Today's Reading





The old aunts lounge in the white wicker armchairs, flipping open their fans, snapping them shut. Except that more of them are dressed in the greys and blacks of widowhood, the aunts seem little changed since five years ago when Yolanda was last on the Island.

Sitting among the aunts in the less comfortable dining chairs, the cousins are flashes of color in turquoise jumpsuits and tight jersey dresses.

The cake is on its own table, the little cousins clustered around it, arguing over who will get what slice. When their squabbles reach a certain mother-annoying level, they are called away by their nursemaids, who sit on stools at the far end of the patio, a phalanx of starched white uniforms.

Before anyone has turned to greet her in the entryway, Yolanda sees herself as they will, shabby in a black cotton skirt and jersey top, sandals on her feet, her wild black hair held back with a hairband. Like a missionary, her cousins will say, like one of those Peace Corps girls who have let themselves go so as to do dubious good in the world.

A maid peeks out of the pantry into the hall. She is a skinny brown woman in the black uniform of the kitchen help. Her head is covered with tiny braids coiled into rounds and pinned down with bobby pins. "Doña Carmen," she calls to Yolanda's hostess aunt, "there are no matches. Justo went to Doña Lucinda's to get some."

"Por Dios, Iluminada," Tia Carmen scolds, "you've had all day."

The maid stares down at the interlaced hands she holds before her, a gesture that Yolanda remembers seeing illustrated in a book for Renaissance actors. These clasped hands were on a page of classic gestures. The gesture of pleading, the caption had read. Held against the breast, next to the heart, the same interlaced hands were those of a lover who pleadeth for mercy from his beloved.

The gathering spots Yolanda. Her cousin Lucinda leads a song of greeting with an off-key chorus of little cousins. "Here she comes, Miss America!" Yolanda clasps her brow and groans melodramatically as expected. The chorus labors through the first phrase and then rushes forward with hugs, kisses, and-from a couple of the boys—fake karate kicks.

"You look terrible," Lucinda says. "Too thin, and the hair needs a cut. Nothing personal." She is the cousin who has never minced her words. In her designer pantsuit and frosted, blown-out hair, Lucinda looks like a Dominican magazine model, a look that has always made Yolanda think of call girls.

"Light the candles, light the candles!" the little cousins say, taking up a chant.

Tia Carmen lifts her open hands to heaven, a gesture she no doubt picked up from one of her priest friends. "The girl forgot the matches."

"The help! Every day worse," Tia Flor confides to Yolanda, flashing her famous smile. The cousins refer to their Tia Flor as "the politician." She is capable of that smile no matter the circumstances. Once, the story goes, during who-knows-which revolution, a radical young uncle and his wife showed up at Tia Flor's in the middle of the night wanting asylum. Tia Flor greeted them at the door with the smile and "How delightful of you to stop by!"

"Let me tell you about the latest at my house," Tia Flor goes on. "The chauffeur was driving me to my novena yesterday. Suddenly the car jerks forward and dies, right there on the street. I'm alarmed, you know, the way things are, a big car stalled in the middle of the university barrio. I say, César, what can it be? He scratches his head. I don't know, Doña Flor. A nice man stops to help, checks it all—and says, Why, señora, you're out of gas. Out of gas! Can you imagine?" Tia Flor shakes her head at Yolanda. "A chauffeur who can't keep a car in gasoline! Welcome home to your little Island!" Grinning, she flips open her fan. Beautiful wild birds unfold their silver wings.

At a proprietary yank from one of the little cousins, Yolanda lets herself be led to the cake table, festive with a lacy white tablecloth and starched party napkins. She dumb-shows surprise at the cake in the shape of the Island. "Mami thought of it," Lucinda's little girl explains, beaming.

"We're going to light candles all over," another little cousin adds. Her face has a ghostly resemblance to one of Yolanda's generation. This one has to be Carmencita's daughter.

"Not all over," an older brother says, correcting her. "The candles are just for the big cities."

"All over!" Carmencita's reincarnation insists. "Right, Mami, all over?" She addresses a woman whose aging face is less familiar to Yolanda than the child's facsimile.

"Carmencita!" Yolanda cries out. "I wasn't recognizing you before."

"Older, not wiser." Carmencita's quip in English is the product of her two or three years away in boarding school in the States. Only the boys stay for college. Carmencita continues in Spanish: "We thought we'd welcome you back with an Island cake!"

