Short Fiction/ Memoir

Maria, In Three Acts 

Published in Pank, 2020


2020, A Living Room in Florida

The painting hangs on the wall. It depicts an oxcart winding its way on rutty brown dirt roads past red tiled roofs. Slouching men with battered hats carry spades and machetes. Women stand outside doors in shapeless skirts, hands weathered from grinding corn and hanging freshly washed sheets in the dusty wind. All is brown and rust and grey.


1930’s Rural Costa Rica

The young girl brightens with childish joy when she finds an egg under the hay in the old barn. She shrieks with horror when a fuzzy chick is carried off by an eagle. She droops with sadness when her father leaves for God knows how long, his Model T jolting over the ruts on his way to town.

They all work for her father, the men with battered hats, their shapeless wives, their dirty children and flea ravaged dogs, skinny oxen. He is a Diputado (Senator), a self- made “man of the people”- with vast tracts of coffee- dark green leaves with ruby red berries, and mistresses scattered across the county.

Two fat little girls run screaming around the corner, hair ribbons flying. They are identical twins, triumphant at fooling the nuns by swapping out identities. They are the last of seven and largely ignored, once dumped by servants into a pit to play with a shared doll.


1950’s San José, Costa Rica

“Girls do not need to go to university”, her father declares sternly. She quietly enrolls and works in her cousin’s lab to pay tuition. Her twin Teresa takes off to study art in Florence. Their older sister, the beauty, falls in love with a campesino and marries a Mafioso who owns half the buildings downtown, belt marks from their father scarring her back.


1980’s Rural Costa Rica

A young woman, Maria’s daughter, sits on the porch beneath swinging wire baskets of pink veranara reading vintage science fiction. She shouts “A Dios” at women trudging up the hill to the old farmhouse carrying burlap bags from the market. Tractors rumble past pulling carts of blackened sugar cane stalks to be weighed at the cooperative founded by her grandfather. 

Holstered men sent by her uncle appear at the door, meant to threaten, to intimidate over water. Coffee is a thirsty plant. “Vayase, get off of my land”, her mother shouts, hands on hips in defiance.

Twenty five years the stranger in a strange land, the housewife in Ohio, Maria suddenly appears to her daughter.


2016, A House in Suburban Virginia

She can still speak, mostly Spanish now, and sips her morning coffee, pursing her lips with a sigh after each swallow. She defied her father and brothers, but cannot defy the illness that slithers through her brain, leaving tracks in the sand.

She tells her daughter “You know, Teresa came to see me yesterday. She was on her way with a family to a town deep in the mountains.”


Christmas 2018, a House in Rural Costa Rica

Maria’s daughter, now retired and a grandmother herself, comes bearing a bag of ashes. First stop to visit Teresa, her mother’s twin, resting comfortably in a wheelchair, her oil paintings choking the walls and scattered in piles displacing the spare bedroom. She tells her niece “you know Maria came to see me yesterday. She was travelling with some students on a bus, going to university.”

Her niece takes out a pair of nail scissors and carefully separates a canvass from its frame, staple by rusty staple. Dry with age, the canvass wheezes as it is rolled and placed in a suitcase.


2019, A Park in Suburban Virginia

A Crepe Myrtle sits behind a bench, its scarlet blooms in full glory. An inscription on a plaque rests by its trunk. It reads Maria E. Simon 1926-2018. The whole of her, Maria Eugenia Peralta Rodriguez de Simon, would not fit on the plaque.


2020, A Living Room in Florida

The painting hangs on the wall. It depicts an oxcart winding its way on rutty brown dirt roads past red tiled roofs. Slouching men with battered hats carry spades and machetes. Women stand outside doors in shapeless skirts, hands weathered from grinding corn and hanging freshly washed sheets in the dusty wind. All is brown and rust and grey. Two fat little girls run screaming around the corner, hair ribbons flying.



Published in Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, 2021

I held my mother’s cold, veined hand. Her eyes, filmed over with cataracts, stared at some spot beyond me, something only she could see. I hated to see her like this, a shell of a person who longer knew me as her daughter. I absent mindedly asked her in Spanish “Do you remember Patty?” To my surprise, her eyes welled up with tears.

