The noise of the engine woke her before sunrise. She felt for her sandals at the foot of her cot, pulled her robe closed with one hand and with the other swung open the curtain to peek out through the window, worried that she’d overslept. She leaned her hips against the sill and squinted, trying to see into the half-light. Again, she heard the mechanical whirring, but the noise was coming from far away. Some lost driver, she thought. It wasn’t rare to find a lost soul looking for his or her way out of the nameless and labyrinthine dirt roads crisscrossing the neighborhood, crammed full as it was with clapboard houses and trailers on wheels that would never roll again. Plus, the noise was too loud to be from the truck that was coming to get her. Be ready, they warned her, because we’re not going to wait around if you’re not. We’re not going to honk, and definitely we’re not going to come knock on your door, my driver will rev the engine so you’ll know we’re here.
The woman went up to the sink and turned on the cold water. The pipes shuddered inside the wall, as if they were stretching after a long nap, before dripping out any liquid. She filled a glass to the rim and then took a gulp, washing the taste of coins out of her mouth.
The forest beyond the houses was dark; she could barely make out the silhouettes of a few bushes. A pair of fireflies blinked in the distance, followed by the noise of another engine. Stepping outside, she hastened to release the tarantula that had kept her company for years. Before letting it go she made the sign of the cross over it, for protection against curses, heels, wild predators. Her eyes misted as the spider disappeared into the darkness. No more would she be able to caress its hairy legs or let it cling to her arm. Never again.
She knotted shut her only backpack when the headlights shone into her house, illuminating everything, even the dirt crusted into cracks in the walls. Remember, one bag, nothing more, there’s not room in the truck, over there you’ll have time to buy whatever you need, you’ll even have extra money, mark my words. She made sure that the oven was off and the hot water gas tank was disconnected. The bed was made, the backdoor chained and a stick stuck in the frame to discourage any burglars. As she looked one last time at her old home, she regretted not having covered the furniture and wall portraits with sheets and rags.
The driver stepped on the gas just once, exactly as he had said he would. Hearing the engine rev, the woman felt the stab of her mother’s gaze from the portrait on the kitchen wall behind her, chastening her for the error she was about to commit, abandoning her home, seduced by the din of uncountable voices that her mother always said were shouting a lie: There’s more dinero than one person can spend over there. A few of her neighbors had already made the trip, leaving behind a wake of rumors about the destinies that thundered down on them. Some were scrubbing floors, others were stripping naked for food and board. The only neighbor that actually improved her quality of life was the lady who found a lock of hair in a soda can. Her lawyers argued that the incident traumatized her and never again would she believe in the purity of canned refreshment.
In the truck, behind the driver and the copilot, there were three people jammed into the rear seat. The woman maneuvered her body into the only empty space, between two obviously annoyed women. Make yourselves skinny, the driver said, because we still have to pick up two more. No one responded. After a moment, the copilot guffawed. The smell of his breath wafted all the way to the back; the woman scrunched her nose. Starting off down the road, the truck choked and coughed pleadingly.
Cramped as she was, the woman couldn’t even manage to turn her head and take one more look at her old home. In the rearview mirror, however, she managed to sneak a glimpse, barely distinguishable in the darkness, of the unfinished beams and rebar on the roof—from when her parents had decided not to go ahead with the second story. The image in the mirror shrank as they drove away. In that shrinking reflection she saw all that would be left behind with her new life, that life that ever since her mother had passed she had been promising herself to start living.
The dust in the house, once continuously kicked up and billowing about the room, finally found rest on the furniture a few minutes after the woman left. Between the pendants of crystal hanging from the lamp in the kitchen, a spider finished its web, where it would later catch its first moth. The long silence of the coming hours was only interrupted by the slow creaking of the furniture and the continued settling of the house’s foundation. A few days after not finding edibles in the same corners it used to visit at night for food, a mouse died of hunger. The porcelain crock pot that the woman never saw her mother use, and never used herself, not even for special occasions, shifted in the darkness of a cabinet as the earth shook so slightly that not a single villager registered the tremor. Someone knocked on the door and when nobody answered they wedged a few religious pamphlets under the knocker; one of the pamphlets prophesized an imminent flood. As the season changed, heavy rains worked through the roof and dampened the portrait of the woman’s mother, a drop of moisture forming close to her left eye. If anyone would have been able to see it, they would have believed that it was a miracle, but to the woman it would have, instead, brought long nights of insomnia, as she would be searching for the spectral figure of her mother in the shadows of the house, no longer able to tell if it was the wind or her ghost swaying the rocking chairs on the patio. The drip from the faucet continued tracking time, five drops a minute, for several months.