(This to be included in the next Luna City Chronicle – a Fifth of Luna City)

In the kitchen of the double-wide home on Oak Lane, Araceli Gonzalez-Gonzales sang softly along to the radio, tuned to KTKO in Beeville, to Tennessee Flat-top Box, as she stirred the batter for lemon-butter pound-cake cupcakes. “In a little cabaret, in a South Texas border town …” Araceli and the radio both could barely be heard outside of the kitchen. The double-wide was a small one, the dividing walls thin, and her husband Patrick was fast asleep in the darkened master bedroom. Pat worked nights, driving a tanker truck for a company working the shale oil formation in South Texas. This was a Saturday afternoon in early summer; the heat outside at the sizzle-on-the- blacktop worst by late afternoon. Araceli and Pat’s children, Angelika and Mateo came inside after a morning of helping their mother with the outdoor work of mowing the lawn and pulling up weeds in the bed of cosmos flowers and multi-colored salvia plants which lined the yard – a yard defined by a waist-high chain link fence.

That fence was nearly the first improvement that Pat made to their home when Angelika was a baby. There had never been very much traffic on Oak Lane, almost the last residential street before Luna City raveled out into cultivated fields, pastures, and stands of live oaks – but eventually the narrow street wandered out towards the main road. The first thing which could be said about Araceli’s children, was that she was fiercely but unobtrusively protective of them. The toddler-aged Angelika was a fearless wanderer. In the living room adjoining the tiny kitchen, Angelika curled up in a battered old Barcalounger, absorbed in a thick Harry Potter adventure. Eleven years old, going on twelve, with a round, solemn face and long dark hair done up in loops of braid and tied with ribbons, a fastidious and intelligent child. Her seven-year-old brother sat at the kitchen table, building a complicated Lego brick starship.

This room – indeed, the whole doublewide was a shabby place, especially in comparison with other homes in Luna City, and yet it was comfortable and immaculately clean. Nothing in it matched particularly, or would ever be the subject of one of those interior decorating features. But Araceli and Pat’s friends were repeatedly drawn in, made welcome, especially on Sunday afternoons, when Pat served up barbeque from the massive grill and smoker parked out in back. No guests at Pat and Araceli’s Sunday afternoons worry about rings from the bottoms of cold soft drinks or beer bottles leaving marks on the furniture, or guacamole dip spilled onto the sofa slip-cover. Araceli will just sigh and run it through the washing machine.

There was a heavy, old-style television stowed away in a console cabinet as the central feature, under a framed painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in her starry cloak and wreathed in a golden halo and a wealth of pink roses. A constellation of family pictures crowned the top of the cabinet; baby pictures of Angelika and Mateo, of Araceli and Patrick on their wedding day with their attendants – the girls in aqua blue dresses, the young groomsmen solemn in their formal suits – a hand-tinted studio portrait of Araceli’s grandparents, Abuelo Jesus and Abuelita Adeliza, her younger brother Berto in his high-school graduation cap and gown, Araceli in hers – seemingly solemn and thoughtful. In spite of all encouragement to the contrary, Araceli had already made up her mind as to what she would do after the finished high school.

“Mama, are those for tomorrow?” Mateo asked, as Araceli deftly poured batter into a twenty-four-pan cupcake tin, each hollow lined with pretty yellow cupcake papers.

“They are, hijo – but you may lick out the bowl when I’m done. I need to have one for everyone who is coming tomorrow.”

“Why?” Mateo sneaked a lick at the beaters of the stand mixer.

“Stop that, Matty – the beaters are for your sister, you’re getting the bowl. Because this is the way that are going to announce Miss Jess’s new baby to all our friends tomorrow – whether it is a boy or a girl.”

“With cupcakes?” Mateo frowned in puzzlement. Araceli slid the cupcake pan into the oven and shutting the oven door on a gust of heat.

“I’m going to make a sweet cream cheese filling for the inside of the cupcakes – strawberry for a girl, blueberry for a boy, and then frost the top. People will have to eat the cupcake to find the answer.” Araceli explained. Mateo’s expression lightened.

“So you must know if it is a girl or a boy. Are you going to tell us?”
“I do know,” Araceli pursed her lips. “But my lips are sealed. It’s a secret until tomorrow. But – I will cut a little bit out of the middle of the cupcakes to leave room for the filling – and we will have those for our dessert tonight. OK?”

“OK,” Mateo agreed philosophically – he has the bowl with the last bits of batter to console him, after all. When the bowl was nearly cleaned of all smears of buttery, sweet, lemony cake batter, Mateo put it in the sink and returned to his Lego starship. At that moment, his father emerged, yawning, from the bedroom.

