Saturday, June 30, 2012
Anna missed a period the month of high school graduation. There was no mistaking what had happened; Hector had come from his home group to hers; both groups met in the morning after the night of the last final exam. Unlike Anna, Hector had never come close to disaster through his drinking. How he had navigated the double life of a teenage alcoholic and a young entrepreneur was anyone’s guess, and how he recognized that he could have been the next person in his family to come to a bad end through his drinking seemed like a minor miracle. In a display of judgment that belied his family’s predisposition to self-destruction, Hector had attended his first meeting before he had met Anna the previous year, before he knew about the boy at Lago Manuel Avila Camacho, before he ever heard of Roberto the taxista. Hector now had something worth more than money now that he had opened his own taller, and now that he had mechanics working for him who were older than his father. The captain of the Good Ship Hector stood high over the wheel.
So in a combination of boldness and carelessness – some would say recklessness –
“How was your meeting?”
“We had some great drunks tell their stories, but there’s so damn much mediocrity out there – so much mediocrity! – that you can hardly tell the speakers apart, let alone the listeners. How about yours, Thor?”
The Norse god now knew the temperature of the water, and the direction of the prevailing winds.
“Just as you say. It sounds like we went to the same meeting, after all.”
“Did you tell them anything? They hardly know you, yes?”
“They were my first group, before I met you, remember?”
“How could I forget? You were so cool, the way you rescued me from the cura. I thought you were the Superhombre himself!”
It mattered little to Hector that Anna had misunderstood the question. Rather than correcting her, he puffed up his chest so that the ripples in his muscles protruded through his signature thin white T-shirt and performed a drum roll on his pectorals with his fists. “Your turn,” he said to Anna, and emitted a deep laugh as he slid his hands from her bare shoulders down to her hands. He rolled her fingers into fists. Then he bent her elbows and, placing her fists on his chest, began to beat his muscles like a Tarzan until Anna took over the beating.
She picked up the tempo and started playing song rhythms on Hector’s still-flexed pectorals.
“Batatup bup bup batatup bup ba, batatup bup bup batatup ba da ba, bum smack-smack!,” went her fists, opening up into slaps at Hector’s proletarian biceps.
“Oh, no, they say you've got to go, go go Godzilla!” sang Hector.
“Very good!,” cooed Anna. “Try this one,” Rrrrrroooolllll, batum, dum, dum, dum, roll, push, and tapping, tapping tap, tap,
“More than a feeling,” Hector and Anna grinned, hers a “double-dare-you-with-a-cherry-on-top” kind of leer, and his, a big WATCH THIS, as he hit the high notes, “That I’m feeling on Sundays (more than a feeling), my spirit’s reeling…”
“My spirit’s reeling,”
“When I see Mary-Anna walk away!” Hector changed the lyric ever so slightly, as he placed his hands under Anna’s arms and turned her gently away from him.
“Try this one! Badada – Tras, tras, tras!” Hector slapped out “All Night Long” by Billy Squier on Anna’s trasero.
Anna gently pushed back. She had always admired the shape of her own hips. Now she had found a fellow admirer who she admired right back – someone who had access to that sensitive and private trasero by birthright. Hector found the threadbare places in Anna’s shorts that were en modo that year. Not finding a seam, Hector resisted the temptation to linger on Anna’s bare ass-flesh. He ran the tips of his fingers first around the curves under the pockets, then up the stem of the buttock between the pockets. He traced the pockets silently, feeling Anna flex her glutes under his fingers. At the waistline, he touched her in the small of the back, and plunged his finger into her shorts. Grabbing the tiny strip of fabric that he found there, he pulled up her thong, and emitted that baritone belly-laugh as she squirmed against the wedgie.
“Hui, cabron!” Anna slapped back at Hector’s left shoulder.
“I let you go for a kiss,” Hector chuckled.
Anna turned around more slowly this time. Hector released the thong, and with his left hand under Anna’s turquoise tank, he guided her body in its gentle pirouette. His right hand met her face and, with a gentleness that belied his muscular mechanic’s paw, stroked her hair back over her left ear. She lifted her lips upward to their greatest height. He stroked her cheek, neck, and ear as he first kissed her with his chest, his chin, his belly, before leaning the much shorter Anna back in an arc and bringing his lips to hers. His right hand cradled her chin as their lips met and parted.
Anna stroked Hector’s rigid thigh and hamstring with her right hand. As she arced backward, she clutched the very top of his hamstring and the bottom of his gluteus. Her left hand rolled the T-shirt halfway up his torso. She held herself up against this man-child who was twice her size by pressing herself to him from her ankles to her tongue. Now, she regretted her choice to wear a bra that morning.
A kiss is a moment in which two people share the sensations of their lips, and maybe their tongues, their teeth, their noses, their cheeks. In this moment out of time, Hector and Anna kissed with their full bodies, enabled by the arc of Anna’s back to be in contact from knees to thighs to hips to chest to lips. There was no question of fondling; that would wait for later. The bodies were locked, fully engaged though, not counting the hands squeezed under each other’s tops, fully clothed.
Hector took a step forward. Anna drew her leg backward. This dance step moved them toward the sofa, where Anna took control. She turned their locked bodies to the sofa, and resting her right foot in its lace-up platform sandal on the pillows, slid her hand up to bare Hector’s chest. His left leg followed. Anna’s hands seemed to move without will as she relaxed into the sofa and lifted Hector’s shirt over his head. Freshly bared, Hector’s left nipple, then his right, met Anna’s lips.
Hector could not remember the last time he was with a woman in this way. Maybe it was the year he quit high school. He had a vague memory of a face, of the hair, a garter – and waking up alone with a real hangover. Was that a girlfriend? A puta? A one-night-stand? As Anna was working his nipples with her lips and tongue, adding light nibbles while running her fingers atop the light hairs on his spine, Hector had flashes of one or two women that he thought he had made love to. Well, not “love,” more like fucking. Those evenings had been lost in a boozy haze; this afternoon, for two people who had spent much of the preceding two years drunk or high the passion unattenuated by chemical influence made the air crackle.
As if on cue, sunlight from the partially covered window warmed their hips. Anna’s left hand had moved around Hector’s thigh to the front of his leg, stroking his sartorius and tying the jeans-covered thigh to the bare stomach. Compared to the mix of pleasure and slight pain coming from Anna’s kisses on his nipples, the barely-there touch on the tiny hair at the bottom of Hector’s abdomen shouldn’t have been noticeable; but instead, he trembled imperceptibly on the outside, but shuddered and pressed his cheek into Anna’s hair. Was that fragrance always there on that sweet scalp? Had she used a special shampoo? Or was it the moment? The next thing that Hector noticed, the snap on his jeans was undone. The zipper was down halfway, and the meetingplace of stomach, hips, and pubus met Anna’s eagerly exploring fingers.
Hector did not wear a thong.
Anna drew Hector’s jeans partially down his thighs, somehow managing not to scrape his most delicate parts with the zipper. Now she deftly pivoted her hips outward, pressing him to the sofa back.
“Ha! Try to get away now,“ she giggled. Hector’s jeans, now around his thighs, made this impossible.
Anna popped out of the sofa, and in a stroke, removed Hector’s boots and slipped his jeans off. She drew back, as if she were God and he were Adam, and she was admiring her handiwork, lying muscular and naked before her.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
The glass coffee table sharing the phone and the powder cocaine vibrated with the ring of the phone bell. Dimitri scowled.
“I just got a fucking unlisted number. Who’s trying to sell me stuff today!?”
His housemate, Mike, a thirtysomething divorcee paying twice his rent in child support, just muttered, “Your turn.” With the rolled-up $20 bill that lived on the coffee table, Dimitri snorted his now somewhat disorganized line, and answered the phone on the third ring.
“Da?” He answered in Russian to leave open the possibility of making a telemarketer hang up.
“Dimitri, did you hear?” It was Samantha.
“No. Hear what?”
“There was a terrible accident. They think Princess Diana has died!”
Dimitri was not a big royals fan. In fact, he knew more about Kansas City Royals pitcher Kevin Appier than he did about the House of Windsor. He only knew about Princess Diana because her campaign against land mines held the attention of one of his piano students. Cheryl was a 15-year-old Miss Junior USA wannabe who needed to prepare something for the talent component of the competition. Dimitri wrote a song for Cheryl.
“Lady in white lace
Red velvet heels
Cries, ‘childhood’s no place
For funeral peals.’
Reflecting bright light
Shines on the children
With no place in this fight.”
Cheryl’s mom, a knockout, used to be a broadcast reporter with WCBS-TV out of Manhattan. She “stopped out” of the workplace to have Cheryl and her brother, twenty months younger. Oops. She struggled to return to a major market, finally joining the new Fox Broadcast Network affiliate WTAF in Philadelphia, after ten years of trying. She looked a little like Samantha. Dimitri knew that he should NO WAY do anything too interesting on his weekly trips down Rt. 561 to Voorhees. Cheryl was too valuable a student. So valuable, in fact, that even after he got the gig on the Boardwalk, he kept her and two of her friends on his calendar. On Tuesdays, he made the haul back from Atlantic City to do lessons with her after school. She could have been at a friend’s one day, and I could try it with Mom. Cheryl is still in high school – dangerous. Could I convince them to go out with me at the same time? Ostorozhno – careful. Besides, I give three lessons on one day. Can’t risk that.
That calculus had nothing to do with the price of tea in England. Samantha was shaken. Dimitri knew that the woman meant something to him, or he would find ways to blow her off when he wasn’t in her bed. He knew for certain that he meant way more than a ready orgasm to her. She called him. Him! She had three girlfriends she chatted with, and extended family in the area. Not to mention that she was starting to date someone steadily. Wow. He had better get over there. His 280Z knew the way. There had to have been streaks of rust on Haddonfield-Berlin Road from his underbody. He did one more line for the road, cut two lines for Mike, and shoved off. Literally. He always strode with a forward lean.
Out the metal door of Apartment 217. Through the plank with the torn veneer pretending to blend with the faux maple paneling in the hallway. Down the staircase and through the fire exit into the sizzling blacktop parking lot. Whoosh! Into the Z without even rolling down the roof and, in a daze, down 611 to Roosevelt Expressway, the Schuylkill Expressway, the Vine Street Expressway, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Rt. 30, then Rt. 70, right on 561, then off into Sam’s development before Cherry Hill turned into Haddonfield. The Z drove itself; Dimitri was tuned into special coverage on the NPR station Rafi the Kibbutznik always listened to. Who was driving, the Egyptian scion of the Harrod retail chain? Was he drunk? Idi na khui! Go to hell! The paparazzi did it. One took pictures of the dying princess and tried to sell the pics to the BBC. Asshole. Put him in jail and throw away the key. Better yet, put him in the Gulag. Naked. In February.
