FEATURE

Aguas Calientes: A Short Story

An expecting couple prepares for the unexpected.

by Lauren Grodstein ’97CC, ’01SOA Published Fall 2010
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“You look beautiful,” Steven said.

“Don’t.”

He shrugged his shoulders, looked out the window.

“So have you two decided?” asked our waitress, who had caught my eye and drifted over from an early morning flirtation with the bartender. 

“We have,” said my husband. He was still covering my hand with his own. The restaurant was all glass windows looking out on Barnes Street, five blocks from the three-bedroom house we’d bought with 20 percent down and the next 30 years of our lives.

“Well, before you tell me, let me recommend the asparagus frittata,” our waitress said. “It’s awesome.” Awesome? She was an actress type: liquid eyes, bed-tossed hair. She took out her pad, then looked at me and gasped theatrically. “My goodness!”

I gave her the most patient smile I had left. “I’m due on Thursday.”

“Wow! That’s so great!”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll have a mimosa,” I said. We couldn’t afford a mimosa. Her eyes grew wider.

“The doctor said it’s fine,” Steven said, winking at me.

“Well, if the doctor says so,” the waitress said, modulating her voice as though she were talking to a child. This, too, was nothing new. My ninth-graders felt protective of me, worked a little harder for me, did their best not to make my job too difficult. Jason Rollins erased my blackboards; Maria Garces lifted my heavy books.

“And I guess I’ll have the eggs Benedict.”

“Oh, no,” the waitress said to me, sternly. “There’s raw eggs in that. The hollandaise.” She paused. “But we could do it without the hollandaise.”

What I wanted to say was, lady, the hollandaise is the least of this kid’s worries. Instead, I smiled and rubbed my stomach. I’d be sorry when I didn’t have my stomach anymore. I’d just started to enjoy resting my arms on it.

“And what about you, sir?”

Steven ordered the root-vegetable hash with the runny eggs on top. Raw eggs weren’t his problem, nor mine, really. They were Buster’s, but if they bothered him, he’d never say a word.

The waitress left. I heard her call to the bartender, “You should see her, she’s ready to pop.”

And then silence. Multiculti music on the stereo, but the kind that’s so ubiquitous you can barely hear it: wind flutes, El Cóndor Pasa. For our honeymoon, six years, three months, two weeks ago, we hiked in the Andes, in Peru. We slept on the trail from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, and cooked potatoes and eggs on a camp stove, and drank the local liquor, damn the altitude. We did our best to kid around with the Peruvian tour guides, but they were not the kidding types. We drank beer in Aguas Calientes, which means hot waters — it’s the town at the base of Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is named for the hot springs, and we went soaking in that warm, bubbling water every afternoon.

And why are you here? the nice woman asked me in Peruvian-accented English on our final afternoon in town. I was leaning against the tile wall of one of the soaking pools, watching the clouds coalesce in the sky, breathing in the fumes from the sulphuric water. Steven was sprawled along the bench on the other side of the pool.

Luna de miel, I said to the woman, which was one of three Spanish phrases I knew. She had a reddish wrinkled face and long gray hair. She wore a purple flowered bathing suit.

A honeymoon! she said. Congratulations.

We sat next to each other quietly then, her closing her eyes, me stretching out my legs in the grayish water. I think Steven might have been asleep.

And when you will have children? she asked.

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