Copyright is held by the author.
THEY WERE driving towards Reno across the mountain road, high up onto the side of the Truckee River canyon. Snow fell on their Ford Explorer before the wind chased it toward the gorge, draped in a bog of shadows. Up ahead, the lights of the city shimmered as a caravan of vehicles ebbed from the Sierra Mountains into the desert city.
Mayra was listening to smooth jazz on the radio, causing Andrew to lose focus and fall asleep. Eventually, he changed the station to some young country station to help him wake up. They were both running on stale Taco Bell and Rockstars. The truck wreaked of energy drink fumes and ground beef
“Hey,” Mayra murmured, “I was listening to that.”
Andrew was quiet for a several minutes before responding. “Sorry, I’m sorry the music was making me drowsy. You mind if we listen to this for a while — at least until we get out of traffic?”
She looked at him for a moment longer before returning her gaze to the road ahead. Leaning her head against the window, she wrapped her jacket tightly against herself. “Well, I wish you would have said something before switching stations. But yeah, of course. That totally makes sense.”
Mayra was restless and focused on seeing her mom, who she hadn’t visited since earlier summer. Thanksgiving without her was not an option. The arrived over an hour later. It was snowing by the time they pulled up to her house. Mayra started unloading their baggage. Andrew told her to go say hi to her mom, taking care of the baggage. She hadn’t seen her mom since earlier summer and was somewhat glad to see her for Thanksgiving.
Mayra’s mom, Nelda, owned a two-storey home several blocks from Virginia Street, the main avenue through town. She and her husband had bought it around 20 years ago. Don, Nelda’s husband, was a principal contractor in the city until he passed away. She worked at the courthouse and was living off her pension.
After Andrew moved the bags into the house, they all sat in the kitchen table to chat, until he decided to turn in. Mayra scanned her mom’s kitchen while they talked, reviewing the old pictures of her family. She spotted a photo of her daughter. Reina would’ve been around five years old by now. She recalled a moment years ago when her daughter was staring out the same window at the snow. She was only three years old, and everything was new. She gaped in silent awe at everything — the snow, the neon, her grandmother. Occasionally, she’d look back at Mayra and point. On the second, Reina pointed at a rabbit in the yard and asked if she should have it. Mayra explained it was not a pet, but her daughter didn’t understand. How long ago it was since Reina died? Mayra couldn’t remember. She was barely four years old when she passed.
“Andy seems all right,” Nelda said, getting up and turning on the kitchen light. “You both seemed to be doing well. Have you guys been trying again?”
“Mom, please, let’s not talked about this. It’s too soon.”
Nelda held her daughter’s hands. “Honey, it’s been over two years. When is it going to be a good time?”
“I don’t know, but I barely made it through last year. Andrew’s been distant. Frankly, we are kind of drifting apart.”
“How could you guys be drifting apart? You live together. Don’t you?”
“Yes, we’re still together.”
Nelda glared at her daughter for a moment before finishing her wine. “Maybe you should go spend Christmas with Andy and his family, honey. I can always go with Idalia and Margo to the Christmas Cash-out Dinner at the Golden Legacy.”
Mayra grimaced and pressed her fingers against the table. “No, Mama, that’s totally unfair. I haven’t had Christmas with you for two years. We were supposed to alternate this year, but Andrew’s family was going to the east coast for the Holiday, and he wanted to be cheap and spend time here for Thanksgiving and spend Christmas with his family in Redding.”
Nelda ginned and sipped her wine. “Well, you’re doing a lot better than your sisters. I haven’t seen either of them since May. Josie is now working in New York for some hotshot brokerage firm. She still won’t get married. I don’t get it.”
“She’s just focusing on her career, mom.”
“Well, if you say so, but nobody is getting any younger, and your sister ain’t no sweetheart with some of her boy toys.”
Mayra smiled sharply and looked at the snow falling out the window. She felt a pang of stomach acid stab her gut. “Mom, please.”
“I’m just saying because you know your sister.”
Mayra sipped her wine then drag her finger around the lip of the wine glass. “Who’s she seeing anyway?”
Nelda smiled. “Some guy who works for an investment bank. He’s around ten years younger than her.”
Mayra scratched the back of her neck and looked down. “So, you met him? What’s he like?”
