Alysia Gonzales



Alysia Gonzales was born and raised in San Francisco.  She attends the MFA program for Fiction at San Francisco State University. Being of Chicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, Filipinx, Puerto Rican, Greek, and more ancestry, her work grapples with race, class, identity, family, and ancestors. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Ana and Seventh Wave Magazine. She is a 2021 Seventh Wave Editorial Resident. She is currently working on a short story collection about class and race, and a novel about indigenous culture, California mountains, climate change, indigenous history, and fire.




Even the plants are dying, their brown leaves limp and ragged against the windy shoulder.  No wonder, they’re growing on the highway. Too much poison.  Already two hours in this car and just barely crawling into the Central Valley.  But that’s always how she was, slow and lagging, paralyzed by decision, stilled by the call to action.  If she were ever caught in quicksand, she’d find her mouth full of grainy grit before ever noticing that the horizon was higher than she remembered.  I don’t understand how she’s so quiet, so still in the driver’s seat.  In this heat, I can’t stop fidgeting.  My legs are sticking to the seat, the air from the windows is hardly enough to dry the beads of sweat on my lip, in the crevices of my neck, underneath the wire of my bra, pushing into my skin and leaving some deep red mark from the pressure.  Her suitcase in the back is neatly zipped, the glossy surface free of any streaks.  She’s even done her makeup.  The powder of her foundation sits on the fuzzy hair of her cheek, barely enough to cover up the bruise still growing underneath her large brown sunglasses.  I can’t stop thinking about her face in the bathroom doorway, the way she folded each blouse as she packed it, smoothing out wrinkles with the back of her hand whose shaking fluttered the fabrics like they were flags in the wind, waving freely with a coastal breeze.  We were both afraid he might come back before we saw our front door disappear in the rear view mirror of the car she rented.  But he didn’t.  Four hours of silence.  Not a peep.  But we both know he would have come back if we had waited.  He always came back.  A day, a week, but eventually he’d return. And then maybe that time would be different.  Maybe that time would have been the last time. 

She said We’re leaving with her back toward me as I stared at her from her bedroom door.  Two hours, you’ve got two hours, we’re not coming back.  The clothes in my dresser felt alien to me, like I had never seen them before.  This shirt?  Where did it come from, its plaid pattern was printed and faded with wear, the wrinkles in the sleeves spidered up to the shoulder, I didn’t smooth my shirts as I packed them, I didn’t know. 

Mismatched socks, a faded and ratty shirt that I hadn’t worn in years that, in the moment, I thought could work as pajamas but.  Hey.  This is the happy ending, right?  The part where we leave?

Leaving, something I had fantasized about, something that I thought would forever be a fantasy.  When I was eight, I grabbed the bandana I got from the free outdoor summer camp and tied a loaf of bread, a block of cheddar cheese, and a plastic bag of unmarked deli meat to a stick like a hitchhiker out of some kid’s comic book and left through the garage door, thinking I’d never come back.  I made it to the concrete playground of the school two blocks away and sat, feeling the cheddar cheese get stuck behind my front teeth.  It was cold, I had no money, so I turned around.  And when I came back, I saw Mom staring down from the bedroom window, watching me return.  We said nothing about it.

Plants can’t move at all, they’re rooted to the spot.  Born next to the sooty highway, sucking up whatever comes out the backside of all these cars?  Tough luck.  That’s life I guess.  But even these plants, they found a way, the sun shines even here.  Even if the rains don’t fall as much as expected, or there’s drought, or a crazy wildfire, eventually the rain has got to come back, to cover the fields here like some blanket dragged over the rolling hills, conforming to their curves, embracing the plains of Central California.  Or maybe the rains are never as good as they hope, or the sun can’t get through these hazy, polluted skies.  Maybe that’s why the stalks, even though they’re trying their best, lean to the side, lose their fight with gravity.  In the wind from passing cars, I can see specks of dry, brittle leaves scatter, leaving each stalk angular and cracked.  I wonder if they would leave too if they could.

My stomach lurches from a bump in the road, or from the speed Mom is driving, or from everything else.   My nausea creeps up on me, crawls with tiny seeking fingers into the area behind my belly button.  But this is good, right?  Better than the plants.  Better than the doomed plants.  The plants would leave if they could, I decide.  But the best these plants can hope is that their seeds get out, spreading somewhere less poisonous, but, will the seeds even survive the trip?  Will they even make it?  Or will the walls of their cellular membrane, thin and undernourished from the lack of a steady sun, kill them anyway? So then what do they do?  Stay nearby and poison themselves, or ride on polluted wind to some other kind of death?  How do you make a decision like that?

