Looking at One of the Maria’s Straight in the Eye

Looking at One of the Maria’s Straight in the Eye

In Short Story Issue Four by Isabel Drukker

Looking at One of the Maria’s Straight in the Eye

I have always felt like it was never Adam and Eve to begin with, because I could never imagine a man and a woman getting along as well as I do with my best girlfriends, even in paradise. God knows Gabo and I fought a lot and we never even dated. I always told him to stop eating Cheetos, he’s clearly allergic to dairy. He always told me to drive safer, you never know what’s going to happen.

At his funeral, Susana is the first one to notice I can’t speak.

“I cannot actually say how sad I am to be here today…”

And like that, my body takes my words literally. I can’t say anything to these thirty solemn-faced mourners, all of them standing because the venue owners’ chair guy couldn’t make it. All of us younger ones are holding flowers. The mothers are sobbing, loudly. Even if I were speaking normally, you couldn’t hear me over them.

Meanwhile, teardrops race down my cheeks, my mouth is open and it welcomes them in like rainwater falling into a cave. I don’t even know why I was asked to speak. I can see the woman who must be Doña Rivera clutching the rosary that used to hang on Gabo’s rearview mirror. She’s the only one with a chair, sitting next to Gabo’s portrait. I can’t look at him and I can’t look at her, so I look at the rosary. It’s real silver and I know the sound that the beads make when they hit one another as the car bounces up and down.

In the corner of my eye, I notice that Susana is about to say something, her rose-red lips parting slightly, like a splash of unexpected blood on white cloth. Then Sebastian practically flies his way through the bed of black suits and white handkerchiefs, causing a wave-like wind bristling through a garden. His jacket is dark purple. He couldn’t afford a new black suit last minute and everyone who could lend him one is here. We’re all here. This is all of us now.

Sebastian gives me a kiss on the cheek and nods towards my parents, his tongue making a ball in his pale cheek. “It’s okay girl, I got this.”

I nod and carefully step out from behind the podium. It’s funny how I can be so careful about that but seconds ago I couldn’t control my voice. Papi puts an arm around my shoulder; Mami takes one of my hands and begins to rub it, like trying to retrieve a frostbitten nerve.

“Gabo was always more to me than a friend,” Sebastian begins. “Even though we came here at different times, from different countries, he and I were closer than cousins, closer than neighbors. We’re brothers. He left me his diaries. It turns out, he was a beautiful writer—I stayed up the night I found out, and read all of them. I think this passage shows not only his talent as a writer but his potential as a person to—” Suddenly Sebastian looks the way I felt on the podium. His mouth moves but he doesn’t say anything. Finally: “He was supposed to grow some more. You see that here.”

He looks at the paper for a long moment then begins.

“I met the woman I want to marry today.”

My head snaps up. It feels like something grabbed me from the inside and pulled. I want to die.

“She had long black hair, thick legs, and sunflower tattoos on her nipples that her parents don’t know about. They look just like the flowers I bring abuelita in the hospital, except that she didn’t have yellow ink coloring them in. There’s green in the leaves but she lets the petals be the color of her skin, and I love them and I love her for that. // She was just short enough so we both fit in the back of my car. I feel bad about that but I don’t want Mama meeting her for the first time under the sheets, doggy style. // I know she’s special because it started to rain while we were together, even though it was still kind of sunny out, the way abuelita says it gets when la virgin se esta bañando. // I know one day, we’ll be older and together still, being grown-ups, doing what grown-ups do when they’re dating, raising a family, taking care of family. // She smelled like beer and daisies—

I stopped listening at this point, feeling the damage undo as my father withdrew his arm and my mom’s soft hand began to clench. How do they know? They don’t know. Lots of girls have black hair, most Latinas are short, God knows Gabo only had an inch maybe two more than me. God knows Gabo had been with short black-haired girls before me. It’s been years since Mami looked at my nipples. They don’t know.

I sneak a look at Doña Rivera. She doesn’t look ashamed of what she’s hearing. Gabo was the boy, but she doesn’t look angry about the key words “doggy style” or “beer.” No one around us has stiffened, rather I think they actually look like they’re appreciating the honesty. The honesty, for once. She looks like she’s hanging on to every word, nodding with each one with her eyes closed, which is funny. From what I know, she never learned how to speak English.

*

When we get home, I fling myself onto the couch, instantly bringing Mami to comment that I can’t wrinkle and abuse this dress the way I do, I’ll need it for my own funeral if she ever hears of me running around with boys again.

“Yo?” I look at her, crinkling my eyebrows, leaving my mouth open. “Y yo que hice?”

Mami gives me a look. “I want to look at your nipples tomorrow morning, and I see one leaf, te rompo la cara.” But she leaves me alone, and I know that she’s not going to look at me in the morning. She’s going to let me sleep and keep sleeping like I have been on the days I don’t have class. I’ll stay in bed, under the sheets until noon, and then finally she’ll come in, move the curtains aside, hand me the cafecito, the rosary, and we will pray. And I know the reason she won’t look is because she doesn’t want to believe it was me. Thank God.

