Sleep was evading me although I was so tired. I was back at my parent’s home in the Bronx, New York for the funeral of my Uncle Silvano. It’s been fifteen years since I left New York for Los Angeles and although I visited my family at least once a year, I hadn’t planned to be back so unexpectedly. Silvano was my father’s baby brother. He always greeted me with a smile. Always told corny jokes. He was a hardcore baseball fan of the Mets in a sea of Yankee fans, and he loved to listen to Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera. He died from a long illness that stripped away his weight but never his warmth. The sadness that weighed down on me that day felt so heavy. I thought if I took a nap before heading out to the funeral home I could be there for my father but all I could do was stare at the ceiling.
Although it was winter, my parents kept the house summer-warm so the windows in the bedroom were cracked open and that’s when I heard them. At first, I heard the dogs, little Chihuahuas, yapping it up. Then I heard the woman’s rough voice yelling at her man. “Where’s my money?” she said. “I told you I need to buy food for the babies.” I couldn’t really see her face or his, just a silhouette of her body hunched over the shopping cart where the two Chihuahuas were kept. She continued to yell at him and so I did what I always do, I grabbed my notepad and wrote what I heard and saw. That became the first inkling of the short story “Place Your Hand Here.” I didn’t know that little snippet would become a short story about a young immigrant who comes to New York in search of a tribe and her voice. I just jotted down what I heard because it was better than being overcome by waves of sadness.
“Place Your Hand Here” isn’t about my uncle although he immigrated to New York like the character. What that must have been like for him to find his way around that city, like my father did, like my mother. “Place Your Hand Here” isn’t about them at all but in a small way it is.
Read Lilliam Rivera’s story in our current issue.