"Five candles," Lucinda counts. "One for each year you've been away!"

"Five major cities," the little know-it-all cousin calls out. "No!" his sister contradicts. Their mother bends down to negotiate.

Yolanda and her cousins and aunts sit down to await the matches. The late sun sifts through the bougainvillea trained to climb the walls of the patio, to thread across the trellis roof, to pour down magenta and purple blossoms. Tia Carmen's patio is the gathering place for the compound. She is the widow of the head of the clan and so hers is the largest house. Through well-tended gardens beyond her patio, narrow stone paths diverge. After cake and cafecitos, the cousins will disperse down these paths to their several compound houses. There they will supervise their cooks in preparing supper for the husbands, who will troop home after Happy Hour. Once a male cousin bragged that this pre-dinner hour should be called Whore Hour. He was not reluctant to explain to Yolanda that this is the hour during which a Dominican male of a certain class stops in on his mistress on his way home to his wife.

"Five years," Tia Carmen says, sighing. "We're going to have to really spoil her this time"—Tia cocks her head to imply collaboration with the other aunts and cousins—"so she doesn't stay away so long again."

"It's not good," Tia Flor says. "You four girls get lost up there." Smiling, she indicates the sky with her chin.

"So how are you four girls?" Lucinda asks, a wink in her eyes. Back in their adolescent days during summer visits, the four girls used to shock their Island cousins with stories of their escapades in the States.

In halting Spanish, Yolanda reports on her sisters. When she reverts to English, she is scolded, "¡En español!" The more she practices, the sooner she'll be back into her native tongue, the aunts insist. Yes, and when she returns to the States, she'll find herself suddenly going blank over some word in English or, like her mother, mixing up some common phrase. This time, however, Yolanda is not so sure she'll be going back. But that is a secret.

"Tell us now exactly what you want to do while you're here," says Gabriela, the beautiful young wife of Mundin, the prince of the family. With the pale skin and dramatic dark eyes of a romantic heroine, Gabriela's face reminds Yolanda of the lover's clutch of hands over the breast. But, Gabriela herself is refreshingly straightforward. "If you don't have plans, believe me, you'll end up with a lot of invitations you can't turn down."

"Any little antojo, you must tell us!" Tia Carmen agrees.

"What's an antojo?" Yolanda asks.

See! Her aunts are right. After so many years away, she is losing her Spanish.

"Actually it's not an easy word to explain." Tia Carmen exchanges a quizzical look with the other aunts. How to put it? "An antojo is like a craving for something you have to eat."

Gabriela blows out her cheeks. "Calories."

An antojo, one of the older aunts continues, is a very old Spanish word "from before your United States was even thought of," she adds tartly. "In fact, in the countryside, you'll still find some campesinos using the word in the old sense. Altagracia!" she calls to one of the maids sitting at the other end of the patio. A tiny, old woman, her hair pulled back tightly in a white bun, approaches the group of women. She is asked to tell Yolanda what an antojo is. She puts her brown hands away in her uniform pockets.

"U'té que sabe," Altagracia says in a small voice. You're the one to know.

"Come now, Altagracia," her mistress scolds.

The maid obeys. "In my campo we say a person has an antojo when they are taken over by un santo who wants something." Altagracia backs away, and when not recalled, turns and heads back to her stool.

"I'll tell you what my santo wants after five years," Yolanda says. "I can't wait to eat some guavas. Maybe I can pick some when I go north in a few days."

"By yourself?" Tia Carmen shakes her head at the mere thought.

"This is not the States," Tia Flor says, with a knowing smile. "A woman just doesn't travel alone in this country. Especially these days."

"She'll be fine." Gabriela speaks with calm authority. "Mundin will be gone if you want to borrow one of our cars."

"Gabi!" Lucinda rolls her eyes. "Have you lost your mind? A Volvo in the interior with the way things are!"

Gabriela holds up her hands. "All right! All right! There's also the Datsun."

"I don't want to put anyone out," Yolanda says. She has sat back quietly, hoping she has learned, at last, to let the mighty wave of tradition roll on through her life and break on some other female shore. She plans to bob up again after the many don'ts to do what she wants. From the corner of her eye she sees Iluminada enter with a box of matches on a small silver tray. "I'll take a bus."

