A SURPRISING FRAILTY
We roll into the night like a joint, high and yelling. We walk on across the asphalt, into the drumming rain. Ben has returned from Iraq. He still cuts himself, anxious when he’ll be able to go back again. He tells us there is nothing there, just desert and darkness. Sometimes, I am unnerved by the way he moves his eyes, wide and narrow as if he can pick up my thoughts.
Bill follows me everywhere. I grow sore of his company because he is dumb morning, noon and evening, forever. But he is strong and runs like a horse. I envy his legs; want to replace mine with his if there is such a thing possible.
Elantra has blonde hair and small eyes. She is like a stick that can bend and hit but never break. In another life, she might have been an assassin. She carries a knife inside her clothes and has spent a few nights in jail. Her eyes are always searching for more. We call her Mother.
There are days when we drive our dirt bikes and fall into swamps, swim in the nearest lake and lie naked on the shore. We dig up worms, arrange them on the sand as alphabets, sunlight pressing on them forming a message. Mother likes to swim and hold one of us underwater as long as she wants. Then she lets us fuck her.
On every other weekend, Mother arranges street fights, with members of other gangs. And before we know, one of us is knotted with a stranger, our eyes stinging with dirt, and our noses bleeding. Whether we win or lose, Mother takes us home, tends us from head to toe. She calls the fights lovemaking of a different kind that lets out our darkness. According to her, in the future we may not have bodies at all.
Ben is the strongest fighter. It was Mother’s idea to enlist him in the army. Ben was in love with Mother. Until he went away and came back as a ghost with scars all over his body. Mother says cutting helps with the recovery of the soul.
Mother takes us to a party. A big house with loud music and young men yelling, squirming and straining. Windows fogged over with breath and smoke. I walk away after a bit and Bill joins me after a few minutes. It is a relief to step into a calm landscape, though our ears are still ringing. We stroll in the gated communities, race to the lake, cartwheel in a golf course and drive their carts. We pee in a rose garden and run back to the house pretending we were there all along. The lie gives a surreal quality to the atmosphere around us. We are tired but it feels good to hear Mother’s voice, see her in a pale light, drinking and laughing. In that moment, she isn’t any less or more but has a surprising frailty. Like the rest of us. And it feels like the end of our universe and its discovery as she leans against Ben who shares a cigarette with Bill and me. All of us crushing light and smoke beneath our feet, smiling and hurting somewhere as we ride out, beyond that cartoony midnight, beyond the world with scars and street fights, war and an endless desert.
It happens every night. She makes sure all the appliances are unplugged, the stove knob is at the OFF position, the vents are silent and there is no hiss of electricity anywhere. She puts on her woolen sweater, pulls up her cotton socks and feels the night crawling up to her, as if she is in her mother's womb—connected by tubes in dark amniotic, the bow of her spine, a punctuation in the white sheets. Asleep. Dreaming. Leaked gas, spilled gasoline. A motor whirring and catching fire. The melting roof. She wakes up and walks to her kitchen once again, weary and cautious. The microwave is silent, its glass door shining in the dark. The fridge is unplugged. She remembers turning all of them OFF but she can still hear the sputtering fsss ... white noise in the dark. When she comes back, she opens her bedroom window and the moonlight streams in, lights up a square on the pine floor. She stands in the center of it, presses her lips in the new light and the fire of suspicion inside her subsides. All is quiet except the current in her breath.
He looks like your dad—high cheekbones, slick back hair, an Adam's apple that sticks out more than it should. The way he spits tobacco, has a voice heavier than gravity. He always wears a full-sleeved shirt and squints as if he's afraid of the sun. And he never forgets to squeeze a fresh lemon over his favorite lamb chops. When he talks to your mother, his cheeks are inflamed and his fingertips dance nervously. As though there is virility in the world and he does not possess it, he has never even felt it. Sometimes he moves his arms constantly as if he wants love to stir in him once again. Or they call out to you while he waits and waits.
About the Author: Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. She likes to fly Cessna, read three books at the same time and stare at other people. Her work has recently appeared in Juked, Parcel and Devil's Lake. Find her @theinnerzone and taraisabelzambrano.wordpress.com.