COTOM: Chapter Three


Chapter Three

Step lightly. Dance hard. Eat your vegetables. —Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid

“Did you have a good day?” Gail asked Myla as they drove down Speedway.

“Yes, it was wonderful. You?”

“I got a lot done,” Gail said. “By the way, Sarah Crow left a message on my voice mail that she’s been trying to reach you.”

“My phone must not be working again,” Myla said. “Did she say what she wanted? Anything wrong?”

“She asked me to ask you to call her,” she said.

Myla said, “Okay. You coming to dinner tonight?”

Gail never came to the Saturday dinners even though Myla invited her every week. It was just as well. If Gail ever found out what she was doing, Myla wasn’t sure how she would react. Gail had come to the Church of the Old Mermaids only a couple of times, and Myla didn’t think she was impressed.

“Don’t you ever feel guilty selling people that junk?” Gail asked. “You can’t need the money that much.”

“I don’t feel a bit of guilt,” Myla said. “People know exactly what they’re buying.”

“Fairy tales,” she said. “They’re trying to buy fairy tales. And life isn’t about stories.”

“What is it about then?” Myla asked.

Her friend looked at her and said, “I don’t know what it’s ‘about.’ I do know it’s hard.”

“Life is shit and then you die?”


Myla laughed. “I wish you had stayed today. I had just what you need.”

“I doubt that,” Gail said. Myla glanced out the window. Gail was driving too fast. She always drove too fast.

“I had lemonade from Maya Quetzal,” Myla said. “It was so good. No sugar.”

“It must have been sour,” Gail said.

“No, they put honey in it. Not too much. It was still tart but not sour.”

“Why are you talking about lemonade?” Gail asked. “You know, since your divorce, you’ve gotten a little strange.”

“That was ten years ago,” Myla said. “But you’re right. I have gotten a little strange. I’m going with the flow of the rest of the world. And you, sugar, you could use some flow—and sweetening. You’re getting a little sour.”

“I don’t understand half the things you say,” Gail said.

“That means you understand half? That’s progress.”

Gail laughed.

“Are you coming tonight or not?” Myla asked again.

“No, I can’t,” she said. “Too much to do. Although I’d love to meet your friends. Is Theresa going to be there?”

“I hope so.”

Gail made a noise.


“She’s so...she just seems so full of herself.”

Myla laughed.

“What are you laughing about?”

She shook her head. “I’m not sure you’d understand. Do you ever wonder why we’re still friends?”

“Because my husband is a sonofabitch and I need an excuse to get out of the house every Saturday.”

Myla nodded. “And I’m just what you need.”

Gail laughed. “Yes, you’re just what I need. I’ll show up to your strange Saturday night dinners one of these times. You wait.”

“I’m waiting.” Myla sighed.

“What’s that sigh about?” Gail asked.

“Tomorrow is the anniversary,” Myla said. “George is coming over.”

“You and George still perform that stupid ritual?” Gail deftly wove them in and out of traffic as they traveled down Speedway. “Don’t you think it’s a little strange?”

“Of course it’s strange,” Myla said. “But George and I went through this together. He’s the only one who understands. Remember my husband was having an affair with his wife.”

“Of course I remember,” Gail said. “But they’ve moved on. You should too. It’s been ten years. He was not such a great man, you know.”

Myla nodded. Gail glanced over at her.

“He wasn’t. You had an inflated view of him.”

“I’m over it,” Myla said. “Him.”

She could not explain how she felt to Gail. Or to anyone. She allowed herself to mourn her lost life once a year: on the anniversary of the day she walked into her bedroom and found her husband on top of her next door neighbor, George’s wife Nadine. She didn’t love her ex-husband any more, but she still missed something about their life together. It was as though he had been imprinted on her being when they got married and she couldn’t change that now. Just like she couldn’t change the color of her eyes or the DNA in her cells.

