She stopped under the shade of a tree. The light filtered through the leaves into the car as she looked out onto the familiar road. Belen rolled down the window trying to get fresh air. The wind lifted the dead leaves onto the windshield. She did not feel well. The road was empty, and she was alone. She waited for a car to drive by or someone to cross the street. No one came.
Belen had five children. Four of them left her as soon as they were old enough to work. Only one of them finished school. They didn’t speak to her anymore now that they had their own lives to worry about. The fathers didn’t stay long either. She almost had to laugh remembering Antonio who left the morning after he found out he was going to be a father. She had never heard from him since.
She had her first son at seventeen, a youthful child too naïve to know better, madly in love with a man who didn’t deserve it. The world had not been kind to her but there was so much waiting just across the road. She was sure of it. There was to be a whole lifetime of excitement and adventure and the summer breeze of blessings from the world were to pour down on her. Happiness was just waiting for tomorrow to come. Just over the horizon her life was to be romantic and hopeful and entirely hers.
She looked down at her muscled arms, the calloused hands, the cesarean scars on her stomach, resting her hand on the marked skin knowing that she would bear no more children. Her face fell into a relieved grimace. She reached for the ignition. The car roared to life, and she inched slowly forward. No more looking back, she thought. It was time to go home.
Her home was splendid. It had an olive-green spiked gate at the front and a tiled roof that matched. There was a tended garden full of her favorite flowers – pink hydrangeas, sunflowers basking in the sun, blue lilies hiding in the corners, even cacti and aloe vera plants. Her favorites were the rainbow lilies beside the front door. The walls were glaring white, and the house was much too big for three people. She picked everything out for the house, the furniture, antique chests and chiffoniers, Persian rugs, marble counters for all the tables, king-sized beds in all the bedrooms, handcrafted chairs from Italy and France, a fish tank with all assortments of worldly fish, only the finest kitchen appliances, paintings of inflated worth to adorn the walls – none of them made her happy. She could spend all her husband’s money on her collection of shoes, on the most luxurious dresses, really anything she wanted, yet the hole in her heart only grew.
The car slowly inched forward with the quiet revving of the engine. It was only a few hundred feet away at the end of the street. She remembered all the things she used to have to do. The vile and disgusting things she had to do to survive, to provide for her children, the children that left her. For the first time in her life, she didn’t have to worry about anything. Now that she had time to breathe and think for the first time since she was seventeen, for the whirlwind of life took hold of her and she made all the wrong decisions, she finally understood that she was truly miserable, and life had been cruel to her. Her children had stolen her youth. She was forty-three now. Her son was well taken care of. He was a sweet boy. She smiled at his shyness. Belen loved how curious he was. She thought of last year when they visited a neighbor’s house, and he wandered through their garden. She told him not to touch any of the red fruits hanging on the bushes. Of course, ten minutes later he came bawling and yelling, his eyes and mouth burning red. “I told you not to touch the peppers, honey”.
The car stopped. She looked at her lap and felt a pang of shame. Her son would grow up without a mother. She could not go home. Tears welled in her eyes. Not again. She knew her husband loved her, and loved their son with all the tenderness a father can muster, and her son loved her, but she couldn’t do it again. She was too miserable. This life was not hers. Her whole adult life she had been a mother, but she had never been Belen and if she had to do it again for another child – she couldn’t. He would take care of their son. She was no good to anyone. She felt a dizziness coming over her.
Belen cried for a long time on the empty street on the Sunday afternoon. Storm clouds gathered above her. It looked like it was going to rain soon. She closed the window and drove forward. The rain began to fall heavy and thick. The wind blew violently accompanying the orchestra of lightning and thunder, gales kicked up dust and leaves and the bushes almost ripped from the Earth, the invisible hand of God ripping the very roots of trees. The world was falling apart but Belen was safe inside her car, away from the madness of it, shielded by the tiny car. She was in front of the house now and they would not be able to see her. Her husband and son were both home. He would be in his office, she thought, his glasses over his nose, sipping on a glass of whiskey, his face strained into a focused and furrowed gaze. The boy might be watching cartoons in the living room, probably still in his pajamas, eating a small plate of fruit that his father fixed for him, or he might be sitting in the backyard in the hammock watching the rain fall smiling his sweet young smile.
If she stepped through those doors, she would ruin him. She would ruin her son, she would ruin her husband, and she would ruin herself. Nevermind that parents find a way to ruin their children anyway, either by their absence or their presence. She looked ahead and realized she was free. She looked resolutely out the window at the clinging drops of rain, listened to the tapping of it on her car, and to the sound of thunder, watching the lightning strike far away, holding herself in the tumultuous storm and drove away, never once looking back.