What We Talk About Now

By Daniel Rivas

You don’t know how disappointed you can be by life until you’re looking at it from somewhere high up and remote, the life you used to live so small, you can hardly believe it was ever real.

What I’m trying to say is, I didn’t want to watch the election returns come in. I just wanted to eat dinner. But Yesenia said it was important—for our daughter, for her mother, for everything. She had that look she gets, like a bonfire, her eyes so bright they’ll burn you up. Besides, she was wearing a pantsuit and a red, white, and blue ribbon in her hair.

So, I carried the TV over to the kitchen table and we watched it on mute. It was the same on every channel. The commentators pointed and nodded and projected an equanimity that began to fray as the wall-sized map behind them gradually turned red.

“Fuck,” Yesenia whispered.

“Mommy swore!” Abby shouted. She was only four, but already a stickler for the rules. That’s when I noticed Matty, our six-year-old, on top of the dining room table. How long had he been there? Every green bean was out of the serving bowl and arranged around it like rays of sunshine. Yesenia ignored him. I hollered and he climbed down slowly, savoring the victory.

Dinner ended when Abby tipped her plate onto the floor. Yesenia said, “Quiet!” as if there was something to hear. Our dog, Lucy, barked a couple of times and then, when no one moved to clean up, ate her fill.

“Let’s go. Time for bed,” I said and carried the kids, one in each arm, to their room.

All they wanted was attention. That’s what most problems with kids come down to. I helped them brush their teeth, then wrestled them into their pajamas and read a few books. After the last book, out of nowhere, Abby grabbed me by the shoulders and asked, “What are you eating under there?” I knew that corny old joke from when I was a kid.

“Why are you smiling?” she asked. She looked offended, so I put on a straight face and said, “Under where?”

They both fell on the floor giggling, and I sat on the bed grinning and pretending I didn’t know what was so funny.

I almost didn’t want to turn out the lights. That happens to me a lot. I know I’m the old man now, but I remember what it’s like to need to jump on the bed and flail your limbs and scream just because you have a body and a voice that’s just a little bit out of your control. They don’t think I know. They can’t imagine me as anything other than a thirty-something guy with a scruffy face and jiggly belly. Hell if they’re not right. I’ve got responsibilities now. And even though I wanted to curl up and go to sleep on the floor between them, I said good night and blew kisses into the dark, then listened for their small voices to release me back to the grownup world where I am a tourist without a ticket home.

I found Yesenia on the couch the long way, sitting on her knees, her black braids dangling down against her cheeks. She had her laptop open and the damn thing was dinging like a pinball machine.

“Fuck,” she said again.

“What’s going on?”

“I can’t even ….” She was shaking her head as if to get something loose.

“Not good, huh?”

She looked at me like I had smeared pudding all over my face. “It’s a disaster,” she said.

She was hunched over and seemed tense, so I came around and started massaging her shoulders. For Yesenia, a massage is almost as good as sex. Maybe it’s better, I don’t know. I used to dig my thumbs in and listen to her breath get faster and deeper, the little moans of pleasure when I found a particularly sore spot. I kissed her neck and tried to think of how I could take her upstairs, but I should have known that wasn’t going to happen.

She had three windows open on her computer. The biggest one was a graph that showed the hour-by-hour probabilities that each candidate would win. Blue was on top and red on the bottom. Every few minutes the line moved and the proportion of red and blue gradually changed. It reminded me of cut-away illustrations I’d seen of the ocean floor. From left to right the blue got shallower and the red climbed to meet the sky. The other screens were Facebook and Twitter, the streams flickering with despondency as she scrolled and “liked” and commented.

Lately, I’d been trying to stay out of social media. I’d deleted it from my phone a few months ago because it was like having a mouse in my pocket that squeaks until you pick it up, then it bites your finger.

“Let’s watch a movie. Or listen to music,” I said to Yesenia. “When was the last time we just sat down and played an album?”

“Be serious,” she said.

“I am serious. The election will come out the same whether you’re on there or not,” I said pointing at her computer.

