Taking a shower at Tia’s was a dance. There was no cold water and the hot water steamed, burned your skin. Tia had complained to the landlord about there being no hot water. Only she didn’t complain to him, she went straight to Section 8 housing office. This had made him angry so now there’s hot water and no cold water.
Now whenever Eva visited her aunt and slept over, there was no cold water to take showers, even in the valley 100-degree summer and it was awful. That man knew it was like they were steaming tamales.
They lived eight in that three bedroom place. Tia and her five boys and three girls. It wasn’t an apartment or house, bigger than a shed. Really it was a long rectangle made of wood, sitting on cement blocks that was divided in sections. Section 8.
The floors were thin and worn. Last winter, Tia had fallen through the floor where it was worn out in the back room. One leg semi-sticking out and the rest of Tia caught between the wood, half in and half out. We Eva and Laura came home one afternoon they found her. Leg bleeding, no broken bones, thank God. No call to the landlord or Section 8 this time. Lucas and Fernie, the two oldest and Eva’s cousins, went down to an abandoned building and brought over pieces of plywood. They nailed board after board and when any of the kids have to go out the back now, they carefully navigate around the boarded up hole.
When Eva and her cousin Laura ditched school, Tia treated them to fajitas and toasted corn tortillas. If there were enough tomatoes and onions, she’d make a bowl of pico de gallo. When Eva was sick, as she often was, she’d inch her way off campus, hide behind bushes and trees, so the cops wouldn’t see her. She’d Show up sneezing or with another nosebleed. Tia would pull up some plants from the tiny patch of dirt outside the front kitchen window. Tia had a tea for everything. And everything grew in that tiny patch too. Melons, cilantro, mint-what helped was that Tia had snaked the washing machine hose out the window and into the patch of dirt.
After a few cups of tea that tasted like perm solution, Eva was ready for a nap. No one was home, so she had the bed to herself. She drifted into sleep with thoughts of caving floors. She thought about the rats inside the walls and underneath the floor.
Eva had read that for every cockroach seen, 1,000 lived inside the walls.
Eva preferred sleeping over at her aunt’s since the ride from Monte Alto to the high school in Edcouch-Elsa meant she had to get up before the sun was out. She’d ride the bus back home and it was late already. She lived with her dad but he was never home. She’d go to their place in Monte Alto every few days to pick up clothes or see if her dad was back from Mexico. Her dad spent a couple weeks a month in Mexico and he’d show up, expect her to wash his clothes and make dinner.
On the nights she did sleep over, there was never enough room, beds or blankets. Even in the summer having a thin sheet to cover her entire body, tucked in all the sides, was good so any flying roaches that landed on her didn’t touch her skin. The boys took two rooms and the girls and Tia slept in another one. If it was chilly, which wasn’t very often, the cold came in up through the floor and seeped in from the windows. Eva layered nearby piles of clothes on her body to keep warm.
Morning were a strange and chaotic mess. Tia yelling, “Levantense, get up!” Sometimes she’d make us eggs but usually we had to eat breakfast at school. The younger ones mostly didn’t eat at home either. Fernie and Lucas always had something to eat at home. They ate chorizo tacos or eggs or even griddle cakes because they were in football. They got to eat there and then again in school.
The kids woke up in waves. Lucas and Fernie were up first because they went to football practice and then studying for a while before class. Then Eva and Laura were up, and the little kids ranging from ages 12 to five were up last. Laura tried to help out by ironing clothes or washing the dishes, tying shoes, finding books and backpacks. Lucas and Fernie charged her $5 if she wanted a ride to Monte Alto and there was no way she could afford giving Tia any money for the water and food she wasted.
Eva didn’t like the mornings. The burning hot water in the shower where the light bulb was always out. Maybe it was the thick steam that ruined the bulbs. Whatever reason, it was always dark in there. The tiny shower stall had no door and they left the bathroom door cracked to let light in from the hallway.
An old washing machine leaned against the wall next to the stall and it she’d put her change of clothes there, there really wasn’t any other place to put them. She wished she had sandals. Maybe it was the thin wood floors or the humidity, but she stood still for a few seconds, tiny roaches ran over her feet and climbed up her legs. they’d be on the clothes too so she had to shake them out real good before putting them on, still some stayed.
The boys dressed in the hallway but it wasn’t something Eva wanted to do. When she sat on the toilet, she alternating putting up one foot then another, or both in quick succession. She tries to pee without touching the toilet like she did in Mexico but it was hard because it gave the roaches time to crawl up her legs. But still, some were able to get on her. So many and so fast. Not the big flying roaches like in Monte Alto, though they did make appearances on hot nights. Her cousin Mando, Laura’s brother, said that one crawled into his ear, and Tia took him to the clinic and they took it out with long tweezers. Eva started packing her ears with tissues.
Then there was the ironing. Evan stood near one end of the long hallway, ironing a few shirts or pants on the mornings she stayed over. Sometimes Fernie came over to where she was standing, looking for something or other, or passing by in a towel to get dressed in his room. And every once in a while, he’d brush up against her, stand right behind her, pressing his body into her.