An excerpt from The Red Winds.

February 4, 2012

My mom suggested we take a walk, said it’d make us less restless. School was starting late this year, the Santa Ana winds had come early and she and I, we had nothing to do. When the winds blew like this, my whole street would stay inside, lighting their living rooms with the flicker of telenovelas. The only other person out was the mailman, making his rounds early to avoid the afternoon heat. He looked down when he passed us, said hello to the ground.

I wedged the back of my shoes off with my toes and peeled my socks inside out––I liked to see how long my feet could singe on the tar. Today I could take seven steps before I had to jump into the concrete rain gutter that ran alongside the road. My cat, a lion in the desert, walked beside us, stalking beetles and lizards I never saw. With my free hand, I pulled hair from my neck in clumps, sticky with sweat. “I’m not gonna carry your shoes,” she warned.

Our neighborhood was right off the highway, pinched between industrial strips, and our homes were as aluminum and grey as the warehouses that surrounded us. At the end of the block, a sign taller than any palm tree around announced our mobile homes: TWIN OAKS VALLEY PARK. I tugged my mom’s sleeve or pant leg and asked where all the oaks were.

“There used to be a massive one near here and it had these Siamese trunks,” she said, wrapping her forearms around each other so I could see what Siamese was. She stopped walking and stared up for a while, her arms locked like that, forgetting me and the drone of the highway and maybe even the sign she was looking at. “We cling to strange splinters of history,” she announced at last, and went on, the hot wind whipping hair into our eyes and mouths.

Our neighbors had maroon gravel lawns and cypress bushes trimmed into spheres and cones and spirals. “They’re all afraid to be different,” my mom said, “but not us, we’re strong.” Different meant we had a broken mirror mosaic on our front door. If you stood just right you could have three eyes and two necks.

When we first moved in she dug out the gravel and afterwards, we planted cherry tomatoes. We pretended they had already grown and she sat in the dirt, her back against the house, popping air into her mouth. Her hair was a perfect yellow, falling around her shoulders as she wiped the imaginary juice from my cheeks. The thing I loved about her most was her nose. It was broad and foreign. It made her ex-husband’s parents murmur disapprovingly about how she looked. “Too immigrant-y,” they said. She pointed to the roof and promised the vines would stretch all the way up there, but her brow furrowed sadly as she said it.

“I believe you,” I told her, looking up into the sun.


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