As hectic as things have been as of late, I *am* making progress on this story. Which isn’t really a story anymore–it’s now long enough to be a novella (or middle grade novel). We’re still hoping it will be illustrated, but perhaps in the manner of Hugo Cabret (but in color). At any rate, here are two chapters I just finished up. I lose my formatting when I put text in here, so you’ll just have to imagine where the italics go. I also still have work to do researching aspects of Latino culture, and putting accents in the right places. Eight chapters down, three to go…
Sorry folks–if you’re wondering what the heck those chapters are from, it’s my story about boys who love to make dolls: “Muñecas.” You can find earlier chapters here:
One evening on their way home from the shop, Senora Beatriz told Pepe she had to go out of town. Pepe’s heart crept up into his throat. Would the senora send him away? If she did, where would he go?
“I need you to stay here and finish hemming those trousers,” said the senora. “I will return tomorrow morning. If Senora Rodriguez didn’t live so far away, I wouldn’t have to stay the night.” She stopped and looked at Pepe, who was blinking back the tears of panic that had sprung into his eyes. “Will you be alright in the house alone? It’s only for one night.”
Pepe’s throat was too tight for him to speak, so he nodded and tried to look brave. The senora was only going away for one night! He wasn’t going to be homeless again.
“Senora Rodriguez has a daughter who’s getting married. My mother used to work as a cook in their home. They could easily afford to buy a gown in a fancy store, but Senora Rodriguez insists I make it myself.” The senora sighed and looked down at her stiff fingers. “At least she’s sending their driver to fetch me. I won’t have to take the bus.” The senora put her hand on Pepe’s shoulder and leaned on him a little as they walked the rest of the way home.
As soon as the senora pulled away in the Rodriguez’s car, Pepe sat down and began working on the trousers that needed to be hemmed. With nothing to distract him, Pepe finished his task before too long. He carefully hung the trousers inside the wardrobe and looked around for something else to do. Pepe’s eyes fell on the sewing machine. Senora Beatriz had been working on a gown for another bride-to-be. Pepe wandered over to take a closer look. If the stitching wasn’t too complicated, maybe he could help the senora by finishing it himself!
Pepe knew the sewing machine was temperamental. He knew it could run along just fine for a while, and then suddenly chew up the expensive fabric. Senora Beatriz had a way of calming the machine whenever it threw a fit. Pepe had seen her do it a dozen times. He was sure he could the same thing himself.
Pepe worked on the gown for nearly half an hour before the sewing machine started to fuss. Pepe did all the things he had seen the senora do whenever the machine seized up. The needle refused to go up or down, but Pepe knew if he kept turning the wheel the jammed needle would simply snap in half. Sometimes, when the machine was especially finicky, Senora Beatriz opened a small door and tinkered with the parts inside. Pepe decided to give that a try. He saw a small part that looked like it was bent. Pepe tried to press it flat again, and the part snapped off in his hand!
“Oh, no!” cried Pepe. “What have I done?”
Pepe tried to fit the part back inside the machine, but the jagged little piece wouldn’t stay where it belonged. Could he glue it back together? Pepe searched the entire house but couldn’t find any glue. He had a few coins the senora had given him, but all the stores were closed for the day. He would have to wait until the morning. But what if the senora returned first and discovered he had broken her beloved sewing machine? Pepe just knew the senora would turn him out into the street.
“What should I do?” Pepe asked himself over and over as he paced back and forth. Finally he sat down in front of the sewing machine and hung his head in despair. Pepe was certain the senora would ask him to leave, and then he would have no choice but to join the other street boys living under the bridge.
Suddenly, Pepe had an idea! He snatched the broken part off the sewing machine and dashed out of the house. Pepe went straight to the shantytown where all the street boys lived. He carefully climbed down the steep slope and made his way over to the fire that burned every night. Primo sat surrounded by a group of younger boys who were listening closely to the story the boss boy was spinning. “And that’s all it took,” said Primo with pride. Then he set something down on the ground. “Look at it go—it’s good as new!”
The younger boys started to oooh and aaah. Pepe took a deep breath to steady his nerves and called out, “Primo!” But no one heard. Pepe pushed his way closer to the boss boy and finally saw what the children were so excited about: a wind-up car was driving in circles on the ground. Primo continued his story. “I found it in the trash and fixed it myself—just needs a coat of paint, that’s all.”