After they had recited their wedding vows, Myla had felt relaxed, as though she had completed a long meditation—or been given a really good drug. He had promised to love her for life, and she had promised to love him for life. It was a pact they made together, and she never doubted it. It was not as if she had not been loved during her life. Her mother loved her. Her father probably loved her, at least before he deserted them, but she could not swear to that. Even so, they were family, and that did not feel like real love—being loved for herself, not because she happened to share chromosomes with someone. Wasn’t that what everyone wanted? Someone to listen to them, to see them, to curl up next to them at night, someone who would want them always? Her ex-husband had told Myla she was the best person he had ever known. She had had no hint that he no longer loved her. Even after she found him on top of George’s wife—his much younger wife—she thought he still loved her.

But then he told her, “You are still the best person I know, but I don’t love you any more. Not in that way.”

For a long time afterward whenever she closed her eyes, she would see her husband’s mouth moving and hear his words, “I don’t love you any more. Not in that way.”

Richard. That was his name, but she tried to avoid saying it out loud if she could.

Tomorrow was the anniversary of that day, the same day she and George walked in on their spouses, the same day she learned her husband did not love her any more.

“Maybe this year we won’t go to the house,” Myla said.

“What?” Gail said. “You mean you go back to your old house?”

Myla didn’t say anything.

“Woman, you need to get laid,” Gail said.

“That’ll happen too,” Myla said. “I don’t know why George’s wife left him. He’s a much better lover than he was.”

Gail laughed. “Myla Alvarez!

“I’m speaking truth,” Myla said. “But saying George is a better lover isn’t saying much.”

Gail laughed. After a moment of silence, she said, “I know it was a bad time for you, Myla. But you got through it. You proved you don’t need him. I went by the shop the other day, on my way to something else, and it doesn't look like it’s doing well. Shabby imports from Mexico. Not like the stuff you used to bring in.”

“I wish them all the best,” Myla said.

“No, you don’t.”

“Sometimes I do. Today has been a good day. What do I care about them?”

“So ignore that stupid anniversary,” Gail said. “We could go to a movie or something. Call me.”

“That reminds me,” Myla said. “I need to make sure my phone is on.”

“Don’t change the subject,” Gail said.

“Hey, I thought I saw David Crow today,” Myla said. “Isn’t that strange? I was thinking about him this morning.”

“Whatever happened to him?” Gail said. “When you first moved there, you two were together all the time.”

“We weren’t together all the time,” Myla said. “He was a nice boy. We kept each other company.”

Gail laughed. “You keep telling yourself that, Myla. That’s what you used to say back then—and I didn’t believe you then either. You were attracted to him.”

“Maybe a little,” Myla said. “But I didn’t act on it. I knew I was just lonely.”

“Didn’t keep you from acting on George.”

“George wasn’t fifteen years my junior,” Myla said. “I’m not my husband.”

“If I had had a choice between George and David Crow,” Gail said. “I would have eaten crow.”


Gail laughed. Myla smiled.

“I did not have a choice,” Myla said. “And George isn’t that bad. He’s easy. I don’t ever have to worry about him leaving me.”

“Because he’s already gone,” Gail said.

“That’s right,” Myla said. “He doesn’t care whether he ever sees me again. I don’t care either. That’s fine with me. Better than living a lie, I can tell you that much.”

Myla hurried into her apartment after Gail dropped her off. It would be dark soon, and she needed to make dinner. She diced two onions and several handfuls of shitake mushrooms, then sautéed them in olive oil. She added dried oregano, basil, and four large cans of crushed tomatoes. She minced a few garlic cloves and dropped the pieces in, too.

“There,” she said. “Instant spaghetti sauce. Thank you, everything in this pot. We appreciate your nourishment.”

She looked in her cupboards for the big pot to cook the pasta in but couldn’t find it. “Must have left it in the big house.” She stirred the bubbling sauce. “Cumin.” She had almost forgotten her secret ingredient: cumin. She shook some into the bubbling sauce.

“Are you decent?” Theresa said as she knocked on the screen door.

“Hardly,” Myla answered. “Come on in.”

Theresa opened the door and came through, carrying a grocery sack. She pulled a covered bowl of salad and two loaves of bread from the bag.

“I left apple juice and water on your table outside,” Theresa said. “Guess who came with?”

“Who? I’ve got to get a bigger pot,” she said.

“Luisa,” Theresa said.

Theresa’s teenaged daughter had been living with her father in Los Angeles for the past year.

“Since she was with me, I didn’t stop and get Maria and Lily,” Theresa said. “I didn’t want Luisa asking all kinds of questions.”