She pivoted and raised her hands as if she were going to grab me by the throat. “We’re about to elect a reality TV host who sexually assaults women, who wants to create a registry of Muslim people, who calls immigrants rapists and murderers, who lies in nearly every speech he gives, who cons people with get-rich-quick real-estate schemes, who makes his money by putting his name on everything like a kid with a label maker, who is using his foundation to commit tax fraud, and who is best friends with a prime minister who murders his own citizens and shoots down passenger jets. Are you really saying I should watch a movie and forget about all that?”

She was panting as if she’d sprinted here. A year ago we were making jokes about his hair and calling everything “tremendous” and “spectacular.” After he won the nomination, there was a grim, gallows vibe to the humor, and eventually we stopped making jokes. I didn’t blame Yesenia for feeling like the world was ending. I felt it too, I think. But what could we do?

“I’m just saying, click, click, click won’t change anything.” I stabbed at the air with my pointer finger like I had a computer in front of me. She took a swing at my hand and missed.

“Fuck you,” she said, then turned on her heel and climbed the stairs to our room.

Marriage is a kind of democracy and no less dysfunctional than a real one. The kids are the Congress. They try to filibuster or sneak through loopholes and pork projects, usually involving candy or cheap toys. The grownups take turns being the executive and the judiciary, making plans that get upheld or overruled. Lately I’d been feeling like the lame-duck president—nobody ever wanted to do what I wanted to do and sometimes I got the sense that they were holding out for someone better to come along.

The food from dinner was still on the table and I tried not to look at it, but I hate wasted food, so I packed it away in Tupperware and dumped the dirty dishes in the sink. Then I poured myself a bowl of the chocolate cereal we only let the kids have on Saturdays and sat down in front of the TV. For a while, I watched that movie about the geeky kids who try to get beer and go to a party because a girl will be there. It was funny, but not as funny as I remembered.

“Seriously?” Yesenia said from behind me. I hadn’t heard her come down the stairs. I turned around and saw her frowning down at me, the laptop perched on her open hand. “That’s what you’re watching?”

I remembered the night we saw that movie together. It was a weeknight. She was pregnant and restless. We had to get out of the house and do something. “You remember seeing this?” I asked. “You were about eight months pregnant with Matty.”

“No,” she said, blinking at me.

“We got you two slices of pizza and two boxes of candy. And then, you remember? You made me go out and get you an ice cream halfway through.”

“I didn’t make you.”

“Okay, I wanted to. I don’t know why, but it made me happy to feed you.”

“Whatever,” she said. She was squinting sourly at me, but I could tell she remembered.

“Listen, my mom’s coming over in a few minutes, so turn that shit off.”

“Why?”

“Why turn off the TV?”

“No, why is she coming?”

Her eyes got big and she raised her free arm in the air. “Are you fucking serious? She doesn’t feel safe.”

“In Hillsboro?” I laughed a little. “Did Intel invent a super-intelligent evil robot?”

“You really don’t know what’s happening, do you?”

I shrugged, but I knew. Her mom had lived in the U.S. for almost forty years, cleaning houses under the table and selling her art in small galleries and coffee shops. From what I’d been able to piece together, she had a chance to become a citizen in the eighties, but she didn’t do it because she didn’t want to be part of a country that was using the CIA to install repressive regimes throughout Latin America. That was then.

“Are we going to hide your mom in our basement?” I asked.

Her eyes narrowed, her nose was like the sharp point of a spear.

“Maybe you’ll sleep in the basement.”

“Aren’t you overreacting a little bit?”

She laughed incredulously. “You don’t think they’d round up people America doesn’t want anymore?”

I’d watched the speeches like everyone else. He would stand up there wearing a shit grin, playacting at seriousness, all the while looking around to see if people were clapping and cheering. It was a performance, and not a very good one. Did he even remember half of what he said?

“He’s just a blowhard,” I said.

She scoffed. “You’re deluded. Besides, he’s not the point. White supremacists are attacking people, burning mosques. They’re after everyone who’s not like them.”

“The country isn’t going to go along with that. Violent people will get locked up.”

