Mother cleaned the spare room, changed
the sheets, put the best folded towels
on the bed, mopped the bathroom tiles

in preparation for father’s cousin
the congressman bringing his querida,
his Korean mistress, to our home.

He’d agreed we’d house her for the week
or until primo’s wife cooled off and stopped
accosting hotel managers in town or waiting

for a lobby ambush. Like an act in a soap
opera: the furtiveness, the nighttime visits
during which mother was curt with father

(not more, as she valued her sense
of good breeding)— inferring that
what went down with one

could very well be her fate.
Her friend the engineer’s wife caused
a scandal just weeks before: crazed,

running into the foam in her nightgown
with her husband’s gun and threatening
to kill herself unless he left

his whores. I learned querida
means dearest one, darling; but like
the tiny loop and flourish in the Q

it also meant the female you lusted
after outside the circle that signified
your marriage. This one had skin

like porcelain, a tiny waist, hair long
and dark held in place by one gold barette.
How old was she? Before she was taken away,

mother had softened, but only
toward her. They’d talk in lowered voices,
dunk cookies in their tea. She took the other

woman’s measure, promised she’d sew her
a proper dress: simple sheath, jewel neck-
line; no zippers, only hooks and eyes.

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