One mans fight to cross the border with his daughter
| “If you don’t get into heaven, you go to hell, right?” Josie asked, her innocent question laced with the fear of a confused child.
Mark didn’t hear her; his attention was focused on the border-guard inspecting the car in front of his. He was a short pudgy man stuffed into an olive-green uniform, with a wide bald-spot crowning his head. Small dark eyes were set back in his head like a rodent. A potbellied little sewer rat, Mark thought. He was sniffing around the trunk and stopped to look at Mark, almost as if he’d heard the thought. Mark quickly began fumbling with the car’s stereo so as not to be seen; all the pre-set buttons were still set to the San Francisco stations and all he got was static.
“Daddy?” Josie called from the backseat.
“Huh?” Mark said, checking the guard with a subtle glance and saw him walking around the front of the car with a small mirror on a pole. He relaxed and turned off the radio.
“I said, if you don’t get into heaven, you go to hell, right?”
Christ she's smart for a four year-old, he thought. “Um, I guess so. Why’d you ask baby?”
“Cause I think mommy’s gonna die.” She said it matter of factly, no emotion coloring her thin voice.
“Why do you think mommy’s gonna die, baby?” Mark said as he absently watched the border-guard wave the car through. Could Josie have heard us fighting last night, he wondered. Could she have snuck out of bed and watched me strangle that nagging bitch?
“Cause we’ve been driving for a really long time and we still ain’t found the hospital yet. You said mommy was real sick and we had to get to the hospital, but that was dark-time and now it’s day-time.”
“We’re almost there, baby; I know it’s taking a long time. You see those buildings up ahead?” Mark said, pointing to the border check-point. “Once we get past those buildings we should find a hospital.” He wiped his forehead with his palm and it came away dripping with his sweat, and a wide circle of moisture had spread out on the front of his shirt, like a bib of perspiration. Flipping the air-conditioner to dial the next higher setting, Mark hoped the guard would think he was sweating from San Diego’s mid-day heat, and not from his overwhelming nervousness.
“And then mommy’ll be okay?” She was relentless.
“Well, we’ll have to wait and see what the doctor says, okay?” I didn’t really want to do it, he wanted to tell her. I didn’t want to kill her, but she knew where his buttons were and that bitch could push them.
I tried to explain that a flat tire took time to change, Mark thought. That’s why I was an hour late coming home from work, but when she got something in her head she didn’t let go of it. She was so convinced that he’d been screwing that girl from the bowling alley that there was no way to reason with her, not even when he held out his grimy hands for her to inspect would she believe him. When she started screaming at him and threatening to take Josie away, he found his greasy hands around her throat, and then it was too late. So he squeezed until she stopped fighting back, and when she was quiet, Mark got Josie out of bed, grabbed his car keys, and hit the road, driving through the night to the Mexican border. Everything rested on getting through to the other side.
“Hold on baby,” Mark said. “I have to talk to this man for a minute before we can go.” He turned the A.C. dial to three dots and cold air blasted him on his sweat soaked forehead. The cold did nothing to stop the flood of perspiration from running down his face. He pulled the car forward and rolled down his window as the Border Guard approached.
“What business do you have in Mexico?” the official asked, his rodent-like nose twitching as he talked.
“Visiting friends.” Mark said, mindful to keep his answers concise.
“Don’t forget the hospital, Daddy.” Josie called form the backseat, threatening to ruin everything.
The guard’s eyes narrowed to thin lines, his bushy eyebrows slanted to a point in the center of his face. “What’s that?” He asked.
“Oh, nothing. My friend is a doctor in Ensenada. He transferred from San Antonio to do outreach stuff for the less fortunate Mexican people. We were going to stop by and see him at the hospital where he works.” Mark’s heart was thumping with such force he thought his eardrums were going to burst. The lie had spilled out pretty easily, and Mark felt pretty good about his chances of making it through. He could hardly hear what the man said next over the whooshing of blood in his ears, but saw very clearly when the border agent looked back to the guard shack behind him and signaled for a second guard to come over.
“Sir, I’d like to have our narcotics dog check around your automobile to see if he detects the odor of any illegal narcotics.”
The expression on the guard’s face was smug, and Mark battled to contain his hysteria. Not because he had any drugs in the car, their dog would be worthless, but because if the S.F.P.D. had found his wife’s body they’d probably phone ahead to the border. I knew I should’ve stolen a set of license plates when we stopped for gas in Bakersfield, he thought. His heart was beating harder than that time he had taken ephedrine in the tenth grade and thought his chest would split open.
The dog trotted over to Mark’s car like he was up for ‘best in show’, and the pudgy guard stayed leaning on the driver’s window, his face just outside the window, his eyes focused on Mark. “Hot?” He asked, referencing Mark’s sweaty face and shirt.
“Yeah,” either that, or I’m having a heart attack, Mark thought. What the hell is with everybody? The dog and it’s master were rounding the front of his car and were nearly finished with the inspection. Almost done, Mark thought. Sixty seconds more and Josie and I will be Mexicans.
Just then the guard’s radio erupted with a static-squeal, and Mark knew this was it. He could almost see a swarm of border guards surrounding his car with guns drawn, Josie screaming in the back-seat, a warm puddle of urine soaking into the seat of his jeans. The words from the radio were unintelligible, and he briefly contemplated smashing the gas-pedal, flattening the dog and master under his tires and seeing how far he could get into Mexico before he was picked up and extradited back to the U.S. Of course, the thought of being held for murder in a Mexican prison was less than appealing, and he doubted he’d ever see extradition; so he waited, and sweated.
The radio went quiet and the two guards shared a communicative glance. “Enjoy your visit to Mexico, sir.”
And with that, Mark and Josie were free; they had made it. He pulled slowly away from the guard shack and onto Mexican soil, the road spreading out in front of him, open with possibilities and anonymity. He settled back in his seat and suddenly it wasn’t quite so hot, suddenly his heart slowed to a reasonable pace, suddenly it was time to get down to the business of living.