“You say that even after all the videos of unarmed black men getting killed by police?”

“That’s different.”

She went around to the back of the TV and unplugged it. “You would think that,” she said.

I sighed and got up and tossed my bowl in the sink. It was an old argument. My parents grew cherries in rural Montana. When the harvest was good we went into Missoula and my sisters and I bought school clothes while my dad browsed the tractors. Other years I wore pants that were too small for me or that had holes in all the knees. I never felt privileged until I met Yesenia. I still remember the first time I heard that word. She said, “You wear your privilege on your face every day. Recognizing it means being brave enough to look in the mirror and see what there is to see.”

She must have felt kind of bad about unplugging the TV because her voice softened a little and she smiled crookedly. “Will you try not to be an asshole for the rest of the night? At least while my mom is here.”

“Sure,” I said as if she’d asked me to get her a snack.

She sat down at the table and I stood in the doorway to the kitchen. Lucy circled the table, sniffing the floor and looking around as if she’d lost something. It was stressing me out. “Go lie down!” I said and pointed to her bed by the refrigerator. She slowly walked over and lay down, head on paws, looking at me with the saddest eyes you’ll ever see.

“Damn it,” I said and grabbed another bowl of cereal. I ate it over the sink.

There was a knock at the door, a little tap-tap-tap almost as if it were trying not to be heard.

“My mom!” Yesenia said and rushed to the door.

On the other side, Alma and Roy stood in a huddled mass. When she saw Yesenia, Alma stepped forward and collapsed in her arms saying, “Oh, mija, mija, mija.”

I came over and reached out to shake Roy’s hand. “Come on in, it’s cold out there,” I said.

“Yes, ven, ven,” Yesenia said, ushering her mother by her elbows to the dining room table.

Yesenia and her mom had always been close. We saw Alma three or four times a week even though she lived about 20 miles away. Yesenia had never met her dad and for a long time it was just them, so I understood it and didn’t complain much about the long drives after work just for a bite of dinner or to drop off a borrowed sweater.

Roy took Alma’s coat and hung up his with hers. I shuffled between the table and the coatrack, not sure what to do with myself. “Good to see you, Roy,” I said. He nodded mutely and reached out to shake hands again, patting the back of my hand as if we were at a funeral.

I’d always liked Roy. He looked like a bus driver in his blue Dickies and black New Balance shoes, but he was a bodhisattva of sorts. He bowed a lot and was always jotting things down in a little notebook he carried in his shirt pocket. He was what I liked to call an OG—“Original Granola.” The affectations were all real and unintentional. Apparently, he’d hung around the Pranksters for a while, but it was a rough crowd. “Too much drugs, not enough clarity,” he told me once. Instead he ran a meditation center in town and went to the mountains for weeks at a time to read and write poems. He met Alma at a WTO protest and lived with her on Division Street for a while, but when all the shops and restaurants came in, they got priced out to Hillsboro. I think he likes Hillsboro better because the apartment building runs up against some woods. He told me he goes out there and just sits with his eyes closed, listening for the footsteps of the forest animals.

Alma came over to me and gave me a kiss on each cheek and asked, “You taking care of my babies?”

“Of course,” I said and she patted my neck.

Eventually, Alma and Roy sat down at the table. This seemed to make Lucy happy. She trotted around as if herding us to our chairs.

I asked Roy if he wanted a ginger ale. “You have any tequila?” he asked. That surprised me. I couldn’t think of the last time I’d had a drink with Roy.

“Now you’re talking,” I said and rubbed my hands together. All of a sudden it felt like a party. I showed him to the kitchen and we took down a bottle of Jose Cuervo and four shot glasses. When we got back, Yesenia and Alma were whispering like sisters, Yesenia’s hands wrapped around her mother’s. Alma’s eyes were red and her wiry black and gray hair was even more electric than usual.

“Alma, you look like you need a drink,” I said.

She nodded and said, “Thank you.”

I set the glasses up in a row and poured little splashes of tequila in each one. Roy passed them around and we all stared at our shots. Someone needed to say something, not a toast, but something that made it okay to drink. I looked at Yesenia, but she was looking at her mother, so I gave it a try.

