Before the family woke up Luisa surveyed her handiwork and it was good. The old wooden table with the embroidered cloth under the clear vinyl held the chipped matched dishes with the border of little pink roses that Pablo's Mother had given to her before they got married. In the center of the table a blue plastic platter held the stack of pancakes she had just made for the children. The blue cups with cafe con leche were each at their place; Pablo's mostly coffee with a little milk; the children's mostly milk with drops of coffee for a bit of color. The scrubbed cast aluminum caldero was draining by the sink. The blue enamel coffee pot and the steel milk pot sat waiting on the stove for Pablo's second cup if he had time.

She walked to the sink and ran water into the tall juice can she had squeezed to make a pouring spout. She carried it with both hands to the window. She poured water into the three plants she had grown from seed: an avocado with its big eye-shaped leaves, a grapefruit with tiny tear-shaped leaves; and her pride, a tall mango with deep green shiny blade-shaped leaves, and always, new purple shoots. She had grown it from a mango Pablo had smuggled in from the Island, past the agriculture inspectors, so ripe the pit had already shot a root. Everyone who saw it marveled that she had gotten it to grow in the City.

She stood by the window and looked down at the quiet street, nobody about except one man bundled up to his ears hurrying to the train station. One day she would go down herself and sweep up the bits of newspaper, the paper cups, the dirty diapers in the gutter, to have the pleasure of seeing the street in order in the morning, like she was having now the pleasure of seeing her house in order in the morning. She breathed in the smell of wet earth. With her eyes closed, she could almost capture the early morning moment on the Island. She shook off this longing for that other life, that deeper, richer dirt. She opened her eyes and stepped back from the window. Last week she had washed the sheer frilled pale yellow curtains. She beheld them and the light coming through them. It was good.

Luisa walked to the children's room, stood by their door, gazed at them. She held this moment just before she woke the children. She stood at the door watching the din light coming in through the roll-up blinds on the windows. "Wake up angels." She rubbed the backs of the children at the shoulder blades where she told them each and every day that she was feeling for feathers, because in the night they were angels, angels in their sleep, flying around the Barrio, doing miracles."Wake up angel." Luisi opened his eyes. She saw him startle, remember where he was, where he was not. "What miracle did you do last night?"

A shadow darkened his gaze. She regretted making him remember he had not done the one miracle that needed doing. She should not make the angel joke again. She discovered with shame the joke was cruel. Why make Luisi feel in his imagination he could fix his Mother when in real life he could not?

Luisi's eyes went straight to the photo of his mother on the small table, now painted white, Luisa had salvaged from a neighbor's trash. In the photo Graciela's face was scrunched up against the sun. She wore white. The photo of Graciela holding Luisi's hand, he was also dressed in white, was washed by light. They were on the roof. You could see one side of Pablo's pigeon coop, see the diamond shaped wire mesh and half of one of the perched pigeons. Then you could see her son Pablito's hand holding Graciela's. Only his hand. The rest of Pablito didn't get into the picture. Luisa remembered Pablito's school friend Iris taking that picture the day Luisi turned three. June 19. How different things would have been if he'd married Iris and not Graciela! They had all gone to the roof to take pictures before the cake and ice cream while Pablito's white clothes were still clean.

Graciela looked happy, sunlit, clean. With her face scrunched up and with her husband and her baby holding each of her hands, the restlessness was not visible. Pablo had opened the coop and the pigeons had flown out and up and swooped across the flat blue summer sky. Even then, trying as she had not to see that terrible restlessness, Luisa had already known. The street was a dark wing, virulent.

Nobody had told Luisa when Pablito told her he'd gotten a 15 year old pregnant, who the 15 year old was, where the girl came from. He was 15 himself. When he brought the pale blonde thing into the house, they'd stood together by the door. Children themselves. Just children. And then Graciela walked over to the kitchen window to look at Luisa's avocado tree. Light hit the blonde, feather curls. That was when Luisa first made up her secret joke about angels. That Graciela was a fallen angel; that the baby she was bearing was an angel; even the conception was an angel's doing and not the result of her son doing what Pablo had told him not to do, what she had never mentioned but intended with every fiber of her being he never do. Even with her face scrunched up Graciela looked like Luisa. Everyone said she looked more like Luisa than Luisa's own son.

