I am sitting now on the warm sidewalk in front of our brown duplex surrounded by spikey balls dropped from the tree my mother calls our Liquidambar. My tree feels alive like a grandmother as it trembles its soft leafy hands, hands that shield my sidewalk from the hot sun.

My memory begins here when I am two or three. My whole world lives here on the ground, or close to it and the inch-deep grooves in the concrete, home to pincher bugs, red and black ants, pill bugs, all creatures with busy bug lives, creatures working as hard as the adult humans around me: warehouse men working down the alley inside factories that churn out ribbons of steam; electricians inside my father’s shop around the corner; my mother inside our duplex folding laundry and taking service calls for the electricians on the shiny black business phones with all the buttons. Through the window, my mother waves to me, as she cradles the telephone receiver against her shoulder and jostles my baby sister Lindy on her hip.

On these balmy Southern California mornings, I am always barefoot, laying my belly across the cool concrete and poking twigs into inch-high anthills and rolling pill bugs like tiny bowling balls between my sticky fingers, delighting in how they roll up and wriggle their fourteen legs, my amiable Armadillidium vulgare, undeterred by my small human fingers, rolling and unrolling, flipping themselves, and carrying onward. Thank goodness I do not know that pill bugs are edible and reportedly taste like shrimp because I will plop anything into my mouth, whatever adults set in front of me—squares of tripe with hairy cilia waving in the menudo broth and chorizo con huevos, basically a horror of pig eyeballs, testicles, snouts, and tails, chopped together and cleverly seasoned, and my favorite—chicharrons, the honeycomb crunch of fried pigs’ skin—and why, by the way, are little hairs sticking up out of my chicharrones?

Then I hear it: the airy whistle of the buttercup yellow Helms bakery truck as it rolls around the corner and stops in front of the neighbor’s wrought iron fence. My mother runs out of our house and says, “Come on, hurry! Doughnuts!” The driver (I suppose my mother knows his name), says, Howdy, as he unlatches the rear doors of the truck to reveal rows of glossy cherrywood drawers. The inside of the truck smells like the inside of a real bakery, and beneath the drawers are neat stacks of tissue paper and pink cardboard boxes. The Helms man wears a white uniform and is always clean-shaven like he stepped out of the pages of a ladies’ magazine.

The Helms man slides one of the drawers open and reveals a whole population of perfectly round and glazed doughnuts, all with delicate unmarred surfaces. Inside the upper drawer I see the jelly doughnuts, the ruby red jelly eyes staring at me. Another drawer contains cinnamon rolls, the glaze cresting in white crystal waves, and yet another drawer, home to the cake doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles and pink frosting. The thick scent rises into my face making me sugar-drunk, so that I forget myself.

Well? What’ll it be?

I point to a chocolate something-or-other, and the Helms man lifts it away from its mates in a sheath of crinkly tissue paper, which I cradle in my two hands, gently and carefully like I’m holding a living thing.

My mother points to a loaf of bread, and the Helms man snatches her dollar bills and produces coins with his thumbs like magic via a metal money holder he wears on his belt. The quarters and dimes slide out of the bottom, and he drops the coins into my mother’s palm.

For a few minutes the man and my mother engage in chit-chat, the kind of stiff, polite talking you do with nice strangers, almost always people my mother calls “Anglos.” Meanwhile, Lindy and I go sit on the porch steps in a triangle of warm sunlight that streams through our tree. We lose our minds into the satiny chocolate icing that we lick off the surface of the golden cake, while between nibbles and licks, I transfix my eyes on our twenty bare toes and wonder how on earth human toes can look exactly like fat little worms wriggling through the grass.


Angela Morales is the author of The Girls in My Town, winner of the River Teeth Book Prize and the PEN Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Her work has been published in Best American Essays and other journals. Currently she teaches English at Glendale Community College and is working on a memoir of early childhood flash-memories.

Photo by Amy Selwyn