Myla looked at her. “I thought she was still in California.”

“She showed up on my doorstep two days ago,” Theresa said. Myla handed her a serrated knife from the silverware drawer. Theresa began cutting the bread. “And she’s dyed her hair blond.”

“You haven’t told her anything?” Myla asked.

“No!” Theresa said. “I never told her before. Why should I now? Nothing has changed. She and Del Rey still fight all the time, so I brought her along tonight.”

“Have you found out anything about Maria’s husband?”

“Do you know how many Juan Martinez’s there are?”

“I can guess,” Myla said.

“She said he came with his cousin, so I’m searching both names,” Theresa said.

“I need to go make the noodles over at the Crow house. I’ll be back in a few.” Myla grabbed three boxes of spaghetti pasta and went out the door. She stopped and looked at the Catalinas and Rincons. The fading sunlight created sharp distinct shadows on the mountains. She loved this instant of the day—before night fell. Everything seemed more alive than at any other time. A moment later, the sharp, black shadows disappeared. Myla stepped off her porch—which was just several planks of wood raised off the dirt—and went across the drive and down a bit, toward the house. She passed by Theresa’s car and waved to Luisa who sat in the passenger seat talking on the phone.

Maria, Cathy, and Lily walked up the drive toward her.

“Myla, Myla!” Lily said.

Myla crouched and opened her arms to the girl. They embraced.

“How are the Old Mermaids today?” Lily asked in accented English.

Myla laughed. “They are great!”

Myla hugged Cathy and then Maria. The young woman looked tired.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come to the house this morning, Cathy,” Myla said. “You and Stefan do all right?”

“We’re good,” Cathy said. “I worked on my resume today. Stefan cleaned the house.”

“He doesn’t have to clean every day!” Myla said.

“We’re trying to do our part,” Cathy said.

Ernesto and Stefan walked up the drive toward them. Stefan was tall and gangly, his fifteen year old body trying to grow into a man overnight it seemed. Ernesto walked a bit more sprightly than he had earlier in the day.

“Good evening, Ernesto and Stefan,” Myla said in Spanish when they reached them. “How are you?”

“I am well,” Ernesto said.

Stefan nodded. “I had to hurry to keep up with him.”

“Good, good,” Myla said. “Theresa’s daughter Luisa is joining us tonight.”

“That means we should all keep our mouths shut about where we’re staying,” Cathy said. “Right?”

“Yes,” Myla said. “That would be best. Now I’m going to make the noodles in the house. Theresa is at my place. I’ll meet you there.”

Myla left the group and went up the steps to the long porch in front of the Crow house. This was a good spot to watch the sun come up over the mountains in the morning. She had done so once or twice, wrapped in a blanket and curled up in one of the chairs. It had been a while since she had watched a sunrise. When she first moved here, she had felt so tired and battle-scarred that she had needed the comfort of watching the sun come up and go down every day. She needed to feel the rhythms of this place. Any place perhaps. But this place, this land, was what had rocked her back to sanity.

She took out her keys and unlocked the door to the Crow house and went inside. She wiped her shoes carefully on the mat, then looked at the soles to see if they were clean. She walked down the short hall, through the living room, and into the large kitchen. She hummed as she opened the cupboards and took down a large stainless steel pot. She filled it with water from the sink, put a bit of olive oil in it—”I owe you, Sarah Crow,” she said—then she put the pot on the stove to boil.

“I wonder if it’s true,” she said, “that a watched pot doesn’t boil.”

“Why don’t you ask the Old Mermaids?”

Myla started and turned around. A man stood several yards from her. She must have looked frightened because he immediately put up his hands.

“Myla, it’s me, David Crow,” he said. “Don’t you recognize me?”

“Of course!” she said. “I thought I saw you today, but I decided it was only wishful thinking.”

She went to him, and they embraced.

“I’m sorry, David,” she said. “It’s been a few years. You’re all grown-up.”

He laughed. “I think I was grown-up last time you saw me.”

“Weren’t you just out of college then?”

“Still a grown-up,” David said. “And I finished college late.”

“Well, you’ve grown into an even more handsome man,” Myla said. She walked back to the stove.

