Anoche, Dearly Departed by Rosebud Ben-Oni

guest-edited by Jennine Capó Crucet


        Somewhere in Angleton, I’m waist deep in a pond, looking for a dying giant water lily though I can barely see two feet in front of me. 

       At nine feet wide, the lily made the front page of our local paper in Harlingen, a small, neglected Texas town five hours away from Angleton. It was a change from reading about the Matas’ feud with Los Reyes Magos cartel and the fire sales of farms across the Rio Grande Valley. For a town going nowhere, we cultivate a lot of news. Once I wanted to be the next Lauren Sanchez in a black dress and trench coat. But the Matas are beheading journalists and it’s always too warm here to dress that way, and yesterday I had finally decided to dump the whole damn thing in a bin at La Ropa Usada when my father called and said Uncle Tal died. That I should come to the funeral, if I could spare a day or two, the drive to Houston is about six hours, and Uncle Tal had driven all that way to sit on the bima for my Bat Mitzvah all those years ago. That it’d be nice for me to say hello to my mother. That I should give more thought to marrying Tino. If only things were simpler, my father had sighed, but you’re always all over the place. 

       I try to recall my uncle’s face now, but can’t. I can think of nothing but the lily, which the paper said was to bloom right on the water, its color changing from white to pink. Then it would sink to the bottom of the pond and change color one more time, dying a death in crimson, its decay secret, its dignity intact. 

       I’d be so lucky to go out like that.

       But as I tread through the pond, fish nipping the bloody hand I’d cut climbing the chain-link fence, I realize the lily isn’t here. Maybe it’s already sunk. Maybe I’m in the wrong park. Maybe it was San Angelo, not Angleton. So much for my rare moment of repose.

       Sunlight has slipped out from underneath the horizon; I don’t want to be caught in the first light in this dark water, alone, but it’s too late. The birds have woken up. Their shrill calls shake the dead leaves out of me. I think of my Amazon parrots who imitate the calls of other birds in a garbled way. Less distinct. That’s how we live in the Valley; you never go anywhere while your mind wanders into all sorts of things. If only I could wander this world without belonging to anyone. If only I wouldn’t disappoint my parents anymore, like when I accepted my grandfather Elías’s three-room house, which he’d left me in his will. The only one to go to college, I’m the furthest behind, not even a mother. What is the point of owning a house, anyway?

       Two years ago, my parents left Harlingen for Houston where my father had found a better job. The younger set should go forward, not dig so deep into the family root. I don't know how much longer I can go on with the sharp and angular planes of so many irrevocable mistakes. Like I’ve been caught saying Kaddish with something sweet in my mouth. Like maybe I’ll always do inappropriate when I try to do good.

       If only things were simpler. If only I could hang my watch on the highest branch and break from the ground completely, evaporate into the air. If only I’d moved out of Harlingen when I was a child, before all the dead leaves collected in the jagged potholes. If only someone would only make me an offer on a primary color. But I wouldn’t know what to do with something like that. 


       I oversleep in my car, pond smell and all, and miss the funeral. I drive straight to Houston in thirty minutes but since I was supposed to follow my father from the cemetery to my uncle’s house, I get lost.    

       When I pull over to ask for directions to the suburb of Bellaire, the woman behind the counter breathes in deeply and looks down at my pants, which were rolled up when I went into the pond, but still got wet. Hours later, after sleeping in my car under the hot sun, I smell murky. Like charred timber and mold. She wrinkles her nose. She can smell the dead leaves in me. I ask again in overly polite English for directions to Bellaire. She mutters something about two rights and a left before the highway, so instead I just text my father while she’s mid-sentence.



       My father decides to make things simpler. He sends my mother. 

       Helena. Ravid. Is that moss in your hair? What is that smell?”    

       These aren’t questions. My mother speaks primary color, and if you don’t know what I mean by that, then you do too. 

