Oh dear, that sounds rude! But what I’m really going on about isn’t rude at all. It’s simply to say, that I am entering a second story in the Mslexia short story competition and this one’s called, Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos. I hope you enjoy reading it and thanks to all of you who read Behold the Lamb, your comments made such a difference to me……
Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos
At uncle Miguel’s funeral in October some of us had promised to meet up and cook the dishes the older folk used to make. So here we were, on a foggy Saturday morning a few months later, aproned up in Orelia and Miguel’s small house in Northolt. Orelia, uncle Miguel’s wife and now his widow, had always believed herself to be a great cook, even certain of having extended her husband’s life a little with her food and the pleasure of it.
“Fresh fish, fresh meat, I buy the best, only the best fresh food for him every day and cook it all fresh.” She had beamed crazily at the hospital consultant as he tapped for a vein in poor Miguel’s dying body for the morphine feed on that last night.
Today, though, borrachuelos; seasonal Spanish Christmas sweets known as drunken donuts, were on the menu, and so far, we had had quite a time of it. Out of all of us, apparently, I had a natural knack, although according to Orelia, I still made the doughy squares a bit too small. Chiri, Miguel’s youngest sister tired easily and her efforts were the weakest. Orelia didn’t say so but I imagined her thinking, ‘typical’. Chiri was the black sheep of this part of the family. Sexually precocious, she had ‘experimented’ at 12 and married at 16 when already pregnant with her only child Lucy, now 24, and kneading away in the kitchen with the rest of us.
Looking over at a still very attractive Chiri, I remembered how as a child, I had always been in awe of this wild aunt and her salty reputation. She had seemed so very sophisticated when she flicked her shiny, heavy black hair in my direction before swanning off on a date. But over the past 20 years, I’d only seen her a handful of times and mainly at funerals.
Phase one, over, we took a break. Orelia and her son Steve set up the deep fat fryer for phase two, while Chiri seized the opportunity to nip out for a ‘cheeky fag’ as she put it, and I joined her. Somewhat shy in her presence, I paced about making signs and sounds to combat the cold, while she sparked up her rollie.
“Look at you!” She said, blowing out sexy smoke rings and winking at me, “remember how you used to like me doing this?”
“Sure I do. You nearly killed me teaching me how, and Mum nearly killed you, when she found out. Remember that?” I said, wondering again, as I had at my uncle’s funeral, how I’d come to be estranged from this side of our family? Had it really been down to my mother’s influence? And if so, why?
My Mother, Esther, the eldest of the three siblings had been the first to escape a Morocco, readily disgorging its expat community in the mid sixties. To give her her due, she had followed through by safely transplanting the rest of her family to London a few years later. But filial duty done, she had then dumped them like left luggage, in North Acton’s farthest reaches, while she stayed put in her new life in Bloomsbury.
I could see Orelia and Steve were still busy in the kitchen, and as my attention flicked between them and Chiri, I mourned the many other imagined celebrations and feastings that had gone on without me over the years. Stamping my feet harder on the crazy paving to banish the creeping cold, I vowed to myself things would be different from now on. I was not my mother’s daughter and had my own choices to make.
Steve hollered us in for lunch and buoyed by my new determination, once at the dining room table, I ventured a toast to the ‘family,’ including Miguel’s name in this. A mournful silence filled the room, as everyone looked at the photo of him Orally had set out on the sideboard, now lit by a flickering, votive candle. Orelia and Chiri wiped away tears.
As we ate a little too much of Orelia’s green lentil stew, talk turned to relationships. Warmed through by the morning’s promise and the tasty meal, I shared a little of my own story here as a distraction, mainly for Orelia who, now at rest, seemed shrunken and full of tears. I ventured that I had finally met someone, which was a blessed relief to me, after so many years of drifting in the no-romance doldrums, but a distracted Orelia cut across me,
“Not like you eh, Chiri? You should never have let Ronnie go, you were so silly to do that.”
Orelia was still grieving, we all knew that, aside from which, she had an erstwhile reputation for bluntness and we all knew that too. Nonetheless, this seemed an odd direction for her to take the conversation. Miguel’s candle flame sputtered loudly, distracting us for a heartbeat before Chiri replied,
“What did you just say Orelia?” Steve, Lucy and I looked towards her briefly, before I returned my uncomfortable gaze back on the entirely fascinating candle-flame.
“I said,” Orelia continued, “you shouldn’t have let Ronnie go and I’m not the only one who thinks so.”
“Orelia. For the last time. Ronnie. Was. Not. A nice. Man. Why have you never wanted to believe that?” Chiri snapped back.
“Well, you must have turned him then. Worn him down. He seemed like a nice man to me, to all of us.” Orelia was clearly spoiling for something and the lunch was in danger of being spoiled too. The ghost of my wryly, smiling mother flickered across my mind, warning me that I really didn’t know these people at all.
“God Orelia, of all days.” Chiri’s voice rose in pitch and quakiness. “Ask Lucy what her father was really like. Go on. She’s here for once, so you might as well.”
“Mum! Please. You don’t have to do this.” A very weary-looking Lucy held up her hand.
“Oh yes I do Lucy! I came here today for my brother and for you. So everyone could meet you properly after all this time. And then Orelia has to spoil it all by bringing Ronnie into it! Sainted Fucking Ronnie.”
“Oh God. No. Here we go.” Lucy put her elbows on the table, and sank her face into her cupped hands.