“I know this hasn’t been a good day, but I just want you all to know that there’s nobody I’d rather get drunk with.”

I’d hoped for a smile at least, but nothing. Nobody even picked up their glass, so I put mine down too.

Alma turned toward Roy. “What’s that Gary Snyder?” 

He seemed to know exactly what she meant. He said, “Things spread out/rolling and unrolling, packing and unpacking,/—this painful impermanent world.”

“Yes,” Alma said, nodding her head.

It made me a little jealous that they could do that—ask half a question and answer it with a poem. I sometimes felt sorry for old Roy because Alma was a strong woman and she had a tendency to boss him around, but he had something here that I’d still hoped for. Sometimes I would imagine the kids grown up and it’s just Yesenia and me banging around our little house, one of us reading out loud from a book because we’re too excited to keep it in our head.

“That’s beautiful, Mama,” Yesenia said, as if Alma had been the one to recite the lines from memory.

Everyone seemed to forget their drinks, so I lifted mine and tried again. “To the painful, impermanent world.” This time I didn’t wait. Alma drank hers in one swallow. Roy sipped. Yesenia didn’t touch her glass, just stared knives into me as if I’d done something wrong. It was the same look she gave the kids when she thought they should have known better. Sometimes it felt as if she was trying to make me the third kid.

“Mama, you can stay here tonight,” Yesenia said. “You take our bed. Mark and I can sleep in the living room.”

“No, no, mija. I can’t put you out of your bed.”

“We have an air mattress and a couch, we’ll be fine. Besides, we might go out.”

It was the first I’d heard about going out. “Where?” I asked.

“I need to check. There’s a protest being organized.”

“Why?”

She stared at me like I was a raccoon on the garage. “What do you mean, ‘Why?’”

“I don’t mean ‘why,’ really. I mean, ‘What are people protesting?’”

Her eyes narrowed and I could see her sharp little teeth. She leaned toward me as if she were going to head-butt me. “I thought you said you wouldn’t be an asshole for the rest of the night.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“How am I being an asshole? People voted. It’s not like there was a coup or something. Think about what we tell the kids: ‘You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.’”

“You think this is a fit?”

I knew I was pressing my luck, but I could already see the footage on Fox News, angry shouting looped in the background, the commentators calling “the liberals” both whiners and bullies at the same time, while sixty million people nodded along from their armchairs. We don’t live in a world where people can see you shouting on TV and understand your heart. I doubt we ever have.

“Yeah, I kind of do.”

She shook her head angrily and pushed back from the table. “This is why nothing changes!” She grabbed her phone and went to the couch. “It’s thinking like that. Like the plutocrats are going to turn over the keys and let people drive someday if we just go along. The system’s rigged to make you docile and easy to control!”

I laughed. We’d been hearing it for weeks and she seemed to have no clue. “Isn’t that what he was saying?” I said.

“What?”

She peered over the back of the couch like a soldier in a foxhole, eyes big, that fight-or-flight look in them. I should have left it alone, but maybe I am like the kids. Maybe I pick fights because I want attention. I don’t know what goes on in me, but I remember, even as I was provoking her, I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her it was going to be okay.

“He said what you’re saying.”

“Are you serious?” she asked.

I was sweating and I could feel a little tremor in my hands like they didn’t agree. “Not about the plutocrats, but the rigged system, I mean.”

She waved her phone in the air and turned her back to me saying, “I can’t talk to him. He acts like a child.”

I turned to Alma and tried to look sorry, but she just tapped her glass. I lifted the bottle toward Roy and he waved me off, so I poured Alma and me another shot and tried to change the subject.

“Alma, what are you working on right now? You painting something?”

“My Guernica,” she said.

I didn’t know art all that well, but I knew the painting because Yesenia showed it to me just after the invasion of Iraq. “Like the Picasso?” I asked.

“Yes, but mine is more like Rubens meets Dali. The devil is in the details,” she said, shaking her finger at me.

“Cubes?” I asked.

