The summer of 1958 a popular radio single was the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream,” and when its steel guitars and harmonies sang from the speakers of the little transistor radio Ray had bought a few Christmases back, Cecilia Ordoñez grew impatient with the confines of her life.For six years she’d drunk her morning coffee in the living room and stared out the bay window into the motley grass of her tiny front yard enclosed by the chain link fence, beyond the green artichoke fields, and she imagined the Pacific crashing into the sand at the beach. Then, the first morning when Cecilia heard “All I Have to Do is Dream,” she dumped her coffee in the kitchen sink, slipped into a pair of pedal pushers, tied her hair with a bandana, and settled on her knees to pull up tufts of the scraggly yard and toss them into the driveway.
Mornings Cecilia arose from bed, put on the coffee, pressed masa into tortillas, and cracked eggs into the heavy cast iron skillet. By the time she’d cleared away the breakfast plates, shooed José into the bathroom to ready for school, and walked Ray to his truck and kissed him off to work, her husband already appeared lost to the world of his job. “Have a good day,” she said. This, her only sentence of the morning, met a smile in reply as he backed out of the driveway, the tires flattening the slowly growing pile of grass and dark soil that Cecilia tossed out of her way as she dismantled the yard.
After Ray’s departure Cecilia guided José—seven years old and in the second grade at Castroville Elementary—into his tiny cotton slacks, saddle shoes, and white collared shirt and saw him off to walk the three short blocks to school. With her husband and son gone Cecilia dressed in her weeding outfit and took again to the lawn under the foggy morning sky.
The neighborhood had sprung up only two years earlier. The homes had been built according to standard 1950s California ranch style: single story, two bedroom, one bath, a two-car garage, and a large bay window that looked across the street into the neighbors’ replicated living room. In other words, Cecilia knew that even if Ray was oblivious to her activity in the yard, the neighbor wives were not.
As she pulled herself from her bed’s embrace she moved delicately so as not to wake Ray from his half-hour extra sleep. Her sleeping husband looked a paradoxical combination of relaxed and frustrated, eyes closed, his mouth drawn in a frown. This expression characterized Ray perfectly. He worked hard, which was why they’d been successful enough to buy this house. He’d spent his evenings learning English, and forcing it upon Cecilia, even to the point where he insisted English be spoken at home so that Cecilia—and especially José—would learn just as well as he did. Ray had worked his way up to manager of the artichoke fields surrounding Castroville. His sacrifice had been time spent with his wife and son, a sense of loss for their old lives in Mexico, the culture they’d abandoned. If she hadn’t felt it before—at least she hadn’t recognized it—missing her husband rushed to her like the shock of cold when she shrugged herself free from the warm covers of their bed.
At breakfast Cecilia tried to initiate a plan for the weekend. “We should have a picnic,” she said. Ray shoveled eggs into his mouth. “We haven’t done anything since the Fourth,” Cecilia tried. In July they’d barbecued on the sand dunes in Marina. It was now September. “We could get Rachel Islas to watch José.”
“I want to go on a picnic,” José cried.
“What are you talking about?” Ray said. “Why wouldn’t he come?”
“I know you want to come, mijo,” Cecilia said to her son. She set her coffee on the table. “But Papa and I haven’t done anything together in a while.”
“What are you talking about?” Ray repeated.
“You know what I mean,” Cecilia said. She tried to make Ray understand. Would she have to tell her husband—in front of their son—that she wanted “alone time” with him?
“I still don’t see why we can’t do it together,” Ray said. “We could drive to Big Sur. Go to the beach. The fog burns off by noon and it’s been warm.”
Cecilia gave up, drew José a bath, and made sure he was getting undressed—lately he tried to avoid bathing—and walked Ray to his truck. She could try again, but Ray didn’t understand. He’d been so wrapped up with work. Pezzini Farms had him covering three crews and he spent his days driving the fields, making sure his workers cut artichokes at a steady pace and filled the trucks with heavy green loads. When he came home he ate dinner, read the newspaper for an hour or two, and went to bed. His days had been so long coming up to the harvest that lately he dropped into bed and in three minutes began to snore. “Ya tienes un buen dia,” Cecilia said, and she kissed his cheek. Ray frowned and grunted. “Yes, you have a good day, too,” he said, then backed out of the driveway and was gone.