       She berates me all the way to my car, and through a series of over-accelerated turns and curt stops on feeder roads, she leads me to their new house. This is the first time I’ve seen it, and there’s no time to take the grand tour. She berates me to the guest room while I undress, and again through the bathroom door as I shower and wash out the cut. I take extra care to slip into a simple black dress and high heels I haven’t worn in years. People like me do not dress like this in Harlingen. I straighten my hair. I put on mascara and place dark, round sunglasses on top of my head. 

       When I emerge from the bathroom, I look nothing like myself and she stops talking. She is relieved. She’s not going to let me make a fool out of her at the funeral. Uncle Tal was the only member of our family who remained civil after my parents married. I still can’t remember his face. It will be fine. I can play a wicked kind of respectable, I can be crisp as if I’d just come out of the dryer, but she can’t help herself. My mother rumples my dress so she can smooth it and then takes me back into the bathroom where she wraps my hand in gauze from a First-Aid kid. 

       “I forgot you’re always prepared,” I tell her.

       “I knew you were coming.” She’s smiling, squeezes my shoulder a little too hard so she can rub out the knot forming there. “Now let’s go. Everyone is devastated.”


       I am an immediate success. I pass for dryer crisp and fresh. For their kind of young woman. Relatives, business associates, friends and neighbors, all these strangers welcome me into their grief and recollections. Some look curiously at my bare ring finger and then at the perfect square collar of my dress, and the smiles return. Still able to pass for my early twenties, I tell them I’m studying journalism, which isn’t completely untrue because I could be. My mother frowns when I say this, but defers to me before setting off to find my father. 

       I was raised by my mother because Jews in the Rio Grande Valley are a tight-knit bunch and don’t like mixed breeds all that much; they sent their kids to the one private school we couldn’t afford. 

       Suddenly a woman I don’t know calls to me.

       “Oh, Helena! Over here, Helena!” She says my name wrong, and winks as if we’d just played tennis together last week. I don’t even own a racket. I’ve never met her before in my life.

       A blond, light-eyed man slowly makes his way over to us, parting people who step away from him carefully. He manages to loom over us and keep his distance at the same time. He is frowning, and suddenly I feel my dress wrinkling. My sunglasses sit crooked on top of my head. I taste pond in my mouth. The wrong pond. The wrong town. 

       “Don’t you remember Laurent? He would’ve liked to see you more, Helena,” she teases, as if I had choices in who I could see as a kid. She says my name wrong again. 

       “I’m sorry,” I say to her. “But who are you?”

       At that this Laurent bursts out laughing, and suddenly grabs me by the arm and takes off. I try to pull away, but his grip is too strong. Suddenly I see my father; it’s quite a sight. He’s surrounded by relatives I recognize from photo albums exiled to a closet. And one by one, with tears pooling in the crevices of wrinkled, exhausted faces, each takes him in their arms. I realize for the first time this: Uncle Tal was my father’s brother. His elder. His only sibling. His parents long dead. I pull hard and nearly fall to the floor. Laurent turns to look at me. I give him a dirty look, and he shrugs and walks away. Then I see my mother and I look to her because I don’t know how to feel. I watch her watching him falling into their arms and for a moment I see that her disappointment borders on fear. 

       Tino has told me many times how much he admires my parents. That they not only stayed together, but learned to love parts of people who they have to love rather than loving them whole and it’s a stronger love because it takes effort. Because it’s harder. I wonder if this is why Tino wants to marry me. Because he believes in my parents’ marriage. Because at this moment my father pulls away from his family, taking back his hands and his arms and his shoulders, and motions for my mother to come over. Because this is one of those times that my mother will not yield because she cannot yield. For a moment, we are three points of a triangle whose sides are unequal, but a triangle nonetheless. I am looking to her, she is looking to him, and he, to her. People pass by, pass through that gaze, but it will not yield. I watch them, watching each other, knowing Tino and I will never have this. Suddenly my father rises, moves through the crowd which has not yet dispersed, which is still semisolid and taken by an exhausted, almost natural surprise. My father, he splinters, he squeezes past, until he closes that gap.


