Casandra Lopez

 

 When Later Sounds Like Love
 

            She wasn't there when it happened. Didn't even feel a premonition. No gasp of sudden breath waking her from a deep sleep or an uneasy feeling lodged within her stomach. Later she would hear all of the stories, multiple versions of possibility. And for each version she heard, from the police, the doctors, his friends, she couldn't help to think that she could have stopped those bullets. Stopped them from invading, ripping into her son, her only child. Oh, maybe he wasn't a child anymore, long past the age where he could fit in her lap and be rocked. He had grown large and strong, calloused hands making a life for himself.  He was not quite as large as his own father had once been before sickness had taken him years before. But now they both lay together side by side becoming grass and stone, without her.

            It was months ago. Now the days have become clearer, more distinct instead of a wide field of pain. Her son shared a place with his girlfriend, but she liked to remind him not forget that this was home too, she was home.  She last saw him on a  summer night when he came for dinner still in his orange work shirt, a faint glimmer of sweat on his forehead. He washed his hands with a thick milky soap she kept in the kitchen. Hands that would later grasp her shoulders in a tight hug from behind. She reminded him to take food home.

            “It will go bad here,” she said reaching for the plastic containers.

            “Okay, Little Mama,” he said, moving toward her, so that he was  looking down at the crown of her head from above, smiling at her as if he had birthed her and not the other way around.

            She looked up at him and said, “Your hair is getting longer.”  Meaning it, that time, only as an observation, like a remark about the heat of the day. She regretted her words as he backed away from her,  crooking his neck to his shoulder, one hand running through the hair above his ear. What did he hear in her words, she wondered.

            He took the containers from her hand and said, “Thanks. See ya later.”

            “Later,” she said back.

            It is those last words that won't leave her; she breaks them  apart, rolls the sounds on her tongue, touches the tip to top of mouth,  attempting to make, “Later” sound like “Love.”

            It seems impossible that he had survived his wild teenage years when the street life held an allure, but not that night. How many times had she told him, half jokingly, half seriously that he couldn't outrun a bullet, not at his size – all broad shouldered with his slow stroll. And really who could, except in movies. She had watched him mellow into life. “Hardworking” was how his supervisor described him as he clutched her hand at the memorial service. The whole time all she could think about was that it didn't seem right that he would be the one chosen from a group of breathing bodies by a blind bullet.

            It happened at night. They were at a car show in a park. His girlfriend, some friends. She  imagines it all the time. The summer coming to the end, bringing a light breeze, masking the tension. Maybe he didn't sense it until seconds before, street senses dulled by music and  the foaming amber liquid in his red plastic cup. There must have been a gasp from the crowd, thick with bodies, the silencing of the music in his head as he focused in on shocked faces and the flashing and blurring of clothing. She tells herself, he didn't feel pain. She tells herself that she is not the only who thinks that later can sound like love.

           

Copyright © 2010 Casandra Lopez

 
 
Casandra Lopez is an MFA student at the University of New Mexico and is the current Fiction Editor of Blue Mesa Review. Many of her stories are inspired by her experiences growing up in Southern California. She is the recipient of the Hillerman-McGarrity Creative Writing Scholarship and the Christopher B. Duro Fellowship from the Southern California Tribal Education Institute.