Cecilia returned to the bathroom and found José splashing water playfully, but hardly soaping. She dropped the soap into the water. “Let’s go,” she said. “Start scrubbing.”
She stared at her boy’s little brown body, this tiny replica of her and Ray (no distinctive feature from either of them stood out), the physical symbol of their life together. She filled with a combination of overwhelming love and frustration. Since José had grown to walking and talking age, Cecilia and Ray’s sex life had flagged and dissipated. Now, Cecilia could hardly remember when they’d last touched each other. Not a passing pat of the behind, not even holding hands during the Our Father at Our Lady of Refuge (José sat between them), just the customary peck on the cheek when she saw her husband off to work each morning.
She hadn’t a clue what she was doing by pulling up the weeds and grass in the front yard until it occurred to her that she wanted roses. She loved their long sturdy stems and sharp thorns, the soft, velvety flower petals in full bloom, the tightly packed stiffness of the buds, their fruity, delicious aroma. She’d been frustrated with the ugliness of her front yard since she and Ray had moved in and hadn’t realized it, not even until after she’d begun tearing up fistfuls of the grass and tossing them onto the cracked and oil-stained driveway.
Next to the Reynoso Supermarket on Merritt Street sat ABC Hardware. From there Cecilia and Ray had purchased the rarely used push mower, and the trowel and weeder that Cecilia now made use of to uproot the scraggly grass. Cecilia washed the dirt from her hands, the water browning as it circled down the drain in the kitchen sink. She straightened the bandana around her black locks, retrieved her pocketbook from the tiny table next to the front door where it sat daily—unused—next to Ray’s far more transient wallet and keys. She locked the front door behind her, and began her walk to ABC.
The day was foggy—as usual in Castroville—and cool, with a slight breeze. In the distance, toward the sand dunes and the bay, workers grouped in the gray-green artichoke fields—polka dots of red, yellow, and white, their hats and bandanas on the flat green background—and Cecilia wondered if she’d see her husband’s truck.
She reached ABC and stepped inside the brightly lit store. A worker stood on a step stool replacing the incandescent bulbs with newly arrived fluorescents. Cecilia blinked. Signs hanging from the ceiling directed her to Gardening. The shelves were lined with colorful flower seed packets.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” The man who had been hanging the new lights approached the head of the aisle.
Cecilia gazed at the shelf, her eyes roaming, but she couldn’t find roses, so she turned and was struck by the clerk’s presence. He stood about six feet tall, slender in his checked sport shirt and chino pants. His hair pomade slicked his thick blonde strands over his forehead. His face shone like a Thunderbird’s fender, his teeth gleamed like the chrome of a bumper. He was a white man, perhaps Cecilia’s age.
“Roses,” Cecilia said. She spoke English well, but around white people she only spoke when she had to. She didn’t trust them. White people were Ray’s boss, most of her neighbors. Sometimes, when she kissed Ray goodbye in the morning, she swore she caught a glimpse of the other wives staring out their windows at her with grimaces smeared across their faces.
“Very good,” the clerk said. He approached slow and deliberate, slid his fingers over the smoothed creases of his ironed shirt. His fingernails were pink and clean, well maintained. Interesting, Cecilia thought, for a man. Ray’s fingers were gnarled from working on tractor engines, sliced and scarred from years of picking artichokes. This man’s fingers were like hers, slender and soft looking, as though he spent his days cleansing them in luxurious soap.
“You don’t want to grow roses from seed, do you?”
The clerk smiled. “They’re extremely difficult to grow from seed. Most start from cuttings. We have some in the nursery.” The clerk pointed when he said “nursery”, and it was obvious that he thought Cecilia didn’t understand a word he said.
