Anthony Gomez III
Whatever She Touched Grew Hungry
My wife Alessandra discovered this one morning when she went to wake the twins. One soft shake of the shoulders and the moment their eyes opened they begged for food. She made a quesadilla to feed them and then another. When they pleaded for a third, we grew concerned. Eyes raised. Confused gestures. We stared like one of us would have a sudden answer. Her father chalked this up to simple development.
‘Boys have gotta eat,’ he said. ‘Boys have gotta eat.’
This was about the time of the great tortilla shortage in Dublin, Texas. A line of cars stretched for a mile at the last remaining grocery store to advertise fresh tortillas and Alessandra’s father, rather than waiting, simply turned his car around and came back home to see our supplies start to dwindle.
Her father reminded us that he had once lived in the more famous Dublin. From Guanajuato, Mexico to Dublin, Ireland. He longed now for that sort of youth when travel is more adventure than headache. Though, he admitted, he always longed for a simple quesadilla each day there. It was while hungry for quesadillas he learned an essential truth: all of life’s pleasures and all of life’s difficulties can be understood through a layer of cheese between two sides of a tortilla.
“Specifically,” he said, “You can tell a lot about a family’s finances by the cheese they use in their quesadillas. I know from experience. My own mother never made the same quesadilla because we were starving for money and used what cheeses we could steal.”
We hardly listened because Alessandra and I continued to attend to the twins. Both sat down, dropped a napkin over their seated legs, and began to eat. Within the timeframe of her father’s remarks, the food was all gone. The dog came from around the corner and started to bark.
Normally quiet, I followed him to his bowl. He nudged it forward with the tip of his nose. Before I could question his appetite, Alessandra peeked over to say another bowl would be the dog’s fourth that morning. She went to the garage to gather more food. I walked back to the kitchen and the dog resumed barking, frustrated at my not feeding him.
“It’s this country,” her father said. “Never do I remember being in want of so much as a kid does here. At that age, a single quesadilla was enough. It kept me full the whole day. The dog too.”
I didn’t think that was accurate, but I lit a flame on the stove to make another one because I could hear the children’s stomachs. The growling matched the ferocity of the dog’s.
Alessandra returned from the pantry with the month’s bag of tortillas and cheese. She dropped them near me. I gathered pieces of the former and a handful of the latter and mixed them on the pan. Behind me, she asked if her father was alright or if he needed anything. Seconds after removing the hand she placed on his shoulder to gather his attention, I saw his arm stretch upward.
“Do you mind throwing one up there for me?” he said. “It’s all that scratches that itch. Always has. When I was a boy all I looked forward to was the day’s quesadilla. When I was ten or so, mom tasked me with finding the two ingredients. No instruction and no money, I simply sought unwatched homes. The first place I entered? A mansion. I went to the fridge. There it was: Quesillo cheese. I smiled because of how much I loved it. We ate the best quesadillas that month. Queso asadero came from a two-story home with a swimming pool. Other areas were less prone to the good stuff. Bungalows I stole from had American cheese. Our stomachs hurt for months.”
As he spoke, I continued to cook. I handed one quesadilla to him, the boys, and even the dog. It did not satisfy anyone. More so, it didn’t even make a dent. I had to ignite another flame. Alessandra joined me. We stood side by side, each burner turned on, a quesadilla nearly cooked and another cooking at all times. We traveled the whole of Mexico and its economy on the cheeses we used. Oaxaca. Chihuahua. Cotija. In the end we wound up where her dad had.
With American cheese.
The kitchen was a mess. Scraps of tortilla lay on the floor. Shards of cheese stuck to cabinets and plates and pans. We were out of food. Evening had come. Still, they could eat more. Only one thing united to stop the three.
Right about then, it overpowered hunger.
We managed to get the boys and her father to the two couches in the living room.
“That’s the problem here in this country; a single quesadilla is never enough,” he said.
Their eyes were heavy and soon fell to a close. The dog curled up in the middle. Unbelievably, I could hear all their bellies roar.
Unable to think about eating ourselves, Alessandra and I simply left the kitchen and marched back to our room. Tired and in bed, I forgot what I had learned. We made the mistake of cuddling and then making love.
• • •
Alessandra came with me at dawn. We sat in our sedan outside a grocery store thinking about the type of food to steal. Cars already filled the parking lot. People waited, eager to put a hand on the scarce tortillas. I was also thinking about their cheeses. Soon, we would be exploring new places and new economies. I heard my stomach rumble and my head felt light. I wouldn’t be able to pay for what it would take to satisfy this hunger, or my family’s. But I knew I would need to eat more quesadillas. We debated what we would need, and how much we could take. She grabbed a gun. I did too.
We marched inside.