I wrote this story when I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington, circa 2010-11. Actually, I adapted a short story called, “The Bats” which I wrote and performed with Los Nortenos in Seattle. I don’t recall which year that was or for which event I read the story with the Latino literary troupe. The story gives me chills, in a good way.
(The Bats-Disintegration of a Marriage)
By Patricia Herlevi
Hispanic Voice Series
Margaret saw it coming as the rift in her marriage to her taciturn husband Peter Olsen widened. Their son, Peter, Jr. died in a war which itself seemed hard to believe. Then the government added further insult, by refusing to send the soldier’s remains for a proper burial, stating something about the progressive media distorting facts.
Staring at her husband across the expanse of a large polished maple dinner table, she noticed Peter’s dry eyes after receiving the rejection for their son’s burial.
Unlike him, tears flowed from Margaret’s eyes and softened her skin dried by the harsh Minnesota weather and the stress she endured losing her only son. She glared at her husband of twenty-five years.
“He died an honorable death so why won’t the government we pay taxes to allow us to find closure?”
Peter looked away from his wife. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the one who supported our son’s cause to fight in Iraq. I was against it, but you gave him that patriotic speech and now…”
Peter shrugged, “That’s the chance we take when we go to war with another country. Parents lose their children…”
“How can you act so detached when that someone was your son?”
Peter rose from the table and he ambled from the dining room. As he walked through the hallway he gazed at the family photographs—vacations in Wyoming, a trip to Hawaii when Peter Jr. was in his toddler stage, and a photograph of the birth of his premature son. The pain crushed his soul and ripped at his heart, but the tears refused to surface. He knew also that his marriage lain in shambles. Later that night when Margaret slept, Peter packed his suitcase, climbed in his BMW sedan and drove off into the night. He thought of leaving a note, but considered that he already said everything he could on the topic.
The next morning when Margaret awoke she sensed that Peter had left her for good. All the years of spending quality time with each other, building a family and a life together crumbled like Humpty-Dumpty’s wall. She went through the motions of frying an egg for breakfast, but everything she ate tasted like cardboard and after crying for days, her eyes were left in a bone dry state. She lived in denial.
Perhaps the news would sink in after the ink dried on the divorce papers or upon her son’s birthday that loomed in the future. A velvety darkness descended pushing Margaret further into an endless tunnel.
The same family photographs housed in their gilded frames that destroyed her husband only reminded Margaret of bittersweet memories frozen in time. They reminded her of everything that she lost. Once the neighborhood wives envied her, but now Margaret became a target for their pity. She learned to avoid their constant stares and found comfort in her nightly dreams.
One reoccurring dream featured thousands of bats. In the dream, she didn’t run away in horror and her fascination for the bats grew. They’d never harm her and instead of sucking her lifeblood they lead her through a transformation. She believed that they promised her a new life. When she felt that she lost her sanity, the bats’ whispers seemed logical and comforting. They guided her as she descended further into the tunnel. Margaret groped and stumbled searching for the proverbial light that would eventually appear. Even if the light failed to materialize she grew accustom to the darkness, void of any dreams, hopes or desires, but also of suffering.
Although Peter died, she felt as if she was the one being lowered into the damp and wormy soil. She felt the crushing weight and her bones disintegrating into ashes. Decades from now, she thought, archeologist would dig up her bones while searching for stones and artifacts in the blurred future. They’d say that she was a solid-built woman with upright posture with a dark complexion, or so she thought. They’d search for a husband and next of kin, but come up empty handed then the experts would extrapolate on an Isis-Osiris theory of the 21st century on NPR.
However, a real death didn’t await Margaret, but a symbolic one followed by her rebirth. At some point she’d sell the house and leave her memories behind. She’d journey across the desert and across the sea, forgetting her son who never showed her courtesy and a husband who buried himself in his work. And only then, she finally cried tears and shed the weight of her regrets. Those tears only came to free her from the burden of someone else’s dream.
In time, Margaret emerged as a powerful woman who knew great sadness. When she looked in the mirror she finally saw someone staring back at her. And the fleeting glimpses of the future recalling a fox hiding in the foliage, gave Margaret the courage to keep moving towards a better life, a different life. She reasoned, just because she couldn’t see it didn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Her salvation came in an intangible form when she relocated to Southern France and started a new life as a gardener.
Meanwhile, Peter quit his job, bought a sailing boat and settled his grief out at sea. He drowned out his memories of family life listening to Bach’s preludes on his portable CD player which sounded tiny and insubstantial in comparison to the waves that hit the side of the boat and the wind that whistled in the sails. The smell of salt often misted his eyes and his sleep brought memories that would forever haunt him. He felt dismembered by the loss of his marriage and the death of his son. But he had faith that the grief would subside in the way that tempest subside in the morning light leaving the sun sparkling on the renewed ocean, earth, and sky.
But one memory, the evening when his marriage to Margaret disintegrated played out like one of the Mexican soaps his wife so dearly loved and he despised. Why all that drama?
That evening, Margaret set out Peter’s favorite meal of roast beef with baby potatoes drenched in rosemary butter, and an expensive bottle of wine. She finally cleaned house after weeks of neglect and pulled herself together to shop for groceries and prepare that meal.
When she sat the platter with roast on the table, Peter could barely drum up appetite. He avoided eye contact with his distraught wife, but not because he didn’t feel love for her. Sensing that she had more strength than he’d ever acquire in a lifetime, he stared at the newly polished silverware and his glass of wine. He envied her.
Peter finally gazed at his wife’s haggard face. “I’m sorry.”
Tears slipped from Margaret’s eyes. “Why won’t they allow us to see our son one last time?”
Peter placed his hand on Margaret’s hand which she yanked away defiantly.
“You heard the news that none of the parents will get the chance to see their children. Why should it be any different for us?”
Margaret raised her voice in a passionate plea. “There was a time when we would have organized and pulled out our picket signs.”
“What good would that do now? We’re not even permitted to discuss our son’s death with the reporters.”
“Not that I want to and I’m sick and tired of those reporters sniffing around here and their attachment to other people’s grief. But that might bring closure if we could talk to someone.”
“No, we’re on our own this time.”
Margaret stared defiantly at her husband and headed back to the kitchen.
Peter covered his face with his hands attempting to erase the tragedy that visited him. He once thought he had all the answers, but those days had passed.
As the sun rose over a distant island, Peter drank a cup of black coffee and stared out at the sea, the smell of salt and roasted beans mingled in his nostrils. He thought about Margaret and wondered where she was at that time. He regretted walking away from his marriage. Now that the dust finally settled he obsessed about second chances.
All Rights Reserved Copyright owned by Patricia Herlevi
I wrote this story several years ago. Then I rewrote it several times because the tenses were driving me crazy. I tell the story in my Latino’s voice since I’m part Puerto Rican/Spanish. However, my protagonist is Mexican-American. She tells this comic tale of a naughty hound dog named after a Mexican brew.
I love that scene in the movie, “Under a Tuscan Sun” when the character Frances talks about her writing process. First, she says that she tortures herself through procrastination and then she is a writing machine. However, there is a difference between procrastination and a germination process. Stories, similar to fetuses, go through a gestation phase. Stories happen as authors absorb their surroundings and they endure life experiences.
For instance, I started panicking recently because I hadn’t written any literary pieces since last year. Granted, I was living in between homes for 9 months and the last thing I wanted to do was work on a novel. Yet, I completed rewrites for a memoir (still not satisfied with it) and I completed my fifth novel. And after that ordeal, I felt that my muse had run for the hills. Yet, I needed a vacation from writing fiction.
In the past few months, I’ve mainly been blogging and working as a contract journalist. And this leaves me feeling like a ghost of a writer. Instead, of creating stories from my imagination, I’ve been writing stories that promote the successes of other people. I experience satisfaction from journalism but I still miss playing with characters and creating scenarios.
And then, a young sassy voice showed up which launched my next short story which I’m currently writing. I titled the story, “Lately, Queen Mamadou” and the story features young ballet students from a private girls’ school and a mother who channels an entity from colonial West Africa. That’s all I’m going to say about this middle-grade comedy.
As writers, we practice patience. The best stories take the time to appear. And then we structure our days to pour these stories onto the pages. We have many excuses for not sitting our butts in the chair. But in the end, a true writer will face the blank page and muster the courage to explore new worlds we call stories.
What is your writing process? Please share in the comment section.
Author’s note: I wrote this story as part of a trilogy with each story representing an Ayurvedic medicine dosha. This story represents Vata (space and air).
The Space between Us
By Patricia Herlevi
As Anetti ambled on the cobblestone alleyway, she heard the comforting sound of church bells in the distance and a set of chimes hanging on a storefront singing in the wind. The bells and chimes soothed her nerves and she hadn’t felt so relaxed in days due to the windy weather that swept through Seattle and caused her bones to tremble. Her eyes roamed the alleyway in search of a warm lit cafe and the fragrance of roasted coffee beans to bring her back to herself.
Work had not gone well and Anetti felt crunched with deadlines and little breathing space to maneuver. As it turned out, autumn weather only exasperated her nervous tension, and she stayed awake at night chasing away worries about money. Her relationship with her partner, (who spent more time traveling for business than he did with her), also kept her awake. Rumbles occurring all around her, she heard change in the wind whispering to her. Holiday brochures grabbed her attention too. If only.
Meanwhile, the wind picked up and threw its weight against Anetti’s thin body and her thick black hair came out of its pony tail hitting her in the face. One of her high heel boots caught on the cobblestone and nearly sent her into a brick wall. Tumbling forward, she bumped into an attractive Indian man, dressed in casual business attire. She guessed that he worked for the software company hidden in the loft near the nightclubs.
Funny she had never seen him before, not that she would or should have noticed. After all, her partner Neil had proposed to her. A discussion of wedding plans was scheduled for the next week after the fiancé returned from France where he promoted his life coaching DVD.
Not able to dredge up pre-wedding bliss, Anetti reflected on the lack of spark she felt with Neil, not that she desired one of those unpredictable magical relationships between soul mates. But then maybe she did. She never bought into all that new age stuff, that there’s one partner in the world for her and she’d know when she encountered him. She met Neil at Green Drinks and found that he could hold an intelligent conversation even after downing three glasses of organic red wine.
Her own mind buzzed on all the dark chocolate she had consumed. And everything after that moment fell into the groove of predictable, grounding, and comforting. An astrologer once told Anetti that her triple Gemini threat needed grounding energies. So she hooked up with a double Taurus and at least he satisfied her in bed, even if his thought process seemed stuck in molasses some of the time.
The Indian man held onto Anetti for a few moments longer. His dark eyes gazed into her green ones causing an erotic stirring in her body that she brushed aside.
A slow grin widened across his face as if he was pleased by the woman who materialized in front of him. “Are you okay now?”
Stepping back and away from the man, Anetti nodded. “Thank you for saving me from hitting my head on that wall. That’s all I need.”
“This weather makes walking difficult.” He pointed to a café, “I was just going to grab a cup of tea, would you like something?”
