Half of All of What Was True

by Josh Weil ’04SOA Published Winter 2011-12
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Illustration:  Vivienne FlesherIt was the first hot day of spring. Here in her husband’s world, this Texas trailer park, that couldn’t have meant anything more different than what it had meant back in Romania, back in the mountain village where Rozalia had grown up. But, still, standing in the open door after Rolly had left for work, she felt an augural dryness in the air, felt her childhood on haying days, that same sense of a new sun holding back. She could almost hear her mother filling the water bottles at the pump, the steady clang of her father in the barn hammering last year’s bends out of the scythe blades. 

All morning in the doublewide, she kept the air conditioner off. She liked to work in heat, liked the way it made her muscles feel looser, the movements of her arms more fluid as she wove, the throb of her thigh as she pumped her foot, liked, too, the sweat; there was something more satisfying about finishing a piece with dampness sticking her back to the chair slats, something more done about getting up from the loom to wash the heat off her face with splashes of cold water at the sink. 

Maybe it was the heat of the day, or the fact that she had left the lights off and the dim bathroom felt a world removed from the glare of dirt outside, but she found she didn’t want to go back to her work. It was just after noon, a little later than the hour her father would have sent her down from the fields to make their lunch. Her grandfather would be the only one home, the only sound his steady breathing from the pallet where he slept in the dining room. The whole house still. Something delicious, almost sinful, about being at home, alone, in her parents’ house in the middle of the day. In the kitchen, she would saw through the bread, lay out the cold slices of lamb, small moons of radishes. Sometimes, she would call her little brother, send him up to the fields with lunch, wait for the sound of him talking to himself in his high child’s voice to fade into the distance, then slip from the coolness of the kitchen to the coolness of the barn, carrying with her a slice of lamb, bread, a small cup with an illicit taste of her father’s juice, and the tingling thrill of playing hooky. Always, when her father finally came down an hour later, he would be angry. Always, that hour of doing nothing in the cool, dark barn would be worth it. 

In the bathroom of the doublewide, she dried her face on the hand towel. It smelled of Rolly. She didn’t like how much she was thinking about the past these days. That’s not the kind of person she had ever been. But when she turned to leave the dimness of the bathroom, there was the bright sun blasting into her workroom down the hall, and the quietness of the trailer all around her, and Rolly, on the other side of town, working all day beneath pipes, and a younger voice than hers speaking to her in Romanian, whispering, as if afraid to wake her grandfather sleeping in the next room.

At the swimming spot, she pulled her car off the flat parking place Rolly had made and into the uncleared mess of sage, feeling foolish secreting it behind a mud bluff. She set the cooler in the car’s shade, spread her towel in the sun. 

The Rio was brown as puddle water on a dirt road, but the river was cool and the movement of the current made it feel clean. She swam against the drift for a while, first crawl, then breaststroke, then sidestroke, long and powerful, feeling pleasure in how well her muscles worked, how efficient she was — hands cupped just right, legs scissoring, her elbow barely lifting out of the water. She dove under, swam shut-eyed until she felt the bank. At the rope swing, she unlooped the rope from its hook. Even in the hot sun, a breeze shook a shiver from her. Through the entire rushing swoop, she clenched her teeth around a smile, and when the rope reached the end of its arc, she flung herself from it: a high, laughing shout launched into the air, away from her, as she dropped into her own explosion.

Floating on her back, shut eyelids glowing red, the sun hot on her face, she filled her chest with air and rode the river at the speed it took her. As a girl, she had loved swimming, had traveled two hours by bus to compete with the team in Sighetu, had loved chemistry, too, had been the best in her English language class, could have been a translator in Bucharest, in Washington, DC, at the United Nations; could have gotten certified, at least, been an English teacher in her own town, been a Romanian teacher in Cluj or Oradea; could have worked anywhere doing what she did now — London, Paris, Barcelona; had always dreamed of living in an apartment with a rooftop pool, of driving across America in her own car, visiting Chicago, in winter, to see just how bad it was; had wanted to be a doctor, a midwife, to go to a drive-in movie theater, have a membership to a gym, own a laptop computer, a laser printer, her own store. Maybe just a bar. But hers. Children? She had never wanted to be a mother. She had never even, really, wanted to be a wife. 

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