Children swim in that river — the one that slices through the two cities — or what little of it one can manage to swim in. It’s mostly just wading and splashing. The maquiladoras dump their waste nearby so that there’s a strange smell to the water, like rust and dry mold. The highway on the American side of the border runs along the length of the Rio for a time. And as the cars travel from one side of the city to the other there’s that view of the opposite side — the expanse of that sister city dwarfing that which lies to the North in population and sprawl. The children pay no mind to the buzz of traffic as they twist and leap through the spray and foam.
And everyone panics in this desert country when water falls from the sky. Cars swerve to the shoulder of the highway at the first contact of raindrops on windshields. The streets flood quickly, not designed to withstand what amounts to a drizzle where I had grown up, in the inmost part of the Midwest. Droves of hysterical people rush home to close the windows they always leave open.
There had been a time when his hands on my body had made me do things I could never have imagined prior — arching up or down into his form, fingers searching to draw him into and nearly through me. As loud as two people could be, so that neighbors left passive aggressive notes tucked into our mailbox among the bills and credit card applications.
Then we moved, and it became a different animal altogether — once the fighting quickly began, the bruises and nail marks we left on each other after every verbal confrontation, when we had fallen on each other there on the floor of the kitchen out of pure carnal need, were no longer badges of honor, reminders of passion that we would touch and smile gently about later on. I would finger a days’ old pock on a knee or my lower back and wince at the memory, recall the disappointed wave that had overwhelmed my form as we had separated — each crawling away like wounded beasts to our far corners of the house.
He wanted children by that point, felt that it was the next step, thought it’d settle us. Keep us grounded in the life we had chosen. I took my birth control pill every morning, standing at the kitchen sink while he sat at the nearby table, not looking up but still watching over the top of the newspaper he held open. Sure, I could do that in the bathroom, but I guess I wanted to make a show of it, wanted him to be certain of my intention every morning before we separated for work for the day. I could always see the dark twist of his brow and nearly hear the words he so wanted to say in that second before I swallowed. In that moment, I forgot anything other than resentment for his unspoken desire, and my inability to verbalize my own waxing desperation.
We’d had that conversation, about children, a long time ago, when I had still wanted so badly to be in love that I would say anything to make someone love me back. He had been open about his aim to eventually have kids, clear about his desire to be the breadwinner of the family once they arrived. And I had been quiet about the gnawing feeling that I’d never be the person for that kind of life, had hoped it was something I’d just grow out of at some point.
But I still hadn’t. And his impatience with me was a simmering wall coming off him like heat off the desert floor. We lived in this mess, somehow. We lived for it. We fought nearly every night, but never about that. We fought around it, feinting at the topic but never opening it up fully. Somewhere inside of me was the stark realization that this was not anything I had ever wanted for myself.
And soon it grew to be August — when clouds piled up on the horizon, surrounding the city, perched on the lip of the mountains, hemming in the oppressive heat. But these clouds did not descend into the valley right away, where we all watched with a mixture of anticipation, dread, and relief.
“It’s gonna rain today.”
He had said that every morning since the clouds had arrived. It’d been nearly a week. And he’d been wrong each time. It was Sunday again by then. I was still sweating from that last sprint at the end of my run and stood at the window eyeing the towering thunderheads.
“You should take the jeep to your mother’s house, in case it does.”
And when he came to me there at the sink and took the pill from between my fingers, I was frozen in a sudden state of confusion. He had time to toss it down the drain before I could manage action or words. So I didn’t manage either. Then he was touching me, the way he used to, the way I remembered but had forgotten for that spell since the fighting had begun, since we had moved to this place.
It was something to see, I’m sure. The way he guided me to the bedroom with a gentle hand in my own. The manner in which we laid ourselves on the bed and entwined our forms there among the sheets. The method with which we moved together, something we had not truly done in a long while.
Thunder was wandering about in the sky as he drew off my sweat-soaked clothes and then his own. Rain began to hit the roof, quickening as did our breaths, building to a fevered rhythm.
“What does this mean?” I asked, relenting so easily to his hands.
“It means everything,” he whispered.