Cecilia followed the clerk through the store’s rear doors, which led into a greenhouse filled with plants and plaster garden sculptures. Tiny babes made to look mossy and weathered blew her kisses from behind vines of blossoming verbena and African daisies. They stopped in front of tiny green shoots, where the clerk selected a few to show. “These are Ambridge roses.” He showed Cecilia a tiny plastic tag depicting dense pink clusters.
Cecilia nodded, indicating that she liked these.
Eventually, the clerk, whose name—according to the tag on his breast—was Jesse, held cuttings from four different kinds of roses in a variety of colors: red, pink, yellow, and white.
He walked Cecilia to the front of the store to ring her purchases into the register. He paused, his beautiful finger hanging midair and dangling like a worm as he looked at her. “Ever done this before?” he shouted. Whenever white people spoke to Cecilia—assuming that she didn’t speak English—it seemed that they also assumed she was deaf.
Cecilia shook her head.
Jesse sold her, along with the rose cuttings, two heavy bags of garden loam. He asked why she was planting roses. “Usually you people are so busy working you don’t have time to plant gardens,” he said.
This prompted Cecilia to break her silence. “My husband works,” she said shortly. She wasn’t going to be reduced to what most white people thought of Mexicans.
But Jesse seemed to understand. He smiled again. Cecilia’s anger dissipated. She explained how she was tearing up the old lawn and planned to replace it with her rose garden. Now Cecilia had new shoots and heavy bags to lug home.
“I can deliver them,” Jesse suggested. “Write down your address and I’ll drop them off this afternoon.”
The next afternoon Nancy Ausonio visited while Cecilia kneeled in the front yard, still pulling out the tough old grass. She’d nearly cleared the lawn and the front yard consisted of bare grayish-brown soil.
Nancy Ausonio was Andy Ausonio’s wife—Andy worked with Ray—and she lived across the street. She was a tall, thin Italian with a large hooked nose. Whenever she talked, Cecilia noticed, she had a tendency to flutter her eyelids, so that she always looked unimpressed with any discussion. Cecilia thought that Nancy Ausonio put on an air of indefinite superiority over everyone around her, and probably, Cecilia thought, this was enhanced whenever Nancy spoke to her, because Cecilia was Mexican.
“My God,” Nancy Ausonio said, looking over the waist-high chain-link fence that held in the front yard. “What have you done?”
Cecilia looked up and swiped the back of her hand across her forehead, brushing away black curls. “Hello, Mrs. Ausonio,” Cecilia said. At one time, Andy Ausonio had been Ray’s foreman. But since then Ray had been promoted and they were equals on the job. Still, Cecilia did not feel comfortable calling Nancy Ausonio by her first name.
“You’re tearing out your grass!” Mrs. Ausonio said, as if she’d come upon a terrible discovery. A smile spread across her long face, her red lipstick cracking where it had not seeped into the folds of her lips’ skin. “What are you planting?” she asked.
“I don’t like grass,” Cecilia explained. She gestured with her trowel.
Mrs. Ausonio had her hands on her hips. She walked closer to where Cecilia kneeled. “I knew you were planting something, you know,” she said.
Cecilia raised her eyebrows at Mrs. Ausonio.
“I saw him yesterday. That man,” Mrs. Ausonio fluttered her eyelids, “dropping off soil?” Her eyes held a suspicious gleam, and Cecilia said nothing. But Mrs. Ausonio filled the silence. “I saw him bringing the bags inside the yard. What do you plan to do?”
Cecilia had worried that a strange man coming by the house when Ray was at work might look suspicious, even if he was only dropping off gardening supplies. Jesse had showed Cecilia the best way to get her cuttings started right. They filled the nursery flats with soil and planted the shoots. Jesse made sure Cecilia understood that the soil needed to stay moist and in the sunlight for the cuttings to take root.
“Roses,” she said.
“Lovely,” Mrs. Ausonio said, her hands still on her hips, her eyelids fluttering again. “I’d love to do something like that myself. But you know Andy. He won’t let me do anything to the yard.” She waved across the street at her own, perfectly manicured front lawn. “They’ll never use the darned thing, but it’s got to look perfect. What for? You tell me.”
