pouring a bag of beans in a pot to boil, and before I grab a jalapeno and cut an onion in half so that I’m just on the verge of tears, I hear Grandma yell from the living room.
Don’t be dumb, you’re making them wrong. Rinse the beans before you boil.
I stop what I’m doing and rinse them or else she’ll make me keep doing this until I do it the right way.
I’m washing the dishes. They’re all perfectly matching, off-white and no chip in sight, except for one plate. It’s brown, bigger than all the rest, and has this sketch of a cottage in winter on the face of it. It’s the only one she will eat off of. It’s covered in the remnants of food that she didn’t end up finishing off with her tortilla. The little cottage’s windows are coated in the marks of beans refried with Manteca. As I rinse off the plate, with the rough side of the small yellow and green sponge, I see the windows open and the snow-covered photo pop amongst the sea of off-white in the silver sink. The dishwasher is full. I bully around the bowls, shift the silverware, and arrange the cups so that I can fit this one last dish in before I pour the detergent and finish off the sink with my pruned fingertips. Scouring for something sweet after dinner, I hear her shout from the pantry.
That’s not how you’re supposed to wash dishes. If you break a plate or my washer, you’re going to pay for it.
I pull out her dish and wash it by hand. It is her favorite.
I fill a bucket with Clorox. I feel the bleach burning the insides of my nose as it swims with the tiny bit of hot water and soap. I push all the kitchen chairs into another room, pick up the mat from the sterile grey linoleum and sweep away the red-brown pine needles I tracked in after school with my boots. The mop slushes around in the suds as it prepares to douse the floors. I roll up my jeans to avoid the splash the little gray braids will make when they hit the floor. I will feel the warm water underneath my now bare feet and move my way from one corner of the kitchen where the cabinets meet the wall, all the way to the tiny forgotten space where the refrigerator just barely misses touching the ivory-colored baseboard. From the TV room, I hear the sounds of her Mexican soaps go silent.
Stop being lazy. Just scrub the floors on your hands and knees.
I listen because I’m tired.
I turn off all the overhead kitchen lights but keep the dim stove-top light on. I rest. The kitchen table is small, tan, and the chairs have no cushions on them. The hard oak starts to hurt if you sit for too long, but it feels better than standing does right now. I sigh and pitter my fingers, reaching for an orange in a basket to squeeze and play with so that I don’t need to think anymore. The hall out of the kitchen is dark, but I can make her figure out, shuffling to bed, dragging her slippers on the dark, plush carpet. With her hands stuffed warmly in her robe, ready for bed, she says.
It was all delicious. Good job, Mijo.
I smile and tell her I love her because… well, because.
Now I’m sitting here, and I finally have nothing to do. The food is all done, the dishes are dry, and the floor is sparkling in the tiny bit of light that’s left in the room. I ask her what to do now, but there’s no response because hospice came and took back their oxygen machine, the shelves of her medicine cabinet are free of pills, and a bottle of Chanel is sitting on her vanity unmoved for four years now. Now all I do is live here in her kitchen and wait for her to yell again.