The Fountain of Highlandtown



I learned to live in the dark this year when I quit my job, sold everything I owned, and moved in with my grandfather.

My new life makes spending time with women more complicated than usual, even for a guy who one day decides to quit his job and sell everything he owns to go live in the dark.

But you can't give up. Grandpop would tell you that.

It's a fine summer night in Baltimore and I am walking from Grandpop's house to meet Katherine, who is young and beautiful and smart and almost completely unknown to me.

I haven't told her much about myself, hardly anything except that my grandmother died in the hospital where she works, that my grandfather stopped sleeping in their bed the day she passed away and that it would be better if I met her where she lives than the other way around.

I said all of this last week when I met her in line at the Broadway market. I was buying fresh fruit for Grandpop and she was picking up scallops and shrimp and pints of shucked oysters for a dinner party at her apartment.

Okay, she said, maybe we can do something, and she scratched her phone number across my bag of fruit.

And here I am, walking from the little Highlandtown rowhouse where my father was born and raised, passing bakeries and record stores and coffee shops, on my way to Katherine's apartment a few miles away, up around Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It's early (I had to get out of the house) and there is still a lot of early evening light as I walk down Macon Street to Eastern Avenue.

The streets jump with kids on roller skates, Saturday shoppers coming home with their bundles, and old women squirting down the gutters.

Middle-aged sports with slick hair and brown shoes with white socks wait for numbers and action; Greek men in need of a shave stand on the corner, bragging and lying to one another; packs of heavy-metal kids roam for drugs and kicks; and young girls walk by, dressed up for each other.

My eyes swim through the crowd and the margins of my mind are pinched with thoughts of Katherine.

What will she be wearing? What will she smell like? What hangs on her walls?

I think: How will the time pass between us?

If things go well, can I invite her back to Macon Street?

Fat chance.

The center of my mind is dominated by Grandpop.

He is driving me crazy.

Right up the wall.

I am afraid that it's not going to last long enough for me to get everything done.

Every morning at breakfast he says the same thing: "Why are you here?"

It's like he forgets that I am living with him between the time we go to bed and the time we wake up.

He tosses and turns all night on his little sofa bed downstairs, like he's being chased, and with the first break of day he asks: "Why are you here?"

And then: "It's morning, turn off that light. You think I'm a millionaire? No one burns a light in the daytime. How were you raised?"

Grandpop was so poor growing up in Spain that one summer he carved an entire bicycle out of wood, wheels and all, so he would have something to ride besides an ox-drawn plow.

It doesn't matter that he has had it good in this country for 60 years, that, in his own words, he eats "like a king" in America and can lock the front door to a warm home he has owned for twice as long as I have been alive.

It doesn't matter that he's got a good pension from the Sparrows Point shipyard and Social Security and more money in bank accounts he has forgotten than I have made in 28 years on Earth. None of that means anything if you are foolish enough to leave a light on in a room you are not in or you want to read or draw or scratch your butt by electric light before the sky outside has turned to pitch.

And there's no reason at all to use lights after night has fallen because at night you sleep.

Electricity, says Grandpop, is money and a poor man cannot afford to waste either of them.

Bent over and angry, pointing to an offending 15-watt bulb, he says: "You think I'm a millionaire?"

When I try to tell him not to worry about it, that I'll help him pay for it and it's only pennies anyway -- that we really do have it good in this country -- he says I can go live with somebody else if I want to waste money.

He says: "Why are you here?"

But he doesn't charge me a dime to live with him and eat his food and he doesn't say a word when I do some of the things I

have to do to get my work done.

Just as long as I don't turn on any lights.

God Bless America.

God Bless Grandpop.

I cross Eastern Avenue and dart between traffic into Patterson Park, where Grandpop used to play soccer way back when with other expatriates from around the world.

It's hard for me to imagine his legs strong enough to kick a ball the length of the park; he's barely able now to climb the steps in the middle of the night to make sure I'm not reading under the covers by flashlight. But up on the dusty shelves near the little day bed where he lays down at night and talks in his sleep like he's trying to make somebody understand, there are trophies to prove it.

I say: "Grandpop, tell me about playing soccer in the land of baseball."

The Pagoda sits on the highest hill in the park, a trio of Oriental octagons in the middle of a wide, rolling lawn; a strange and weird obelisk of Confucius bordered on all sides by narrow brick rowhouses of the New World.