“Well, I just wanted to say hello, find out what you were up to over here. Good luck!”
Cecilia gestured her goodbye with the trowel, saw the time on the wristwatch Ray had bought for her birthday three years ago (just a year after his promotion to manager), and headed in to prep for dinner.
That night, after the dishes had been stacked in the drying rack beside the sink, after Cecilia settled into bed next to the already snoring Ray, she tried to nudge him awake. Ray mumbled. Cecilia pressed against her husband’s body, her chiffon nightgown pulled across her hips as she slid over the cotton sheets. Ray was warm, as always. Cecilia usually grew cold during the night, but Ray, stripped down to his boxer shorts, often slept without covers. Cecilia draped her arm over his taught round belly, rubbing slowly. She whispered his name. He rolled over, his back to her, mumbling again.
The curtains were slightly parted and stars dotted the sky, the fog temporarily, and unusually, absent tonight. The blue starlight, little as there was, speared through the part in the curtains, onto the crucifix hanging above their bed. The ceramic sculpture of Christ’s nearly naked body shone faintly, the shadows of his ribs and kneecaps standing out against the stark white of his skin.
Cecilia rolled back over to her side of the bed, perturbed. She ran her fingers over her legs. Her skin felt cool under the sheets, smooth and soft. She let her hands run up under her nightgown, to the waistband of her underwear. She rubbed the slight hump of her lower belly, let her fingers drape between her legs.
The bedroom door opened and José entered the room, whimpering. The boy had turned on the hall light, which awakened Ray. José complained of a stomachache. Half an hour later, after consoling her son, Cecilia was finally settling to sleep, exhausted.
When the rose cuttings had taken root and grown a couple inches, Cecilia woke to a dark gray sky. Rain dripped from the eaves. She started the coffee. She stood in her living room, one hand on her hip, staring out the window at the puddles muddying up the now cleared front yard. She’d planned on planting her roses today. Now they would have to wait.
Ray came into the kitchen for breakfast before José, which was unusual. Cecilia found the boy still in bed and when she lifted the comforter to stir him, the vomit was already beginning to dry and it had caked down the side of the mattress. He cried when she lifted him from bed to clean him up. José wouldn’t be going to school today.
Cecilia walked Ray to his truck under an umbrella and Ray finally noticed the missing lawn, now that it had completely disappeared. The last pile of grass and weeds sat in a puddle on the edge of the rain soaked yard waiting to be tossed into the garbage can. “What happened?” Ray said from the truck’s cab. He started the engine. “What are you doing with the yard?” He frowned as he looked over Cecilia’s shoulder, but he put the truck in reverse. The yard couldn’t really concern him, Cecilia thought, as he never used it.
“I’m planting roses,” Cecilia said.
“Oh,” Ray said. He started to back out, then stopped. “Get them planted before the whole yard’s a mess,” he said. Cecilia nodded and returned to care for José.
She spent the morning ignoring reruns of Buscando Estrellas and rinsing out the ceramic bowl José vomited into, keeping him warm and covered where he lay on the couch, trying to get him to sip warm chicken broth. Finally, near noon he stopped getting sick and fell back to sleep. But outside the rain still poured.
She tried to read, but couldn’t get past the first pages of Diego’s Amor solo. Cecilia checked on José. He slept soundly, bundled up on the couch, his head slicked with sweat. If he wasn’t better tomorrow she’d take him to the doctor. She turned on the radio while she cleaned the kitchen and the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream” came on.
She slipped into her raincoat and stepped into the rain to look at her rose shoots. The rain didn’t show any signs of tapering off. She’d forgotten that she placed the nursery flats on the tiny flagstone path that wound around the edge of the house, under the eaves. The rainwater trickled off the roof and dripped down onto the rose shoots. The plants bent under the weight of the falling drops. They sat in half an inch of standing rainwater. She hoped they’d be okay. Jesse said to make sure the flats stayed moist. Perhaps the rain wouldn’t hurt them. Nonetheless, she wanted to be sure. She wasn’t going to have done all the work of ripping up the weeds and grass, and paid for the shoots, only to have them ruined.
