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The Perducci Sisters

Gerald W. Cox

My mother never forgot the day the Perducci sisters peed in the plaza. She was one of them. The town of Rincon never forgot it either. It couldn't forget what it hadn't noticed.

The three sisters were driving from Aguadilla home to Rincon through the dark canopy of Puerto Rican vegetation, the road continually trimmed and tuned by tottering sugar cane trailers. With the oldest, Ali, upright like cane at the wheel, they were making good time until she braked with a lurch at the rear of a swaying trailer, spewing the detritus of cane choppings and earth in its wake.

"Ali," Mimi said, emphasizing the last syllable as they would to get her attention. "Can't you pass this big turd?" Mimi, the youngest having just flunked the driving license test and most impatient, rolled down the passenger window to try to look past the right side of the trailer. She got nothing for her effort but a face full of filth.

When the window had swooshed shut, Ali said, "Ai, no, he has the road constipated. He obstructs half of the other lane, too. Those others have to pull off the road to let him go by."

Gabi, the compact, middle sister who sat in the middle of the front seat, said, "The police should give him a purgative then."

"That can't be done. This is the way it's been done and the way it will always be done," Ali muttered barely audible over the blast of the air conditioner. "We'll just stop at the next sunny spot and take a break."

At that next sunny spot they stretched at the side of the car, listening to the sounds of the insects, coquis and birds screeching from the jungle. None of them noticed a dirty little man when he walked out of the tree line like he was on his way to church. But what grabbed their attention was a placard flapping from his neck that read,"$3" and the half-dozen animate, wriggling wreaths that hung from opposite sides of a stick he carried over his shoulders.

In reflex, the sisters drew together.

"What's that?" Gabi asked.

Ali squinted and said, "Ah, blessing, they are crabs, land crabs. And they'll be the main ingredient for croquettes tonight."

They resumed their drive, this time each with a barely perceptible smile on her face. Each time the hairy crabs, bound together on a stringer, wriggled, clawed and scratched in the floor of the back seat, the sisters were reminded of the croquettes that were to come.

As the car breezed down the slope into the congested pocket of Rincon, they fought each other breathless for gaps in the banter about the division of duties: Who would boil the crabs, who would shred them, who would mix the paste for the baked croquette pyramids. The frenetic conversation, as with most of their discourse, was turning giddy when Mimi screamed. She screamed a holy hell, bloody murder, eardrum piercing, window breaking, and dead-raising scream. Her sisters caught the scream and took it up in shrill chorus.

When they were out of breath, Gabi turned to Mimi who had folded her legs under her dress onto the seat and was squirming toward the window. "What is it, sister?"

Mimi pointed to the floor of the car. There an escaped land crab scrabbled at the edge of the door.

"My dear," Gabi said calmly, "You've scared that crab so much that she's trying to jump out of the car."

That's when the laughing began. As the car neared the plaza, Mimi leaned over the back of her seat, bent double, jamming her knuckles into her mouth. Gabi hoisted up her small legs and pressed her eyes against her knees. Ali rocked back and forth smacking the steering wheel with the palms of her hands. Then Gabi took a loud breath and cried hysterically, "I'm peeing!" This had the same contagious effect as laughter.

The car slid to a halt on the gravelly pavement, the doors flew open. Three serious and dignified Perducci sisters strode quickly toward the concrete benches in the plaza.

Onofrio Perducci, their great uncle, looked out of the window of Perducci Hardware, wondering what the sisters were up to. Veronica Perducci, their grandmother, saw them, shuffled to the back of Perducci Drugs to see if they had left a prescription. Carmen Perducci, a first cousin, smiled and waved from the doorway of Perducci Bobbles, Bangles and Beads.

The three sisters ignored their relatives as they ignored the old men playing dominos in a corner of the plaza. They sat oddly at the edge of a long bench and didn't say a word. Only they, out of the corners of their eyes, fixed in emotionless gazes on the church at one end of the plaza, noticed the yellow stream emanating from the base of the bench and curling its way to the gutter. That night hurricane Dorothy brushed her skirts against the north coast. The palms and flamboyans danced the rumba to her breathy tune. Her perspiration filled the clouds who cast it against the town. Her great sheets of rainwater flapped across the plaza, mingled with the stain of the sisters' blessing and swept it down the gutter.