by Sandra Knisely
Guadalajara is a two-story house with peeling white paint, a crooked stoop and a paper sign in the window: OPEN. You go inside and a 10-year-old boy asks if you prefer to sit at the front counter where you can watch the cook toss meat over bright orange flames or in the back at a paper-covered table beneath a TV blaring a game show in Spanish. Your two companions look sort of scared by the whole place, but you really want to make a go of it, and when you notice an old woman cutting up a mound of cacti pads at a table next to the one in the back, you tell the boy that's the spot because you like watching her hands, which are long and oddly smooth, run a big knife over green flesh, slicing off prickers and brown spots. The game show erupts in cheering as you scan the menu and spot a plate of bistec and nopales, which you've never heard of, but then you read the English print in parentheses and look over at the woman, and you decide you want to eat her nopales because you want her to see you eating her nopales so she will think you are her best customer today and feel glad that she is cutting up cactus for someone like you. The boy comes and you don't pronounce the words right when you tell him what you want, but he doesn't correct you and brings a plate heaping with juicy meat and sliced vegetables that look and taste like pickled green beans, sweet but sharp, a flavor you don't like. You meekly separate out the nopales, pushing them into a distinct pile at the edge of the plate, and when you finish you walk shame-faced past the old woman, too embarrassed to leave your share of the tip.
Sandra Knisely is a Wisconsin-based writer who does in fact like eating nopales and many other things. Her work can be found here.