Cecilia called ABC Hardware and she recognized Jesse’s voice when he picked up. “I’m calling about my roses,” Cecilia said. “They’re flooded.”
“I see,” Jesse said. He sounded confused. “May I ask who’s calling?”
Cecilia explained who she was, and recounted when she’d come to the hardware store and purchased the rose cuttings and soil.
“Oh yes, I remember,” Jesse said. “They’re caught out in this rain, then? I don’t think there’s a problem, unless they’re in standing water.”
José moaned from the living room, where he lay on the couch.
“They are so tall, like, um.” Cecilia stumbled with the words to describe the shoots’ growth.
“About eight inches or so?” Jesse said. “I think your roses are just fine.”
“I want to be sure.”
José gagged, and Cecilia knew he was dry-heaving.
“I could come look at the roses to see if they’re all right.”
“I’ll come over tomorrow.”
“José,” Cecilia called. She didn’t want to wait until tomorrow, but if that was all she could do, she would have to. “Mama is coming, José.”
“You cannot come now?”” Cecilia said. “It’s only four blocks.”
“I suppose it is around lunchtime. I could drive over real quick,” Jesse offered. “I could look at the roses now.”
“Aye, mijo,” Cecilia said, hearing her son cough. “I’m coming.”
“I’ll be over in a few minutes,” Jesse said, and he hung up.
Off the phone, Cecilia jogged into the living room, guilty that she’d taken so long to get to José’s side. The bowl was dry. José had thrown everything up that he’d had inside him. He was pale and lying on the couch.
“Mi pobrecito,” Cecilia said. She swiped his forehead with a cool rag, and carried him to his bedroom. She wanted him to sleep, to try and rest the sickness out. When she came out of José’s bedroom, closing the door to a crack behind her, the doorbell rang.
Jesse stood under the awning at the front door, the hood of his raincoat dripping. Under the hood, though, his hair was still neatly combed and Cecilia could see the collar of yet another neatly pressed checked shirt.
“Are the roses around front?” Jesse said.
“I’ll take a look.”
Cecilia checked José and found that he’d already fallen asleep. His little chest rose and fell almost imperceptibly.
When Cecilia re-emerged from José’s room Jesse stood in the living room. He must have let himself inside the house. He’d removed his boots and was using the bay window’s reflection to comb the rain out of his hair. “I moved the nursery flats,” Jesse said, not turning from the window. “They’re out of the rain. I think they’ll be fine.”
Cecilia said nothing. She’d never been in a room alone with any man other than Ray, or her father when she was a girl. When Jesse moved away from the window, Cecilia stepped in front of it. Across the street the Ausonio’s window was right there, wide open. Cecilia pulled the drapes closed and she felt Jesse behind her.
“You want privacy?” he whispered. His hands gripped her waist.
Cecilia stepped away and faced Jesse. “What are you doing?” she asked.
Jesse smiled, his teeth large and white. “What do you mean?” he said. He moved toward her, his hands reaching for her waist again.
Cecilia stepped back and pressed against the dining room table. Jesse had his hands on her arms as he kissed her. His breath was sweet, minty. His tongue wiggled inside her mouth. She smelled the clay-like scent of his hair pomade, a whiff of Old Spice. For a moment she imagined herself as a cast member of Simplemente María and she gave in to the kiss, let Jesse’s hands firm over her hips. But Jesse pressed hard against her, uncomfortable. Cecilia was suffocating. She pushed back hard as she could, which was very little as her arms were pinned. She managed to slither out from between the dining room table and Jesse, through the entrance to the kitchen.
“No,” Cecilia said.
She was caught in the kitchen, and Jesse followed her. He smiled, and then frowned. “I thought this was what you wanted.”
“My husband,” Cecilia said, but her sentence only got that far.
Jesse took a step toward Cecilia, and Cecilia took a step back. She wiped saliva—hers and his—from her mouth. Her back found the kitchen counter, and her hand the handle of a steak knife from the butcher block.
