Abuela: quiet and steady | Helen Lee

Her head is crowned with wisps of gray. Warm, sandalwood skin. Careful eyes.

“Ay, Helen, I’m worried about him. He needs to improve his reading.”

I nod my head and fold my hands to show I’m listening.

It’s been a month since I last tutored her grandson. Now I’m back in the credential program and he started eighth grade as well as baseball practice.

“He’s just not interested. And his mom doesn’t care. She’s too busy working. And tired.”

She folds the page of the book she’s reading. The cover shows as she closes it. It’s a paperback bible.

“You’re doing a great job looking after him, Alma. He will appreciate it one day.”

She folds her hands and looks at me.

“You think so?”

She shrugs and holds her elbows.

“I hope so.”

“She made me this berry juice thing to wake me up.”

Bleary eyed. Thin chain necklace and snapback hat. Raul peers off at the parking lot from the table we are sitting at.

“Yeah? That’s nice of her. Did it help?”

He jostles through his drawstring bag for the library book we are reading together.

“Yeah!”

His eyes get big and he chuckles.

“It tasted kinda good, I guess. There were all these seeds at the bottom. And she told me to drink all of it. ”

At the end of the session, Alma comes and sits next to Raul.

I tell her he did a good job today and that he’ll get better as he keeps practicing reading out loud.

“Yeah, I notice he struggles. He needs a lot of help. He’s not interested in reading—”

Raul grabs hold of her elbow.

“No grandma, I do like reading. Some books are just boring. But, I really like this one.”

Alma turns and looks at him.

“Okay, Raul.”

That summer, I had many sweet moments reading with Raul and talking with Alma.

And I learned about love. Love keeps coming, even when it goes unnoticed; love comes, quiet and steady.

One evening Alma stays for a little while at Raul’s home after bringing him from school. She has a book and keys on the kitchen table and fiddles with them.

She watches her daughter-in-law season some rice on the stove.

“Quiere comer con nosostros?”

She pauses fiddling and turns to look at her grandson. He is focused on a video game on the small, flat screen television.

“No, estoy cansada. Gracias, mija.”

Her daughter-in-law asks again, turning to see Alma’s response. Alma smiles and grabs her key and book.

“No, otra vez, mija.”

“Pero, no quiere pasar el tiempo con Raul?”

The daughter-in-law recalls this same refusal from another night.

She turns and sees Raul, now reclining on the sofa, asleep with the game controller on his chest. Alma kisses her on the cheek and leaves, closing the door gently behind her.

Thanks for reading! For more by Helen, explore the unraveling.

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