The man’s English accent captivated her and she enjoyed the way he wrapped his tongue around the word “tea,” but she now felt an urgency to return to the office. “I’ll take you up on your offer next time we bump into each other.”
Weeks past by and Anetti and Neil chose the wedding gown, the cake, and invitations. They decided to hold the ceremony at Deception Pass State Park, weather permitting and set the wedding date for the end of May. While Anetti enjoyed scheduling gown viewings and meeting with wedding planners, something felt off. Did she want to spend her life with Neil? It’s what her mother would prescribe for her restless soul, but the bigger picture sent chills through her.
After a day of sneaking in time to browse caterers’ websites, Anetti slipped out of the office to grab a coffee.
When she approached the long line of business people and tattooed hipsters, she noticed the Indian man ordering his chai tea. She decided to ignore him unless he noticed her first. So she scrunched down and hid behind her wool coat, hoping he wouldn’t see her and at the same time wishing he would.
As the man turned away from the cashier, his eyes darted over to and locked on Anetti. He approached her. “Remember when I saved you from the wind. I’m Sanjay.”
Anetti blushed, not because she felt virginal but she wondered if Sanjay’s penetrating brown eyes could read her erotic thoughts. “I’m Anetti.”
Sanjay pointed at a corner table that had just cleared. “Join me?”
Anetti’s fought with her usual indecision and thoughts of consequences as she projected herself far into the future. Sanjay’s request was simple and innocent enough. He wasn’t sending out sexual vibes. For all she knew, he was probably already married or had an arranged marriage pending in India. You never could tell with foreigners, especially those that worked for software companies. Here today and gone tomorrow.
Glancing at her watch, she noticed she had a few minutes of lunch break left and sat in a chair across from Sanjay. He eyed her while he sipped his chai.
“So do you work at an office nearby?”
Anetti looked for a ring on Sanjay’s finger but noticed his fingers were empty of any jewelry. “I work at Rialto Graphic Design.” She pointed to an orange façade just outside the window.
“Do you enjoy your job?”
“Lately it’s been one deadline after another and I wonder if the headaches are worth it.”
Sanjay smiled gently. “I know of a cure for headaches. Do you have one now?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I thought that a cup of black coffee would remedy the problem.”
“Do you mind?” Sanjay walked behind Anetti and massaged the base of her neck. His gentle hands wove in and out of her thick hair. The massage did the trick and a little more.
As the weeks flowed into each other, Anetti found herself having lunch with Sanjay. She knew that she felt more than friendship, but refrained from going further by reminding herself about her upcoming wedding. Then one rainy afternoon everything changed.
Anetti rode a bus to work and as she waited for it, a torrential downpour soaked her through to the bone. As she stood shivering, Sanjay approached her. “First the wind storm and now this rain, the weather doesn’t agree with you.” He chuckled. “I have an apartment near here. Do you want to go there and dry off? Then afterward I can give you a ride home.”
Water rolled into Anetti’s eyes blurring her vision. Hunger rumbled in her stomach and passion stirred in her groin. Against her best judgment, she found herself not only in Sanjay’s apartment but also his bed. Rationalizing that she hadn’t betrayed Neil, she felt that she fulfilled her own needs. Sanjay felt grounding and exciting, a combination she’d never experience with Neil. Come to think of it, she hadn’t experienced any real passion with her fiancé either.
But what would she choose in the end, a passionate love affair with an unknowable future or the predictability of a life with Neil? Destiny had spun her around in a different direction then she previously sought, but it wasn’t as if she never saw the warning signs. Perhaps she wasn’t free to choose her own fate. In that moment as she stretched her bare legs under silk sheets and felt Sanjay’s warm kisses on her neck, she felt at home for the first time in her thirty years. The wind stopped hounding her brain and she found the center of a storm. Nobody thought that was where it was supposed to go.
From 2008 to 2012, I was a writing machine as far as short fiction. Characters visited me when I walked through neighborhoods or rode the bus through town. I also had more free time on my hands. The downside was the amount of time I spent hunched over a laptop writing the stories which ranged from bittersweet dramas to laugh-out-loud comedies.
And while I enjoy writing short fiction, I haven’t had the leisure of writing any new stories since 2013. I concentrated on a non-fiction book on music, a memoir on housing struggles, and two novels. And like some of you reading this post, I panic because I feel my muse has escaped to Never Never Land, never to return to me. And then, what will I write?
So what are some activities we can do while we wait for our muses to return? Here is a list that ignites artistic flow and creates a home for a muse to reside. I’m also remembering that Hollywood movie about the filmmaker with the Greek muse.
Go for walks, not just in beautiful settings, but also in urban environments
Ease drop on conversations on public transportation and in cafes
Sit outdoors at a cafe and watch passerby
Photograph your favorite places and buildings (then you wonder about people in those buildings or places)
Daydream (Yes, I know, our mothers told us not to indulge in daydreams)
Take a short trip somewhere or take a vacation
Spend time alone (since others can jam up your flow)
Read news headlines but not the articles (come up with your own stories)
Spend time with children and ask them to tell you stories
Spend time in nature
Meditate or journal
Once you open up space for stories to enter, they show up. Be warned though that you could receive multiple stories at one time. That’s what happened to me and this meant that I spent an hour or two each day crafting short stories.
I am an astrologer and creative coach. Sign up for a session with me at Whole Astrology. I am also an author of several unpublished novels so I’m on the lookout for the right literary agent for my work.