       I need to find a bathroom, but the house is never-ending. I’ve fooled these people with a single black dress. I should rob banks in it. Without the heels. My feet are killing me. I try one door after another, but they are all locked. I reach the end of the hall, and finally one gives. I stumble in, and there is Laurent, sprawled across a four-poster bed with his shoes on. In the dim light radiating from an elongated floor lamp, he remains in bed with his eyes closed. Music blares from his earbuds. 

       Without taking the earbuds out, he speaks just at the cusp of shouting. “Tell her I’m not leaving this room again. Shut the door on the way out.” 

       I stand up straighter, arms crossed, hips out. I even out my mouth to say: I don’t care who the hell you are. 

       After a while, he opens his eyes and sits up fast, I suppose to startle me. I don’t even blink. He turns off the music and takes out the earbuds. Before he can say anything, I snap, “Sorry. I was looking for the bathroom. Do you know where it is?”

       “Try upstairs,” he says evenly. He reaches for a silver flask and empties a good amount into a highball glass on a nightstand.

       I swivel on my heels, but find that I’m unable to move. The carpet is very plush. It’s very white. What kind of people put white carpet in their homes, I wonder, and then take my shoes off. I dig in my feet deep. 

       He starts to say something, beginning with my name, wrong again.

       “Ha-LAY-na,” I correct him, as if I do this all the time. Let him remember me in this dress. Holding my patent leather heels in one hand.  All I need now is my trench coat and a cigarette. Let us never meet again. I will go out with dignity.

       “My mother said that’s your name,” he says, which sounds like an accusation.

       “What the hell does that woman know—”

       “You mean your aunt?”

       “My— what?”

       He doesn’t answer. Instead he loosens his tie and undoes the first two buttons of his shirt. He pats the bed, and then laughs at the awkwardness of the suggestion. But I’m not embarrassed at all. His embarrassment only emboldens me. I sit down next to him, and we talk, looking down at the floor. I start. 

       “I didn’t know that was his widow. Or that they had any children.”

       “They don’t have children. Just me.”

       “I don’t ever remember hearing about you.”

       “Just found out about you this morning.”



       “So. This is your room?”


       “Kind of dark and empty.”

       “Thank you. I was going for that.”

       “You still live at home?”

       He smiles and offers me drink from his glass. I shake my head. He shrugs, and drains it. “I decided to take some time off,” he says slowly.

       “What do you do?”

       “Do you always ask this many questions?”


       “I’m honored. I used to work for my dad. Anything else?”

       “I’m just… I mean, wow.”

       “Fascinating, I know.”

       “It is. Yesterday I woke up, went to the wrong town and now you.”


       “I mean I don’t really anyone from my dad’s side. And suddenly I have a cousin.”

       “I’m not really your cousin,” he says. 

       “What do you mean not really?”

       He shrugs. “I’ll tell you what,” he says, taking a big drink from the glass. “You’re right about one thing. This is the wrong town.” Before I can say anything, he goes on. “Suddenly a lot of you guys just show up. His will’s a dead end. She got everything. She even made me sign something. So I don’t go after her legally.” He stretches and falls back on his forearms, so he’s half-laying on the bed. “So don’t waste your time here. My mother isn’t stupid.”    

       I want to tell him: you might mean this as an insult, but it makes me feel brand new. Here’s someone who doesn’t know I’m such a screw-up. I look at his face, wondering how old he is. He could be 20 or 40; I don’t know how to read these well-tended features. “So Mom says you live in Mexico.”

       “No, I live in Harlingen,” I say, standing up as well.    


       “It’s in the Valley.”

       “The what?

       “The Valley.”

       “You mean, like in California?”

       “How can you live in Texas and not know—”

       “I don’t live in Texas,” he says, holding the glass out to me. “I live in Bellaire.” 

       I push his glass away. I do not want to be sullied. “I didn’t come because of any will. I came because your dad sat on the bima for my Bat Mitzvah. In the Valley. It’s a real place—you should go and see for yourself.”

       Laurent looks at me, his mouth half-open. Then he bursts out laughing. It’s fine by me. He’s never heard of my hometown, so it didn’t exist until now. I never existed until now. I am in the clear. I am brand new. I put back on my heels, and straighten my dress.

