by J.P.J. Fox
I. They Miss the Ferry
Philip had seen things like this on the six o’clock news, but it was worse to experience it on the road. Another tractor-trailer had wandered onto a passenger car parkway and crashed into a low overpass. Philip Henderson groaned on this bright summer day on Long Island, as he slowly crept along the eastbound lanes toward the accident scene on the other side of the median strip.
This eighteen-wheeler rig was stopped in a westbound lane, after charging through a stonework bridge. Just ahead of the cab, a man was crouched on the curb, sobbing into his hands. Sitting beside him a boy, about six years old, looked bewildered and scared.
The top of the trailer was peeled off, opened like a tin of sardines. The full length of the steel top, ragged and torn, flopped off the rear, and the end that once covered the front rested curled on the hood of a Volvo station wagon. About ten feet after the Volvo, two cars were stopped on snaky skid marks; the second car had stopped just a foot before hitting the first. Traffic lined up behind.
Everyone was delayed, even on the eastbound side. Many would be late; some would miss important appointments completely. The degree that this mattered varied from car to car.
Tension was starting to build in the Hendersons’ BMW.
“God damn it,” Philip said. “I’ll bet that truck driver didn’t use a commercial GPS. We don’t need this shit. We might miss our ferry.”
“Nice,” Cynthia grunted, “and we’re hosting lunch today.”
Like I don’t already know that, Philip thought. “Carolyn and Wes will be chill if we’re late . . . but why did you invite the Trumans?”
“Because they have that Labor Day party. We want to be included, don’t we?”
Do we? he thought, but he knew the answer was yes, and his silence was consent.
“When is the next ferry?” she asked.
“If we miss the 10:15, then it’s 12:30,” he replied. “What are we going to do with fifty dollars’ worth of spoiled King Salmon?”
“Sixty,” Cynthia corrected, as she reached for her cell phone. “Relax, the fish is on ice. Obviously, you weren’t paying attention when I told the guy to pack it with ice.”
Philip looked at his wife—phone pressed to her ear while staring into the dashboard, as if focusing hard would ensure an answer. “Don’t call over there yet,” Philip said. “Maybe this traffic will clear soon. Let’s check the radio.”
She set her phone down and took over the radio controls from Philip. “Pay attention to those brake lights—you’re following too close.” Traffic was compressing, but not really advancing, so Philip braked, sighed, and gazed out the driver side window to the crash scene.
The boy, now standing, seemed stunned, more frightened by his sobbing father than the accident itself. Like he recognized their trip was disrupted and traffic was jammed but couldn’t comprehend what his father knew—that their life was now, accidentally, stuck in a jam.
For a moment Philip was transfixed on the truckers, then he sensed the boy was looking back at him. From the corner of his eye, Philip noticed brake lights dimming, and he returned his attention to skillful tailgating. As traffic in the eastbound lanes began crawling, another few sluggish minutes lapsed to pass the nightmare on the westbound side and proceed through the overpass. Drivers in a rush to make up those precious minutes lost took turns dodging between lanes to pass. As the scream of sirens from approaching responders grew louder, Philip found his chance for the passing lane, hit the gas, and the sirens faded.
The radio news eventually reported: bad accident on the Northern State Parkway. Nobody was hurt.
“I think we can still make the 10:15,” Philip said, and those comforting words made them both feel relaxed, like they were already at their beachfront house on Fire Island. Philip could taste the salmon and the chilled rosé they had put in the refrigerator last weekend. Cynthia could feel the ocean breeze in her hair and smell the salt air.
“Forget that stop at the bakery,” she said. “We’ll improvise breakfast tomorrow.”
Something with leftover salmon? Philip silently dreaded. “What do we have to serve for dessert?” he asked.
“I have some strawberries and grapes.”
Philip did not respond, and he knew Cynthia knew he wasn’t pleased with her answer, but there was no time to shop for dessert. Of course, she had a backup plan.
“There was a side column in Coastal Gourmet that recommended freezing grapes until firm, then serving them cold on a bed of sugar. It was opposite the recipe for that Moroccan Couscous Salad I made last night.”
Philip had tuned out; he was focused on driving and making the 10:15.
When he charged into the parking lot, they could both see the ferryboat pulling away from the dock. “Shit,” Philip said. “We just missed the boat.”
Cynthia sighed. “I’ll call Carolyn and Nicole and tell them to come for lunch at two o’clock.”
Philip watched the boat leave, as his wife explained to Carolyn that they would be late. Then he realized they now had time to go to a respectable bakery before the next ferry.
II. They Miss His Mother
When he first came to Texas from Nicaragua in 1999, two years before he met Belinda, Miguel Ortiz was hopeful to start a new life and earnest to become a citizen. Sugar Land, Texas sounded like a good home for a sweet life. His goal was clear, but the path was not easy. Un paso a la vez, Miguel thought. Patience and perseverance would lead him through the milestones: asylum, work authorization, green card, citizenship.