I named my dog Tequila. I’m not sure why exactly except that I come from a family with strange names. No, let me back up, I have a mother who gives strange names to her children. She doesn’t do this as a sadistic act, but that’s just her way. For instance, she named me Calendula, that’s right, the name of a flower.
And there’s a story behind the name in case you have to time to hear it. And even if you don’t, I know it by rote having heard my mother tell her friends a hundred times. I’ll give you the short version without the hand gestures or histrionics, leaving out the labor pains and fainting father. My father gave a macho attitude a run for the money, but he couldn’t handle the indirect pain of childbirth—oh, all the suffering! Dios Mios!
In 1969, my mother became pregnant with me, her fifth child and her last. She developed a rash halfway through her pregnancy and everything her obstetrician threw her way only seemed to make it worse. So for the first time in her life, and from the advice of a friend, my mother saw a naturopath.
Back in 1969 that was considered a hippie thing to do, and my mother a Latina Catholic chose not to associate with “all those drug addicts” as she kindly put it. But this naturopath came with high recommendations and my mother had grown desperate trying to rid of her condition. Besides, the summer in which I was born turned out to be the hottest one on record so as I grew inside her expanding her waistline and that sun bore down on her flesh, the rash intensified.
To make a long story short, the naturopath recommended a calendula crème and my mother said if that plant healed her of her troubles then she would name her baby after it, boy or girl. Besides, my father, Manual Juan Velasquez, had been prodding my mother Estella Maria to come up with a name for me. But she found that ludicrous at the time since back then you didn’t know the sex of a child until it was born. And as usual, my father was expecting a son. After all, Estella Maria had already given birth to three sons, so why not another one?
Of course, the name Calendula wouldn’t do for a son. What kind of name was that for a boy, especially one who would become a soccer champion and play for the homeland, Mexico? My father was unaware of the irritation he caused my mother when he referred to Mexico as the homeland. As far as she was concerned, the USA was her home.
They had done alright. My father had a good job supervising other men for a construction company. And our family owned a home in a relatively nice, but suburban neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. We liked our neighbors and spoke Spanish around them, but I’m digressing. You want to know about my dog’s name, right?
Only a lush would name their dog after a Mexican brew and no, I never got my dog drunk on tequila. When I adopted him, a Chihuahua mix, I had just attended a college football game and the song “Tequila” that the marching band performed stuck in my head.
So when the lady at the shelter asked me to name my new dog the only word that popped out of my head was tequila. And it’s not a bad name for him. He seemed like a sassy dog, even a macho dog. If he was human, he would probably enter some contest to see how many tequila shots he could down at a party. All bets would be placed on him, not that I think of my puppy as the gambling type, but we’re imagining him as human.
As far as dogs go I wouldn’t say that he’s well behaved. He vomits on the carpet, runs into the street nearly missing oncoming cars, and he pees on both moving and non-moving objects. He’s a Don Juan around all the female hounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days I end up with a wicked lawsuit because of my dog. He snaps at other people, especially men I date and he garnered the reputation as an ankle biter. Okay, so he’s far from perfect and he’s high maintenance too.
I thought by adopting a Chihuahua instead of a silky terrier that I would have ended up with a come-as-you-are dog, but no, this dog enjoys a good massage and grooming session, the only time he doesn’t act unruly. No wonder el perro ended up in a dog shelter! Only a mother could love him or someone with a guilt-complex.
So you’re wondering by now where this story is going and why I’m going on about my unruly Chihuahua, which is hardly news, right? I’ve been invited to a family reunion in Seattle and I can’t take the dog on the plane with me, nor does my family want me to bring Tequila along. My mother seemed adamant against the idea when I last spoke to her on the phone. Which means that I’ll need to find a sitter for the dog, but who among my friends, who all despise him will grant me such a favor?
I hit up the animal activists friends first and applied the guilt technique. Tequila pulled out his forlorn look with his large brown weeping Mexican eyes. Really, he was on his best behavior until he heard a dog barking on TV and that set him off on one of his alpha dog rampages. He peed on the couch which of course shocked my friends. “So, okay, think of him as an animal in the wild,” I begged, “you wouldn’t leave him alone to starve to death, would you?”
My friend Emilie countered, “He’s hardly a wild dog even if he’s attached to his primal instincts. And did I tell you I just bought a new couch–an expensive new couch?”
Margo seemed more adamant against taking on a Chihuahua as an animal rights cause. “Remember that time he snarled at me and wouldn’t let me out of your bathroom? Remember when he almost bit my ankles? He was that close,” she pointed to a foot away from her ankles. And Mark, even a devoted activist, didn’t have a soft spot for dogs, and especially hated Chihuahuas because he was attacked by one as a child. There were limits to his compassion.
Next, I tried the kennels but they weren’t taking any smaller dogs at that time. One of the kennels had been handed a lawsuit for losing a precious rat terrier that somehow escaped his kennel. And so no dice for Tequila. My family didn’t want him, my friends didn’t want him, and even the expensive dog boarding places didn’t want him or my bribes.
Fortunately, new neighbors had moved into my apartment building, a Gay couple who seemed to love Chihuahuas. I thought of approaching them to take care of Tequila for a week and I would pay them generously for the favor, but then a wicked thought came to me.
What if Tequila pulled out all the stops of his bad dog behavior and turned off these men towards all of Tequila’s kind? Only a real softy could love that dog, and even I had my difficult moments. However, I would have acted like a bad mother if I left that dog alone for a week. I’d return to a trashed and smelly apartment. My landlord would have evicted me. He hated the dog, despised the barking, and didn’t care much for my kind either.
