Ana, Summer 1994 / Michael Jaime-Becerra

Ana had waited until the afternoon, when her father got up, to ask him about moving into Deliz’s apartment. If an outside chance of getting his okay existed, it would probably be at this point, not in the morning when he returned home and wanted to eat and then to sleep, and not at night, when he would be filled with the nagging dread of work the next day.
            They were in the kitchen, eating lunch. In preparation for the conversation, she’d cleared the table and washed the dirty dishes from breakfast. She made him a sandwich, smoked turkey on white bread, and she had taken the extra time to cut lettuce and tomato, as well as thin slices of red onion the way he liked.
            She let him get halfway through the sandwich, and then she told him she was thinking about leaving, that Deliz had gotten a place, that it wasn’t too far away, in South El Monte, practically around the corner from where she was working, that Deliz was saving half the space so Ana could be her roommate.
            Her father put down his sandwich. Who cared what Deliz wanted? If Ana wanted to leave, he said, she could leave when she was married.
            Married? Ana was single then, hadn’t met Louie yet, hadn’t been out with a guy since her senior prom, when her date had told her that he wanted to see other people, that he wanted to experience as much as he could before he left for the Marines in June.
            Ana was tired of her father’s conflicting attitudes. When she’d started waitressing at Cindy’s he began charging her rent. Why should she have paid rent? If she was old enough to do that, she might as well have seen the benefits. Staying out late. Coming and going as she pleased without leaving a note. Besides, he hadn’t been married since she was seven. He hadn’t even dated anyone since his last girlfriend, Joyce.
            «Why can’t I go now?» she asked. Before he could answer, she reminded him that she was eighteen, that she had graduated. «I can go where I want to,» she said.
            She left for her afternoon class and daydreamed through both bus rides to the Institute, as well as the lecture on hand and arm massage. It was nighttime when she left the campus. She took a different bus home, exiting where Peck ran into Durfee, crossing through the Santa Fe Farms parking lot, and walking down Rush, where Deliz’s apartment was located.
            The complex was two buildings of apartments, one facing the other. Deliz was in the building on the left, the third floor, the top floor, apartment 302. As Ana walked up the driveway, she could see the light in the kitchen. She had yet to see the inside of the apartment and she hurried up the stairs and knocked on the security door. «Let’s Go Crazy» was playing, and through the iron screen, Ana could see the shadow from Deliz’s dancing on the living room wall.
            Ana knocked again, harder this time, and when Deliz answered she was excited and breathless, as though she, not Ana, had climbed the stairs.
            «Hey,» Deliz said. She opened the door, and Ana entered the apartment. Lights were on in every room, the living room bare except for a gold couch piled with boxes of Deliz’s things. There was a plain wooden table and two chairs in the dining area. The kitchen cabinets were open. Ana could see that Deliz had been standing there, putting away some mismatched dishes and drinking cups.
            Deliz lowered the volume on her boombox. She asked Ana what she thought of the place and she offered her a glass of water, apologizing for not having much else. Ana said sure, water would be great, and Deliz went to the kitchen and told Ana to look around. She went to the bedroom, passing the bathroom, noticing a curtain rod in the bathtub, a shower curtain neatly folded in its plastic cover, a box of cleaning products on the toilet seat.
            The half of the bedroom near the door was untouched, Deliz’s bed set up on the far side near the closet, which ran the length of the wall and included some cabinets on top. She’d also brought a nightstand and a lamp, though the room was lit by the overhead light, the ceiling fan whirring quietly. There was a large window, both glass panes cranked open.
            Deliz returned with the glass of water. She’d served it in a jelly jar decorated with Pink Panther cartoons. «So,» Deliz asked, «how’d it go with your dad?»
            Ana took a drink and approached the open window, a slight evening breeze refreshing her face, the streetlights illuminating the neighboring houses. She saw a blue swimming pool, a swing set, a large tree dotted yellow with lemons, the church across the street, the large dark field of the junior high behind it. She thought of kids rushing home after school, of buying lemons from the people who lived two doors down. She’d pay them a dollar for a bag and she’d make fresh lemonade all summer.
            «So?» Deliz asked again. «How’d it go?»
            «I’ll need some help with my things,» Ana said.
            She spent that final night at home, lying on her mattress, waiting for his alarm. So far, her room was the one room she’d known. Anxious about her decision, she felt it important to memorize this space, the exact spot where she’d placed her dresser, the arrangement of the pictures wedged in her mirror. She pulled back her curtains and watched the way headlights from passing cars flashed across the mirror onto the opposite wall. When she was younger, the light would have shown across posters of Johnny Depp and Robert Smith that she’d torn out of Tiger Beat and Smash Hits.
            Early the next morning, Ana’s father’s alarm sounded for a few seconds, not long enough to let her discern what song had been playing. She listened to him brush his teeth and collect his lunch pail, and she watched his truck roll silently down the driveway, watched it jerk in the street as he turned the ignition and went off to the dairy.
            She worried about how mad he’d be, wondered if she should give him her new address. She couldn’t recall it exactly. She would write him a note, explaining that she’d be safe, that she would call him later. She decided against the last part. She didn’t want her father waiting by the phone.
            She took what would fit in the Bug, her clothes and her cassettes, the drawers emptied into trash bags, these set by the front door beside her radio. She folded her blankets and her sheets, and she dismantled her bed with a screwdriver. She didn’t know if Deliz had any tools, so she put the screwdriver in her purse. She would be leaving her dresser behind, but the pictures from her mirror were collected in an envelope. These were girls she and Deliz no longer talked to. Ana also left the few old toys she hadn’t donated to the Veterans over the years, as well as some stuffed animals, a complete set of Sesame Street books that her father had purchased, one a week, at the old Vons, some charcoal sketches her mother had sent, a T-shirt with Fonzi on it, the tap shoes she’d worn for three classes. She arranged everything as neatly as possible in the corner of her closet, topping the pile with a note that he not toss these items out, that she’d be back for them. She did want to see these things again, and knowing that her father seemed attached to the T-shirt, she rearranged the pile so that it was on top.
            Deliz came in the morning, after seven. She was late and still in her pajamas, her fuzzy red slippers too. Together they hurried to load the Bug’s trunk, tying the hood down with a bungee cord so it wouldn’t pop open on them. They wedged the head and foot boards, along with the shorter bed rails, in the back seat, Ana’s mattress, as well as the longer bed rails, strapped to the roof.



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