You sip on hot lemon and honey. The steam rolls out of the cup like a vertical carpet. It covers your nose and fogs your view of the peeling rosebud wallpaper over the sink. There are grocery store flowers on the scrubbed, scratched table, and a curling piece of paper with your mother's words scrawled across it in black pen, all caps. Her instructions, which include drinking this mugful, feeding the dog, and bringing in the mail are written in English. Anything that has to do with loving you is in Spanish.
Mi cielo, she calls you. My sky.
You cough violently into the crook of your elbow and sit at the edge of the table. It is morning and it is March in San Bernadino. Bright green tendrils of crawling leaves press against the kitchen window and the sky is the color of dust in light as you make neat folds in the edges of your mother's note. Your throat is a raw, tender patch of heat, as if the High Desert region has parasitically stitched itself inside you in hopes you will never go, never leave it. So you swallow again, tangy lemon and smooth honey. Heat joins heat. You fight fire with fire.
You stand. The dog finds you, its nails sounding on the linoleum in crisp, quick clacks. You bend at the waist and ruffle its ears. Its pink tongue lolls. You kiss her forehead and then rinse out your mug. You set the Dollar Store porcelain in the sink, resolving to wash it sometime between a few television shows and your mother's return.
The strip of carpet that runs to your bedroom does not send chills through the naked soles of your feet like the linoleum did, and for that, you are grateful. You pad to your room in the back of the house where the blankets on your bed remain mangled and waiting for you to cocoon beneath them again. Your Class of 2011 sweatshirt is crumpled on the floor. You tug open your closet door and select a pair of sandals. The dog follows you.
You flip flop to the concrete patio out back and tear open the lid on a can of wet dog food. You bang on the butt of the can until a soft, brown cylinder plops into the bowl. As per routine, your dog's eyes rest on the food with ravenous intent, but obeys when you nudge her with your knee, the one that still needs surgery, and say, "Oración." Prayer.
She drops to her belly and buries her head between her paws.
"Gracias, Señor, y bendícenos estos alimentos que vamos a recibir de tu generosidad por Cristo Nuestro Señor. Amén."
At "amen," your dog pounces the bowl.
As a child, you sometimes said the prayer and postponed the amén, fascinated by the sight of your pup struggling somewhere between obedience and desire. Her eyes would twitch upward at the pause, and you'd laugh. You are ashamed of this, but a part of you even enjoyed knowing you held the power to keep a creature smaller than you trapped by your silence until one day you realized you felt so much like her, shaking with anticipation for the right to seize all that waited for you. For the first time, you heard the notes of cruelty in your laughter. You lost heart in the joke.
You slip through the slapping screen door and walk through the kitchen, the living room, and out the front door. You cough again. You open the tin top of the mailbox attached to the side of the house, right below the address numbers.
Vaguely curious, you file through the mail. There are bills. A flier for the car dealership on the east end. A birthday card from Tía Alejandra. An envelope from Seattle University.
An envelope from Seattle University.
You begin to shake then. Your foot is poised over the threshold of the doorway, and the door smacks your shoulder. The dog barks at the back door, but she sounds as far away as memories of your father, as far away as the stars. You stare at the official insignia printed in the left-hand corner of the envelope and at your name in the center until it is blurry enough to be anyone else's.
Something sharp and alive drives through you until you are blinking at the ceiling and gasping for air, smiling and terribly afraid. You wring out your hands because you feel like you should and you pace for a moment before striding to the table that held your elbows just moments ago. You drop the rest of the mail by your mother's note and pace again because a chair cannot hold you. Your heart is a balloon round with whistling lightness, so full and fragile.
You hold the edge of the table and stare at the envelope there, rectangular and thick. You turn it over and stare at its sealed belly and press your fingernail beneath the fold. All the pictures you've seen of Seattle contain an ocean that is geographically the same, but quite unlike your own: brooding and grey, tracing the edge of the city in frothing white when the storms come through. There will be something comforting about a sick day in Seattle, you think; the sun will not always be in your eyes, the cobalt streets will cradle you, you will watch the world from a window up high. The fog will heal you, remind you of the steam of hot lemon and honey. And perhaps when you come home, you will be able to ask your mother whether she can see how new you are. You will build something there, something totally your own, and one day your mother will have a dishwasher.
Everything in you longs to rip the seam of the envelope because everything in you wants to know what tomorrow means. But your mother calls you mi cielo, and she is not there. So you wait for her return. You wait for her amén.