“I didn’t. She sent me pictures.”
Mayra tried to smile and thought about Andrew. There was so much colour in their relationship that had drained away. “Ah.”
“Haven’t you talked to your sister?”
Mayra began scratching her neck some more and wonder if Andrew was asleep yet. “No, you know what’s between her and me.”
“Uh chingado,” Nelda said, throwing her hands on the table, “Ustedes siempre están luchando como los pollos en el gallinero!”
“Oh, mama,” Mayra answered smirking, “Siempre tienes cosas bonitas que decir de a mis hermanas y mí.”
“Never mind, have you talked to your other sister?”
Mayra cleared her throat as the wine envelope her gut. “Yeah, she is back in school.”
“Where? What is she studying?”
“She’s at Sac State. I think she’s studying medical administration or nursing or something.”
“Well, that sounds encouraging,” Nelda said, getting up and putting the wine in the refrigerator, “Hija, por favor, pregunta a tu hermana que mi llame.”
“I always do.”
“Okay, baby, I’m going to go to bed. I will see you both in the morning, okay.” Nelda walked out of the kitchen.
“Love you, mama.” Mayra got up and hugging her mother before she left, then sat back down watched the snowfall through the window. She thought more about Reina. Lowering her head and staring at the table, she drew in a breath of air, resenting her grief. She took her glass of wine and, with a trembling grip, took a final swing. After a few minutes, the heater began blowing hot air. She listened as it moaned. She took the wine from the refrigerator and poured herself another glass, then turned on the television in the kitchen and sat back down to forget.
It was the eve of Thanksgiving and snow-covered Nelda’s driveway. She was going to Las Hijas de Mexico’s Cena de Gracias at the Southside Cultural Center and was dragging Mayra and Andrew with her. Neither was in the mood to go. Mayra complained that Andrew would feel awkward because he was white as his native-born Irish father and didn’t know a word of Spanish. Nelda reminded her daughter of the time Andrew spoke with her uncle in simple Spanish. Mayra remembered Andrew’s latent Spanish skills and surrendered, and they would all leave after six.
After Mayra explained their new plans for the night and asked Andrew if he could help her finish the last of the grocery shopping. She said it would take her a few minutes to get dressed, but he wanted to go alone. She said that wasn’t going to happen.
The snow was melting by the time they got on the road. Neither said anything to the other. The holiday traffic was light all along Virginia Street, aside from the traffic seeping in and out of Atlantis and the Peppermill. They parked at the Reno Park Mall, which is somewhere in the middle of Reno, and walked into a Food Depot and quietly picked up a half dozen potatoes, canned yams, and a couple of other items for their contribution to the dinner. The store was packed, and the shelves were emptying quickly. They found almost everything but were struggling to track down canned yams.
Mayra was looking through the shelves. She came across a shelf of canned apricots and recalled a memory of Reina grabbing a piece of Apricot with her little hands then putting it in her mouth while shaking with joy. Mayra smiled before crying. This caught the attention of a late-middle-aged Asian woman who seemed alarmed. “Excuse me, are you alright young lady?”
Mayra tried to smile. “I’m sorry. I just remembered an old memory. I’m sorry to concern you.”
The Asian woman laughed. “It’s all right. Turkey day brings up many memories. My brother likes to drink a lot around now, and that makes me want to cry too.”
“Yes,” Mayra said while looking to see where Andrew went, “Yes, I know how he feels; thank you and excuse me again.”
“No problem, Have a wonderful holiday!” The Asian woman walked away with her shopping cart while scanning her phone.
Mayra smiled at the Asian woman as she walked away and then walked towards the end of the aisle. She couldn’t see Andrew. Tightening her grip on the shopping cart, she walked towards the produce section, dodging through crowds of bored dads and soccer moms. Her grief began twisting into frustration that continued to coil until it became anger.
She found Andrew in the produce aisle talking to a store clerk. He was nodding as the clerk explained where to find the canned yams. After a minute, the clerk left, noticing Mayra.
“Hey, they’re in aisle five. Shall we go?”
Mayra looked at him for a moment, trying to calm down and find the right words to express herself.
Andrew looked back at her, confused. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah, just thought of something I forgot to do at work.”
