The Education of Margot Sanchez Chapter 1
with flaming orange-red hair invades my space the minute I step inside the supermarket. I search for Papi but he’s walked ahead into his office already.
“Look who’s here!” the cashierista announces while eating some sort of pastry. “La Princesa has arrived.”
I wince as she calls me by my childhood nickname and not my real name, Margot. The rest of the cashier girls give my preppy floral outfit the once-over.
“What are you doing here?” She ignores the pastel de guayaba crumbs that fall on her too-tight shirt, which reads MIRA PERO NO TOQUES, a warning to the masses to look but not touch her looming chest.
Before I can even respond, Oscar, the manager, comes up to me and places a protective hand on my shoulder.
“She’s helping us this summer,” Oscar says. “Verdad, Princesa?”
“Well, more like supervising.” I say this with just enough emphasis on the word “supervising” for the cashierista to shift her weight to her right hip. Oscar laughs at my work declaration/aspiration and offers me a pity pat on my shoulder.
I take a good look around. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. Sanchez & Sons Supermarket used to be bright and cheerful, a welcoming oasis in a sea of concrete buildings. Now the blue paint is peeling, the posters are the same from five years ago, and there’s some funky odor that I can’t place. I spot a large sign with a banana dressed in a ridiculous mambo costume. The banana smiles back at me as if she’s in on the joke. And she is. Everyone is. My year at Somerset Prep is being scrubbed away with every second I spend here and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“This is Melody and Annabel. Say hello, girls.” Oscar’s gained weight since I saw him last, at my parents’ annual Three Kings Day party. To combat his thinning hair, he keeps his head completely shaved. A Latino Mr. Clean. “Here’s Rosa, Brianne, and Taina . . .”
These girls are just a couple of years older than me but some of the other women have been working at my father’s supermarket for a while. Some even have kids my age. The ones with kids are a little bit friendlier but there’s no point
in remembering their names. I have no intention of staying here.
“You look just like a Sanchez,” one of the older cashieristas says. “La misma cara of your father.”
“Thank you.” I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or if she’s saying I look like a middle-aged man. The cashier girl from earlier continues to eyeball me. I locate the exits and make a mental list of the possible escape routes. There’s not much else I can do.
“Buenos días, Señor Sanchez.”
A stock boy wearing a Yankees baseball hat tilted to the side and droopy, extra-large pants that fall off his hips greets Papi. Finally, Papi makes an appearance.
I adjust my skirt and pull down my matching short-sleeved top. The blouse barely covers my big butt. I might be overdressed but my stylish clothes are my only armor against perverted stock boys like this one, who now leers at me. Even with the hat I can still make out his Dragon Ball Z spiked hair, gelled so hard that it looks like a shellacked crown. I stare him down until he looks away.
It’s seven in the morning on a Monday. This is how I’m spending my first day of vacation. I blame my parents for this summer imprisonment.
I was this close to joining Serena and Camille on their vacation to the Hamptons. Two months of hanging with the only squad that matters by the beach. It took some serious
scheming on my part to secure an invite from the girls, right down to me doing things I never thought I would. There was that time they dared me to make out with some nerd, Charles from English class. Serena and Camille were joking but I did it. When I pulled my lips away, Charles’s large eyes registered confusion, and then he turned bright red. What was truly messed up was that Charles didn’t miss a beat. He covered up the embarrassment by laughing along with Serena and Camille. There wasn’t much separating me from him. We were both outsiders in that school. Both didn’t know how to dress. Both surviving. Still, I ignored that awful pit of guilt growing in my stomach because taking that dare was worth it. There were other things I did—denied my natural curls by straightening out my hair, stole some expensive lipstick—anything to make Serena and Camille notice me.
My parents have no idea who I have to compete with at Somerset Prep. How far down I was in the social caste system until Serena and Camille took pity on me. If I was going to be the great brown hope for my family by attending this super-expensive high school, I knew I needed to make friends with the right girls. Papi said to me on my first day of school: “Don’t waste your time with idiots. Always look for the kids who stand out.” Camille and Serena stood out because they were popular, like straight-out-of-a-CW-TV-show-episode popular. Fashion girls. I thought I was stylish but I had no concept of what that meant, with my dated
vintage dresses in too-loud tacky colors. I tried to explain this to my parents but they called off my summer plans to teach me a lesson. Now I’m stuck in their supermarket in the South Bronx, far away from the sun and the gorgeous Nick Greene. Grounded. Stuck personified.
“Take a seat,” Papi says. Chairs are arranged in a haphazard circle right behind the rows of cashiers. He points to an empty chair. “We are going to start the monthly staff meeting in a minute.”
