Other than the heat, nothing else here has changed. The cobblestone on the streets is as old as ever, and so are the yayas, who still perch on their balconies with the cats. They smoke the same endless Marlboro Red cigarillo and give the same slant-eyed stare to the young boys who stomp down the street below, scrawling words into the chipped paint that hangs off walls like dirty hangnails. When I was younger, you tried to tell me what those words meant. I didn’t understand then, but I know them now.
You come out onto the terrace with wet wrinkled linens in your hands and begin hanging them on the clothesline.
“I’m leaving,” you say, as if memorized.
My eyes are closed, but I know you’ve turned towards me. When I open them, I see the tan skin of your face, stained from fourteen Spanish summers.
“I’m leaving,” you repeat, now with a bite behind the words.
I can feel the rusted wires of the chair branding the back of my sunburnt thighs, but I don’t dare move my legs.
“Where?” I say, only once you’ve turned your glare back to the linens. You face the sunset like you’re on the mast of the Santa Maria, as if you’re the captain on this rusted terrace.
“Maybe Texas. They have cowboys there.”
“That’s only in the movies.”
You whip your head back around to me, and it becomes illuminated by the last rays of sun that still linger in the sky. It’s as if your hair isn’t hair—it’s fire, each red curl a burning flame.
“What would you know, Sandy? You’re only eleven.” You hold the remaining linens to your chest like a shield. “I could be a cowboy, if I wanted to. I just need a horse.”
“How are you going to get to Texas? By horse?”
“No, stupid. By boat.”
Like Christopher Columbus, I think, remembering what I learned in school. Standing twenty feet tall, finger pointed toward America, like he is in La Ramblas, encased in bronze.
“Where are you going to live?”
You pretend to ignore me, rolling the last wet sheet into a ball and throwing it on my lap.
You go inside and I follow you into our room, watching as you open and slam drawers, stuffing clothes into your backpack.
“What are you doing?” I already know.
“I told you.” The flames have moved from your hair to your eyes.
I caress the sheet, letting its cool dampness soak my hands.
“How far is Texas?”
“Is it hot in Texas?”
“Not as hot as here.”
“Have you told Papa?” I whisper, but I know you hear me because your body tenses up, and your hands freeze on the handle of a drawer. “Have you told Papa about Texas?” I say it louder this time, but my voice cracks.
You turn toward me. “Papa won’t notice.”
I think of Papa, how I always find him in the mornings still asleep on the couch with oil stains on his jeans and an Estrella stitched to his palm.
You reach out your hand. “Give me the sheet.”
I cling to the sheet harder, causing drops of water to land between my toes on the hardwood floor.
“I don’t care.” You try to grab it, but I step back just in time. “Give it to me, Sandy,” you growl.
You reach out again, this time clawing your nails into the fabric. You pull once, and I pull back, harder. Your hand is shaking, and I know you remember how we used to tuck this sheet in the corners of our twin-sized mattress, when it was still white, when it had a print of daisies. The daisies are gone now, buried somewhere under the beige sea of stains, unaffected by bleach. Mama used to wash this sheet in the bathtub, and on summer afternoons, she would hang it on the terrace. And the sheet would slow dance with the velvet evening breeze, to the never-ending song Mama used to croon in the kitchen. But that was before the daisies were wilted and faded, before the heat that stains this summer, before Mama died.
“Let it go.” Your voice wobbles with a stifled sob.
But I don’t.
The room is silent, except for the sound of water cascading to the floor—neither of us can say anything anymore. All we can do is hold on. As we squeeze tighter and tighter, water gushes out of the fabric, raining down on your sneakers until they are soaked, until the wood under my bare feet becomes slippery, but we don’t let our eyes fall from each other’s faces.
We stay like that for a while, like the cowboys in the Westerns you watch—sweat dripping from our foreheads, a steely stare down in the saloon, right before we pull our guns.
Maybe this is how it is in Texas. Even as tears drench your cheeks, your grip and glare stays strong, and I think maybe you could be a cowboy. Maybe I could too.