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José journeyed to the cemetery like he did most mornings. He stood by the grave, the words of his grandmother filling his mind as the breeze of early morning filled his nose and lungs.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."
And there wasn't a day that went by that José didn't live with those words floating in his mind like a white gull circling by the sea, gently reminding him of the four years spent on Riker's Island.
Newborn leaves shivered on the cherry trees that lined the lanes of the cemetery.
Oh yes. He'd had plans. As a boy on a horse ranch in Mexico, he knew exactly what he wanted to be, but nothing turned out as he'd planned. It never did. Life took you right to the edge of where you wanted to go, then turned left. There were only a few people in the world he knew who did exactly what they wanted with their lives. Unfortunately, they were his mother, his father, and his older brother, Manny.
But everyone else? No. Most of them seemed to be scratching along like him, working a job there in the city, acting a part, and wondering what the world would hold if they weren't tied down by their mistakes.
"You're such a good-looking boy," that same grandmother had always told him as he was growing up. But nobody inthe courtroom that day cared whether or not he was handsome. He was guilty, and they threw him into prison. Each day José realized he'd gotten off easy compared to the person he killed. Four years was nothing.
In front of the granite headstone, the grass was now overgrown, the tender spring shoots mingling with last year's dried blades, and he knelt and crossed himself, hoping somehow the pictures in his mind constituted a prayer. The scene that day ran across his mind again, and he prayed for God to suspend time and run it backward. But God didn't work that way that he ever could tell.
Time to go to work. He traced the name with his finger tips, then laid some flowers in front of the small tombstone.
He stood up, brushing the grass from his jeans. The pink of the roses bled into the green of the grave-grass as the spring wind and the grief he nurtured watered his eyes.
José skirted the graves and hurried down the lanes of the city cemetery, through the iron gates, toward the subway station. He could make this walk blindfolded after the past two years of pilgrimage.
The sun was rising, not looking down on him, but peering through alleys and over fences. José broke into a fast walk. He didn't realize he'd stayed by the grave so long. Manny would be furious if the kitchen wasn't running smoothly. And Manny got what he wanted: success, good horses, and, well, maybe not his share of women, but he didn't have time for them anyway. The two brothers were nothing alike. It made sense. But it didn't make working for him any easier.
He already had the staff dinner in mind when he un locked the door, flipped on the lights, and heated up the ovens. He could feed people. Keep them alive for another day. This he could do.
And so he cooked, chopped and stirred, tasted and plated, each day, all day-the heat of the kitchen drawing out his sweat. It rolled into his eyes making them smart, and José let Manny yell and make fusses because he knew he deserved a lifetime of penance. And this penance wasn't given to him by his priest; it was given to him by God. Or rather that was what José had come to believe.
Excerpted from bella by Lisa Samson Copyright © 2008 by Bella Productions LLC.. Excerpted by permission.
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