Everyone thinks nausea lives inside the stomach, but it’s not true.  Nausea lives in the muscles around it, invading the sinews that hold you together and squeezing, like a fist with growing fingers, the reach elongating the more you think about it, eventually making its way from the back of your stomach to the front, entrapping the sack that stores all your food, and clenching as it gets worse.  When it gets really bad, I can feel the nails of this fist sink into my muscular tissue.  I imagine a deep red mark left from the compression of the inside of my skin.

I hate this feeling, hate throwing up.  It’s unnatural, the body is not meant to work that way.  The tightening of the stomach, the feeling of your gut acid climbing through the weak skin of your esophagus.  Your esophagus is permeable, it holds onto that acid, leaving you tasting your vomit for hours after, lingering on the back of your tongue.  And here in the car, where would I do it?  Hang my head outside the window like a dog?  My vomit trickling down the passenger side door, an acidic trail of breadcrumbs marking the way home?

No, not home, shouldn’t call it that anymore.  I don’t think we’re going back this time.  Everything I have is there, well, everything except what’s in my backpack in the back seat.  I didn’t even grab my sick bags.  I throw my head a little out the window.  I think I feel it coming up, but the racing wind brings just the tiniest bit of relief, the sweat on my brow cooling in the breeze, combating the overheating my body is doing to keep my nausea under control, to fight against the overworking muscles in my abdomen, tight and weak from exertion, spasming.  The heat of the highway is seeping out of the asphalt in waves, disfiguring the landscape, deforming the rolling rows of produce going by.  My skin is sticking to the leathered windowsill, spilling out of the car through the rolled down window.  Every time I shift my weight, I have to rip my sticky skin up off of the seat.  The air is unrelenting.  It’s difficult to breathe, my diaphragm struggling to suck the air in from the outside.  I look over and Mom continues driving, somehow unbothered by the heat of hell shooting in through the rolled down windows.  She looks directly ahead, shoulders low and relaxed, her body still, free from fidgeting. She is wearing one of her nicest dresses.  A silk body wrap, the ruby red fibers fiery in the sun.  A giant white rose hugging her right hip bone.  For some reason, she has dressed up for the occasion.  Her hair is smooth and curled and pinned precisely in an updo meant for weddings and church.  She always believed that women held all their power in their hair.  That you had to harness it, respect it.  She would bemoan this to me on Sunday mornings, my hair oily and knotted and put up, forgotten in a messy bun.  She feared for the power I was losing every day out of my hair. She would leave my room after arguing about it, and I could hear her linger by the doorway, fidgeting, wondering what to do about such a tragedy.  She would beg me to care for it, hand me a brush and plead for me to run it through 100 times before I went to bed, to dry and curl it in the mornings.  She pleaded with me, “you have to respect the hair”, she’d say, “or your soul will leak out of your head like a faucet”. 

That brush is sitting forgotten at the bottom of my purple plastic basket in the bathroom, next to cheap $1 bottles of nail polish and gel bracelets I’d buy at the mall.  A collection I’d grown for years.  Outside the bathroom, in the hallway, the wind is probably making its way from the back door and drifting its way through the kitchen window.  The breeze bringing in the salty air from the sea, the minerality almost tangible in the air, the crystals tickling the hairs inside your nose.  He is maybe cooking in the kitchen, a fresh batch of breakfast special, soft sautéed spinach, savory browned butter, all soaked up in velvet scrambled eggs, like he made every Saturday morning.  He would have the windows open.  Mom would get mad, tell him it was “freezing” in here at a breezy 62.  But she would pat him on the shoulder, wrap herself up in a fluffy bathrobe, I would put on two pairs of socks.  I would know which window the sun shines through the most and sit there, soaking up the sun like a cat.  I would know to bring a pillow since that part of the carpet is hard and overworked, sunken and rough.  I would know where we keep the blankets at home.

No, not home.  Will have to relearn the habit.  I don’t even remember the last time we had a morning like that, it’s been a while, I don’t remember how long.  Relearning is hard to do, the brain is a memory machine, taking in patterns and searing them in so you never forget. And once the brain finds something it likes, it’s hard to see anything else.  You see what you want to see.  I haven’t touched a bike in years, but I can still feel the frame of my first, the one they bought me when I turned nine, feels like forever ago, but I can still remember.  The frame was too big for my body, when I sat in the seat, my legs dangled at either end, inches off the ground.  He would rest his hands on mine, and Mom would hold me from behind, around my rib cage, holding my back straight, my spine vertebrae stacked one neatly on top of the other, my torso strong and capable.  They would roll me forward outside the house, and being so high off the ground, having scraped my skin on asphalt and concrete before, the top layer ripped away, revealing capillaries that stung when exposed to the air, I was afraid of falling.  They could both tell, he would see my eyes staring at the ground below me, Mom would be fighting a losing battle with my spine, so eager to tilt and focus on the asphalt.  They would both slow down, stop and hold me upright, my feet still dangling, and say “Hey, mija, hey, look at us, hey, we are here, okay? We got you, we’re not gonna let you fall.”  Things were good then.  His breath smelled like coffee and hard boiled eggs, and you’d think I was crazy, but I loved it.  I loved that smell.

Once I had learned to ride, feeling sure that even on a taller frame, my feet would eventually find the ground when I stopped, I looked forward to every Saturday morning.  If the sky was an unbroken blue, cut only by the trails of airplanes and a soft haze of cool fog on the horizon line, it was an unspoken rule that we would ride that day.  After a double serving of breakfast special, we would shower, adorn our Nike’s and helmets, and roll out of the garage, all three of us in a row.  We would sit back in our seats, our hands nudging the handlebars this way and that, gliding along the streets and sidewalks of our city: the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, smooth and easy Valencia St, the view of Alcatraz from the top of Leavenworth.  They all lay presented for us.  On flat spacious streets, I would close my eyes and feel the breeze tickle the peach fuzz on my face, the salty air carried on winds that you could taste if you stuck out your tongue for long enough, the sun warming the skin on the tops of my knees, my back.  I would open my eyes and see him in front of me, and he would look back and smile, pushing his thick cheeks up, the fat rounding out the pronounced cheekbones.  Then I would look back and smile at Mom, and I liked to imagine that the fat on my cheekbones looked the same as his.  She would chuckle and smile too, exposing teeth that looked white against her skin, tanned and brown from so much riding in the sun.  “Hi mijita,” she would say, “are you having a good time?” 

Eventually, he started to sway, to lilt off to one side.  I thought at first that he was tired or distracted, but then I noticed his hands, flacid and limp on the handlebars, the thick fingers hanging leaden over the front.  Cars would honk as he swerved into the street, their engine revving to pass us when he would sway back into the bike lane, the excess sweat on the back of his neck would catch the sun, and I knew.  Mom would say things like “Let’s get some food in you,” and he would wave her comment off, his hand pushing the air beside him away quickly, his elbow locking out from the force.  Sometimes he wouldn’t notice when his skin made contact with hers, a fat lip here, a tender nose there.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing, we would think, hope.  You’d be surprised how much hope can do, how long it’ll last you.  Sometimes, Mom would ride ahead of me, her shoulders dipping one side to the other to push the pedals, her body laboring against the bike, and she would pull in front of him and stop.  She would lean in to whisper, thinking I couldn’t hear, but the ocean air would carry her voice, “Your damn kid’s here,” she would plead, and I would stare at the asphalt and try to remember coffee and hard boiled eggs and breakfast special. 

No matter what he would do after that, that turning point when he knew that we knew, the nights were always the same.  Sometimes it was only one night, sometimes a week, but always the nights were loud, and the days were silent and ominous.  I wanted to smell the coffee and hard boiled eggs, I wanted the smell of spinach sauteed in butter on a Saturday morning, the shining white teeth and clear eyes, capable and sure hands coordinated and precise as they flipped golden pancakes for me and Mom.  I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want those, why he smelled this way, stronger and more pungent than coffee and eggs could ever be, sometimes even before I had woken up, before even Mom had the chance to yell at me over my messy morning hair. 