When you stand at the top of the Pagoda you can see all of the Holy Land, all the way past Fort McHenry, to freighters in the harbor and the Francis Scott Key Bridge beyond them in the mist.

I'd like to take Katherine to the top of the Pagoda and present her with the view, but it's only open on Sunday mornings when the Friends of the Park are around to let you in and keep an eye on things.

Grandmom and Grandpop used to walk me up here on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid and you could go up inside to the top and see the whole city. They would stay down on the ground and wave up to me -- I can see them now like it was yesterday, waving and telling me in broken English: "Doan breaka you neck."

After awhile Grandmom couldn't make the walk anymore and as I got older other things were important and I didn't want to visit Macon Street so much.

The city let the Pagoda rot and punks and drunks and whores and glue-heads started getting up inside of it, doing things that made the paint peel. The city almost razed it a few years ago when some goof on dope fell off of the third tier and killed himself. Neighbors got together and saved it and now you can only go up on Sunday mornings.

I tried to paint the Pagoda for three years before I moved in with Grandpop and I never got it right.

I stare up at it, trying to fix its scale in my head and I wonder: Does Katherine know any of this stuff? Does she care? Will she want to know once she knows that I care?

What I know about Katherine you could pour into a shot glass with room left over. She is young and beautiful and smart and hosts dinner parties with scallops and oysters and shrimp.

I don't even know if she's from Baltimore.

I leave the Pagoda and walk out of the park onto Pratt Street, heading west against the traffic, passing families of Lumbee Indians and Puerto Ricans and a few black folks as the neighborhoods change the closer I get to downtown.

I hit Broadway and turn north on a double-lane of asphalt that rises up beyond the statue of Latrobe the Architect and the beat-up housing projects named in his honor, up from the harbor a mile or so where Broadway meets Hopkins, where Grandmom died 20 years ago, leaving Grandpop all those years and how many more to lie on a day bed in the dark, trapping kilowatts to save pennies he doesn't even count anymore.

Katherine's apartment is just behind Hopkins, in the shadow of the hospital's great dome.

The neighborhood used to be called Swampoodle before Hopkins started gobbling it up, back when Bohemians lived there, in the days when Grandpop played soccer in Patterson Park and Grandmom sat on a bench with her girlfriends and watched.

I tried to paint the Hopkins dome too, in the last weeks before I moved in with Grandpop, but all I could think about was what we lost there.

I smeared the canvas with vinegar and vowed that I wouldn't paint pictures of buildings anymore.


I didn't know what to expect with this guy.

I haven't been dating much lately because they've all been the same, but I said yes to this guy right in the market. I knew it would be different, but I didn't know how.

I certainly didn't expect to be picked up for our first date on foot.

He knocks on the door, says hello, and looks around.

First thing he says: "I walked over because I sold my car when I moved in with my grandfather."

But he doesn't say what one has to do with the other.

He tells me that my sun dress reminds him of the sunflowers his grandmother used to grow in her back yard until the summer she passed away "over there," and he points through the living room window to the hospital.

"That exact same color," he says, staring at my dress while I look him over to see if he's just checking me out.

It's wonderful outside, he says -- "super fine, no humidity," he says -- and asks if I want to take a walk.

He's cute, in a goofy way, like a kid; younger than me and a nice change from the guys with tasseled loafers and Jaguars who act suave and witty until they find out I'm a doctor and then they really start acting like kids.

I don't mind walking and out we go, strolling south on Broadway toward the water.

I'd bet you a lobster dinner that we're going down to the bars in Fells Point, where every man I've gone out with in this town goes sooner or later, like it's the only place in Baltimore you can get a beer.

But he doesn't mention Fells Point or any bar or restaurant or destination; he just keeps up a pleasant chatter about anything you can imagine -- wooden bicycles and golden bell peppers and the Rock of Gibraltar (I've seen it, he hasn't) -- and now we're cutting across side streets and alleys, moving east to the neighborhoods where most of my patients live and die.

He doesn't say what he does for a living and I wonder if it's anything at all, if maybe the good doctor is out for an evening with the unemployed. He must do something, because his shoes and his pants have little smudges of paint on them.

Maybe he's the Cartographer of Baltimore, so well he knows these cobbled alleys and side streets crowded with dogs and kids and garbage cans.

"You know what I like to do?" he says. "I love to walk through the alleys and look in people's houses. You can look right in, especially at night when the lights are on and the shades are up. You can see people eating and watching TV, talking to each other, you know, going about their business."