I took my chances and approached Gregory and Gary who turned out were delighted to dog sit for a week and they refused payment. What are they loco?
“Oh, I insist. He’s really a lot of work and…”
Gregory tickled Tequila’s chin, “Goochie, goochi goo… He reminds me of that Taco Bell dog.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you. He might turn on you.”
Tequila smiled and wagged his tail. He seemed to relish the attention and the under-the-chin massage. He didn’t usually act friendly towards men, but maybe Gay men didn’t seem like a threat to him. They possessed a different sort of energy that Tequila warmed up to right away.
Gary’s enthusiasm grew as he watched his partner play with my dog. “We can take him to the doggy bakery…You know the one we pass by on our way to work.” He glanced at Tequila’s large eyes, “He does resemble the Taco Bell dog.”
Greg nodded with enthusiasm. “And he can meet others of his kind…”
I panicked. “You mean the Taco Bell pack? I don’t think that’s a good idea to take him to a bakery.”
“Oh, why not?” Greg whined.
“Hmmm, how can I put this delicately? He doesn’t get along well with his own kind.”
“You mean he doesn’t like other Chihuahuas?”
“He doesn’t like any type of dog. Taking him for a walk….” I stopped talking before I sabotaged my good fortune. Did they need to know that Tequila would attack any dog no matter how large or small, or male or female? By the time they found out I would have been halfway between LA and Seattle, on the way to a family reunion that I didn’t even want to attend. And my family would never have allowed me to use my dog as an excuse. Just leave him at the vet my mother said, and get your butt over here.
And if logic didn’t do the trick, good old Catholic guilt would leave me too paralyzed to act. Zombie-like I would obey my mother, a ruthless dictator at times who practiced every trick in the book. She wrote it after all. All of you Latinas have my mother to thank for your misery.
Now that the dog problem had been solved, I needed to steel myself for another episode of mi familia loco. After the plane arrived at the Sea-Tac Airport, I questioned my logic of attending the reunion. My sister who stole my boyfriend and married him, my cousin who switched teams and was known as “La Lesbian” and despised by the more conservative relatives, my brother Pedro Rìo who lost his job and lived in his car for a short period, and my lecherous uncle were all in attendance. I could hardly wait to become reacquainted with them.
I would have been better off staying home with Tequila and battling with my guilt. Instead, I spent two hours on a plane with hacking families spreading viruses and God knows what else through the recycled air system. Then I’d spend three days in a run-down moldy and cluttered house that started its day as a house “with potential”—that was decades ago. I saw myself listening to my mother rattling off tangents and snippets of gossip about who she despised that week.
My “ungrateful” twin brothers (Pebbles and Stone) stayed in Los Angeles to work on their latest architect design. After all, they had a deadline, but my mother experienced outrage towards the sons she gave birth to so long ago. Didn’t they remember all the suffering she endured to bring them in the world so that they could design all those useless ugly condos? Hmmm,would she prefer that they quit their job and live on the streets so that they could attend this crazy reunion?” I wished that I had an excuse not to attend.
After I entered the family room, I noticed that the drama had already begun with my mother holding center court. I noticed a migraine coming on as I approached my mother and embraced her. It turned out that La Lesbian brought her partner and this woke everyone out of their denial about Maria.
Not that I cared who she dated. I envied her boldness. Imagine bringing your same-sex lover to a family gathering hosted by my crazy Catholic mother. And if that wasn’t enough to send me hailing a taxi back to the airport, my sister, Cynthia (not her real name), announced that she and her husband (my former boyfriend) were filing for divorce. She caught him cheating with his secretary.
How could she have not known how easy it was to seduce the man since she seduced him when he lived with me, and in my bed? Begging for my sympathy, she didn’t receive an ounce of it. Now she had the nerve to air out her personal problems at a family reunion.
Meanwhile, Pedro Rìo held relatives hostage on the couch telling the others about his time on the streets. Although I sympathized with him, he since moved on and found a job at a computer company that paid him a monthly salary equivalent to a year of wages for me. Who were all these people anyways? I missed Tequila and his macho ways.
Hunger provoked me to scarf down my mother’s enchiladas. No one made enchiladas like my mother. They melted in your mouth and then the spices and chilies hit you slowly until you had to down some kind of liquid to cool off the tongue. After that, I downed a shot of tequila for good measure. I needed it.
Meanwhile La Lesbian sidled up to me. “Hey, cousin, how have you been? How’s your dog? What’s his name?”
I hugged her. “I named him Tequila.
You know I’m still waitressing at the same place.”
“Have you met anyone special?”
“Not unless Tequila counts.”
She raised a thick eyebrow, “Perhaps, I can introduce you to a nice woman…”
“No thanks. I’m not interested in playing for the other side.”
She quickly changed the topic, “Didn’t you say that you were returning to school to obtain a Masters in fine art?”
I laughed. “Wow! Is this a grilling session or what? I never returned to college to earn a Masters in fine art. What would have been the point?”
She frowned at me. “Chica, when are you going to follow your heart?”
I glance nervously at my mother, the real reason why I didn’t return to college—she thought it was a bad idea, that I would look too smart and never land a husband. I’d end up as a lonely librarian. Never mind that I would have obtained my Master in art not library sciences. She always mixed thing up.
“Follow my heart, are you joking? Who follows their heart?”
La Lesbian grabbed her partner’s hand and dragged her over to us. “We did,” she boasted and one-upped me as usual.
“Hmmm, are you happy with your decision? You know the relatives all despise you, except me of course.”
