We had another surge over the next couple days, but things quieted down a little after that. Maybe nobody wanted to try the crossing so close to Christmas. On my day off, I helped Mamá decorate the house. I’d planned to get my own place after finishing my degree at Pan American, but then Papá got sick and passed away, so I just stayed. I figured Mamá needed me. Anyway, we strung the tree with lights, set out candles and potpourri and advent calendars, and organized Mamá’s myriad nativity scenes. That plus the baking took up the whole morning. We spent the afternoon making tamales, though Mamá did almost everything, as usual. While she was mixing the masa with paprika, cumin, and chili powder, I began a subtle interrogation.
“Do you know if we have any family in Monterrey?”
“More than likely, querida,” she said without looking at me. “¿Por qué?”
“No reason, really. Just curious.”
“Now you’re asking questions about família en México.” Mamá clucked her tongue. “That’s not like you, María. Not at all.”
Mamá finished the dough, then set the cornhusks, masa, and meat in a neat row on the counter. She let me help her roll.
“A few days back,” I said, “I met someone who claimed to be a cousin from México. Antonio Rosás.”
Mamá’s gaze went blank. “Yes, me recuerdo que your Papá had some família down there. I liked them, but we kept our distance. He insisted. Said they were a no-good bunch, dirty and no manners. Always asking for dinero.”
“Huh,” I said, tucking in the folds of another tamale and placing it in the vat.
After we’d rolled a dozen more, Mamá said, “Have you seen Junior lately?”
“Por supuesto, Mamá. We work together. Remember?”
Her smile disappeared, and the wrinkles emerged on her forehead. “You know that’s not what I mean, mija.” She clucked her tongue again. “You’re not getting any younger, María. You don’t want to end up an old maid.”
I folded my arms and tried to act offended. We’d had this conversation a hundred times already, ever since Junior started coming around on weekends in his pressed jeans and bolo ties, Tony Llamas spit-shined to a high gloss. He liked to pretend José invited him over, but he always brought something with him: tulips, Whitman’s chocolates, one time even a teddy bear he said he won sharpshooting at the fair. Junior feigned they were for Mamá, but I knew better. Everyone did. When I asked him to stop, he gave me a wink and said:
“Pretty girl like you needs looking after, María.”
Then he grinned the size of Texas.