“Not Tonight, Honey”
He pulled his hand away, their rough polyester sheets scraping together as he rolled over to face the wall. The one sigh he permitted himself to exhale held more communication than the six insurance covered hours they’d spent sitting beside each other on a therapist’s sofa last spring. She stayed silent after those three words, counting his breaths until they slowed. Waiting for the familiar pattern of his snoring, a distant freight train followed by barely audible moan. She pulled her phone from the bedside table, thumbing the brightness down to a gray glow, noted the time, and waited. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Waiting until he was sleeping like a dead baby.
She tucked the covers around his back so he couldn’t feel the draft as she slipped out of bed and out the door. She padded down the dark hall, fingers dragging along the smooth dry wall of their poorly insulated one-story rancher. The swamp cooler hummed, driving back the scorching Texas night. One LED nightlight illuminated their kitchen. His flak vest slung over a dining room chair, yellow lettering turned a dull green in the light. Rinsed dishes from their supper waited for their turn in the dishwasher.
Five empty beer bottles leaned upside down beside them in the sink.
She grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down, scanning over her evening’s plans, notes she made while he talked over his day with his partner while she pretended to fuss over the tamales and fiddle with her phone. She committed the addresses, the names to memory as she licked the last dribbles of foam from the bottle’s mouth, then headed to the garage to place it quietly in the recycling can. She pulled a long tan canvas bag from the shelf, which once contained a pop-up tent she trashed months ago. Casting the cover off his old Honda bike, she walked it out the garage’s side door and to the end of their road before straddling the seat, turning the key, and hearing the engine roar to life.
She’d changed in the bathroom of Santa Margarita de Escocia, swapping out her sweats and tank for black leather pants and a long-sleeved matching mesh shirt. The petroleum jelly she used to slide said pants over her narrow legs still slicked her hands, left a coating on the inside of her gloves. Still, she didn’t need to be asked twice not to leave Vaseline smears inside the bathroom of a Catholic church., The pins in her twin buns scratched against her scalp, pressing hard against the pressure from the black helmet. Street lights of Laredo flashed by as she drove, reflecting against her matte black face place.
She’d long since ceased lamenting her chosen costume. The first weeks she wore it, wearing a second skin shades darker than her own light brown felt empowering. She was a shadow of salvation, invisible justice, unending grace. The poetry of appearance only lasted a month until she had to confront the impracticality of her attire, accompanied by the realization that those she served had already begun to recognize her description. She was damned to keep the uniform she’d chosen and accepted it long ago.
Her phone vibrated against her thigh, bluetooth ringing inside her helmet.
“J. P. Where am I delivering?”
Juan Pablo sucked on his cigarette and exhaled against his phone, hissing in her hear. “I dunno if you can. Things are crazy here, G. Ingredients, you know?”
His voice had all the grease their imaginary pizza lacked. “We’re good on toppings, but the price of flour is going up, up, up.”
“I’m not bringing you ingredients. I got things to do.”
“Chill on the spice, G. We just want to know if the other franchise is experiencing the same price adjustments. Think you could ask around…”
She cut him off. “They aren’t yet, but there’s a possibility of a shipment going down. Forecasts for rough weather.”
“Not a yes or a no, sweetie.”
“It’s what I know. You want me to lie, J.P.?”
His exhale crackled in her ear. “You don’t know how to lie yet, G. You work the same business as the rest of us, but you don’t know.”
He chuckled. “You’re going outside of town. North, northeast along the white house. Up 59. Killiam. That match up with your directions?”
“Their dog with them?”
“Dog ran away. They’re on their own. It’s a red two door. X-95-A-7775. Got it?”
“You’re a good girl,” he said. “I can’t wait until you quit this night job and start working for us.”
The line went dead before she could curse him again.
Vibrations from the bike numbed her thighs as she merged onto 59. She wasn’t like Juan Pablo. Not like him or his boss or his boss’s boss. Still, if you scraped away the shit, there was a glimmer of gold to his words. They were lawbreakers. Both of them.
The headlight of the Honda brushed against the rust red shipping container, handles of the two locking bars hanging loose from their brackets. She skidded to a stop at the opposite end of the container, toeing the kickbar into place, and dismounting by the small vent and listening. The attempt at silence was loud, shuffling and shushing a sobbing baby.
She knocked a gloved knuckle against the corrugated metal.
A female voice was a feverish chant. “I.C.E. I.C.E.”
The hinges of the shipping container screamed open as four people rushed out, trying to run. One adult. Two half-grown girls, one with a baby on her hip. Their soiled clothing, thin frames, dirty hair were illuminated by the headlight.
She called out to them in her family’s language. The language in which her father laughed and her mother sang. Language her husband only used when he was on duty.
One of the young girls turned around and skidded to a stop, staring. “La Gracia de la Noche. I told you she was coming. I told you.”
Her family turned. Stopped. Stared.
“We thought you were I.C.E.” The woman approached her, taking the baby from her daughter. “We thought we were done.”
“Not tonight,” she answered.
It took her three trips to get them safely to Santa Margarita de Escocia. Just as her husband’s partner had said, they were from El Salvador. Dawn was close when she wheeled the Honda back into their garage and recovered it, wearing her sweats and tank once again. She made a cup of coffee for herself and poured one for him, placing it next to his I.C.E. flak vest as the alarm clock went off in their bedroom.