But Hector laughed, then turned toward the grass behind him and spit. “Qué cabrona. Listen to this girl talk. What else, La Bee? Tell us more.”

She knew he was making fun of her, but she didn’t care. She was burning inside and the only way to keep from imploding was to let it out. “You think we like serving men?”

“Then why do you do it?” Hector demanded. “Why bring La Sopa over here?”

She looked toward Gabe, who stared at the cement. “Love.”

For a second she thought Gabe would say something. Instead, he slumped further in his chair, cradling his beer, its glass spout nestled against his chin.

“Ay, amor,” Hector said, pulling Esme closer to him. “Mujer de mi corazón, mi vida,” he sang. “Go get me a beer.” He slapped her ass.

Everyone laughed. Bianca’s cheeks reddened again.

“La Bee, you want your man to love you?”

Gabe shifted in his lawn chair, cleared his throat, said nothing.

“Keep that pot of beans hot. Right, son? That what you want?” Hector chuckled.

“I want her to keep her mouth shut in public,” Gabe said.

“Muchacho, the woman’s always right.” Hector turned to his wife, “Es verdad, mujer?”

“Mmm,” Esme murmured, smiling as her husband kissed her. “Pero, leave pobre Bee alone, Hector.”

“Nah, she can handle it.” He turned to Bianca. “So which is it then, Bee? Writer or wife? Your husband doesn’t want you airing his dirty laundry. His caca.”

She told him she would split in two, break the binary.

“There she goes with her fancy college words. Su poesía. Qué bonita, qué loca.”

Bianca rose from the bench. She felt sick. Gabe followed her into the house. The patio door slammed behind him; he grabbed her shoulders and spun her around to face him. “Why do you always embarrass me in front of my family?” His face flushed from the beer.

“You don’t mind when I talk like that with you,” she said, mustering all the haughtiness she could. She was ready for a fight.

“That’s different.” He wiped his palms across the sides of his spiky hair and looked away. “They don’t understand.”

“They understand fine. You just never stick up for me. You used to love my poetry.”

“I used to do a lot of things, Bee.” His voice softened. She stared at him, the man she’d watched grow up. Tall and well-built with bronze skin that released a mixture of Cool Water cologne and sweat, he smelled like a beach in the desert. His broad shoulders were stretch-marked where his muscles had grown faster than his skin. His otherwise clear boyish face, slightly impish with his upturned ears, flashed a scar below his eye where he ran into the side mirror of his uncle’s truck when he was little. Esme and Nana said he was a real travieso, would storm the house in a fury, knocking plates of food off the table for no apparent reason. But then, he would smile his charming dimpled smile and be forgiven. Not much had changed since then.

She sighed, the fight leaving her chest, her stomach. She was tired.

“Come here,” he whispered. He pulled her to his body and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his lukewarm beer bottle to her shoulder. His kisses were rough, his sour breath hot against her face and mouth. This Gabe she knew well. She walked a fine line with him. He loved her or despised her when he was drunk. Tonight, he loved her.

She let him hoist her up, wrapped her legs around him. She was Coatlicue, fumbling through the dark. She’d break through. She’d find a crossing—or create one herself.

Gabe carried her to the laundry room, locked the door, hoisted her atop the dryer. He reached under her sundress and pulled her panties to the side, pushing his fingers deep inside her, kissing her neck and breasts.

She was a snake. Careful. She could bite. She could. But didn’t.

She combed her fingers through his short, black hair as she held the back of his head. They were drops of water on a hot comal. Their bodies scorched each other. They were not meant to make a meal, only to test the fire.

“You’re sexy as hell,” he groaned. “Mi poeta.”

His breath against her neck. His voice in her ear. A voice that called butterflies from inside her. Made her think in clichés. Colored her dreams in red. I’ve loved you too much too long too hard. Red as the desert. Where oceans were dry as salt flats. Where red meant lost and lost meant dead.

“I love you,” she said.

“Mmm… then let me fuck you.”

He pulled her off the dryer and bent her over, face to machine. She pressed her ear against the cool, smooth metal and listened as he slid on a condom then thrust into her.

The echo of a seashell.

He leaned down and kissed her cheek when he finished. She straightened her dress and pulled up her panties as he opened the door to the bathroom and took a piss.