       “Wait a second,” he says and stops laughing. “Your mother. Now I remember.”

       At this moment I realize he’s drunk. I watch him as he downs another glass, not knowing how to stop him. I’m usually the one other people stop. He doesn’t make a lot of noise, and sways gracefully. They must teach this in those wealthy schools we couldn’t afford. You can almost hear his hair falling into his eyes. Maybe people like him are just born this way, with dignity forever intact. He stumbles without stumbling, and backs me right against the wall. He’s tall, and even with my heels on, my head barely reaches the top of his shoulder. 

       “That’s why, isn’t it?” He says softly.

       “Why what?” Suddenly I’m feeling hopeful, though I’m not sure for what. I can feel him breathing he’s so close. Inhaling, exhaling. In the growing darkness of the room, his light blue eyes have turned blue-black. A head taller than me, he looks down, digging his elbow into the door, his hand rubbing his head lazily. He smells like powder and clean sweat.

       “My mother,” he says. 

       “Your mother, my mother,” I say, not knowing why I’m trying to reason with him. I always go the distance for the things that don’t matter in the end; that has been my history. Maybe it’s just easier to invest in things like that. 

       “Now I remember.” He rests his chin against my forehead for a moment. His skin is very warm. Then he pulls away and mutters, “Dad did go. He fought with my mom about it. My know, he was alright. He let other people in.”

       “He was,” I agree, perhaps the truest thing I’ve ever said, which will wilt and die unheard in this room.

       “But my mother wouldn’t let me,” he mumbles, moving even closer to me.

       “Let you what?” I hear his heart beating fast.

       “Because of your mother. Why we never met,” he says again to my forehead, and grabs my sunglasses. Then he stumbles back, picks up the flask, but it’s empty. He tosses it on the floor, and falls back on his bed. His eyes close, his free hand reaching for something across the room. But there’s nothing there. I’m a temporary passing. This is who I’d like to be.

       I shut the door; the house is eerily quite. I walk down the corridor until I reach a bay window. Outside, in their massive backyard, the family is gathered. I don’t look for my parents. I leave without saying goodbye to anyone. I want to forget him, the lily, all these new mistakes. Wrong town. Wrong everything. An hour later, I’m still stuck in Houston traffic. I try to text my parents an apology and if they could they mail my overnight bag to me. I nearly get into an accident in the gridlock, when no one’s even moving, not a single damn one of us is going anywhere. 


       That night I make it home so late it’s tomorrow, and I dream of Uncle Tal’s unveiling, a year after the funeral. I lose myself in the mourners swaying in the stale heat of a dark morning. It is my father who removes the cloth to unveil a simple, oppressive headstone. A small, jagged rock is in my hand; I am to set it on the grave before I leave. I’m last in line. My father begins to recite Kaddish, sounding faraway and not, as he is by my side. I hold my breath in the breaks, those heavy pauses, as my father stumbles through the blessing. 

       Who is listening? Once I thought blessings immaculate. Set in stone. Only those who are immaculate can preserve them as they are. I am not immaculate. I have felt sympathy for people like Los Reyes Magos. Who can hear anything after his own death?  I watch the mourners lay the stones on the grave. When at last it’s my turn, it is not the headstone in front of me, but my uncle’s despondent son. Laurent is immaculate and frowning. Letting me know I have no place among these people, those who knew Uncle Tal for much longer, those who loved him in ways that I will never know. I am an impostor. I am an ungrateful daughter.

       I awaken to the sounds of Tino cooking breakfast inside. I sit up too quickly, dehydrated and worn out from my half-hearted mourning. The sky is particularly cruel, just a long patch of threaded grey overcast, and as I make my way out from under it and into the house, I feel like whatever good’s left in me is drifting up into its immeasurable indifference. 

       “Serves you right,” Tino says. “You nearly drove right into the house last night. I tried to dump you in bed, but you fought me and crawled all the way to the hammock.”

       He has cleaned the kitchen again, and the smell of bleach and huevos rancheros makes me want to retch. I let my Amazons Lulu and Davy out of their cages. It annoys him when I do this before we eat. I did not forget this. Lulu immediately flies over and perches at the edge of the table, regarding Tino warily.