Mom has sped the car up and the flashing rows of produce that I’ve been using to control my nausea are blurring together into one never ending flash of greenery.  The hands of nausea spread, their fingers are growing third, fourth, fifth knuckles.  The pain is pinching my intestines, sharp, so bad that I have to hunch over, my shoulders arching and my back bent at an unnatural angle, my torso almost completing a full circle, my hand jerking to my stomach to grab the soft flesh of my stomach, the excess fat flooding between my fingers, the pain of my skin providing a brief distraction.

I try to find something far away, in the distance, something to focus on to make my swirling vision stand still.  Out of the rows of produce, I spot a baseball diamond.  Tiny children in white uniforms throw their legs out in front of them to scoop up baseline drives, arms reach up to block the sun to catch a pop up, a foot is kicked in the air before a curveball gone wrong, which hits the batter on their left shoulder.  I can tell by the way the batter grabs their arm, flails their legs while on the ground, that this is a children’s game.  An umpire crowds around them, but an older man also rushes onto the field, his baseball hat flying off from his speed, which he ignores.  He must be the kid’s Dad, crouching down to see how his daughter is doing.

The first and only year I played softball, I was eleven years old.  I tried out for the beginner’s team, and after thirty minutes in practice, the intermediate team’s coach walked up to me and said “We want you on our field.”  I was first basemen, my arm snagging hits that should have cleared my reach by feet.  My parents, sports and all around jock enthusiasts, supporting basketball at my school, basketball in private league, and any and all interest in bikes, baseball, pogo sticks and any other gameable form of physical activity, were thrilled.  The season opening was a home game on my birthday, right after school.  It would be the first time they saw me play.  All week, I practiced an extra thirty minutes: swinging in the batter’s box 20 times to practice my form, throwing the ball as high as I could then catching it, asking Coach to stay and hit baseline drives for me.  On the day of the big game, I walked from school to the field, feeling the birthday cupcake they gave you during afternoon free time anchoring my stomach, the prepackaged, mass produced neon frosting coloring my teeth, my tongue.  Everyone I passed knew what today was, you only got those cupcakes on your birthday.  I thought of Mom, leaving work early to make the 3:15pm game start time.  And he would just be waking up, his early shift giving just enough time for a quick nap before he headed over from the house, maybe riding his bike, enjoying the ocean breeze.  He wouldn't smell like anything other than coffee and eggs today, he would smell so much like coffee and so much like hard boiled eggs that people nearby him would lean away, the smell so pungent and undeniable that Mom would politely hand him a stick of gum, and they would watch me and we would be happy.

On the field, while warming up, I craned my neck, stretched the muscles on one side then the other, looking for them.  They were both notoriously late, and so it was no surprise when Mom showed up as we were singing the national anthem.  From the line my team made from home base to first, our gloves over our hearts, I spotted her shuffling through the back row, taking her seat, and putting her purse beside her, saving a seat for him.  In the highest row, they would have the best view of the field, the best view of first base.  I held my glove over my heart, she made it, and he would be here soon.  I took a big breath in, my lungs filling with air, the palm inside the mitt sweating so that the woolen hairs inside grew damp and clumped.  I wondered which play she would bring up first when we got in the car after the game, wondering if he would disagree, mention some other outstanding catch or hit I had managed.  They would take me out for ice cream after, Swenson’s. 

Swenson’s was reserved for hospital visits, birthdays, and the end of the school year if I got good grades.  If I were behind in a class, I would plead with the teacher for opportunities for extra credit.  Thinking they could nurture a student who appreciated the values of education, they almost always obliged.  While staying after school to complete some throwaway assignment, I would be dreaming of the slow-churned goodness: gooey chocolate fudge, crunchy peanut butter crackle, the bright red exclamation of a cherry against the snow white whipped cream backdrop.  But the best part was after we had gotten the ice cream, after letting me pick not one, but two flavors.  We would sit in the booth together, the warmth of their wide hips pressed against me from either side.  He would take the first bite to “check if it was poisoned”, and Mom would go “yeah yeah, me too!”, and I would laugh, would feign frustration, but to be honest, that was the part I would look forward to the most, the part where I would wait patiently as they both checked, then take my bite, all of us ignoring the unlikely mingling of flavors of bubblegum and fudge as we savored our bites together. 

By the sixth inning, I realized he wasn’t going to show up.  I wish I could say that I realized this on my own, realized that it was already beyond late for a late arrival, but I was not so perceptive when I was younger.  Only when I saw that the seat Mom had been saving had been relinquished, her purse sitting upright in her lap, the straps flacid and leaning to the side, did I realize that he would not come at all.