“I thought this was what you wanted,” Jesse repeated. He held up his hands as Cecilia brandished the knife.
“Get out,” Cecilia said. “I’ll scream.”
“I thought you might like this, you spic slut,” Jesse said.
Cecilia started to scream, but Jesse rushed forward and forced his palm over her mouth. She bit, tasted the salt of his skin, the iron of blood, the meat of his palm like a cut of beef. The green and yellow of her kitchen wallpaper blurred, and then everything went black as Cecilia closed her eyes and thrust and slashed with the knife. Jesse grunted.
When Cecilia opened her eyes he was gone. She still clutched the knife. Her hands shook. José stood in his pajamas in the door to the kitchen. “Mama, are you okay?” he said. He looked terrified.
The sound of the rain beating down on the concrete path floated in from the open front door. There was no evidence that Jesse had even been there, except for the muddy outline of the boots he’d removed in the foyer.
That evening José still was not feeling well. Cecilia told Ray that she might have to get him to the doctor in Salinas. Ray looked concerned, checked on José in his bedroom. “He doesn’t seem to have a fever,” he said, returning to the kitchen.
Cecilia was checking the chicken in the oven. She used a knife to cut into the thick part of the breast to test its color.
“We’ll see how he feels in the morning,” Cecilia said. She had instructed José not to tell his father about what had happened that afternoon. “We don’t want to worry Papa,” she had said. Neither José nor Ray would understand that she’d only wanted the roses. She had let a strange man into her home. Ray would be furious if he knew.
“I don’t want to have to pay a doctor if he doesn’t need one. Children get sick like this all the time.” Ray said. “What’s for dinner?”
Cecilia felt her esophagus tighten. Ray could be cheap. “Ya tiene enfermo. Problamente se necesita un doctor,” Cecilia said.
Ray, still adamant about speaking English, continued: “Okay, okay. If he has to see a doctor he has to. What are we eating?”
“Pollito cebolla,” said Cecilia, adamant herself.
“If he’s still sick in the morning I can drive you in very early, before work,” Ray said, about José. He sat at the table as Cecilia brought over their plates. Cecilia nodded, they said grace, and ate in silence.
That night Ray scooted close to her in bed, but Cecilia couldn’t stand the thought, even, of making love. She rolled away, said she was sleepy. The bedside light came on and Cecilia faced her husband. He was up on one elbow, looking down at her.
“It’s been a long time since we made love,” he said. “I know you’ve been wanting for us to have some private time. I’ve been so busy. I want to make a good life for us here.” He paused. “La falta es mio por eso.”
Cecilia didn’t know what to say. Her face must have betrayed some confusion, frustration, something, because Ray said, “por favor, no estés enojado conmigo.”
“I’m not angry,” Cecilia said. “But I’m tired.”
“Okay,” Ray said, lying back down, and reaching to switch off the bedside light. “Can we try again? Maybe in the morning?”
Cecilia nodded in the dark. She knew Ray felt it because he leaned over, kissed her cheek, and lay back. She didn’t think she’d want to make love in the morning; she wasn’t sure when she’d want to make love again at all. She lay awake for an hour wishing there was some way she could take the Ray of this night and replace him with the Ray of a couple weeks ago. Maybe all she really wanted was attention from her husband, and the lack of attention was why she decided to plant roses in the first place. And if she hadn’t wanted to plant roses, then she wouldn’t have met Jesse, and he wouldn’t have kissed her in the living room, and she wouldn’t be keeping this secret from the man she loved.
Wednesday morning José was still sick and Ray drove them the twelve miles into Salinas to the pediatrician. José had a stomach virus and the doctor gave him a solution, which he did not want to drink, but forced down. The ordeal, including waiting for the one o’clock bus along Highway 183, through the artichoke fields, back into Castroville, took four hours. José was surprisingly quiet and passive in his trip to the doctor. In the past he put up a fuss when he had an appointment, like most children who do not want to have doctors poking at them. But today José had been so acquiescent that it worried Cecilia. The superstitious Mexican in Cecilia made her take José to Our Lady of Refuge for a blessing.