She shook Luisi gently."How about pancakes today?" Because she woke up at five anyway she made the children big breakfasts. She filled them up with everything she could at home, food, kisses, hugs. She covered them with protections: starched plaid Catholic school uniforms, gold chains with crosses, black azabache fists pinned to their undershirts.

Now Luisi sat on the edge of the bed and began to pull on his starched tan pants and stiff white shirt. Luisa turned to Gracie. She sat her up, still half asleep, against the pillows. She unbuttoned the little girl's flannel pajamas with the sheep pattern on it. She pulled the plaid uniform dress over her head. She took the washcloth from her housecoat pocket and gently touched it to Gracie's eyes. Sometimes Luisa hated taking Gracie from her dreams. She laughed out loud. She almost did believe the children were angels in their sleep.

She walked the half sleeping children to the kitchen table. Pablo had already almost finished his pancakes and was draining the last of his cafe con leche. She poured him his second cup, sat between him and the children, fed them spoonfuls of syrup soaked pancakes. Pablo stood, bent down to kiss her goodbye on the cheek, and squeezed her arm.

Luisa stood by the window and saw the three figures leave the building: Pablo with his brown brimmed hat and the collar of his long brown coat turned up. The children in their fluffy quilted jackets, his blue, hers bright pink. Graciela had brought the pink coat for Gracie the last time she'd turned up three weeks ago, brought it with a look of shamed surprise on her face as if she had just stumbled onto one of the things a mother does. Maybe she had once as a little girl gotten around to do what every little girl does which is dress up girl dolls. She watched until they turned the corner and then stood staring at the street. From looking at Graciela that first day, looking like Luisa herself, there was no way she could have dreamed what kind of little girl Graciela had been, already a second generation on the street. She shuddered at her imagination of Graciela's childhood, the child of a junkie mother; fatherless; watching her mother turn tricks. Maybe Pablito was her own first trick.

She heated milk, poured it into a cup, poured coffee into the very center of the milk, spooned sugar into it, and stirred. She sat at the kitchen table facing the window and she sipped her coffee. She clenched her jaw against the rising tide of grief. One tear rolled down her cheek. She savored the sweet, earthy taste of the cafe con leche. Coffee taste was the way earth would taste, wet earth would taste, if it could. She smiled. It was her deepest duty as a mother to remember life was good; she had trained herself to make this island of life of her own home good; polish it clean and good; frill its curtains light and good; remember it was good and make it good. And now, she did. She put herself in mind of how the other day she had said to Luisi, if you chase your sister in the house again and make me scream I will send you out to the mother who gave you birth and he had turned to her with those caramel eyes twinkling,and almost giggled when he said, you are the mother who gave me birth. She smiled. Luisi's smile washed clean even Graciela's darkwinged shadow.

Luisa stood a few feet away from the other mothers outside the school steps. They were almost girls and she half-listened to their talk about hair dyes and clothes. If only Pablito had gotten together with one of them. That one with the braided curls. Or with Iris who was almost done with college now. But he hadn't. She moved further into the shade of the gingko tree.

The school door opened and despite the Sisters' efforts at order, the line of children poured down the stairs, spilling and splashing kids. Luisa smiled as she saw her two approaching. Luisi held Gracie's hand until he saw Luisa and then let it go, to run to her.
"Ice cream?"
"Were you good?"
He nodded. Gracie stood behind him. "By the river?"
Luisa walked down to the river park with them, to the playground.
"Chocolate," Luisi said to Don Silvio.
"Chocolate," Don Silvio repeated, flattening the la and te into Spanish.
"Chocolate," Gracie said, the Spanish way.
Luisa sat on a bench to watch the children flying on the swings. Behind them, beyond them, she watched the flowing river, one lone sailboat pushed by the wind flitted by. The wind, invisible, embraced her, and on it her two angel children flew their swings.