Dimitri swung the Z next to Samantha’s BMW. He checked the space that he left and avoided flinging the door into her shiny black side panel. Noticing that his khaki shorts had just been hooked by a spring that had cut through the upholstery in the driver’s seat, he uttered an imprecation, reached into the tape storage compartment and pulled out electrical, not audio, tape, slapped a piece on the errant spring, and slammed the car door. Before he could knock on the solid wood door of Samantha’s condo, it opened.
“Thanks for coming, Dimbo.” They hugged, for once without sexual overtones. Dimitri felt moisture on his cheek. Samantha had been crying. “Dim,” she said in an undertone, “don’t be alarmed. My girlfriend is here. She knows you’re coming. She wants to meet you. It’s OK.”
Dimitri misread Samantha’s comment.
“Which one?” He assumed it was Ashley, Jessica, or Val, the girls she would hang out with.
“No, this is my girlfriend, Natalya. She’s the assistant GM over at Hooters.”
Dimitri swallowed the hard-boiled egg that had suddenly blocked his throat. He and Samantha had an understanding since they had decided to be friends with benefits. Neither would talk about the other’s sex lives outside the relationship. Sam wanted to find a life partner. Dimitri just wanted to have fun, as Cyndi Lauper might have said. If Sam needed to become monogamous, so be it. Dimitri, for his part, promised not to bring any viral visitors to the bedroom. But Samantha a bisexual?? Never considered it. But, interessno. Ochen interessno. Very interesting.
Samantha removed her right arm from Dimitri’s shoulder and showed him in. As if he didn’t know every square inch of the place.
Natalya greeted Dimitri in Ukrainian, really just a dialect of Russian.
“Primitye moii soboleznovaniye, accept my condolences,” Dimitri replied. Nataliya, jet-black-haired, with green eyes tinged with red from sobbing, sat in her denim miniskirt and a white tank on Samantha’s sofa. “Please don’t bother getting up.”
The two conducted a bit of an introduction in Russian and Ukrainian. Dimitri was surprised to find himself translating half his thoughts from English into Russian. Unwrapping the linguistic pretzel of his trilingual brain, Dimitri switched to English to ask the women about the only question that mattered to them at the moment: the impact of Princess Diana on their emotions. If either woman felt discomfort with Dimitri in the room, neither gave evidence of it. As for Dimitri, the situation presented many possibilities, but he knew he’d better just support his friend in her shock and surprise, and let everybody figure out their emotions in the weeks to come.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Rafi had been married to Segal for six months when the whining about wanting to go to the Adirondacks became a little too loud. Segal was a big fan of the naturalist and writer Anne LaBastille, author of Woodswoman, about her experiences living in a log cabin with no utilities in the forest at an undisclosed location, somewhere outside of Old Forge. Readers of the book thought they could identify the locale as on Six Mile Lake; even though they were wrong, the specter of a throng of hero-seekers drove LaBastille into the forest on whatever body of water allowed her to receive her mail by motorboat. Segal was as fired up about spending time in the woods as she had been about making aliyah, emigrating to Israel.
Not satisfied with the student’s year abroad, or even finding a job through an agency, Segal had lived on a kibbutz. No, make that two kibbutzim. She went once out of a Jewish nationalist fervor, with the intention of returning. The second time, she had made aliyah. This second time, she joined the governing body of the kibbutz, drove a tractor, became fluent at Hebrew, and even dated Orientals. Not Chinese pilgrims, learning about the triumph of the New Socialist Woman. In Israel, the term referred to Jews from Arab lands. This guy was an Iranian, an irooni. She liked him because he was shy. Rafi was a little like the irooni. She couldn’t tell why she found his social clumsiness attractive. Why do some women prefer facial hair, some prefer clean-shaven men, and some like three days’ worth of stubble?
“I don’t think we’re ever going to do something unless I do it myself, are we? ARE WE?”
“You said that, not me. Why are you saying this now? We talk about this over Pesach; I agreed we’ll do it this summer.”
“But it’s JUNE!” Segal raised her voice. It was reaching the level of annoyance that it had when he had just dumped Margie six weeks before and then he turned down a request for a dinner party so that he could attend a stargazing party at the Cricket Club. Strictly secret; a friend of a friend worked there, and he would unlock the gates if everyone could get there at the same time. Late arrivals would have to climb an eight-foot-high fence. The lights on Willow Grove Avenue didn’t stay on past 1 am, so it was very dark, suitably flat for telescopes, and manicured beyond the possibility of tripping and damaging valuable equipment. By the end of the fight that ensued when Rafi was demonstrating that he would not meet Segal’s every demand, she half-yelled, “I think this relationship has gone on long enough, don’t you?!” Rafi did not. He had fallen madly in love, and as far as he could tell, so had Segal. Best news? It was with each other. So ma yesh?
Rafi tried to defuse the current situation. “Let’s walk up to Borders, get some coffee, and buy a Lonely Planet guide. We can make our reservations when we get back.”
