Short Story: Toad – Part 3 of 3

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Even though the agreement was for her to start after she gave birth Maritza started learning coding right away and for the next four months she worked at the restaurant till she was seven large months pregnant.  It was a period of hyper focus because she wasn’t going to have the time or energy for the months following the birth and she didn’t want anyone else to jump in and take the opportunity away from her.  The first step is to study CSS HTML, and Javascript.   

With the confidence of her new job her life plan was while she has child number one she will be a Front End Developer. Then after her second and last child she will become a Back End Developer.  The odds in Vegas of Diego being ‘the sperminator’ for that second child have been dropping steadily.  

Maritza’s due date was October 16 so Diana arrived Sept 30 just in case the baby wanted life to start a few weeks early.  

She wanted her mom to be with her when she had children.  But she knew by the time she was 14 years old she would never leave her hometown – the mini universe of petty importances – if she got married and had a child there.  It was painful but with the reports of increasing ‘femicidios’ she knew it was the right thing to do.

To begin with it worked out really well.  Diego was on his best behaviour; still a bit nervous and ashamed he got his girlfriend knocked up.  Diana loved seeing her daughter after three years and she spread that love on Diego’s toast too.  For a while.  Diana liked Diego but he just couldn’t get with the program. He would do anything you asked.  But you had to ask him to stop watching videos and put down the phone.  He worked full time but other than that there was a weak response to the fact of the cost of raising a family.  He didn’t party – he didn’t do anything. 

Diego’s mom died when he was around four years old so he ended up living with cousins till he was a teenager.  His dad became unhinged; unable to transition from grief to widower/dad/homemaker/happy person who didn’t drink everyday and just plop white bread and peanut butter on the kitchen table for his two boys to make their sandwiches to take to school.  His dad’s sister Blanca took over the role of responsible adult.

His dad visited a few times but his absence fertilised weeds of disdain to germinate in their garden of young man formation.  Of course the boys felt rejected and wound up with contorted relationships with love for a long time.  Perhaps that was one of the things that Maritza and Diego had in common. His limited lexicon of love was familiar to Maritza.  Not quite comforting but at least she knew what she was dealing with having seen her dad come back from Oregon without the words or the balls to improve the situation with her mom.   

Maritza explained her theory to her mom that since Diego was brought up by his Aunt and embarrassed about his dad and afraid they might kick him out if he and his younger brother became too much of a burden he didn’t impose.  That is why he had programmed himself out of ambition.  And probably the same for drinking.   He didn’t drink.  He went to church every two weeks to pray for aunt Blanca who was sick and had been for a while.  Diego sent her money on her birthday and at Christmas – 250 bucks – which surprised Maritza.  At first she didn’t say anything but now with needing things for the baby and el mendigo coche things had changed.  She can see that conversation about Aunt blanca coming soon.  Her mom was totally in agreement.

It was cramped in their one bedroom apartment.  Mom created her tidy corner for living.  They  pulled the couch out from the wall and put a foam mattress down.  She would nap with the baby when Maritza had gone out to shop.  In the space between conscious and unconscious is that beautiful feeling of experiencing your mind compressing.  It might have been a dream in sleep or had her mind imagined she was back in Mexico as a young mother with infant Maritza.  But instantly she realized that was silly because she lived in fear in Mexico of her loncheria being targeted by the narcos and she was breathing in the smells of her granddaughter.

Maritza told her mom she wasn’t married to Diego in any civil or emotional sense.  She wanted chdilren and she didn’t want stupid parent problems impacting the development of her children.  Diego was perfect for the job.  He was not anything remarkable: a little pudgy, not funny or depressing, not ugly or rich, not violent or warm, or not ambitious. 

Diana talked with him one Saturday morning when the two of them were walking with the baby in the carriage that everyone at the restaurant had chipped in for and given her as a gift.  In fact they had offered to give Diego a job.  He would have been making less money but it would have been stable and they would still have benefits.  He would have to improve his English and to him that meant reading and lots of things going too fast for him and not understanding.  Any book caused a white rain in his head that didn’t let him think.  His English wasn’t that bad but he made no effort to learn. It made Diego feel too domesticated.  He needed to be the man to go out and make his money to support his family in a job he found doing work he learned.  He didn’t need help.

Diana sensed he felt guilt from how his childhood went.  She told him he was not responsible for his parents.  How could he be?

“Hijo, as parents we make mistakes.  The ones you are going to make are enough.  You can’t also carry the sins from the previous generation.  You are so good to send money to your Aunt Blanca.  She will understand if you have to focus on your family now.  She has her own children to help her.  You have helped them so much.”

Diego sent money to Aunt Blanca so that he could feel a mother’s love.  He was too scared to go out into the world by himself.  His past was bullying his present.

“Hijo, you are a good man.  Your family loves you and needs you. Here.  Now,” said Diana.

Diana living with them allowed Maritza to study more and sleep more and obviously she was a great cook so Diego’s lunches were famous on the job site.  Diana made him dishes that he could share with the guys at lunch time so they liked having him on the team – so they didn’t fire him for being a lazy dumbass.  

