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Amaliya and Sergio looked at each other and giggled.

Following the old woman into the very clean and tidy kitchen, Amaliya sighed at the delicious smells in the room.

“I got spicy chicken tacos, pork tamales, the rice is ready and the beans almost are. ”

Amaliya grinned as she watched her grandmother at the stove, stirring the big pot of beans, and trying to reach to the back to pick up the skillet full of Mexican rice.

“I'll get that,” Sergio offered quickly.

“Okay, nieto,” she answered, surprising her grandchildren. She usually denied help. She pointed to the counter. “Right there. ” Throwing down a pan holder for Sergio to set the hot skillet on, she turned and uncovered a bowl with fresh tortilla dough in it.

“You'll eat this and feel much better,” her Grandmama assured her.

Amaliya sighed and wished desperately that she could eat.

With utter sadness shot through with a strange joy, she watched her grandmother's tiny hand roll, pound, and flatten out a fresh tortilla before throwing it onto the griddle to cook.

A weird sort of silence filled the room as Amaliya and Sergio watched the old lady deftly make tortillas. Her wrinkled fingers easily plucked the tortillas up off the griddle and flipped them until they were perfectly done. Soon a whole stack of the fluffy white tortillas was wrapped in a fresh kitchen towel and put on the table.

This was the way it had always been when she visited her grandmother. She would sit in silence as her grandmother putzed around cooking a feast for her, then as soon as the elder woman sat down, the conversation would start as they ate.

Showing how well trained he was, Sergio pulled out a couple of glass bottles of soda from the refrigerator and popped them open. Her grandmother had a fetish for the Coca Cola from across the border and Sergio or Felipe would bring her milk cartons full of the refillable glass bottles. They also brought other exotic flavors that Amaliya was never particularly fond of.

“They still make it with real sugar. Not corn syrup like here,” Sergio said, handing Amaliya a bottle.

“I didn't know that. ” She took a small swig and nodded to him. “Good. ”

A large photo of their German emigree grandfather and his tiny Mexican bride loomed over the table and it made Amaliya feel watched over. She felt relatively safe and comfortable at last except for one thing. It was hard to feel better when her skin was crawling because of the religious artifacts strewn around the house. It made her feel like there were ants under her skin.

Sliding into the chair across from her, Sergio nursed his own soda. Their grandmother finished warming up all the food and began to carry it to the table.

“Okay, now you eat and feel better. ”

A huge plate filled with food was set down before Amaliya. The smell was amazing, but she didn't feel hunger. She wasn't even sure if she could eat it. She picked up a fork and poked gingerly at the steaming pile of ranchero beans. Across from her, Sergio ate with relish.

Carefully sitting down, favoring her arthritic hip, her grandmother gave her a thoughtful look.

“Eat. ”

Amaliya hesitated and raised the fork, one bean stuck firmly to the tines.

“Grandmama, this is good,” Sergio said, scooping up a bunch of rice and beans and part of a piece of chicken with a bit of tortilla. He shoved the whole thing into his mouth with relish.

Her grandmother's eyes were quite intent as they gazed at her granddaughter. “Amaliya, eat. You look pale and your skin feels cold. You need nourishment. ”

Hesitantly, Amaliya pushed the fork into her mouth, and the bean settled onto her tongue. Very slowly, she shifted it between her teeth and chewed.

Her grandmother smiled with satisfaction. “You need to eat. ”

Amaliya nodded and swallowed. At least she tried to. The bean refused to go down. The more she tried to swallow, the more she gagged. Finally, she gulped as hard as she could and immediately began to cough. The chewed bean hurtled out of her throat and hit the wall.

“Sorry,” she muttered.

Her grandmother looked at the spot of bean slowly sliding down her clean wall and looked back at Amaliya sadly.

“So you are dead,” she said with strange satisfaction.

“Grandmama,” Sergio said in surprise. “I told you not to watch the news. ”