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He slept on the terrace. It was a big fight. They did not speak to each other the following morning. She prepared the coffee. The milk boiled over. A real mess. This fight, she was determined to win.

Dogs barked and scooters zoomed on the streets below. Construction sounds persisted. The air, thick like molasses. Cliché?

Are you still gonna do my nails? he asked.

What do you think?

He filled the plastic tub with water and placed a chair in front of the sofa. His sheets and pillow from the night before were in a neat pile as a reminder. Every time he traveled to Dominican Republic he’d promised he would return to her. He was done with New York where he had worked for twenty years as a janitor at the same high school he’d enrolled in when he first arrived to the states. Too old to learn English well, too stubborn to go to college and get a degree like all his siblings. Unlike him, they never planned to return.

She took one of his feet and began to work.

You’re cutting them wrong, he said.

What do you mean? It’s the way I’ve always done it.

After all this time you really don’t know what I want, do you?

She slinked back on the sofa, her eyes turning away from him to the blazing sun. Was he really the man she wanted to be with?

When she’d met him five years earlier, she was still young enough to marry anyone she wanted. He’d convinced her he would take care of her always. And she believed him. But year after year he asked for more time to figure things out. This time she would give him an ultimatum. She couldn’t wait around forever to start her life.

He took the nail clipper and cut his own toenails, and when he was done, put his foot back on her lap.

He smiled, said, You’re so fucking beautiful, and meant it. His small head and big eyes dipped like a puppy’s and looked up at her, begging for forgiveness.

Her face softened.

She grabbed his foot and continued to work. Cutting his cuticles. Filing down the rough edges. She exfoliated his dead skin, her hands pressed hard and deep into his calves and the soles of his feet, pulling on his toes. She washed them off, drying them with a clean towel. She sloughed away the hours of his standing all day at work.

He eased into the chair. His head fell back. His eyes, glassy and sad.

Just tell me already, when are you going to leave her? she asked, needing a victory.

She’s dying.

Angie Cruz is the author of Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee and is at work on her third novel, Dominicana. She’s the editor of Aster(ix) and teaches in the MFA at University of Pittsburgh.

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