Mom used to take me with her across the bridge to Nuevo Laredo for things we couldn’t find on this side of the border. If we ever needed medicine, a cheaper mechanic, or some non-FDA approved goods, we were sure to find them en el otro lado. You couldn’t tell what came from this side or the other, if it wasn’t for the labels. Our cupboards housed groceries that saw the border as arbitrary and the stuff we got at the Sorianas cozied up next to the stuff from HEB. Mom liked the convenience of shopping in Laredo, said it made her English better. But my dad loved the food he grew up eating and his appetite is what kept us crossing back and forth over the river.

            The last time we crossed together was when Mom and I brought back Chorizo Selecto. You can’t get this type of sausage in Laredo even though you can get tripas, which I think the FDA would consider more of a health concern. Intestines are worse because the dirtier they are the better they taste fried up in pig lard, whisked around a cast-iron disco. Getting chorizo was the most rewarding errand to run but also the riskiest because of the drug dogs. The Border Patrol agents were wising up. Mom couldn’t pretend she didn’t know English anymore which meant she also couldn’t pretend she didn’t know we were smuggling contraband. If dad crossed with us and mom was more relaxed, he’d let me shove my white shoes into the railing so I could lift up and balance on my stomach. I looked down at the river expecting fish but don’t remember seeing any. Just plastic bags cruising the thick water and the occasional t-shirt tangled in the weeds. We never worried about the agents.

            It’s funny to me that chorizo means so much to my father. When they were very poor newlyweds they owned only a few pieces of furniture including the hand-me-down table my grandparents gave them as a wedding present. They propped up its broken foot with a tobacco tin and one morning dad accidentally kicked the leg and sent chorizo and eggs crashing down to the floor. It had been the last link and there was no more work that week which also meant no money for more chorizo. Chorizo has always been precious to him.

            I knew we were getting chorizo because it wound mom up. The border laws were changing quickly and dogs sniffed around the bridge most days now. Some of the agents kept their hands on their guns when they asked us for proof of citizenship. One time, mom got so anxious about the agents she threw chorizo in the river, afraid of being caught. She hesitated and sighed a lot before she finally tossed it and we watched it hit the water with a sad splat. She had starved as a child. This was hard for her to do.

            On this morning, I sipped hot chocolate as mom and I watched the back of dad’s truck drive north away from the bridge. It was a bizarrely cold day. The clouds were low and gray and made the hibiscus flowers lining St. Agustine plaza stay closed, as if they were bundling up to keep warm. Mom had overdressed me. She hurried me to the crossing and forgot her coffee on a bench.

            Our breath puffed out in front of us as we crossed the bridge. The river looked heavy, pressed flat by the cold. We walked up two blocks past the placita to a pink mercado called “La Michoacana” where an old man in a white apron and hat was behind the counter. He had a big gray mustache that didn’t move even when he laughed and would give me goat milk candies if I didn’t lean on the glass counters.

            I loved this place because of the colors and because it reminded me of the spring the citrus and spice made me forget it was dreary outside. There were pyramids of oranges, baskets filled with bananas, papayas, melons and meats hung up behind a glass window. The man with the mustache moved away from the register in front of customers in line and took our money at the end of the counter.

            Mom tensed up as he took 1 slender white box with red lettering from inside the deli case and put it on butcher’s paper. He turned the box so the words “Chorizo Selecto” faced us, opened the top and pulled out 12 skinny links he put in a small black plastic bag. He handed it to mom and walked back to the customers in line buying sliced fruit cups dusted with chile. Mom put the bag in her purse and we were on the wet sidewalk headed towards the bridge again. There were no dogs sniffing around cars this morning. Mom relaxed and another sleepy customs agent waved us by. She even smiled, happy we got away with it.

            Chorizo Selecto is a dense, small sausage that is made on one farm in Nuevo Laredo. The original famer and his wife were grandpa’s childhood friends and started making it when grandma was pregnant with dad, the same summer a drought obliterated their onion crop. They dropped a case of it off at grandpa’s tire shop the afternoon dad was born as a way of saying congratulations on the birth of their son.

            When I fry Chorizo Selecto, it crumbles and crisps in the amber pool of fat it releases. Once the meat darkens, I crack eggs over it at stir with a metal spoon. Chorizo has to be made almost at the end, once the last tortilla comes off the griddle and the beans and salsa have made it to the table. Each plate of chorizo and eggs I eat reminds me of all the things that happened on the days we ventured out to get it. I taste the anxious sweat on mom’s forehead, the green snake of the river, the slick gray asphalt on the bridge. I feel my father’s craving pull at me from the town across the border and be sated, our link to Mexico kept alive within a frail sausage casing.
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