Erica's home from a year of study in Mexico
Returning from a year of study in Mexico City, her mother picked her up at the airport. She would stay the weekend in Dallas and then travel to Houston and sail to Belize with her father. Erica’s mother wanted to introduce her to a lieutenant of hers in the rehab facility, the Blue Wing, regarding her future and a potential match. Her mother had invited the young man to dinner. "I think you'll like him," she said, "one of our best."
A heroin epidemic rising in Dallas over the past years, Erica's mother was hired as director of the Blue Wing on the strength of her former work as a counselor, to the effect of drug-related arrests dropping throughout all of southwest Nebraska and northwest Kansas, along with law enforcement expenditures. She had worked for years in Kansas to win a state-sponsored broadcast on areawide morning radio. Arrests and expenditures continued tailing off as the program endured for several years. Completing a masters degree, she applied for positions across the country, choosing Dallas for the challenge.
Erica's mother wanted to stop by the supermarket to pick up groceries for dinner. "I want to go home," Erica said, put off by spending another hour away from her bath, its allure over the day becoming an itch. "I won't be long," her mother said, smiling.
"You're always long," Erica said.
"I am, aren't I?" she laughed. "How can this be?" Erica closed her eyes, taking a breath. It was her mother's favorite expression, warmly in the middle of acknowledging and ignoring, interrogating and acquitting, part of her radio personality– how can this be? "How do you say it in Spanish?" she asked. Exhaling and taking another deep breath, Erica spoke without question, "Cómo puede ser." Her mother repeated the translation lightly, paused for mental comparison to English, and repeated the phrase again with gravity. "You sound like a cop," Erica said, keeping her eyes closed, turning into the sunlight falling through the window as the car exited the freeway.
"You say it then,” her mother said, “the way it's best."
Erica groaned, "Ask someone at work." Her mother turned from the boulevard into the parking lot of the massive supermarket. Erica stayed in the car, reclined the seat, expecting her mother to find more than the shopping list called for. She thought of time ahead, wondering what she would do after summer. She had met people there, in Mexico, some on their way back to the states even now, on the bus, even on foot, hitchhiking back the way they had come. Most were students like Erica, but she had made best friends with travelers. One of them wanted to meet her again in the fall, in Austin, in the regency room of an old, abandoned hotel, compacted against the uninitiated and the bad elements.
Erica drifted to sleep despite her discomfort, opening her eyes to the shutting sound of the hatchback and her mother getting back into the car, saying, "Tabby nap?" Erica closed her eyes as the ignition turned and the air conditioning resumed. "I got you an orange juice," her mother said, extending the bottle, nudging it against Erica’s folded hands, whereby enclosing it, she remained reclined and seatbelted. "What about this guy?"
"Richard, he likes the ballet."
"Probably because you do."
"It's on his resumé. Two years in college, with football."
"He cased you out for the job."
"Very funny, but I checked it."
Taking the ramp from the boulevard back onto the freeway, Erica's mother turned the stereo on, selected her favorite track from a compilation of world music, an eastern monastic chorus. "Are you going back to school next semester?" her mother asked. Erica groaned, "Not now." Her mother was silent, increasing the volume enough to hum along with the monks, accelerating to pass another gold sedan.