I pull him to the side, away from the workers.
“I made an appearance.” My voice trembles a bit for a more dramatic effect. “Let’s forget about this whole thing. I learned my lesson.”
“Not another word. Siéntate. Let’s get started, everyone.” The cashieristas gather around him. If only Papi had sent me to work at the other Sanchez & Sons supermarket. The Kingsbridge store is way smaller and managed by my uncle Hector, who is a total pushover. Papi works at this location, which makes ditching that much harder.
“A couple of things. Oscar, I want a new display stand to promote July Fourth, not that old one.” Papi leans against a conveyor belt. His sleeves are rolled up and his unbuttoned shirt flashes a small gold cross on a chain. He has hair that’s more salt than pepper and a gut that spills a bit over his dress slacks. His name is Victor but everyone here calls him Señor Sanchez.
“People want to buy beer so set it up next to the seasonal items.” He continues with the announcements while I compose another emotional plea in my head. How will I get out of this?
“Girls, make sure to push the customers to the display stands,” Papi says. “Remind them of the holiday.”
Stomping heels bang against the floor. The sound grows louder and louder. I join the others as they crane their necks to see what’s up.
“Where’s the coffee?” Jasmine, the only cashierista I sort of know, refuses to take her sunglasses off and greets everyone with a curled lip. “I’m not doing shit until I have some.”
“You’re late. Again,” Papi says. “Sit down.”
“Why didn’t you tell me she was coming in?” she says. Although Jasmine’s clearly pissed off at something I did or didn’t do, she still comes over to me and plants a kiss hello with such force that I almost fall off the chair.
Jasmine has worked here forever. She even lied about her age to get the job. With her heavily painted face and a body that rules in these parts—big ass and even bigger tits—she looks way older than twenty. Her long, pointy nails are painted in Puerto Rican flag colors, reminders of the recent parade.
“You all know my daughter Princesa. She’s joining the Sanchez family this summer to help at the store,” Papi says. “Stand up and say hello.”
I thought being born into the family made me a true
Sanchez. I face the cashieristas. A bored cashierista snaps her gum while her friend whispers in her ear. Someone laughs. There’s no way to deflect the player-hating killer rays being thrown my way.
“You can call me Margot,” I say. “My name is Margot.”
No one is really listening to me, not even my father, who has turned his attention to the butcher.
“Who is going to train her?” Jasmine puts the question to the cashieristas. “Don’t look at me because I always get the dumb ones.”
I glare at her and then back at Papi but he is too deep in his conversation about meats.
“No seas dramática. You barely trained me,” says the cashierista, who has managed to find another pastry to eat. “If anything, I had to show you what to do.”
Jasmine looks like she’s about to clobber the girl. The stock guys in the back seem too eager to witness some girl-on-girl action.
“I don’t need to be trained.” I say this loudly so that everyone is clear on what I’m willing to do. “I’m going to help Papi in the office.”
“No, that’s not what you’re doing.” Papi squashes my dream. “Jasmine, have Princesa start with the boxes in the back.”
I’m not unloading boxes, not in these clothes and not with the pervy stock boys.
“Seriously, I’m better equipped by a desk,” I say. “I can just answer the phones—”
“This isn’t up for debate. Jasmine, show her what to do.”
This is not happening. He never said anything about hard labor. Granted, I’m being punished but I thought this was for show. Papi didn’t even want me to work at the supermarket. He was more than willing to ship me off to the Kingsbridge store but Mami put a stop on that. She wanted to make sure Papi kept an eye on me. I don’t understand why I can’t learn a lesson in the comfort of an office.
“These boxes don’t belong here.” A familiar voice rings out. The focus shifts away from my dilemma. “Get over here now!”
Although the sign at the front of the grocery store reads SANCHEZ & SONS, there’s only one boy in this family. Junior, my older brother, walks in.
“Oh, look who it is,” he says. “The Private School Thief.”
My own blood shouts me out in front of everyone but I won’t take this quietly. I’m not the only bad seed in this family.
“Yeah, well, at least I didn’t get kicked out of college.”
“I work for a living,” Junior explains to the cashieristas. “I’m not trying to pretend I’m someone else. You know what she did? She charged six hundred dollars on Papi’s credit card. So what if she’s only fifteen years old? I would have called the cops.”