They got home. She fed them. She set Pablo's dinner in tinfoil to keep warm inside the oven. She bathed the children. She settled them in their flannel pajamas in the living room to do their homework on the coffee table, no tv until they did. She settled herself near them in Pablo's recliner to watch La Perdida Santa with the volume low. She watched in the safety of knowing that La Perdida would be saved by the last episode. What would happen to her own perdida? She glanced over to the children. Were they mindful of the silly fairy tale of the telenovela? But Luisi, his face close to the marble notebook, erased with even strokes, so hard the page would surely tear; and Gracie copied over a long list of spelling words, each word five times.

She dozed until she heard Pablo's key in the door.
"Que susto, Pablo. I caught a fright."
She sat with him and watched him say a prayer over his plate of rice, beans, and chicken in salsa.
"I just dreamed of Graciela."
"Woman, por Dios, you and your dreams."

Later, after the children were sleeping, in the blue moonlit darkness of their bedroom, Pablo looked at Luisa in her white nightgown already almost asleep, saw her graying yellow brown hair loose around her smooth round face and remembered the young Luisa. In the dark, it was still possible to see the lush young beauty, the ripe woman's beauty. Sometimes, in this light, he still saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, an angel.

He slid under the covers beside her, and molded his body to her. His face against the back of her head, smelling her manzanilla scented hair, his chest againt her back, his groin against her ass able even in his exhaustion and his age to feel a stirring. Now, this was enough, this stirring had a fullness, it was complete. "Now, we make love like the angels." Luisa shook. Was she laughing or sobbing?

"What did you dream about Graciela?" He had been afraid to ask. He was afraid of Luisa's dreams. "Nothing." He was glad she wanted to keep the secret. Sleep was overtaking him and there was only so much he could bear to know at night.

Next morning after everyone was gone, Luisa knew there would be a knock on the door. She knew when she opened the door she would find Graciela on the other side. She sipped her coffee and waited. The knock came. She opened. She did not recognize Graciela at first. She let her in and sat her down. Without asking she poured her cafe con leche and brought out a loaf of bread. Graciela was so skinny Luisa wanted to feed her. She wanted to get her out of the house. But she also wanted to feed her. She set the cafe con leche by Graciela on the table and turned away from her. She looked in the refrigerator for last night's leftover rice and beans to heat up. She put the pots on the stove. She remembered her dream with Graciela in a plain pine box. She shuddered.

She let her gaze rest on the child. She was bone thin. Her eyes had the zombie cast she had seen before in nobody who had come to a good end and they were the hardest to take. She had her hair bleached light, and permed. It stuck out brittle and wirey around her wizened face, all eyes and red-painted lips. Luisa struggled to keep her eyes away from the tight black tube top, pushing tight against boy flat nipples, from the short, tight red skirt showing hip bones and yellowing skin. God forgive me, but who would want to pay to be with her now?
"I want my kids back."
Luisa sat down beside Graciela and put her hand on her skinny hand. "I know you want your kids back."
"I'm ready for my kids. I've got a new old man."
Luisa slapped Graciela's face.
"You want your kids. They are beautiful kids. They want their mother. But you can not have them."
"Let me see them. "
Luisa took a deep breath. How could she have hit this child? But to come rub some pimp in her own mother-in-law's face! And Graciela didn't even notice the blow. Was she that numb from the drugs, was she that used to being hit?
"They're in school. Don't you know what time it is?"
Luisa got up to spoon last night's rice and beans and on a plate. She set the plate down. "Now eat. Even if you aren't hungry. You're turning into a sack of bones."
Graciela looked at the food and picked up the fork and brought one small mound of rice to her lips. A shadow lifted from Graciela's gaze. Luisa thought she saw one instant of clear sobriety before the addict's body shifted to wanting the next fix. One instant when Graciela clearly saw the food in front of her, the good mother beside her, this other life she gave up for the street. How quickly she had gone from coming home late, to coming home late drunk, to coming home late high, to not coming home at all. Just for that one moment Luisa saw Graciela see everything she'd lost. Then the shadow returned to those zombie eyes of hers.

Luisa waited until Graciela had eaten as much as she would eat: a few mouthfuls of plain rice, a taste of beans.

"You have to go now. The police was here looking for you last week. I told them I hadn't seen you. I didn't know where you were. But if people see you here..."

Graciela rose. She rushed to the door.

