Olaya Barr

Instead of alternating the days of the week, like I usually did, I spent the entire ten days before my summer trip at Mamá’s house, since I wouldn’t be seeing her all of July. She never asked about my new stepmom or whether I was excited for the vacation with her in Hawaii. On my last night, Mamá made my favorite dinner.

Pork chop or pesto? She asked from the doorway.


We spoke only in Spanish then and ate at the small round table in the kitchen. We laughed and I didn’t like when dinner ended because she would go upstairs and watch crime shows that scared me. Blood bloomed on sidewalks.

A pair of missionaries interrupted our meal, ringing the doorbell twice.

Ay, no, why do they come at dinnertime?

Hi, I’m Elder Doe. His face was corrugated with acne scars and his shirt was too white, starchy paste. Mamá told them we were in the middle of eating dinner and that we weren’t interested. They said they understood but could they offer us any help? My mother jokingly suggested that the kitchen was a mess and gave an exaggerated gesture, beckoning them in. It was the first time I had seen missionaries, and I didn’t know that part of their job was to help with whatever was needed. All I knew about Mormons was what a boy in my class had once said: they could have a lot of wives.

We finished our pesto over pasta and giggled while the two strange men washed the blender, full of specks of pine nuts and basil. Mamá whispered in Spanish that their backsides were plump como toronjas, like grapefruits.

They left a book on our round table, tapped it, and smiled, “Para ustedes. For you to learn more about our faith.” They had left the blender pristine and our countertops shined. I felt that the world was small and hilarious. The rest of our dinner we talked about what it would be like to be missionaries doing dishes. Instead of watching television in her room that night, Mamá tucked me in bed and told me a story about a cowboy named Pedo Gordo and his Indian compadre, named Culo. They were best friends and had many adventures. I thought they must’ve had to eventually part ways; after all, one had obligations to livestock, the other to his tribe. She assured me that they were always together, even if they were many miles apart.

La soledad es algo necesario,” she said. Solitude is necessary. “Everyone needs to learn como estar solo.”

Soledad is also a common girl’s name in Spain; people shorten it and say Sol, which means “Sun.” Sun, short for solitude. She stayed with me in bed until I fell asleep. In my dreams, I saw the sun moving in a different hemisphere, and the lives of cowboys and Indians, which are really only ever told through story.