"A bus!" The whole group bursts out laughing. The little cousins, come forward to join the laughter, eager to be a part of the adult merriment. "Yolanda, mi amor, you have been gone long," Lucinda teases. "Can't you see it!?" She laughs. "Yoyo climbing into an old camioneta with all the campesinos and their fighting cocks and their goats and their pigs!"

Giggles and head shakings.

"I can take care of myself," Yolanda reassures them. "But what's this other trouble you keep mentioning?"

"Don't listen to them." Gabriela waves her hand as if scaring off an annoying fly. Her fingers are long and tapered; her wedding and engagement rings have been welded together into one thick band. "It's easier this way," she once explained, handing the ring over to Yolanda to try on.

"There have been some incidents lately," Tia Carmen says in a quiet voice that does not brook contradiction. She, after all, is the reigning head of the family.

Almost as if to prove her point, a private guard, his weapons clicking, passes by on the side of the patio open to the back gardens. He wears an army-type khaki uniform, a gun swung over his shoulder. A tall wall has surrounded the compound for as far back as Yolanda can remember, a wall she believed as a child was there to keep the sea back in case during a hurricane it rose up to the hillside the family houses were built on.

"Things are looking ugly." Tia Flor again smiles brightly. In the Renaissance book of acting, this grimace of a smile might be captioned, The lady is caught in a smile she cannot escape. "There's talk, you know, of guerrillas in the mountains."

Gabriela crinkles her nose. "Mundin says that talk is only talk."

Iluminada has now crept forward to the edge of the circle to offer the matches to her mistress. In the fading light of the patio, Yolanda cannot make out the expression on the dark face.

Tia Carmen rises to approach the cake. She begins lighting candles and laying the spent matches on the tray Iluminada holds out to her. One light for Santo Domingo, one for Santiago, one for Puerto Plata. The children plead to be allowed to light the remaining cities, but no, Tia Carmen tells them, they may blow out the candles and, of course, eat the cake. Lighting is grownup business. Once the candles are all ablaze, the cousins and aunts and children gather around and sing a rousing "Bienvenida a ti," to the tune of "Happy Birthday."

Yolanda gazes at the cake. Below her blazes the route she has worked out on the map for herself, north of the city through the mountains to the coast. As the singing draws to a close, the cousins urge her to make a wish. She leans forward and shuts her eyes. There is so much she wants, it is hard to single out one wish. There have been too many stops on the road of the last twenty-nine years since her family left this island behind. She and her sisters have led such turbulent lives—so many husbands, homes, jobs, wrong turns among them. But look at her cousins, women with households and authority in their voices. Let this turn out to be my home, Yolanda wishes. She pictures the maids in their quiet, mysterious cluster at the end of the patio, Altagracia with her hands in her lap.

By the time she opens her eyes, ready, a half dozen little substitute puffs have blown out all the candles. There is a burst of clapping. Small arguments erupt over dividing the cake's cities: Lucinda's two boys both want Santiago since they went gliding there last weekend; Lucinda's girl and Carmencita's girl both insist on the capital because that's where they were born, but one agrees to cede the capital if she can have La Romana, where the family has a beach house. But, of course, La Romana has already been spoken for by Tia Flor's little goddaughter, who suffers from asthma and shouldn't be contradicted. Lucinda, whose voice is hoarse with disciplining the rowdy crew, hands Yolanda the knife. "It's your cake, Yoyo. You decide."

The road up through the foothills is just wide enough for two small cars, and so at each curve, as she has been instructed, Yolanda slows and taps her horn. Just past one bad curve, a small shrine has been erected, La Virgen surrounded by three concrete crosses recently whitewashed.

She pulls the Datsun over and enjoys her first solitary moment since her arrival. Every compound outing has been hosted by one gracious aunt or another, presenting the landscape as if it were a floor show mounted for her niece's appreciation.

All around her are the foothills, a dark enormous green, the sky more a brightness than a color. A breeze blows through the palms below, rustling their branches, so they whisper like voices. Here and there a braid of smoke rises up from a hillside-a campesino and his family living out their solitary life. This is what she has been missing all these years without really knowing that she has been missing it. Standing here in the quiet, she believes she has never felt at home in the States, never.

When she first hears it, she thinks it is her own motor she has forgotten to turn off, but the sound grows into a pained roar, as if the engine were falling apart. Yolanda makes out an undertow of men's voices. Quickly, she gets into the car, locks the door, and pulls back onto the road, hugging her right side.

