CHERRY OROZCO GAZED at the tabloid newsstand alongside the checkout line. Jennifer Lopez caught her eye. Posed in a slinky one-piece bathing suit, the movie icon stared back seductively from the cover of a beauty magazine.
She’s still dreamy, Cherry thought, her thumb and forefinger pinching the publication’s spine.
A cover line next to a bare thigh read 12 KINKY QUICKIES: GRAB HIM AND GET IT ON! Face muscles dropping flat with instant boredom, Cherry released the magazine back into the rack.
The conveyor belt moved. Seltzer water and Depends lurched closer to the scanner. The cashier tossed the diaper bundle around like a beach ball, searching for the sku numbers, eventually swiping the barcode. The clerk’s eyes darted a few times between the bulky incontinence product and Cherry. The seltzer zipped by. Cherry handed over two twenties and methodically put the change in her Care Bears wallet.
Big-boned, bronze-skinned Cherry strode to the exit, unconsciously intimidating two shoppers to veer out of her way lest they get knocked onto their asses. Though fair of face, Cherry was fit, muscular, dark hair buzzed short away from her square jawline and cheek angles.
Cherry deftly placed the items into the rear of her gold Honda Civic hatchback, firmly shut it, seconds later climbing in. Upon ignition, the cab filled with the strains of Mexican diva Paquita la del Barrio, belting out “Ratas De Dos Patas”— “Two Legged-Rat.”
Within minutes, she arrived at her tidy house, 5 Meadowlark Lane in the enclave of Raptor Flats, east of the Los Angeles River, north of the phalanx of freeways, a high concentration of old drainage ditches crisscrossing throughout. Centuries of the region’s oral history recount once-plentiful hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures and more birds gliding over the water-adjacent level land. Now Raptor Flats was Los Angeles, quaint and ignored, a zone mix of residences, shops, businesses, and a funky industrial section.
Cherry’s property, inherited by her mildly incontinent mother, Ida Orozco, was a nicely kept stucco classic, high ceilings and moldings throughout. A passing realtor would have been temporarily charmed by a meandering walkway among otherworldly hollyhocks, splashes of pink and orange bougainvillea veiling a storybook entrance. The house value was held low by the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Yesenia Cantu, whose front lawn was completely obscured by signs espousing Biblical verses and warnings. On one occasion a billboard appeared, hanging two feet into the Orozco airspace. After Cherry politely dealt with the intrusion, the Jesus-obsessed widow shrieked some aspersions.
“You throw away God’s gift!” She pointed at Cherry’s torso. “Jesús, María, José! You’re supposed to get married, have babies.”
Mrs. Cantu’s babies, now grown and moved out, kept a wide chasm between their lives and their mother, leaving her a little too alone, unmanaged, and unhinged.
Despite this nuisance, the neighbors remained on pleasant terms, the Orozcos staying patient with Mrs. Cantu’s unique state of anxiety. Plus she adored Ida’s small mutts Yarn and Ball.
“She’s always kind to animals,” stated Mrs. Orozco, whom Cherry addressed as Ida. “That tells me Yesenia’s very decent, even though she’s a kook.”
Cherry put the diapers into her mother’s restroom. There pale yellow hues and white daisies were accented by Snow White-themed bath accessories. The ceramic tissue dispenser featured the Seven Dwarfs, and the princess’s figure helped pump soap. The wicked Queen’s image graced the trashcan, at that moment ready to be emptied of a couple soiled diapers, while a symbolic “magic mirror” hung on the wall opposite the practical but reflective medicine cabinet. She spruced up the bathroom a bit, took quick stock of toiletry supplies before emptying the Evil Queen can in the outside garbage bins.
Back inside, Cherry detoured into her bedroom, a groovy mélange of earthy greens. She tossed her keys and wallet onto the pine-tree-patterned comforter covering her full-size bed.
“Pearl,” Cherry said, greeting a finely framed poster of Janis Joplin, hung on the moss-green wall among reproductions of Mesoamerican art.
She glimpsed into the living room at her mother. Content in a purple paisley housecoat and violet slippers, Mrs. Orozco watched Wendy Williams in her preferred stuffed chair, a furniture-protective pad beneath her tush. Within reach on a low shelf behind the chair was a stack of fresh hospital-blue pads. Ida rested her beauty-parlor hair against a vibrant homemade Granny square antimacassar, matching throw blankets available on the unoccupied seats. The dogs flanked the crochet basket at her feet.
Cherry sighed, feeling lucky that urine was the only age-related problem of incontinence at this point in the mother-and-daughter relationship. In fact, Ida’s condition was improving with kegel exercises prescribed by a urologist at the Veteran Affairs Clinic.
Cherry strolled into the living room.
“You bet,” Ida said. “Let’s invite Esther.”
A consistent cheer radiated from the house on the other side of the Orozco dwelling in the form of Esther Lau. Smiling, upbeat, and generous with her cooking, Esther was a contrast to nutty Mrs. Cantu. Her home was neat and sublime, front yard tended, back filled with tasty vegetables. Her fashion sense was Chinatown Casual: go-anywhere pantsuits of intricately patterned cotton, perhaps an equally vivid but totally contrasting vest with coin buttons during chilly weather. Apples do not fall far from the tree: Esther’s grown daughter Veda also had notable fashion choices. Personality-wise, though, Veda was a pill. Visits to her mother amounted to loud sessions of bellyaching, starting the moment she stepped out of a leased black Mercedes. Her heels would click up Esther’s walkway under posh, ooh-la-la outfits, a fluffy teacup Pomeranian called Mitchum peeking out of her haute couture handbag. Though Veda’s profession was supposedly in the garment industry, her display of material wealth hinted at something more lucrative. Esther said her daughter invested in the stock market.
Through the living room window, Cherry spotted Esther, wearing a white bucket hat, pulling weeds in her front lawn.
“Esther!” Cherry called, partly hanging out the front door. “You up for bingo tomorrow?”
Esther gave a thumbs-up. “What time?”
“Usual,” Cherry said, holding up three fingers.
“Count me out,” said a voice from the opposing property.
Cherry turned, seeing Mrs. Cantu, as she expected, unblinking, spying on them while partially hidden among her religious signs.
“Gambling is a sin.”
“Yes, Mrs. C.,” Cherry said, nodding to diffuse the encounter.
“Be glad you’re near me and the scriptures!” Mrs. C. stretched her arms and legs, as if poised to cartwheel, to touch and encompass her signs. “Judgement Day comes, hop over the fence.” Her conservative shift dress rose to show an off-white slip and knee-high nude hosiery.
A normal, daily exchange under the “colorful neighbors who don’t steal” category. There could be worse situations, Cherry reminded herself.