He doesn't ask me what I do and it's a relief not to have to answer all the questions, a blessing not to feel the evening turn on a dime when it finally comes out.

It seems enough for him just to know that I work in a hospital.

Our walk is slow and relaxing and the evening falls with a clean, warm breeze from the harbor.

How odd, I think, looking into the little concrete yards where kids are splashing in wading pools, their Moms next to them in lawn chairs with their feet in the water; old men in the other yards sitting in their undershirts, listening to the Oriole game and drinking beer; how pleasantly odd to have a date where you don't have to talk about what you do for a living.

I decide to extend him the same courtesy for as long as it lasts.

At the end of the alley we turn the corner and stop in front of a bar called Miss Bonnie's and he points out the red and blue and green neon floating out from behind the block glass in the window. He talks about the colors as if they're alive and in between all the words that drift off of the top of his head he talks about his grandfather.

His eyes glaze: "Grandpop won't let me turn on any lights. He sits at the kitchen table all day circling crime stories in the paper with a red pencil. He's lived here 60 years and nothing bad has ever happened to him, but he says America is going to the dogs."

"He's lucky," I say. "I see victims from this neighborhood every day."

A Lumbee girl on a tiny two-wheeler zips between us and he talks about the subtle shades of red and brown in her cheeks, "like autumn leaves," he says.

He says that American Indians are the only minority his grandfather has any sympathy for because there was no New World for them to go to when things went bad at home.

Now we're in the park, walking quietly until we reach the Pagoda, the sun going down behind it like a tangerine, that's what he says, "a big, fat tangerine."

He shakes the gate on the iron fence around the Pagoda but you don't have to shake it to see that it's locked.

He says: "Grandpop forgets that I'm living with him between the time we go to bed and the time I come down for breakfast. Every day we start from scratch."

I say: "So why do you stay?"

He turns away from the Pagoda and we walk across the park, still headed east, over to Eastern Avenue and the Greek end.

"Wanna get a snowball?" he says as we arrive at a house that sells them.

I get chocolate with marshmallow and he orders grape, fishing out a couple of crumpled dollars from the front pocket of his white jeans.

We pause at a bus stop at the end of the block and I wonder if maybe we're going to catch one that will take us to God knows where.

He holds out his palm, inviting me to sit down, and I think: This bench is the sidewalk cafe in Paris that the plastic surgeon wanted to fly me to last month before he found out that a ticket to France would get me across the ocean and wouldn't get him anywhere.

We sit down, the distance of five hands between us, and when I look up I see that right above our heads is one of the more bizarre landmarks in a city filled with them.

Hanging against the sky is the Great Bolewicki Depression Clock.

It is a huge, vivid piece of machinery bolted to the front of an appliance store called Bolewicki's; a clock with a lollipop face and crystal hands filled with bubbling water -- the little hand bubbling lavender and the big hand bubbling pink -- and around it are lights shaped into words that say: "It's not too late, it's only . . ."

And then you read the time.

Like right now, here on this bench eating snowballs on a Saturday night in Baltimore, it's not too late for anything: It's only ten past seven.

Traffic goes by and we sit and eat shaved ice as gray and orange take the sky.

"I've been to Germany and Switzerland a dozen times each," I say, "and I've never seen a clock like this anywhere."

He says: "It's something. I tried painting this clock for three months."

"They hired you to paint the Bolewicki clock? How many coats did it take?"

That does it!

He starts laughing and he can't stop, a wild, crazy laugh from way down in his gut and I start to laugh too because he's got a funny, genuine laugh, like some kind of bird, and tears come into his eyes and he's spewing tiny crystals of purple ice, trying to catch his breath.

And somewhere inside of this laugh I decide that I like this guy and surrender to whatever the night may bring as the No. 22 stops to let people off beneath the Great Bolewicki Depression Clock in the middle of Eastern Avenue and my date with a man who doesn't own a car, a guy named Basilio whose laughing tongue has turned purple.

Finally, he says: "I wish old man Bolewicki would let me paint his clock. It would be the first money I've made with a brush in a long time."

I study his face and he says: "I tried to paint a picture of it."

"Ohh," I sing. "You're a painter."

"Yeah," he says, looking up at the clock. "This thing was so hard, Katherine. You see the water bubbling inside those hands, like bubble lights on a Christmas tree . . . did your tree have bubble lights when you were a kid? Geez, I love those things, you don't see 'em anymore. But I couldn't get the water right, I couldn't make it look like they were really bubbling."