“Thank you, Myla,” David said. “You, too.”

Myla laughed. She had forgotten how shy David was. “I am a handsome young man?” She looked over at him. In the kitchen light, she saw him blush.

“Now I feel like I’m twenty-five again,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” Myla said. “I shouldn’t tease you. By the way, I would have knocked if I’d known you were here. Ahhh, is this why your mother called me? To tell me you were coming? I just got the message that she wanted me to call her. I think my phone isn’t working.”

“You used to leave it off the hook because you didn’t want anyone to be able to get a hold of you,” he said. He sat at one of the stools at the counter. His curly black hair was short, his face neatly unshaven. And he looked tired.

“I did that?” She shrugged. The water began to boil. She opened the pasta boxes and tipped the spaghetti noodles into her hand. She broke them by the handful and dropped them into the water. “After my divorce I was a little crazy. I was reminded of that today. You only knew me as that crazy woman. I’m different now. I’m much crazier.” She laughed. “So you’re just visiting?”

“I’m visiting,” he said. “For a while.”

“You and your wife, kids?” No, it was too quiet in the house. He must be alone.

“No wife, no kids. Just me.”

“I thought you got married.” Myla took a wooden spoon from a container near the stove and stirred the pasta.

“That was my sister Susan. She’s the well-adjusted one.”

Myla set the spoon on the stove and looked at David.

“You’ve come to the Old Mermaid Sanctuary for some sanctuary then?” she said. “That’s good. You are welcome.”

David laughed. “Thank you, Myla. It’s good to see you. I’ve missed the Old Mermaids.”

“I understand,” she said. “Where’s your car?”

“I don’t have one,” he said. “I’ve been in Chicago for the past few years.”

“Have you been living la vida loca?” She leaned against the counter and looked at him.

“Interesting question, Myla,” he said. “As always. I have been having a life. Better than most people, I suppose.”

“A bunch of us are having dinner at my apartment. You’ll join us?”

“I’m not really up for a party,” he said.

“You don’t have to entertain anyone,” Myla said. “Just sit, eat, breathe.”

“All right. When?”

“As soon as the pasta is finished,” she said. “You’ll bring it when it’s done, and then we’ll eat. You do know how to cook? I know your mother. She would not have let her children go out into the world without showing them how to cook.”

David nodded. “You throw the noodles at the wall, right? And if they stick, they’re ready?”

“See, you’re feeling better already! Wait, I have an idea, David. Why don’t you invite us here? We can all sit at the table on the patio. It’s bigger than mine and everyone will get to see the mermaid in the pool.”

“Uh, okay.”

“I’ll go tell the others. What a perfect way to end the day! I’m so glad you’re here, David.” She smiled at him. “And not just because you have a bigger house!”

“I’m glad, too,” he said.

Myla went out the door nearest the kitchen and hurried across the drive to her porch where the others had gathered. Luisa stood a bit a part from the others.

“Change of plans!” Myla said in Spanish. “David Thomas Crow is visiting and he’s invited us to eat at his house. Everyone grab a dish, and we’ll go over there. Theresa, did you hear that?”

“Yep,” came her voice from inside the apartment. “I’ll bring the sauce. Luisa! Come help.”

Luisa’s face seemed to close down, or harden, as soon as she heard her mother’s voice.

“Hello, Luisa,” Myla said. “It is nice to see you. How have you been?”

“Hi, Myla,” she said. “I better go see what my mother wants.”

Lily gently took Myla’s hand, and they led the others across the drive and into the kitchen of the Crow house where David stood over the boiling pot of pasta.

“David Crow, I would like you to meet Cathy, Ernesto, Maria, Lily, and Stefan.”

“Buenos noches,” David said.

“Buenos noches,” the others said, awkwardly, suddenly shy.

“Hello, hello, hello,” Lily said, letting go of Myla’s hand and clapping.

“Hello, hello, hello,” David said. He smiled.

Myla crossed the kitchen and living room and turned on the light to the patio. “We’ll eat at that table next to the pool,” she said. “David, can you wet a towel and give it to Stefan? The table and chairs might have some dust on them. It is the desert, you know, and no butts have sat in those chairs for a long while.”