Cashieristas suck their teeth in disapproval. Junior
is jealous because Papi decided to send me to Somerset. Junior’s proven what a poor investment he is after he lost his wrestling scholarship. While he works I study at one of New York’s prestigious prep schools. Basically, I’m the last saving grace for the Sanchez family. There’s some unwritten family commandment that states that I will graduate from Somerset, attend an Ivy League school, and major in some moneymaking profession. The pressure is on to excel. They don’t call me Princesa for nothing. I’m being groomed for bigger and better things.
Papi lets out a long sigh. “Go to your stations.” His whole demeanor has changed. It’s as if the control he demonstrated moments ago while running the meeting diminished the second Junior appeared. Junior is technically the assistant manager and I bet he loves to fling that title around like it means something. At home, Papi always reprimands Junior for something he forgot to do at work or for showing up late. No wonder this place is falling apart if Papi has to oversee my brother’s messes.
I watch Junior approach each of the cashieristas with a lingering hug. They coo back at him in Spanish as if he’s some telenovela star. Another reason why we don’t get along: He’s allowed to chat up every girl he comes in contact with while, according to Mami, I can’t even speak to a guy on the phone until I finish high school. Not that any guy calls, but Nick might have if I’d had my way.
“Wake up, Princesa! I don’t have all day to babysit you.” Jasmine snaps her fingers at me.
“Please don’t do that,” I say. “I’m not some dog.”
“You mean this?” She snaps her fingers again. And again. “Princesa, if that’s going to bother you then you’re not going to last here. Why are you working anyway? Don’t you go to some fancy school and shit?”
“It’s a mistake,” I say. “This whole thing is a mistake.”
“A mistake?” she says. “I don’t believe in mistakes. There are only actions. It seems to me like you got busted big-time.”
Her cackle hurts my head.
“No, that’s not true.”
“You didn’t get busted for stealing?”
“I did get busted but I wouldn’t consider it stealing,” I say. “It was an advancement.”
“Girl, please.” Jasmine’s eyebrows are raised so high that they practically rest on top of her head. “Who are you trying to play? You can’t hustle a hustler. Let’s go.”
She pulls out a pack of cigarettes from her purse and leads me toward the back.
Jasmine doesn’t know a thing about Somerset Prep. If she were in my shoes, she would have done the same thing. We walk past my brother, who’s talking to a girl.
“Damn, your brother es un sucio.”
“You don’t have to tell me he’s dirty,” I say. “The guy only has one thing on his mind.”
“He talks a good game but he’s the type of guy that probably lasts for only five minutes. Then you’re lucky if he doesn’t make you cook afterwards.”
I don’t want to hear about Junior or anyone else’s bedroom skills. It’s gross and also I’m a virgin but it’s not from lack of trying. The boys at Somerset are very selective. Although I’ve shed my cheap tacky style, I still don’t get any play. I arrived at Somerset sporting a full-on tribute to girl groups from the sixties—pencil skirt, heavy black eyeliner, and slightly teased hair. In junior high, everyone thought I looked cute in my vintage outfits. Sometimes I would rock seventies bell-bottoms or try a version of a forties pinup girl. It was my idea to create an Instagram account, WEARABLE ART, to document outfits but the looks never translated at Somerset. Somerset boys just don’t go for curvy girls in low-quality clothes. I ditched the pencil skirts that accentuated my full backside and followed Serena and Camille’s tame, chic style. Taylor Swift is their icon and now she’s mine too.
I follow Jasmine to the end of aisle four. The Dragon Ball Z boy sits crouched down in front of a tower of large boxes.
“Dominic, let her do it. I need to take a drag before they open the doors.” Dominic grins as if he won the lottery.
“We need to restock this,” he says. “You know, the female feminine things, the shampoos, and this stuff right here.”
He points to an empty condom stand. My face burns red.
“Yeah, this is kind of important. Safe sex and shit.” Dominic licks his lips and reveals a chipped tooth. “You know what I’m talking about, right? They probably teach you that in your cushy school. No glove, no love. We got all kinds of sizes up in here. Magnum, triple magnum, and for the girls who want . . .”
I close my eyes. I want him to shut up but he goes on, enjoying every humiliating second.
“After that, I got some other things for you to unload,” he says. “Good luck, Princesa.”
This can’t be my life right now. I grab my phone to text Serena and Camille but there’s no reception. Another cashierista walks by and laughs. Papi is delusional if he thinks I’ll stay locked up in this depressing grocery world. The minute I find an out, I’m taking it. I roll my eyes at her before throwing a condom box meant for the display rack onto the floor.
The tip of my new gel manicure gets caught on a hard corner of the carton and tears. A tiny drop of blood emerges from the finger. Jesus. I need to connect with reality, my reality. I press down on the injury and walk away from the aisle, leaving the opened boxes a mess on the floor.