The sun shoots through the shutters and rests upon his forehead, illuminating his face and particles of dust that are floating in the air. I should stroke his chest, try to wake him up, yet I cannot manage one step.
Looking at the space beside him on the bed, I see where I lay, one half of the scene, but now simply an intruder. Bottles clink on the street below as the street cleaners begin to erase the memories of last night’s party; the only sound to be heard in this early light. Although the sunlight dances upon areas of the room, there is a chill everywhere in the house, occasionally provoking a trickle of coldness to flutter up my arm.
The shadow of a smallish woman is approaching the door frame, my grandmother peers in at me and there is intensity in her eyes.
‘Mama, I will be down soon,’ I usher her away with my words of reassurance, but my grandmother’s persistent nature, that my mother became so tireless of, is prevailing today.
‘He’s your husband Mariela, he needs to know. I do not understand why you are being so silly about this. We can celebrate as soon as everyone knows!’ My grandmother has a tea towel in her hand as she talks to me. I think it is her weapon of choice. If she wants you to know her opinion, if she wants you to do something; she’ll point at you with her tea towel.
‘You know I needed some time Mama, just leave me to tell him…please,’ I give the door a push to retain some privacy. My grandmother is very different from my mother. My mother was very gentle and kind, she died when I was six. But I’ve been having reoccurring dreams about her, it’s not my mother though, I’m starting to forget what she looks like. All I remember from the dreams is that she is holding my hand and we are running along the beach together. That’s it, except we lie down at the end and sink our toes into the sand.
‘It’s still early, come back to bed Mariela,’ Sanchez folds back the duvet with one grasp and is looking at me with a slightly open eye while scratching his chest. As I perch on the bed he gazes up at me. My face betrays me; it always portrays my true thoughts, no matter how I try to conceal them.
‘No Sanchez, I…need to tell you something. I thought I might be…but I wasn’t certain…and then…’
‘Mariela,’ Sanchez grasps my arm and raises his eyebrows.
‘Well…erm…Sanchez, I’m pregnant.’ I speak the words to the chest of drawers and wait for the reaction. Sanchez’s arm comes round from behind me and he places his hand across my stomach.
‘You’re pregnant? I’m going to be a father? I’m going to be a father! Mariela!’ He kisses me as I sit still and allow his lips onto mine. I want to tear him off me and run out of the house, keep running until I can hear his voice no longer.
Now Sanchez is cocooning me in his arms. I am not some child’s bear but he squeezes me as if I were. I had thought he would be pleased with the news, but cannot stop thinking his smile must be fake. How can he be truly happy?
‘We will talk later Sanchez, when you are awake.’
‘How long have you known?’
‘I thought…but not sure. Well, maybe a few days only.’
‘Are you feeling…?’
‘Yes, I’m fine’
‘So do we need to go to the doctors?’
‘Yes, yes Sanchez. You need to get dressed. After work, we can talk more then.’
He is still holding me; my back teeth are clinched together and I take in a deep breath from my lungs, sucking in the smell of the bread- my grandmother is cooking. As he moves beside me on the bed, he places his head on my stomach.
‘I think I can hear him kick, my little footballer.’ Looking down I force a smile as the tobacco smoke that is secreted in his hair enters my nostrils. He promised to quit two weeks ago. As a child, my grandmother had advised me ‘not to ask questions of your husband’s business’, apparently a Mexican proverb.
Sanchez smooths down my shoulders, continuing along my upper arms whilst admiring the family picture our reflection conjures in the mirror.
‘I want to wait until we’re sure. So don’t tell anyone…not yet,’ I remove his hand from my shoulder as he tightens his boots and gives me one last smile before leaving for work.
I feel peaceful slamming the door behind him, even with my grandmother gossiping about Linda Constantine’s unholy behaviour, clanking the plates together as she washes up and informing me of what I should expect through pregnancy, I still feel calm.
I finally sit down at the table, the toast caves in when my fingers grab it, tearing a piece off with my teeth. Drinking my coffee, it tastes like drops of mercury as it flows down my throat, even more precious now the kitchen is still. The toast is gone, I must have eaten three slices and my stomach is heavy, but I feel safe.
The telephone rings, my grandmother is now sitting outside guarding the house, her main priority to observe the neighbours, secondly to watch the tourists passing on their way to the beach.
‘Mariela, the telephone Mariela!’ She shouts through the front door.
‘I heard Mama,’ she cannot bear to move from the front step until midday when the heat becomes unbearable, she is too concerned of missing anything before then.
I walk through the hallway, moving my bundle of curls across my shoulder and pick up the phone.
‘Lolita, Lolita! He is so angry with me!’ A quivering voice is rushing the words towards my ear.
‘May I ask who’s speaking? I think you have the…’
‘You have to help me. Rafael, my husband, he threw a plate at me and now he’s gone and I’m frightened, I’m frightened when he gets back, I’ve never seen him this mad and…
‘Do you want me to call the police?’
‘But the police can help.’ My mind is overwhelmed with what I am hearing.
‘No! You don’t understand it’s…’
All I can hear are beeps on the line. I don’t even know her name. Why did she call me? I’m Mariela, why tell me she is frightened of her husband then simply hang up?
I try to find her number but it is withheld. I march along the hallway to tell my grandmother of the woman, I halt reaching the front door. My grandmother asks who called, but I cannot answer.
‘A wrong number Mama,’ I reach out to touch her hand and clasp her fingers in mine.
