S&R Fiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Different Day” by Mike Bates

 Mi madre says they have expression back in Mexico, Otro día, la misma mierda.  I laugh and tell her they have the same expression here in América, “different day, same shit.”

Mi madre says it sounds better in español.  With that I have to agree.  There is something bland about the translation en inglés, as mi madre calls it, not just with the pronunciation, but in the way it reflects so well the way the Americanos live, like they have lost the ability to perceive the poignancy of their lives.

It is mi-madre’s way of telling me it has been a difficult journey, coming to this country.  I wouldn’t know.  I was just a baby.  Hiding and staying one step ahead of the authorities is all I’ve ever known.  It doesn’t seem all that difficult to me, not when living in the shadows has become a way of life.

Otro día, la misma mierda.

The Lady, she is telling us she’s having guests over, the Republican Women or something like that.  She’d like us to pay extra attention to the common areas, the grand entrance, the great room, and the dining room.

She says she was disappointed with the way we cleaned the chandelier in the dining room last week.  A couple of the crystals, she says, were smudged and didn’t sparkle quite the way she’d hoped they would when her husband had his boss and his boss’s wife over for an important dinner.

“Oh!  And could you see that you clean the French doors where Princess smudges the glass with her nose?”

Mi madre grins and mutters hembra tonta under her breath, silly bitch, and I shake my head at her when the Lady isn’t looking.

We clean houses together, mi madre and me, so we get to see all sorts.

Mi madre says it beats working for frijoles in a sweatshop where the gringo bosses are looking for the first opportunity to get their hands up your blouse, or worse.  Besides, she says, immigration agents wouldn’t bother invading one of these homes looking for vieja senora here illegally from Chihuahua and her hija bastarda in the employ of the fine dama.

Mi madre says these damas are loco.  She says they live in a sheltered world of privilege and wealth, that they’ve lost sight of what it means to be una mujer de verdad, a real woman, she’ll add as she grasps her pechugas in her hands with pride.  Scrawny little gallinas she calls them, with their hair colored and coiffed, their bodies toned to skin and bone, their spray-on suntans, their designer clothes, their jewelry, and their mansions, mi madre says, that not one of them has lifted a finger to earn.

Uno de ellos no tiene idea de qué hacer con un hombre de verdad.”

We like to prance around the rooms of our casa, the two of us, mi madre and me, when we’re not cleaning other people’s mansions, putting on our airs and making our demands as if we’re queens of our own manors.  We feign and fawn with our hands, we bat our eyes, we flip our hair, and we preen in front of a gilded mirror the way the gringas do, as if they’re in love with those desiccated bodies.

I love it when I hear the sound of mi madre’s laughter.

Except that our casa is a run-down hovel in the barrio, Little Juarez the locals call it with a note of disdain, and we don’t have gilded mirrors.  Our hands are calloused from hard labor, not manicured.  Our hair is dark and rich, not frosted and bobbed in the latest fashion.  Our figures are too full by half.

The Lady moves from her mistress of the house facade, cold and demanding, and puts on her Our Lady of the Poor face.

“Let me know if you need anything,” she says with an achingly sweet smile.  “Comprende?  Is that how you say it?”

Mi Madre just rolls her eyes, and I try to smile.  I think I like the mistress of the house role better.  At least she isn’t fake.

Otro día, la misma mierda.

I start with the master suite, while mi madre focuses on the grand entrance, the great room, and the dining room.  I disinfect the Lady’s baño where her husband has dribbled urine all over the toilet seat and the floor.  I wipe around the sink where one of them, the Lady or her husband, has left nail clippings on the marble countertops.  I polish that gilded mirror where they splattered toothpaste all over the glass.  Then I get on my hands and knees to scrub their filth from the travertine tiles of the oversized shower and remove hair from its drain.

And that’s all before I change the Lady’s linens, plump her pillows, mop and vacuum the Lady’s floors, and dust and polish her elegant furniture.

When I get done with the master suite, I move on to the boy’s room, really a suite of rooms big enough for a small family on our side of town, Little Juarez.  I stop on the cat walk that leads from the master suite to the boy’s room, really a colonnaded promenade overlooking the grand entrance and the great room, and peer down over the polished banister.

Mi madre is still at work in the grand entrance, on her knees wiping the marble floors with a mixture of vinegar and water.  I know the solution burns the flesh of her hands as I see her dip the rag into the bucket, and the vapors sting her eyes.

She is humming a soft tune as though she can’t be bothered with our humble circumstances.

It’s hard work, and it’s menial, but it’s what we do, mi madre and me.   We take it seriously.  It’s not just because we know people are always watching us, and that they half expect us to slack off.  Everyone does – lazy Mexicans and all that nonsense.  It’s our sustento, our livelihood, and we take pride in our work, despite the stereotypes.

We’re exhausted at the end of the day, but we know when we accept dinero in payment that we’ve succeeded in putting the casa in order, just like we would if it were our own.

I start to get hot working on the boy’s room, changing his linens, making his bed, picking up and folding his clothing, and scrubbing the baño just like I did for his father. The lady keeps her home at a pleasant temperature, no small achievement in a structure this size, particularly in the summer months.  But you can’t help but need a break once in a while, especially when you’re handling cleaning solutions all day.

