Inez Santiago is a Mexican writer from Southern California. Her fiction and CNF works are published in LatineLit, Rejection Letters, and Liminal Transit Review respectively. She focuses on fiction, poetry, and something slightly in-between. You can often find her staring at photos of stars and space or on Twitter @InezSantiagoFic.
5 years, 8 months, 2 weeks, 3 days, 9 hours, and 28 seconds. That's how long we’ve been out here, I think. Well, 35 seconds now. This house was so pretty when we bought it. Barely 15
minutes from the main road (14 minutes and 13 seconds walking to be exact), another 10 and 55
to get into town. I usually walk to town; it's nice in the mornings. Strange, though, since I never
considered myself a morning kind of girl. Night owl, really. Not so much after the first year,
though. There was too much going on. The branches and wind and birds and insects, and just
everything that lived in the forest 2141 feet from the house. The forest was a huge draw for me
when we first bought the place, I’ll be honest, but things move in the forest at night. I don’t care
for it anymore.
The door bangs open at 7:12 pm. It’s my husband. Tall and blonde, 6’2, and with a big smile. A tired smile, but still big. I wave from the kitchen table where 2 of everything is laid out. Dinner is served, and we eat. On average, it takes us 22 minutes and 39 seconds to finish eating. 26 and 54 if we chat. He usually does the chatting though. He tells me about one or two of his 26 students at his lecture today. He’s very excited that a student from the Philippines has chosen our school as an exchange student. He’s excited on my behalf, really. He tried out the few Tagalog phrases I’ve taught him that I barely know myself. I know 67 words in Tagalog, not counting the ones that make up the 12 phrases I know. 2 introductory phrases, 3 questions, 2 greetings, 2 goodbyes, and 3 assorted. He repeats some for me, and he says them poorly, which isn’t terrible since I too say them poorly. He insists I go and visit the student. A little brown-folk solidarity in our predominantly white town. Then again, it's rural England, so that's not entirely strange, is it?
There are only 2 other families of color here. One Indian family of 5, and a Chinese family of 3.That makes a total of 9 people of color, 10 if you include Manuelo, the exchange student, in our 2,089-person town.
I assure him I will make an effort to meet him tomorrow. It works out, given that I take classes at the university my husband works. I work there part-time, too. I work 12 hours a week grading papers for my husband, fixing up and restocking the teachers’ lounge (or staffroom as they call it), organizing files, making copies, and reviewing the material I no longer teach. I also spend 6 hours taking courses; 2 hours for my English Classics course, 3 hours for Environment and Society, and 1 hour at any of my husband’s courses. He teaches two courses twice a week there. I like to listen to him talk even when I don’t know what he’s talking about. It's comforting to watch him.
The next day I do exactly that. I walk the 25 minutes and 28 seconds it takes to get to the university and keep my mouth shut on the walk over even as I pass by our neighbors. They won’t talk to me anyway. I wear a summer dress in soft pink. I wear my hair down, flowers in it. They definitely will not engage. The winds whisper a biting breeze as October is around the corner and I eye a little girl in a jumper and boots. She stares at me as I breeze by. I try to fight a smile but cannot, it takes her mother some 5 seconds to whisk her away from my foreign face.
I meet my husband at his classroom, 8 minutes before class starts. 21 of his 26 students are already there, including Manuelo. My first thought is that he is tall for a Filipino, about 5’10. He smiles broadly–like I do–and he greets me in English. I greet him in Tagalog. He smiles wider. We speak in broken pieces until I try a few Spanish words. His eyes widen, mine twinkle, and our conversation continues in Spanish. A talented young man. It is freeing to use this language of mine that has lain dormant for a long time, some 8 years, 9 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 12 hours, and 2 seconds. Our conversation comes to an abrupt end as my husband’s chalk scratches the board. I wave goodbye and catch the eye of a young man in the top row of the lecture hall. He scowls. I close the door fast.
In my small office, adjacent to my husband’s, I open his planner. I have the week scheduled to the hour. It helps keep everything on track. I pull out my blue marker for student appointments and write in Manuelo’s name for the 4:30 pm block of faculty office hours. I move Charles’ to the 6:45 block and send the updated schedule to my husband and a notice to Charles.
He may not remember my name, but I remember his, and his papers are as awful as that scowling face of his. A little later in the day for tutoring won’t make a difference, will it? Trust me, it won’t.
I flip through the planner to add the revised faculty meeting scheduled for 4 weeks, 5 days, 22 hours, 18 minutes, and 41 seconds from now. But my finger slips, and I go forward two weeks. In dark red pen, the week is blocked out with the words “U.S. Lecture Tour.” New York on Monday, Los Angeles on Wednesday, and Boston on Friday.
My eyes widen. I hadn’t heard of this. My mind races. No, I definitely haven’t been told about this. Why didn’t he tell me? Did the other professors know? Did the students? I’d have to write a notice. Sparks seemed to bite at my heels. My hands were in a frenzy, moving things about the desk. Counting everything on it. 7 books back to the shelf and 2 are put back; he’s using those to create a lesson plan. 9 pencils, 4 pens, 3 markers, 3 staplers, 1 tape dispenser, 5 post-it notes, 10 ungraded papers, 1 laptop, 2 coffee mugs, 3 empty soda bottles, and 1 unopened water bottle. I tidy and think about the trip. The remaining 3 hours, 45 minutes, and 44 seconds are a blur and then I’m back home. I barely realize it.
I don’t know how to spend the next 6 hours, 57 minutes, and 44 seconds with this information rattling around my brain. I spend them packing and unpacking. Looking at things to do in LA that I never got to do before coming here. I spend the time planning by the hour, thinking about the possible schedules we may be given. Who else would be going? The time flew by in my miniature frenzy. My husband bangs the door open at 7:13 pm. A minute later than usual I can sense the excitement in the air.
“I have something to tell you, love,” he said with a sly grin. My stomach flips, I feel light as a feather, and my toes and fingertips tingle as if numb. The excitement almost has me swaying. Say it. Say it!
“The university is sending me on an American lecture tour!” he cries, throwing his arms open. I jump into them, screaming and hopping as he tries to lift me. But I am heavy, and he is a professor. We laugh and I kiss him 3 times. Once for excitement, once for support, and once for relief. I open my mouth to ask when we leave, but he beats me to it.
“It’ll be next month. It’ll be 3 stops, Boston, New York, and someplace in California.”
“Los Angeles,” I correct.
“Yes!” He beams enthusiastically, so excited he doesn’t realize I already knew.
“It’s only a week, love. Departing from Gatwick on the 6th of November, a Sunday. Should be back by Saturday, I believe.”
Now I had the exact dates! Only 6 weeks, 6 days.
“You’ll be all right on your own for a week, won’t you, love?” he asks.
The breath from my lungs leaves me. I almost gasp for it. I feel hot all over. Beads of sweat drop from my palms. I wipe my hands on my apron, dinner in the oven, and smile broadly. “Don’t be silly, sweetie. I’ll be fine.”
He beams and continues, veering to chat about his lecture notes. He wants me to review them before he goes to make sure he’s appealing to his American audience. I glance at the oven.
13 minutes and 32 seconds left on the timer. I don’t know how many more minutes I can last.