Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 120 in October, 2009.
Salvador sits hunched over his plate of food head down, elbows on the table, fork in his right hand, and spoon in the left. He reminds me of a brown bear trying to use silverware. I sit up when I hear the squeak from the tines of the fork scraping ceramic. I know something is wrong with the food by the way he stabs at the gray meat on his plate. He chews two times then swallows. He doesn't stop to sip his beer, to tell me about his day, or look up. I'm grateful because right now I couldn’t stand hearing a thing. I keep seeing Regie's thin, dark body against the white sheets from this morning. It should have been me that ended it. "We can't do this no more," he said, "because they're watching." I should have told him that I don't care about any of that, and he doesn't have to worry about me but I was too shocked. I take a sip of my tea and wonder if the witch told me to drink this stuff for three or five days. As I drink I try not to think about what it is doing to my body and look at the light blue and white print behind Sal on the wall. I hear his sighs, belches, and smacks. I imagine myself resting on those clouds and they remind me of the cushions on the wicker couch inside the Kon Tiki Inn, and the grass-stitched lampshade I broke. Regie didn't kiss me, ask about the kids, play with my hair, or help me with my shoes at the hotel, and in the car at the Big 8 he seemed more jumpy than usual. He might already know I'm pregnant.
"The carne guisada was too salty." Salvador points to the empty plate. "And the potatoes were hard. You listening, Moníca?"
I lower my gaze and focus on the pores that dot Sal's nose. His face reminds me of a Ruby Red. I smile thinking that if I touch it, it'll ooze.
He smiles back at me. "Are you going to eat that?" He spears a potato wedge on my plate with his knife then pops it into his mouth before I have a chance to answer.
"No, go ahead." I can't keep anything down so I eat slow. He continues picking at my plate, and I sigh.
"If you don't want me to eat it, just say so." He drops his fork on the plate and it tings.
I roll my eyes and turn to check the clock. It's nearly six, and the twins will be home any minute. I won't get any time to myself until nearly ten. All three of them Gabriel, Gabriella, and Sal are the same. They drain me. They expect so much of me. What am going to do with another one? I stop myself from rubbing my stomach. They want so much from me. Things I don't have. Sometimes I wonder if they are the same being. All three of them want, want, want, and what I want, is to sleep.
As I get up to put our plates in the sink I hear the door open and slam.
"Watch the door, god damn it!" Sal stands.
Startled. I drop a glass I am carrying to the kitchen, and it shatters on the tile floor.
"Would you stop yelling already? They can hear you in this house even if you whisper. It's not like we live in a mansion."
"Nothing is ever good enough for you," he says.
"Sorry, Dad." I hear Gabe.
I ignore them and crouch to pick up shards of glass. Gabriella drops her books onto the kitchen counter and says, "Mom, it's not like Gabe is bad. Actually, he's good. I mean other boys his age are getting arrested and stuff."
"What the hell are you talking about? Get me the trashcan." I point to the sink. "Start at the beginning."
Gabriella stretches her long legs across the floor to avoid the glass and opens the cabinet under the sink, "Gabe got in trouble at school. He had to go to the principal's office and everything." She hands me the blue trashcan from underneath the sink. "I saw him when I was taking in the roll."
"Shut up." Gabriel walks into the kitchen and steps on the glass and pushes his sister. I try not to smile.
"Watch it, Gabe." I say. Meaning he should watch where he is walking but he takes it to mean he needs to leave his sister alone and steps away from her. I hear glass crunch. I focus on picking up the big pieces of glass as Gabe talks.
"Regie Juarez was getting all in my face. So I told him, right then and there, get out of my face god damn it!"
I stand up holding shards of glass in my hand. I look over at Sal and raise my eyebrow. His eyes narrow like they do when he's mad but then he sighs, shakes his head, and walks into the other room. I'm glad he controlled himself, and I let out a long breath.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to cuss. And then before I can hit him, the teacher grabs me by my collar. Look she almost ripped it off." Gabriel fingers the cloth collar. "And she says, 'you're going to the office, right now young man.' I didn't even hit him or nothing."
"See, I told you Mom," Gabriella beams.
I'm nauseated. I wonder what it would feel like to hit someone with my fist. "Gabby go watch TV with your father, I have to talk to your brother."
"I really wanna stay." She lifts a foot in anger but decides not to stomp.
"Alone." I point to the ceiling, and feel the sweat running down my cheeks. “Go.”
Gabriella takes a giant step across the floor again to avoid the glass. I'm thankful she's so considerate and am annoyed at Gabe's carelessness. "Gabe? What the hell got in to you?"
"Regie Juárez is just this big bully that everyone is afraid of, and no one ever says nothing to him. He pushes everybody around and I knew some day he'd get to me."
"This is the Regie Juarez, who lives a block over?" I ball up my hands.
"Yeah, the one who's father is a marijuano."
"I know his father, Reginaldo. They call him Regie, too. I know him very well from the old neighborhood.” I close my fist around the shards of glass in my hand and punch the air. “The next time that Regie Junior messes with you. You make sure and hit him. Hard. Hit him hard and fast so that no one sees you. You hear me, m'ijo? Then tell him who you are. Tell him you're Gabriel Salvador Montoya. Tell him your full name."
“Ah, okay?” Wide-eyed, Gabriel, stares at my hand.
Blood from my hand drips into the trashcan, and I open my palm then drop the red stained glass into the garbage. I walk to the sink. Gabe doesn't move. "Do you hear me Gabe? Tell him who you are. Understand? We never talked about this."
I shift my eyes to the kitchen door for him to leave and he walks across the glass and says, "Yeah, Mom. I hear."
As I run water over the cut I hear his sister’s taunting. "You're in trouble. You're so in trouble."
He yells, "Shut up" and she does.
I'm sure Gabe is confused. Usually, I'd tell him to walk away from fights and not make any trouble, but it's not a usual day.