Pepe watched the toy car and found the courage to try again. This time he practically shouted: “PRIMO!”
All the boys turned to see who dared to interrupt the boss boy’s story. Primo narrowed his eyes and spat on the ground. “Well, well, well. If it ain’t Senor Pepe. I told you he’d be back!” Primo scoffed and some of the bigger boys laughed.
Pepe opened his mouth to speak but none of his words came out. Buried within his fist, the small metal part bit into his palm. Pepe opened his hand and took a step toward the boss boy. “I—I need your help, Primo.”
The flames jumped and crackled, casting shadows across Primo’s face. “Why should I help you?” he asked.
Pepe looked down at the twisted piece of metal. “I have a friend…who has been kind to me, and I want to fix her sewing machine to repay my debt.”
“A sewing machine? What’s that got to do with me?” Some of the other boys snickered, but Primo didn’t laugh or sneer. His eyes caught sight of the piece of metal in Pepe’s hand. Primo righted his chair and leaned forward.
“You know more than anyone about fixing things made of metal,” said Pepe. “I thought perhaps you could help me fix the piece that broke off.”
The other boys looked at Primo. His dark eyes were fixed on the scrap of metal in Pepe’s hand. For a moment no one spoke. Then Primo said, “Bring it here.”
Pepe rushed forward and offered the broken part to Primo. The older boy picked it up, turned it over, and held it up before the fire. “What did it look like before it broke off?”
Pepe tried his best to describe the part, but Primo just shook his head. “I’ll have to see the whole machine.” Primo stood and the other boys stepped back so he could pass by. “Let’s go,” said Primo, the metal part now clenched tightly in his fist.
Pepe’s mouth fell open. “Go?”
Primo came around the fire and stood before Pepe. “I have to see the machine,” he explained in a voice that was gruff but not unkind.
Pepe looked at the other boys ringed around the fire. What if they followed him to the senora’s house? Pepe looked up into Primo’s dirt-smeared face. Could he trust a boy who stole every day just to survive? Suddenly little Melky piped up. “I know where the house is, Primo. I can take you there.”
Primo glanced down at the small boy and playfully tousled his hair. “Alright, kid. You lead and I’ll follow.” Melky grinned and skipped off, proud to help his hero. Primo began to walk away, then turned and looked at Pepe. “You coming, or what?”
Pepe knew he had no choice. He had to trust Primo. Pepe nodded and hurried to catch up with the other boys.
When they reached the senora’s house, Pepe stopped in front of the gate. “Please—you must promise me that you won’t touch anything!”
“What?” Primo frowned and tried to push Pepe out of the way, but Pepe wouldn’t budge.
“Please,” he pleaded. “The senora’s house is full of…special things.”
“What kind of special things?” asked Primo.
Pepe looked at Melky whose eyes gleamed with their shared secret. “The senora makes dolls!” Melky finally blurted out.
Pepe sighed. “Come with me.”
Pepe led the two boys up the back stairs and into the senora’s sewing room. As soon as the light was switched on, Pepe heard the boys gasp in wonder. Melky danced around the room, brimming with delight. Primo stood frozen in the center of the room, his mouth open wide with awe. “Please,” begged Pepe, “don’t tell the other boys.”
Primo closed his mouth, dimmed the wonder in his eyes, and turned to Pepe. “Where’s the machine?” he asked in a low, gruff voice. Pepe led him over to the table where the senora’s sewing machine sat idle. “Show me where the part’s supposed to go,” ordered Primo. While the older boys examined the broken machine, Melky sat on a bench and carried on an imaginary conversation with one of the life-size dolls. Every so often he would call out to Pepe, “I’m not touching anything!” But it was hard to keep his fingers to himself.
Finally, Primo figured out how the part fit inside the machine. Pepe gave him paper and a pencil, and Primo drew a picture of what the part ought to look like. He put the drawing and the broken part into his pocket. “You got anything to eat?”
Pepe hesitated. “Bun and cheese?” Primo nodded, and Pepe glanced around the room before heading off to the kitchen. He hoped he would notice if anything was missing when he returned.
Primo walked over to the bolts of cloth that were propped against the wall. He glanced over his shoulder, then rubbed his fingers on his pants and…touched the satiny white fabric. Melky, seeing his hero breaking the rules, took a lace veil off one of the mannequins and set it on top of his own head! When Pepe came back carrying a plate of food for his guests, both boys were posing in front of the mirror. Primo had a piece of raw silk wrapped around his slender body. Melky held a bouquet of dried flowers in his hands, the veil trailing down his back like a mane.