In that moment I knew that the day wasn’t mine anymore, and I felt stupid for thinking any day belonged to me.  After that, I dove for balls that should have been left for the right field to deal with, scraped skin against dirt, swung so hard that for a moment, upon impact with the giant neon softball, my shoulder dislocated, popped out of its socket, sending sharp pains down my right arm, pain that made it hard to see, traveling from my shoulder joint down my right side, striking into my lower back, but I never let go, and though it didn’t matter to me, after I finished swinging, with the ball flying out somewhere deep in left field, my shoulder popped back into place.  The only proof of any physical injury I had was in the swelling afterward, which I told no one about.

I hit that shoulder-dislocating home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.  When I finished rounding third base and looked up and saw him sitting next to Mom, I almost stopped running.  Even from here, I could see his eyes were bloodshot red, his legs splayed wide, his hand leaning on his knee, trying to hold up the weight of his torso.  I can tell why he is late, why his torso looks slack and why his eyes are bloodshot, why even from the field’s baseline, I can see that his breathing is heavy and his shirt is stained, I can see that he can barely hold his eyes open, that he probably hasn’t slept.  I already knew what the night would bring.  Maybe I imagined it, but I thought that, even from third base, I could smell him, I could tell you which brand he had chosen for himself on my birthday.

That afternoon, we would not go to Swenson’s. And every time we went after that, I hated it.  The ice cream tasted artificial and overly sweet, the sugar coating my tongue in a milky film that I couldn’t rinse away.  It felt wrong, disjointed and out of place with me and Mom and him.  That night after the game, like every other night he was like this, he was like a different person. He would snap in anger, his wide shining smile a distant memory.  He never knew his own strength.  Or he did and chose on purpose to grab a wrist too strong, to hit a hole in the wall, and now that I think about it, as Mom and I keep on driving east, I feel sure that it was a little bit of both.

In the passenger seat of the car, I can feel Mom look at me out of my peripheral vision.  Her hands are locked on the steering wheel, but her neck is on a swivel, the motion nagging my attention, her brown sunglasses reflecting the dashes on the highway road.  She looks forward, looks at me, looks forward, looks at me.  My hand still clenches the flesh of my stomach.

“What Mom.”

“Noth–nothing mija.  You okay?”

Of course not, I say, I tell her that I’m nauseous, that I have been since we left.  The heat is making it worse, and if we were going to buy a getaway car, couldn’t we at least have gotten one with air conditioning?  Normally, I pack my medication when I know I’ll be in the car a long time, but there was no time.  We’ll be in the car for hours, days.  I didn’t even pack a sick bag.  I had been acquiring a collection, snagging them on airplanes, from check ups at the hospital, and for what?  Now they sat in a closet at home.  No, not home.  Why did we have to leave anyway?  Why didn’t we leave sooner?  Can we go back?  I don’t know what to do, and I just want coffee and eggs, and breakfast special with spinach.  Is that so much to ask?  Is it our fault?  How can someone do this?  It’s not really his fault, they say, he’s the victim of his own trauma.  A victim.  And what does that make us?  How are we supposed to help ourselves now?  The heat is unrelenting, my body won’t stop sweating.  The highway is endless and continuous and uphill in both directions. I want to go home.  I want him to be there, and I want him to smell like coffee and eggs and nothing else. 

Yesterday, before we left, before the highway and the car, I sat up in my bed after a nap and wiped the excess crust from my eye, drank some water left on my desk.  Outside my room, I could hear voices.  They were curt and sharp in the throes of argument, the p’s and t’s exploding off the lips, wet and damp with unintended spit.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, the words muffled through the walls, but I could tell they were coming from the kitchen.  I got up, my barefoot steps softened by the deep pile carpet.  I turned the corner of my bedroom door and saw him.  He did not see me, his eyes were on Mom, but even from there, I could see his eyes were bloodshot, yellowing in the whites, the milky film on them reflecting the fluorescent glow of the kitchen light.  His pupils were dilated.  He was breathing heavily, his arms were moving in large gestures, his shoulders were tense, the crook of his neck was a sharp angle.  I watched, rooted to the spot.  I felt the pit in my stomach of realizing that he has made this choice once again, that he has made the same choice over and over again for some time now, and we would have to struggle to get through this night.  I was tired.  The day after nights like these, Mom and I would separately figure out how to wake up and go back to work and school and practice and pretend that it was okay, that we could sustain this, and if we sustained this long enough, then maybe he’ll make a different choice, if we just wait long enough. 

