Below is part of the outcome of my creative stimulants exercise from last time. I did not include the entire story, since it goes on for some time and I wanted to spare the blog the long chunk of text.
After I finished my story, I read the host story, as it were, Julia Alvarez's “Trespass." That story focussed on a child, while mine focussed on an adult who was visiting the American Garcias. My Garcias are Argentinian, a more or less random choice of country. I have some Argentinian relatives, whom I met once when they visited here. The father in that family was a doctor, so I made my father of the family a doctor too. The class differences have an impact on characterization as well as on the plot, such as it is in my story. I noted with interest the sordid turns that both of the stories ended up taking. I don't know why that would be.
I have work to do on this story still. But for what it's worth, here is an excerpt of its first draft.
“The day the Garcías were one American year old, they had a celebration at dinner.” Julia Alvarez, “Trespass”
The oldest García, Jacinta García, was not an American. She was visiting from Argentina. She insisted on cooking, however. She made her version of a true-blue American meal: hot dogs and French fries for her son Diego’s two youngest children; roast beef, mashed potatoes and coleslaw for the adults and the two older children, who were teenagers; and apple pie with tiger tail ice cream for everyone.
None of the children liked the pistachio ice cream. Pablo, the oldest grandchild, said, “Abuela, you should have asked me what kind of ice cream we like.”
Jacinta nodded. A smile twisted her mouth even as an exasperated frown threatened below it. “You’re right, Pablo.” Jacinta was a diabetic and had not eaten ice cream in years, neither American nor Argentinian. “Here I thought ice cream on sale at Sam’s Club was ice cream most people liked.”
“It is,” Diego’s wife Maria said. “Your grandchildren have become picky all of a sudden.”
“You can’t know America from watching telenovelas,” teenaged Brisa said. “You should have asked us.”
Jacinta had waited ten years for this visit to America, and now, with a sweep of her hand, she had alienated her grandchildren from her. Since Diego, Maria and the two oldest had citizenship, she had felt safer coming over. She had heard stories about American immigration not letting their family stay in America if they let an older parent come to visit. In the past they had come to visit her for long periods, often taking advantage of the visit to sort out details of their planned application for citizenship. Once Diego had managed to convince Jacinta to come to America when they were in California but that was because Maria had just had given birth to Ana, and Diego had said that Maria needed help--the pregnancy had tired her out, and she was slow to recover. Maria’s youngest sister Nadia wouldn’t come, so Maria had no one else. Even so, Jacinta had stayed only for three weeks.
Jacinta was grateful for Diego’s courage in visiting Argentina so frequently and ensuring she could keep in touch with Pablo and Brisa. She had wept over her grandchildren the most when Diego moved to the United States. Her first two grandchildren had loved her so much. And now she had ruined this first attempt at showing that she loved them just the way they were, whether they Argentinian or American. Of course the littlest ones had been born in Spokane and so had always been American. They had never known their grandmother as anything other than someone from a foreign country. Jacinta had become like one of the itinerant parents she had been acquainted with through her childhood school friends. So many fathers of her friends lived somewhere else to work or do graduate studies and came to visit their children only once or twice a year. Her best friend Elenora’s father had been one of those men. He lived in Dubai many years. Elenora had told Jacinta that she had never viewed her father as a real father. Elenora’s mother had taken a lover, one of her many, in the meantime and considered him to be her real father.
“What kind of ice cream do you like, then?” Jacinta asked all four children the question. The two oldest waited for the two youngest to answer. Ana, the five-year-old, looked up at her grandmother and opened her mouth. A word Jacinta didn’t understand came out.
“Birthday cake flavour,” Diego translated.
“Ice cream with the flavour of birthday cake? What does that taste like?”
“You know,” Pablo said. “White cake, with sprinkles, and very sweet icing.” Pablo smiled as though he shared Jacinta’s skepticism, but Ana seemed irritated. Nevertheless, she said nothing and neither did Brisa. Jacinta wondered if Ana knew any Spanish. Diego said she did, but she had never heard Ana speak a word of it. She had only heard Ana speak English, and only then when Jacinta was not in the room. Once Jacinta walked in the room, Ana’s eyes narrowed, and she shrunk into a small package of herself.
The littlest one, Connor, just past one year old, didn’t speak at all, except for “Mama” and “Papa.”
Ana said something else, and Diego didn’t translate immediately.
“What did she say?”
Brisa said, “She asked you have any birthday-cake ice cream.”
“Is there a place to get it?” Jacinta asked.
“Oh, no, you don’t, Mama.” Maria shook her head in that exaggerated way she always shook her head, like a nervous horse tossing her head at a strange sound. “The kids don’t need birthday-cake ice cream.”
Brisa wrinkled her nose at Ana. “You can’t even buy that in stores,” she said. “You can only get that in ice-cream shops.” She spoke in Spanish, as though she expected Ana to understand her. Ana frowned as though she had understood perfectly.
Baby Connor picked up a piece of cut-up hot dog and pushed it cautiously into the scoop of ice cream in his plastic dish.
“That won’t help, Connor,” Ana said in English.
Later, while Jacinta, Maria and Diego were doing the dishes, Jacinta wanted to have a smoke. With Diego around, however, she didn’t dare bring up the subject. One thing she had liked about Diego not being home in Argentina was that she could smoke whenever she wanted to. Ever since Diego started medical school she had not been able to smoke around him. She had even quit smoking for his sake. Once he had moved to California for his residency, he had left her, yes, and taken his family with him, but he had also taken with him a barrier to one of his mother’s great pleasures. She restarted her smoking only one week after he left. Now in his permanent job in Spokane, he had not changed his ways, and he had his eye on her. “I hope you aren’t smoking again, Mama,” he said when they were driving from the airport to his home.
“Not inside the house, of course!”