A bus comes lurching around the curve, obscuring her view. Belching exhaust, the driver saluting or warning with a series of blasts on his horn, it is an old army bus, the official name brushed over with paint that doesn't quite match. The passengers see her only at the last moment, and all up and down her side of the bus, men poke out of the windows, hooting and yelling, holding out bottles and beckoning to her. She speeds up and leaves them behind, the quiet, well-oiled Datsun climbing easily up the snaky highway.

The radio is all static—like the sound of the crunching metal of a car; the faint, blurry voice on the airwaves her own, trapped inside a wreck, calling for help. In English or Spanish? she wonders. That poet she met at Lucinda's party the night before argued that no matter how much of it one lost, in the midst of some profound emotion, one would revert to one's mother tongue. He put Yolanda through a series of situations. What language, he asked, looking pointedly into her eyes, did she love in?


The hills begin to plane out into a high plateau, and the road widens. Left and right, roadside stands begin appearing. Yolanda keeps an eye out for guavas. Piled high on wooden stands are fruits Yolanda hasn't seen in years: pinkish-yellow mangoes, and tamarind pods oozing their rich sap, and small cashew fruits strung on a rope to keep them from bruising each other. Strips of meat, buzzing with flies, hang from the windows of butcher stalls. It is hard to believe the poverty the radio commentators keep talking about. There seems to be plenty here to eat—except for guavas.

The fruit stands behind her now, Yolanda approaches a compound very like her family's in the capital. A high concrete wall continues for about a quarter of a mile. A guard rises to his post beyond an iron grill-work gate. He seems—glimpsed through the flowering bars—a man locked in a strangely gorgeous prison. Beyond him up the shady driveway is a three-story country house, a wide verandah all the way around it. Parked at the door is a chocolate brown Mercedes. Perhaps the owners have come up to their country home to avoid the troubles in the capital. They are probably relatives. The dozen rich families have intermarried so many times that family trees are tangles of roots. In fact, her aunts have given her a list of names of uncles and aunts and cousins she might call on along her way. By each name is a capsule description of what Yolanda might remember of that relative: 'the one with the kidney bean swimming pool, the fat one, the one who was an ambassador'. Before she even left the compound, Yolanda put the list away in the glove compartment. She is going to be just fine on her own.

A small village spreads out before her—ALTAMIRA, say the rippling letters on the corrugated tin roof of the first house. A little cluster of houses on either side of the road, Altamira is just the place to stretch her legs before what she has heard is a steep and slightly (her aunts warned "very") dangerous descent to the coast. Yolanda pulls up at a cantina, its thatched roof held up by several posts, its floor poured cement, and in its very center, a lone picnic table over which a swarm of flies hover.

Tacked to one of the central posts is a yellowing poster for Palmolive soap. A creamy, blond woman luxuriates under a refreshing shower, her head thrown back in seeming ecstasy, her mouth opened in a wordless cry.

"¡Buenas!" Yolanda calls out.

An old woman emerges from a shack behind the cantina, buttoning up a torn housedress. She is followed closely by a little boy, who keeps ducking behind her whenever Yolanda smiles at him. Asking his name drives him further into the folds of the old woman's skirt.

"You must excuse him, doña," the woman apologizes. "He's not used to being among people." People with money who drive through Altamira to the beach resorts on the north coast, she means. "Your name," the old woman repeats, as if Yolanda hasn't asked him in Spanish. The little boy mumbles at the ground. "Speak up!" the old woman scolds, but her voice betrays pride when she speaks up for him. "This little know-nothing is José Duarte, Sánchez y Mella."

Yolanda laughs. A lot of names for such a little boy—the surnames of the country's three liberators!

"Can I serve the doña in any way?" the old woman asks. "¿Un refresco? ¿Una Coca Cola?" By the pride in her voice, Yolanda understands the old woman wants to treat her to the best on her menu.

"I'll tell you what I would like." Yolanda gives the tree line beyond the old woman's shack a glance. "Are there any guavas around?"

The old woman's face scrunches up. "¿Guayabas?" she murmurs, and thinks to herself a second. "Why, they grow all around, doña. But I can't say as I've seen any lately."

"With your permission—" José Duarte has joined a group of little boys who have come out of nowhere and are milling around the car, boasting how many automobiles they have ridden in. At Yolanda's mention of guavas, he springs forward, pointing across the road towards the summit of the western hills. "I know where there's a whole grove of ripe ones." Behind him, his little companions nod.

