The Appetizer

Ingredients to make guacamole. Cilantro, cut onion, avocado split in half, roma tomato on a plastic cutting board.
The Appetizer. Photo by Julie Guardado

It was tradition for Xochitl and her husband James to have dinner with his family the first Sunday after returning from vacation. James’ parents wanted to take note of how tanned, fattened, sunken, or strangely cultured the couple was upon their return. And of course, they wanted their souvenirs.

After four years of marriage and countless post-vacation debriefings, the in-laws always asked Xochitl to bring the same appetizer: homemade guacamole and Mexican store-bought chips.

“Another round of the same ol’ guacamole and same ol’ conversation,” she said to herself, throwing all the ingredients into a bag.

As they entered the kitchen, her mother-in-law, Patsy, walked past her to give James a hug first. “I’m so glad you made it back safely! We were afraid Xochitl would get detained and you’d stay to negotiate her release.”

“Nope,” James kidded. “Mexico didn’t want her.”

Product of Mexico. Photo by Julie Guardado

Xochitl’s sister-in-law, Maggie, who married into the family 16 years ago, lifted her head from her magazine and smirked. Xochitl smiled and pushed her tongue hard against the roof of her mouth.

A colorful spread of appetizers had been laid out by her mother-in-law: bacon-parsley finger sandwiches, both sons’ favorite snack; spinach-artichoke dip, a recipe handed down from Maggie that Patsy perfected, and a cheese and veggie platter, with perfectly-placed Castelvetrano olives, which Xochitl was allergic to.

Patsy, hugged Xochitl from behind and said, “Eyeing the food and counting calories? Flattering sundress by the way. If only I could gain some weight because they have the cutest plus-size clothing these days.”

Xochitl gently removed Patsy’s arms from around her and poured herself a goblet of wine.

“How was home sweet Mexico? Did you enjoy seeing your people, Stacie?” asked her father-in-law.

Xochitl rolled her eyes in the direction of her husband. “Well, since my people are from Wisconsin, by way of Guatemala, no. And it’s Xochitl, not Stacie,” she corrected him, knowing her husband wouldn’t speak up.

“Oh, damn! I’ll get it right one of these days. Stacie is just stuck in my head. After all, James was married to her for ten years. But you know I love you best!”

Xochitl took a long sip of Chardonnay and quietly said, “Three,” to her husband as he fixed himself a plate of appetizers.

“They mean no harm,” James said

“Three insults already. Not that I should keep count.”

“Then don’t, honey. Silence always says more. Please, tonight, answer back with silence,” he whispered.

Onions chopped on a cutting board next to a sharp knife.
Onion tears. Photo by Julie Guardado

Xochitl cleared a small space on the counter, with her back to the family, and began making the guacamole. The chatter of her in-laws got lost behind the monotonous sound of her knife hitting the cutting board as she diced tomato, cilantro, and onion. With each cut, the onion began to sting her eyes. She let it— until the tears released themselves like heavy sighs down her cheeks. Maggie came close, gently touched her shoulder, and wiped a tear away from Xochitl’s cheek.

“From behind, Xochitl, you actually look thinner. Did you get Montezuma’s revenge?” Patsy asked. Before Xochitl could answer, Patsy then asked, “Where are the souvenirs?”

Xochitl wiped her faux onion tears away and turned around to face her mother-in-law. “They’re still in our trunk. I’ll go get them.”

In the trunk, a beach bag held a cheap summary of their vacation: flip-flops she bought from a child vendor, sunblock, a deck of cards from the resort, an excursion brochure, Mexican silver earrings and ceramic jewelry boxes for the women and silver money clips and cigars for the men. While feeling her way through the bag, she imitated her mother-in-law, “Cute plus size clothing, Xochitl. Counting calories? Negotiate Xochitl’s release. You actually look thinner. Montezuma’s revenge?”

And then her hands reached the bottom of the bag. There, a plastic water bottle with an Agua Pura label had been silently waiting for her. Xochitl remembered refilling it with tap water from the bathroom at the Mexican airport before boarding. She intended to dab the water on a napkin to clean her airplane TV screen if needed. But now it appeared to be a gift from the Gods. Or rather, a gift from the Aztec Emperor himself, Montezuma.

She skipped her way back into the house and handed the gifts to her husband’s family with a joyous, “I hope you love them!”

When her mother-in-law went to the sunroom to show off her new earrings, Xochitl opened the Agua Pura bottle and smelled it for the impurities it contained. Scentless. Perfect. She placed a few drops on her fingertips, made the sign of the cross, and whispered, “Sweet Jesus, forgive me for what I am about to do.” She drizzled some Mexican tap water into the guacamole, topped it off with lime juice, added another avocado, and stirred, stirred, stirred with calm content.

Smashed avocado in a bowl with a hand squeezing lime juice on it.
Stir, stir, stir that secret ingredient. Photo by Julie Guardado

“I saw what you just did,” her sister-in-law said from over her shoulder. Xochitl turned around slowly, her legs felt weak, and the sting in her eyes returned. This time not from onions. Her tongue involuntarily stuck to the roof of her mouth. Maggie grabbed the bowl of guacamole, and with her other hand, took Xochitl’s trembling hand into hers. “Let’s let them have it,” Maggie said.

Xochitl gave her sister-in-law’s hand a squeeze, but remained silent, just as her husband had instructed.

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Nutshell: Meditation, Yoga, Fur-babies, RN opinions. Author of “Birth of a New J: A Cathartic Memoir,” “Conducting the King,” & “A Message for Grandpa.”

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Julie Guardado

Julie Guardado

Nutshell: Meditation, Yoga, Fur-babies, RN opinions. Author of “Birth of a New J: A Cathartic Memoir,” “Conducting the King,” & “A Message for Grandpa.”

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