       I push away my plate; Lulu puts her foot right into it. Tino, the skillet still in hand, watches as Davy flies across the kitchen and joins her as she tears into the eggs. I head into the bathroom as a glass flies past me and shatters against the wall. I hear the parrots squawk in protest and fly around. I know by the time I’m out of the shower, everything will be cleaned up. I am alive. I am responsible. I will not drown in the grief of another man’s eyes. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to walk into his room. I never meant to let Tino move in. I wanted to sit in his lap and let him smell the pond I’d washed out of my hair and change the look in his eyes. It’s some time before I realize the water is ice cold, and my hands are paling blue. 

       I shower and retire to the hammock. I sleep away the day and most of the next. I never knew I was so tired. I weep when Tino leaves, although I’m not especially sad or surprised he left me. I show up to La Ropa Usada a few times. I refrain from diving into the bins and being taken away by someone less choosey. Uncle Tal’s widow wouldn’t even drop off her donations here. I realize I don’t know her name. Every night I shower and go to sleep soaking wet. I catch a cold, but the chill keeps me from completely sinking into the ground. One of my cousins shakes my shoulders and says: you need to get him back. They take turns staying over, filling my house with their children and arguments and cooking, all of which delight Lulu and Davy, who nip me a little harder than usual. 


       One hot morning I awaken to a jab in my side, and one of my cousins handing me my phone, mouthing, it’s a GUY. NOT Tino. 

       “Helena? It’s me.”


       “Oh, sorry. It’s Laurent. From the funeral in Bellaire.” He says this casually, like: it’s George from Steven’s party. I sit up. I’m wearing nothing but a half-shirt and underwear and suddenly I feel my face turning red. Another cousin passes by the room, eavesdropping. I stumble out to the back porch. Davy flies after me, and is nearly hit by the screen door. He protests immediately.

       “Sorry,” I say, rubbing his beak.

       “For what?” Laurent says.

       “No, I was talking to Davy.”

       “Oh. Is that your boyfriend?”

       “My parrot.”

       “Cool. So I found out where Harlingen is.” He sounds a little out of breath, like he’s walking somewhere.

       “Oh. That’s good.”

       “It’s close to the beach.”

       “Yeah, it is.”

       “By the way, I have your sunglasses. You left them.”

       “I didn’t leave them. You took them.”

       “Did I? I really don’t remember.”

       “It’s fine; forget it.”

       “Actually— So… I was thinking, we should talk.”

       “We are.”

       “No, I mean, about what happened.”

       I feel my face turning red again. “Um, okay.”

       “Maybe we could go somewhere.”

       “Really. What did you have in mind?”

       “The beach, actually. The one near you.”

       “Sure,” I say suddenly, making plans. Because this guy Laurent must be drunk again in his Bellaire mansion where I’m still in my black dress, padding around on the plush, white carpet with my heels in my hand, as if that’s how I end every day instead of my wash-and-wear state of faded sundresses and flip-flops.

       “Can you take the parrot to the beach or will it fly away?” He asks me. 

       I look at Davy, who’s trying to attack the phone so I’ll hang up. Davy never flies too far when I take him outside. Lulu either. I guess it’s something to know they won't fly away. Because they seem to know what's out there isn't what they want. Whereas I'm the opposite. Whereas I can't help it.

       “Are you there?” He asks.

       “Sorry. Um, so when are you coming?”

       “I’m actually here.”

       I stand up quickly, feel my face turning red again.  “What do you mean here?”

       “Actually I think I can see you—did you just—yes, that’s you.”

       I hear women’s laughter through the phone and from the other side of the screen door. I turn around and see him, still holding the phone up to his ear. He turns away quickly and calls over his shoulder: sorry. My cousins, still laughing, lead him to the front room so I can come back in to take a quick shower and plot how I’m going to add laxatives to their morning coffee. But it’s almost noon and I’ve been in this state for so long, I might as well put on one of my better sundresses, and comb the tangles out of my hair. When I go to the front room, my cousins have cleared out and it’s just him, in Tevas, swimming trunks and a polo shirt, looking immaculate, holding my sunglasses.  Lulu and Davy eye him warily from the t-perch across the room. Because he’s new. Because he so clearly doesn’t fit with everything in this house.

