A Tale of Two Cities

“How far along is it?”

He could see a storm of emotion cross her face. Hurt. Rage. Then disgust.

“Even the simplest questions,” she said “You have a way of fucking up.”

Her brow furrowed. He didn’t dare make an expression. A smirk might earn him a slap. An eye roll, a trip to the emergency room. He kept his expressions in that place of needed darkness, his heart. He chased them away. He couldn’t share his innermost motives, whatever they were, on his face.

“It,” she repeated. “It?”

Now he was getting impatient.

“Ok, Marcus Welby,” he said folding his arms leaning forward. “What’s your diagnosis? Are we having a boy or a girl?”

“Here’s a diagnosis. You are an asshole,” she said. “It’s terminal. I give you six weeks.”

“I think I need a second opinion.”

“Ok,” she said clenching her fists. “You’re stupid too.”

They leaned forward, bent like chess players. All he could hear was his breath and the clinking of glasses, voices, and music from somewhere. Her green eyes boiled.

Santiago’s was a Santa Barbara favorite for Mexican food — at least for people from out of town. It was loud, with enough background noise to keep their drama from shocking some old emeritus faculty member they didn’t recognize or worse, one of their student’s that knew them but they didn’t remember.

He leaned back and folded his arms and smiled.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Can we start over.”

She slumped back into her chair and crossed her arms.

“I’ve never been,” he paused. “Pregnant before.”

She shook her head and looked at him sternly and corrected him.

“You’re not pregnant. I am.”

He closed his eyes and put his elbows on the table. Her angry face was irresistible, full of fury and ire and vulnerability.

“Let’s start with who we are,” he said.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“If we’re going to do this,” he started.

“We?” she asked.

“We,” he repeated. “We got here. How’d we get here? Where are we from, you know.”

“I’m from Lebanon, Kansas,” she said. “My dad died, my brother threatened me, so I took off.”


A cash register was making noise in the background.

“Because my step-mother left. Because of me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“My real mom died,” she went on. “But I didn’t know that. I thought this woman was my mother. Then I found out she wasn’t.”

“I don’t get it.”

“My mom died when I was a baby,” she said looking down at the table. “My dad remarried and I grew up thinking his wife was my mom. She wasn’t. My brother knew, because he was older.”

“And then?”

“My dad told me the truth when I was 12,” she said with a softer tone than he was used to. “He promised my step-mom, the only mom I ever knew he wouldn’t ever tell me. She left.”

“Your brother blamed you.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I started learning more about my mom. I went to New Mexico where she was from to learn more.”

He laughed and shook his head.

“New Mexico,” he said. “Ok. Well, fuck. Now I’m really confused.”


“That’s where I’m from, Albuquerque.”

She looked distressed.

A waiter came by.

“Are you two ok?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Two tequilas. And whatever he wants.”

He looked at her with disbelief.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“I have a bad feeling.”

“Morning sickness?”

She shook her head.

“Sir?” the waiter asked, nonplussed.

“Yeah, sure, tequila,” he said. “With a side of olives.”


“Yeah,” he said looking at her. “Olives, please.”

The waiter disappeared.

“Thanks, Lane,” she said flatly.

“I didn’t let you have them the other night from my martini.”

“New Mexico,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Hispanic. You. I thought that. But I didn’t ask the fucking, ‘Are you half?’ question.”

“I know it,” she said. “The question. The ambiguity.”

“It’s your freckles that get me,” he said.

“I’ve learned to love them.”

“Jesus,” he said. “Dammit.”


“We’re related,” he said. “I know this story. About the girl whose mother from New Mexico died in Kansas.”


“Why’d you order tequila?”

“I felt the same thing.”

The waiter reappeared with the shots. He set them down and evaporated.

“You are beautiful,” he said. “And you’re brilliant. This shit doesn’t matter,” trying to convince himself. “We’ll figure this out.

She looked at him and took both shots.

“What was her name?”

“My mother’s name was Florence.”

He could feel himself sinking. This was a problem. A real problem.

