or a rake and planting roses. He could seduce and sweet-talk himself into anything.
When he finally wired us some money, about three months after he’d left, my mother was speechless. It took me a while to figure out what had slapped the words out of her mouth and left her empty. The money my father had wired did not come from one of those glamorous-sounding places in Florida like Miami, Orlando, or Palm Beach but from a town called Boca Raton. This was just too much for my mother.
She said, He left this place to go to the Rat’s Mouth?
The following school year we had a teacher called José Rosa, from Mexico City. He was doing his social service and had been sent to teach at our school. We tried not to become too attached to these strangers who came and went, but sometimes it was hard.
José Rosa was a handsome twenty-three-year-old man who was sent to our world of women.
Paula, Estefani, Maria, and I watched as our mothers fell in love with this young teacher. Every morning our mothers sent him treats in our lunch bags or just hung out around the school.
This was also the time when Paula, Maria, Estefani, and I first protested against being made unattractive or dressing like boys. We wanted José Rosa’s eyes to look at us as women.
The only person who resisted him was Estefani. She was the first person who saw him walking up the path to our one-room school in the jungle under the dying orange tree. She saw him walk his city-walk in his city clothes and haircut and then she heard him talk his city-talk.
Who’s going to get his city-kiss? Who is going to get his skyscraper-kiss? Estefani asked.
Estefani was the only one who had been to Mexico City. In fact, she’d been to Mexico City many times. Her mother was sick and they had to go and see a doctor every few months. Estefani’s mother had almost died. We were all very worried about this because Estefani was only nine at the time. Estefani’s father had left to go and work in the United States on the fishing boats in Alaska and was not around to help. Estefani said that her mother just kept getting skinnier and no matter how hard she tried to gain weight, she couldn’t. Her mother’s dark skin began to turn a silvery color.
But the truth of the story was that Estefani’s father did not bring back the smell and taste of Alaskan king salmon, rainbow trout, or Arctic char. He did not bring back a bag of pine needles or photographs of grizzly bears or an eagle feather. He brought back the AIDS virus, which he gave to Estefani’s mother, like giving her a rose or a box of chocolates.
In Chilpancingo, next to the canteen that had so many bullet holes in its door the dark bar could be looked at through the round wounds, there was a clinic where for twenty pesos you could get an AIDS test. The men came and went to the United States and the women, year after year, walked down past the canteen for an AIDS test. There were some who did not want to know. Those women prayed.
When Estefani’s mother was diagnosed with AIDS, her husband left. He slapped her across the face three times back and forth and back again and called her a whore. He said if she had AIDS it was because she’d been unfaithful. We all knew this was impossible. There were no men on our mountain.
After this, Estefani’s house, which we had so admired, began to fall to pieces. The appliances stopped working, but Estefani’smother still kept them. The toys broke. The matching towels and rugs frayed.
Estefani boasted that she’d seen many city men, because she’d gone to Mexico City with her mother, and so she was not at all impressed with our new teacher. In fact, she used to say that our teacher, José Rosa, was not as handsome as other men she’d seen.
When José Rosa walked into our schoolroom one hot August morning we could still smell the city surrounding him. His odor was of cars, exhaust fumes, and cement. He was very pale.
He looks like a glass of milk, Maria said.
No, like a