Borders, to the annoyance of all their Mt. Airy clientele, closed at 6 on Sundays. Mt. Airyites always laid the blame for that one on the twenty society ladies who ran Chestnut Hill. Rafi and Segal were renting a house right next to Jenks School. Segal, who worked mostly from home, would lug her laptop on some days, or just take a tablet more often, to the Borders three blocks away at the top of Chestnut Hill. It was Rafi’s job, when he would let their Norwegian Elkhound Jezebel (the name was Rafi’s idea) out to pee, to toss the basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and Nerf balls back to the kids waiting at the picket fence. Conveniently, it was 4:30 on a Sunday, so the school yard carried the usual weekend variety of basketballers, kids playing dodge ball, a young woman pounding tennis balls against the wall, and a few kids on bikes, several with training wheels, riding in circles while one parent watched. Jezebel relieved herself; Rafi had taken her running earlier in the day. No basketballs to worry about; the players were too old to control the play that poorly. Segal shut down the computer. Jez came in. Rafi gave her a biscuit. Rafi slipped on his Birkenstocks and Segal tied her shoes. Up the hill they walked. Rafi surged ahead, and remembering himself, slowed down and let Segal pull even. Rafi held the door open at the big bookstore. Segal started, by habit, to the magazine section. Rafi, heading off to the back of the store, shot off, “I get the guidebooks. See you in the coffeeshop in ten minutes.” Rafi felt Segal’s glower on the nape of his neck. She makes the money, she makes the decisions. But she would make his year hell if they did not go, not to mention that the whole marriage might be endangered.
Rafi knew not to order until Segal was on the way up the steps. He started browsing The Adirondack Book. History of the region. Boring. Geography. Lo ichpat li. Guide boats. Blorcz. Okay, okay, the index. Here we go. Camping – she’d never go for it. Bed and breakfast – too nice for me. I’d rather let her stay at a hotel and I’d camp on top of Mt. Marcy. Well, maybe Blue Mountain Lake – half as high. Well…
Segal materialized with her normal array of writing and tech magazines. She asked for Rafi’s coffee order.
“I’ll take a café mocha, cold, no ice. Would you like to stay at a bed and breakfast, a campgrounds, a motel, or some combination of the two?”
“Ma yesh, Rafi, anachnu y’cholim livkhor acharei she’anachnu osim kamah zayin kri’ah! Maduah chayav l’cha ish rutzi-rutzi? Ben kamah atah, hamesh? (WTF, Rafi, we can make that decision after we do some fucking reading! Why do you have to be Mister Hurry-Hurry? How old are you, anyway, five?)”
Breathe, Rafi. “I will look at the books. I will make some lists. You order the coffee. Rak anachnu tz’richim la’asot mashehu b’itim k’rovot (Only we have to do something soon).”
That evening, Rafi made lists of high-end, middle-range, and low-budget choices for each of the five geographic regions in the Adirondack State Park. He knew that Segal would make the decision in any case, but he would damn sure not take the blame. Segal was not going to work Monday without the decision being made.
* * *
The first stop was a detour to Cooperstown. Actually, below Cooperstown, on I-9, at the Viking Kennel, specialty breeder and boarder of Norwegian Elkhounds. Jezebel was the first Elkhound that either Rafi or Segal had ever met; now, as she bounded out of the Saturn to meet the permanent residents of Viking Kennel, she was surrounded by silver doggie butts with tightly curled white, silver, and seal-tipped tails, wagging like icy circus hoops, the front ends being spade-shaped noses all sniffing her rectal cavity for a personal postcard. The breeder remarked that Jez was a “stunning exemplar of the breed, clearly the work of a master breeder and a miracle of Nature.” Rafi and Segal would laugh at this on the way into the historic baseball village. Jezebel came from the Montgomery SPCA, Conshohocken Branch.
Rafi was not much of a baseball player. The game was not popular on the kibbutz. But Madonna had just costarred in the movie A League of Their Own, which told the story of the All American Girls’ Baseball League, and Segal wanted to come back with a Negro League souvenir for her boss. Plus, Segal, who had grown up Anastasia, was from the town that was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League.” Neither spouse had any illusion that Cooperstown was going to be the highlight of their trip, but as Segal had discovered the Viking Kennel, both thought that it would have been a shame to pass up on the opportunity for a pilgrimage. Neither one thought that the sun would be setting by the time they retrieved Jezebel and headed north to Indian Lake. As New York Route 10 droned on and on, and the sun dipped lower and lower, Segal grew testier and testier, and finally exploded with the phrase that serves as the ultimate rejection of a man,
“Eizeh GEVER! What a (stupid, worthless, arrogant, ignorant, brazen, morally suspect) man!”
Rafi jutted his jaw against the barrage of buyer’s remorse as well as against the treacherous winding and lack of illumination on Rt. 30. Whenever Segal got too loud, Jezebel would trumpet her disapproval. Otherwise, the dog nuzzled the back of her parents’ necks, first Rafi, then Segal.
Finally, Rafi dragged the car into the Indian Lake Motel. The host’s cabin was dark, except for a clip-on flashlight that illumined a paper ripped out of a spiral notebook. On the paper was scrawled, “Rafi, Segal, Jezebel.” When Segal lifted it out of the pitted aluminum screen door, a dog biscuit fell out.
Suite 6 sported a double bed, a bunk bed, a TV with cable (this fact, advertised prominently in a laminated card with 1” stenciled letters reading, “CABLE GUIDE,” convinced Segal that she shouldn’t go with the cabins), a kitchenette, and a dining table. In short, a palace by Manhattan standards. Sadly for Rafi, Segal had never lived in Manhattan, and she didn’t grow up on the kibbutz, either. These were the Adirondacks, for heaven’s sake, thought Segal. She resolved to have a miserable time. She did not tell Rafi that she was planning to fall back to CNN instead of springing forward into her adventure. Rafi was already planning the first day’s hike up Sawyer Mountain, a little “stretch-your-legs” outing to make sure that everyone was adjusting to the altitude. “Everyone” included Jezebel. Elkhounds were bred from before the Dark Ages to be vanguards. Rafi had trained Jezebel to run at an 8:30 pace for five or six miles, but neither they nor Segal were much adapted to hills.
