Sonia exploded with such a fierce intensity that it startled Xavier, one of her boyfriends. “You’re always taking me places I don’t want to go to do things I don’t want to do.”
“You’re bleeding! The baby is in trouble. I can’t ignore this! Even if I wanted to pretend everything was all right, I can’t. I gotta think about the baby!” Xavier was visibly torn between doing what is right and what would be most convenient, and finally, what Sonia wanted.
Sonia answered back, as if nothing was wrong with her body bleeding during her pregnancy. “I’m so sick and tired of everything being about the baby! What about me? What about my needs?”
Xavier’s entire body stiffened at her self-centeredness. “What about you? What about you? You selfish, spoiled fool! This is about the baby growing inside you and not about your childish needs! Sit back and shut up while I get you to the clinic.”
“I just want things to go back to the way they were,” Sonia purred with a playful sexiness and great heaviness in her voice.
“Sonia, we’re not going back to the way things were. I can’t go back. I made a commitment to be a man—to be a better man. Things will never be the same again.” Xavier’s shoulders slouched, and his voice trembled as he explained this for the hundredth time to her. He pushed his foot down harder on the gas pedal. The car immediately lurched forward.
Sonia answered back, leaning toward him and attempting to stroke his inner thigh, “They can if you let them. I can make things change…if you know what I mean.”
Xavier picked up her hand as though it had leprosy. “I’m not going back to the way things used to be.” He jerked the car into the next lane and missed side-swiping an old Buick Le Sabre with an ancient, wrinkled, and severely frightened man trying to drive.
At this time of year there's always wind and a cool grayness surrounding the town. The air murmured loneliness. Trees at times seemed like a commodity, and the clean air they provided was even rarer. Plant life has grown into a sense of loss and grieving. The stale air was held captive and trapped between the rows of mountains. This acerbic air was the real killer for the town. But the air was also held hostage by all the large and small buildings that the people selectively inhabit. Either it was too hot or too cold to be outside. It seemed that the people of the town were never satisfied with what it is—instead, they were obsessed with what it should be. It can be heard from anyone in town that if Los Angeles and Sacramento did not have the winds sending all their caustic air, then the town would be a halfway decent place to live.
The people of the town wait for the something to happen to them. Rarely did they take the initiative to create or fabricate their own destinies. They lived behind enclosures, afraid to move, fearful to communicate, and sniffed the air as animals with dilated nostrils searching. According to the townspeople, it was not their fault the town was so caustic—it was the fault of the mountains and the wind, and that was why the air smells so bad. The great denial in this town was one of the many faults that bound them so tightly together.
The townspeople seemed to have the problem that many who lived in small communities have: Are they members of a farming community, oil community or a bedroom community for Los Angeles? Who are they, really? Everyone said they were a big city with a small-town feel. There were countless restaurants and businesses with the word hometown in their names and advertisements. No wonder they were crazy here. The town had not decided if it was big or small, or a farming community, or a business community. In fact, the town was even called the “Appalachia of the West Coast,” and they were called Okies but lived in the state of California, not Oklahoma.
The town was built in a desert, all of the street names, school names, and housing subdivisions had some reference to water or to a cool climate.
Sonia and Xavier were experts in attributing fault to someone else for their own inadequacies. Their way of accepting accountability was more along the lines of assigning fault by omission.
The Clinica Vista on Cerritos Road, or Surreal Road, as some affectionately refer to the six-lane highway, was a sad little fake adobe building with faded posters in the windows. This road was home to clinics, casinos, and ladies of the night, all of which had the power and desire to suck the life right out of any person. The cars, trucks, and buses rumbled past in a slow, methodical rhythm, taking people to places they did not want to go, for reasons they could not explain. The huge, half-arch sign that stretched itself to its limit across Cerritos Road proclaimed, Welcome. For years this sign had found safe harbor in the parking lot of the clinic but now had been moved to a side street and rested near the bar and restaurant aptly named The Crystal Place. This was a better location for the sign, but the clinic seemed to be missing its anchor. The cement blocks left looked like they were naked useless gray buoys attached to the shores of cement from the clinic’s parking lot.
Inside the clinic, magazines in both English and Spanish were tossed haphazardly on chairs. Only the baby books were left on the floor. The light was dim, creating a safe and lazy feeling. The glass aquarium with a dim green light was full of colorful fish, and these fish were the only living creatures waiting in the room. A small radio, with flashing lights instead of numbers, rested on the entry counter playing AM music of early Aretha Franklin. The beating of the music signaled to the clients that they were never alone.
Sonia and Xavier were inside a small examination room. The room needed another coat of paint to cover the already numerous patches of peeling paint of faded green, blue, and yellow over the now deep burgundy. The wall that had the examination table attached to it was full of names, numbers, and graffiti. On the ceiling were old and worn posters of fields of flowers and mountains. One could tell the posters had been brightly colored at one time. Polaroid baby pictures adorned the wall that shared the doorway and silently covered the light switch. The other wall, with the small slice of a window, had children’s books and racks of magazines—some new but mostly old.
Even with all the clutter, the room had a warm, comfortable feeling. Xavier was worried. Sonia’s attitude seemed to be one of disinterest to the point of absurdity. Sonia and Xavier were waiting for the outcome of the tests that Sonia took a week earlier. Both shared thoughts of lost loves and defunct dreams. Is the baby in trouble? Are there other major complications? The waiting was similar to the fear of the boogey man living under the bed, always waiting with fang and claw for just the right moment to pounce and take away all security.
Sonia said with a flippant tone in her soft, childlike voice, “You know that Vader would kill you if he knew you were here with me right now.”
Xavier fired back without hesitation, “Vader is a lot of talk.”
“You don’t understand. Vader really does hurt people… I’ve seen him do it,” Sonia whispered and placed her hand over her stomach.
Xavier pleaded with her as if from a rehearsed script,“Then why do you stay with him? It can’t be because he’s the father of the baby! You said I was! I’ve been a better man to that kid in your belly in the last few months than he ever could be!” Xavier looked at the posters on the wall as if searching for an omen. “Sonia, you said I was the father! Right?” He looked at Sonia, and she looked away, and tears rolled down her cheeks. He whispered, “I’m not?”
Sonia seemed to be talking to convince herself, “I know he loves me! Vader can be good. Life has just been hard on him.”
Xavier baffled at her response but answered as though he was John Wayne. “Even a blind man could see how much I love you.”
“What? You’ve been watching your cowboy movies again, haven’t you? You and that Pastor Manny! You’re trying to sound like that one old cowboy, aren’t you?” It seemed Sonia’s voice was softer, without an edge, and she was smiling.
Xavier seemed upset from her tirade about Vader. “You crazy little fool! Hard on him? Hard on him? We come from the same place. You don’t see me dealing drugs and slicing up anyone I don’t happen to like. I finished school and I’m working at the hospital. I got possibilities, I got skills, and I got a plan to get out of here. I want you to go with me.”
“Ah, cowboy and ride into the sunset?” Sonia answered playfully.
Xavier’s body became taut and his voice strained. “Sometimes I would like to blast you to the moon.”
“That doesn’t sound like something a cowboy would do. But you won’t because…” Sonia didn’t finish her sentence because Xavier grabbed her and pulled her toward him. His feelings triggered thoughts of guilt, and it was this guilt that in turn brought his thoughts to Pastor Manny.