I don’t go to yoga this morning. Instead, after I water the front I weed the bed with the tecoma bush. The Mexican bird of paradise there has taken off. It’s taller than I am. When I begin weeding, I know I’m not going to yoga. I want the luxury of being able to putter, to not rush through my morning chores to hurry across town. I do the rest of the watering, and then I end up clearing away all the things that have collected on the floor, the ice chest and remains of our picnic a week ago, the cans of tuna and cat food from Trader Joe’s. I wash the bamboo plates and spoons. (Yes, I am terrible. They have sat there for a week wrapped up in flowered cloth napkins, crusts of hummus on them.) I take a photograph of the birds of paradise through the open louvered windows with the morning sun falling on them. I talk to my friend Meri on the phone for a long time. In the early afternoon, I reread three chapters of Natalie Goldberg’s latest book about writing. I eat Brazil nuts and a big bowl of cherries. The mourning doves are eating fallen seeds. Sable is still outside with me, so every now and then I wiggle my foot or wave a pillow at them to get them off the ground. “There’s a cat,” I say. I point to Boo snoozing in the shade under the honeysuckle. The birds watch me, expressionless. (Who is this crazy person? What is she saying?) The flies annoy me, insisting on touching my face, my calves, landing on my ears. I want them to go away. Cicadas buzz from my neighbor’s tree. They are one thing I love about summer in Palm Springs. I have a goal now to make a list of more things I love so I’ll remember not to hate summers here. After I write I’m toying with the idea of excavating the tabletop, maybe finishing assembling the shelves so I can remove the tall stack of books from the kitchen chair. I have not yet figured out how to live in 340 square feet. Maybe, I think, I will even wash the floor today. Or maybe I will make scrambled eggs and turn the misters on and sit here reading my latest novel about Valdemar. It’s easy to call the odds for this one as soon as the idea surfaces. But you never know. It’s Day Three of my holiday. Anything can happen.
I am watering the palm trees and the bougainvillea in the side yard when I think I see a small scorpion curled up against the faded red cement. Even as the possibility takes shape in my mind I have already washed it away. I stand barefoot on the wet stepping stone and point my nearsighted eyes around the edges, hunting for that familiar form. I don’t see the scorpion, but there are dried blossoms everywhere, evidence of my careless gardening. It would be easy to blend in. I bend close to the ground, afraid of spotting it, my wet toes curling at the thought. The scorpions I removed, again and again and again, from our blue house in Todos Santos come back to me now. I can’t remember my exact method, only the stiffness of my arms extended in front of me as I carried the scorpion out to the back patio and with each slow step the stifling of my urge to shriek and fling it violently away.
There were spiders in that home, too. I remember one black body crawling up the orange kitchen wall. It was bigger than my hand, my fingers spread wide. I left it alone, managed not to scream, not go running down the dirt road, gibbering in horror. I shudder even now, make another quick check around the circumference of my feet. All clear. I hose down my knees, my shins, wriggle my toes against the glistening cement. Did I really see a scorpion just now? And if I did, was it dead or alive? I shiver, go back to my watering. There are some things I don’t miss about living in Mexico, I think, as I turn to retrace my steps along the walkway. I wonder if some things, like spiders the size of plates, might even make me hesitate to live there again.
I shake my head, as if I could dislodge the thought, and walk through the cool wet to water my tecoma and my Mexican birds of paradise. They are both spilling out of their ceramic pots, encroaching on the path, lush and stunning in their messy late summer opulence. I see the painted gecko peeking out behind them, and I remember the high-pitched kissing sounds of the besoconas who lived in the palapa roof of our first Todos Santos rental. I liked their company, and I miss their cheerful noise. I remember, too, they are great eaters of bugs.
The cats and I crossed the border from Sonoyta, Mexico, three years ago on the second of July. I sang “California Here [We] Come” most of the way through Arizona. Near the California border, we were perched on a ridge on the highway with lightning breaking beside us, my fingers white where they gripped the wheel, the thunder drowning out the beat of my heart. But it cooled the air, welcome relief from the July heat, the desert washed clean around us, alive in scents and color. We bogged down just west of Blythe, an accident on the interstate, and I dipped a washcloth into a bucket of ice water, squeezing it out again and again on the heads of my two cats. I remember running ice cubes over my own forehead, across the back of my neck, along the curve of my collar bone. I decided I was being groomed in some fashion, learning a new kind of endurance on that journey. I would feel that again in the weeks that followed our new lives in the Coachella Valley, coming to terms with the lethal summers, knowing the heat could kill me.
I took comfort in the bright orange blooms of the Mexican birds of paradise that laced my new home. I thought it was a happy omen. I remember sitting that first evening on the lawn of the motel across the street from the apartment I’d rented over the internet, using their wireless to send emails to Mexico, letting people know we’d arrived, safe, sound, staggered by the feat. I remember walking in the days that followed, feeling like I’d landed on another planet with the wide, clean streets, the expensive landscaping, the manicured everything. After the narrow cobblestone streets of Ajijic that had been my world, being here couldn’t have felt more foreign. I remember feeling like an alien, desperate to connect with the Mexicans who crossed my path, the woman in the mall restroom, the tailor near my new home, the bartender at the Mexican restaurant who told me the owner there was from Guadalajara. I was stripped of the need to speak Spanish, but I didn’t want to stop. It felt wrong. And everywhere I looked, I saw signs of wealth, and you could walk for miles without being able to buy a bottle of water in the brutal heat.
I wanted a tiendita on every block, even in the residential neighborhoods. I wanted brown skin, black hair, warm, laughing bodies greeting each other in the streets, greeting me. I craved the rich, textured, vivid world I’d left behind. I felt small and unveiled, vulnerable, alone. I missed Ana and Rodolfo so much it hurt, an ache that didn’t go away. I didn’t want to be here. I only wanted to be there, in that other world that already seemed like a dream, all those hundreds of miles away, where I’d left all the food that had flavor, all the color that had depth, all the people who met me with an open heart, warm brown eyes meeting mine. I wanted fruta picada on every corner, tortillas delivered every morning, still warm, the sound of the tamale man calling in the early night. I wanted the life that had become mine. I wanted to go home.