She let out a sigh. “Yeah, I didn’t want to come to this reunion. Kathy dragged me here telling me that family is the most important.” She smiled at her partner. “But her family accepts us, mine doesn’t.”
Pedro entered the kitchen and wolfed down some enchiladas. He grinned at us.
“So Bro, how’s the new job?”
His gaze quickly dropped to the floor and he stared at his worn out loafers. “Promise not to tell Mama, but there is no software job.”
“What? Are you joking? What do you mean there is no software job? What are you doing now?”
He chuckled to himself, “I work in building maintenance.”
“Is that the politically correct term for you work as a janitor?”
“I take offense to that. I manage the janitorial team on the night shift. The pay isn’t bad, but Mama wouldn’t have respected me if I told her about my new job. So I lied about the software company.”
I stifled a laugh, “Wow! And all this time I actually envied you.”
“The thing is Sis, that Mama has too high of expectations of us kids.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve been the brunt of her animosities for years because I majored in art and work as a waitress. Never mind that I actually have talent as a painter and that I’ve branched out into sculpting. Never mind that I’ve actually had my work appear in group shows at galleries and that I sold one painting for eight hundred dollars, never mind all of that because Mama is more concerned about me marrying some rich man. Like, I’m going to meet one waitressing at a café.”
This story hails from the early millennium. I set this story of two misfits in Seattle during the vintage years. Sadly, this story never received publication anywhere, even though I featured it on author websites.
Mary & Nate
How they met…
Mary hasn’t lived in Seattle long enough to appreciate sun breaks. Rain falls from the sky in sheets while gusty winds creating a wash n’ dry effect.
She huddles near the doorway of a record shop where she sold her old Neil Diamond records, but didn’t have much luck with the other ones. In fact, the rude clerk with the ring dangling from his nose and a mean tattoo of God-knows-what dancing menacingly on his biceps, scoffed at the records. “No one listens to these anymore.” Then he slammed the records down on the counter causing Mary to scurry out of the store.
The wind shifts directions and now the rain soaks Mary’s plaid vintage coat. She stuffs the records under her coat and prays for the bus to arrive. It’s already five minutes off schedule, most likely because of this lovely Seattle weather.
Finally, she spots the bus coming over the hill– a squawk of brakes announces its beastly presence. Pulling her wet hair into a pony tail, she shakes water off of her useless umbrella. The bus comes to a halt and lets out a mechanical fart.
Mary trips on the stairs and plops down absent mindedly next to a young man wearing thick glasses and a trench coat. She drops a record and the young man picks it up and stares at the cover.
“I didn’t know anyone still listens to old Barry.”
Hands shaking, the man gives the record to Mary. She glances at him and a slow smile spreads across her dripping face.
“I’m a rarity.”
He responds, “You don’t say.”
“I sold my Neil Diamond records pretty easily. The clerk called Neil kitsch, but he scoffed at me when I showed him my Manilow records, the jerk.”
A family of crows rummaging through the garbage grabs Mary’s attention. She gazes out the window, while the man stares at her profile.
He finds her attractive, even refreshing and he prefers glean of the raindrops that drip from her nose, her glasses, and cheeks.
“So if you like Barry so much why are you selling your records?”
“I just moved here, I need rent money and I’d like to break away from my past.”
The man wonders why she would say something like “break away from my past.” She doesn’t look like someone who has lived a sordid life. Yet, new people move to Seattle all of the time, starting over as they say. Some of them rode the bus where the young man in the trench coat, although hardly a detective, pried their life stories out of them.
“So where did you live before?”
Mary studies the young man’s face. She likes his deep brown eyes even if they are hidden behind those glasses. Perhaps, he is one of those computer nerds that will graduate from college and earn big bucks or just a lowly sci-fi bookworm. She can’t tell, but he appears genuinely interested in her and she feels flattered.
“I moved here from Detroit. I worked as an editorial assistant for a publisher of dictionaries. Now I’m a freelance word collector.”
“I’ve not heard of that profession before, a word collector. I’d like to talk more, but the next stop’s mine.”
He pulls the cord and the bell rings, announcing his presence to everyone on the bus. He turns to Mary and blushes. “I forgot to ask your name.”
Flustered, Mary drops another record on the floor. Nate retrieves it and gives it to her, his hand accidentally brushing against hers.
“Mary Jones, just plain Mary Jones.”
Nate makes his way to the bus exit and shouts, “I’m Nate. I hope to see you around.”
Mary yanks the hood of her coat over her face while other riders gawk at her. She wonders if they know her status as a thirty-something virgin. Word gets around. Although she hardly resembles the Maid of Orleans, she does possess a freshness that shouts purity like a sell-by date on a package of chocolate chip cookies or a carton of milk.
And then later…
Hidden behind her pink umbrella, Mary dashes down the stairs of a library. She crashes into Nate. “Hey, watch out!”
Nate pulls the umbrella away from Mary’s face. “Hey it’s you, just plain Mary Jones, right?”
Mary grimaces, “Who else would crash into you. I’m a walking accident these days.”
Nate smiles shyly, “Do you believe in kismet?”
Mary fixes her umbrella. “No, but I could quote the dictionary definition for you.”
Nate chuckles, “Don’t bother, some words don’t need an explanation. It ruins the magic.”
“Oh, really, are you trying to put me out of work?”
Nate spends another day of drudgery in the basement of the library. When he’s in one of his imaginative moods, he pretends that he has been condemned to a medieval dungeon for life, for loving a princess from the wrong fiefdom.