David pulled a tea towel from the drawer and dampened it with water. He held it out to Stefan who shyly took it. Neither looked the other in the eye.

Myla opened the door to the patio and the others filed out, except for Lily and David. Lily stood a few feet from David watching him, her face a portrait of intense fascination. Myla crossed her arms and watched them.

“The noodles are just about done,” David said. “Would you like to try one and tell me if they are ready?”

Lily glanced at Myla; Myla translated what David had said. Lily looked at David again and nodded. David dipped a fork into the pot and pulled out several strands of pasta. He bent over so the fork was at Lily’s level.

“Picante,” David said.

“Caliente,” Myla corrected.

Lily pursed her lips and blew on the spaghetti strands. Then she lifted two of them off the fork and put them in her mouth. She chewed and breathed through her mouth at the same time, trying to pretend it wasn’t hot.

“Okay,” Lily said.

“Okay. I’ll take your word for it,” David said. He handed Lily the fork, and she ate the few remaining strands as she watched him. Myla came into the kitchen and opened an upper cabinet door and pulled out a colander. She held it over the sink. David turned off the burner, then carried the pot over to the sink.

“Got it?” he asked.

Myla nodded.

He carefully poured the water into the colander as Myla held it until the pot was almost empty; then he let the pasta fall into the colander. He reached over Myla—“Excuse me,” he said—and turned on the cold water. She shook the colander to let the cold water go all through the noodles and drain out.

“Make room,” Theresa said, coming through the kitchen door. “I think the sauce is ready. Where’s the meat, Myla? This sauce has no meat. Ernesto needs some meat on his bones.”

“There are mushrooms,” Myla said. “Besides I have him on the Old Mermaid diet.”

Theresa made a noise as she set the pot on the stove. “What kind of diet is that? Seaweed and vegetables?”

“It’s a bit more than that,” Myla said.

“We’ll have the spaghetti family style?” Theresa asked.

“Sure,” Myla said.

“Hello, I’m Theresa,” she said to David. She turned around as Luisa came into the kitchen carrying a bowl of salad. “This is my daughter Luisa. You’re David Crow.”

“I like your name,” Luisa said. “It’s so dark and mysterious.”

“David?” He shrugged. “Never seemed that mysterious to me.”

Myla laughed quietly. Theresa rolled her eyes.

“I meant crow,” Luisa said. “Do you have any tattoos?”

“Not any that you can see,” Theresa said. “Luisa, take the salad out to the table. Did they get the bread and drinks?”

“Take Lily with you, please,” Myla said. “Lily, will you go with Luisa?”

Luisa sighed loudly. She smiled at David, then went out onto the patio, with Lily bouncing next to her. Myla heard Lily exclaim, “There’s the mermaid in the pool!”

Myla nudged Theresa, and the two women laughed.

“I hope I wasn’t that obvious when I was Luisa’s age,” Theresa said.

“Her age? You’re still that obvious.”

“Please,” Theresa said. “I’m a married lady.”

“David, you watch out for that girl tonight,” Myla said. “She’s looking for trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

The women looked at him. He stared back. Theresa and Myla glanced at each other and shrugged.

“She was flirting with you,” Theresa said.

Myla put the pasta into a large glass bowl. Theresa ladled sauce over it.

“Flirting with me?” David made a face. “She could be my daughter.”

“Oh?” Myla said.

“I mean age-wise. If I’d procreated when I was young. Which I didn’t do.”

Myla and Theresa stared at him.

“I think maybe I’ll go to bed,” he said. “I’m kind of tired.”

“Oh, honey,” Myla said. “I’m sorry. We’re just two old women giving a handsome young man a hard time. No one has flirted with either of us for a long time. Please, I’ll be good.” She put her hand on his arm and smiled. “I promise.”

David frowned. “It’s not you. I am tired.”

“Please,” Myla said. “We’ve invaded your house. Have a meal with us. Then we will let you sleep. Go sit with the others. We’ll serve you. Be with all that young energy. It’ll do you good.”

David started to say something, stopped, started to leave, hesitated, then went through the living room and out onto the patio.

“You have some history, you two?” Theresa said as she tossed the spaghetti between two forks to cover it with sauce. “You seem very familiar with each other. Won’t it be a problem that he’s here? We’ve got so many people at the sanctuary right now.”

