by Adrianna Zapata

Sitting at the bench under her window sill, Luz Rivera could make out the entirety of her street. The road separating the two lanes of houses is narrow, making it so nobody was able to park on either side. Luz could see down into her neighbor, Doña Maria’s yard. Her roses are wilting over, and still she sees the little lady hobble out there at 8 am every morning to tend to them. She had woken up to Maria’s singing every morning while she’s was in her garden, ever since the old woman read somewhere that singing helps them grow.

Even now the old woman just sat there on the porch of her salmon colored house, her bible sitting on her lap. Her rocking chair that her husband Oscar had built for her a year before he passed still sat there in the same position ten years later. Luz could see the steady movement of the wooden rocker that was famous for putting Maria to sleep under it. Sometimes people passing by would have to wake her up, reminding her to go back inside before it got too dark, or too cold.

As if she felt the eyes of Luz on her, Maria looked up into the window catching her eye. Her face crinkles up into a smile, all the little wrinkles around her eyes and mouth banding together as she beckons towards Luz to come down. Ever since losing her own grandparents during an earthquake in Mexico, Maria had always tried to fill in for both their roles.

Luz smiles back and waves, putting up her hand to signal that she was on her way. Slipping on a pair of moccasins, she makes her way out of her house on to the steps of Maria’s front porch.

“Is this what it has come to, Luzcinda? Looking for you in the screens of windows to get you to come talk to me?” Maria says, her face feigning a look of hurt as she playfully guilted Luz.

“Doña Maria! I see you every day practically.” Luz say’s while coming up the stairs to plant a kiss on her cheek. Maria laughs, and smacks her arm away.

“Not enough if you ask me.”  She motions to the bench across from her for Luz to sit in.  Taking a seat, she stretches out her legs letting out a small yawn.

“You’re still tired? Its noon! I swear, your generation has no energy for anything, all those GMO things they put in the food thing…” Luz listened to her trail off onto a tangent on what was wrong with her generation. After a few minutes, they drifted off to a comfortable silence.

“I still miss him” Maria says sometime later, her eyes glazed over with that faraway look Luz recognized from her mom when she got the call that her parents had passed.  
“Oscar, ten years still feel like yesterday. I sit here some mornings and realize how old I am” Maria chuckles before continuing,” With no chickens to keep me company.”

“ I never knew you wanted kids.” Luz says, lifting up her legs from the floor to meet her chest while she sat on the bench.

“Me? No. I never wanted kids, I met Oscar when I was 16. I had just come to America from Guatemala and had to leave all my family behind. I lived in a convent, lots of girl immigrants choose to when they came here on their own back then. It was nice, all the girls would go out dancing at night, one night I met Oscar” At the mention of his name her face lit up.

“Was it love at first sight?” Luz asks.

“Maybe for him! I was quite the catch back then. I wasn’t trusting of men then. Leaving Guatemala my mother told me to be careful of men and their intentions in the states. Oscar had come to me that night on the patio, and tried to get me to dance to every song. I said no each and every time.” She says.

“Maria! Your terrible!” Luz says smiling at the sassy old woman.

“How? I didn’t owe him a dance. But after that nights failed attempt, he came back every night for a week until I showed back up again. He walked up to me, and said he’d been waiting for his dance.” She sighed, “I had started to say my usual answer but instead I was interrupted. ‘Is It that you can’t dance?’ he asked me innocently, but he knew what he was doing. I danced with him to five songs that night just to prove to him out of spite. I guess I knew then that I would love him, I just never gave him the satisfaction of knowing it was that soon”

“Guess they don’t make men like Oscar anymore”

“Not frequently, princessa “Maria replies, shaking her head, “but to answer your question, once me and Oscar were married 2 years later, we had no means for kids. We both worked 60 hour weeks, sometimes we only saw each other for 15 minutes on a lunch break. We didn’t have the time for kids. At 26 we saved enough for this house, and I was so happy, even if our parents saw it as selfish to not want a family yet.  We were finally stable that I wanted to enjoy it. He asked for kids, and I pushed it off, and off until finally when we tried it was too late.”