This small clasp of fingers is how we connect to each other. It’s only a little gesture but it helps, it helps a lot. I look out on the street which is still calm, only a few flaps of clothes drying in the bursts of wind and a cat crying in the distance. There is nothing I can do for the woman; I run her voice through my mind, the words I repeat to myself.
‘I’m going to Consuelo’s, Mama. Is Anita coming to go to town with you?’
‘Yes, yes, the old lady should be here in half an hour. I can look after myself Mariela, don’t worry about that.’ She is still facing the street when she talks to me, and readjusts her skirt on her knees to appear more composed.
‘Alright, I should be back at about three,’
I leave her on the front steps and begin striding over the cobbles that pave most of the streets leading down the hill to the town square.
The houses have flat fronts and are painted light green, pink, and blue. Ours is a dark pink. I never notice the colours that much, mainly because I pass these houses with their grandmothers on their front steps everyday on my way to work. The sunlight disguises their unique colours and makes them one long row, but each one is different, even the tiny different curve in the pattern of a veranda.
I realise the hand of the church clock is approaching closer to eleven so throw my arms back and forth, feeling my bag bounce against my back. Streams of people flow into the town square, some lie their back against the cushion of a bench, others taking shelter from the sun against a shop window.
I thrust open the door to Consuelo’s. Rosamaria and Elena are enthralled in a conversation as they rest their elbows on the bar. Rosamaria dramatically throws her head onto her palm, reacting to Elena’s news.
‘Hi girls,’ my eyes scan the tables checking what is left to do, pretending to be unaffected by their sudden silence.
‘Hi Mariela’, they slide down from their stools and walk through to the kitchen, Elena hurrying Rosamaria. I unroll my apron from my bag and wrap the straps around my waist, attempting to flatten the curve at the front. The kitchen staff have been working since early this morning and I hear them throwing pans onto the stove.
‘Mariela!’ As I turn around, Consuelo, the restaurant owner, is standing behind the bar. He has always reminded me of a Buddha, his smile reaches across his face and his stature is so small that he doesn’t bend down to the table when taking orders.
‘My Mariela!’ He opens his arms to me and I pull him close, patting his back gently. ‘And how is lovely Carlita this morning?’ Consuelo walks away to wipe down a table as he asks about my grandmother.
‘Just the usual, making sure everyone upholds her high standards. Consuelo…I shouldn’t tell you yet…but…well, I’m pregnant.’ A smile is unpreventable, I feel as if I’m telling my father and am waiting for him to be proud of me. But there is nothing.
‘That’s great news Mariela.’ He slowly turns around and puts his cloth on the bar, looking into my eyes.
‘You seem…less than happy,’ my breathing becomes heavier; I feel my hand aching to reach for a cigarette.
‘I’m happy, I’m happy,’ he wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, the small round eyes like that of a squirrel aren’t synchronised with his smiling mouth. ‘I’m happy for you…and Sanchez.’
I take a seat at the front of the restaurant, giving myself a view onto the square as I push a cigarette through my fingers.
‘What is it Consuelo? You know I trust you like my family…if there’s something to tell me.’ I light the cigarette and flicker it in my hand, waiting for a response.
‘It’s nothing.’ Consuelo attempts a cheerful facade again, but is covering his mouth too much to be truthful.
‘Is it about…what I suspected…?’
‘Is it a woman…? Is it? Is he having an affair? I’m having his baby Consuelo!’
‘Calm down. It’s just… Elena saw him last night. He was with someone; it could’ve been a friend Mariela.’
‘Cassandra? Was it Cassandra?!’ Consuelo shrugs his shoulders slightly then confirms what I thought.
The nights I had shut my eyes, blocking out the moon that hovered in the sky, knowing I could not sleep until Sanchez was home. I had told Consuelo about these nights, when the restaurant was closed, and then I would cry. At first a solitary tear rolling down my cheek, then when Consuelo had held me, I would feel unable to withhold my tears.
‘I need to go Consuelo.’ He gives me a simple nod.
I walk back up the hill; the doughnuts being sold on the street are making me feel sick. A couple come towards me, he has his arm tightly wrapped around her neck and I feel a throbbing pain begin the side of my head.
Approaching the house, I take slow steps inside. Sanchez is already home for lunch; he is sprawled across the lounger at the back of the house and listening to the radio. The music on the radio gets louder as I approach the kitchen and lean against the door. My foot begins to tap on each beat of music. It is not the tap that I was taught from my mother, a soft toe hitting the ground, followed by the ball of my foot. Instead I press my foot firmly down into the wood, my arms tucked inside each other.
‘Do you want a drink Sanchez?’
‘You’re home Mariela?’
‘Yes, I forget to do something this morning, then I’ll be gone.’
‘O.K, thanks a drink would be nice,’ Sanchez goes back to half-heartedly watching the sunbathers on the beach below, his t-shirt flung across the paving stones.
The phone rings again. I leave it to ring, continuing to prepare Sanchez a drink. One small plop and the tablet is in, it fizzes slightly then disintegrates.
I toe the plastic strip of the back door, scraping a fingernail down the door frame. I squeeze my eyes until they are just slits of colour and stare into the wayward hair of my husband.
‘Mariela?’ The reporter on the radio is blasting her monotone voice over my thoughts. ‘Why are you standing there? Take a seat for goodness sake!’ Slowly I slide my feet across the floor and sit down, curling my legs into myself. I place the drink in his hand. A single kiss on the cheek. A mixture of perfume and sweat swirl up at me, my stomach churns.