Pepe opened his mouth to protest, then remembered how he had felt when he first discovered the senora’s sewing room. Pepe set the food down on the table and went over to the two boys. “You’re wearing it wrong,” he told Melky before straightening the tiara and settling the veil around the boy’s narrow shoulders. Melky looked at his reflection in the mirror and beamed like a bride. Primo carefully replaced the piece of silk he’d been wearing. He didn’t look at Pepe, but softly murmured, “Sorry.”
Pepe went over to the wardrobe and took out a finished jacket. “Try this,” he said, passing it to Primo. The older boy flushed, then reached out a trembling hand. Primo didn’t put the jacket on right away. Instead he traced all the seams and gently fingered the shiny brass buttons.
“I stitched that one myself,” Pepe said with pride.
“You made this?” Primo asked, amazed.
“I helped,” said Pepe. “The senora showed me how to cut out the pieces, and then she let me stitch some of the seams on her machine.”
This time Melky was impressed. “You can sew!”
Pepe glanced at the broken machine. “Well…”
Primo grinned. “You broke it, didn’t you?”
Pepe nodded bashfully…then all three boys started to laugh!
Pepe grabbed the jacket and held it up so Primo could try it on. Then he snatched a blue satin cape off the rack and strutted around the room like a matador. Melky began to charge at Pepe like a bull. Primo found a piece of red satin and joined in the fun!
After a while the boys grew tired and stopped their game to eat the food Pepe had prepared.
“Do you really live here?” Melky asked enviously. Pepe nodded and showed the boys where he slept at night. “Senora Beatriz has been very good to me.” Pepe turned to Primo. “Do you really think you can fix her sewing machine?”
Primo carefully took off the fine jacket and hung it inside the wardrobe. “I will try,” he told Pepe. “But first I must go get my tools.”
“I’ll get them!” cried Melky. The small boy dashed for the door and was halfway down the stairs before he realized he was still wearing the tiara and veil…
The boys worked late into the night. Melky tried to stay up and keep the older boys company, but eventually he fell asleep against one of the large dolls. Pepe carried the small boy into his room and laid him on the bed. Then he rubbed his eyes, and went into the kitchen to make some coffee.
Primo was tired, but determined. He used his tools and scraps of metal to make three different replacement parts. The first was crushed by the wheels that turned inside the sewing machine. The second was spat out and flew across the room, lodging in the wall. But the third part fit perfectly! Pepe turned the crank and pressed the pedal, and the sewing machine hummed happily.
“You did it! You fixed the senora’s machine!” Pepe wanted to hug Primo, but instead he extended his hand. Primo shook it heartily and grinned. “I knew I could do it,” he said almost to himself. “I knew I could!”
It was almost dawn. The boys finished their coffee and talked quietly about their hopes for the future.
“You could be a tailor,” said Primo. “If I were rich, I would hire you to make all my clothes!”
Pepe smiled and wondered if he could tell Primo the truth. Here, in the senora’s sewing room, the boss boy didn’t seem so tough. In a soft voice Pepe said, “I want to be a dollmaker when I grow up.”
Primo blinked but didn’t say anything at first. Then his eyes lit up and he whispered excitedly, “There are dolls that talk, you know!” Pepe was too amazed to speak, and so Primo rushed on. “I saw one in a store once—the doll had eyes that opened and closed, and it could say, ‘Mamá’!” Primo looked down at his hands. “I bet I could make a doll that talked—maybe even a doll that walked!”
Pepe nodded enthusiastically. “I’m sure you could! You fixed that wind-up car, and the senora’s sewing machine. Maybe we could have our own factory like Senor Raul. But we won’t be cruel to our workers. And we won’t make cheap, ugly dolls!”
Primo smiled but his eyes were dark and serious. “If I ever own a factory, I will ask all the street boys to come and work for me. And I will build a house with enough beds for everyone.”
“Then no one would ever have to sleep under the bridge again,” said Pepe quietly.
Primo and Pepe found they had much to discuss but before long, they both fell asleep with their heads resting on the table. The boys were sleeping so soundly they didn’t hear Senora Beatriz coming up the back stairs…