       “It seemed acceptable to just show up, I don’t know,” he says, laughing nervously. He’s turning my sunglasses in his hands and then cleans them on his shirt before handing them back to me. I don’t say anything, and I wait for him to backtrack, to get up and apologize for coming without notice, but he doesn’t. Davy alights onto my shoulder and pulls at my wet hair.

       Laurent says, “I bet you go from A to G like that.”

       “Like what?”

       “Like how you are.”    

       “What’s that supposed to mean?”

       He stands up. “I don’t know. Forget I said it. Let's just go."


       We go to the beach like we’ve been doing it for years. I pack fruit and water in a cooler, and he loads it into his car. We drive in silence to South Padre. When we reach traffic on the causeway, he turns to me as if he’s about to say something and then laughs to himself.


       He just shakes his head. We don’t talk at all until we’ve found a spot on the beach. I don’t want him to see me in a swimsuit. I’m pale. I’ve lost weight since Tino left, and didn’t have much to lose. I haven’t felt shy like this in years. This is stupid, I decide. I can feel him looking at me, so I put on my sunglasses, lay beside him without having to look at him. I am feeling a bit brand new again. 



       “Well, there’s no other way to say it. My mother didn’t approve of your father’s marriage. Then she said you guys only came to funeral for the money.”

       “You drove all the way here to tell me that?”

       “No, I—”

       “Because we wouldn’t take a dime from anyone.”    

       “That’s not why, damn it,” he says, oddly calm.

       Suddenly I see in the distance one of my cousins plodding her way in the sand. She’s brought one of her sons as backup. She’s come to spy. She waves. Laurent waves back; I don’t.

       “And my god, your name,” I snap.

       “My name?”

       “It’s so... snotty.” 

       “Look, I didn’t come to talk about my mother.”

       I take a deep breath. “So did you tell my cousins who you are?” I ask him.

       He doesn’t answer me. Instead he says, “I came to see you.”

       “Someone you met me once, briefly, drunk, who lives in a town you didn’t know existed.”

       “I found you—”

       “And you didn’t even know how to say my name right.”

       “You don’t even know mine.”

       “It isn’t Laurent.”

       “My dad called me Lalo. My mother hated that.”

       “She would.”

       “Don’t call me Laurent. For the rest of my life now, I have to be that guy.”

       “You don’t have to be anything.”

       “You have to be something.”


       My cousin and her son edge closer to us until they are building a sandcastle in our laps. Newly named Lalo doesn’t answer me. He helps them, cupping out perfect towers with a plastic cup and digging a perfectly circular moat. When the three of them threaten to bury me, I help with an ill-fated drawbridge. We are proud of the final result until we realize the surf is rolling in. Lalo looks in his backpack for his phone to take a photo, but he left it back at my house. The little boy bites his lower lip. My cousin swoops him up, kisses away his disappointment and says she’ll see us at the house later.

       After I walk them to the car, I find him undressing. Though he’s on the lean side, his stomach is cut. He turns and the muscles in his back tense as he stretches. I tell him it’s too late to go swimming, the tide’s too strong, but he insists we at least go for a little bit. I keep to wading in the surf. He dives headfirst and keeps going, against the tide. When it pushes him back, he dives under and gets farther away from the shore. 

