Patricia Patterson

The Mothers


Patricia Patterson is a Mexican-American writer and editor based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her fiction appears in PANK, wildness, Platypus Press, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a novel in stories that inhabit small corners of Mexico, North Carolina, and California.

We watch Charlie Cline as he learns to ride a bike, watch Oscar Santó spell commotion right and win his first spelling bee, watch Ida Ramirez get her first job, her first car, her first boyfriend. Sometimes when we watch, they notice, so we wave. Hi. Hello. Good morning. How’s your mother? And school? Well, I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Just wonderful. Yes. Great.

Our town isn’t very pretty—especially compared to other towns in California—and we know it. Wasco’s flat, mostly barren, save for the roses that bloom like weeds throughout our neighborhoods. When our friends ask about Wasco, we tell them we love this town, though we’re certain we might not love it, though we’ve convinced ourselves we won’t ever love it. We’re thinking of moving, we say—soon—though we will continue to stay and understand we do it for our children. Even as they move away, we stay for our children.

We watch the news every morning hoping to see a familiar face: someone who made it out of this town, someone to gossip about. But we mostly watch the news not searching, not hoping for anything. Just blinking, sipping coffee. We turn on our televisions. We fill our cups with coffee. We sit at our kitchen tables, gazing at our screens until we finally see it: a familiar face. But it’s not what we hoped for. It’s Ernesto Arroyo-Salvador, his picture blown up and pixelated. We turn up the volume, set our mugs on our tables. A reporter says, “A local Wasco man was killed in a construction site accident,” says, “operating a forklift after sunset,” says, “will continue investigating this case.” We mute our televisions, pick up our mugs but don’t sip. We think of his mother Lucia who sits in the front row of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. She sends our children Christmas presents. She never misses mass. We wonder what we will say when we see her. We read the headline under Ernesto’s face—Young Man Dead at Construction Site—and we remember when he started working construction. We remember how happy he was when he got the job. We remember how happy we were, too. How we said it was really great he finally branched out and got himself a decent job.

We think of our children, remember their first words, their first steps, the way they grew so fast we had to buy Onesie after Onesie, bootie after bootie. Our children are older now, but we keep them little. We open old boxes where we store their favorite books and toys and home videos from their first years on VHS. We remember their first haircuts and the locks of hair we saved. We keep the hair in small boxes by our bedside tables. Keep it close.

We can’t help but wonder if Ernesto hadn’t gone into construction, would he still be alive? This thought keeps us up for nights. We pace our bedrooms, disconnect our landlines. We unplug our televisions. But, still, we think of Ernesto.

We worry about our children, call them on our cellphones. When they don’t answer, we leave voicemails. We panic. We pace our bedrooms until our phones buzz. They send us text messages. They say they’re okay. They’re busy with work. They’re busy making dinner. They’re tired. They ask if they can call us tomorrow, if that would be okay. We relax and put our phones away. Our children are alive. Thank God. They’re alive.

We avoid St. Mary’s. Avoid parks. Avoid the grocery store Lucia frequents. Keep our heads down walking through our neighborhoods. We think of Ernesto for days: Ernesto playing Macbeth in the school play. Ernesto cutting our grass, delivering our mail. Ernesto bringing over the dishes Lucia cooked and eating the cookies we baked.

A week after Ernesto’s death, we pick up copies of The Wasco Tribune, scan the paper for his name, and come up empty. We buy sympathy cards at the pharmacy. We keep the cards propped up on our kitchen tables. We drink some coffee. We sit down with our cards and write, Dear Lucia. We stop, click our pens in and out, then scribble on scrap sheets of paper until the ink dries. We drink more coffee. We go to the park to clear our heads. Ida Ramirez jogs by. Her headphones are in, her eyes glued to the pavement. She’s older now and we wonder how she got so grown up. She went to school with our children. Ida laps around, then notices us and takes her headphones out. “How are you doing?” she says. We say his name—Ernesto—and flinch a little. “Freak accident,” she says. She jogs in place. “I liked him.” We nod—us, too.

We go home. We lock our cars. We lock our front doors. We close the blinds. We sit on our mattresses, sit until we’re sinking like quicksand. We know that, eventually, we’ll open the blinds again. We’ll unlock our bedroom doors, our front doors, our cars. We’ll watch Charlie Cline sing “Amazing Grace” in the church choir on summer breaks from college, watch Oscar Santó deposit our checks in the bank, watch Ida Ramirez move away three times only to come back again, watch her have child after child. We’ll watch Lucia Arroyo-Salvador grip her rosary in St. Mary’s and pray to Señor Jesus over and over. We’ll think of Ernesto.

We’ll watch our children move from job to job, place to place, watch them get married and have babies of their own. We’ll wait for our children to come home. We’ll tell them we love them. We’ll hold them close. Then they’ll be in our lives again. Then we’ll say goodbye.


© The Acentos Review 2020