I go to my room, shut the door, and push the center button on the knob very slowly, letting it make the tiniest clicking sound I can get away with.

The bag I took to the funeral has a tiny secret pocket I sewed into it. I take out the single pregnancy test (I threw out the wrapping in the gas station I had gone to out of town). I should have done this earlier, in another place, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I know that I am pregnant and I cannot have looked at Doña Rivera with scientific evidence that I have her grandson in me. Her dead son’s baby. My dead Gabo’s son.

My bathroom is pink and Virgin Mary themed with frills and portraits and roses everywhere. It is the only private bathroom in the house and no boy has ever used it, not even Papi. Mami won’t let them, she says it’s a niña’s bathroom.

I sit on the toilet and pee on the stupid stick, looking at one of the María’s straight in the eye the whole time. Two minutes pass and I’m right. I knew I would be.

Motherhood does something to Latinas that way. We always know things before anyone else. I remember when I was 10 and I told my mom that I could go to a pool party if I wanted to, it didn’t matter that Christina was white and only her dad and uncle were hosting it, everyone else was going to it and it was at a public pool for Pete’s sake, I said. I cried the whole week when she didn’t let me go. Four years ago, our sophomore year of high school, Christina skipped town. She left a note in her locker explaining the years of sexual abuse from her uncle that she couldn’t take anymore. And her father still defends him to this day. Just like Mami reminds me about it every time I want to go somewhere.

“Oh their parents are going to be at the party? Do you remember that little gringa who got raped? You want to go to her party, meet her parents?”

“You know what, disobey your mother, go to Six Flags with your friends, you’ll end up just like that gringa.”

“You want to go swimming? Just like that gringa’s party ten years ago? Fine. Go. Party with the rapists and damage your hair with cloro and come chuchu while you’re at it.”

She brings it up every time I try to prove her wrong. And then what can I do? She knows everything, I know she does, and she knows about Gabo. It’d be stupid to pretend otherwise, and she didn’t raise me to be stupid. Latina mothers are like volcanoes and when the time comes to it, we’ve all got to just let them pave their way over us the way that they want. I’m telling you. If you ever think you’ve outsmarted a Latina mother, oh boy, leave town, man. Because something’s coming, and you’re not going to want to be around for it.

*

Susana texts me that she is waiting outside the house and she brought the plastic Ziploc baggie I asked for. Mami and Papi are finally asleep. I creep through the house, my shoes in hand. In the guest bathroom, the window opens, and unlike mine, there isn’t a screen. Thank God we haven’t had the extra cash to buy an alarm system like Mami wants, otherwise it would be bedtime at 10 P.M. every night, same bat time, same bat place.

Shoes back on my feet, I squeeze into the window square, my hands around the frame so I don’t fall backwards. I carry the un-peed part of the pregnancy stick between my teeth and swing through, feet first. Susana walks towards me, her short blonde hair bobbing up and down. “American Beauty” is what Mami calls her, because her face is a dead ringer for Grace Kelly’s, except with bigger lips and attached to Latina hips.

“Bienvenida,” she kisses me on the cheek, looks at the pink plus sign, and kisses my other cheek. We throw the test in the bag, put in enough dirt to cover it, and throw it away in a trash can a block away.

“You can’t keep it.”

I look at her. “You’re acting like motherhood makes women soft.”

She smiles, wide, and squeezes me tight, sighing of relief. We’ve reached her car. “I’m glad to hear you say that. I’m so happy you’re okay.”

“I’ll be better after my little cita.” She throws me the keys: a treat. I never get to drive. Never would know how if she hadn’t taught me.

“Ah si?” She throws me one of her killer pouts. It makes sense, it’s so Susana. Got a dead man’s baby inside you? Let’s do our best to make this fun.

“Ay si.” I snap my fingers in the air.

“Pobrecita, la nena esta enferma?” Keys, ignition, lights on pavement, Doña Rivera’s face in my mind. The streetlights show the bluebonnets beginning to poke out already, though it’s hardly been sunny, thank God. I hate mourning in the sunlight; it makes me feel like I have no excuse to be sad.

“Dame dos semanas, ya voy estar activa y escalando montañas otra vez.”

“Ay si?”

“Ay si!”

*

I say that I don’t need the car to go to class because Susana’s taking me because she’s auditing my Biopsychology class to see what the professor is like and her cousin is in town but we have to pick her up from her friend’s house because she got a ride here and I won’t be home until late because Susana’s cousin actually took this course in biopsych and since I’ve got that exam on Friday I want her to help me study anyways while I’ve got the chance. So it makes sense that we’re taking Susana’s car. And that I won’t be home all day. And that I won’t be looking at my phone a lot.