She made tacos dorados, flautas, chiles en vinagre and she always gave him an extra bottle of agua de Jamaica sweetened with piloncillo.  She taught Diego how to make hand made tortillas so when she was gone he had a specific task in the kitchen.

She opened Fonda Diana two years before she got pregnant with Maritza.  It was such a hoe-in-the-wall restaurant with economical food for locals.  The revenue often just covered costs and everyone knew they had nothing really.  Just the house. Her father-in-law had divided his property up in equal parts for each of his six children.  Diana and Rodolfo had their plot closest to the road where they built their two bedroom/one bathroom house as newlyweds 20 years ago.  Diana wanted a little more distance between her and her in-laws but she didn’t have her own free property up her sleeve.  Being closest to the road gave the illusion of an easy escape in case of emergency. 

Now this was her turn being away like her husband.  Diana was traumatized by her husband’s experience in the US. Even though Maritza had her work permit Diana still had fear la migra was gonna knock on the door.  

She needs to be in the same place as her biggest worry.  In her marriage there was no worry nor love.  At least not love that flowed between the two of them.  There was his support of wanting the mother of his children to be healthy.  But there were no emotional hydraulics that kept them connected, rejuvenated or feeling appreciated.

Their love was like a coiled and faded green garden hose that sits in the grass beside the house – the grass growing all around it.  The water in the hose gets heated every day and cooled every night but never quenches anything.  There was endearment from him to her because he knew she knew he had cheated on her in Oregon.  Or as Maritza at four years old would say – oregano.

With her mom around Maritza started speaking more in English to Diego so her mom wouldn’t understand.  Diana understood they were a family and needed to have their privacy.  As a young family they had so many unknowns, of baby sleeping and parents not/diaper rashes/not trusting the doctor/medicine and diapers/noisy neighbours, arriving at once, like it was a surprise party no one told you that you were hosting.   Diana would ‘go to the store’ just to give them some space.   But winter had placed a white canvas on the ground after the beautiful palette of autumn fiery reds, glowing oranges and comforting yellows.  The cold was hard and penetrating and was more than necessary.  All the cold you needed was to make snow, why get colder, thought Diana, when she looked at her phone and it said minus 17 degrees Celsius.

 Diana sat in the coffee shop with her sugary medium hot chocolate.  She took her coat off and hung it on the back of the chair like the Canadians with their large double doubles.  She thought if she acted like them her marrow might radiate some warmth through her body.  She bought the hot chocolate because there was the word hot right in the name.   Diana cupped the hot chocolate with her pale hands.  It’s like she was wearing special lead gloves that didn’t let any radiation through.   She didn’t want to complain and cause her daughter any stress and pass that to the baby.  

She needed a hug.  She found a gif of a boy wearing a toque,snow on his head and frozen snot coming out of his nostril.  She sent it to her sister back home.   Her sister sent her a gif of a smiling devil with a bottle of booze.   Diana had planned to stay six months but cut it short saying that her son back in Mexico needed taking care of because he was getting sick and wasn’t eating well because dad was a moron in the kitchen.  And elsewhere.  They had Sandra’s first Christmas together and she left in mid January.  She was too cold to stay.  

Her tears were going in all directions.  They were falling up in the joy of being a grandmother of a beautiful shining life.  They were falling down in sadness at the stupidness of husbands and son-in-laws and sons not knowing how to love.

They were falling sideways at being 54 years old, grandma, mother-in-law, and feeling needed for what she did and not loved for the woman she was.

She knew what kind of woman she was.  Not from a sense of self-confidence based on life success.  She knew because Maritza told her.

“Mama,  I’m not going to miss you,” said Maritza, which shocked Diana.

“Because I will have you morning, noon and night.  Because I need to be strong for Sandra and caring at the same time.  All I have to do is exactly the same as you did for me.  Everyday. Resilient and dignified and creative and…”

“Ya basta,” Diana stopped Maritza and reached for Sandra to cradle her one last time before she went home.  Only Diego drove her to the airport because Diana couldn’t handle the car trip with the joy of being with Sandra and the sadness of having to leave.

Maritza didn’t want to have two children from different fathers so Operation Rogelio was live: get drunk while eatng dinner, have sex and hopefully get pregnant. Maritza figures by the time Rogelio (she has decided it will be a boy and his name is Rogelio) is five years old she can take out the blue recycling bin with Diego in it.   Have him get picked up and out of her life and he can get repurposed by another woman.

“Oye gordo, can you jump in your sexy car and run down to the liquor store and get us a bottle of wine for dinner.

“What colour?” asked Diego, liking the idea that he drove a sexy car.

“Red menso.  Have you ever seen me drink white wine in my life?”

“I dunno maybe when …”

“Make it one of those one litre bottles.  Here’s 20 bucks.”

As the door closed she could hear him jingling his keys with the satisfaction of a man with purpose. Click/clack the door to their second floor apartment closed.  She stood there feeling like she was watching the final credits of a bad movie you sat through hoping to be moved by it at some point – and the best part of the movie was the popcorn.

Maritza said to the closed door,

“You are a toad.”

From the short story series Tool by Kevin McNamara

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