But in reality, Nate’s work involves a bit of slicing and dicing of videotape covers, which he then slips into library-approved plastic covers. The older man sitting next to him, a British expatriate and a lifer, places stickers on the covers. Nate whistles under his breath while the older man studies Nate’s face for telltale signs of amore.
He nudges Nate in the arm. “You seem in a chipper mood today.”
Nate slides another tape into its new home. “Really?”
The older man continues to study Nate’s face. “Ah, I bet you met a woman!”
Nate blushes, “Why would you say that?”
“I’ve been around and I know what’s going on here.”
Nate chokes and clears his throat.
The older man continues his inquisition. “It’s okay with me. It’s not like this job will light your fire or anything.”
“Why should I light anything?”
“Nathaniel, my good chap, you’re still a pup. You should take advantage of that fact or end up an old bloke like me.”
Nate chokes, “I’m only in my thirties and have a long way to go.”
“I said the same thing at your age and then time passed me by as the old cliché goes. It’s like a train wreck, really. One day you wake up and you’re fifty-five!”
If only I were a bubbly blonde supermodel…
Meanwhile, in another part of the waterlogged city, Mary lounges at her kitchen table staring at a small computer screen. Occasionally she types in a paragraph or two. She grabs a copy of a fashion magazine, pores over a story and tosses the magazine into a bin.
She shakes her cramped legs as she pries herself away from her computer and she heads over to her miniscule bathroom. She stares at her face in the mirror and glosses her lips with flaming red lipstick then she washes it off. She ties her dishwater blonde hair back into a bun and she tries out several seductive facial expressions, but finds that she resembles a hardly erotic Mary Poppins.
She scowls at her reflection. “Oh, blast off Mary Jones.”
Then as a spontaneous act, she sprays shaving crème on her reflection in the mirror.
The excitement builds…
Six months later, Mary and Nate talk quietly at a table in the corner of the library. Mary glances through a large reference book. Her eyes peel away from the book and wander to Nate’s face.
“So how long have you worked here?”
Mary drops a pen on the floor. Her long hair brushes against Nate’s shoulder when she bends down to pick up the pen. They both shudder. Nate feels embarrassed about his thoughts about doing the deed with Mary in the library.
He shakes the thought out of his mind and returns to Mary’s question. “I’m not a lifer yet.”
Mary feels perplexed not comprehending why working at a library is such a undesirable profession. “You act like there’s something wrong with working here. I think that it’s a noble career hanging around all of these words.” Mary’s voice crescendos “Imagine!”
“Sshhh! Don’t get so excited. It’s really not that dramatic.”
Mary gawks, “Are you joking? So where did you say that you worked?”
“In the dungeon.”
“And what do you do again?”
“You know very well what I do.”
“Then, show me your work.”
Mary grabs few video tapes off of a shelf and she takes them to the table where she examines Nate’s work. She grins at him.
He frowns, “I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about.”
Mary hugs a videotape to her chest. “I need something to live for.”
The obligatory thrift store scene…
Later that afternoon, Nate and Mary find something, at least temporary to live for. They race their shopping carts across a vast thrift store. They come to a halt at the hat rack. Mary reaches for a black watchman hat. “Ooh, I like this one. It’s so mysterioso.”
She yanks it over Nate’s face.
“Why did you do that?”
Mary guffaws. “You look like a bank robber. See I have this fantasy along the lines of Patricia Hearst.”
Yanking the hat off, Nate tosses it at Mary. “Sounds pretty Marquis de Sade to me.” He reaches for a straw hat covered in daisies and he daintily places it on his head. “I think this one shows off my feminine side quite nicely.”
“Yeah, if you’re over sixty and hanging out at a church function.”
Nate imitates an old timer, swaying his frail hips. He cops a Southern accent, “Or maybe I’m one of those southern belles.”
Mary shakes her head, “Those belles have large pointy chests and they’re always heaving so that virile men will notice their chronic femininity.”
Nate removes the hat. “I do declare you know a lot of words, young Mary.”
Mary removes her pink trench coat and replaces it with a plaid wool hunting jacket. She stuffs her trench coat into an overstuffed shopping bag.
She glances at Nate, “All in a day’s work. Not bad for twenty dollars. And it’s not like I ever dreamed of being a fashion plate.”
Nate’s crooked grin shines up his face. “You don’t know how refreshing it is to hear you say that.”
“Yeah, I’m not into living a vacuous existence.”
“There you go with those difficult words again.”
Mary socks Nate’s arm. “What is it with you and my vocabulary? You work at a library so study the dictionary one of these days.”
“I work in the video department and everyone knows that people who watch movies don’t read books.”
“Where did you hear that? That’s insane.”
The Venus-Mars Fly Trap…
They sit on two ends of Mary’s couch as if balancing a seesaw. Nate watches a sci-fi film while Mary studies a huge dictionary. Mary glances at Nate. “Look, here’s that word again!”
Nate ignores Mary. She sulks and watches him across the expanse of the couch staring at the small TV screen, completely absorbed in the boring film.
“So is the movie almost over?”
Nate gawks at Mary, “I thought you were enjoying it.”
Mary wonders if she and Nate are on the same planet, much less the same room. She hasn’t even watched the movie. Hasn’t he noticed? If she was enjoying the movie, she wouldn’t be poring through a dictionary during the movie.
“Not really. I never cared for Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Nate blows his nose and wipes his eyes on his sleeve. “But it’s a classic!”
Mary pushes her glasses up on her nose. “Maybe, but I prefer something that’s not so cheap.”
“But that’s the whole point!”
“Oh, I know. I like Ed Wood and stuff like that, but this one doesn’t do anything for me.”