The bus dumped them out on Merritt Street, across from the Giant Artichoke restaurant. They would have to walk a few blocks to the church. She could walk the side streets and it would take longer, or she could walk down Merritt Street and it was faster, but she had to pass ABC Hardware. She would do it anyway. She wouldn’t spend her life hiding. This was her town as much as anyone’s. She and José walked down Merritt Street, the boy holding her hand, quiet as he had been all morning.
The day was sunny and warm. Cars parked in front of the street-side fruit stands, customers sliding back into their driver’s seats with baskets of strawberries. A young couple sat in their Plymouth, the windows rolled down, the lyrics of a new hit song splashing out: “Not so long ago, you broke my heart in two . . .”
When Cecilia and José came upon ABC Hardware Cecilia looked in the window. Jesse was helping a customer with what looked like a wheelbarrow purchase. He was rolling the barrow to the front of the store. As always, he wore a neatly pressed checkered shirt tucked into his slacks, his hair neatly combed up on his head. He looked toward the window as Cecilia and José stood there. He looked flustered, embarrassed, and quickly looked away, back to his customer, and he rounded the counter to ring him up.
Just the sight of Jesse made Cecilia queasy. Finally, after José had been quiet all morning, he said, “We’re not going to see that scary man, are we?” His tiny hand squeezed her larger one. Cecilia looked into the store for a moment longer, long enough for Jesse to take another long look back. He looked scared, and stared at her so long that his customer (an older man with thin white hair) looked to the window. “Young man.” Cecilia could hear the old man through the window. “How much?”
“No,” Cecilia said. “We’re not going to see him.” She and José walked away.
They finally returned home later that afternoon. Mrs. Ausonio had been in church, kneeling in a pew, her curly head bent into her clasped hands. Cecilia led José into another pew and together they each held a side of Cecilia’s rosary, moving their fingers up a bead with each Hail Mary. The smell of old incense seemed to sneak into Cecilia’s pores, cleansing her.
When Mrs. Ausonio stood to leave their eyes met and Mrs. Ausonio winked. It made Cecilia uncomfortable. People who shared secrets winked to one another. What secrets might Cecilia and Nancy Ausonio share? Nancy passed on her way out, slinking a hand along Cecilia’s shoulder, whispering, “Hello, dear.” Cecilia imagined Nancy at home with Andy, her husband, her eyelids fluttering rapidly, as she told him about the hardware man’s truck parked in front of the Ordoñez house the other day, how the living room drapes had been drawn.
Ray’s truck was in the driveway, which was unusual. It was four in the afternoon. He didn’t get home from work until five or five thirty. Inside the house she found Ray in the kitchen scrubbing his fingers with the bar soap. He’d tracked mud onto the kitchen tiles. The knees of his workpants were dirty brown.
Cecilia got José into bed, even though he said he was not sleepy. “You rest,” Cecilia ordered.
She returned to the kitchen. Ray was drying his hands with the dishtowel. “What are you doing?” Cecilia said, gesturing to the mud all over the floor.
“Didn’t you see when you got here?” Ray said, smiling. He put an arm around Cecilia’s shoulders. He walked her to the living room and drew open the bay window drapes. “I took the afternoon off and planted your roses,” he said. The cuttings had been spaced evenly in the dirt of the front yard, the tiny shoots beginning to sprout their second and third sets of leaves.
Ray led her into the yard. He had spaced out the seeds according to color. He’d grouped the white and red together on one side, the yellow and pink on the other, the little plastic tags planted in the ground, just as Jesse had planted them in the nursery flats, so that Cecilia knew which roses were what. “There’s enough room to lay a path through them,” Ray said proudly. “I can get some stones from the hardware store and build a walkway through the garden.”
Cecilia stared quietly and Ray said, “Aren’t you happy? Did I do okay? I figured I knew what I was doing, working in the fields for so long.”
Cecilia held Ray’s face and kissed him. “Yes, querida,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”