I accidentally bump into her grocery cart and that’s when I recognize her. It’s Marcella, from the old neighborhood. She looks startled, as if she can’t recall how the infant she’s holding got into her arms. She must be thirty now. When she realizes who I am—her neighbor from the Second Ward, from back when she was young enough to ride her bike without a t-shirt—she blushes a moment, then nods her head shyly, cradling her infant closer.
“Thomás,” she says, remembering.
Seeing her reminds me of the night Solomon was gunned down in the bungalow that separated her family from mine. El Alacran gang members targeted the wrong spot. Solomon was five and they got him in his sleep, a stray bullet splintering his carotid artery. Marcella would have been about nine. I’d just finished my first quarter at the Institute, still living with mom. Now it’s 1970 and we’ve both moved up, shopping for food here in River Oaks.
Marcella wears a giant rock on her ring finger and when I ask what she’s doing these days, where she’s living, she bobs the sleeping infant against her chest and explains that he is her seventh child. She looks almost happy and she’s clearly provided for, so I leave it at that. But for the next twenty minutes I wander the aisles, indecisive. My stomach churns and I find my way to the parking lot where I can sit in my car, mind reeling.
There isn’t anything in that store to soothe the things I’ve swallowed, things that seeing Marcella makes me taste all over again. There’s Solomon down there, his tiny body like a scar along my stomach lining. There’s the day my abuela died, too soon, my mother wailing at the wake. There’s Nutria getting an abortion and my sister leaving us. The boyfriend who hit her so hard her jaw unhinged—the only man I ever wanted to kill. It all festers, acid hot in my throat, my hands gripping the wheel with so many years gone past and still—I’m driving nowhere, nowhere fast at all.