Segal threw her backpack into the lower bunk and began directing Rafi.
“Get the crate.”
“Where’s Jez’s bag?”
“Do you have your meds?’
“Where’s the ID? Where’s my purse?”
Ma yesh? Al tid’f’ki alai!
“D’fok alai” is a cognate, roughly speaking. Very roughly speaking.
It was all that Rafi could do to keep from moving Segal’s backpack and curling up with Jezebel in the lower bunk to go to sleep.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Hector was the kind of muchacho who, had he been born in Los Angeles, would have spent the vast majority of his eighteenth year walking onto sets by day and walking over the cutest chicks’ boyfriends by night, and the girls would be paying the tab. In Puebla, there were no movies or television commercials to audition for, no agents to impress, and very few fast cars or stretch limos. Hector worked at a limo service after school, and in fact, the only fast car in the barrio, a 1984 silver T-Bird with a 280cc turbo, alternately purred and growled into Hector’s street for another totally unwarranted timing adjustment. Angel Diaz had a master’s degree in systems engineering, ran the power station, and when anyone official might see him, he would be tooling around in his Town Car or being chauffeured in a Diamante Limousine, along with government officials far too sober (and far too chary of drawing attention to themselves) to red-line it on Avenida Vicente Suarez. But Diaz, now thirty-four, had gotten Hector a job in the limousine garage after seeing Hector, then twelve, assemble a fully functional one-seat roadster from scrap parts.
One other thing about Hector. He was the one boy in the school, or the church besides, who treated Anna like she wasn’t a sex object. Walking to school, thirty or forty boys would calculate strategic angles of approach with the skill of a Euclid to preen, strut, or flex along Anna’s route. Anna would dismiss them like a royal waving to the “little people.” Anna was not to be had by a mere schoolboy. Was Hector just a better geometer than all the piñas? One thing for sure, when Anna sat down on June 12, 1996, in the courtyard of the Basilica, Hector knew enough geometry, or psychology, or just plain knew enough, to cross her path, reach over and inspect her book, and say, “Nietzsche. Man killed God,” and walk away.
“Uh…,” was all the language that could squeeze past Anna’s larynx, which had turned into a habañera. Forget about her tongue. It had the flexibility of carne asada.
Hector’s stitch-popping jeans and Hollywood-tight white T-shirt strode off toward the Basilica archway.
“Jodito,” cursed Anna, pounding Nietzsche into the open palm of her left hand. She unwrapped her lotus-position, swiped at her sandals, and caught Superman before he ducked into the shadows.
“Hui, chingόn, just what the f…” The Basilica dome is right over my head, and a giant dead Jesus almost heard me say…
“All right, disculpa. But where do you know from Nietzsche? And who are you, anyhow?”
“Hector. Como se llama?” ‘Se’ my ass, I know exactly who you are, Princess.
“Anna. Do you visit iconic Catholic buildings for fun, Friedrich?”
It was still before noon, and the thorny crown on the dead savior’s bleeding head broadcast its shadow straight down on the young man’s sweaty brow. The philosopher girl tucked her leather sandals under her left arm along with Also sprach Zarathustra, hooked one of the man-child’s belt loops with the index finger of her right hand, and led him inside the church. A yellowing marble recessed water fountain was the goal. Nothing special here, two teenagers ducking into a building to slake their thirst. Only this was the Basilica, Anna was barefoot, and from ten meters down the hall, the cura appeared, rattling a key ring the size of Anna’s waist.
Now it was Hector’s turn to guide. He slipped Anna’s leather Jesus-sandals out from under her left arm, then placed the sandals next to her feet. Respectfully shod, they stood in front of the water fountain a little longer before turning to admire the iconography. When he felt certain that the cura had lost interest, he play-punched Anna’s right shoulder.
“You owe me.”Que raro. Anna never owed nobody nothing. Who was this patudo, anyway?
How a person takes one fact about something as complicated as Nietzsche and turns it into a conversation remains one of the dating world’s great unexplained mysteries. By the time that Anna was convinced that Hector had planned his approach like all the weak boys from school and church, his subtlety, self-confidence, and shrewd intelligence had blinded her to the fact that not only was he older than she by only a year, but she was a diplomate and he had not finished tenth grade.
Skillfully, he guided the conversation away from the philosopher and back to the girl.
“Do you think that God died after creating the world?”
“And who said that God was done when He created this one?”
Hector waved his left hand toward the dome under which the two had found the water fountain.
“These people think so. What do you think?”
“I think there is a God, but I think that God underwent a shift when He created the world. The God that was compelled to create the world may be dead, but that doesn’t mean that my God is dead. Besides which…”
“You refer to God as a He. Does God have cojones?” Hector smiled broadly when he said this. Anna felt a wash of shyness, just a touch of embarassed self-consciousness. This stranger, this naco, had captured the initiative, like a gambiteer in ajedrez.
“ ,“ Anna gulped, and then recovered. “No, I just think of God as a man. My God is a man. Maybe your god is a woman, but I can’t believe in a woman. I couldn’t pray to a woman.”
