Elpidio is ten years old, the youngest of the three siblings and the only male in the household. Estefani is the eldest sibling at age fourteen while the middle child, Melosa, is exactly three hundred sixty-seven days older than Elpidio. They live in a two story colonial style house attached to the corner hardware store off of busy Main Street in suburban Long Island. The family sleeps like canned sardines in the smallest of three bedrooms on a full mattress that rests on the floor. Elpidio’s seasoned, toddler sized pajamas cover his boney flesh. Every evening he struggles to maintain cover underneath the queen sized blanket while laying at the edge of the mattress. Elpidio, the early riser, ritualistically stretches his arms before he goes downstairs. Estefani awakens next and follows her brother. Elpidio positions himself in the center of the living room floor. His eyes fixate to the right corner of the room. “You sure he came over?” Elpidio asks. From the kitchen Estefani replies, “Don’t know, don’t care.” Estefani climbs the kitchen counter to grab a bowl for the Corn Flakes their mother, Ángela, had purchased with the food coupon allowance. “Can you get me a bowl Estefani?” Melosa asks as she rubs her eyes and sits at the table. “Get your own damn bowl.” Elpidio feels a draft and decides he is hungry. “I’ll get you one Melosa; did you save us some flakes?” “Oh look, Elpidio to the rescue, gimme a-” Estefani mutters while she rolls her eyes. She opens the fridge, and then quickly slams it shut. “Get the condensed milk while you’re up there.” “Condensed milk, coming up!” Elpidio’s automatic voice matches his mechanical gestures. Melosa chuckles and Elpidio smiles back, breaking character. The three siblings sit in unmatched chairs that surround the kitchen table. Estefani and Melosa attempt to eat their Corn Flakes but not before Elpidio interrupts. “But we didn’t pray.” “Aye Elpidio, dígame pero you don’t still believe in all those fairy tales do you?” Estefani asks. “But that’s what we do before each meal, that’s what Mamí tells -” “Idiota, did you get a coin for your last tooth that fell off a few months ago?” “But that doesn’t mean the Tooth Fairy is fake.” “Ok, so you believe there’s someone out there collecting teeth?” Elpidio spreads his arms out. Melosa puts down the spoon in her left hand and gently reaches for her brother’s right hand. “Melosa, I expect this crap from him, pero you too?” “Hermana, I’m hungry, déjalo ya.” “Ok, so if you believe in God that means you believe in Hell. If you believe in Hell, that means you believe in the boogeyman and shit. You believe in the boogeyman, Elpidio?” “I guess,” Elpidio answers expressionless. “Good then porque he’s going to eat you both tonight, eh-stupit.” Estefani fights to deny her ethnic roots, but not when she is mad. She works hard in school to be accepted by her lighter classmates. To be of color was to be of lesser in intelligence in suburban Long Island. Shortly after they moved from the city, Estefani was expelled on her first day at her new school. As she walked down the white hallway, a classmate named Jennifer pulled Estafani’s hair and asked why she sounded so stupid when she talked. Estefani broke free and yelled “Puta, I’m not eh-stupit!” before rushing Jennifer. It took two teachers to pull her off the white girl but not before Estefani’s nails disfigured Jennifer’s face. Estefani fears no one, well almost no one, and Elpidio knew that. He is careful to pick his battles with his sisters, but he isn’t afraid to stand for his beliefs. Estefani made a mistake once and struck her brother with his wiffle-ball bat. Ángela’s swift and irrational justice sentenced Estefani’s head to bounce off the floor until the screams silenced. Elpidio stares at his sister and reaches out his left hand to Estefani. She submits and he begins: “En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Dear God, thank you for everything we are about to receive and for everything that you have given us. Please forgive those that do not accept you and those that have failed us. Amén.” “Amén.” Melosa and Estefani grab their spoons and start to eat. “Melosa, do you think he’ll come over?” Elpidio asks. Melosa looks back towards the living room “He didn’t last time.” “It’s so dark. I wish we could have lights.” “So burn a candle,” Estefani responds. “That’s a good idea, when Mami is up I’ll ask.” “What do you need to ask me mijo?” Ángela walks into the kitchen and searches for the traditional stovetop espresso maker. “¡Buenos días Mamí!” the children sing. “Buenos días mi niños.” Ángela ignites the gas stove and puts the stovetop espresso maker atop the burner before she sits down. She takes her son and places him on her lap. “Now, dígame, what did you want to ask me?” “Mami, can we burn a candle so he can see us?” “It’s too late now mijo, the time has passed.” Elpidio looks back at the living room; He fights back the tears. “It’s okay Mamí, he was probably too busy. We will light the candles earlier next time.” Ángela reaches underneath the chair to pull out a box. She places the box on Elpidio’s lap. “Go ahead open it mijo, I spoke to him a few days ago and he told me to make sure you got this.” Elpidio’s eyes brighten the room; the gift renders him speechless. His only response is to hug Ángela. Melosa and Estefani stand next to the stove and rub their hands above the stovetop. The water boils in the stovetop espresso. Once it percolates, Melosa turns the stove off which extinguishes the flame. Copyright© 2016 Francisco Martinezcuello Connect with Francisco via twitter, Francisco Martínezcuello was born in Santo Domingo, República Dominicana and raised in Long Island, New York. He has been writing short stories and journaling since he was a teenager. His passion for literature and writing continued throughout his 20 years of Marine Corps service and helped him understand the impact of war on our nation’s veterans. He is a product of the 2015 Writer’s Guild Foundation Veteran’s Writer’s retreat and the 2015 Veteran’s Summer Writing Intensive at Marlboro College sponsored by Words After War. He is currently working on his first novel and a collection of short stories in San Diego.

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