Luisa picked up the dish and the cup and stood at the sink letting hot water run and run and run on them. She bent over with the weight of her tears, flowing, flowing, flowing from her eyes in two streams. She had lied to Graciela. There had been no police. She burned with the shame of it. She was keeping a mother from her own children. But there was nothing she wouldn't do to keep Luisi and Gracie from seeing her like this. She remembered watching on the Island a brown dog, a bitch, birthing puppies in the middle of the front room, dropping them, looking at them bewildered and walking on, only to drop another pup, look at it and keep going. In all she had dropped five pups and had not known to lick off their sacks or nudge them to the tits, not known even to lie down beside them, even to lie down at all, even to make a place where she and the pups could rest. All of the puppies died.

She closed the faucet, dried the dishes, put them back in the metal cupboard by the sink. She covered the pots and returned them to the refrigerator. She wiped the table. She wiped every trace of Graciela. When she saw the children she would not tell; when she saw Pablo she would not tell because mention of Graciela made him tremble with rage; Luisa must protect him, protect them all, protect those she could still protect. It would be as if Graciela truly had not been there, like not telling a dream.

She found her two children's faces among the gathered boys and girls in the two first front pews. All the girls in their Christ bride white dresses, all the boys in their navy blue suits. The church air was dusty, stippled. Sun-gilt light streamed shell-pink through the stained glass of the windows where Joseph fought eternally with his angel. Elsa squeezed Pablo's hand on her left and Pablito's on her right. The window was like one of those laboratory slides Pablito had to look through in High School the year he dropped out to marry Graciela, and that he had snuck out in his coat pocket just to show to her through the lightbulb in the living room lamp. "See, Ma? A slice of tree." She had dreamed that he might have grown to be an expert of trees, a knower of the names of all the trees, of the secret inner workings of the trees. Through the lightbulb you could only see sheer brown.
This Joseph fighting the angel church window was the same; a slice of the world held in glass to be studied. She was an expert on fighting angels. For today, the world was fine, fine. In the church the angel wars stayed safely behind glass. It was a place not for fighting angels but for looking at the fight; looking at the blessed mother's eternal smile; looking at the parading saints each with its task; but all of them fixed behind the glass; inside the statues; so that they could be contemplated. Luisa sighed.

She remembered that just when she thought Pablito's first communion was starting it was over. This time she paid attention. Pablito's childhood had been like that; just when she noticed he was learning to walk, he was running; just when she noticed he was learning to talk, he was talking. With Luisi and Gracie she paid attention. Luisi walked to the front, his gaze steady, his face serious, not grim, wise. Thank you God, that he is fine. Gracie walked forward smiling a pure, sweet, child smile, still a child. Thank you God, that she is fine. And then their moment was over and it was time for other children. Luisa watched. The sphere of her protection extended to her own beside her, to the children, to all the children. Thank you God, that they are fine. She closed her eyes with her own silent prayer and when she opened them it was time to file outside.

She burst with her husband and her son and her two grandchildren into the blazing May noon sun. She felt giddy, almost as if she were drunk. For an instant of sun blindness she stood outside the church door at the top of the stairs. Graciela was the first thing she saw. She was standing at the bottom of the church steps. She'd dressed in a Sunday green dress Luisa remembered, except that now it hung limp against her thinness. Had she been inside the church? She stood on very high heels seeming to move with the breeze, so light, so slight.

Luisi saw her too. Calling Mami he let go of Luisa's hand and ran down the steps. Gracie, calling Mami, followed. Walking down, slowly, slowly, Luisa saw Graciela pick up first Luisi and then Gracie and swing them in the air. Pablito gave them baths; Graciela spun them like a Daddy. Could this be right?

Luisa reached them. Pablito and Pablo walked away not looking at Graciela, or the flying children. They kept on walking and turned the corner. Graciela set Gracie down as Luisa reached her. Just for a second their gazes locked and suddenly Graciela gripped Luisa by the shoulders, squeezed her to her chest, lifted her in the air and spun her too, spun her, spun, her, spun her. In another moment it would be all gone, but just for now Luisa felt euphoria. The children clasped hands and spun in circles on their toes. Graciela spun Luisa. Luisa flew.