“I’ve known him since he was a boy,” Myla said. “He’s all right. His mother is a good woman.”

“You knew him before you moved here?”

“No, why?”

“You’ve been here for about ten years? That man is in his mid-thirties. He’s not a boy! If he finds out all these people are living here—illegally, might I add—he might not be too happy about it.”

Myla shrugged. “Don’t worry so much. It will all work out.”

“So you say,” Theresa said. “Maria and Lily were too much. I knew that.”

“No, Cathy and Stefan were too much,” Myla said. “But where would they be without us? And I had to help Lily and Maria. They have been deserted too many times. You’ll find Cathy a job in California, and they’ll be moving on.”

“It’s getting to be too much,” Theresa said. “With the business, Del Rey, now Luisa. Del Rey thinks I’m cheating on him.”

“Where is Del Rey?” Myla asked. “He’s welcome to our Saturday dinners. I told you we could change it to a different night if that was better now that you’re a married lady again.”

Luisa came into the kitchen. “Mom, we’re getting hungry.”

“We’re coming.”

The two women went outside and set the spaghetti on the table. Someone—must have been David—had turned on the pool light. The mermaid undulated on the bottom of the pool.

Myla sat next to Lily and David. Theresa sat between Luisa and Stefan. They began passing around bowls of salad, a plate of lightly steamed pea pods, a basket of bread, and the spaghetti.

Before they began to eat, Myla looked around the table and said, “I am so glad we are all here together. This is a beautiful place made all the more beautiful by the company. I would like to thank the spirits and beings of this place, especially the Old Mermaids who have made all this possible.”

“A-men,” Theresa said. “Now let’s eat.”

They ate in companionable silence for a while.

“Ernesto, did you want to phone your wife tonight?” Myla asked in Spanish, then in English. “That reminds me, I need to call your mother, David.”

“It is so dark now,” Ernesto said. “I should call earlier.”

“The phone is at the little market in her village,” Myla explained to David. “When someone gets a phone call, the boy at the store tells the person calling to call right back—or to hang on—and then he gets on his bike and goes to the house of the person wanted on the telephone. Then that person either rides the boy’s bike or walks to the store.”

“Why not just get a cell phone?” Luisa asked.

“Why not indeed,” Theresa said. “Child, these things cost money.”

“I had a cell phone in Los Angeles,” Luisa said.

“Until you ran up an enormous bill,” Theresa said, “just like I told your father you would.”

“I’d have figured out a way to pay it,” Luisa said.

Maria whispered something to Lily. Lily nodded.

“If we speak English we leave out half of the table,” Myla said. “If we speak Spanish, we leave out the other half.”

“Yeah, I don’t understand much Spanish,” Luisa said.

“It’s your father’s language,” Theresa said. “You should learn it better.”

“I can understand some of it,” David said. “Besides, I don’t mind. Hearing a language that isn’t your own, that you don’t quite understand, is like listening to music. I imagine that’s what the sailors used to hear when they passed the mermaids at sea. The mermaids were talking in a different language.”

“You believe in mermaids?” Luisa asked.

“Mermaids, mermaids, mermaids,” Lily said.

“This is the Old Mermaid Sanctuary,” Stefan said.

“The what?” Luisa said.

Stefan glanced at Myla.

“Remember, Luisa,” Myla said. “I sell things on 4th Avenue on Saturdays. I call it the Church of the Old Mermaids.”

“Church of the Old Maids?” Luisa asked.

“Luisa!” Theresa said sharply.

“This spaghetti is very good,” Stefan said.

“Kiss ass,” Luisa murmured.

“Luisa Ann, I brought you into this world, and I can take you out. Don’t doubt that.”

Ernesto said, in Spanish, “The one with the straw hair should not throw insults.”

The women laughed. Ernesto shrugged. “That is a saying in my village, at least.”

Luisa blushed. Myla nodded. So the girl understood more Spanish than she let on.

Lily tapped Myla on the arm. Myla leaned over so her ear was close to Lily’s mouth. She whispered in Spanish, “Did the Old Mermaids eat spaghetti like this?”

