Two sisters working to mend and maintain their relationship share breakfast in Gabriella Navas’s “Ahorita.” Sonia, a new mother, has begun insisting the two need to reconnect, and it is Leticia who suggests their weekly breakfasts. Leticia and Sonia “believe in big breakfasts,” something they inherited from their parents and grandparents. But will breakfast be enough?
In the morning, the kitchen table is drenched in so much sunlight that it keeps Leticia’s coffee warm while she forms and fries the sorullitos.
Her sister, Sonia, who has recently gone dairy-free in an attempt to shed her baby weight, has requested them without cheese, and since today is their weekly breakfast date, Leticia relents despite her own cravings.
She’s never been able to get them to look like the ones she sees on social media: the ones that are perfectly cylindrical, that could easily pass for mozzarella sticks if someone were to look at them quickly enough or from a distance. Hers always come out looking like her mother’s: fat little ovals, pointed at the ends. As she watches them go golden-brown in the pan, she thinks of the white food blogger who went viral for her healthier take on sorullitos, opting to bake instead of fry them, opting for coconut oil instead of butter. Low-fat cheese or none at all. Sonia had sent her the video two nights before, followed by a text that said, Maybe we should try them this way, to which Leticia had responded, Get the fuck outta here.
Leticia looks down at her hands, glistening with vegetable oil, and decides not to wash them. Instead, she takes two fingers and swipes the oil onto the apples of her cheeks and the ball of her nose, which she knows she will regret tomorrow when her face inevitably breaks out, but for now she just wants to feel less bare, less exposed, to put some kind of barrier between her skin and the world. She remembers when Sonia had first announced her pregnancy, how their Titi Claudia had said she already knew because of el brillo, el brillo. The glow, the glow.
After removing the sorullitos from the pan and placing them on a plastic plate lined with paper towels, Leticia walks over to the kitchen table and takes a sip of her coffee, already her second cup of the day. She listens to the elevator rattling through the building on its way up. Outside her window, she spots Sonia crossing the street, and she figures that now is the time to start playing the collaborative salsa playlist they made specifically for these breakfasts, to fill the impending silence.
Leticia knows that Sonia will take the stairs, not the elevator, which gives her enough time to take her meds, hide the bottle, and change into a shirt that isn’t stained at the pits. She pulls her hair into a ponytail and puts on her largest gold hoops, the ones that almost reach her shoulders, which she’s always afraid will get caught on something and be ripped right off her lobes. She wonders what that would feel like, if it would be so quick that she wouldn’t even notice until hours afterwards, or until someone pointed it out and asked her what happened.
Leticia loves Sonia, but she doesn’t know how to talk to her, and this, she thinks, is one of the many reasons why they’d only seen each other a handful of times in the last few years, almost never while Sonia was pregnant. But then the baby arrived and here was Sonia, materialized weekly at Leticia’s kitchen table after so many missed milestones and unreturned texts.
Leticia wonders what would happen if Sonia had another daughter, if her girls would end up like they did, their relationship a dried-up orange they still try to squeeze juice from.
By the time Sonia makes it up to the fourth floor and lets herself into the apartment, Leticia has just finished packing coffee grounds into her greca and placing it on the stove. They greet each other the same way they always do, with exaggerated, it’s-been-too-long smiles, a half-hug, and a kiss on the cheek. A Willie Colón song begins to play, and Leticia concentrates on its lyrics while Sonia settles in. It’s the one about a woman who he says isn’t talented but has sex appeal, de que su palanca fuera su cuerpo y no su valor, and Leticia thinks that maybe that’s a talent in and of itself, that it takes a certain level of skill to negotiate with your body instead of your words. That, sometimes, you can say more with the way you choose to move around someone than with entire conversations.
Sonia places her tote bag on a chair and empties its contents onto the kitchen table: a carton of half a dozen eggs, takeout mangú, a loaf of pan sobao. She walks over to Leticia and hands her the carton, secured only with a single rubber band, and when she opens it, Leticia is surprised to find that they are all unbroken. She takes out another pan to start frying the eggs and Sonia pours herself coffee before stealing a sorullito from the plate Leticia has set out.
“Son fríos,” she says to Leticia, no judgement in her voice. “Want me to nuke them?”
“Yeah, sure,” Leticia says. “How many eggs?”