But actually Susana’s driving me to get an abortion. And then I’ll nap in the car. And then she wants to go for a movie, her treat.

Susana helped me find a clinic; it’s three hours from here. Personally I’d want one a little farther, but then the one after that is in a different state and we wouldn’t get back in time for curfew. I kiss Mami bye in the kitchen. She walks me out to the doorway, her arm around my shoulders until I am walking to the car, and she is waving hello to Susana.

My favorite album OK Computer is playing, there’s a bunch of pillows and blankets on my seat, plus a Bop It. She got snacks for the car, not realizing that I can’t eat shit until after, and I haven’t eaten since dinner last night.

“I am so sorry,” Susana says, mid-bite of a cheesy soft taco. “I totally forgot, I was there when they told you over the phone, I’m so stupid.” I can smell the spicy potato and crispy bacon. She throws it out the window as soon as we get on the highway. “It’ll decompose.”

We’ve barely made it into Karma Police by the time Susana and I are trying to play it way cooler than we actually are.

“Fucking cells, you know, it’s funny-

“What’s funny?

“It’s like these are my cells that are causing trouble?”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s like they’re like limiting me as a woman, putting me in a cell, like a prison cell-”

“Oh shit, you’re so right!”

“Yeah, so weird when words work that way, like someone came up with these words so long ago and now they have these meanings that still work.” I look out the window. “You know thank God it cooled down, I bet I’ll be way comfier after the procedure than if it were hot out.”

“Yeah, I bet you know. Hey, I’m glad you’re doing this. You gotta keep going, especially since Gabo’s not around anymore. You can’t let anything stop you.”

“Yeah. I know. I miss him though.”

“Honey.” She takes one hand off the wheel to put her arm around me.

“I do. It’s dumb. Shit happens, you know?”

“Not like this. Like it does, but it’s not supposed to.”

I raise my sunglasses and put them on my forehead so she can tell I’m not crying. It’s too dark to be wearing them anyways but Susana said, you know, to get in the spirit of things and get those road trip vibes. Susana raises hers too; her eyes are fiercely set on being angry, not sad.

“If he hadn’t run that stupid red light. Like, it was stupid, where was he going anyways? Not to pick me up, fuck, he could have been running around.”

“No.” Susana draws the word out, I know she means it. “You know, I asked around. To make sure, just in case, for you. He was just going to the gas station to get some snacks. Cheetos.”

“Cheetos?” I snort.

“Yeah, man,” Susana laughs. “You gotta get them Cheetos when you’re going to be up all night, he had that paper due, remember?”

“Yeah.”

“All he wanted was Cheetos, but you know, fuck this country.” Susana’s biting her lip between laughs. “If you’re not Spanish from Spain, you’re just a Latino who accidentally runs a red light so you know, let’s off him, fuck.”

I look at the dim horizon, thinking about this. “Hey, how hard was it for you to get the car out today?”

“Not hard.” Susana puts her sunglasses back on. “I told them I was taking care of you.”

“Can we skip la cita? Esque pobre mija. Se siente un poco mejor ahora.”

Susana doesn’t say anything for a long moment. I notice her press the gas the tiniest bit harder.

“Cuanto mejor?”

I sigh. “No se. Creo un poco. Me caería otra vez la proxima semana. Creo. Espero que si.”

Susana keeps driving silently. She passes another exit before speaking. “You better.”

“I think I will. Just give me a little more time.”

Susana bites her metallic blue nail and smiles. “So what, you want to climb a mountain?”

“Fuck no, and make a mess when all the cells just fall out of me? Please, I love these pants.” I pull out my phone and check the map. “There’s a lake’s two exits away.”

Naked in the lake, I do actually wish it were sunnier out. Or not. Still sad, sadder than ever. Hungry too. But the second I dive in, I feel my heart skip a beat from the cold, my nipples immediately go hard and I wonder how the sunflowers looked, and what Gabo would have said. I surface and can hear Susana whoop as she splashes in. We stay for hours, naked in the cold, floating, talking. Then the sky turns that funny gray color and I see lightening down the way. I’m in what feels like the middle of the lake when it begins to rain and my body harmonizes with my nature and I start crying. My tears are hot, the lake water is cold, and the pelts of rain hitting me hard over the head are somewhere in-between.

I’m crying, crying, crying, because Gabo is dead. But most of all, because there is nothing I can do to fill the space he had left, not even with his last cells living inside of me. All I have left was myself. There is nothing, nothing, nothing I could do to substitute for what could have been, for what could have grown, and what he would have written the day that he brought me home to Doña Rivera.

About the Author

Isabel Drukker

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Originally from Texas, Isabel X. Drukker currently resides in upstate NY. She enjoys writing, reading, dancing, and traveling with her orange cat, Toulouse. She has been published both in print and online.