Isabel and Elena, 2


July 13, 1936


She didn’t want to open her eyes. If she opened them, she knew she would have to get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, tie her shoelaces and walk four blocks to the Primaria de Salamanca.

She left them closed. She rolled over. She ignored her mother’s voice and listened to her neighbors scamper around the apartment building. Next door, Luis’s mother yelled for him to hurry and eat his bread, drink his milk. Two doors down, Don Patricio’s dog, Enrique, barked; he needed to urinate. Across the courtyard, Dona Luisa played the piano, stealing a few moments before the baby woke up.

Venga, Isa. Ya es hora.” Her mother’s face peered into the door. Again, Isa rolled over. She knew that should be happy to go to school today. It was sunny in Salamanca. She was turning eleven.

But she didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to get dressed. She didn’t want to tie her shoes, or walk through the courtyard. She pressed her eyelids more firmly together, and concentrated on Dona Luisa’s melody.

“Isa,” her mother’s voice grew more firm. “I won’t ask you again. If you aren’t out of bed and dressed in five minutes, you’re going to miss your grandfather.”

Begrudgingly, Isabel lifted the covers, sat up and yawned. The intensity of her mother’s blue eyes told her not to resist any longer.  

She watched her mother’s slender body move about the room, setting a freshly pressed plaid skirt and white collared shirt on the end of the bed before she left to put out bread and milk for breakfast. Yawning again, Rosa looked at her clothes and imagined putting them on. She stretched out her arms and listened for another few moments to Dona Luisa’s piano. She played so little now, now that the baby had come. Before, there was always a melody, a tune that was never interrupted by cries. That was when she was nine, yes maybe nine. When she still did not have to think about getting dressed and tying her shoes and eating breakfast.

Her mother called again. “Venga Isa…”

“Coming, coming,” she grabbed her clothes and slowly put one foot, and then the other, into her skirt. The buttons were getting too tight. She knew that soon her mother would need to make it wider around her hips. Her shirt too had suddenly become taut, the fabric almost stretching across her chest. She looked into the mirror. She sighed, reached for the comb and made a precise part down the middle of her head, breaking her hair into two equal sections. With both hands, she smoothed the strands, gathering them towards the back of her head, and then letting them fall again onto her shoulders. The part, so clean, so awake, looked ready for the day.

“Isa, if you don’t get down here in two seconds…”

“Coming,” she said again, running her fingers again across her hair. Again, she sighed. She turned towards the kitchen.

Without turning around, her mother acknowledged her presence. Another sigh.

“Your grandfather will be here any minute.”

Rosa sat down. She was ravenous but hated breakfast. She reached first for the orange juice and finished the entire glass in three gulps. Then she went for the butter, spreading generous gobs onto the bread, which caved into the pressure of the knife. Next, the ham, a treat for a weekday, straight to her mouth.. Soft saltiness. As she ate, her hunger grew, as if angry. She took another bite. Again, saltiness cut into her lip.

Her mother was talking but she couldn’t hear.

The door opened.

Hola, buenas,” Isabel recognized her grandfather’s booming voice and pushed her plate aside.