“Just one.” Sonia walks over to the microwave with the plate of sorullitos and puts it in, then stands a few feet away, superstitious about radiation. “Actually, gimme two.”
They believe in big breakfasts. It’s one of the few things they would never fight about, which, in Leticia’s eyes, made it the safest option when Sonia had insisted they spend more time together after the baby was born. They inherited this practice from their mother, who inherited it from her father, for whom, as a child in Puerto Rico, breakfast was thought to be a privilege, having come from a long line of men and women who used to wake before the sun, their bellies filled with nothing but air and coffee, to go work in sugarcane fields and factories.
On some level, the sisters understand that their hunger is different from their grandfather’s, but on another level, they still wish they could claim it, though they would never say this out loud, and especially not to each other. It’s insulting, Leticia thinks, to pretend like a thing they are so far removed from has any bearing on how they move through the world.
Some things are just history, just the particulars of other people’s lives that happened to lead to their existence, and how shameful would it be to act otherwise? To act like they share in a struggle they never had to face, would never have to face. Leticia thinks about the hierarchy of the struggle, about what makes a struggle a struggle at all, about who gets to say what hurts. She wonders if she could ever turn her own pain into something useful or if, years from now, it’ll still be unharvested, and she’ll have to admit that she grew it all herself.
“You sure you don’t want another one?” Leticia asks Sonia. “They’re small.”
“How many are you having?”
“I should be good with two,” Sonia says. Then, as if to avoid judgment or to justify her decision, she adds, “I had a banana before I came.”
After Sonia takes the sorullitos out of the microwave and Leticia finishes frying the eggs, the sisters settle themselves at the table. Sonia removes the covering from the mangú, packed with a complimentary side of aguacate, which they both know will remain untouched, and eventually, when it browns, will be thrown out. Leticia studies the mangú before serving herself, assessing the consistency, the red onions pickled pink. Sonia forgoes the bread and passes it to Leticia, who breaks herself off a piece and butters it before dipping it in her third cup of coffee.
“So,” Leticia starts, lowering the volume on the music, “how’s motherhood?”
Sonia laughs, allowing Leticia to catch a glimpse of her snaggletooth. “Qué pregunta.” She cuts into one of her eggs, the yolk spilling out onto the plate, which she soaks up with a sorullito.
After swallowing her first bite, she says, “It’s good. She’s…quiet. I don’t know if that’s how she’s supposed to be. Like, I’m worried I’m doing something wrong all the time, pero—ay, no sé.”
Leticia fiddles with her unpainted acrylics, pressing down on the tips to see if any of them lift so she knows which ones to fix once Sonia leaves. She stands up and makes her way to the refrigerator, takes out the bowl of sliced mango and starfruit she’d forgotten about, and places it on the table before sitting back down. Sonia removes the plastic wrap and carefully selects a piece of starfruit, holding it up to the light and spinning it around before putting it in her mouth. Before she finishes swallowing, she takes another and does the same.
“I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong,” Leticia says. She feels, suddenly, like her throat is stuffed with lint. She begins to cough, then takes a sip of coffee to try and stifle it. “You’re doing this, like, impossible thing, you know?”
“Qué amable. I appreciate that.” Sonia eyes the bread but doesn’t take a piece. “It’s not impossible, though. Someday you’ll do it, too. You’ll be a good mom, manita.”
Leticia looks up at her sister, already thinning. She doesn’t know what makes a good mom, only that it requires sacrifices that she can’t bring herself to make. She considers her own body, the cradle of it, the void of it. She thinks about all the times it could have swelled but didn’t, the times it started to before she stopped it. To say nothing of the months when, while Sonia’s body was becoming a home for her daughter, Leticia was off somewhere trying to make hers uninhabitable.
Leticia shrugs. “I don’t know about all that.” Some of us weren’t made to be mothers, she wants to say. Some of us are just children all our lives.
“Seriamente,” Sonia says, putting her fork down. “It’s like, once you find out this little thing is living inside you…” She sits with her palms face up and looks back and forth from one hand to the other, like she is comparing fruit that Leticia can’t see. Then she closes her hands, shakes her head, rolls her eyes. “Ay, lemme stop. I sound like Mami.”