I look at him as he stares up at the clock, the big hand bubbling pink and the little hand bubbling lavender -- "It's not too late, it's only 7:22" -- and he catches me looking.

"Let's go," he says.

We walk farther into the neighborhood and he points out things I know and things I don't.

"That's a great little place," he says as we pass Garayoa's Cafe Espanol, where, he tells me, they serve squid stuffed with their own tentacles and cooked in a sauce made from their own ink.

I don't tell him that I have eaten there with an investment banker, a newspaper reporter, and a land developer.

"The ink bubbles up in a thick black sauce that shimmers Kelly green just above the surface," he says. "I ordered some once and took it home to try and paint with it, I thought it would be great for a mysterious night sky, but it just dried ugly brown."

We walk under the railroad bridge that marks the start of the incline that gives Highlandtown its name and on the other side of the bridge Basilio hands our empty snowball cups to a little man at a sidewalk produce stand who gives each of us a small brown pear in return.

"Lefty," says Basilio, shaking the man's hand.

"Senor," says the man with a Greek accent, looking me over and winking at Basilio. "How's your old abuelo, my friend?"

"He's good Lefty, good," says Basilio. "I'll tell him you said hello."

"You do that, senor," the man says, winking again. "Enjoy the evening."

We move away in silence, biting the fruit as the sky turns dark and pear juice runs down the side of our mouths. Basilio pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket and gently wipes my chin. He shoves it in his pocket and wipes his own mouth with the back of his hand.

Very nice.

But something changes when we pass a narrow street paved with brick, the 600 block of South Macon.

Basilio stops and points down the street lined with long rows of identical orange brick houses, white marble steps in front of each one.

"I live down there with Grandpop," he says, pausing like someone trying to decide if they should show up unannounced on your doorstep. As if I'm not here he says: "Nah."

Over the next curve of the Avenue, I see the Ruth Tower rising up from the campus of the University of East Baltimore, just beyond a cluster of white and baby blue Greek restaurants; and since the evening seems to have no agenda and Basilio's verve faded at Macon Street, I point up to the tower where I remember a coffee house from my undergraduate days, a cool stone room with a bar and a view you can't get from two Pagodas stacked on top of each other.

"Up there," I say. "Let's go."

Night falls and the only movement is our feet cutting across the campus to the tower, a spiral of granite and marble tiled round with ceramic plates showing all the great moments of the Babe's career.

It is Babe Ruth's only gift to the city of his birth.

A bronze plaque bolted at the base quotes the slugger at the dedication: "Let the poor kids in free and name it after me."

We walk inside and start climbing the stone steps, round and round, up to the sky.

I tell Basilio that when I first came to Baltimore as an undergraduate -- my God, it seems like 900 dead teenagers ago -- that the top of the Ruth Tower was the in spot: strong Greek coffee, Delta blues, oval porcelain plates of cheese and black olives and hunks of homemade bread, cheap beer and young people from all over the world arguing and wondering and guessing about what it's all about.

Basilio says: "I was stuck in the suburbs back then."

"Did you ever try to paint this?"

"Sure," he says. "Three dozen times before I moved in with Grandpop. He took my old man to see the Babe at the dedication when Dad was a little kid and Ruth was half-dead with termites."

We walk in and I head for the bar in the corner, reaching down in the pockets of my dress for money, feeling Basilio behind me, looking around.

He says: "So this is college."

I hand him a beer in a tall glass and steer toward a table with a window that faces west, back toward downtown where Baltimore's monied art scene exists in chic storefront galleries on Charles Street.

The docs I work with turn over big paper for paintings that probably aren't any better than the ones Basilio destroys, but I really don't know if he can paint or not. Right now all I know is what didn't turn out -- half the buildings in East Baltimore.

Maybe I can help this guy.

I sip my beer and say: "Tell me about the paintings you're happy with."

He sips his beer and ignores the question, shifting to the east to play tour guide again: Over there is the National Brewery, he says, home of Mr. Boh and his One-Eyed Little Friends; and the Esskay slaughterhouse is over there, they've got some great stainless steel lettering out front; and way over there, he says, beyond the rooftops, is a cemetery where four Chinese sailors who drowned in the Great Baltimore Hailstorm of 1917 are buried.

I am sick for a moment, convinced he's a fraud.

With an angry finger, I point him toward the Hopkins dome.