“Hair,” she said and swirled her hands above her head as if they were caught in a dust devil.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

She looked at Roy, who leaned in to explain. “It’s really something. The composition is like Picasso’s Guernica. You see the horrors of war from the ground level. But it also has that epic, mythological feel of Rubens. They’re all there—Bush, Duke, Rumsfeld, Wallace, Jones, Thurmond, Arpaio, Hannity—watching the theatre of violence from above while masses of people are dying below them. What makes it special is that Alma elevates it all to the hyperreal fantastical, like Dali, or I think of Frida Kahlo’s exposed hearts—although Alma doesn’t like being compared to Frida.”

“Sounds cool,” I said, but I was having trouble picturing it. I’d always liked Alma’s work. It made me feel as though I were looking through a window into another dimension where everything is just a little off somehow. “What’s the hair about? Help me imagine it.”

Roy leaned in further, his chest against his arms. He blinked excitedly and licked his lips.

“The hair is the best part. It weaves around everything, strangling people, animals, trees. It’s a killing field, but there’s no blood, no gore. Everything suffocates in that hair. She’s saying it’s his vanity that will kill us.”

I picked up my glass to drink, but it was dry.

Alma tapped her glass and I poured us both another. I was starting to feel like I was in a warm ocean, the tide bouncing me away to a place where everything was small and beautiful.

“I was at Tlatelolco,” she said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

Yesenia let out an exasperated guffaw from the living room. Roy started to explain about the student protests in the sixties and then I remembered. I’d watched a documentary about it in college. There’s footage of the army marching in the streets and small children running alongside them as if it were a parade. Later, during the shooting, people tumbled over the walls to escape the tanks while the soldiers advanced like conquistadors. There was a big cover-up and still nobody knows how many people died.

“I was in love with a boy from the university,” Alma said. “He was tall and had long hair to hide his big ears, but he had a serious face and was always talking revolution. He liked to take me to meetings, I think to show me off. I was only sixteen. I’d sit in the back and listen while the boys sweated and hollered and the priest tried to calm them all down. At Tlatelolco he got up and gave a speech. This was in the days when the army was taking over school buildings and everyone wanted to know what to do next. I could hear helicopters and whispers about the army coming. Then there were red and green streaks in the sky and shooting. Everyone was pushing, trying to run. People fell and didn’t get back up. I ran and ran and ran. When I got home that night my mother grabbed my face and screamed at me, ‘¿De quién es esta sangre? Whose blood is this? Whose blood?’ It was all over me, but it wasn’t mine and I didn’t know where it came from. I can still hear her voice.”

Yesenia was listening from the living room. “Do you regret going?” she asked quietly.

“No,” Alma said, almost surprised.

This seemed to calm Yesenia a little. She came back to the table and sat down, tapping and swiping at her phone like the conductor of a miniature orchestra.

“A bunch of people are meeting at Pioneer Square at eleven,” Yesenia said. “I think I’m going to go.”

“Roy and I can stay with the kids,” Alma said.

“I don’t think I’m going out tonight,” I said to Alma. “I have work in the morning.”

Alma nodded. Yesenia stared at her phone.

I poured Alma and me another round, topped off Roy, and nudged Yesenia’s full glass toward her. My Spanish wasn’t very good, but I lifted my glass and said, “Por los deseparacidos.” Everyone drank, even Yesenia, and for a minute we felt like a family.

For the next hour, we watched Yesenia on her phone and listened for updates on the vote count in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania. The numbers kept going the wrong way. There were often tears in Yesenia’s eyes now.

Finally, Roy broke in and asked in that way counselors and shrinks do, “Yesenia, how are you doing?”

The question caught her off guard. She looked at him like he was speaking Russian.

“I’m worried about you,” he said, and I watched her as the hardness in her face gave a little and her mouth went crooked the way it does when she’s trying not to cry.

“I haven’t been able to sleep all week,” she said. “I have these dreams where I’m in a metal box and I’m on a truck, but I don’t know where I’m going.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

She took a deep breath and said to Roy, “This election has really fucked with my brain. The country is too big, you know? You can’t go to all three hundred million people and say, ‘Look at me like a human being!’ You can’t do nothing but worry and complain and hope.”