They were driving back to Nelda’s house when Mayra finally decided to say something to Andrew. She sucked in her breath, leaned back against the headrest, and prayed. Out her window, the snow was filling the landscape across Virginia Avenue and into the neighbourhood. She remembered walking down the street with her sisters. She had a job at a casino on the strip and had to walk there sometimes when the buses were running late.
She remembered visiting her mom in Reno with Reina and Andrew so Reina could see her grandmother for Thanksgiving. It was snowing, and Reina was frightened. It took her a day before Reina was willing to touch it. Andrew had urged her to touch the snow. They were driving down Virginia Street and parked at the Atlantis. They got out and walked towards a small bank of snow. Mayra explained what it was, and Andrew walked her over to touch it. After Reina nipped it with the tip of her finger, she recoiled and looked toward Mayra with concern. She did it repeatedly before running back to Mayra with her three-year-old feet and grab Mayra’s legs. She looked up at Mayra with concern and pointed at the snow while muttering her favourite word — no.
She looked towards Andrew as he drove pensively in silence. She thought about how he was always trying to coax Reina to experience new things. Mayra was more guarded with her daughter. She knew her life with him was ending, and their marriage was ending. She needed to tell him. It was vital to explain how she was feeling, even if they could just acknowledge Reina’s death. But Mayra could not accept death. She embraced a fantasy that Reina somehow was alive — a fiction she struggled to deny.
“I need to tell you something.”
Mayra grabbed her coat and wrapped it around her body, staring at the road in front of her. She rolled down her window momentarily and stuck her hand out to catch the falling snow. It was everywhere but never close enough to touch. She gave up, rolling up her window. “I think we need time apart from one another.”
“What?” Andrew replied absent-mindedly, “I can’t hear you.”
“We need time apart. I believe we need some space and time away from one another.” There was silence for a moment, and she wondered how he was taking it.
“Well,” he muttered, scratching his nose, “We are spending time away from one another on Christmas.”
“That’s not what I mean.” she looked at him.
“What do you mean?” he stayed focused on his driving.
“When I was looking for yams in the grocery aisle, I started thinking about Reina—”
“Mayra, please don’t. Not on Thanksgiving. If you need to talk about this, let’s wait till we get back to Sacramento.”
“That’s not good enough, Andrew. She’s still alive inside me. I mean, it’s like Reina never died, but she did. I mean, I can’t stop missing her, and this trip is too much. This is where her life ended. And it killed me when she was taken away. I died when Reina drowned. Remember, we talked about this?”
“Reina passed away a long time ago, Mayra,” he lectured while remaining focused on his driving, “Remember what we discussed? That the best thing we could do for Reina was to go on with our lives. That, by making the best of our marriage together, we were honouring her memory.”
“Yes, I know, but I just can’t stop thinking about her. Today I nearly lost it in front of some lady at the store. It isn’t helping that it’s the holidays, and you want to spend time away from me during Christmas. How’s that a good marriage?”
“Wait a minute, you just said you needed to spend time away from me. How is it now a problem that I’m spending Christmas with my family? If I don’t go, I won’t see them for a long time.”
“Andy, you can see your family anytime. It doesn’t have to be Christmas. And that is absolutely not what I was talking about.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about being in the same house together and feeling like you’re no more than a roommate — that things are not the same since Reina left us, and I don’t think there is anything for us together.”
“What?” he turned briefly and glanced at Mayra. “I don’t understand. What do you mean by “I don’t think there is anything for us together?””
“Something has to change.”
“What do you mean?”
“How long do you want to be apart?”
“Oh shit, Andrew.”
“How long do you want to be apart?”
“Maybe in three months, we should talk?”
“Okay,” he sighed. “Whatever. Let’s do it. Maybe you’re right.”
“Don’t tell mom, please.”
“No, of course not. Your mom’s great. I’m not going to put her through that.”
Andrew pulled their car up to Nelda’s driveway. He took a deep breath and opened his door. The cold outside caught him off guard, and he winced before getting out.
“Yes?” he sighed and looked at her.
Mayra looked back at him with blank eyes, hugging herself tightly. “Do you still love me?”
Andrew looked away and walked inside.
