YOU CAN'T BELIEVE the ninth month will ever arrive. But it will, and you know you’d better break the news without further delay.
Stretched out on the couch, staring at a spider crossing a crack in the ceiling, you say, “Precious one, the doctors took another picture yesterday. And it turns out … well, it turns out that you don’t have a pee-pee after all. You, my love, are a girl.”
Placing your hands on your belly, you wait for baby to stir. Nothing.
You go on. “Little one, all the time I took coming up with a name for you—Jesús Paul—was in vain. So I set about finding a replacement; no easy thing.”
You look over at the TV set and bite your lip. Every afternoon—after long days of waiting on tables at La Tropical—you watch infomercials to unwind. The one you enjoy the most features a doctor in a white coat advertising plastic surgery procedures. Face and butt, abs and boobs. Only in America, you think. No need to be embalmed at death when you can be embalmed throughout life. The doctor carries on for half an hour. Surgery can improve a woman’s self-esteem, he crows. It can change the course of her destiny.
“Now listen up, mi preciosa,” you say, stroking your belly. “After much prayer I’ve decided that your name will be Destiny. Destiny Jane Anaya.”
The baby kicks not once, not twice, but three times. You have no idea if the baby understands a word of what you’ve said. Still, you worry. Thinking back to the names of family in Mexico, you wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake.
Adelina, Maudi, Encarnacion, Consuelo, Lucinda, and Belen. There’s even a Telesfora in there—a great-aunt who joined the Sisters of Loretto, where her name was changed to Crucita. The old-time names make you think of a cast-iron pot, unbreakable, with a lifetime guarantee. Destiny? For an instant it sounds light as cotton candy, too lightweight to pin the child to earth when she lands—a spirit no more, but a human being.
You feel around beside you in the folds of the couch and pull out your cell phone. You point it at the TV to turn it off—then catch yourself and reach for the remote on the coffee table. It has been this way for months—hormones scrambled, moods seesawing—leaving you unable to think clearly, especially at work, where the gringos’ orders have grown increasingly complex.
“Bean and cheese burrito, hold the cheese.” “Huevos rancheros, scrambled, egg-whites only.” “Tortillas, the kind without lard.” “That’s whole beans, please, not fried.” Everyone’s on one kind of diet or another. When you take orders you feel like a doctor scribbling out a prescription, life and death in your hands. What is the world coming to? The gringos believe in cholesterol the way Mexicanos believe in the existence of God. It’s enough to make you ravenous.
You get up, go to the freezer and take out two burritos, one for you and one for the child. Your mouth waters. You can just taste the trans-fatty acids.
“Hey Lupe, have a good one!” the mailman shouts through the screen door. “Y tu tambien, Juan,” you answer.
For three days you’ve let mail pile up: phone, electricity, and gas bills addressed to Guadalupe Gabriela Anaya. Some days you wish you could take a blade to those bills, cutting your name, so heavy with history, into confetti. Five hundred years ago Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a Nahuatl Indian. Two thousand years ago the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Visitations, annunciations. You understand such things all too well. Like Juan Diego and Mary, you had no choice but to say yes.
You crossed the Mexican border into Arizona on foot, the phone number of a cousin’s cousin hidden in your bra, the sun a broken compass pointing you for days in all the wrong directions—forcing you, finally, to curl up beneath a palo verde tree to wait for death.
“Hey Lupe. It’s Juan again. Somehow your Time magazine got in the wrong bundle. I’ll add it to the rest of the stuff. Better take your mail in. Someone will think you’re not home and break in.”
“Gracias,” you say, opening the screen door. “It would be embarrassing, no? I was just elected block captain. I’m in charge of raising awareness about safety. My campaign platform was, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”
You take the mail from the box as Juan moves on to the next house. Forgetting to lock your screen door, you return to your kitchen and set the burritos in the microwave. A few minutes later you take them, steaming, on a plate to a small, round table covered with a lace table cloth and a sheet of clear plastic. At the center of the table: a glazed, lime-green pitcher you spent a week’s worth of tips on, filled to the brim with cold water.
AFTER YOU CURLED UP under the palo verde tree, you gripped your stomach to try to stop the cramping, which you feared was caused by drinking water out of a cattle trough. You fell asleep and dreamed of the things you’d seen on your journey: plastic water bottles scattered like headstones, empty sardine cans, a perfume bottle, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pocket Spanish-English dictionary, and a booklet of prayers to St. Anthony, finder of lost things.
When you woke up, the stars shone like coins. They shone like the stars over China where the factory you had worked for relocated to, leaving you and hundreds of other women with no way to earn a living. Then one star fell so close that you smelled it, then touched it. You put your finger in your mouth and savored: The star was made of lard, which you used to spread on tortillas like it was butter: your main meal for you and your mother during the hard times. You pointed to the sky again and waited for another star to fall but it did not. You thought of your mother. What will she do, you wondered, if I can’t work and send money home? Even lard will be out of reach for her.
Phoenix is just around the bend, you said to the palo verde tree, only to realize no words had come out of your mouth. I will freshen up and apply for a job, you said, but again no words emerged. You closed your eyes and thought, I must be dead, and the words came out, sung sweetly in Chinese—your voice and those of hundreds of other women.
You made the sign of the cross and again fell asleep. You dreamed that your bones had turned to dust. In your dreams you heard the palo verde tree say: “Potential renal failure.” And another tree answered, “Let’s get her to the hospital in Tucson. Call the doctor from the church and have him meet us there.” You dreamed you opened your eyes and saw a man and woman putting your arms over their shoulders and walking you to a van.
“I’m Daniel,” said the man, but you heard, Michael the Archangel. “I’m Shanti, said the woman, putting a wet rag on your forehead, which rested in her lap. Like the man, she had fiery wings so large they hung out of the van’s open windows. “We’re from Southside Church,” they said in unison, but you heard, upon this rock you will build my church. “We’re not going to turn you in to the migra,” they said. But you heard, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.
“LUPE, IT’S CORY.”
“Come in, come in. I’m sitting here daydreaming while my burritos are getting cold. Let me thaw one out for you.”
“They’re bean, cheese, and red chile—nothing too hot. But I want this baby to get used to the red stuff now. Otherwise she’ll grow up to be a ketchup Mexican. It happens to the best of us.”
“Good news, Lupe. Virginia doesn’t need her stroller any more. Don’t worry about buying one.”
You pull Cory’s burrito out of the microwave and touch it to see if it is warm enough. Perfect. “Gracias, chica, but I don’t need it. The neighbor gave me hers. One of those fancy ones the gringos use to run around the golf course with.”
You open the refrigerator and reach in the back for the bottle of Taco Hell salsa, in case Cory wants to spice up her burrito.
Someday, you think, you might tell Cory the truth. That you dipped into your savings and bought the stroller brand-new from K-Mart. That one of the things you saw in the desert was a stroller, abandoned by a mother and her child whose fate you can only imagine. Your baby will have a different destiny.
“Okay Cory. Don’t forget our vow. That we’re going to speak only Spanish for an hour every week. You’re coming along so well.”
“Ay, Lupe, how would I make it without you?”
“You’d make it just fine. Here, let me pour you a drink of cold water.”
Demetria Martínez’s latest book is Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana (University of Oklahoma Press). An activist, lecturer, and columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, Martínez resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently working on a book of short stories.