Patty was a dog, a zaguate, Costa Rican slang for mutt. Patty was medium sized, white with black and brown spots, pointed ears like satellite dishes protruding from her head, and a stub of a tail that wiggled when she wagged. Rumor has it her mother was a German Shepherd mix, kept on the roof when she was in heat so that her many suitors could not reach her. And yet one small wily dog made it up there.

My mother inherited her farm in Grecia, Costa Rica from her father when I was already in college. When visiting on Spring Break, I found Patty in a wooden shack occupied by migrant coffee pickers from Nicaragua. She was the liveliest pup of the litter, wriggling and nipping my hand as I picked her up. I gave the boy of the house a few colones, took her home, shampooed and dewormed her. My mother gave her the name Patty after Patricia Hearst, she said there was a resemblance, something to do with sad dark eyes.

My mother had her one story, two-bedroom farmhouse built on a hill, gnarled cedar pillars harvested from her own trees. Her guard, a retired worker called Don Juan out of respect for his years, slept in a shed in the back and carried a rusty pistol bigger than his head. Felicia, a mannish self-identified solterona or “old maid” in her thirties, performed light cooking and cleaning. Felicia’s family owned a pulperia in town and she kept my mother supplied with valuable local gossip.

Patty’s daily routine began at 6AM when she barked to go out, went down the hill to Felicia’s house, and escorted her back to my mother’s place. At roughly 8AM Patty accompanied my mother on her daily inspection tour of the farm. My mother, already in her 60’s, suffered from arthritis and Patty would run happy circles around her as she struggled up the hill. Nothing gave my mother more pleasure than admiring her “baby” coffee trees. She used all her knowledge as a biochemist to nurture them with the proper balance of nutrients. Sometimes, she would pluck a plump red berry from a mature tree to chew the bitter bean inside, just to remind herself how coffee begins.

Patty was a callejera, a wanderer, who loved to roam the farm and socialize. She gave us a little nod to indicate where she was going and trotted off. No matter how far away, she could hear her name and came running, a streak of white through the drab green bushes. She accompanied my mother to town, tall and vigilant in the passenger seat of the muddy yellow jeep. She gained fame throughout Grecia and soon it was all the rage to own a dog with a stub of a tail.

Once a month my mother brought Patty to the town vet to have her injected with hormones to prevent her going into heat. Despite my mother’s efforts, Patty got pregnant and Felicia wasted no time in auctioning off each potential pup to members of her network. “Poor pregnant lady”, my mother sighed, watching the dog waddling through the house. “I know how she feels”. One night I awoke to a steady lapping sound in my room. Patty was licking her five pups, trying to revive them. They were all born dead. She must have already conceived before her last hormone shot. We gently carried them away and Patty retreated beneath my bed, refusing to emerge for several days, even for her favorite dish, Arroz con Pollo. The next week, my mother drove her 45 minutes to the best vet hospital in San José to be properly spayed.

A few years later, when I was in graduate school, Patty met a common fate for farm dogs. She was hit by a truck running down the two-lane highway as she strayed onto the road playing with her friends on the soccer field. Felicia, who was first on the scene, cradled Patty in her arms and sobbed. My mother buried Patty by the house.

Soon after Patty’s demise, my mother sold the farm to a Swiss industrialist and retired. She lived with me in Fairfax, Virginia on the final stretch of her journey with Alzheimer’s. After she passed, I traveled to Grecia to scatter her ashes under a tree overlooking her former farm, the January winds whipping them into a frenzy. I still imagine her struggling up the dirt road to the farmhouse, admiring her “baby” coffee, Patty trotting at her heels.


Published in On the Run Flash Fiction, 2022

“Madam, that alligator has been fed. He is no longer afraid of people. Feeding him is a death sentence. Madam, listen to me…”

Her neighbor’s voice grew shriller and more insistent as he mansplained at her. She sat in her camping chair, sketchbook in hand, gazing at the horizon on the bank of their shared lake. Why was he calling her Madam? she wondered. He knew her name.

The alligator in question nonchalantly basked in all his eleven-foot snaggle-toothed glory on the opposite shore, ignorant of the accusations hurled against him.

Once upon a time she had named the grizzled grandaddy alligator Gary. The lake supported at least two others, which she occasionally saw gliding across the water as she sipped vanilla tea on her lanai at dusk. She imagined Gary in a love swamp triangle with Gertrude, the dark fetching eight-footer, and Girard, the spikey juvenile. It was a better story than the ones on TV, which had been taking up too much of her time since her husband died.

After the conversation with her neighbor, she feared for Gary’s life. It would only take one phone call to Fish and Wildlife—any gator over four feet could be deemed a “nuisance gator,” a target for trappers to kill, skin for wallets and shoes, and butcher for “gator bites” for local eateries. No trial, no evidence, no ID. She’d seen the trappers in years past with their hulking vehicles, wire nooses and floppy eared hounds, bright lamps flashing over the swamp at night, looking for the telltale red glow of eyes. 

The next day on her way to her yoga class she asked her neighbor if he’d actually seen anyone feed Gary. Her neighbor only became angrier and more insistent, chasing after her golf cart on foot. “Sooner or later he will attack someone, a kid fishing,” he yelled shaking his fist in all his crotchety fury. “And MADAM, YOU will be responsible!”

Is Madam code for any woman who questions a man? she mused. And why did he specify “kid” when there were hardly any people, let alone fishermen, under the age of seventy living in this senior community? 

On the third day she was in the kitchen baking her signature apple pie with graham cracker crust to take to her weekly bridge club. She heard the laughter of small children. When she peered out the curtain, she spotted her neighbor and his small grandchildren taunting Gary by throwing rocks in the water. The neighbor’s big dumb son, the children’s father, just stood there watching. 

Her fingers curled with fury around her rolling pin. She swung her tattered screen open and marched up to them, clutching the pin like a weapon. Forgetting children were present, she let a string of words slip from her mouth, words she hadn’t used since epic shouting matches with her late husband: “Leave him the f— alone, he’s living his life and not bothering you!”

The human brood gaped at her and at once stopped throwing. Her neighbor snarled under his breath, “That alligator is a goner, I tell you. A goner.” Gary was a safe distance away, his snout and eyes peeking above the surface of the water.

My neighbor must be going senile, she thought. Did he just he endanger his own grandkids so he could claim that this alligator no longer feared people? 

That night, she went out her front door with a lantern and stood in the moonlight, hoping to have a little chat with Gary.

“Oh ancient one…” She addressed him reverently, knowing his cousins, the crocodiles, were once worshipped as gods by Egyptians. “I know your kind have been here before the dinosaurs and will still be here for the second Flood, when we drown the earth with our stupidity. By your size I can see that you have lived a long life and fought many rivals—and eaten many rats and snakes, for which I am grateful. Seeing you sunning yourself on the bank every day has made me feel more connected to nature, a little less lonely, especially this past year. But you cannot survive the trappers, they are coming for you, and I am helpless to stop them.”

She waited for a few minutes, her nightgown flapping in the night breeze. She heard something in the woods on the other side of the lake and turned up her hearing aids. She just made out the faint but distinct bellowing of alligators mating. That’s odd, she thought, mating season ended months ago. She waited a few minutes more and held up her lantern, casting an eerie orange glow over the rushes and palms. Two unmistakable long dark shapes were lumbering through the woods away from the lake. Good for you Gary, she thought. You and Gertrude find a nice new lake, away from housing developments and human foolishness. God speed.

The next morning, she did her stretches, scrambled her eggs, took her blood pressure pills, and brought her coffee out to the lanai. There he was, all four feet of him, the crown prince Girard, cruising across the lake like any teenager no longer supervised (or in fear of being killed and eaten) by his elders.

She opened her dusty cabinet and took out a cream-colored stationery set with her initials embossed on the cover, the cards and envelopes she used for her grandkids’ birthday checks and sympathy notes for widowed friends. In spidery script she wrote a note to slip under her neighbor’s door:

We are presently down to one small alligator, and by the time he is big enough for numbskulls like you to try to kill him, you and I will be dead. Enjoy the rats and snakes.

Sincerely, Madam



Published in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, 2022 

Because I heard your defiant cry as they snipped my belly open and whisked you away, knowing despite everything a somber- faced pediatrician said, you would be OK,

because I gleefully during preschool allowed you your choice of mismatched socks each morning,

because I held your sobbing head after your bully told everyone you were the aggressor after you protected yourself from his taunts and shoves with your quick wit and a backpack full of stones, 

because heads bent over Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, and Harry Potter, we created our own small universe of heroines and spells,

because I sat through a kid’s Christmas play 37 times as you took your matinee curtain call, coaxing math problems out of your exhausted brain into the evening,

because I nearly blew myself up using a pressure cooker concocting dishes for your ever-changing diet (macrobiotic to vegan to vegetarian to pescatarian), bearing boiled cod in Tupperware for your after-school snack,

because I waited at a heavy metal concert parking lot crawling with tattooed bikers at 2AM, retching from the stench of stale beer so you would have a safe ride home, 

because my body served as a fail-safe switch on the track of your speeding train as you rushed to finish high school at 16, move across the ocean at 21, trudge the moors in the rain for two days and two nights without sleep, start a company, start a family, become the force that you are.