“Hey, look. I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable out there. I don’t want you making any scenes. We’re trying to butter him up, right? So we might have a chance at a future, our restaurant.” He zipped; she nodded. “Hey, come here,” he said, his voice soft, playful. “You know I love you.”

“Oh, yeah? Or you love my ass?”

He squeezed her ass. “Both. Now let’s get your ass back outside. Don’t get all dramatic again. Save that for your poems.”

The first nights after he’d left for college, he’d promised to come home weekends but never did. She was imprisoned in her house. Mom wouldn’t lessen Bianca’s sentence though she was losing it, caged in her room listening to them fight. Mom wouldn’t risk Bianca getting drunk and ending up in the hospital again. Couldn’t trust her not to hurt herself at a party.

Bianca had made a plan. She would be a writer. She would get out of town. She’d move to a big city like the postcard of New York her English teacher had given her when she’d admitted she wanted to be a poet but didn’t know how since all poets were dead like Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath and her teacher hadn’t laughed because he’d understood why she would’ve thought so. Instead he’d said she was already a poet and there were others like her. There were such things as open mics and poetry slams and international competitions and she could join them, she could win.

But then a birth and a death. Both like drowning. Dad had been drunk and Bianca could never forgive Mom. She should have saved him. Compared to that, Gabe felt relatively easy to forgive again. What were 9th grade bloody thighs next to a father, drunk in a bathtub? The water must have felt so warm on his cheeks, his face, his eyes.

The stars. The beer. The mariachi music and night sky, blinking. She tried controlling herself in Gabe’s backyard. For his family. For Esme. But the alcohol brought it all back. Sourness, bitterness rooted inside her, knotted and spindling her gut. A sick swishing. A turnip or sickly red beet. Pulled from her uterine strings to her feet. Splitting open. A cactus skull. Nopal on the patio. Prickly pear. A bright pink cactus flower, sprouting then dying in sticky water.

The backyard swayed and dipped around her so she couldn’t remember they’d been arguing. Faces blurred. She was drunk and screaming. How long had she been screaming?

Bile rose in her throat.

“It’s not fair. I’m your girlfriend. Why do you parade Katrina and Lana around like you’re a family, taking them to birthday parties like I’m the other woman? While I wait for you like an idiot. Are you ashamed of me?”

“Bee, you’re drunk, shut up.” Gabe yanked on her arm, trying to sit her down.

“No, they should know. They should know what you put me through.”

“I never asked you to come back here. Sit your drunk ass down, have some respect for my family.”

“Ooh, Gabe, you’d better control your woman,” Frank teased. “Looks like someone can’t handle their alcohol.”

“Looks like someone can’t handle their business,” Hector said. He glared at Gabe.

“Shut up, you old vatos,” Esme countered. “Basta ya!” She turned to Bianca. “Mija, don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

“I have had enough, Esme,” she slurred. The backyard spun, and she steadied herself on a stucco pillar beneath the patio, then staggered onto the grass toward the swing where she’d been playing with Lana. Up in the air so blue.

“What the hell is she doing now?” Frank asked, chugging the last of his beer. “She really loca or something?”

Bianca jumped onto the swing, standing. “I have had enough.”

The neighbor’s dog barked.

“Get down, Bee. You’re gonna wake up the neighbors. You want them to call the cops?” Gabe pulled her down.

She kicked him. “You want to fuck me at night then go play daddy to Katrina’s baby.”

Gabe threw his bottle at the slide, glass smashing against aluminum, beer trickling down like tears. He’d almost hit her with the glass.

“Shut up, Bee. Shut the fuck up!”

“Hey, son, you’d better take her home,” Hector called. “This isn’t funny anymore.”

“Tell them, Gabe.” Bianca wouldn’t stop. “Tell them how we had a baby too. Tell them how I lost her. How you wanted me to get rid of her. How Esme took me to the Clinicas.”

“That’s enough,” Gabe yelled, covering her mouth and heaving her off the swing over his shoulder. “You’re going home.”

Gabe hoisted her across the lawn, clutching her tightly. She was going to be sick. She knew he’d throw her in the truck and drop her off at home. The porch lights would be off because she’d have forgotten to turn them on before she left. The house would be dark. And cold. And silent. She wanted to stay at Esme’s house. She wanted to wake up to a family. One that wasn’t broken by a father’s death.

She bit Gabe’s hand.

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