A story every ten days, doesn’t have the same zing. However that seems to be closer to the truth. This is another story that I have never gotten quite right and am trying again. The gas tank explosion and, of course, the 1985 earthquake are real events, although the time line has been collapsed slightly.
Exile: A love story.
She felt the earth move and opened her eyes. No, that was before. This was the jolt of an unexpected waking, cup against cup, a voice too loud. Here the wall were rock steady. Joke. Rocks had moved, bounced around like children’s balls. This was a haven, hospital: blankets institutional green, sheets stiff and clean, a bouquet of roses, dark heads drooping, a square of pale Northern sun on the polished floor.
It wasn’t the convulsions of the earth that had brought her here. Of her life? Perhaps. Better heart. Although how that particular organ came to be a metaphor for love she wasn’t sure. Once, somewhere, it had been liver. She liked the idea of liver, messier, more like the real thing.
Aren’t you tough?
They sat on her couch. ‘Cold’ he called her, while she was screaming inside. “You can’t do this to me,” he said.
“I’m not doing it to you, I doing it.”
Later when she’d told him — more times than she could count — that she was going to have the baby, he laid his head on her shoulder, hot shot photographer slipping away at last. “I’m confused, give me time. I need time.”
Pressing into him, arms around his neck. I’ll give you anything, but not the baby.
Time hadn’t healed. There were a ew more magic nights in the big bed that she used to think of as floating above the city and above the gritty day-to-day about which they could never agree. Magical and improbable as the tiny garden beneath the window where birds sang her awake, a miracle in the chaotic heart (that word again) of the city slowly sinking into the Aztec mud. She put his sleeping hand over where she thought the baby was. This child will have been touched by its father. She lay in the morning memorising his face. Eyes closed, lips, the shape of his ears, ran her hand over his skin trying to carry its smoothness so that she would know it again if she met it in their child.
He curled around her in the bed. “I’ve decided if you’re going through we should get married.”
Her heart, if that’s what it was, leapt, then danced.
“You’ll be a bohemian, unfit mother. I must be there to watch things.”
It got worse. Outside some expensive Mexico City restaurant, his idea of a special treat, never mind that nothing stayed in her stomach, never mind it was midnight. Never mind the man in the shadows, his matches, his single cigarette for sale still spread carefully in front of him on the pavement. Someone else going home on an empty stomach.
Miguel turned toward her, streetlight outlining his face, his beautiful, ancient-mask face. She reached up her hand. “Suppose I don’t marry you? Suppose I don’t live with you?” Her fingers traced his cheek. “You’re not offering love, you know.”
He bent, she could feel the warmth of his breath. “Then I’ll take the baby.”
Her hand dropped, stepping back was a long silent fall. She wanted to echo him “you can’t do this to me,” but he could. Here children belonged to their fathers. De Valle Narrate, Colonia Roma, Zona Rosa, like someone singing a corridor of exile, full of longings for home.
All night she lay curled on the couch, staring into the blackness that was her garden. The shock came as the sky turned pink, a roll of thunder that travelled through the earth. Silence, then a cacophony of sirens heading north.
Her press card moved her through police lies. Fireman, ambulance workers, police worked in a desert of dust, the round gas tanks hanging above them like full moons except for the jagged curve of the one that had exploded raining hell on the hand-built houses of the centurion de misery that surround them.
She took her notes, ashamed as the old elation returned.
She listened to a man telling her about his wife and baby son. The man ha left at dawn to walk to work. When the thunder rolled, he ran back. How far? A mile or two to through a rain of fire. “But this is all there was,” his arm circling an upturned iron bedstead and a room knee deep in ash.
“If you see them,” the lost father said, “please tell him I am here.” He sat down in his doorway, hands on his knees, palms up, waiting.
“Of course,” she said.
Later she saw Miguel, head bent, camera at his side. She started toward him, in the midst of fear and death she could make him understand. A white figure steeped between them waving his arms. An ambulance passed, straining as it gathered speed in reverse. Another followed. A police car. Then men came running. Another tank might go. She turned and joined the exodus. She ran, one hand over the baby, afraid of falling on the uneven ground. A car stopped and she climbed in.
She left Mexico the next day.
It was raining in Ireland when she arrived and she felt it rained every day that she waited for the baby. Her skin shrivelled without the sun, her mind became dry a dust, her heart withered.
She was already in hospital when the earthquake shattered the heart of Mexico. She watched the endless loops of shaking buildings, cascading rocks, white wrapped bodies being carried down the mountains of rubble and searched the crowds for familiar faces. It was as though her dearest friend had died and she had not turned up at the bedside or the funeral.
Someone brought her a magazine. Miguel’s photographs spread over the inside pages.
“Aren’t you glad you missed it?” they asked. “Aren’t you glad you’re safe?”
No, yes. How to explain? I could help people, I could tell their stories. Too self serving. I liked the danger in my life. Too selfish. Whatever it was, it was gone. She shrugged an answer and they went away.
In the plastic cot the baby moved. Eyes squinted, a fist searched for his own mouth. She picked him up. He smelled of newness and birth. She held him a little easy from her; he squirmed, his eyes struggled to focus. She wanted to sing him a lullaby for comfort, but she didn’t know any. She remembered something she’s read somewhere. “It’s all right,” she nuzzled his neck. “We two form a multitude.”