His hands were slack, the thick fingers flapping and leaden in the air, like he couldn’t feel the muscles inside of them.  When his hand accidentally hit the cabinet so hard that the glasses inside shook against each other, he didn’t even notice.  He was slurring his words, they were jumbling together, and though some of the muffling was because of the walls, I realized that some of it was actually coming from him, from his mouth, his lips drooping and slack.  He was unaware of the forgotten muscles.  He thought he was speaking perfectly.  His eyebrows were raised and he opened his eyelids wide, staring and yelling at Mom, as if she were the crazy one, as if he was the only person in that house making any sense.

Mom had her back against the corner.  He wasn’t touching her, but he was so close, I know she can smell him, she had cornered herself, her shoulders were pressed up, almost touching her ears, trying to make her body smaller to fit in the crux between those two walls, as if she is trying to vanish between them.  She would never be able to disappear in the microscopic space between their meeting, in the cheap wood glue that sealed them together, she would never be able to disappear in that house. 

He took a big step forward and disappeared out of my line of sight.  I heard thuds, the vibrations rumbled toward me in the doorway of my room.  I thought of my earthquake training, a mandatory part of growing up in California.  The doorway is a safe spot, it will protect you from falling debris.  It is a good place to stay in case of emergency.  I wished that I could smell coffee and eggs.  I realized I was crying, felt wetness on my cheekbones, tasted their salt.  My heart was beating so fast that my throat felt closed up and tense.  But there was no time for wishing and wanting when he was like this.  There was no time to think.

I saw him come back into view, taking long, uncontrolled steps toward the front door.  His weight swayed to each side more than normal, almost falling over.  Then, he was gone.  There was no retribution.  There was no moment of justice.  There was only Mom and me and the untouched coffee on the counter.  I came out from my doorway and found her in the kitchen.  She was pretending everything was normal, washing dishes and putting them in the drying rack to dry.  But her hands were shaking, the sinews of her finger muscles were fluttering on their tether to the dish.  I asked her what happened.  She said nothing, everything’s fine.  Her left cheekbone is starting to swell, its red bursted vessels already pushing taut up against her skin, visible even under her dark olive tone.

I could have pressed her more, in her voice, the notes fluttered and cracked and I knew she was on the verge of running to the bathroom and locking herself in, where she thinks I don’t hear her cry.  The first time, I stood outside the door, my ear pressed up against the crack, trying to hear what was happening, trying to be there with her, even if she wouldn’t let me.  Later, I found that the gap between the door and the floor was better than the one near the handle, so I would lay down, my cheek pressed against the carpet, looking into the bathroom, listening at the crack.  She would leave the lights off, but the window in the ceiling let in the moonlight, and I could see the shadow cast by the tendons in her feet, her toes flexed and tensed, the blood pushed out of their tips so that they looked sallow, milky yellow against the cold bathroom tile, which reflected the congestion and quick inhales and other sounds she made when she cried.

She never left the bathroom before she had put herself back together. An hour later or more, she would emerge, flushing the toilet as if she had just had a quick pee.  I would be sitting in the hallway, waiting for her to come out, and she would say to me “Mija, silly, what are you doing, get up, time to get moving,” and she would brush past me, cleaning, putting things away, pretending. 

This time, she didn’t even make it to the bathroom.  She walked briskly to the doorway, but before she shut the door, she stopped and her neck tilted, for once, letting gravity pull it, weigh it down.  Cars rushed on the street outside our house.  The fridge began to buzz.  The single pane windows shook as a truck charged by.  The clock ticked and echoed in the silence of the house, as if it were counting down, as if this was the very last moment of some unknown and yet uncomfortably familiar thing.

She turned from the door and faced me.  I had heard her cry many times, but I had never seen it.  I thought, somehow, it would look cleaner.  I noticed the snot first, leaking out of her nose, oozing out of her left nostril, the bottom of the trail thick, rounded at the bottom.  How long had that snot been trapped there?  How much had the pressure been building up, waiting to let out, and was it disappointed that, instead of shooting out and escaping, projected by the pressure, it just drooped out, slowly crawled its way toward the light, finally free?  She grabbed my arm.  Mija we gotta go, she said, it isn’t safe here.