“I’m so sorry Maria, that’s terrible.” Luz grabs Maria’s hand, and rubs it to comfort her.
“No sense in crying over the mistakes of the past. Just learn from mine.”
“First I’d need to find a man who’s going to actually stick around” Luz replies
“You and Jorge? No more? What happened?” Maria gasps dramatically, in the way that only Latina women can and holds her chest.
“After he moved for his job, it’s like pulling teeth to even get a call out of him. I feel like I’m nagging him for attention” Luz huffs out in annoyance.
“Is he worth all of this anger?” Maria asks.
“I thought I loved him, but even if I did his lack of effort to see me clearly shows he never loved me.” Luz answers after thinking over Maria’s question.
“Well, to hell with him! You’re young, nothing’s keeping you tethered to this man. Let him see what he lost.” Maria says her whole body becoming rigid with the indignation that someone would turn down her Luzcinda.
“Great advice Maria” Luz say’s getting up from her seat, “I’ve got to get going, I have some company coming over. Bendicion.”
“Que dios te bendiga, mi nieta” Maria says, waving goodbye as Luz leaves her behind in a trail of bright yellow rose bushes.

Back in her room, Luz looks up at cross hanging above her bed. Its wooden, with each tiny feature of Jesus carved in from the slope of his nose, down to the nails in his feet. She’s had it above her bed ever since she was five, and she could remember how much it always frightened her. The wood had made the cross appear dark, and foreboding, she didn’t understand at the age of five why people took comfort in the image of this poor man nailed to a cross, his features distorted in pain.

Growing up in that Catholic church Luz had known nothing but rules. She was baptized at six months, had her first communion at seven years old, and was confirmed at 14. By 15 she had become a Sunday school teacher, and she taught to six- and seven-year old’s of her congregation words that she never had once questioned.

It wasn’t until she had gone off to college and met Jorge that Luz began to realize how sheltered she really was. Even her schedule of school, home, and mass every other night was decided by someone else. It didn’t bother her until she began to question the severity she would see enforced upon other people in her congregation. She never dated in high school because a boyfriend in your teens at her parish would cause people to talk, and eventually that talk would get back to her family. Her friend Katia, who had come out as gay earlier that year was all but banished from ever returning to mass with all the insults and name calling she had to endure once the church figured out the blonde headed girl Katia was always with, was her girlfriend and not her “amigita”. Luz began to dread going to church, and the fake holier than thou persona’s put on by its congregants. But what she began to hate most of all was her silent acceptance of it by continuing to go.

Jorge had met Luz almost two years ago through a mutual friend, Jina. Luz was sitting on the rug of her friend’s dorm room working on her essay for class when there was a knock on the door. Her boyfriend was at the door, Luz had met him a few times before and he was always nice enough. But to his left was a guy she hadn’t met before, she remembers thinking that his hair was the same color as the coffee grounds she cleaned out of her machine that morning, but his skin tone looked more like milk than the toffee of hers. She smiled at him and waved awkwardly as Jina gave her boyfriend a long kiss.

“God. Sorry, Luz this is Jorge. I forgot to mention that they were passing by, you don’t mind right?” Jina asked after pulling away from Antonio. It’s a little too late now either way, Jina Izza thought to herself.

“Nope! Cool with me, I should probably-“ Izza began when Jina laughed and interrupted.
“Probably be getting home?” turning to the boys Jina goes on to say, “Her parents still have her on curfew.”
Usually Luz would shrug off her friends condescending tone and head home, but after her question Jorge had let out a breath that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh. It bugged Luz so much because she could tell that he thought she was a child. So she did something out of the ordinary and stood her ground.
“I was going to say I should probably move over to make some room” Lies, “And I don’t have a curfew” Which wasn’t completely a lie, her parents never said be home by 9, but she never was not home by that time just the same.

Jina raised an eyebrow, “Oh okay, I must have confused you with another Luzcinda”

Ignoring the last comment, Izza flips open her phone and opens and closes apps in an effort to look busy. She is successful for about a minute until her phone is plucked from her fingertips.

