Breakfast with Chabela

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Chabela sits across from me with a nearly finished cigarette pursed between her wrinkled lips. As she watches me, I pour myself a cup of coffee and butter the one slice of white sandwich bread I’m allowed to consume each morning. My head is foggy with sleep so I gulp the coffee, not caring that it sears my tongue. My toast tastes like ash and empty calories. The staticky TV on the counter is already blaring, and little black numbers at the bottom of the screen read 7:30 a.m. I have precisely 30 seconds to snap into consciousness before the peace of morning will be shattered. I chug the remaining coffee. "Buenos dias," she says, a tentacle of smoke wafting out with the words. It has begun.

Morning discussions at Chabela's are always controversial. They get my blood boiling before the sun has risen. Topics include gay marriage, divorce, contraception, and abortion rights. A retired professor of Catholicism, she flings her opinions at me in rapid fire Spanish. Simply nodding my head and muttering "si" is not acceptable; she says she can see it in my eyes, mis ojos, when I don't understand. I have the choice to either agree in a few simple words, or summon my internal Google Translate and come up with a counter argument. I want to...

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