Alejandro and Gabriel jumped on the bed, after César had left for a trip to New York with Arqueo before dawn. Frida was asleep. One of her kidneys twinged in recognition of the activity around her. Her mind became vaguely aware of a sound that seemed to come from her throat.
“Bambini, bambini, callate!” The Italian influence came from going with Arqueo to the opera. Dutch. No funny stuff, even though Arqueo deserved a hot babe on his arms, and not his best friend’s girlfriend. The boys jumped harder. Frida caught Alejandro mid-air, “Okey, okey bebe, voy a alimentarle.” She made a grab for Gabriel, but he wriggled like a gummi worm while escaping over her waist without breaking his rhythm. She whipped Alejandro forward to propel herself and him upright, sitting at the side of the bed. Before her foot hit the floor, Gabriel jumped on her back.
Frida was always wearing something, regardless of what had transpired the night before. If sex was even a possibility, she might be in a sheer robe, with or without underwear. The sheer clothing stayed at her place, where César and she had been the previous afternoon, while Aracély took care of the boys. This morning, she was in silver running shorts and a t-shirt. So there was no delay in her body getting into motion for the day, even if her head were on another planet. But something deep inside felt like it was on that other hot, sticky, fecund place full of vines and possibilities. Like being eaten by an anaconda. Or maybe feeding breast milk to leopard cubs whose mother’s milk had run dry. Or sprouting angel’s wings, only to find that in the tropical rainforest between her ears angel’s wings were too delicate to fly.
Alejandro, five year old, was already planning their day. “First, let’s go back to Africam. But we have to go early, or all the cats will be asleep. Then we can go to the lake and have a picnic, and we can all split a sandia and have a seed-spitting contest.”
“Alejandro,” began Frida.
“Oh, right, Gabriel can have a head start, and when we finish the sandia we’ll be all sticky so we have to go wash off in Lago Camacho, and then we can go to the race track and watch your friends race their cars. Maybe one will explode. BOOM!” shrieked Alejandro, excited but certain of his plans.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Frida interjected.
“I want to go PLAYGROUND!” Gabriel insisted.
“I was saying, ‘Aren’t you forgetting breakfast? And getting dressed?”
“OK, Mama Frida, you make pan y canela, and I help Gabriel dress himself.”
Frida remembered exactly when she became “Mama Frida.” It was on the trip home from Africam – the first time. Flora and Magda conspired to put Frida and the toddlers in the back seat of the Suburban from El Sol, when Magda insisted that Frida sit with the boys. Magda would drop Aracely back at Frida’s, and Flora would take Frida and the boys to César’s place. The Suburban’s middle seat, even with the back seat filled with the production gear, held two car seats and a slim mother comfortably. The kids wriggled the whole way to attain the treasured prize – the trim but cozy lap in the middle seat. By the time they got to Lago Camacho, between the whining and the wriggling, Frida couldn’t take it anymore.
“Flora, pull over.”
“Flora, pull over the car now. I need to give Gabriel a bottle. I have to feed Alejandro something.”
“Okey, mama,” Flora replied.
Flora whipped the Suburban onto the berm. She popped out and deftly mixed two bottles of formula and once.
“Lose the car seats, mamachica, You’ll be happier, and so will they.”
“Okey, Mamita Florecita,” Frida wisecracked.
Frida snapped open Gabriel’s restraint, and then Alejandro’s. The boys flowed out of their seats, and unrestrained, they immediately quieted down.
“Ayudame, Alejandro, let’s put the seat in back.”
“Me too?” asked Gabriel hopefully.
“Okey, you too. First I’ll take care of Alejandro’s chair, and then yours. Dos asientos, dos niños, una mama.”
Frida remembered that moment very clearly. For a long time, she resisted Alejandro’s calling her mama, but only managed to gain the middle ground of “Mama Frida.” For the record, both boys had fallen asleep within minutes, each with a head on Frida’s thigh.
This morning, three days before Frida and César planned to take the boys to Cozumel for Christmas, the boys were used to each other and found nothing odd about this creative family unit. Alejandro had just given Frida an order, or so it seemed. At only five years of age, he had no problems pushing, but to his credit, no problems being redirected. Frida complimented Alejandro on his skill in being a big brother, but asked Gabriel to dress himself.
