Character Sketch of Luis Quintero by Sarah Worland

Let Them Eat Cake

Mama and Papa argue in the kitchen. I feel the wind seeping through the tiny holes in the tin walls of our house just as the harsh words crawl under the door into the bedroom. This happens most nights.

There’s not much for us in Zinctown, but there is a steady supply of anger. Papa calls Mama lazy and slow and a typical woman, but all I see Mama do is work constantly and laugh with Estella and me and rub her belly and wipe her mouth after poking her head out the backdoor. Tonight, I saw Mama slip the cake she worked on all day into the cupboard shelves during dinner, and Papa never even looked at it. Who doesn’t look at cake? Who doesn’t try and swipe a finger full of frosting? Sometimes, I do not understand Papa.

It’s Mama’s birthday. Papa forgot. He went out right after dinner instead. Mama cried a bit until she knew Estella and I were watching. Then she smiled, but it felt empty.

I wait until Mama and Estella are asleep, then sneak out from under the blankets and pull on my shoes. My toe pokes out the front, but I’m still the fastest boy in town. Maybe the hole is there because I’m the fastest boy in town. I slip through the door of the taberna and watch Papa and his friends. One of the men must have bought Papa a beer since he told Mama he has no money because of “that damn radio.” He says he hates the radio, but I always hear him singing along.

“Ramon, is that your boy?” Mr. Barnes notices me and waves me over, but I stay where I am until Papa turns his head.

“Luis, what are you doing here, mijo?”

“You forgot?” I question, but Papa’s blank look confirms my suspicion. “You forgot,” I say. “Mama’s birthday.”

Papa wraps his arm around my waist, his face straight. My head levels with his head even though he sits, and I stand. His other arm reaches for his beer, and he drains the rest of the drink. “I did forget, Luis.” Papa sets the empty bottle on the table and looks around at his friends. “Is it too late?”

I walk next to Papa as we make our way to the house, and all of our neighbors walk with us. I stub my exposed toe on a stray rock but don’t let Papa see me wince: I don’t want Papa to think I’m a little boy and send me to bed when we get home. Outside our bedroom window, the crowd gathers, and the ladies begin singing, followed by the men. Mama’s face hovers at the window after a couple of minutes, followed by Estella’s sleepy eyes and crazy hair. Kind words and happiness flood through the walls and over the roof of our home. A smile dances across Mama’s face, and it feels full.

Author: Sarah Worland

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