In Transit and Disrepair
My mother’s house in the Marigny. The windows are open. They stretch from the floor to eight feet above. There was a time, Momma says, when they would tax you on the number of doors in your house and you can see how we got around that. The glass of gin in her hand is sweating. Outside, something tropical with menace in its heart whips up the palms weighed down by humidity. There are too many linens on the bed. Toile wallpaper. Lemon-scented furniture polish. A man’s hand on my forehead.
Don’t leave, he whispers. Don’t leave.
There is always traffic. We are stopped on the freeway, high enough up on a downward slope that we can see the wide expanse of valley below. Houses along the ridges of hills like scutes on a dinosaur’s spine. Deer nibble on grass at the side of the road. My mother on the passenger side, we chat like giggling girls. Sunlight on her tan legs stretching out from linen shorts into a whole week spread out before us. She wants to understand my California life. I gesture with my hands when I tell her about fog rolling in over the bay, nameless boys, the plum tree in front of my apartment. We hear the glass shatter before our necks snap forward. The deer scatter.
I can’t swim, I yell. I am frantic. Pleading.
He walks down the dock with me slung across his back like something conquered. Inconsequential. Sagging boards creak underneath his feet. The cicadas are stirring, drowning out my cousins and their vicious fun. I slap at his back with open hands and then punch with closed fists. His pace is unhurried.
The last thing I hear before my ears plug up with water:
This is how you learn.
Not a nice hotel.
There is a live feed of my room. A snarky co-worker told me about it. You didn’t know, he asked, his eyebrow arched. He had looked at me like I was a pile of soiled clothes.
I balance on the sink and search the high corners of the room, trying to find the hidden camera. I take off my shirt. My bra. Not a nice bra.
I dare you to watch me, I snarl.
We drive for hours, dinner at his grandparents’ house. She is serving enchiladas. I hope that’s ok, she says. They are warm and sweet-tempered people, exactly the way you would want grandparents to be. After we eat, he steps outside with his grandfather to check the orange trees. I help her with the dishes.
I am drying a glass when she pulls me aside and asks in an anxious whisper if I am a Christian.
I try not to hold it against her.
A modest kitchen in an aging house. But everything is aging in this city. Art made of decay. Green cabinets, peeling paint. A butcher block countertop. Her ankles are swollen but she’s determined to teach me to cook anyway. A bowl, a basket of brown eggs, a whisk. Seven generations of women have learned to cook in this kitchen.
Le fouet, she says.
What she means: You must learn to whip the world into the shape you want.
She knows how to speak English, but she refuses to degrade herself.
Kristin Bonilla is a fiction writer living in Texas. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Lost Balloon, Cleaver Magazine, online at Gulf Coast, SmokeLong Quarterly and elsewhere. She is a flash fiction editor at jmww. Follow her @kbonilla and read more at www.kristinbonilla.com.
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