"Right," I say. "And over there is where I fish bullets out of 14-year-old boys on Saturday nights just like this before I have to tell their 27-year-old mothers that they didn't make it. Take me to see your paintings."

His answer dances: Grandpop making barrels of wine in his basement, Grandpop welding the bottoms of Liberty Ships during the war, and Grandpop making love to his new bride on Macon Street, conceiving the man who would seed the artist.

"Those pictures are pretty good," he says.

And on the way down the spiral steps he takes my hand.

At the front door to 627 South Macon Street, just before he turns the key, Basilio tells me to take off my shoes and after he puts the key back in his pocket he leads me into the darkness, shadows and light from a streetlamp falling across a small figure on a sofa bed in the middle room.

"Grandpop," he whispers as we move toward a staircase along the wall.

No one answers.

"Okay," says Basilio, his breath warm and sweet in my ear.

As I pass by the old man stirs on the bed and my dress ruffles around my knees.

Basilio keeps moving and I am right behind him, shoes in my left hand and my right hand flat against the small of his back as we move together up the stairs.

"Hallelujah!" he exclaims in a whisper when we reach the top. "I've never done this before."

Neither have I.

A door in front of us creaks as he turns the knob and I slip in after him.

We are still for a moment in the darkness, just inside the door. My nose stings from paint and turpentine and as my eyes adjust I sense that this is the biggest room in the house, that there is only one room on this floor, that it is as long and as wide as the house itself, and I am in it.

Basilio walks me over to a saloon table against the long side wall and sits me down on a wooden stool before moving to the other side of the room.

"Ready?" he asks, holding a cord.

"Ready," I say, and he pulls it.

A tarp above our heads falls to the floor with a whoosh, night fills the space where the roof ought to be, and the light of a nearly full moon and a sky speckled with stars floods the room.

In one clear instant, I see the world this man lives in.

"There's no roof!" I say, looking all around at once, trying to take in the sky, the paintings, the easels, and the colors of the rainbow spattered everywhere.

"I told you, Grandpop won't let me turn on the lights," he says. "I cut the roof out a little bit at a time and paint by the sun and the moon. I think it's helped. I never would have thought of it if I didn't have to."

I stand up, dumbfounded.

"You can't turn on the lights, but you can saw the roof out of his house?"

"He's never mentioned it," says Basilio. "As long as I don't use electricity or bring women home, he pretty much leaves me alone."

I walk around to look at his work, the silver light from above giving each painting a glow I've never seen in any gallery in the world.

On one canvas after another I read the narrative of his grandfather's life.

Grandpop as a little boy, sitting on a rock on the side of a green hill, carving a pair of handlebars from the limb of a chestnut tree; Grandpop shoveling coal on the deck of a rusty freighter, Gibraltar menacing in the background, bearing down on him; Grandpop kicking a soccer ball, his right leg outstretched and firm as the ball sails across Patterson Park, the Pagoda perfect in the background; Grandpop strolling down Eastern Avenue, all dressed up with his wife on a Sunday afternoon, the Great Bolewicki Depression Clock above their heads, bubbling pink and lavender to beat the band.

And then, running the length of the wall across from me, is a huge canvas of a bedroom cast in moonlight and shadows.

In the bed is a young man who looks a lot like Basilio, bright white sheets draped across his back, his arms straight and strong and taut as he hovers over a dark-haired woman, a young beauty with stars in her eyes. The only furniture is the bed and a big cathedral radio on a nightstand.

I am transfixed, wondering if there is a bed or a cot hiding somewhere in this room.

"What do you call this one?"

8, He says: "The Fountain of Highlandtown."


Suenos. Siempre suenos. Dulces suenos y malos suenos. Suenos de amor.

I can feel it. Basilio must be painting a pintura of a woman upstairs.

I can feel it in my sleep.

It is like she is in the house.

He must be getting good.

"Grandpop," he says (at my kitchen table every morning, up before me, coffee ready for his abuelo, this boy is a man, doesn't he have a home?); "Grandpop," he says while I'm still trying to figure out what day it is and why this kid is living with me; "Grandpop: Do you remember what Grandmom looked like the first time you saw her?"

"Do you remember what her skin looked like when you were newlyweds?"

I say: "Basilio" (he was named after me, two Basilios in one house is one Basilio too many); I say: "What are you doing, hijo, writing a book?"

"Something like that," he says.

Last week it was questions about the shipyard, before that it was Patterson Park, now it's about Mama and I don't have the patience for it.

Questions and questions and questions as he makes little pencil marks on a napkins.