“But you can watch, Alejandro, and if Gabriel needs help, you can give it. Make sure he has clean underwear and that his shoes go on the right feet, okey?”
“Okey, Mama Frida, you make the best pan y canela. Muchisimo mejor que Papi!”
“Really? What would your papi say if he heard that?”
“He’d say yes. He told me so himself.”
Frida headed down to the kitchen. She felt it again. What was that, actually? I’m young, I’m healthy, It doesn’t feel like a muscle sensation. Frida stretched all the way into a half-moon shape, first to the left, then to the right. No change. Back bends, toe touches. Nothing. Wait a minute, it can’t be that. We use protection every time. Beside, there are two boys who love my pan y canela. And a day to plan.
Frida took the boys to the playground, where they met Aracely for the handoff. The sensation that something was different, she couldn’t say what, dogged Frida throughout her day. Even when she changed her clothes from business dress to cutoffs, a t-shirt, and a swimsuit underneath, she felt a twinge. But this time, it was somewhere else; she couldn’t localize it. She felt oddly accompanied on her way down to Lago Camacho. What is it about me that makes Alejandro call me “Mama Frida?” I wonder if they call Aracely “Mama Aracely?”
“Okey, okey, kids. Let’s go get tacos for dinner first, then I have something special for you.”
The evening ended in the Zona Historica de los Fuertes, under the dimming sun, and lots of books about fireworks. The boys got in a good hour and a half nap, and then BOOM! The warning salvo went off. As the children were more and more enchanted with the noise and colors, Frida was becoming more and more sure that in about nine months it would be César, Frida, Alejandro, Gabriel, and Sara.
* * *
César and Frida still had separate homes. They might as well have been married, except that they had never asked for this. Frida did not know – what would she say? How would she say it? What did she know? How could she know it? These questions sat behind her amygdala most of the time, behind her eyeballs other times, and often right in her larynx, unvoiced. After three weeks and a period five days late, she knew. It had to be.
César prepared dinner on a Tuesday while the children were creating trouble for Aracely. Frida stopped by home and kissed the children, then stopped by the florist for a dozen yellow long-stemmed roses. She drove up to César’s apartment complex and turned the lock on the aging spired picket fence door, which opened onto the courtyard. The courtyard was terraced in begonias, tea roses, and bouganvilla in some places, and sculpted with giant astilbe, butterfly bushes, clematis, and jacaranda in others. The pattern was Fibonacci’s sequence – one bouganvilla and terrace, one jacaranda and sculpture. Two bouganvilla and terraces, three jacaranda and sculptures. Five bouganvilla. Eight jacaranda. And of course a stone cherub holding a birdbath in the center. Frida loved this place – it was sheer joy to play barefoot with the boys in the yard, and even better if César were holding her hand or caressing her shoulder.
Frida rang the bell on César’s unit. He greeted her in his usual way. That’s what she loved most about him. Every time he greeted her, he acted as if they were still flirting. Never take a client for granted, Frida told her own clients. Your best clients are your best prospects. He smiled. He flipped her hair over her left ear. He eased her bare shoulders out of her blazer, and slid his hands down her smooth skin while removing the jacket completely with one hand, and taking the bouquet of roses with the other. He slid a teasing finger across her nalgas while moving to hang up the jacket, and finding them bare to the touch under her opaque business skirt, asked, “Thong? Or commando?” He spun her around into an embrace.
On the cedarwood table César had draped a lace tablecloth from his grandmother, with a violet runner in the center. A cut crystal bowl with fruity red rose petals floating on water was flanked by lit yellow tapers. César stepped past Frida into the kitchen, from which the sound of a faucet was soon heard. César produced a matching cut crystal vase, half filled with water, in which Frida’s roses were displayed. César set the vase in the bowl filled with the contrasting rose petals. “The reflective surfaces blend the colors well, yes?” he said, admiringly. Frida wanted to ravish him there, before dinner. But this was César’s return from a long business trip, and he might have everything timed just so. Frida just lifted César’s chin, pulled his shirt collar, and satisfied herself with an aperitif of his lips and tongue. César placed his right hand around her ribs, but the gentle, supple feel of her breast under her shoulderless satin top drew his thumb to it as surely as a moth is drawn to light. Her nipple was pressing urgently through the fabric. He remembered himself, and poured two glasses of sparkling grape juice.