Myla smiled and said in Spanish, “That is a very wise question, Lily.” To the rest of the group, she said, “She wondered if the Old Mermaids ate spaghetti.”

“Yes, do tell us about the Old Mermaid diet,” Theresa said. “How did the ol’ mermaids stay slim and fit.”

“Oh no,” Myla said. “It wasn’t about staying slim. Fit, okay, yes. But Old Mermaids came in different shapes, sizes, colors, personalities. They understood that image wasn’t everything, but it was a great deal and their image of themselves was very clear: they loved their Old Mermaid bodies, even after that Old Sea dried up and they had to lose their tails and walk on land. Yes, those Old Mermaids loved, Lily my Lily. They loved themselves, they loved each other, they loved the sea and they loved the dried up wash. They loved the cacti and the quail and the coyotes and the mesquite and the Old Man and Old Woman of the Mountains. They loved their neighbors. And guess what else they loved?”

Lily said, “Butterflies?”

“Yes, Lily. They loved butterflies! They loved so many things. And they loved food. They loved to eat. They were glad they had enjoyed the bounty of the Old Sea and now they enjoyed the bounty of the New Desert. But I’m rattling on and you wanted to know if they ate spaghetti. And I’m sure they did. They spent a lot of their time growing food, preparing food, eating food. They talked to the plants they grew, and they talked to everything they ate.”

“Did they get tired of talking?” Lily asked.

“Or tired of listening to the talking,” Luisa said.

“I don’t know,” Myla said. “It was just the way they were. It was like breathing to them. They held conversations with the trees and animals and clouds and wind.”

“Like crazy people,” Luisa said.

“Maybe,” Myla said. “Maybe some crazy people have a bit of Old Mermaid in them and no one understands. The Old Mermaids were very thankful for what they had. So when they prepared the spaghetti, they would thank the tomatoes and the herbs and the water and the onions. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“So what was the Old Mermaid diet?” Luisa asked.

Myla glanced at Theresa. She wondered if she realized that Luisa was listening; she was listening carefully to everything everyone said.

“Part of it was that they honored every ingredient,” Myla said. “And they ate plants that had been treated well before they were harvested. And the land they grew up from was treated well.”

“How do you treat a plant well?” Luisa asked. “Give it a hug every day?”

Stefan smiled. “Or kiss it maybe.”

“That would work,” Myla said.

“Unless of course they eat prickly pear pads,” Luisa said. “When I was a kid Mom took me on some outing where the Indians showed us how they got things from the desert.”

“The Tohono O’odham,” Theresa said.

“Maybe the plants would like to hear stories,” Lily said in Spanish, “the way you tell us stories.”

Myla nodded. “Ahhh, that is a good idea. I will have to remember that.”

“I tried to teach Luisa to eat right,” Theresa said, “but the experts keep changing their minds about what’s good for you and what isn’t. And it’s hard cooking meals for two or three people. Eating in community is much nicer and more efficient.”

“I think it is more natural for us to live and work in community,” Myla said.

Cathy shook her head. “The communes in the sixties sure didn’t work.”

“I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like that,” Theresa asked. “Do you know that all the communes didn’t work? And I hate that word. Commune.”

“Mom’s just an old hippy,” Luisa said.

“I’ve been hearing about these squatter communities sprouting up all over the world,” David said. “They’re creating community from necessity I suppose. Worldwide one person in six lives in a squat now.”

“What’s a squatter community?” Stefan asked. “Is that where people move into empty houses that aren’t being used?”

His mother glanced at him.

“I mean, I’ve heard of that happening,” Stefan said.

“Most often they’re people from the country who come into the city because they need work,” David said. “They’ll find work but there isn’t housing. Or they can’t afford housing. They build these places on empty lots or on land that isn’t being used. They build houses, figure out sanitation, have their own government.”

“Doesn’t sound easy,” Cathy said.

“Why should things be easy?” Myla asked.

“Don’t you have it easy here?” Luisa said. “You live in a beautiful place and all you do is look for junk in the wash.”

“And you have such a rough life?” Theresa asked.

“I was just saying,” Luisa said.

“We shouldn’t judge people until we walk a mile in their shoes,” Cathy said. “That’s what my mother taught me. She also said that teenagers should be seen and not heard. Truthfully, she said they shouldn’t be seen either.”