I know that she’s right, but I feel like we’re doing something wrong, like we’ll get in trouble.  I feel like there is no way we can be right, no matter what we do.  Now, the farm rows are moving too quickly and the car is going too fast.  Mom can’t stop moving her head.  I can’t get comfortable in this seat.  My nausea is so bad now that I can’t focus on anything else.  My tongue is tensed, my mouth keeps swallowing and my shoulders are hiked up while I strain to hold it in.  I am swaying back and forth now, my skin sticking and ripping off the seat with every movement.  I can feel sweat growing on my forehead, gathering without my constant wiping, but for some reason, I feel cold, the wind outside sends shivers down the back of my neck.  The tips of my fingers feel like they are fluttering too, like Mom’s, but they are so cold that I’m not sure they’re still attached to my body.  I can’t feel them, but I can tell they are cold because when I close my hands, digging the nails into the soft flesh of my palm, the inside of my palm feels warm to them.  I look outside the window of the car, trying to find a focal point, some place to ground me, but I don’t recognize anything, everything is moving by so fast.  My eyes swell and it feels like they are bulging out of their sockets.

When the back of my throat tenses, where the uvula meets the back of my tongue, I know that there’s nothing I can do to stop it.  This is what my body needs to do.  Mom’s head is still on a swivel, I can hear her but she sounds distant, the blood flows to my ears making them ring, her voice on the other side of a thousand gallons of water. 

“Mija, are you gonna be ok?”  The back of my throat relaxes, I can take in one big, deep breath, my chest pushes out against the polyester seatbelt, abrasive against my sweaty, damp skin.  I lean out the window, my body twisted with my legs in the seat but my head outside, and up it comes, my body pushes whatever is in my stomach up and out through my esophagus.  The familiar burn of the soft tissue, the flex and strain of muscles in my torso, freezing my body in its shape, the force of my body’s rejection sends vomit not just through my mouth, but spilling over, into my nose.  During the act, the body freezes all other functions.  There is no time, there is no car, no flashing rows of produce, no crying sounds between the cracks in the door, there are no bloodshot, milky eyes, no forgotten piles of sick bags, there are no missed games, no Swenson’s, there are no thuds coming from around the corner, there are no bikes, no Saturday mornings, there is no breakfast special, there is no hole in the wall, there are no clocks ticking, there is no smell of coffee and eggs.  During the purge, there are no doorways to stand in.

When I am done, I can feel my nose hairs separating and drying.  “Mijita...” Mom says as she pulls over to a shoulder. I can feel my esophagus return to its normal direction, the muscles tensing and pushing down residual acid back into where it belongs. 

 Mom gets out of the car, walks to the other side, pulling a cloth napkin out of her purse.  She wipes the vomit from the side of the car.  Her hand is unhurried, her gaze does not deviate from the car’s doors, her hands making regular and rhythmic circles to wipe away the retch. I sit there, my head dangling out of the window, watching.  Mom begins to speak, her voice mostly eaten up by the sound of cars driving by on the highway, so that it sounds like a whisper, “I'm sorry, mija,” she says, over and over again.

I look up, the cars continue to drive by on the highway.  No one screeches to a halt.  Everyone keeps going to wherever they’re going.

“It’s ok Mom,” I say, “I feel better now,” and it’s true, my muscles have relaxed, my stomach is back to its soft state, my shoulders have dropped and I feel like my lungs are twice as big.  The wind dries my bile on my lips, cooling them, “I’m ready to keep going,” I say.  I am glad Mom is here with me, and I am glad I’m here too.  It’s the way it should be.  I do not think I want to smell coffee or eggs for a long time, maybe never again.  I’m not sure which yet and I feel like that’s okay.  I see a dandelion seed, carried by the wind.  It floats past the shoulders of the highway, away from the soot and pollution and poison, away from the toxicity of this place.  It drifts toward a plowed field, finding its way past the whir of cars from the highway, past the rows of flashing produce, over the baseball diamond, disappearing somewhere deep into the heartland of California, where the flowers grow tall and the sun is steady and warm and reliable, the seed traveling far away from here, and flourishing.

© The Acentos Review 2021