The sun hung way up in a yellow sky, glaring off the skeletal remains of metal playground equipment where the last cracked flakes of paint, once vibrant green, blue, red, now sun bleached to staunch pastels, left more bare steel than paint. The A-frame of an old swing set stood empty where the chains and leather-strap seats had been pilfered years earlier, and the woman and the man beyond the missing swings, sat side-by-side on a concrete bench. Her skin had taken to the color of oatmeal and glistened with hot sickly sweat. Her black hair came down in ragged, damp tendrils around her small shoulders. The man, pressing the back of a hand to her head, spoke in a hush.
“Oye, are you still there? Hey. Can you hear me?”
“I hear you fine.”
“Bueno. Ok, look. You are gonna be ok. Ok? Take some water.”
He passed her the plastic water bottle.
“Take these too. Stay strong. You can do it.”
He rattled penicillin capsules out from an orange canister.
“Almost done,” she nodded.
She drank the water, grimacing at the swallow and spilling driplets down her chin. The park stood in the inner triangle of an odd three-way urban block that offered no crosswalks. Across the diagonal street there was a chain-linked blacktop where shirtless boys played fútbol, their sunbaked skin dark and ashy. Their shouts came high and squealing and young, and she watched them chase the tatters of an old black and white leather thing around the court.
“Your boy is safe. You need to worry about yourself now. Once you are there, the guerro doctor is going to take care of you good. He gonna get that thing out of you and clean you up right. The right medicine too.”
“He is having the time of his life right now. Playing video games. Eating good.”
“Claro. Right now he’s safe. And tomorrow?”
“You want to help your son, take care of yourself. He needs his mom.”
She could feel the thing there in her abdomen, bulging, painful. She wanted to scratch where the stitches sealed it in but knew better. A church bell sang the hour. A church somewhere far off in the heart of the city where people moved busy and impatient from work to home to school to market to cantina.
“They will pass you through. No problem. You will see.”
“No problem. No problem for who? Me?”
“You are not from here, Valley Girl. Anyone can see that. Your parents, maybe. But your culture is plain to the eye. They will pass you through. You have your passport? Driver’s license?”
“Nothing’ll be the same now.”
“Ok. You are ready. Time to go, Valley Girl. Time to get fixed up by the guerro doctor. Get that thing out you.”
She stood unsteady. Her head swam with the fever that raged through her every vein. Whether it was infection or the thing inside her leaking deadly that made her blood curdle, she didn’t know. She wanted to vomit. He wiped the sweat off of her face and fitted a wide-brim sun hat on her head. A boy scored a goal and the blacktop erupted with screams half gloating, half protesting, all happy.
“Toma,” the man held a hand under her nose, white powder on the fleshy triangle where the thumb meets the hand. “Just a little bit. To get you to the other side. They are already waiting.”
She sniffed compliantly, resigned. In seconds the ice sickle was stabbing through her brain, and her focus went clear. The nausea gone. She took her first step, wavering slightly.
“Walk right,” he said. “Do not raise suspicion.”
“Tell my son I love him.”
“You will tell him yourself.”
“Tell him, please.”
“Ok, Valley Girl. I will tell him. The doctor is waiting,” he shooed her with the back of a hand.
She stepped out of the triangle into the street without crosswalks then onto a cleaner, newer block feeling instantly safer than the place she had only just left behind. The package itched and throbbed inside her abdomen. The border was one hundred yards to the north.