Nate stops the tape. “To each her own. And the answer to your question is yes, it’s almost over, or was, but it’s no fun watching it alone.”
Nate gazes at Mary. He doesn’t quite understand the flush expression on her face. She doesn’t seem perturbed by his passionate response to the B-flick, but she seems turned on. He’s never seen her like this before so all of a sudden he feels nervous, tense and as if he’ll lose control.
“So what do you want to do?”
Mary coyly tilts her head. She can think of lots of things to do, amorous things, if only she had the experience. Her cheeks burn with her blood, her stomach turns somersaults and her mouth feels suddenly dry as a desert. Nevertheless she scrambles across the couch and closer to Nate. She leans towards Nate hoping he will plant a nice juicy kiss on her parched lips.
Nate pulls away. Mary advances, kiss me you fool. They lean in for the kiss, but their glasses crash into each other.
“Now, why didn’t we think of removing our glasses first? That really smarts.”
Removing her glasses, she checks them for cracks and rubs her eyes. She feels tears of pain, and laughter, she isn’t sure what, welling up in her gray eyes.
Nate polishes his glasses and he looks sheepishly at Mary. “Why can’t we just do this like normal people? It can’t be that difficult.”
“That’s because anyone who’s still a virgin at our age isn’t normal.”
The couple tries to kiss one more time, but fails. They give up. “We can just be friends… Certainly we are not flowers of desire, fountains of love and the stuff that knocked the socks off of troubadours.”
Mary snickers, “Most certainly not.”
What does Mozart have to do with it?
A week later Mary decides to stop by the library and visit Nate. She listens to one of Mozart’s operas blasting out of her walkman as she bounces down the street. She pretends that she has been transported to the classical era, Vienna to be exact. She wonders what words they would have spoken then. If men or women collected words the way she does now and what were the buzz words at that time?
Meanwhile, Nate emerges from the library. He sees Mary a block away and sprints down the stairs. He shouts at Mary, but she ignores him. He can’t see that she is listening to her walkman. Is she blowing me off? Why? He can’t kiss her like a troubadour? It’s not that he doesn’t want to, it’s just that…
He shouts at Mary again waving his arms frantically hoping she’ll notice him. Everyone else notices the crazy man in a plaid hunting jacket running down the street shouting and waving his arms, like Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny, but not Mary Jones.
Finally, Mary looks up and sees Nate. She smiles, waves and dashes across a busy street, not noticing the traffic. She can’t hear a thing, except Mozart in slow motion and all she sees is Nate calling her like an angel from the abyss. A car swerves Mary and honks at her. Another car glides towards and hits Mary. Her body flies upward then lands on the street with a slight thud. The driver leaps from her car. Pulling out a cell phone, the driver frantically dials a number.
Nate dashes into the street stopping traffic. He scoops Mary’s unconscious body in his arms and carries her to the sidewalk, tears flow down his face. He pulls the headphones off of Mary’s head as Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro pours out into the world. At least it isn’t Manilow.
Moments later an ambulance tears down the street. Nate holds onto Mary’s hand and he trembles as the medics approach.
Nate studies Mary’s serene face. He sees their short time together flickering on a screen before him, the day they met on the bus and Mary felt embarrassed about her Manilow records. Then he sees the day that they spent in a thrift store updating Mary’s wardrobe with vintage clothes and the plaid hunting jacket that Nate borrows from Mary because they are roughly the same size. He recalls all those little things that aggravates him, but also all those things that turn him on.
A medic gently taps Nate on the shoulder. Nate shrugs the Medic off and plants a kiss on Mary’s lips.
The medic gently pulls Nate away from Mary. “I think that she’ll be fine, but we need to take her to the hospital.”
Obligatory sappy nostalgic scene…
Nate nods as more tears flow down his cheeks. This is worse than a bad hair day. He thinks of amusing thoughts to cheer himself up such as Mary’s obsession with words or her taste in movies-foreign films. Godard, Bergman, Fellini… He would’ve never discovered those filmmakers on his own, not even working in the video dungeon where he never paid much attention to his work. Now, a whole new world opens up to him.
A Near life experience…
Mary wakes up in a hospital bed. She feels somewhat bruised, but alive. She feels different and special because of all the medical attention she has been receiving. She looks around for Nate and wonders when he’ll emerge from the din and chaos that surrounds her. She wonders what would’ve happened had the car killed her. What would happen to Nate? Oh, what maudlin thoughts!
That evening, Nate holds Mary’s hand. She gazes sweetly into his face, the way an exhausted child might before falling into a deep sleep. Nate seems more mature and stolid than usual. She wonders how her own experience has transformed him. She wants to make a joke, but refrains for the moment because he looks too serious.
“What’s up? You look different.”
Nate blushes, wondering how he looks different. Mary continues to stare at him. “Yes, you really look different.”
Nate’s signature grin spreads across his face. “So do you.”
“Near life experiences will do that to a girl.”
Nate confesses, “I kissed you while you were unconscious. I thought it might be my last opportunity.”
“Honey, take a closer look. I’m hardly Sleeping Beauty.”
“Was it good for you?”
“Kiss me again while we’re both awake.”
Nate crawls onto the bed and leans into Mary’s face which rests on a pile of pillows–just like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin. He plants an awkward kiss on Mary’s lips, but a kiss nonetheless. And Mary enjoys it for what it’s worth.
She sighs, “They say that it gets better with practice.”
Nate laughs, “In that case, there’s time for me yet to kiss you like a troubadour.” He crawls under the sheets and embraces Mary.
She giggles, “Oh, those words! Why must you say such large words?”