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“No, she don’t really want me now. You know that old lady, she lived across from me in her apartment, she has lots of cats, see, she has twentyseven of them. And the people come and they say to this woman they’re going to throw her house away and she has got to go. And they take every one of her cats away because there can’t be any cats in these new apartments where they take the lady to. And these new apartments have everything shiny new stoves. New kitchens. Hot water. Bathroom inside of them. But that old lady, she didn’t stay there more than a day. She just went back home.” “Did they come back for her?” “No. She went to find some more cats. She’s living somewhere with them.” Cecilia spends more time in the bathroom than usual. She goes in twice, then another time. I take a nap in the afternoon and when I wake up she is still in the bathroom. I think of the washcloth. I listen through the wall to her movements is she stuffing things of mine down her dressfront? Is she picking slivers of soap out of the garbage can? It is almost nine o’clock when the last shirt is ironed. As she starts to go out the door to my car I stop her. “I want to see what’s in your grocery bag,” I say. She clutches it to her. “Oh no senora.” “Yes I want to see.” I pull the sack from her hands, my teeth clinched suddenly furious. The bag spills between us so that suddenly there are three washcloths and a towel of mine that I recognize on the floor. “Oh senora” she tries to pick them up. I knock them out of her hands. “Now you know that those are mine, Cecilia.” “No they’re not senora.” “You know they are Cecilia!” “No they’re not!” She puts them in the bag, then leaves the whole thing behind her, walks out the door and gets into the car. Mr. Right A little shorter than I would have picked and with a wolfish kind of hair, coarse as his unbuckling snore. The man claimed no pedigree really, just arrived, skim-new, leaning by the door to ask, “Well, weren’t you waiting?” That’s when I suspected something. Civil wild as he was dull he led me to admit this makes the range of feeling one woman can feel and live past fifty. I rock in my rowboat toward that star with him, heavier, dropping at the stern. Part chef, he serves me as he’s able; part cowhand, he trots me out a rein just slack enough for longing. Julia Ardery I get in and drive toward the river. She sits silently staring out of the windshield. Then her head slumps and she starts crying. “Oh senora, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, god will forgive me, please for what I have done.” I stop the car by the curb. She gropes for me above her other grocery bag and her black pocketbook, her fat arms come shivering around me, the smell of fat and incense. “The lord will forgive you,” I say somewhat formally because I myself am still indignant. She sniffles, then she stops crying. “I want to go to my friend’s house,” she says, “turn this way.” She directs me east along the freeway that follows the river. We turn right, then left, down an alley, they left again, and the streets are dark, overgrown with vines, and as we drive Cecilia composes herself. “This woman who is my friend,” she says, “lives with so many birds. She has a parrot in her bedroom, see, and it always sleeps there. And so finally her husband says, ‘I am tired of so much bird caca in my bed!’ And so my friend says, `Well get out of the house then!’ And so he leaves after all that time, but she is very happy because he was always beating her up, so she still sleeps with the parrot and now it is a much happier home.” We pass through a gate and down a driveway through heavy bushes and sounds of clucking and bird calls. “Okay here we are now.” Cecilia gets out on her side. I fight through the bushes and around the car in total shadow which wraps over us at the moment I turn the headlights off. But soon I can feel my eyes grow large and black with adjustment and begin to make out the shapes of boxes and coops piled high on top of each other. Then a dim porch light appears and a small woman comes down the driveway led by three ducks. One she swoops up and holds it flapping against her. “This is my friend Hermina,” Cecilia tells me, “don’t you like her ducks?” I hold out my hand and touch the head of the one peering at me from under her chin no longer flapping. “This one is beautiful.” I turn back to the car, but Cecilia suddenly pushes me to one side into the shadowy bushes and puts her head close to mine so that she can whisper: “I promise you, senora, I promise you on the Bible that I never took anything of yours.” Her face is as large as a house shadowed by leaves, she is so close to me, yet neither of us can see the other’s eyes because it is too dark. Then she lets me go and I slide behind the steering wheel again. There is a whir of wings and her friend’s duck begins to quack as I back the car out of the driveway, then up and down the maze of alleys, lost now in the strange neighborhood without Cecilia’s direction, unable to figure out how I came, my heart loud and fluttering with stolen birds. 24 SEPTEMBER 25, 1987