FEATURE

Half of All of What Was True

by Josh Weil ’04SOA Published Winter 2011-12
  • Comments (0)
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Text Size A A A

No, that wasn’t true. She rolled off her back, straightened up, treaded water. Half of all that wasn’t true, she told herself, or at least it wasn’t true half of the time. She had not wanted to be a wife the way her mother was a wife: patching the family clothes, churning out feed for the men, a life devoted to the daily running of someone else’s things. But that was precisely the peasant woman’s world that she had left. To come here. With Rolly. She turned around, looked back at the river throwing its current at her. The rope swing was out of sight. She looked for a landmark she might recognize. Saw none. Not even a glimpse of road. Just the vast dry scrub of Mexico and the endless same on the Texas side. She lay herself into the current, started a steady crawl. She may not have wanted a husband, but she had wanted Rolly. Which, she reminded herself, was what she had. Her shoulders began to ache. She had only made it a small distance upriver, but she kept at it, elbows lifting lower over the water, hands dragging. She had wanted him more than she had wanted any of the rest. Or, at least, she had wanted him just as much. 

Somewhere around the time she reached the curve in the river, she realized that she still did. Deep in her, between the cold flutter of water against her downward belly and the sun rubbing its dry heat into the exposed back of her neck, she felt the fact of it hit. She coughed: water in her lungs, her breath suddenly choppy. She straightened up, treaded long enough to see that the rope- swing pole was still hidden from her. On the shore, the road was a black curve between humps of brown earth. She watched it, the river slowly pushing her backwards despite her treading, and started again, struggling back up to the bend, swimming hard. A sharp pain jabbed her side. She stopped. Rolled onto her back. “Cacat,” she said to the sky. It took her swear and smothered it in all its limitlessness of blue.

Illustration: Vivienne FlesherShe was wading ashore, still out of sight of the rope swing, when the truck pulled into view: a white SUV, green stripe slashed across its flank, gold insignia, flashers asleep on its roof. It sat there, idling. The man inside sat there, looking at her. She was acutely aware of how little she had on: two pieces of blue swimsuit, wet to near black, and nothing else but her ring. The water sucked at her calves. The SUV’s window slid down.

Buenas tardes, señora,” the border patrolman called.

He had taken his sunglasses off, and he held them dangling by one ear grip pinched between his teeth. 

“Hi,” she said. “I speak English. I was only swimming.”

His eyes seemed to squint. Even from that distance, she could tell it was more from smiling than from the sun. “That’s what they all say,” he called, “though I’ll give you it’s a rare one wears a bikini.” He spoke through his teeth, the sunglasses jiggling in time with his words. “You got a vehicle?”

She nodded.

“Where’s this vehicle at?”

“Up the road.”

“How far?”

“Not far.”

He seemed to wait for something else, then put his sunglasses back on. “Okay.”

She half-waved a goodbye. The truck sat there, shaking a little under its hood. He was pretending to look for something on the dash. She stepped the rest of the way out of the river. His eyes flicked back to her and slid the distance of her legs.

“You need a ride?” he said.

Around her, the river water dripped: small dark circles like beauty marks on the pale ground.

“Thanks. No.”

“You just gonna sunbathe there on the mud?”

“I can walk.”

His laugh made her feel as if she’d taken a half-dozen steps closer to the truck. “Well, so can I,” he said. “I can cook, too. But I still like to go to a restaurant.”

Walking around the front of the truck, she watched him reach across the seat to pop the door open for her. She stood in the blow of the air conditioner.

“I’ll get your seat soaked,” she said. 

While he reached for something in the back, she shifted from one foot to the other, the asphalt burning her feet.

“Stand up here on the runner,” he told her as he spread his jacket out. He did it neatly, folded it so she’d sit on the clean inside instead of the dust, made a perfect square pillow of it, patted it once. “Hop in,” he said.

As they drove, she listened to him talk to her, and tried not to say too much back, and tried even harder not to let herself look at him, and did. He had curly thick hair, so black it was nearly blue, eyebrows just as dark and thick and eyes even darker; they caught hers, held hers, and then let hers go with a glance back at the road. She looked out her window at the desert whipping by. It was a landscape she had only known with Rolly; she couldn’t imagine it existing without him, just as, after all these years, it was hard to remember how different he’d been without that landscape. 

The patrolman — he’d told her his name, but she had not wanted to remember it — was talking about a restaurant he knew in the city he was from. He smelled faintly of freshly ironed clothes. She could feel the trickles of the river all over her body, icy in the air conditioning; they sent shivers over her belly, her thighs. He reached over and shut the AC off. She gave her smile to the window instead of him. Rolly was the only American she had ever kissed. A strand of wet hair was stuck to her cheek, tickling her lip. She reached up to move it. As soon as she had, she felt his eyes flick to her hand, felt the sudden change in the air inside the truck. For just a second, she wished she had kept her fingers tucked beneath her thigh. As if on their own, her eyes slipped back to his again. But his stayed on the road. She could see him feeling her look. It surprised her how long it took before she let him out from under her gaze. Her body didn’t seem to want to yield the moment to him, even as she grew uneasy, then nervous; she could feel excitement pumping into her chest. She wondered if that was how men felt when they held their stares on women walking by. It had been so long since she’d kissed a man without a mustache that she couldn’t remember what it would feel like, other than completely different.

“That it?” he said.

“Sorry?”

“That your car?”

“Oh.” They were already passing it. “Yes. Yes, that’s —”

He braked, reaching suddenly across her front as they jerked to a stop. She fell forward against his arm. When he pulled his arm back, she could see a dark spot of wetness where her suit top had pressed at his sleeve.

“Sorry,” he said. “Reflex. I got a kid.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m divorced, but I got a kid.”

He said it coldly. Something about that got to her: the way he’d tried to use his voice like something sprayed between them to cover a scent; the snick of her door unlocking at the insistence of his finger on some button on his side; the way he still wouldn’t look at her, as if she had already done something wrong. 

“Would you mind pulling in?” she said. Some explanation about the asphalt burning her feet was on her tongue, but she held it. Instead, she just pointed with a small movement of her hand. 

“Down there?”

“If it’s no trouble,” she said.

He drove the SUV down to the edge of the picnic sand. The truck idled on the slant, its nose tilted toward the river. The patrolman pressed his weight on the brake pedal. Gravity pulled her toward the dash. She asked him if he had a cigarette. And watched him squirm under the decision of how to answer. He reached into an armrest cubby, brought out a pack, tapped it, let her pull one.

“Have to open the windows,” he said. “Chief doesn’t like the smell.”

They each slid their window down. The cool air leaked out. The hot air came in. He cupped a match for her. While she drew at it, she watched the sheen on the side of his neck, above his collar, where he was beginning to sweat. They smoked. They watched the river. His leg was shaking a little from pushing at the brake.

“This place private?” he said. His voice had lost its coolness. She wasn’t sure what had taken over in its place.

She shrugged.

“I mean, is it yours, or the town’s?” He said too fast, “I mean, is it something you made like this?”

“My husband did it,” she said.

He nodded a couple times, as if he had something to add to that. “Maybe we should just finish these,” he said, “and then I’ll be on my way.”

  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Recommend (53)
Log in with your UNI to post a comment

The best stories wherever you go on the Columbia Magazine App

Maybe next time