“It’s really difficult right now,” Roy said sympathetically.

“I was just hoping that we wouldn’t fall off a cliff, you know? And now here we are. Here’s the cliff. We walked right up to it.”

I didn’t like the idea of Yesenia saying she’s going over a cliff. You can make a lot of things in this world true just by believing them.

“You don’t really think he’s going to build a wall, do you?” I said.

“He already has,” Alma said quietly.

Yesenia nodded emphatically, but seemed to be unable to speak. Everyone sat with their thoughts for a minute. Maybe Alma was right. Maybe the point was never to build an actual wall, but to feel as though you’re living in a country of walls where you were either on one side or another.

“You remember that night when Obama won?” Yesenia asked me. She said it like we were remembering someone who died. “You were hooting and hollering up and down Broadway.”

I did remember. That night we shouted ¡Sí se puede! for hours. I saw people who lost their shoes somehow, as if their bodies had lifted right out of them. There was a conga line and someone just grabbed me and I was in it, bouncing along with hundreds of people. It felt like flying. It felt like a hundred years ago.

I waited for her to say more, but she went back to her phone. The Cuervo was seven-eighths gone and I felt determined to finish it. I poured tequila in every glass and said, “To better days,” but Alma and Roy seemed to be wandering around in their memories now and Yesenia was in cyberspace, so I drank my shot alone.

“Alma, I got to know,” I said. “You’ve been in this country without papers for a long time. Do you still worry that someone’s going to knock on your door and take you away?”

She nodded thoughtfully.

“When Yesenia was a girl, the house had a crawlspace under the kitchen. She was very little when I showed it to her. I had a friend, a beautiful mosaic artist, an abuelita with the most intelligent hands. She agreed she would move into the house and take care of us if anything happened.”

“But Yesenia’s a citizen. And what about school?”

“My little girl was not going to live in someone else’s home. She’s my blood, mi corazón.”

“Now you have Roy,” I said.

“Yes,” she said and reached across the table to take his hand.

I thought about Alma living below the floor and Roy above it. He loved her so much he’d probably crawl down there with her, leaving the hatch open for them to get found. I couldn’t decide if that made him a fool or a hero.

“But how many thousands of people have been deported over the last eight years? I heard just the other day on KBOO that Obama has deported more people than any other president.”

“This one made friends with Nazis,” she said. “Maybe it is all a game for him, but for the Nazis it is no game.”

Alma held her glass between her two hands and stared deep into the bottom.

“You know why I came north?” she asked.

I tried to think, but I didn’t know. I’d always assumed it was the same for everyone—you make more money here.

“After Tlatelolco, someone came to my door and I was lucky. I wasn’t there.”

Even with the tequila warming my blood, I felt a chill at the thought of the Mexican military coming for Alma. Could it happen here? What is the distance between possibility and paranoia? Can you only know the difference once it’s too late?

Yesenia put down her phone. “You never told me that,” she said.

Alma shrugged. “Just a bad memory.”

Yesenia looked at me, really looked for the first time in I don’t know how long. It embarrassed and excited me. I could feel heat radiating around my head and I thought my heart was going to pop like a champagne cork.

“Would you?” she asked.

“Would I what?”

She had a mystified little smile on her face as if she’d crossed a border into another country and it looked nothing like she’d expected. “If they came for me. Would you hide me?”

“We shouldn’t be talking like this,” Roy said.

“Shut up,” Yesenia said quietly.

If it wasn’t for that question, I could have sat there looking at her all night. We used to lie in bed at three in the morning and I would gaze at her, drunk on the idea that she was right there, in front of me, waiting to be touched.

“You’re crazy,” I said, pretending it was all a big joke.

“Don’t gaslight me,” she said. “Just answer the question.

“They wouldn’t come for you. You’re a citizen.”

She spread out her arms as if inviting me to look at her. “I’m brown—dark, ethnic, empowered. I’m a dangerous Latina bruja.” She raised her eyebrows as if to dare me to challenge her. “I’m the kind they come for first.”