“Neither could I, unless, of course,” Hector paused, “she were my mother.”
“So if I become a mother, you’ll have to pray to me?”
“Ya eres madrisima. But if you’re Hera, I’ll be Thor. Bumm, bumm, bumm, bumm.” Hector pounded his fists on the grass as if he were the Norse god. “Tierremoto! Earthquake!”
Anna opened Zarathustra and hid her head in it.
“OK. I fall in. Do you put the Earth back, or do you rescue me first?”
“I pull you out.” Hector took Anna’s left hand (Zarathustra still held her right), sprang upright in one great motion, and lifted Anna up to standing as well. “Now we are Titans, straddling the wounded planet, and we invert the mountains to heal the breach!”
Anna waved grandly with her book. “I hereby declare a new era for mankind. Now we have overcome our humble origin, and now we are ubermenschen, celebrating the rectitude of our creation and permitting ourselves the full joy of the lives we claim!”
Hector was out of his league, and he knew it.
“Orale! You go, chica, orale!”
Anna felt buoyed by this audience, beyond anything that she had experienced in theater arts class. She created a manifesto for Superman, and Hector played the role of the Greek chorus. Neither the philosopher-princess nor the motorhead with the physique of the god of thunder noticed the passage of time. Only their shadows, lengthening and mostly overlapping, showed cognizance of the passage of the day.
Jesus’s crown of thorns no longer projected a shadow, as the evening sun cast a rosy, almost living tone on the savior’s granite cheeks. The west wing of the Basilica nearly enveloped the courtyard in deep shade. Lacking midday frequencies, the light disguised a hint of chlorophyll on Hector’s T-shirt where his pectorals pressed into the grass.
“Anna,” Hector whispered, brushing back a cascading lock of her hair with the back of his index finger.
“I only read the study guide.”
“I know.” She guided his lips to hers.
Friday, June 15, 2012
There was an angel hovering over Anna – but she couldn’t see through the translucent haze of its wings. She felt a coarse, lined texture with the sole of her right foot. Stroking it, sensing the high friction of it, she began to be aware of sensations Que raro, she thought to herself. I feel something. I hear my own thoughts. Is this Heaven or Bedlam? She became aware of a dull sensation where her right wing should have been. She tried to move it. It was folded, half behind her, half under her. it started tingling. This isn’t how a wing is supposed to feel. She could not move that wing, but she could hear her voice inside her head as clearly as if she was standing over herself, preaching. She instinctively reached her left wing to the aid of the right, still anesthetized and immobile. Pick, pick, pick, she plucked at the skin of her right forearm. No sensation.
It occurred to her that her left arm moved too easily. There was no wing. Maybe this is Bedlam – or Hell?! She sat up with a snap – seated, but at rigid attention, she looked like a mitered joint waiting for a framer. She batted her eyelids – nothing. She lifted her functioning left arm to her eyes and rubbed – just a cloud. And an echo. She was not dead, and she was not loca. Somewhere between Heaven and Bedlam, between Bedlam and Hell.
“Chica,” a deep angelic voice parted the clouds on the horizon on her left. Maybe I’m dead after all. She raised her left arm in the direction of the voice. “Como ‘stas?” The angel’s swarthy Mestizo features parted the clouds and clarified the situation, at least a little bit. Anna was not dead. She sat with the toes of both feet pressed into a rough handrest of a rugged but accommodating sofa. She hadn’t said anything, not out loud at least, but her verbal centers were communicating with each other, not with her voice. Her eyes, at first sightless, opened wide, but as her already darkest chocolate irises, dilated to the size of swimming pools, began to focus, she glimpsed a living room interior. Behind the man hung harvest gold drapes on a bare white curtain rod and…
“Oja! Oja!´ The neurons controlling her jaw more or less engaged, causing her jaw to fall shapelessly open while her verbal centers cried in pain and confusion. She noticed that she was wearing clothes, not wings, and that, other than being severely rumpled and with a bit of errant sputum here and there, she showed no sign of anything worse. She tried, but failed, to slap her now spinning head with her right hand, now throbbing as the blood began to force the small blood vessels open anew.
“Calmate, chica, no puedes hacer nada, que vale.” Settle down, girl. You can’t do anything anyway. The words could have been menacing, but the man wasn’t a menace. His voice still sounded like it was coming from the Cathedral of St. Mark’s in Venice, not from a sparsely furnished living room in a four-room bungalow in…
Gradually, scenes of B. B., Before Binge, cracked through the coconut milk that was Anna’s brain. She had left Puebla to take a summer course in business communications. The school, in Mexico City, was still just a classroom and a silhouette. But there were faces – giddy faces of girls, a boy, a bottle, beer. La cerveza! Oh, did it course in frothy rivulets through her memory!
“It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re in Netza, I brought you here when you couldn’t get out of the taxi.”
“Usted es taxista? Crei, que Usted fue un angelo.”
“No, no angel. Just a man who was put in the right place. I’m Roberto.”
“Where did you find me?”
“You got in my taxi in front of ( detail ). I don’t usually work until closing time, because I’m just a soltero and I don’t want to be thought of as a wolf. But you seemed lost, and not stoned. “
“I.. I… was alone?”
“I left with four girls and a muchacho. Cute, but young, like me. Maybe fifteen. No, they served us, so he must have…”
Anna’s voice was overtaken by its echoes in her throbbing head.
