Siren Of The West

Tomas, nut brown with wavy hair and wearing a crucifix, presses a plane ticket into my palm. My mother’s pearls bought this ticket. I instinctively touch the base of my naked throat. I have never left Mississippi much less flown in a plane. Tomas hands me his flask and pushes a bitter pink pill onto my tongue. It’ll calm your nerves, he whispers in my ear. Soon, I am a babe asleep in a winged cradle. We arrive in San Diego in the heavy velvet of night. I am gently placed in the cab owned by Tomas’s cousin who speeds us up the coastline.

            In the morning, I hear the sea before I see it. Churlish, it pounds over rocks etched by its’ furor. The barrier islands in the Gulf bear the brunt of the swells so the surf in Pass Christian is just a lick along the shore. Nothing, no one, could have prepared me for the sheer spectacle, the wanton audacity of southern California. Birds of Paradise cling to the cliffs, their beaks open in adulation. Manzanitas, Chaparral Broom, Sticky Monkeyflower, exotic names I would learn in coming days, cluster, tumble down arroyos. My seduction is instantaneous and complete. La Jolla. I roll the words of this place upon my tongue. It lingers on my lips. The words undulate. I close my eyes and whisper “La Jolla, La Jolla”, a prayer from a pilgrim.

            The clang of a phone snaps me awake. I am tangled in sheets. Tomas is half-dressed, buckling his belt. He is terse on the line, slams the receiver. He tells me he must go and I am not to open the door, nor answer the phone. It is fine. The verandah is a universe. I stand upon it and marvel at a world I have never known. Mountains meet the sea. 

            Tomas returns and I am nude upon the terrace, dizzy from trying to count the stars. 

Your man will come for you, he says. 

My beauty is a curse; just this once, I want to be blessed.

            Come to me now, I tell Tomas. He lies with me beneath heaven.

            God is not on our side, Tomas tells me in the morning. We will find another God then, I say. 

In Mississippi, a tempest rages.

Tomas feeds me figs and pomegranates. Fingers sticky, lips wet. 

He would bring a thousand ships, if he could, Tomas says. 

Let him, I say. I am standing beneath the outdoor shower. My wedding ring winks in the drain. I have let down my hair. 

Dios mio, you are beautiful, Tomas murmurs. His hands, a skin so many shades darker than mine, look like shadows upon my breasts, my belly, my thighs. 

Days of languor. We sleep until hunger, for food or each other, rouses us. The money is running out; Mississippi wages do not go far in southern California.

Tomas tells me his Mexico is not so different from La Jolla. I know enough to know he is not telling the full truth. His family home is far from the sea.

Zamora, he whispers into my hair, late at night. He holds me and tries to lull-a-bye me with tales of our future life in his homeland. He knows when he leaves this bungalow, when he returns, at any hour, every hour, I am on the verandah, watching her. How could he ever ask me to leave the Pacific?

We eat sardines from a can, crackers from a wax paper packet. Tomas’s eyes flit, onyx gulls searching for better scraps. The fig tree still drops honey-ripe fruit onto the verandah and I happily feast upon what I am given. Warily though, I notice her blues deepen as the sky above the Pacific turns leaden. 

Later, when my man has indeed come from Pass Christian for me, when Tomas has returned to Zamora, when all around me is ash and ruin, I take myself into the thunderous sea. No rings on my fingers, no pearls around my neck, I hold surf-pounded stones deep in my pockets and wonder, what good beauty has ever brought?

Stanchion EIC Jeff Bogle was kind enough to include this piece in Issue 7. I pay homage to my love to fairy tales, classic myth and The Awakening with this little piece, and with a wink and nod to the Mississippi coast. Please follow Stanchion on Twitter @StanchionZine. Better yet, order a subscription! Photo by Fannie H. Gray

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