Cafe at the End of The World: Holyhead, Wales, 2021



Sitting at the café at the edge of the world you watch grey waves splintering over massive boulders and ferries, hulking metal beasts lumbering daily across the Irish sea to Dublin. The menus are the same everywhere on the island: tuna toasties oozing with mayo, shredded Welsh cheese and ham baguettes, meaty pasties, carved to fit sooty miner’s hands. With a rich array of consonants, the Welsh patrons ask the Alexa placed on a chair at the entrance to play heavy metal. Screeching guitar riffs join the cry of gulls, piercing through the fog like a lighthouse of sound.

Handsome with sad dark eyes, the descendants of Celts drink frothy gold and pour sauce on their soggy chips. A young man, slender and disheveled, his nails painted black, his lip pierced with a single hoop, stands still and alone in front of the café. You have seen him walking the shoreline path with purpose, shaggy head down. Is he at the cafe to meet a friend, a lover, beg for food, apply for a job? The two staff scurry between the rusty metal tables tilting into concrete ruts. No one seems to notice his presence. You head across the street.

The elderly volunteers at the maritime museum, a tin shack that was once an ocean rescue center, are happy to show you, a foreign tourist, mementos of loss: a watch, a medal, a coin, a piece of uniform, a tattered map with sea monsters curled over the edges, a warped wooden wheel. The locals fear and venerate the sea that has battered and fed them for generations on this craggy strip of land. They are the descendants of whalers, fishermen, sailors in the service of His British Majesty, smugglers and pirates (not mentioned in respectable curations). In time they have learned to outsmart their bloodthirsty master, designing secure lifeboats, building the second largest breaker in the world, automating the lone lighthouse at the end of the pier.

Local children pour into the cramped musty space clutching their assignment books. They scribble down past glories so that, like the sonorous Welsh language, the stories will live on.

You stroll down the concrete path past Welsh and English holiday-goers splashing in the freezing surf, dangling their legs over the pier, munching from greasy paper bags. The sand is sparse and coarse, the sky heavy with the promise of rain, but nothing dampens their joy at being on this tiny island off the coast of a larger one, the Western most point of the British Isles, only accessible by one skinny bridge, land conquered by Romans, ravished by Vikings, lorded over by Normans in their grand stone castles. Now ruins, invaded by tourists scrambling up crumbling turrets to gawk at emerald hillsides dotted with sheep.

You are only meant to be here for a few hours, your rental car neatly tucked next to a slate wall running along the path by the sea. Your hoody pulled up against the brisk sea air, you suddenly feel the urge to drive out past the breakers, past the lighthouse, to dive off the edge of the known into unchartered worlds, to parley with the curled sea monsters, and lie moldering amongst the bones of those who came before.

You glance back at the café; the young man is gone. You, too, move on.



Likes and Dislikes, 2023

Response to a prompt by Persimmon Tree, published in Persimmon Tree


Moon rising over palm fronds,

alligator eyes peeking above the water, 

sugar roses on a wedding cake, 

fountain pens filled with green ink, 

flowering cacti, 

empty lined notebooks with embossed covers, 

the taste of seawater, 

crocheted baby socks, 

the smell of café con leche in the morning,

thin slices of pickled ginger, 

strains of salsa and laughter coming from the house next door,

bronze goblets of red wine, 

wooded silence at dusk interrupted only by owl hoots and cicada chirps.


The smell of chlorine,

making small talk at parties,

golf carts festooned with American flags,

hunks of charred meat, 

self- satisfied smirks, 

things that scuttle away when you turn on the light, 

the forced jolly patter of news anchors, 

furry false eyelashes, 

tiny nervous dogs,

maraschino cherries speared on plastic swords, 

rusty needles strewn on white sand,

mayonnaise goop, 

selfie sticks.