"Go on, then!" His grandmother stamps her foot as if she were scatting an animal. "Get the doña some."

A few boys dash across the road and disappear up a steep path on the hillside, but before José can follow, Yolanda calls him back. She wants to go along too. The little boy looks towards his grandmother, unsure of what to think. The old woman shakes her head. The doña will get hot, her nice clothes will get all dirty. José will bring the doña as many guavas as she is wanting.

"But they taste so much better when you've picked them yourself." Yolanda hears the edge in her voice. The old woman has turned into the long arm of her family.

The few boys who have stayed behind with José have again congregated around the car. Each one claims to be guarding it for the doña. It occurs to Yolanda that there is a way to make this a treat all the way around. "What do you say we take the car?" The little boys cheer.

Now that is not a bad idea, the old woman agrees. If the doña insists on going, she can take that dirt road up ahead and then cross over onto the road that is paved all the way to the coffee barns. The old woman points south in the direction of the big house. Many workers take that shortcut to work.

They pile into the car, half a dozen little boys in the back, and José as co-pilot in the passenger seat beside Yolanda. They turn onto a bumpy road off the highway, which grows bumpier and bumpier as it climbs up into wilder, more desolate country. Branches scrape the sides and pebbles pelt the underside of the car. Yolanda wants to turn back, but there is no room. Finally, with a great snapping of twigs and thrashing of branches across the windshield, as if the countryside is loath to release them, the car bursts forth onto smooth pavement and the light of day. On either side of the road are groves of guava trees. The boys who have gone ahead on foot are already pulling down branches and shaking loose a rain of guavas.

Yolanda eats several right on the spot, relishing the slightly bumpy feel of the skin in her hand, devouring the crunchy, sweet white meat. The boys watch her.

The group scatters to harvest the guavas. Yolanda and José,partners, wander far from the path that cuts through the grove. Soon they are bent almost double to avoid getting entangled in the thick canopy of branches overhead. Each addition to Yolanda's beach basket causes a spill from the stash already piled high above the brim.

The way back seems much longer than the way there. Yolanda begins to worry that they are lost, and then, the way worry sprouts worry, it strikes her that they haven't heard or seen the other boys in quite a while. The latticework of branches reveals glimmers of a fading sky. The image of the guard in his elaborate flowering prison flashes through her head. The rustling leaves of the guava trees echo the warnings of her old aunts: you will get lost, you will get kidnapped, you will get raped, you will get killed.

Just ahead, the thicket of guava branches clears, and there is the footpath, and beyond, the gratifying sight of the car still on the side of the road. It is a pleasure to stand upright again. José rests his burden on the ground and straightens his back to full measure. Yolanda looks up at the sky. The sun is low on the western horizon.

"The others must have gone to gather kindling," José observes.

Yolanda glances at her watch—it is past six o'clock. At this rate, she will never make the north coast by nightfall. She hurries José back to the car, where they find a heap of guavas the other boys left behind on the shoulder of the road. Enough guavas to appease even the greediest Island santo for life!

They pack the trunk quickly, and climb in, but the car has not gone a foot before it lurches forward with a horrible hobble. Yolanda closes her eyes and lays her head down on the wheel, then glances over at José. His eyes are searching the inside of the car for a clue as to what could have happened. This child won't know how to change a flat tire either.

Soon the sun will set and night will fall swiftly, no lingering dusk as in the States. She explains to José that they have a flat tire and must go back down the road to the big house. Whoever tends to the brown Mercedes will surely know how to change a tire.

"With your permission," José offers. The doña can just wait in the car, and he will be back in no time with someone from the Miranda place.

Miranda, Miranda. . . . Yolanda leans over and gets her aunt's list out of the glove compartment, and sure enough, there they are. Tia Marina y tio Alejandro Miranda—Altos de Altamira. A note elaborates that Tio Alejandro was the one 'who used to own English saddle horses and taught you four girls to ride'. "All right," she says to the boy. "I'll tell you what." She points to her watch. "If you're back by the time this hand is over here, I'll give you"—she holds up one finger—"a dollar." The boy's mouth falls open. In no time, he has shot out of his side of the car and is headed at a run toward the Miranda place. Yolanda climbs out as well and walks down a pace, until the boy has disappeared in one of the turnings of the road.

