By Barbara Schilling Hurwitz
“Por favor, don’t go, Mama.” Julio pushes out his quivering bottom lip.
Carlita lifts him into her arms and kisses him goodnight before settling him into the imported Italian crib with only a few marks left by the unknown previous inhabitant.
“I must go, pobrecito,” she says rubbing the unruly curls on top of his head. “You know I must work. But I’ll bring you back a surprise. Now, you be a good boy for Tia Lupe and go to sleep.” She winks at her sister who shares the one-room Brooklyn apartment.
Carlita stretches the seams of the secondhand Nautica jacket as she pushes her stout arms through the sleeves. Then, never certain what she will find in the dimly lit stairwell or on the city streets five stories below, she feels for the mace pen secured inside her pocket.
“Double lock the door behind me,” she reminds Lupe before leaving.
Carlita works by day making tortillas in a local restaurant. By night she’s a city employee, hired to separate bottles and plastics from trash bags set on the Manhattan sidewalks of the upper eastside. While the salary only provides for a pittance of her needs, there is no charge for the cache she acquires on these nights.
Once outside, she hurries across the street to the New Lots Avenue subway entrance. It’s quiet this time of night in the station, and the train is empty aside from one homeless man stretched across a bench, seeking refuge from the cold.
She thinks of her husband separated from her when they were so close to the border. It’s been over two years. She was just three months pregnant when the truck turned over, and he yelled for her and his younger brother to run. Those were the last words she heard before the gunshots fired.
Eduardo is still on her mind an hour later when she rises from the underground at 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue and heads a few more blocks uptown. Trash bags are piled high on the sidewalks, and being the end of the month when leases exchange hands and renters discard unwanted goods before relocating, the trash is ripe with treasures.
Tonight, her eyes open wide with disbelief as she inspects an abandoned child-size car, a battery-operated Mercedes. She smiles imagining Julio sitting in the seat, driving through the park. And still smiling she drags the first family vehicle around the corner to the familiar-faced, curly-haired night doorman who protects her goods while she works.
“Mira,” he says pulling her inside the storeroom. Awe-struck, Carlita’s shaking hands slide over the red enamel toddler bed and green Playskool desk set with colorful magnetic letters tucked inside.
Overflowing with happiness, Carlita kisses Luis’s cheek.
But it’s Eduardo’s twinkling eyes she sees as Luis steps back and unfolds one more surprise. With a gasp and flood of tears, Carlita removes her ill-fitting jacket and slips her arms into the down-filled coat with tags still attached.
Barbara Schilling Hurwitz is a veteran teacher who has found a new voice through creative writing. Her stories have been published in Montgomery Magazine, The Drabble and Microfiction Monday. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband.