Benjamin, her boy, pale and sand-haired. The bus is full and more passengers board, all wearing black shirts or mesh jerseys—Duncan, Parker, Ginobili—and at every stop Ximena feels his face grind into her thigh. The boarders cheer as they transition from stairs to aisle. Dampened shouts and bleats of car horns enter the bus with them, and before the doors close the passengers echo the chant five-fold.
Benjamin. She sees only his backpack—orange with arcs of piping—and the top of his cap-covered head. A black cap, like all the others, lost in shadow. The faces around them are dark, too, like hers, like Benjamin’s should be. But he is pale and sand-haired, like his father.
A woman not celebrating watches Benjamin. She’s age-curled and creased from days working outside. When she realizes Ximena has noticed, the woman frowns and pretends to pick through the contents of her purse. Ximena turns away too and feels the weight of her naked finger.
The bus hisses and rasps against the curb and they follow the current out into the blindness of midday and into a mass of fans with quivering posters and bottles wrapped in damp, wrinkled bags. A cluster of marching men in plate armor and crested helmets clatters past, clapping shields against their breastplates and whipping swords overhead.
Benjamin’s arms lock around her waist; she bends to pat his bottom and legs for wet spots.
“Do you want to go home?” she asks, and when he doesn’t look up she cups his chin and repeats the question. A ruddy negative of her shorts seam blooms from his cheek.
“No,” he says, eyes turned away so that she sees the blood vessels in their corners. Her mother said he had dishwater eyes. She said that after he was born, purple and screaming, and his skin faded to milk and revealed the long veins running across his temples. She was right.
Ximena tugs her son toward the stairs that lead down to the canal and the Riverwalk. Below street level the air hangs. The lights and televisions of the tourist restaurants are dead and the patios are silent and void, so there is only the smell of slow water: mud and limp vegetables. It isn’t the scent of a live river: the water is trapped in a loop of concrete canal that seeks the hotels, the mall, and the Alamo. A fake, like the restaurants, the souvenir shops, the rocks, even the once-wild birds inured by urban life.
It is a struggle for even two adults to walk side-by-side. Fans sit on the pavers where it meets water, on the walls that box in shrubs and vines, and stand everywhere else. Empty chairs wait in the patches of grass at the base of the hotels but they are roped off or bear names printed on slivers of white paper. The bridges are barricaded by crossed lines of yellow tape, and police officers stand at the stairs or patrol their tops like prison guards. More people watch from higher above, on the jangled corners of buildings abutted and squeezed into each other and wrapped with walks and narrow decks.
Benjamin’s pull tightens and slackens with the pulse of bodies, black shirts merging into a rippling mass. Sometimes all Ximena sees is his arm, like she is dragging him from the mouth of a shadowed well.
Once, when she pauses and pulls him closer, a hand smacks her ass.
They stop where the walk widens beneath a bridge and a high pillar splits the crowd. The stone walkway is probably cool in the shade of the bridge. She imagines lying on it, the chill pebbling her legs and arms, feeling like the shore where water and sand meet. Today, though, it is too crowded to even step out of her shoes.
She drops her child’s hand and watches him peek through the bodies. Beyond the gaps of legs and waists, children sit on both sides of the canal, toes dimpling the green water, watched by wary ducks circling beyond reaching hands.
“Mom, I can’t see,” Benjamin says, stretching the last word until its pitch changes.
“It’s okay honey, we’ll see them when they get here.”
The parade starts in three hours. She will stand for three hours in the dark heat with a six-year-old boy to watch tall men waving from a passing boat. Across the canal are an ice cream shop and a trinket store that would distract Benjamin if she had been smart enough to enter on that side. Both stores are cramped with people rubbing past each other, the same people who will be going to bars and restaurants afterwards, and when drunk on liquor and beer will leave heedless tips that Ximena will not collect.
She looks back at Benjamin and he is gone. There are the black shirts, the rocking legs. Bare arms holding posters at waist level. Reflexive glances matching her search. She remembers the children by the water, and in the moment before seeing her son, Ximena thinks she might be free.
About the Author:
Brandon Patterson's recent work has appeared in Night Train, Thin Air Magazine, YA Review, Maudlin House, Thuglit, and Free State Review. He is a former fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and resides in the Shenandoah Valley with his family.