Stash the unflattering portraits of your wife in the closet and clamp a lock on the drawer where she keeps the .44. Shift the armchair so the view angles down to the mountain road, so you can see her coming home from work in the afternoons as you read the newspapers’ account of the latest gallery openings.
Feed your infant child twice after she leaves in the morning and carve out time near noon to walk across the calle with little Emi to see Ma and Pa, who’ve bank rolled this apartment, this life. Cuernavaca is an art town, remember, and there is still a chance, after so many failures, to finally make something work.
Remember that Mexico is your home. Forget the States. Forget your first wife. Forget your first child — well, don’t forget them, but stash them in the back of your mind, for this current situation, de repente, requires constant vigil. Forget that whole diversion that was the Caribbean.
When the baby cries, pick her up and put her on your shoulder. Whisper to her in the veracruzano accent of your youth and let her get used to your soft scent, your soft voice. Learn what puts her to sleep —the humming of the motor on the window unit, the running of water from the bathroom sink but not the kitchen, that faint sigh you emit when you’re near sleep yourself. Commit these to muscle memory. Say her name aloud: Emi, mi Emi, no mames, mi Emi, calmate mija porfa mi Emi, and know that this time, with this child, it will be different.
Show her the paintings of her that you’ve been working on. The one projecting her in pigtails in five years’ time, walking on the surface of a chlorine-blue pool like Jesus. The one of her flying over the ravine behind your parents’ house across the street. The one of butternut squash in a field of vetiver in the background, Emi hovering over it with her freckled face and a look of complaint, a hand outstretched for the tamarind-red candy of your youth. Smile as she watches you work.
In the afternoons at your parents’, let your mother coddle Emi on the porch while you put together a swing set. Resist the urge to chafe at how your father oversees your work. Ignore his mumbles about how the top bar isn’t level, how you’re not bolting the chains correctly to the anchor, how he wishes he still had the strength so he could do it.
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Let him smoke at a distance and complain and do not respond. Think of the times when he punched you out as a child because you asked por qué too many times, when he told you that you needed to stop being such a faggot with your art and grow the fuck up. That will remind you to laugh at his benign mumbles now. Things are much better today.
Return to the apartment in the late afternoon to give Emi a nap. When your wife’s motorcycle pulls into the drive, hurry to the kitchen and put on a pot of water to boil for tea. As her heels click up the concrete stairs to the apartment’s entrance, turn on the Mozart she likes, but play it low for Emi’s sake. Take out the loose-leaf tea and tie an apron round your waist. Put on a smile when the door swings open. Be prepared for the best. Be prepared for the worst.
Have the recipe book out, and for Christ’s sake, make sure you’ve already bought the ingredients you need. When she walks in, smile and walk gracefully into her arms. Take the cues. When she ends the hug, you’ll know what’s next.
If the mood is right, then pour you each a glass of tequila. If it’s not, then wait for the kettle to whine and pour her tea. Either way, return to the kitchen and begin to shuck the corn for the elote. You learned in your last marriage the power that resides in being the cook. With the other wife, you hadn’t been, and that had been bad. Besides, cooking provides a sense of pride if things are good, and a needed distraction if they’re not. Slice the zucchini and tomato exactingly. Toss them in a bowl with the authority of a dictator, and your new wife will respond with a respect you’ve always thought you deserved.
When she blithely chides your cooking technique at the too-loud sizzle of the pan at the introduction of vegetables, whatever you do, do not pick a fight. And after you’ve picked a fight, whatever you do, do not escalate it by calling her out for her drinking (as if you’re not a drinker yourself ).
And after you’ve called her out, whatever you do, do not explain how, in the limo on the way to the church, your father pled with you to reconsider this marriage, how he said this second woman, this second wife, this second marriage, this would all go nowhere.
“The Boundaries of Their Dwelling”
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And after you’ve blurted all that out, don’t be surprised when the tequila comes out and she takes the knife out of your hands and starts to prep the calabacitas con rajas in her own way, which is to say, with a certain amount of vinegar. And don’t be surprised if she keeps drinking through the process. Don’t be surprised if you do, too. Keep your seething, false sense of self-righteousness at bay.
And when Emi wakes at the sound of the raised voices, be the bigger one and go take care of her without the first hint of an accusatory glance. And when you fail and give the glance, let her go by herself to take care of the baby. And while she’s nursing, don’t return to cooking, for she has reasserted control in that domain, and her preparation methods do not resemble yours.
And when she returns to the kitchen, whatever you do, do not instigate further. Do not say anything about how hard it is being a stay-at-home artist and father. And when she laughs, do not denigrate her job.
And after that escalation, allow her to approach, but keep your hands up. When she calls you out for sleeping with the neighbor, don’t deflect like you always have. Don’t deny it. And when you respond by telling her that she’s crazy, understand that what happens next is out of your control. There’s a part of you that deserves it, you know, and a part of you that says that no one deserves anything remotely like this.
As she heads for the bedroom with that steely look, know that she is going for the .44. Know that the lock will only give you a head start, for there is nothing that will keep her from it in this state. Walk silently to the open door and take to the steps.
When you hear the crashing sound of the drawer being forced open, sprint to her motorcycle. When she fires the .44 out the window and hits the handlebars as you churn the thing into gear, punch the accelerator and don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.
Blake Sanz is the author of “The Boundaries of Their Dwelling,” a collection of short stories that won the 2021 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was named a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. His short fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Joyland, Ecotone, Puerto del Sol, and other literary magazines. He and his writing have been featured in Poets & Writers, Writers’ Digest, Electric Literature, and other national forums. Originally from Louisiana, Sanz teaches writing at the University of Denver.