“Romans 8:18. Interesting.” Jorge says looking at the wallpaper of her phone.
“It’s a bible verse.” She says irritated, holding out her hand for her phone.
“I know what it is.” He says rolling his eyes, “I didn’t realize Jina was friends with people like you”
“What’s wrong with reading the bible?” Luz asks in a dry tone, already anticipating his answer.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, to each their own. It was just unexpected.” Jorge leans against the doorframe and doesn’t offer any other elaborations.
“And what was that? “ Luz began to ask before Jina cuts in.

“Hey, hey. Guys, actually I think Antonio and I are going to head to Sonic. You mind rescheduling this get together another time?” Jina asks in a pointed tone, she was probably worried that the impending argument would somehow effect Antonio and her.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” Luz picks up her bag and hugs Jina goodbye before waving to Jorge and Antonio briefly on her way out. Still angry about Jorge’s assumptions, Luz powerwalks over to the bus stop, and plants herself underneath the plastic enclosure that landmarks the stop. Tapping her foot quickly against the pavement as she waits, she looks up and notices that Jorge is also walking towards the same bus stop she’s at. She tries to feign disinterest and inserts both earbuds into her ears as he gets closer in an effort to deter any possible conversation. This would not work.

“I’m sorry if I offended you back there.” Talk about unexpected.
“It’s ok, to each his own. Right?” She smiles at him tightlipped before very obviously raising the volume on her phone as they wait in silence for the bus.
She feels a tap on her shoulder.
“Maybe we can talk over some pizza and beer?” He asks.
“I don’t drink”
“Well, then just pizza?” He smiles at her like she was in on some private joke, and despite herself she laughs.
“You’re paying”

That bus ride that night to Lomberto’s Pizza Place was only 15 minutes long. But the conversation they would have that night over pizza would go on for hours, until Lou the owner had to close and ask them to leave. They talked about religion, books and politics. They disagreed on most of it, but what Luz could say for a fact was that this was the night it all changed.

Today, Luz’s eyes go to the window where she can see Katia and Reina walking towards Luz’s house. Their faces are both serious and she can see even from that far up on her windows bench, that they too are stressed out. Katia’s face sporting the dimple on her lower cheek that comes along with her frown when her mind is turning. And Reina’s hands fidget with the strings hanging off her backpack picking at the frays making her already beat up bag look ancient.

Getting up from her seat, Luz walks over to the door and as her hand rests on its doorknob, she hesitates. She realizes that once her two friends walk into her room, and they hand her that test, everything could be changed. She hears the padded footsteps coming up the stairs to her room on the second floor, her mother must have opened the door for Katia and Reina.

Swinging open the door finally, with a smile that didn’t quite reach both ends of her eyes, Luz tries to keep her inner chaos at bay.

“Hey, you guys got here quickly, I already set up the flashcards for biology on my desk.” Luz says loudly, hoping that it does the job of concealing their true intentions from her nosy mother.

“Bio? I thought you needed too-” Reina started before she felt the sharp jab of Katia’s ballerina elbow on her side.
“Yes Bio. History is next week.” Katia finishes, saving the day from their otherwise clueless friend.
Closing their door on the ears of her mother, Luz walks over to her bed before sitting down on its edge with her head in her hands. She begins tugging at the roots of her hair when Katia goes over to her, her hands rubbing circles in the center of her back like their mothers did for them when they were sick .

“We got Clearblue, it looked promising.” Reina jokes, breaking her silence from the corner of the room. She walks over to the girl sitting on her bed. Out from her bag comes the red logo of CVS, through its translucent plastic Luz can make out the white and blue box holding the stick she was about to pee on.

“Do it quick, rip the band aid off.” Katia says after a while, when it’s become clear that her friend must have taken a trip to carajo land.

“Yeah like a band aid.” Luz tries to chuckle after it, but even to her ears the sound falls flat. Shoving the test under the sleeve of her test she opens the door, before making her way to the bathroom in the middle of the hall. Once she’s inside the bathroom, her back slides down the side of the door before her legs make contact with the cold tile of her floor.

After a minute she gets up, and goes into autopilot, sticking the short stick between her legs for its allotted 10 seconds. She wonders briefly if she can even pee for 10 seconds consecutively, but she does. As she sets the stick on the bathroom sink, her mind travels back to a year ago, when everything between Jorge and her was still good.

A year ago, Luz was still a virgin. She told herself she was still saving sex for marriage, a little present all wrapped up inside of her to give to a future husband. A year ago, Luz still believed in falling in love, with someone who valued her family. Someone who would play with her little brother Miguel, take him out to the park on sunny days. A man her Mother would call mijo, and brag about to the other Señoras at service.

When Luz first met Jorge, she thought she had found someone that hit all the marks. He didn’t go to church, she wanted to be around someone whose thoughts were different that those that surrounded her. She was thrilled by the fact that this intelligent man seemed to have taken an interest in her. At 25, he seemed to know so much more than she, the four years he had on her seemed to make a world of difference. He wanted to teach it all to her, he would say , while looking into her eyes in a way that started a trend of fluttering butterflies in her belly. His voice woke up parts of her that Luz wasn’t aware that she had.

Luz believed that she had found the one, her “in sickness and in health”. After 10 months of dating, she was already head over heels in love with Jorge Hernandez. So, after a night of movies and dinner, as Jorge pulled onto the curb by her house, she asked him to keep driving. That drive ended a city over, at the entrance of his home. They made their way into the home, only pausing at the wooden door of his room.

“Do you know what this means?” he asked.

Her answer seemed to be a kiss that continued through the loss of clothing, and a entwined limbs on a king-sized bed, that before today was never seen by Luz.

Luz thought the day after losing her virginity to him, that this was it. Jorge was going to purpose to her one day, maybe after college at her graduation like in all the videos online. It would be romantic, her family would be proud, and she’d have the life she’d always imagined she’d had.

But instead, she would meet Jorge at Montecristo, the Mexican restaurant they would frequent on weekends. And when he grabbed her hand and opened his mouth to speak, Luz expected to hear, “I love you” or “You look beautiful” or even, “What do you want to eat?”.

Instead he opened his mouth to say, “I got a job!”

“Oh my god! Amazing! I told you this was going to happen. ” Luz said excitedly, her eyes already seeing the lunch dates they would take at the coffee house down the street from the large skyscraper Jorge would be working at.

After taking a sip of the wine he held in his hand he replied, “ It’s in San Franciso! Can you believe it? I’m going to make the next fucking Golden Gate bridge Luz”. Jorge looked across the table into her eyes and smiled so wide it almost made her not feel anxiety starting in her toes.

What could Luz do but smile, kiss him and tell him congrats. This is what Jorge had been working towards since he graduated college, how could she not support him? As she ate her food, Jorge continued to make promises of weekly visits, and a future from them both. He talked so animatedly that even she almost believed him.

Now, Luz is toying with the silver pendant of Jesus on resting on her chest while sitting on the toilet, waiting for a pregnancy test that will show two pink lines. She started a timer on her phone for 3 minutes, watching the time slowly tick off from her phone until the numbers begin to blur from the tears in her eyes.

Luz thought to herself, how can I possibly be in this situation right now? How could I have thought this man would stay with me when he moved to San Francisco. He tried at first, giving her calls every day, sending pictures of himself in front of beautiful backgrounds. But quickly, he seemed to fall off the face of the earth. Was that night not as special for him as it was for her? Did she imagine what was special between them?

She knew deep down that she wanted this baby. She tried not to want it, but her dreams at night were filled with the faces of angelic baby girls and boys with curls like their father, and almond eyes like her own. She knew enough not to think a baby would make a man stay, but maybe it would be enough to have this piece of him.

Luz is startled out of her thoughts by the sound of bells coming from her phone. She sees the timer blink back 00:00. Forcing a breath out of her lungs, Luz picks up the test she had set on the sink beside her.

She sees one line but doesn’t feel any better.

About the Author:

Adrianna Zapata is a Creative Writing major studying at Salem State, she will be graduating in the spring of 2019. Her story, “Luzcinda” is inspired both by experiences as a Latina woman, and love.