“Stop it,” I said. “No one’s coming for you.”

“You can think that because you’ll be all right. You and the kids have light skin and gringo names. They’ll just want me.”

“For what? What’d you do?”

She laughed and shook her head like I was a lost cause. “That’s how it works, isn’t it? They tell everyone that the one they took away did something wrong so that you can pretend it’s not about you.”

I got up and tried to wrap her in my arms, but she ducked away and went around the table to her mother’s side.

“You’re stalling,” she said shaking her finger at me.

“You’re asking if I would hide you?”

“Just answer.”

The table felt like a whole country between us. How can you spend every night with someone and still be so far away?

“Of course I would,” I said. I reached across the table to take her hand, but my arm bumped the bottle of tequila and it spilled, the spirit running along a crack in the wood like a flooded river.

Roy grabbed a towel. Yesenia didn’t say anything, but I could see the doubt in her eyes. It was like a mudslide. The cliff we were standing on had given way and now it was crushing all the years beneath it.

Yesenia looked away as if asking herself a question, then she went to the little basket where we kept mail and pulled an envelope out of the overflowing pile.

“You didn’t vote,” she said, waving the unopened envelope at me. Her mouth went crooked again. She blinked and blinked and blinked, but could never stop being disappointed by what she saw.

“We live in Oregon,” I said, more pleading than arguing. “She was always going to win Oregon. What did it matter?”

“It matters to me that you care,” she said.

She tossed the envelope on the floor and said, “I’m going to the protest.”

“I’ll go with you,” I said. “Roy and Alma, you’ll stay with the kids, right?”

“Sure. Of course,” Roy said.

“No,” Yesenia said. “I’m going by myself.”

She started putting on her shoes and soon Alma and Roy were at the door pushing their arms through their coat sleeves. I squeezed between all of them and the door and put my arms up as if to catch them, as if they were the ones falling and not me. Lucy, sensing something was happening, pushed her nose against Yesenia, then me, then sniffed Yesenia’s shoe.

“Everyone, it’s been a shitty day, all right? Stay. Please. Just sit down and have another drink.”

Yesenia ignored me. She fished around in her purse for her ID and a couple of dollars and tucked them into her back pocket.

“Thanks for the drink,” Roy said, shaking my hand.

“You bet, Roy. Anytime,” I said.

I bent down to kiss Alma, but she patted my cheek sadly and shook her head. “You’re young,” she said.

Yesenia slipped past me, pulled open the front door, and stepped out into the cold.

“Senia, don’t go. Stay here. Let’s talk about it.”

I tried to hug her with one arm and tug gently at her ear with the other, our old game from when we were dating and it was time to go home and I didn’t want to leave.

“Stop, okay? Just stop,” she said, brushing my hand away and rubbing her ear.

She walked to the bottom of the stairs and I said, “At least let Roy give you a ride.”

“No,” she said and kept walking.

Roy, Alma, Lucy, and I watched Yesenia walk down the street in the direction of the Max station. The streetlight was out, so it wasn’t long before all I could see of her was the bouncing white stripe in her ribbon and her white kicks stomping away into darkness.

Roy and Alma mumbled something and shuffled to their car. After they were gone I stood for a while in the sobering wind and listened for her. For some reason I still hoped she’d come back, that she would call out to me from inside the darkness and emerge as if conjured by my own heart.

The night was so quiet. The trees, the unlit porches, the smear of moon glowing faintly through the clouds. Even the cars on the highway seemed to be whispering, as if they were being careful not to wake someone.

“Fuck,” I said quietly.

I don’t remember coming inside or falling asleep on the rug, but sometime in the night Abby shook me awake and said, “Daddy! The front door’s open! I’m cold!”

What could I say? How could I tell her that whatever we’d been afraid would come in through the door was already here?

“I know,” I said, and closed my eyes. “Go back to bed.”


Dan Rivas earned an MFA from the University of Michigan and has published work in Brick, The Scene, and Oregon Humanities. He lives and writes in Portland, OR.