The Lady doesn’t let us use her cocina.  But she does let us cool our refreshments in the refrigerator she keeps in the four-car garage.  We bring our own agua filled from our tap at home, frozen overnight in the icebox, and keep it in the refrigerator in the garage so it stays frio for when we need it.

Usually the Lady keeps to herself when we’re here.  Mi madre says we make her uncomfortable.  I suppose mi madre is right.

Today, I find her standing in the living area, an oversized cocina and what they call the dining nook and family room all-in-one, with gourmet appliances, a hand-carved mesquite dining table the Lady dotes over with seasonal decoration, oversized leather furniture, and a huge plasma television in a niche against one wall.

She’s on her smart phone, and she doesn’t sound pleased.

“No, Howard.  I can’t get out to the market to get it myself.”

Howard is her husband’s name.

“The guests will be here in a few hours, and I need to get ready.”

I’ve never heard this persona before.

“You know how important this is to me.  Can’t you please stop on the way home and pick it up for me?”

Her voice is high pitched, and more than a little stressed.

“It’s too much pressure.  I wish I’d never let you talk me into hosting.”

I guess you could call it her “spoiled wife who regards her marriage as plunder” persona.

“Look.  You said this would be good for your career, so help me out a little.”

Mi madre says I’m not to feel sorry for these people.  She says they don’t deserve our pity.  If they can’t find happiness with their ten thousand square foot home, she tells me, with their palatial surroundings, their oversized cars, their designer clothing and expensive jewelry, they should be ashamed of themselves.

It’s easy to become embittered like mi madre when you live undocumented in this country.  All you want is a chance, just like everyone else got when they or their ancestors came here.  You don’t expect to be given anything.  You don’t want it.  You’re happy to clean the baño if that’s what it takes just so you can put a little money away – even send some back to the family who spent everything that they had to get you here – and maybe live with a little hope and dignity with your family.

Your dream is the American Dream, and you’re prepared to embrace it like everyone else, better if anyone were interested in getting to know you beyond their prejudices.  Instead, they regard you with contempt, as if you’re here to take something that belongs to them.

I know how it feels to be regarded with sneers and suspicion for no better reason than the color of your skin.  There are the snide remarks, the underhanded comments directed at your ethnicity, punctuated with outright hostility whenever you make the mistake of stepping outside your bounds.

So you absorb whatever lessons the world has to offer, the ones that are relevant to a child from the wrong side of the border, anyway.  And you tolerate the insults from the fair-complexioned little boys and girls with surnames like Gutfeld, and Van Susteren, and Cavuto, and Hannity, and O’Reilly, and even Chavez wondering what your life would be like if you’d grown up having had half their advantages.

I don’t like to disagree with mi madre.  But, today, I can’t help it, not when I listen to this pathetic woman complain to her husband.  I can’t help feeling that the Lady longs for the same dignity we all crave.

Her husband couldn’t respect her, not after listening to what I just heard.

Her son doesn’t respect her, or his father either, not if the way he treats the things they give him is any indication.

¡mierda!  She probably doesn’t even respect herself?

She’s watching the television when I return from the garage.  The news is on and I see she’s got the channel tuned to Fox News.  There’s video footage of a confrontation between Customs officials and protesters in some small town in California, Murrieta I think.  The protesters are blocking busloads of children who crossed the border seeking relief from political unrest, violent crime, and crushing poverty in Central America from entering the town.

I can see their America flags on the television screen and can hear their angry chants, “Deport!  Deport!” and “Send them back where they belong.”  The situation looks tense, rage seething just under the surface, and I feel a familiar sense of panic.  The news commentator is hailing the protestors as patriots.

I startle the Lady as I pass through.  She looks at me, and I can see she has managed to restore her Our Lady of the Poor face once again, all compassionate and condescending and everything.

“What do you think of this situation?” she asks me.

I know I’m in trouble the instant she asks the question.

“What do you think of these parents sending those children into our country illegally?”

I speak English as my first language.  It’s the one I grew up speaking everywhere but home and you wouldn’t know from my accent that I can even speak español.

But an Amercano wouldn’t suspect that, not by my complexion and dress, certainly not a privileged Americano who has never deigned to visit our side of town.

I shake my head, acting as though I don’t comprehend her question, since that’s the first thing she would assume anyway.

She thinks I’m just being polite.

“Come now,” she says, enunciating the words as though she were talking to un imbécil.  “You can be honest with me.”

I smile, and shrug to suggest “no comprende,” as she’s fond of putting it.

“They don’t belong here, those children,” she says.

“No,” I say, struggling to find some way to communicate to her that I don’t understand.

“I’m pleased you agree with me,” she says, then dismisses me the wave of a hand.

I return to my work, frustrated and hurt, frustrated that I can’t find my voice to speak out against the injustices of this world, and hurt that I didn’t defend those children.

I pass mi madre at the foot of the stairs, still scrubbing the marble floors with vinegar.  She looks up, and I detect tears welling up in her eyes.  I suppose it could be the vapors.  That’s what she’d want me to think, but I realize when I see the quiver in her lower lip that its not.

Otro día, la misma mierda.

It’s then that I hear one of the protestors on the television, a woman, speaking with a reporter.

“I just wish America would be America again, because it’s not.”

I wish I could say she’s wrong.