When Toya was little she liked the taste of metal, especially cast iron, which is what her mother cooked in. Mom fried garlic and bread in spools of olive oil. The Spanish use olive oil constantly, Toya's mother told her. And Grandpa Joe: he ate his eggs cooked in an inch of olive oil so the edges browned and bubbled, the skinny bastard. Drank small glasses of cheap sunny wine and became quietly metallically drunk. Toya never felt fatter after eating things cooked in olive oil because olives were meant to sustain her, build her into a tight-muscled bundle with stamina and a singing voice. And though olive oil hadn't saved Joe, it had projected him into old age.
In the years before he died, Joe's dry fingers became smoother, not rougher; harder too, like warm stone. In war they touched cigarettes, torn photographs, new ink, got grey-greasy doing engine things. Later they'd be greasy carving the turkey, which he did every November as American men do. But he never did learn how--the Pena women ate the flaking turkey like pulled pork and praised the mussels, briny in salsa verde.
Their food talk could not stay mild. Like every Pena conversation the voices rose as frantic violins, shrill above the glowing table spread with its candlesticks and saffron-gold. The Pena women did not have burdens to be carried to the grave. They unloaded them instead at all times, in all places. Joe would fold his dry hands and squinch his eyes, which he did to wiggle his ears it seemed, to loosen the gears inside his head. His voice got hoarser not speaking. Toya, she was less patient. She squinched her eyes and ears into a coil against the frantic fate around her, the women's maddening Te amo, do you know what that means?
The day before Joe Pena died he had been surrounded by women. Slight jowls had made his gentle smile gentler. He croaked a little from the sofa, "these women never shut up." Only Toya the granddaughter heard.
The hour after the burial the family drove somewhere for fried eggs in Joe's honor. There were tears. Toya's aunt said she came from a long line of champion bloodhounds, and that she had been developing the jowls to prove it. Her ass looked like an umbrella that had been opened then closed, she said.
After that Toya learned French, but later she would quest after salt cod. She took herself to Spain for cod meat that was meant to flake. The tiles and the roofs were as she had imagined. The garlic smell was sweet; the churros smell was sour. She found out Cordoba was a city where dogs barked from the strangest places, like out of air vents in the sides of walls, and from the tip-tops of open roofs. In Granada the cave bars served red wine and golden tapas, but she liked to stand outside them on the mountains and smell not taste the cooking. Here the clear air rested when it could have blown.
She said, "I won't smooth every wrinkle afterwardsimmediately." Te amo, that was what it was.
About Toya: she always is looking for a man who wears the cologne of fresh basil. She thinks about sex and skin and smooth and garlic, figs, buying chorizo. Rarely there are mornings when her throat is not dry when she wakes up. Each day begins in a frying pan.