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TREADING GRAPES / Martha Bennett Stiles LEAVING THEIR ROOM IN THE Casa Graciosa, Rebeca Fuerte and her son can smell coffee from under the door of one neighbor's apartment, beans from another. Rebeca holds Fernando's hand a little tighter steering him past those doors and onto the narrow stairway that has its own smells—of mildewed walls, of cat urine drying in warped corners. Flat against her body under her free arm, Rebeca carries the tray on which she daily sells cigarettes and wax matches. She is wrapped in a blue rebozo that has been carefully smoothed with her hands after laundering. Though only cotton, the rebozo will be too warm before midday, but it carries her stock. In a practiced way, Rebeca manuevers Fernando and herself into the crowd moving along the pavement; she pretends not to see the glares when occasionally someone is jostled against her tray's hard edges. Fernando walks quietly, not pulling Rebeca's hand even when they pass the taco shops, not asking for anything even when a woman at one of the little sidewalk kitchens dangles a fried chicken head right under his nose. Gripping his hand, staring straight ahead, Rebeca walks on. A policeman is standing at the corner where Rebeca turns onto the Paseo de la Reforma. Her eyes appear to take no notice of his arrogant stare, but her neck becomes haughty. The policeman's curved nose and sloping forehead identify him as Mayan, but the carefully tended wisps of black hair on his copper-colored chin are intended, Rebeca disdainfully judges, to contradict this. Both Rebeca's parents were mestizos, and she married a mestizo, of course. Fernando's magnolia skin, fairer even than hers, will be the envy of the girls who will love him, if his legs grow up straight. Rebeca is worried about Fernando's legs; she cannot give him enough milk. Fernando coughs for the first time this morning. The smog, Rebeca is startled to realize, has thinned overnight. Skyscrapers are rising on either side of the Reforma, and though it is early, workmen are already crawling all over the bare steel bones like flesh-eating ants. Through these skeletons, Rebeca can see glimpses of the mountains that ring the city, mountains that thick smog has hidden for years. They are like giants with hunched shoulders, and Rebeca, pressed on all sides by other pedestrians, feels like one of many rabbits trapped in the final uncut center of the hay field as the beaters close in. She pulls her thin rebozo closer. The Guadalajaran is at his usual place under the emperor's 36 · The Missouri Review statue. That place was hers, before this vile-smelling one arrived ahead of her one morning—seated himself, set out his clay bowl, and began collecting money from people who might otherwise have spent it on cigarettes or matches. "Why are you a beggar?" she had challenged the Guadalajaran, who looked no older than herself. Abruptly and without a word he had thrust two handless stumps straight at her face, making Fernando scream. Rebeca had not blinked. "You have feet," she said. "How did you get here? If J had no hands, I would go to Chihuahua." Wine is made in Chihuahua. "You don't need hands to tread grapes." "The cold north is no place for a poor man," the handless beggar had replied. "I have to find a new workplace," Rebeca complained to Margarita Cuevas, her neighbor in Casa Graciosa. The phallic column raised by Mexican manhood to honor Mexican motherhood was the next nearest monument. The Mexican mother unobtrusively depicted at this handsome symbol's base is surrounded by children. Rebeca had kept on going. She had kept walking until she arrived at the park and its shade and its National Museum of Anthropology, to which so many Anglos come. Now she stands every day beside the huge stone god that guards this museum's entrance. Fernando sits passively on the grass where she can see him. His beautifully wavy hair, her pride, reflects the sun like water. Rebeca gives him a reassuring smile. He is her fourth and only living child. In Chapultepec...


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pp. 36-44
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