WORD LISTS

"Thoughts Without Cigarettes" by Oscar Hijuelos

October 13, 2013
Oscar Hijuelos was the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize (for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love). Here we present 16 words from his memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes<\a> , excerpted in the online literary journal of the arts Drunken Boat.
gaunt
She would have been eye-catching, even lovely, with her striking dark features and pretty face, her expression, however, somewhat gaunt.
mutter
Muttering to herself, she would have had the jitters, not only from her inherently high-strung nature but also because she’d probably spent the night sitting up with my pop worrying about their youngest son—me.
dread
As green and white transit buses came forlornly chugging up the hill along Amsterdam from 125th Street, she would have stood there, perhaps with my older brother, José, by her side, watching the avenue for a car to turn onto the street, all the while dreading what the day might hold for her.
languish
The driver, a friend of my father’s, or someone he had paid, would take her either to 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, where she might catch a train, or directly up to Greenwich, Connecticut, where I, her five-year-old son, lay languishing in a hospital.
placid
Through the Bronx and over to the highway north to Connecticut they would go and, coming to that placid town, the kind of place she’d never have visited otherwise, enter a different world.
dappled
In the spring, she’d ride along the loveliest of shadow- dappled streets, the sunlight shimmering through the leafy boughs of elm and oak trees overhead, as if they were passing through a corridor like one of the roads out of Havana; and in the winter, snow, in plump drifts and brilliant, would have been everywhere, so Christmas-y and postcard-pretty.
bough
In the spring, she’d ride along the loveliest of shadow-dappled streets, the sunlight shimmering through the leafy boughs of elm and oak trees overhead, as if they were passing through a corridor like one of the roads out of Havana; and in the winter, snow, in plump drifts and brilliant, would have been everywhere, so Christmas-y and postcard-pretty.
loom
After following her directions, which she would have recited carefully to the driver from a piece of paper—torn out of a composition notebook page or from a brown grocery bag—they would have found the hospital along King Street, off in its own meadow and reached by a winding flagstone driveway, the Byram Woods looming as a lovely view just nearby.
trepidation
For what English she knew, even after some thirteen years in this country, consisted of only a few phrases and words, and even those were pronounced with her strong Cuban accent and the trepidations of a woman who, until then, had rarely ventured out from the insular immigrant’s bubble of our household.
venture
For what English she knew, even after some thirteen years in this country, consisted of only a few phrases and words, and even those were pronounced with her strong Cuban accent and the trepidations of a woman who, until then, had rarely ventured out from the insular immigrant’s bubble of our household.
insular
For what English she knew, even after some thirteen years in this country, consisted of only a few phrases and words, and even those were pronounced with her strong Cuban accent and the trepidations of a woman who, until then, had rarely ventured out from the insular immigrant’s bubble of our household.
ward
Still, even with that help, just to navigate the hospital’s bureaucracy must have been a misery for her—and not only because she had to depend on someone to translate her exchanges with the ward personnel but because of her fears about what she might be told.
convalescent
He knew it, however, and it makes sense that this riddle, which would plague me for decades, would have a far less mysterious solution than I could have ever imagined: for that place turned out to be called, quite simply, the St. Luke’s Convalescent Hospital.
portico
A cousin, circa 1928, of its New York City namesake, where I had been taken first, the St. Luke’s Convalescent Hospital consisted of a red-brick three-story structure with a white portico entranceway, and two adjacent, somewhat lower wings at either side.
perplexed
I just couldn’t remember the words, and this must have truly perplexed her, for I’ve been told that, before I went into the hospital, I spoke Spanish as cheerfully and capaciously as any four-year old Cuban boy.
capacious
I just couldn’t remember the words, and this must have truly perplexed her, for I’ve been told that, before I went into the hospital, I spoke Spanish as cheerfully and capaciously as any four-year old Cuban boy.

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