       I call out to him to stop, that he’s gone far enough. But he just keeps swimming until he is disappearing longer underneath as the waves start to get bigger. When I see him struggling to keep his head above the surface, I plunge into the water. He’s twice my size, but I can’t let him stay out there alone. I try to stay under the crashing before the breakers, which try to push me to the shore. I swim furiously, terrified of how powerless I feel in the rage of the current. By the time I’m past the first breakers, I see that he’s swimming at a diagonal. I watch him, pulling himself forward toward the shorelines while the current pulls me farther out. Too far out. So he swims back out, toward me. It all happens very quickly, and I’m scared out of my mind so I start shouting at him, only to get sucked under and away, to fumble against a suction of water, rattling my lungs, is this the way the giant lily died, is this way anything dies, darkening, burning, and suddenly my eyes are open and burning, salty air is opening my lungs. I retch scratchy heat from my throat, up into Lalo’s mouth. I sit up too quickly, and my head knocks into his face. He looks scared and vague and darkened, with the sunset behind him, and when he puts the towel around my shoulders, I shake it off.

       “I’m sorry,” he whispers.

       “When the hell have you ever been sorry?” I spit out. He steadies me in his arms, pressing my back into his chest..  

       "You could’ve killed yourself. You could’ve killed me.”

       “I’m sorry,” he says softly. “I really am. I won’t let it happen again.”


       “I’m here,” he whispers. “I came, didn’t I?”

       He says this as if we’d made some promise to each other. As if we’d been trying at something for a long time. I have no idea how to respond to this. I’m very awake, as if I’ve finally slept through an entire night.


       We drive back to the house in silence and see that some more of my cousins have come over to meet him. He introduces himself as a friend, and I feel my face turning red. It’s too late now to tell them anything else. My grandfather’s house is filled again, because of this one person, and suddenly we are both happy in that slightly sunburned way. I’ve missed that feeling, the water in your ears from swimming and playing cards with the family in the evening, which my mother always said wasn't gambling because our chips were uncracked nuts. 

       We take a seat in the front room, which is bordered off by open screens. One of the kids hands Lalo a nutcracker, and we start eating pecans. Lulu and Davy fly over, wanting some too. I am ravenous and sick to my stomach at the same time. I want to tell him they’ll find out who he is. I want to know what he’s feeling, and I want to eat something more substantial, but I can’t move from the table. I am afraid if I give one inch, someone will take my place here next to him. My cousins complain I’m eating the game, what’s there left to bet with, and my ears burst and swell with the water and the noise until one by one, the children nod off and are carried home by my cousins in a way I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do, and they’ve managed to clean everything up in the house before I even realize the game is over. I haven’t looked him in the eye once since we came back. 

       I see them off in a blur of kissing, fussing and embracing, these cousins of mine whose children will live the same lives in this town full of lost baseball hopefuls like Tino and town beauties who grow old and molded into their porch swings, the tarnished metal chains creaking, lifting up on one side, tilting them slightly to the right, looking out over the small yards more dust than soil. 

       When I turn around, it’s as if I’ve left a bar in South Padre, the noise muted as if at a distance but still ringing in my ears. Lalo stands there in his trunks. He’s taken off his shirt and he’s very still, holding open the screen door, his other arm stretched out holding onto the side of the doorway, and for that moment, all the sounds of the house fall in his hair, just above his eyes. 

       Suddenly, there is a gunshot or blown transmission, sounding closer than it should. The wind blows against me, and I don’t know if it’s the smell of the ocean or just the ocean on him that stings my eyes. Behind him a sleepy Davy rustles and squawks on his t-perch. The porch door swings shut and I realize the house is no longer mine.

       I’ve capsized by the time he reaches me. I am not dry and crisp as if I’ve just come out of the dryer. I want to say to him: I have to leave this house. Hold me just as you did that first day we met that I can’t remember maybe because it was so simple. Let it go. Never let me go. Reset and start over. Let’s go. Let’s hitchhike along the sullen coast of Galveston, its freeways strewn with poisonous oleanders. Get caught in a swarm of lazy, lumbering bees in the plains of Abilene. Camp along the banks of the Pecos River, and follow it all the way back to the Rio Grande, and for all we care we could disappear altogether. 

       Do you mind? Do you mind a cattail in your rose arbor?


Contributor Notes

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a CantoMundo Fellow and the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013). She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned her MFA in Poetry, and a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her work is forthcoming or appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. In Fall 2014, she will be a visiting writer at the University of Texas at Brownsville’s Writers Live Series. Rosebud is an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts ( Find out more about her at