“You were alone, and you looked lost. I don’t think you live in La Ciudad, do you, chica?”
“I come from Puebla. My father is…” Anna thought better of revealing her lineage; her mother had shamed her before for not living up to her father’s standards. As if she did. Jajaja..
“You are very young, to be in La Ciudad alone. Who is taking care of you here?”
“I am at (school ). I stay in the student dorms. At least until last night.” Anna was pleased that her mouth and brain seemed to belong to the same person; it was too bad that there was a razor splitting her head into its hemispheres so she could barely tell who that person was. That person just moaned like she was in labor.
“Vuelvo ahora mismecito.” Before his words stopped echoing in Anna’s wretched head, he was back with an ice pack. His workman’s hand stroked her bangs backward, and he laid the ice pack on the symptoms of Anna’s pain.
More images knitted themselves into memories under the coolness of the ice pack. A few bottles. A joint. The munchies. The muchacho had a fattened wallet from some good fortune or other, Anna could not think which. So it was dinner. Bistecca. Carne asada. Tamales con arroz. Y mas cerveza. Was it pitchers? Anna sucked her teeth. Bits of beef still bled their marinated juices from the gaps. So a night out? No, in her memory, the sun warmed the sidewalks underfoot. The beer started early that Saturday.
It must have been six or seven in the afternoon when the party began unraveling. First, Silvia and Ynez took leave. They had been wearing (soccer colors) futbol jerseys. They must have gone to the game – Guadalajara was in town. Busloads of Guadalajarans always made the trip – Guadalajara was like the Pittsburgh of futbol gringoso; their fans traveled well – and loudly. Anna liked watching futbolistas. But the muchacho – ja! Right, his name was Placido, like the opera singer. The Placido wanted to go sing karaoke. And he could buy the pitchers. And she could drink the pitchers.
The Placido, Anna, and the two other girls. Anna remembered that much. The two girls – they looked like Flora and Magda – no, they couldn’t be! Stop dreaming, he’s talking to you. A voice tried to dispel the renewed fog between Anna’s ears. Instead, it was as if her receptive speech centers were vibrating crystalline molecules, and the rich baritone vibrations of her unlikely host Roberto just amped up the noise without clarifying the signal. Anna raised her right hand, still tingling, to her forehead and adjusted the ice pack.
That song. “Amor, Amor” by Jose Jose. Or by The Placido. Wow. It just flooded out everything else. Anna blinked, but in her mind all she could see was The Placido with the mic in hand and a dream in his eyes. She wanted him. As he found his rhythm with the house band, The Placido relaxed more and more into the song and the beat. With a broad forehead, a furrowed brow, a squared jaw, and an aquiline nose, The Placido looked like the famous singer’s son. Anna wanted him.
“The others? Jose? No, not Jose Jose, Placido,” Anna stammered
“Your are alone, in Netzahualcoyotl. I had to take you home with me.”
“No, senorita, Roberto, el taxista.”
“Where was I?”
“ I don’t know, but I found you outside La Casa Teddy. Not far from here. I was coming home.”
“A terrible place. A real ( ). You look somehow like a muchacha I picked up around 8 last night.”
“I remember very badly. I cannot imagine it all. I think I remember going to the zoologico. My classmates were - two of them – going to the futbol match. Magda – lo siento, lo siento – Marisol and Fatima. Marisol is from Guadalajara. “
“Yes, I remember. I picked you and this Placido and some others on Avenida 533. That wasn’t such a great bar either. You’re too young to drink, chica.”
“Legally, señor. Remember, Placido is older.”
“Who is this Placido, anyway? What kind of gorilla is he that leaves such a young girl alone? No offense, Señorita, but if I recognized him I would break his head for him and serve it to him for lunch.”
“I can’t remember. But I can’t find bad feelings anywhere in my heart for him. We must have left 533 to go to a karaoke bar. I don’t remember the trip. I think I remember something about you, though, señor Roberto.”
“Alarcon, was it? It was like the name of the zoo.”
“You said something about Jose Jose. Were you going to see him?
“No. The Placido loved his songs. Where you took us to – wasn’t that a karaoke bar? I remember singing “Amor Amor” with him.”
“You have a beautiful voice, Señorita?”
“No. terrible. I can’t sing well at all. The Placido sings very well, but he lied and told me I sang beautifully,” Anna sighed and paused. The sigh stuck on the roof of her parched mouth. “I am so thirsty. May I have something to drink, please?”
“Just the thing. I am coming back right now.”
Pressing the tender points on her temple and brow, Anna pulled herself up to sitting. She saw that her lace sandals sat in a neat pair near the armrest of the sofa – just on the side that her feet had been. It seemed, she thought, that the two of them might have been a pair of nosy neighbors from her vecindario in Puebla who, upon encountering her, were telling (“can-you-top-this”) stories about her scandalous night before. With a feeling of panic that occluded her hangover, Anna shot her hand up her right thigh. Gracias mi Dios, she thought through another sigh, this one so heartfelt that it forced its way out her desiccated throat. She heard herself cough, and then – nothing.
Friday, June 8, 2012
“Magda,” Anna offered, “what if the man in the moon were a woman?”
“Maybe she would go be the seventeenth moon of Saturn.”