Leticia thinks of their mother and all her misguided love. Of the damage a person can do when they have a say in the way something grows, even if it’s mostly chance. It occurs to her that Sonia is being earnest, that she really believes Leticia would be a good mother, though maybe, Leticia thinks, this is only because she doesn’t know her well enough to believe otherwise.
Leticia looks down at the half-eaten piece of pan sobao on her plate, at the coffee soaking through it and leaking under the mound of mangú, and she thinks about how eventually everything bleeds into everything else, and that for her the real inconvenience isn’t the contamination itself but this: having to decide what to save and what to throw away.
“You?” she snorts. “Never.”
Sonia gives Leticia the finger and they both laugh the same laugh just as El Gran Combo comes on. Suddenly Sonia is on her feet, dancing from the table to the stove to pour herself more coffee. Leticia turns and watches her sister with an expression that is equal parts pain and wonder: her sister, the woman who drinks rum straight up without her lips curling at each sip, but who didn’t stop sleeping with a nightlight until she was married; the woman who gauges wealth by how many hardcover books someone owns; who once went through Leticia’s closet just to cut off all the labels on her shirts because she knew how much they bothered her.
And it is here in this moment that Leticia realizes that no one will ever know her life the way that Sonia does: that they are the only two people on this planet who know what it was like to grow up in their exact set of circumstances, that no matter where either of them goes, no matter how those circumstances improve or worsen, this fact won’t change.
When Sonia returns to the table, Leticia’s eyes are rimmed with tears.
“Fuentecita,” Sonia says, her smile flattened with concern, perhaps even pity. “¿Qué pasó?”
Leticia wants to say something beautiful, something that will change the trajectory of their relationship, but the look on Sonia’s face quickly replaces Leticia’s wonder with doubt, as if she has just given herself false memories of who her sister is, and false hope for who they could be to each other.
“Nada, nada.” Leticia motions to the open window. “It’s allergy season.”
Sonia pushes her plate away, leans back in her chair and crosses her arms. “You sure?”
Leticia thinks of her niece, who now has access to her sister in all the ways she knows she never will, all the ways she used to but took for granted. She lets a sob rattle her chest.
“Leti,” Sonia says. “Mentirosa. Talk to me. Solo quiero—”
Leticia stands up and takes her plate to the trash can. She begins to scrape the remaining food off before realizing she doesn’t need to, then tosses the whole thing in.
“I can’t be doing this with you right now.”
“Sonia, por favor.” Leticia sits back down. “Basta.”
Sonia waits for a moment—for an apology, Leticia thinks—before pushing her chair away from the table and getting up. She finishes what’s left of her coffee and puts her mug in the sink. She walks around the kitchen opening drawers and cabinets until she finds a box of sandwich bags and takes one before slamming the drawer shut. She stuffs it full of sorullitos and throws in her tote bag. She looks at Leticia, then right past her at the pan sobao, and leans over her to take that, too.
Sonia starts to walk away now, then turns back around and heads toward the table, where she bends down and pulls Leticia into an angry, forgiving hug.
“Nos vemos,” Sonia says.
There’s a long silence, during which Leticia again relents, wrapping her arms around her sister’s shrinking waist. She wishes she could understand the space they occupy, together, without growing to resent it. She wishes she could tell Sonia everything she’s ever done and be proud of all of it. Leticia wants to ask her sister to sit back down, to stay and eat until she’s full, to not care about anything but her, and them, blood-bound and beyond reach. She feels like a child, or else like a woman with childish needs. And which of these is worse? she thinks.
She clears her throat. She sighs. “Te quiero, manita.”
“Te quiero también.” Sonia hugs her tighter. “I’ll see you next week, yeah?”
Leticia is quiet for a moment. Then: “Maybe we should hold off. For a little while, at least.”
Sonia’s body tenses in Leticia’s arms. “¿En serio?”
When Sonia steps back, they both realize too late that Leticia’s earring has gotten caught in Sonia’s hair, and the sisters are left staring at it as it clatters to the floor, and Leticia feels, if only briefly, relieved—relieved that the thing she was always afraid would happen has finally happened.
Gabriella Navas is a Puerto Rican writer hailing from Jersey City, NJ. Her work has previously appeared in [PANK], GASHER, and Storm Cellar. She is easily distracted, frequently smitten, and always willing to talk about the healing powers of Chavela Vargas’s discography. She currently lives in Columbus, OH. You can find more of her words @gee.navas on Instagram.