“That’s my aunt’s name,” he could have said it as if he saw a ghost sitting next to her. But he didn’t. “My dead aunt.”

“Chimayo?” she asked.


“My grandma’s house is on State Road 76,” she said.

“It’s a small, adobe house at the end of a dirt drive.”

In a kind of trance, they recited the architecture they both knew.

“You walk in, turn to the left, walk down a hallway, bedroom to the right.”

“Yeah,” he answered. “A bigger room with two beds, right turn and a living room.”

“Are you gonna drink those?” she asked.

“Watch me,” he said. “Eat your olives.”

He drank both shots and sat there, like he was faced with one of those fucked up family portrait questions from standardized tests. Who could stand next to who? And like those tests, he felt like time was running out. He kept rearranging family in his mind looking for a better explanation.

“We’re fucking cousins,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “We are. We did. That’s how we got into this mess.”

At that she smiled, and then laughed. It was like those sun breaks after a monsoon rain in the summer in New Mexico. He could almost smell the petrichor.

“I remember hearing about that girl,” he said. “The one that almost killed a guy in a corn field or something. It sounded pretty crazy. Maybe even sexy as cousins go.”

She shook her head.

“Why were you coy about where you’re from? “she asked.

“I ran away,” he said. “I wanted as far away as I could go from there and from family. From that mess.”

“Why not just say that?”

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “My mom and dad divorced, and my mom hooked up with a guy that kept laying siege to our lives, conning her into getting back in. Then I left.”

“What’s wrong with saying that?”

“My dad’s dead,” he said. “I hate all that maudlin shit. I’m not a victim. I lie about it. You’re the only person I’ve ever told.”

“About your dad?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“But it is your story,” she said.

“I wish I could forget it and that it would forget me.”

“I can’t forget,” she said. “I want to live there.”

“Did you ever hear about me?”

She laughed.

“What if I said, ‘Never?’”

“I’d be fucking crushed.”

She smiled. He wasn’t sure what made him more excited about her, when she laughed or glared. He needed both.

“I heard about ‘the professor,’ she said. “A boy, a cousin that was smart like me, angry like me. They told me a couple times I should meet him.”

“Jesus,” he said into his empty tequila glass. “I wish we had our shit together and had family reunions.”

“Yeah,” she said. “And we’d have messed around in the bushes? It would have been a phase.”

“Exactly!” he said. “Like normal fucking Americans.”

The place got quiet as the televisions played a comment from George Bush about his standoff with Iraq. Going to war seemed like a minor distraction at this point.

“That gets through to Saddam Hussein. Clearly, he sees that his continued isolation, clearly, he feels the condemnation of the entire world of this kind of inhumane activity.”

“What a fuck head,” she said. “No blood for oil.”

“I need another drink,” he said. “How about blood for tofu?”

Her eyes boiled again.

“I can be a single mom and a widow,” she said.

“In prison?” he said, now letting himself smirk a bit. “I don’t think you’ll kill me now.”

She ignored the comment.

“And I want to live in New Mexico,” she said. “I’ll raise her there.”

“Fuck,” he said. “God. No.”

“That’s a problem,” she said. “That’s where I want to be.”

“Yeah,” he said. “This won’t work. You’re a communist and I’m rational, you’re going to finish your Ph.D and I see that academics is masturbation, and you want to live in a place I’d rather die than go back to.”

“You’ve left out that you’re an insufferable ass and we’re cousins.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That too.”

She smiled. That flipped the switch again. He reached his hand across the table. She took it. He was surprised by that, almost as surprised as the fact that they were cousins, and that she was pregnant.

“I still have questions,” she said.

“Me too,” he said.

“How about us?”

“Well,” he said looking at her, “The sensible thing to end this right now. Not take all the way to its logical conclusion.”

“Yeah,” she said. “This is a bad idea.”

He realized he wasn’t breathing; he was holding his breath.

“We could go all the way with it anyway,” he said exhaling.

“Really?” she asked. “You want to go all the way?

“Let’s go all the way,” he said. “I think we have to.”