Magda’s house was tiny by comparison to the Garcia mansion that occupied the street corner. The rest of the block used to house people who worked for the occupants of the Garcia mansion in the nineteenth century; Magda’s was the last one in the row of narrow two-story adobes. For weeks now, Anna had been skipping across the rooftops to reach the roof exit at Magda’s. There wasn’t any logistical reason for this odd route; but there were whispers that Magda was showing too strong an interest in the female students at the new high school. Anna had heard the whispers; she didn’t like it. She knew from the way Magda hugged her, touched her, even held her hands and touched her face, that this was a special friendship. Anna, now in seventh grade, liked the touch; Magda felt like a dear sister to her. Magda, in ninth grade, was old enough to mean something different by it. The rumors left Anna confused.
Still, the two girls created a little hideout on the roof for sleepovers. A small blue plastic tarp, weighed down by jagged chunks of concrete, covered notebooks, flashlights, Anna’s emergency cigarettes, a lighter, and an alarm clock. Sometimes the cigarette box contained marijuana, usually inserted into a cigarette that had been emptied of its contents. Magda had stopped lecturing Anna about cigarettes; Anna’s whole family smoked – even Ernesto the doctor. Another key piece of equipment climbed up the ladder to the roof in the hand of one girl or the other, switching hands when the girls parted. This was the foot-powered air pump to inflate the tarp into an air bed. Tonight, the bed was inflated. A shared cigarette, smoked down to the filter, exhaled its last wisp of smoke from its deathbed in the fine gravel on Magda’s side. The girls held hands, lying at an angle, looking mostly at the moon.
“The only difference, I guess,” Anna picked up the metaphor, “is whether she would cross the Asteroid Belt.”
The night was just a bit too warm for early May, even in Puebla. A breeze came from La Malinche, rustling both girls’ straight hair. Magda’s belly button contracted from the breeze, peeking out in the moonlight under her bare-midriff white peasant blouse with an embroidered white-on-white neckline. Anna smiled at her friend. She lie on the volcano side, from whence the wind had come.
“Ja, I even covered you. Shall I give you my coat?” Anna was only wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Magda squeezed Anna’s hand and continued. “I wonder which I would like less, if the moon swung back to Earth orbit from time to time, or if it crossed the Asteroid Belt.”
Some time passed. The girls listened to the Puebla evening. In the stillness of the hour before midnight, they could hear the passage of each car or truck on Avenida Vicente Suarez. Even on a weeknight, one salsero played clarinet in the background. You could tell that this came from the neighborhood, not el Zocalo, the open plaza at the center of town. Magda thought the rhythm must be coming from a synthesizer, because it was just too perfect. Beside, there would have been few people to play for. The sound was faint, and no singing could be heard. The only distinguishable voices were those of the nocturnal owls seeking mates.
Anna brought the metaphor back to Earth – or more precisely, back to Puebla.
“My mom left when I was eight. She was really separated from my dad for a year already. She had her own bedroom, and for all I knew, she might have had a boyfriend. Our family had been falling apart from the time I went to first grade.”
“Where did she go?”
“She flitted back and forth to Cozumel. She didn’t say who she was seeing or what she was doing, but she just took money and comes back every now and then to make my life mierda. I haven’t felt anything except anger or hate for her since last summer.”
“But she taught you to smoke?”
“We all smoke. Some gift, right?”
“I like smoking joints with you. Didn’t you share that?”
“Chinga tu – mi madre, no! She slapped me in the face when I lit a cigarette in front of her.”
“Hipocrita. Did she slap you a lot?”
“Slap me, shake me, yell, always yell. She hasn’t been back for six months.”
“Magda, I just don’t care.”
A statement of such utter disdain for the woman in whose womb one grows tends to burrow itself in one’s consciousness. Both girls fell silent.
“My mom didn’t divorce my dad, either. She just left.”
“You come by your big sister role honestly.”
“Yes, I have no complaints about that part – I feel closer to my dad. He needs me. It feels good to work in the store. The vendors drive in and ask for me. I do work that my mom would never do. I just hate being abandoned, that’s all.”
“Magda, how did your mom get here?”
“It had something to do with politics. Puebla and Copenhagen were talking about a sister city relationship. The PRI wanted to show the people that they were doing good things outside the capital. My mom came on a development mission, met my dad, and they got married.
“I don’t even know how she decided that she didn’t love him. Mostly, I don’t know how she could have ever decided that she didn’t love us. She has two girls here in this town, under this volcano, breathing this air and listening to these owls and that salsero. My father and I built a little shrine, not to Jesus, but to Heike Hjort da Silva. I wonder what she tells her Danish lovers.”
The last line shot like a ballistic missile in the direction of Denmark.
“It should have been so romantic. Sharing cultures, languages, hopes, dreams, futures, bodies, souls.”
“My own parents met in the boring way, family, church and all that. Your mom was probably full of romance, but it sounds like the Gringo romantic writers and the Tainos, the …”
“Noble savage,” the girls said the phrase in unison. Anna was studying U. S. literature from the Romantic period in her Language and Literature class. Magda remembered the class well. That phrase left a permanent hole in her character. She developed a loathing of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville.
She found a poster for a production of Moby Dick, stenciled, “Comen los Blancos” on it, and drew a crucifix behind the “savage” Queequeg.
The full moon cast enough light on Magda’s face that Anna could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Anna stroked Magda’s hair and curled it behind her ear. The gesture was too close to home. Recalling the exact same touch from her mother when she was five or six, Magda burst into tears. Anna took her friend deeply into her embrace, absorbing Magda’s shaking and her sobs.