http://www.albany.edu/offcourse
 http://offcourse.org
 ISSN 1556-4975

   

Since 1998, a journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays edited by Ricardo Nirenberg.


 

"First Choice," a short story by Tess Almendarez Lojacono.

 

         “It’s pretty hard to do anything else when the right thing is staring you in the face.”  He’d always say that, looking over the misty field.  He’d give a whistle, shake his head, pressing his foot down hard to see if the ground was too wet to mow.  “We didn’t know it then.  You gotta trust.  It’s hard, but sometimes there’s just no other way.”
         I wanted to take his hand.  I never did.  Those big brown hands, way larger than you’d expect for a man his size.  Taking his hand was like grabbing hold of a steering wheel or a pistol grip. Pure power.  I’d just look at him and wait for the story to unfold.
         “Your mother wanted that house.  Oh, she’d been looking at houses ever since we got married.  Had to get out of that apartment.  You kids, you older three were babies and we were expecting Rose.  She kept looking and looking until she found it.  Found the house of her dreams, she said.”
         “What was it like?”
         He smiled at the grass, acres of grass. 
         “Tall.” 
         My father had grown up in two rooms with a dirt floor in southern Texas.  Anything would seem tall to him, I thought. 
         “Kind of clung to the hill over the road, towered up and over.  No garage.  I didn’t like that, but you know, she was so excited I never said.  I remember it had two staircases. One that went up from the front entrance, real pretty, intricately carved.  Then there was another one that went up from the kitchen.  Real old-fashioned.  She said they used to play hide-and-seek on a staircase like that in her grandmother’s house.  Loved it.  Hard wood floors and lots of windows.  The third floor was finished off.  She said we could have a sewing room or a library up there.  Or maybe the kids would want that for their bedrooms.”
         “Was there a yard?”
         “Little one.  But it was level for a garden.  Nice back porch.  Front porch too.  Oh, and the dining room had a huge bay window with a long window seat.  And fireplaces and a claw-foot bathtub.  She loved it all.”
         “And you?”
         He nodded.  “Yeah.  I liked it too.”
         I never heard him admit that before.  But then, I don’t remember ever asking.
         “How come you guys ended up here?”  I looked at the rickety white house that hardly held the eight of us.
         He whistled again.  ”Wasn’t meant to be.  You know, the fella selling it had an offer.  He told us that, but I figured he was just trying to up the ante.  I remember your mother squeezed my hand, I could tell she was anxious.  ‘Whatcha asking for her?’ I said.  And he said, ’ twenty-four.’   I rocked back a little,” he rocked back on his heels now, “and I said, ‘Well how about twenty?’”
         “What’d he say?”
         “He said, ‘Ok.  You come by tomorrow.  Give me time to call the other fella.  We’ll sign then.’ Shook my hand.  We had a deal, you know?”
         I nodded.  “Then what happened?”
         “We went out for a spaghetti dinner to celebrate.  Oh, she was excited!  Her dream house was coming true!”
         “Wow.  She must’ve been so disappointed!”
         “Well, now,” he scratched his chin. “There’s dreams and there’s dreams, honey.”
         “Whaddaya mean?”
         He loosed a rock with his toe and put it in his pocket.  “There’s things you think you can’t live without and things you really can’t live without.”
         “Like what?”
         He smiled at me in that way he seldom did.  I lived for looks like that. “God.  Kids. A clear conscience.”  He rubbed his hands together. “A good book and a glass of Remy.  Ha!”
         I smiled too.  I was thinking of my secret hideout in the old buckeye tree.
         “So, next day, we drove up to the house.  Got out and here, didn’t we see another family standing around, looking.  A man, wife, two little kids.”
         “What were they doing?”
         “Nothing.  Just standing there, gazing up at that house with such longing in their eyes.  I never would have noticed if your mom hadn’t squeezed my hand.  Then I looked at their faces, at the little one with the big round eyes.”
         “Yeah?”
         “Yep.  And the fella comes out and he says real rough to them, ‘I told you folks I got a better offer. Now, git on.  You can’t just hang around here.’”
         “Wow.”
         “Yep.  Mum shook her head, just a tiny bit, but I could see her outta the corner of my eye.”
         “So what’d you do?”
         “I cleared my throat, got the guy’s attention and I said, ‘Sorry, mister.  We just came by to tell you we changed our minds.  We’re not buying.  Hope there’s no hard feelings.’”
         “Wow.” 
         “You know, you say that a lot.”
         I nodded.
         “So we left. Didn’t look back.  Took about two months before we found this house and bought it.”
         “Wow—I mean, did you ever regret it?”
         He smiled at the ground again. “You can’t regret helping someone worse off than you.  Besides, this place isn’t so bad, is it?”  He put his hands on his hips and squinted at the woods that climbed the hill beyond the field.
         I quick, shook my head. “How was that guy worse off?”
         “Oh, honey.  Back in those days, there weren’t a lot of people who’d sell to a Mexican.  But even fewer who’d sell to a black.”
         “Oh.  Wow.”
         “Yep.  Wow.  Least we could do.”
         “Did the guy sell it to them?”
         “I don’t know.  I hope so.  But if he didn’t, it sure wasn’t ‘cause of us.”
         “Wow.”  I looked around at my childhood home with different eyes.  “So then, this was your second choice?”
         “Oh no.  This was our first choice.  We just didn’t know it at the time.”

 


tess almendarez lojacono

Tess Almendarez Lojacono is a writer, business owner and a teacher. Her company, Fine Art Miracles, Inc., seeks to bring attention to the underserved elderly through fine art education. She has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University.  Tess has worked as Editor of International Family Magazine's Latin Families Column and as a judge for several prestigious writing contests. Her own poems and stories have won awards with the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contests and her work has appeared in print and online in such publications such as Offcourse, Etchings, The Cortland Review, Envoy Magazine, Words and Images and others.  Her poems were selected for the Silver Boomer Books  anthology, From The Porch Swing and her first novel, Milagros, was published in February 2011, by Laughing Cactus Press.  Tess's second novel, The Book Of Zane will be published in December 2012, by Sunbury Press and her latest (unpublished) novel, The Golden Age Quest of Don Miguel Aguilar, was one of ten finalists in the Tarcher/Penguin Best New Artist Contest 2012.



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