From the footpath that cuts through the grove on the opposite side of the road, she hears the sound of branches being thrust aside, twigs snapping underfoot. Two men, one short and dark, and the other slender and light-skinned, emerge. They wear ragged work clothes stained with patches of sweat; their faces are drawn. Machetes hang from their belts.

The men's faces snap awake at the sight of her. Then they look beyond her at the car. The darker man speaks first. "Yours?"

"Is there some problem?" he speaks up again. The taller one is looking her up and down with interest. They are now both in front of her on the road, blocking any escape. Both—she has sized them up as well—are strong and quite capable of catching her if she makes a run for it. Not that she can move, for her legs seem suddenly to have been hammered into the ground beneath her. She considers explaining that she is just out for a drive before dinner at the big house, so that these men will think someone knows where she is, someone will come looking for her if they try to carry her off. But her tongue feels as if it has been stuffed in her mouth like a rag to keep her quiet.

The two men exchange a look—it seems to Yolanda—of collusion.

Then the shorter, darker one speaks up again. "Señorita, are you all right?" He peers at her. He is a short man, no taller than Yolanda, but he gives the impression of being quite large, for he is broad and solid, like something not yet completely carved out of a piece of wood. His companion is slim and tall and of a rich honey-brown color that matches his honey-brown eyes. Anywhere else, Yolanda would find him extremely attractive, but here on a lonely road, with the sky growing darker by seconds, his good looks seem dangerous, a lure to catch her off her guard.

"Can we help you?" the shorter man repeats.

The handsome one smiles knowingly. Two long, deep dimples appear like gashes on either side of his mouth. "Americana," he says to the darker man, pointing to the car. "No comprende."

The darker man narrows his eyes and studies Yolanda a moment. "¿Americana?" he asks her, as if not quite sure what to make of her.

She has been too frightened to carry out any strategy, but now a road is opening before her. She clasps her hands on her chest—she can feel her pounding heart—and nods. Then, as if the admission itself loosens her tongue, she begins to speak, English, a few words, of apology at first, then a great flood of explanation: how it happens that she is on a back road by herself, her craving for guavas, having never learned to change a flat. The two men stare at her, uncomprehending, rendered docile by her gibberish. Only when she mentions the name Miranda do their eyes light up with respect. She is saved!

Yolanda makes the motions of pumping. The darker man looks at his companion, who shrugs, baffled as well. Yolanda waves for them to follow her. And as if after dragging up roots, she has finally managed to yank them free of the soil they have clung to, she finds she can move her own feet toward the car.

The small group stands staring at the sagging tire a moment, the two men kicking at it as if punishing it for having failed the señorita. They squat by the passenger's side, conversing in low tones. Yolanda leads the men to the rear of the car, where they lift the spare out of its sunken nest—then set to work fitting the interlocking pieces of the jack, unpacking the tools from the deeper hollows of the trunk. They lay their machetes down on the side of the road, out of the way. Above them, the sky is purple with twilight. The sun breaks on the hilltops, spilling its crimson yolk.

Once the flat has been replaced with the spare, the two men lift the deflated tire into the trunk and put away the tools. They hand Yolanda her keys.

"I'd like to give you something," she begins, but the English words are hollow on her tongue. She rummages in her purse and draws out a sheaf of bills, rolls them up and offers them to the men.

The shorter man holds up his hand. Yolanda can see where he has scraped his hand on the pavement and blood has dried dark streaks on his palm. "No, no, señorita. Nuestro placer."

Yolanda turns to the taller one. "Please," she says, urging the bills on him. But he too looks down at the ground—Iluminada's gesture, José's gesture. Quickly, she stuffs the bills in his pocket.

The two men pick up their machetes and raise them to their shoulders like soldiers their guns. The tall man motions towards the big house. "Directo, Mirandas." He enunciates the words carefully. Yolanda looks in the direction of his hand. In the faint light of what is left of day, she can barely make out the road ahead. It is as if the guava grove has grown into the road and woven its matt of branches tightly in all directions.

She reaches for each man's hand to shake. The shorter man holds his back at first, as if not wanting to dirty her hand, but finally, after wiping it on the side of his pants, he gives it to Yolanda. The skin feels rough and dry like the bark of trees.

Yolanda climbs into the car while the two men wait a moment on the shoulder to see if the tire will hold. She eases out onto the pavement and makes her way slowly down the road. When she looks for them in her rearview mirror, they have disappeared into the darkness of the guava grove.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

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