“You didn’t leave any for me, hijito!” Patrick complained; bleary-eyed, his hair ruffled from heavy sleep, after a long night spent jockeying a heavy tanker truck along narrow country roads in the dark. Araceli spared a quick affectionate kiss for her husband; stocky and thick-shouldered. Pat had the same rounded features as his daughter, but his hands were those of a mechanic – ridges and fingernails never quite scoured clean of oil and grime that comes from working with engines.  Pat and Araceli have known each other all their lives, and married for the last thirteen years – married the week after they graduated together from Luna City High School.

“I left the beaters for you, Papi!” Mateo claimed, and Araceli chided him.

“They were for your sister.” From across the room, Angelika looked up from her book.

“I don’t want them,” she said, all seriousness. “I read that you shouldn’t eat batter and cookie dough that has raw eggs in it.”

“Oh, pooh – those are eggs from your grandmother’s hens,” Araceli replied. “There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s eggs from the market that you need to worry about.”

In the meantime, Patrick poured himself a large mug of coffee. Still in bathrobe, tee-shirt and pajama trousers, he settled at the table next to Mateo. Araceli smiled at them both; this is what she has wanted, against all expectations, since she was fifteen.

Araceli is that most curious of modern women – a woman who never really wanted anything more than to be a wife, mother, and homemaker. In a way, she is a rebel and nonconformist; all through her schooldays, everyone assumed that she would go to college, even if she had to go live with the uncle and aunt in Elmendorf, and take on a profession. Her mother urged her to be a science teacher, the guidance counselor at the high school looked at her grades in science and mathematics and recommended all kinds of professions – everything from software developer to chemist. Araceli smiled and nodded, and kept her own council, as she had since she was Angelika’s age, the oldest of a family of four, and the maternity nurse put her baby brother Berto in her arms, and her mother said, “Do you want to take care of your little brother, ‘Celi?”

“Oh, may I, Mama?” Araceli breathed. That was the summer that she was eleven years old, and from that day on, Berto was her living baby doll – cuddled, fed, tended, and amused by a doting older sister – to the point where their mother hardly had to lift a finger until school began again. It was a family legend, that when Berto first went to kindergarten, the formidable Miss Letty McAllister had asked him who his parents were, and Berto had replied, “Mama, Papi, an’ ‘Celi.”

After that summer, Araceli was never in any doubt that babies and children were what she wanted; a family with a proper house, and husband and all – just like Little House on the Prairie, the reruns of which television show was her very favorite. Only with electricity and cars. It was perfectly fine that most of her friends wanted something else; they wanted more – to work at something glamorous in the city and live in a fashionably-decorated apartment and eat in restaurants every night of the week. That was what girls like her best friend, Jess Abernathy wanted, even if Jess really wanted to be a world-championship barrel-racer in the rodeo. Araceli knew instinctively that her modest ambition was something considered terribly retrograde, old-fashioned … even something to be scorned.

She bided her time, and waited – waited until she and Patrick were eighteen, done with school. Abuelita Adeliza approved, even if Araceli’s parents were appalled. Abuelita was of the old generation, and this was expected for a girl; the white dress and veil, the wedding Mass said by Father Bernardo, setting up modest housekeeping with a bunch of miss-matched and hand-me-down cheap furniture. Another stepping-stone in the progress of a life. She did have to go on working at the Café and Coffee; secretly, Araceli quite enjoyed the Café. A job was just a job, something one did for a few hours a day; real life was making a home, a home for herself and Pat, and then the children. If the job facilitated that – all to the good. That’s what a job was for, something that underpinned and supported that real life, the life that gave quiet contentment and fulfillment to everyone – even those friends who only knew it in the retelling.

“What’s for supper tonight, ‘Celi?” Pat had nearly finished his coffee. So scrambled, his working days; supper was his breakfast, his supper was a brief meal eaten in the early morning before he went to bed. Araceli checked the progress of the cupcakes through the glass window set in the oven door.

“Lasagna,” she answered. “I’ll start it baking as soon as the cupcakes are out of the oven. Last of the batch that I made and froze. If you aren’t in the lasagna mood – I made a bunch of meatballs from Anna-Maria’s recipe. They’re in the big freezer.”

“Lasagna’s fine.” Patrick grinned at her and Araceli grinned back. Utterly content – tomorrow they would host a good array of their friends. A whole brisket side was already soaking in Pat’s secret special marinade. Sometime tonight or in the early morning, he would start it slow-smoking in the massive BBQ. That purchase had been his first and only indulgence when things started picking up in the shale oil fields, and he landed the job which so far – had been the best-paid of his life.  Likely that he would never have a better-paying one, but Araceli did not mind that very much. She had never intended or wanted to marry a rich man; a hard-working, sober and honest one was what she wanted. All that she had ever wanted; of those building-blocks was a happy life built, in Luna City.

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