They arrived at the Southside Cultural Center and sat at a corner table with an old couple who warmly greeted them before continuing with their conversation in Spanish. Awkwardly, they sat trying not to look at one another. The hall filled numerous elder Latin couples, along with some families. The banquet table also began filling, and the smell of hot vegetables and roasted meats saturated the room with their aromas. From the windows, the towers of the casino strip glistened in the evening skyline as small flakes of snow drifted around buildings across the horizon and into the darkness.
Mayra was lost in old memories while Andrew stared at his phone. Eventually, she walked over to talk to her mom, who was helping setup. Andrew focused on his phone till he felt awkward and began chatting with the couple at their table.
After a few minutes with her mom, Mayra wandered over to one of the windows and stared out into the darkness watching the snow fall, wafting and pirouetting across the streetlights. She wondered how many snowflakes drifted through Reno as grief saturated her stomach with bile. She held back tears and looked away, rending her mind from the past. She felt a tug on her shoulder and turned around.
Her mom had a glass of wine for her. “Are you all right, baby?”
“Yeah, mama,” she answered quickly taking the glass, “I’m just enjoying the view.”
“Well, it’s wonderful outside. As long as you’re not out there.”
“Yes. This is true.”
“Come on, baby, you can get a plate now. Andy is already over there.”
After dinner, a woman named Paula Contreras thanked everyone for joining and contributing to the feast. With a loose one-piece dress and beaded bracelets, she opened her arms outward and figuratively embrace everyone for their generosity and fellowship. She thanked the Southside Cultural Center for providing them a space to host the dinner. She talked a little about what the La Hijas de Mexico was all about and who is helped with the money they raised. She spoke about the Latinas Para El Futuro scholarship program. She finished by talking about the organization’s goals for the future and ended with a joke about a rich man on a bicycle and hobo priest riding a donkey.
Mayra and Andrew focused on a conversation with a young Salvadoran couple who sat at their table. The banquet table was removed, and, a short while later, Salsa music began playing as couples started to dance, leaving Mayra and Andrew alone as they sat and quietly watched.
Mayra’s mind drifted back to that holiday they spent in Reno with her daughter — a day before she drowned. She looked over at Andrew, who was staring vacantly at the dancers. His hair was beginning to thin, and the circles under his eyes gave away his skirmishes with insomnia. He hadn’t kissed or touched her in nearly a year. He was leaving tomorrow morning, and she wasn’t sure when she’d see or talk to him again, even though she promised they’d talk in the three months.
The music switched from Latin to the 70s disco and R&B. Everyone started clapping as dancers changed their moves. Mayra smiled and remembered dancing with Andrew. She recalled his lack of grace and awkward strides during a slow dance. She remembered their wedding and the way he danced with her. She remembered how he looked that day and how he smelled. She wanted to cry, and so she focused her attention on her mother, who was across the room talking to friends. She thought about her dad and how he always was so calm compared to his overactive mom. She wished he was here right now.
Andrew looked at her. “You want to dance?”
“What?” Mayra replied, not fully aware of what Andrew had said.
“I’m just wanted to know if you wanted to dance.”
They walked onto the dance floor, while a woman sang about how much she loves how her lover loves her. The melody was slow and made her feel better. The way he held her made her feel tense. But the song loosened her. She could see he was also loosening and flowing into his strides. “Do you need me to bring anything for you in Sacramento?”
“No, I’ll call you and probably come by to get some things. Thank you, though.” Mayra laid her head on his shoulder. They began to rock gently as the melody bounced and swayed.
“No problem, I still love you. I just want to let you know that I’ll always love you.”
“I feel the same way, always.”
The casino lights glistened as the wind blew the snow towards the east. Neon blurbs about prime rib, and the best betting odds on the strip littered Virginia Avenue. Traffic had almost vanished. The city was silent and placid. Mayra held on tighter to Andrew and braced her head against his shoulder. Their song began to play — the first song they ever slow danced together. In the distance, the black silhouettes of the Sierra Mountains loomed over the desert city, shrouding the horizon as the heavens glowered down at the earthly dwellers across the frigid landscape. A soulful voice began to crone that if his lover wanted his love, then she could have it all. She felt a warmth inside her that was bitter-sweet. She glanced at him, who was staring blankly at nothing. She remembered listening to this song with him in the maternity-ward. There was no future or past. There was only that moment. And then she thought about next month and envisioned nothing — everything was empty and waiting to happen.