“That seems pretty judgmental,” Luisa said, her face red, her voice angry.

“All of us have a right to be seen and heard,” Myla said. “That’s what most of us want. To be seen, truly. To be heard. All of us. Whether we are younger or older.”

“Yes, it’s nice to think so,” Theresa said. “But it goes both ways, Stefan and Luisa. When you see someone older, if you see someone with gray hair, for instance, do you just assume they’re stupid or have nothing worthwhile to say to you?”

Stefan and Luisa glanced at one another.

Luisa said, “It depends upon whether it’s a man or a woman. If it’s a man, I might listen. If it’s a woman, you’re probably right. I just ignore her.”

For a moment, no one said anything. Theresa put down her fork.

“That is a stunning statement,” Theresa said.

“It’s the truth,” Luisa said. “I bet everyone here feels the same way.” She looked at Stefan. “Don’t you?”

“I don’t think I notice whether people are young or old,” Stefan said.

“Liar,” Luisa said. “If a pretty girl and an ugly old woman came up to you, you wouldn’t pay more attention to the pretty girl?”

“Why does the older woman have to be ugly?” David asked.

“I’d probably pay attention to the pretty girl,” Stefan said, “because I couldn’t help it. Hormones you know.”

Several of the adults laughed.

“But that’s not because I’d think she was smarter than the older woman or that she had more to say.”

Myla had been translating to Ernesto and Maria. She now said to them, “Ernesto and Maria, what do you think of all this?”

Ernesto shrugged. “When I was a boy, we listened to our elders. They knew more than we knew. That was just the way it was. I felt honored that an elder would take time for me. Now I am becoming an elder. I am not certain I know much yet. But I would be glad to share not much with anyone who wants to listen.”

“Maria?” Myla asked.

Maria smiled painfully, shyly. Myla regretted putting her on the spot.

“I don’t understand much of what you are talking about,” Maria said. “I was thinking that I miss my mother. She has very black hair, but she has shown me a few gray hairs. She told me she was glad to have lived long enough to have gray hair. My grandmother has gray hair. You could say she is an old woman. She knows more than anyone else. It’s a fact. And if she doesn’t know, her best friend knows. They are both beautiful women. Once I asked my mother if I would be beautiful like my grandmother when I was old. She said I was beautiful now. She told me I was sun beauty because I was young. Bright and shiny, she said. My grandmother was moon beauty. Old people, especially old women, were beautiful like the moon. Both sun and moon beauty were good, but those with moon beauty knew more secrets because they knew about things and places where the sun did not shine.” Maria smiled.

Myla nodded. “Your mother is a wise woman.”

“I like that,” Theresa said. “Maybe I’ll stop dying my hair and become naturally moon beautiful.”

“It’s getting a bit chilly out here,” Myla said. “Time to go inside?”

“Sure,” David said.

Everyone stood and began clearing the table.

“We never did find out what the Old Mermaid diet was,” Luisa said.

“Myla, whatever happened to the Old Mermaids?” Stefan asked.

“Ah, well, that’s a story for a different night,” Myla said.

“I sure like these Saturday night dinners,” Stefan said. They began clearing the table.

David said, “You do this every Saturday?”

“Not in this house, but yes, we have dinner at my place,” Myla said.

“Last Saturday, we talked about art,” Ernesto said.

“Arte publico, especially,” Myla said. “Very interesting.”

“Yeah, made me want to do a mural,” Stefan said.

“David painted the mermaid in the pool,” Myla said. “He might have some tips for a mural.”

“Wow!” Stefan said. “You painted her? She’s great.”

David said, “It was a long time ago.”

“She’s held up well,” Theresa said.

David glanced at Myla. She smiled.

“Oh Ernesto,” David said. “I can turn on the spa, if you like.” He pointed to the tiny pool next to the pool. “That water gets hot.”

Ernesto shook his head. “Oh, too much trouble, Señor!”

“No, really it isn’t,” David said. “Takes just a few seconds.”

“Maybe another time,” Myla said. “Some hydrotherapy might be good for you, Ernesto.”

“Very kind,” he said. “Maybe the mermaid in the pool will come over and join me.”

“You never know,” Myla said.

No comments: