www.ambiente.us  JUNE / JUNIO 2008

Excerpt from Miami's just released Cuban Novel, Down to the Bone,
written by moi, Mayra Lazara Dole.
Enjoy!


Stinkin' Liar
Beep-beep-beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!
Beep-beepbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!


I hop out of the hammock, place the bowl with my
banana-oatmeal-nut breakfast on the ground, and
run like a madwoman to Mami's new, glue-scented
green Jaguar, leaving Chispita in the fenced-in
backyard.

"Mami!" I lean into the driver's seat and kiss her
cheek. She hugs my face hard to hers and kisses it
many, many times. She smells familiar, like home.
Tears stream down our faces. I look away, trying not
to show too much emotion.

"I couldn't wait to see you and came early to pick
you up. Lets go." She wipes her tears with the back
of her hand.

"Get out a minute; there's no one home. I want her
to see how I live."

"Your neighbor," she says, still sitting inside the car,
"the one that looks like a criminal, with the Santa Barbara tattoo, was eyeing my Rolex. I took it off and stuck
it in my purse."

"Babalao Carasco is a nice guy, Mami." I roll my eyes.

Babalao Carasco is a santero. Although he's a cool neighbor, he kills poor, innocent roosters and goats to
sacrifice them to the orishas when cleansing people of their ailments.

Mami continues to complain. "Only you, Laura Sofia Lorena, would choose to live in a Marielito
barrio. Fidel,
el hijo de puta, opened the doors to jailed criminals and they all moved here."

I love this barrio, close to my old barrio. And besides, it's not like I had a huge choice of places to go when
she kicked me to the curb. But I don't say a peep.

I swing open the front door and Mami bolts through it, speaking
factoria Spanish. Words fly around at ten
miles a minute as she rearranges our furniture. "
This chair doesn't match this wall." She shoves the
kitchenette table away from the middle of the dining area and closer to the wall. She takes down my two
framed paintings of the Cuban mountainside. "
Ay, I don't know why you paint la jungla cubana when you
can fill your walls with colorful art. All this brown and green will make you depressed."

" I
like brown and green, Mami." I walk behind her, trying to grab my framed paintings from her. She darts
and shoves me aside with her super-duper BIG beach ball butt.

She hangs my Cuba paintings in our bathroom, over the toilet bowl, on two of the four lined-up empty towel
hooks.

"Want some yogurt?" I ask in an attempt to get her to calm down.

"¿
Estás loca? I weigh one hundred and ninety-nine pounds. I'm going on a caldo diet until I lose fifty
pounds."

"Mami, you're forty-nine! You can't live on broth."

"Forty-five! And if
that doesn't work, I'm going to have to start eating air to lose weight."

I laugh and stuff a spoonful of yogurt in my mouth. "Eat more veggies." In some ways I"m glad it"s the same
old Mami in front of me. She"s hilarious and tons of fun, except for her homophobic stuff. If I could just peel
off the homophobia, she"d be the
flyest mom in the universe to chill with.

"Vegetables give me a hernia."

"Veggies have nothing to do with a hernia, Mami." She continues to move things around as if it were her
own home and as if nothing terrible had ever come between us.

"Your grandfather died of diverticulosis. I can't eat tomatoes or lettuce or anything with skin on it. I inherited
that illness."

"Right, Mami." I raise my eyes to the ceiling.

"I just got my cholesterol checked, and it's a perfect two hundred and fifty without my ever having eaten a
single vegetable."

"Two hundred and fifty!" I cough up a storm, and I nearly choke.

Ave María Purisima! Laura! That's normal for a forty-two-year-old, my doctor told me."

"A minute ago you were forty-five.
What doctor?"

"Dr. Benítez."

"Mami, Dr. Benitez is three hundred years old!"

"He was the greatest doctor in Cuba. All my friends go to him. He's giving me a face-lift."

"A
face-lift? Him? Mami, por favor, don't get a face-lift from him. By now he can't even hold his ding-dong to
pee."

“Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. My friend Sylvina just got a face-lift from him and now she looks
exactly like a twenty-something Liz Taylor."

"Oh, my God, Mami! That's terrible. She used to look like a young J-Lo." I wash the empty yogurt container
and throw it in the recycle bin, then sit on top of the kitchen table, swinging my legs. She throws herself on
the couch and, pooooooof, the air slowly comes out of it. "When's the operation?"

"
El mes que viene. When I get back from Europe."

"
Next month?" My stomach does cartwheels.

"
Ay, Laura Sofia Lorena, you worry about everything. You're too sensitive, just like Papi was."

"Mami, nurses have to tie you up with ropes when they give you shots. I can't believe you're going to let
someone give you a face-lift. Your face is beautiful."

And it's true. Mami has gorgeous, thick, slanted, dark eyebrows and large almond-shaped eyes with long
lashes. Her teeth are whiter than white and straight. She's got a killer smile with two dimples. She could be
a face model for soaps, creams, and toothpastes.

"When you get to be forty and you start sagging, you'll tell me a different story."

"So, who do you want to look like?" I'm intrigued.

"An extremely young Sofia Loren." She pats her face with both hands. "I named you after her, you know, my
favorite movie star." Then she weirds me out even more. "I've been on a high-sugar diet. Sugar eliminates
wrinkles."

"
What?"

"Laura Sofia Lorena. Your body needs sugar or you go into a coma."

"That's wacked! Where'd you get
that from, Hola magazine? Mami, won't you ever listen to me and eat
some veggies?"

"m your mother.
You have to listen to me!"

Loud, bouncy music sweeps into the duplex through the open windows. She stands abruptly and looks out
into the backyard.

Our neighbor Maribel is dancing around to salsa music, getting her high heels stuck in the earth as she
hangs clothes on the line and fastens them with clothespins. Her parrot, Chuchito, is flying around the
backyard, squawking, "¡
Ay, Miguel! ¡Miguel!"

Miguel's friends are standing around him, drinking beer and barbecuing. They laugh their heads off. "
Oye,
Chuchitoâ's been listening to you and Maribel doing the
fuiqui-fuiqui, eh?"

Mami pulls me by the arm. "What a
barrio! Ay. To think I used to live like this. Come on! Let's go to my new
house. Pedri is home, and Osvaldo and his sister are in the pool."
"First take me to buy Pedri some toys. I promised him.'

"Later! We'll all go together. That way he can choose what he wants."

We climb into her shiny car; and in a heartbeat we're in Mami's fancy new two-story house in Coconut Grove.

After Pedri shows me all his new toys, I slide a bathing suit on him and off he goes to the pool. Mami gives
me a tour around the spacious, all-white house; then she starts packing for her trip.

I open the sliding glass doors. An early September storm zoomed in this morning and cleared the bumpy
black sky of clouds. I take a whiff of the salty, green, and flowery smells, and I almost feel whole again. I
look toward the canal to check for the manatees that Pedri says look like cuddly baby elephants from afar. I
can't wait to go down there and see them up close. Pedri said one almost got hurt by a motorboat
yesterday. People just don't care.

The manatees are nowhere in sight.

I walk into the huge kitchen, done all in white tile and stainless steel. Mami sticks her head inside the
refrigerator and picks at leftover flan. With my thumb and index fingers, I flick her big bootie two times, really
fast. “Flan is excellent for losing weight, Mami." She lets out a cool laugh that permeates the house. It
fills me with happiness that she's back to laughing with me.

We climb up the winding marble staircase, go out to the second-floor balcony, and sit on rockers facing the
bay. Warm, mild breezes gently sway the Alexandra palms.

Without warning, flashes of Gisela's face fill my mind. I shut my eyes and push my thoughts away to a place
from which I hope they never resurface.

I look downstairs and hear a loud
splooshoosh as Pedri dives into the Olympic-sized pool. I wave to him. â
€œSupercool dive, Little Punk!"My heart feels full again.

He waves back. "Laury, I did it!" He blows me kisses, and I give him a thumbs-up. He's chillin' with Zenaida,
Osvaldo's cute and round-as-a truck-tire sister. She doesn't take her eyes off Pedri for one second. Even
though she’s not old at all, she looks like a funny old lady in her flowered, one-piece bathing suit and
green rubber shower cap.

Mami's husband Osvaldo is tall, blondish, and well built" He's sitting on the pool steps with his hairy white
legs halfway in the water, having a drink. I can tell that he loves Mami and Pedri a lot, and I'm superpsyched
about that.

I sit on Mami's lap, kiss her cheek, and press my cheek against hers. She kisses me back."Ay, Laura Sofia
Lorena." Just as I think she's going to be sweet and affectionate, like she used to be before the Incident,
she says, "You've put me through such hell. Every day I prayed that you'd call to tell me you'd changed and
to let me know who the degenerate girl was. But you didn't. You protected her and loved her more than your
own family."

I have an instant, gut-wrenching reaction, as if a horse kicked me in the stomach. I quickly sit back on my
rocker.

We rock for a little while in silence. I wish I could tell her about the deep love I shared with Marlena and the
pain I felt after our breakup.

I wish I could talk about everything
I've been through and everything she put me through, but that would
make things worse. Isn't that what mothers are supposed to be for - for talking about important things? But
since she thinks I'm at fault and I can't talk to her about my life, I change the subject before she becomes
enraged; I talk about Osvaldo.

"Do you love him?"

She glances up but avoids eye contact. "
Of course I love him. I would never marry a man I didn't love. You
know, when Papi died and left us without a penny, I took on three jobs, sewing coats in
factorías for rich
gringos. For years I didn't have a life. I will never forget your papi. But now I'm starting to live and love again."

I want to make her laugh. She always gets sad when she talks about the past.

“Remember when I was little? One day you told me, "Laurita Sofia Lorena, you have a cold. If you put
one foot on the porch, you're going to get it. "But I did it anyway." Mami laughs up a storm, remembering. â
€œYou ran after me. I kept screaming, "Mami, I didn't put a
foot on the porch, just a toe!"

"You've always had a strong personality, Laura" She chews the inside of her cheeks.

"I wonder who I inherited it from," I tease.

"
Definitely not me!" She smiles, and her eyes glow. “Ask my friends; they'll tell you I'm suave y dulce."

“If your friends think
you're soft and sweet, they're totally on drugs."

She lets out a big, colorful laugh, like the splashes of waves Pedri makes when he dives into the pool. I
love it when Mami laughs; it makes me feel that maybe she still loves me.

Ave Maria!" She points to a neighbor tanning in her backyard in a bikini. "Skin and bones. And you”she
pinches my stomach"you're slender because you came out like Papi's side of the family."

Mami yacks about how fashionable I look in my red stretch shorts and matching top. She talks about
everything except real stuff. She can't handle anything deep. She starts yapping about buying this and that
so she can keep decorating the new house. The only thing I'd buy if I could would be understanding. I'd take
it by the hand and bring it right here and sit it next to Mami.

She changes the subject from buying things to me.

"You have the figure of a professional dancer or a model, but you chose a man's job"planting trees.
Ay,
Laura Sofia Lorena. If I had known you were going to turn out this way."

She searches her dress pocket for diet watermelon bubble gum, unwraps two pieces, throws me one, and
sticks one in her mouth.

I chew fast, blow bubbles, and smack them shut inside my mouth.

She looks down at her long, freshly painted fuchsia fingernails. I almost blurt out something about
Francisco, but it seems neither of us wants to bring up the topic. Maybe she's scared of what I'll say.

I play with the tips of my hair.

She stands abruptly."
¡Ay, madre mia! I forgot that while I was cleaning out my closet before moving, I found
a coat I used to use when I was skinny."

"And when was
that, Mami Pastrami with the big culiwami? When you were in Abuelita’s womb?"

Tu madre!" She laughs her head off as she wiggles her middle finger in the air. I kiss both her cheeks,
and she kisses mine back. What a great feeling to have Mami goofing with me again. My smile barely fits in
my face.

We walk downstairs and step onto white marble floors into the colossal living room. Mami rushes into her
bedroom. I look around me. One wall is filled with wall-to-wall mirrors. On the rest of the stark white walls
hang expensive, colorful modern paintings with detailed, thick golden frames. There's a white shag rug
under an antique coffee table. In every corner there are tall, green, exotic plants.

I plop down on the plastic-covered peach velvet love seat. In a heartbeat she's back, carrying a bulky coat,
which she tries to force me to try on.

"Winters are getting colder in Miami. Last year it went down to thirty degrees. You
have to be prepared."

"That coat's for Alaska. Not now, Mami. Later."

"
¡Ave María! You were born with your hand up in the air, saying,"Wait a minute!"

"I'm not going to try this coat on now; it's one hundred degrees out! Later. I promise."

She plunks on the love seat, grabs my hand, pulls me to her, takes a container of pins out of her purse, and
lifts up the coat. "Remember when Papi bought it for me in New York?"

I remember clearly. Mami, Pedri, and I used to hop on a train every summer to visit Papi when he worked
as a horse groom in New Jersey at Monmouth Park racetrack.

Mami and I have trouble talking about Papi without breaking down, but we try.

"Of
course I remember this coat." I hold it in my arms, bury my face in it, and inhale all the memories of
Papi. I couldn't have had a better father. There was no dad in the world as sweet and kind as mine.

I try on the coat, and it's a bit large on the sides. Mami has me stand in front of her, with my arms spread
out. She sticks pins all the way from under the arms to the hem. I feel a need to blurt out something about
Francisco, to jump-start the conversation, to get it out of the way, but I can't.

Even though the central air is on, beads of sweat drip down my eyebrows. The thick, fuzzy black coat is
making me itchy, but I don't take it off. I need it on me. I need the memories of Papi's love around me. If Papi
were still alive, I bet I could talk to him about everything.

Mami's eyes are watery. "Papi was so good to me and to all of you. Remember when he used to carry you,
and lift you up in the air, and sing, "
¡La chiquitica más linda del mundo!"

Mami tries hard not to cry when she says Papi's words." The prettiest little girl in the world!" but tears
stream down her face anyway.

I feel as if I've swallowed a baseball and it got stuck in my throat. Everything I've lost flashes in front of my
eyes: Papi, Marlena, my reputation, Mami, my friends, my school, my old
barrio.

I want to console Mami, but instead I ask her if she has ice cream.

"There's
mamey ice cream in the freezer."

"Want some?" It's my best effort at making her feel good, even though I’m adding to the expansion of
her two-ton bootie.

"Si"

I take off the coat carefully and give it to her. I scoop the ice cream into two white porcelain bowls and hand
her one. I plunk down next to her on the love seat, hoping we can slowly build a bond of closeness and love
again. I just have to be perfect and try not to ever upset her or say anything about my
real feelings.

She devours her ice cream, scrapes the last drop from the bowl, and licks the spoon. "Ahhh, I'm going to
open a can of chicken broth and heat it up for dinner. I can't keep eating like this." She goes to the sink and
washes our bowls.

I bite my nails, thinking that soon one of us will need to bring up the conversation about me being
completely changed and in love with Francisco. I'm scared of Mami's reactions. We're getting along so well,
I don't want to spoil anything.

Mami comes back. We talk about what color she wants me to paint a fruit tree mural on one of the walls in
her bathroom. "Pastel yellow and salmon," I say.

"¡Que horrible! That's the color of monkey shit and diarrhea. Neon orange is the "in" color. You have to paint
the fruits bright orange, with many hanging
mandarinas."


I agree, just because I'm about to explode. I can't keep it in any longer. Without thinking I blurt, "I'm trying to
fall in love with Francisco, Mami."

Her mouth drops open and her eyes widen. "Trying? You mean you
haven't changed?"


"No. No. That's not what I meant at all." My heart is pounding hard. I look out the glass doors toward Pedri
and then back into her eyes.

She arches her eyebrows. "Then what
did you mean?"She breathes fast and heavy. "You've been with him
five months. You're either
in love with him or not, but trying isn't good enough. Which one is it?" Without
giving me a chance to speak, she says, "Tell me
once and for all if you've really changed or not."

"Of course, Mami. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't."I should have known better. What an idiot I am to not have
worded things perfectly to her satisfaction. One more slip and I'm a goner. Things were going so great. I'm
stupid, stupid, stupid!

"So what did you mean about
trying to fall in love with him?" She doesn't get off the friggin' subject.

"What I mean is that I'm
falling in love with him." I say plastic, stupid things I know she'd love to hear. "You
should see him, Mami; he' six feet five inches. One whole foot taller than me. He's so gorgeous in a skinny,
model type way. His muscles pop out all over the place. He's kind of like a thin, strong, young Tarzan. You'll
love him."

Mami doesn't give two cucumbers if a guy has a brain. She just cares about me being with a guy and that
he's macho and good-looking so our kids will be gorgeous. She still hasn't asked me a thing about my life.
She wouldn't even care that I dropped out of school as long as I'm on the "decent" road to getting married
and having kids.

She smiles big. "Oh, well, then, that's fantastic, Laura. He sounds like a hunk who just needs a little
fattening up. Don't you worry about that. Bring him here for dinner every night after we get back from Europe,
and soon he'll have pecs to die for." Her smile fades away.  "I'm sorry to tell you that I can't have you back
until I'm absolutely sure you've changed. I can't go through the pain and humiliation you put me through
again, especially not in front of Osvaldo. He can never find out."

My heart drops in my chest. I look to Pedri and wonder how he'll take the bad news.
Mami keeps on. "I told everyone you're living at the house of a friend whose mother is really sick. I said you
take care of her every day after school, for pay. Our family, friends, and new neighbors all think you're very
responsible. Don't you
dare tell them otherwise."

I stay quiet.

"Right now your feelings for Francisco are iffy. While living here you can't go back to immoral behavior."She
repeats, "The day you move here is the day you're
absolutely sure you're in love with a boy." She shakes her
head. "Tell me more about Francisco."

I stay far away from my feelings of hurt and disappointment in order to not get her riled. I talk about
Francisco, how I met him at a disco, and how he has a few acne scars that I think makes his features
interesting in a rugged, macho way. All the stuff she wants to hear. I leave out that the disco was Papaya's
and that whenever Francisco kisses me, I think about Gisela. She obviously wants a stinkin' liar for a
daughter. And that's what she's getting. A big, fat, stinkin' liar!


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------











ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Mayra Lazara Dole was Born in Havana and raised in Miami.  Her Award Commended Title, Down to the
Bone (Harper Collins), received a Starred ALA Booklist review, was submitted to The National Book
Awards, nominated for ALA Best Books for YA 2009 and made the following lists: Booklist’s Top Ten
Novels, ALA Rainbow List and CCBC Top Choices.  Her first magical realism piece, Inside the Inside, will
be published in the anthology, CORNERED (July, 2012), and Run for your Life! in Scholastic’s anthology:
The Letter Q (May, 2012).  Also, Down to the Bone will be released as an updated, expanded, revised
second edition (June 18, 2012).  Dole's essays, articles, Cuban dialect poems and short stories have been
published by Hunger Mountain: Vermont College Fine Arts Journal of the Arts (http://www.hungermtn.
org/authentic-latino-voices/),Cipher Journal: A Journal of Literary Translation, Palabra: A magazine of
Chicano and Latino literary Art, and other paper and online magazines.  Her bilingual picture books, Drum,
Chavi, Drum!/¡Toca Chavi, Toca! and Birthday in the Barrio/Cumpleaños en el Barrio were critically
acclaimed.


Note: For Mayra Lazara Dole's more serious columns, click here:

Flawless Machos & Dominatrix Fembos: Trans-Forming Homophobia

The "N" Word

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