In his second year of ESL classes, Miguel assumed an informal role of assistant teacher, to help the class and himself. But tutoring Belinda was not just practicing English; he was enamored with every word she spoke.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednes—”
“Sunday,” Miguel interrupted her. “Remember, Sunday is first here. But you were good. Try again.”
Belinda looked upward, as if searching for days of the week, and resumed reciting them, while Miguel’s enchanted eyes gazed at her in admiration.
Soon it was hard to separate tutoring lessons from romantic dates.
“Besarte es como ver las estrellas,” she said one tender night together. “Te deseo en mi cama ahora.”
As much as he wanted her, Miguel resisted the lust they had shared before, and pulled away from their embrace. “Say that in English,” he replied.
She looked at him, puzzled, almost insulted.
“English can be sexy too,” he said, then smiled with a wink. “Go ahead, try.”
“. . . Your mouth . . . is like . . . night. I want you . . . now.”
She tried again. “I love you,” was all she said. Her eyes, her face, her sitting posture—leaned in close, said the rest. Miguel drew closer, and they embraced in another passionate kiss.
Relatives would revolt over their life together, out of wedlock, but their families were a thousand miles away, in places they’d left behind. So why marry without family present, in a strange church? Life in America was different, but it was good, and getting better each year they were together.
* * *
“Hello Danny,” Miguel said dearly, as he held their newborn son.
“Daniel,” Belinda insisted. “Daniel sounds American.”
Miguel glanced quickly at Belinda, then returned his gaze to the boy. “Hello Daniel,” he said, and beamed a smile that filled the room.
They brought their American boy Daniel home, to Sugar Land. Together, as a family, their love and joy grew easily, while their life became more challenging.
Family dinner was a time to savor.
“Pupusas,” Miguel muttered, weary of that staple on their table.
“Baby food is . . . expensive,” Belinda spoke carefully. “Carne asada is Sundays.”
Daniel’s sudden laugh broke the monotony, and Miguel smiled with renewed enthusiasm.
In time Miguel had a green card and a commercial driver license. After two years working for Lone Star Trucking, he landed an opportunity to haul some interstate loads for better pay. They could now enjoy meat or seafood twice a week. Belinda started looking for a bigger apartment. Daniel was nearing six years old. Still cramped in his half of the dining room, he needed his own room.
* * *
Miguel had heard of the torrential rains and mudslides on the six o’clock news, but it was worse to hear what Belinda told him when he got home, about the call from El Salvador. Her parents were missing after their home was swept away. Frantic neighbors and cousins still could not find Mamá and Papá.
Terrified and desperate to help, Belinda insisted, “I left them, now I go back to find them.”
“I understand,” Miguel said, “but this is risky for you. Let’s think about this.”
“There is no time for think,” Belinda said, pacing the kitchen floor.
“I will check about papers tomorrow . . . and we should marry at the courthouse.”
“There is no time for that.”
Miguel needed to be cautious for her; Belinda had been granted asylum since she entered the USA nine years ago, but she didn’t have permanent residency. He knew she wanted to return to El Salvador pronto, but this required a plan.
“Two or three days,” Miguel estimated, “and it should be safer to leave.” Belinda burst into tears, but Miguel thought he was right in this no-win situation. He stood and hugged her and continued, “You start tomorrow with travel plans and I work on papers.” He lifted her chin to look into her wet eyes and added, “and a marriage license.” Then he kissed her gently.
A few days later, Miguel hugged his bride before she boarded the plane. So tight, it was a hug of compassion, but also a hug of hope that she would return safely.
Better news followed. “Nadie fue herido,” Belinda said on the phone. She and Cousin Edu had found her parents wandering the streets of a shady slum. Their dementia was far worse than when Belinda last saw them, but they were alive and otherwise well. Everyone was now safe at Cousin Lidia’s home. Belinda shared with Miguel that it felt so good to be among them, but at the same time she so missed him and Daniel and Sugar Land.
Then bad news came days later. Belinda’s asylum visa was refused for re-entry to the States from El Salvador, and her provisional wavier Miguel had filed was held up at the consulate. She could not return to Sugar Land, no matter how much she believed it was home, or how much Daniel and Miguel needed her at home.
“We will be together soon,” Miguel promised.
Belinda’s travel expenses had almost drained their savings, and Miguel could not afford to hire immigration counsel. One step at a time, he thought. This haul to New York would earn money to help bring back his boy’s mother, his wife. He would take Daniel with him, and they would traverse America together to the Northeast, to a place called Long Island.
© 2022 Jason Paul Fox All rights reserved.