“Um. I think I’ll start clearing up,” Steve said, getting to his feet, only to be thoroughly ignored by us all. Chiri who was now rocking in her chair, let out what sounded at first like a lament, her voice so low,
“him, who threw me against the wall in my bedroom, again and again, with the telly turned up loud so no one would notice. Ronnie, who tried to break my leg so I couldn’t get away from him when he wanted sex. I wore him down!”
“Oh Mum please stop!” Lucy had closed her eyes.
“Shut up Lucy. Don’t you dare move Orelia. You asked for it, and now you’re going to hear it, because you don’t know anything.” Chiri was now standing behind her chair and using it for support,
“when we were all sharing the house back in Acton, none of you wanted to know. I was there with all of you, Mum, Dad, you, Orelia and Miguel, locked in my room – just a child, 16 years old being,” she took a deep breath, “raped regularly by my husband who everyone thought was so nice, so quiet –“
“Oh, for God’s sake don’t be so dramatic Chiri!” Orelia had banged the table with her hand, “always telling stories. Always the drama-queen,” but she tailed off. Chiri was by her side, about to strike so it seemed, before changing her mind and rushing for the garden, with Lucy, close behind.
Steve chose this moment to come back into the dining room. He and I looked at each other and not knowing what else to do, I uneasily joined him with the clearing up. Orelia too, gathered up a pile of plates noisily, and chin jutting out like a bulldog announced to no one in particular,
“You can’t say nothing to Chiri. She always walks away. I didn’t say nothing wrong.” “Anything mum. It’s anything, not nothing,” corrected Steve, to an uncomprehending Orelia, “it’s anything not nothing?” he repeated.
“Well, I think, Chiri’s really upset Orelia, I don’t think she’s making this up. Surely you can see that?” I risked. Feeling guilty for my silence so far.
“Oh don’t you go believing her too easily. Chiri, is always upset and you Connie, you don’t know nothing.”
“Anything, Mum, it’s anything,” Steve said, more exasperated at his mother’s grammar, it appeared, than anything else.
“I don’t care!” Orelia banged down the plates. “Anything, or nothing it’s all the same to me,” this at Steve, and then to me,
“it’s easy to get upset all the time, don’t you think? What I said to Chiri is true and anyhow, I don’t need to apologise to her, I always helped her, always. Me, and Migule, always gave her money. I know her. You don’t.” And with that she stomped into the kitchen muttering to her son who shuffled in her wake, while I made my exit into the garden to check on Chiri, who was pacing, smoking, crying and spluttering,
“Oi un ruido pero no vi nada!”
“In English mum, English. You keep slipping into Spanish and not everyone can understand.” Lucy said, as she saw me approaching, assuming my Spanish was not that good.
Wiping her face and looking at me, Chiri translated, “my father-Abuelo, didn’t see anything. Didn’t want to. It was too close to home, in every way. Did you know, my Mum, his wife Abuela, would come and sleep with me, not to protect me, but because while she was in my room, with me in my bed, he wouldn’t touch her. Why do you think we had Yale locks on all our doors?”
“Connie doesn’t know about the Yale locks Mum. Come on.” Lucy gently coaxed Chiri over to a wooden bench and beckoned me to join them. Once seated, Chiri turned to me again,
“Connie, they all believed what they wanted to. Miguel only found out on his deathbed. He asked me for years and I wouldn’t say but he kept asking me, even as he was dying, so I told him. Probably shouldn’t have done that. Don’t think Orelia is very happy about it. But I just couldn’t keep it in anymore,” she sobbed.
“I’m so sorry Chiri.” I said, “I had no idea. About any of it.” I looked around the dusty and lifeless garden for inspiration, but heard only a distant, low-level drone from the A40, and felt the lentil stew lying heavy and undigested in my stomach.
“No, I’m sorry. Chiri said, followed by the appalling, “I only stay alive for Lucy. She knows it too, which is such a burden for her.”
“Oh Mum, I’m alright.” Lucy stroked her mother’s arm.
“Three suicide attempts, you know? One at 16, one at 25 and one just after Abuela died, but still no-one could see.”
“Come on Mum, that’s enough now,” Lucy said, taking her mother’s hands in hers and leaning over for a kiss.
“Chiri could I have one of your cigarettes?”
“Sure, Connie but you don’t smoke.”
“I know, but I’d really like one? Can you roll it for me please – I don’t know how?”
“Sure.” Chiri calmed a little as she got out the Rizla and filled it with tobacco.
“That’s why I haven’t got a man Connie. I just don’t feel safe.” She said, as she absent-mindedly began smoking my cigarette and Steve loped out to inform us that Orelia had begun frying the Borrachuelos.
“She says she needs more oil. She’s run out of oil with all the frying. So one of us has got to go and get it, yeah?” He said.
“I’ll go.” I jumped up glad to break set, but Chiri looked crestfallen.
“Sorry, did you want to go?”
“No. You go Connie. It’s alright, I’ll just stay here.” She offered me a faint smile, like a child who realises after the biggest cry of their life, that everything just carries on, only in a slightly drained out way for a while.
“Ok, I will then.” I said, “I won’t be long.”
When I returned, the house stank of Mazola. Lucy and Chiri had joined Orelia and Steve in the kitchen in what looked like a wounded truce. I opened all the windows and the door to the garden to let in some air. When the Borrachuelos had cooled, and had been dipped in booze and sugar, we ate far too many of them.
We parted, saying we might try learning a few other recipes in spring.
Driving home through traffic and heartburn, gratitude towards my mother had replaced my earlier regret, but I stopped myself there. To imagine the real substance of what she might be concealing didn’t bear thinking about. I turned the volume up loud on the radio and as soon as the lights turned green, accelerated.