"Grandpop, tell me about Galicia and the corn cribs on stilts and the baskets your father made."

pTC "Grandpop, tell me about the ox and the card and the cocido your mother cooked in the black pot over the fire."

"Grandpop, tell me about the first time you saw Gibralter."

Why does he want to live with an old man who is so mean to him? He is good company, this boy with the questions, even if he has to turn on a light to clean the kitchen in the middle of the afternoon.

"Grandpop," he says to me on his way out of the house tonight before I went to bed (where he was going in the shoes with the paint all over them, I don't know, he should get dressed and go out with a woman before he gets old); "Grandpop," he says: "What did Grandmom's hair look like on your wedding night?"

I told him: "Turn off the light and lock the door when you go out."

This is what I didn't tell him: It was black, Basilio, black like the coal I shoveled out of ships on anchor at La Roca; black like a night at sea without stars and it fell down around my shoulders when she leaned over to kiss me; que linda Francesca, que bella Francesca, que guapa Francesca para me y solamente para mi.

He asks these things in the morning while we eat our bacon and eggs; eggs he makes like I made for him when he stayed with Mama and me when he was a little boy, when he would listen; bacon fried crisp and the eggs cracked on top, grease spooned over the yolk, spooned slow until it covers thin and white.

I say: "Basilio, what are you doing here?"

And he answers: "What did Grandmom's eyes look like when she kissed you and told you that she loved you?"

And after all these years, the thought of her kiss (I can feel it at night, on nights like this, Basilio, you must be painting upstairs), the thought of her still makes me excited, un caballo fuerte, and it makes me ready, so sad and ready, and I get mad to answer this boy with too many questions and skinny brushes and silly paints and goddammit, why doesn't he go and live with his father in their big house in the suburbs?

My house is small and life here is finished.

I get mad and tell him he's too much trouble, that he's wasting my money leaving the lights on.

You don't turn on lights in the daytime and a boy doesn't ask an old man so many questions.

But he doesn't get mad back at me, he just keeps making marks on paper, pours me another cup of coffee, gets up to wash the dishes and says: "I know, Grandpop."

By the time I was his age I had a wife and three kids and a new Chevrolet and seniority down the shipyard and spoke good English.

What does he have?

My electricity and skinny brushes and no trabajo; pennies he saves for paint (where his pennies come from I don't know, maybe he finds them in the street, he takes so many walks); and a loaf of bread he puts on the table every day before supper; one loaf of bread fresh from the Greeks on the Avenue in the center of my table, 4 o'clock every day without a word.

I should go easy on him.

He's the only one who really talks with me.

The only one who comes to see his old abuelo.

But when did he move in?

How did that happen?

That's the question you never asked, Basilio: "Grandpop, can I live with you?"

Suenos. Dulces Suenos.

He must be painting upstairs.

I can feel it in the house.

Me recuerdo when his father was just a baby and I called her Mama for the first time and she became Mama for all of us; Mama de la casa and his father would wake up in the middle of the night and scream in his crib and nothing would make him stop, nada, and Mama would get so exhausted she would turn her back to me and cry in her pillow.

I would smooth her hair -- black hair, Basilio, like the sky at sea -- and I would turn on the radio (electricity, Basilio, in the middle of the night), to maybe calm the baby and listen to something besides the screaming.

Mama liked the radio. Cantante negra, cantante de almas azules; listening to the radio, Basilio, in the middle of the night while your father cried and kept us from sleeping, blues from the other side of town making us feel a little better.

It made me happy just to lay next to her and when the baby finally stopped crying, sometimes the sun would be ready to pop, and Mama's breathing would slow down and her smooth shoulders would move gently up and down, sleeping but still listening, like I listen to her now on this no good bed, and Basilio -- Mira, hombre, I will not tell you this again -- if I moved very close to her and kissed her shoulders, she would wake up and turn to face me and we would have to be quiet Basilio, under the music, la dulce cantante negra Holiday de la calle Pennsylvania falling over us like rain.

And this I want to know, Basilio.

This, if you want to live on Macon Street any longer.

Can you paint an apple baked soft in the oven, a sweet apple filled with cinnamon and raisins?

Can you paint such a woman?

Are your skinny brushes filled with so much love that she will step out of your pretty paintings to turn on the radio in the middle of the night and whisper beneath the music?

Will she visit an old man on his death bed?

If you can not do that, Basilio, there is no need for you to live here anymore.

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