by Christopher Gonzalez
My mom stabs coin-sized pockets into a pork shoulder. This allows vinegar to swish through the muscle fibers—like white wine in a sommelier’s mouth: in, then out again.
The vinegar is unavoidable, she says. It cleans the pork and kills all unwanted bacteria.
There are parts of myself that I know are unwanted by others, those angry men and women I see on TV. My skin is the sepia tone of a vintage photograph they’d rather keep locked away in a chest. Would they scrub the Spanish from my tongue? Perhaps they’d flense away our language, peel it back like a layer of porky fat and rub the wounds raw with salt.
I stand at my mom’s side, rolling unpeeled cloves of garlic in my palm like dice. I want to ask her if she is also afraid of those men and women. But, she’s busy. She reaches into the bowl to work the meat, and when her fingertips, too often riddled with paper cuts and random nicks, make contact with the acidic bath, they whiten.
Does it hurt? I ask.
She shrugs. I know the pain well, she says. You’ll learn, too.
She hums a little tune to herself as I push each clove of garlic into one of the pockets, and then she goes back to work, massaging Adobo, Sazon, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, and sofrito—ingredients rich in flavor, and so colorful—into the pork. I peek into the bowl and wait for her to show me the next step.
Christopher Gonzalez is a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based writer. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Hobart, and Chicago Literati, among other publications. He is currently an assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse.