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Category Archives: Anna

Two Worlds, One Great, One Small (1999)

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Physics and climatology was standing on its head. Since when did a chilly Canadian jet stream influence weather in Puebla? But two-month-old Gabriel, chilled by the 5•C air, shoved through the flimsy windows of the makeshift apartment above the taller, was crying, and, Dios gracias, it wasn’t from lack of formula. Anna had plenty of that. One light bulb hung from the ceiling, around which one of Anna’s friends in the theater had fashioned a chandelier of sorts from wire hangers and crepe paper. The base color was lime green. At night or during naps, Anna could roll a layer of forest green crepe over any or all of the fixture and, using hooks adapted from hardware store junk, change the ambient color to approximate what she thought Nietzsche would have found in the Bavarian Black Forest. Today, Gabriel was having none of it. Anna couldn’t make phone calls. She couldn’t do her planeaciόn. All she could do was unbutton her flannel shirt, wrap it around her baby, and comfort him with the rhythm of her beating heart.
Esto niño lindo
Que naciό en dia
Quiere se la lleven
A la dulcería…”
Gabriel, dry, well-fed, and now warm, stopped crying in a millisecond, and, puzzled with the change in his environment as much as comforted, focused upward on his mother’s face and started giggling. Baby and mother reinforced each other’s laughter until both faces turned ruddy with the increased flow of giddy blood. En esto momento no podría pensar en mis problemas. If sex weren’t enough to make people reproduce, moments like this would do fine.
¿Mande? What am I talking about? The fucking Maestro threw me out of his company for getting pregnant. I had to form my own company in order to sell tickets to pay for my senior recital. I can’t get a job; I have a baby. My father thinks that I pissed away my life already. My mom thinks that I drank it away. And I live in one room, above a taller, where my baby cries whenever they use the pneumatic wrench!
The baby noticed the change in his mother’s attitude and started to form another howl.
Palmas, palmitas,
Hongos y castanitas,
Almendras y turrόn
Para mi niño son…”
Anna played patty-cake with Gabriel by slapping his cheeks with her breasts. While doing so, she formulated a plan.
She had surrounded herself with a troupe that would sustain itself. In fact, Sandrina was practically demanding the role of business manager, and everyone agreed that anyone who had graduated Maestro Garza’s program could direct a play. Somehow, the control diva herself allowed it, while always having her own production (which would be the best, the most influential, the most profitable, etc.) in mind. So this plan would not hurt her theatrical career. It might create some money, and maybe even bring in some sponsors for the company. But it would definitely entail a change in diet – she thought about the barrenness of her cabinets, and the one bottle of milk in the refrigerator downstairs that belonged to her, and decided that a few servings of crow would do nothing to harm the emptiness of the pantry. She reached out to the phone, on the floor next to the mattress, and made the call.
“Si, chica. Como estas?”
“Bastante bien. I have thought long and hard about your offer. I can, and will, sell the books. I have even arranged a public reading through my company to start the promotion.”
This last point was a little white lie, but it might get her father to ship an extra case of his business management text. Enrique had not become an MBA overnight, nor had he ever recovered from Fulgencia’s betrayal and early death. Yet, he had made good business habits into a kind of therapy which, beside restoring bounce to Enrique’s middle-aged step, had erased his debts and restored his practice to solidity. When Anna had begged him for money after she left Hector, he said no, that he no longer poured champagne down empty drains. When Gabriel was born, he bought a crib and a gift certificate good for a year of formula (he still thought of breastfeeding as a barbaric practice) and a case of newborn-sized disposable diapers (washing cloth diapers is for indios). He had offered her a case of books that she could sell and keep the profits. She hadn’t taken him seriously. At first, her pulse raced and her temples throbbed with shame and humiliation when she thought of his offer. In fact, when she called him, she could only hope that the offer was genuine. How humiliating would it be if the offer were withdrawn now!
Okey, mi niña. Creo en ti. I believe in you.”
Anna checked herself for ear wax.
Details were exchanged. Enrique didn’t even know where Anna was living – she could have dropped dead without a trace, and he would not have known where to go to claim the body. She didn’t want him to come to thetaller, so she arranged to meet at the space the theater company shared at the converted textile mill on 8va Norte and 4a Calle. And of course she would bring Gabriel. Do I have a wet-nurse? I will be your only sales rep with a baby as part of my business attire!
Anna had already read the book. She had already applied the full rigor of Enrique’s system to the business management of her company. She and Sandrina had established a morning meeting and a regular schedule of creative and business activities. She had adhered to the schedule herself, leaving her colleagues slackjawed to find her punctual, even for 9:30 am marketing sessions. She had even proven to herself that she could apply a negotiating tactic that her father had used to reduce his rent while rebuilding his practice, which was to create a desire in the prospect like a homunculus that would swell and take over the prospect’s mind and vision. She had sold the Asociacion Comercial of the Textile District to beg her company to accept free rent for a year instead of a cash contribution in exchange for ad space in the programs.
Anna bundled Gabriel, and bundled him again. She owned a number of hats, commercial and theatrical, and selected one which combined both. It was a teal masterpiece of fabric sculpture, sporting a fan where the tassel would be. Its brim turned up naturally in the front left, and slung over her right shoulder like a cowl. Anna had thought to stitch a ribbon to the forehead, but she decided that would be a bit much. Now, of course, it would be impossible. Under her tweed jacket, a teal and black silk scarf puffed out. Her calf-high leather boots matched the jacket. Only the snug blue jeans disagreed with the style impression, and then only as a matter of counterpoint. Thus attired, Anna clacked down the steps, placed Gabriel in the borrowed rear-facing stroller, and strode off to the theater.
“(!)Papi!” Anna called out as she saw her father emerge from his old but clean Mercedes. It may not be de modo, but it is a Mercedes and a classic at that. Always make a good first impression.
“(!)Chiquita! Y(?) quien es?” Enrique raised his voice in pitch, a near demand to be given his grandson to dandle.
“Papi, meet your grandson. Gabriel,” she paused, flipped the hood of the stroller back, lifted the baby to her lips, kissed him, and rubbed noses, “meet your abuelito!
Enrique held Gabriel aloft as he had his firstborn, a boy, Hernando, who grew up to be a lawyer and later, a judge. The nine-pound bundle had no complaints, understanding at some unconscious level the meaning of familia.Gabriel began to coo and giggle when Enrique tossed him up and wiggled him in the air.
“Papi, it’s chilly. Let me show you the teatro.” Enrique handed the baby back to Anna and followed her lead.
They entered the massive rust-red door midway down the broad grey stucco wall. The first floor of the building held a clothing and textile shop, which by happy accident carried costumes and performed custom tailoring. Across the street the theatergoer could eat dinner before the show, and on performance nights, choose between a dessert menu or a nightclub.
“We paint feet on the street from our door to the doors of our advertisers,” noted Anna.
“You’ll do fine, chica,” returned Enrique.
Anna turned the hall lights on, and indicated the playbills and photographs that accompanied them up the stairs. “You would think that we’ve been performing here for ten seasons, not one, true?”
“Yes. I can understand the photos, but the playbills? Where did you get this? What if someone finds out…”
“There’s nothing to find out. We just took our college credits, and re-staged work that we had done with Garza. The hard part was writing the playbills, but these were real performances.”
Muy lista, very clever. How much money did it cost you?”
“Okey, I like your professionalism. This will carry well into business.”
“I read the book.”
The theater held 132 for a sold-out performance. One of Hector’s friends had helped convert bleachers into passable theater seating by riveting a host of contoured plastic seats onto the aluminum row. Quirky, but cheap. For an ensemble edgy enough to use the pregnant status of its star to create a gender-bending Falstaff, quite natural. The fabric and costume store had supplied the stage curtains for advertising in the playbills. The theater (read: Anna) had bought some old drapery hardware from a cinema that was remodeling. Instead of a raised podium, the stage was at floor level, delineated from the audience with a painted yellow arc, like the goal area in futbol. The great failing of this space was its lighting. There was no dimmer on the house lights, and only three spotlights. But these cost money. With a good run of Christmas Carol, there would be plenty of that.
It was fortuitous that Anna had chosen to play Marley and not Scrooge for this production. While she would direct the production, she knew the script in more than one language, so there would be few extra hours. She would use the business hours to sell Enrique’s book. And maybe arrange a seminar or two?

Gabriel (1998)

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.

Thor (1997)

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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 curaappeared, 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 curahad 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.

Roberto (1994)

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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. 
Pick. Pick.
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.”
“No, Señor…señor…”
“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.

Dramatis Personae II

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Dramatis Personae II
Rafi sat at the Abington Club bar, with Dimitri standing in front of the fireplace like it was a Hindu god.  The sharp bite of the Torpedo microbrew beer shot Rafi’s imagination like an arrow back to another moment of trouble between Anna and Dimitri. The sun circled over her shoulder that cloudless day in August. Anna looked like a cigarette sweated through, formless and wilted. “Shit!” she screamed, realizing that she would not get to the early childhood Spanish class she would be fired from. “Shit! Mierda!” she cried more softly, wondering what to do and cursing the tar that had left her lungs unable to handle the hilly five-mile bike ride to Chestnut Hill. She flagged a cab, but left the cab in tears when the meter exceeded her last penny.  This was a time of tzuris, trouble, between Anna and Dimitri; Rafi heard it all. She would say, “Intellectually, Dimitri is as wide as a football field and, emotionally, as shallow as the Astroturf.” “Agreed, but he’s got a good heart, and he’s pulled my stones out of the fire more than once. Beside, if you want to be understood, that’s my role in the relationship.” Or he would gasp, “She’s way over our head, she needs help.”  “Yeah, I’m helping her get a shrink without being admitted and fucking deported.” So it was little surprise on that day, stranded in Mt. Airy, all the pain came out trimmed in passion.
Running his rescue errand, Rafi saw her crumpled up under the schist walls at the Lutheran Seminary across the street from Wawa convenience store. She didn’t know that if she had gotten there just a little earlier, she could have ridden the #23 up to O’Doodles, the boutique toy store, to teach her class. But she could barely raise her head, and there were no tears to cry.
Without speaking, Rafi cradled Anna’s left arm under her shoulder and helped her to her feet. Despite the puddle dripping off her school T-shirt, Anna collapsed on Rafi’s chest. This hug of gratitude rippled into an embrace of passion when the cocktail of pheromones and sweat hit Rafi’s nose. Fast did their lips meet, and faster their arms encircled the other, fingers in search of aching skin. Rafi hadn’t even taken his sandals out of the car. For her part, Anna had flip-flops. She preferred to teach the class barefoot, like the children in her classes. So as ankle met ankle, toe met toe, and instep met calf, there flowered the fragrance of what could have been, what Rafi dreamed about, what Anna had even called Rafi a “Puta Madre!” for not pursuing after he lost his job with the Philadelphia School District.
Dimitri did not know any of these things. While Rafi relived all the times they would have become lovers in a sane world, Dimitri rediscovered the meditative nature of the fireplace. “No quiero me hacer un paracaidista,” “I don’t want to become a parachutist.” Rafi finished his beer, wishing that she had been alone when he had first met her, and that the afternoon saw them become two naked wood sprites, climbing trees and making love, but Anna’s son Gabriel was visiting. Now, there could be three outcomes. First, she would remain in Texas. Rafi would begin with e-mails, move on to calls, use everything in David DeAngelo’s and Vin DeCarlo’s programs to keep her attracted and off-balance (because, after all, she chose Dimitri because of just why she was now through with him. Wide as a football field, deep as Astroturf). I’d get her to pay for her own ticket back here, but then I’d propose at the station. My right brain to God’s ears.
Second, she could fly back up here, and be so pissed off from the drama that they fight and break up. She sleeps in my extra bedroom, until… Third, they forget the ill feelings, keep on hitting the therapy, and muddle through somehow. With my luck, though Rafi, it’s gonna be #3. Where’s the bettor’s windows?
His cell phone battery was dead. Rafi had been fired from a job earlier in the Great Recession, and he had started his work day with no computer and a phone that didn’t remember where its charger was. When he started that day, he suffered the same frustration he had when trying to get his child support obligation reduced when he lost his job. By the time the hearing happened, his unemployment started, so he was making enough money that if he paid no utilities, he could be that revenue stream for the Rhinoceros. Segal and he were so much in love once, but then he lost his music career, and she lost her soul. The two events were separated by a time lapse of two years, but the Rhino even admitted to the causality. Both prisoners of that ill-fated bond knew the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. People with brains and souls morphing into monomaniacal half-ton beasts in front of a barely comprehending audience. She admitted to his characterization, but blamed him for beating her soul out of her. Facts, like he never touched her in anger, she threw objects in fury at him, and that their children revered him, were as disposable as truth in politics.
Rafi parked his car in front of his garden. Every plant there served a function to make a little postage stamp environment with three seasons of interest. Tonight, the gardener ignored the garden. A quick kiss to Whisper, who had climbed up to meow out from between the indigo-pink blooms on the hydrangea and the yellow leaves on Rose of Sharon. Unlocking the door and leaning into the pressure of Serena, rubbing against his leg. Dashing into give the cats milk, to drop a pinch of Brightflash’s food into the little Betta tank. Ripping the electronics out of the canvas bag with its broken clasp. Hunting for plugs. The charger – oops. stepping on that. The modem. Check. The computer charger. Latex – that’s how he’d been saying “later” for twenty years – to the computer charger; it was pretty much charged from work. Charger to cell phone, modem to computer, modem booting. Cell phone charging.
Rafi’s messages all pointed to the same thing. Anna’s family had forgotten to set the alarm clock, Anna had, in a moment of self-sabotage echoed from her time drinking, had not attended to this at all. Anna saw that she wouldn’t get a connecting flight to Philadelphia until very late. She might have to sleep in Atlanta. Anna changes her reservation.
Dimitri cuts off Anna’s phone. The whole Garcia clan starts texting, e-mailing, and sending magic owls out for help. Rafi’s unsuspecting e-mail full of wishes for happiness whispers into this maelstrom to which it is irrelevant.
Rafi picks up his phone and calls. Anna’s phone’s back on. “Anna, I hear there’s some mierda pesada going down. How can I help?”
This was going to be another day in which nothing counts – until everything does. Raf knew he had been on the exercise bike only by the fact that his butt hurt and since the hot water wasn’t on yet, he could smell his man-sweat. Not that this will happen, but I wonder what Anna’s reaction would be if she made me like this. Rafi made a desultory gesture, a wave really, at the housework that needed done, and locked into his data. Cell phone on. Computer, check. NPR, must have. Rosetta Stone Russian discs? Loaded.
Rafi was well aware that the possibility of reading texts, checking e-mails, fielding voice-mails, listening to Marti Moss-Coane, and learning Russian at the same time was nil. The research says we don’t really multitask, anyway. It’s more like sequential minitasking (You heard it here first, thought Rafi. But if I’m doing stuff, I might be able to stop worrying about other stuff.At one of Anna’s meetings, someone said that “planning” was different than “projecting.” Rafi’s crystal ball was looking pretty opaque right now.
OK. First, an e-mail. “Dearest Annochka,” he typed, using a Russian diminutive for Anna’s Mexican name, “I spoke at length with Dimitri last night. He feels betrayed on two or three levels. If you are coming back, and not staying in Texas, you need to read this e-mail carefully. If you are leaving Dimitri, then remember that I have pledged to you my love and I will bring you back to me.
“Dimitri is a teacher, just like me. He doesn’t understand when you do things that wind up costing money. Of course, the car, but I convinced him to segregate drunk Anna from sober Anna. So now, he’s focused on the $200 for the flight, and he’s in his head over the $200 – it’s, how do they say, emblematic. He also is afraid you are getting drunk again. He doesn’t believe your aunt. He also thinks that the only thing he can trust you for is to make drama and upset. So you have to regain his trust by spending a lot of time doing normal things and producing predictable results.” Rafi wanted to finish with, “If you think you can’t handle it, stay there a month, leave him, and marry me. If we’re so chingado that we wind up on the street, at least we’ll have each other.” How he longed to add that.
He grabbed his Kyocera Melo and shot a quick text. “Check your e-mail. I love you.” Rafi always spelled out “you,” even when texting. “It shows respect,” he would say.
Then he e-mailed Dimitri. “She’ll be there when you are. Let me know if I can help.” Dimitri texted back. “Rafi, I have to handle this on my own. WCB after schl.”
The day became a blur from then until a moment that froze like scrawled text on an oil painting.  Rafi texted them both, “I am here if you need me.” Within minutes, Dimitri called back
“Everything’s OK. In fact, Anna and I are closer than ever. Thank you for all your help.”
WTF? Thank you for all your help? If that fucker only knew…

Magda (1991)

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Fulgencia, Anna’s mom, had returned to Puebla several times during the first year after her fancy clothes and her Bible had tiptoed out when Anna was 8. Each time, the mother became more sarcastic toward the daughter, gradually moving to open rage. It was as if the mother returned only to throw aside her previous life by destroying the links that bound her to those who loved her. Anna, try as she might, could not move past the place that children go when a parent leaves, by abandonment, divorce, or death.  One morning, she would look up at the crucifix she took off the wall – that wall in that room with that empty bed for one alone – and hurl invective at a God she had started doubting long ago. The very next morning she would kneel in front of the crucifix, with its cast-iron martyr peering out from under his crown of thorns, and beg Him to care for her mother and to remember her among the myriad billions of believers on this world or any other.
When she was eleven years old, she had discovered her classmate Magdalena sitting cross-legged in front of the giant sycamore tree in the school’s courtyard. This deciduous gift came from the Archdiocese of Seville as part of the earthquake reconstruction effort sixteen years earlier. The tree towered above the stumpy palmeras of the native climate, its bark looking like an endless row of greenish chameleons by comparison to the scaly brown exoskeleton of the much smaller palms. Magdalena’s light skin and blond hair marked her as an outsider. Anna felt like an outsider on the inside. Since Magda’s Danish mother had divorced her father and returned to Copenhagen, Magda and Anna shared parallel lives, but until this Tuesday in October, a bright sunny interpause in a month of solid rain, they had never spoken.
Wordlessly, Anna sat down on an exposed root of the great tree. Unlike the sticklike Magdalena, Anna had hips to tuck under herself even as a sixth grader. Noticing the slighter girl’s shoes neatly placed next to her schoolbooks, Anna placed hers the same way. The girls sat in lotus position like two yogis.
“What are you reading?” Anna asked.
“La Indagacion de la Poesia.”
“Mande?”, which is the Mexican idiom for, “I did not get that. Again, please!”
“It’s one of my brother Marco’s textbooks. When I was born, I was careful to choose a family that would have a brother ten years older, so I could read his books.”
“With my luck,” replied Anna, “he would have been a naco futbolista.”
“That was part of the bargain. If he wasn’t a reader, I don’t get born.”
Si, claro. Por supuesto.”  Anna had never heard the white stick-girl talk before. She liked it. “What would he do if he knew you had his book? I’m telling, jajaja!”
“You don’t know where I live. In fact, you don’t even know my name, do you, burra?”
Magdalena’s tone, the little toss she gave of her rich Mexican brown hair, and the furtive wink of her Danish blue eyes put the lie to the harsh words she had just uttered.
“Magdalena da Silva Jort. Babosa.”
Mande? How did you know my matronymic?” Magda’s eyes widened, and her thin lips remained parted slightly at the end of her question. She blushed, more from embarrassment than from anger. The idea of a nearly-complete stranger knowing such a personal detail, especially as she perceived her mother as having abandoned her, felt like a violation.
“I do my research.” When the girls were in fourth grade, Anna had noticed a tall, blonde woman in the school. Perhaps it would be better to say that the tall, blonde woman penetrated Anna’s consciousness, striking a silent blow to Anna’s self-image and placing a permanent chip on her shoulder. Anna walked in the tall woman’s shadow to the office, and hid in the stairwell until she saw which girl left, hand-in-hand, with her goddess mom. Anna had the classroom responsibility of running messages to and from her classroom, so she spent the last three periods praying that the Sra. Morales would ask her to take something to the office. The moment finally arrived in art class. A new poster and English phonics game had arrived earlier in the day, but Sra. Morales had left it in the copy room by accident. Her lesson for last period depended on having this material, so she sent Anna to retrieve it. Anna feigned casual disinterest when she glanced at the early dismissal sheet, and there it was:
Heike Hjort      Magdalena da Silva
Now Magdalena da Silva Hjort was reaching for her shoes.
“No, don’t,” Anna pleaded. “I didn’t mean any harm.”
“It’s just… just… nobody talks – uses matronymics. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“So tell me about, who is that, Villanueva?”
“Yes. He says that the central moment in the creation of a poem is like the moment of consciousness. Like the way the first man realized that he was a man and not an ape.”
“Yes! I think that this is the big idea in being human. Every moment is a new awareness…”
“A new possibility! And a whole universe is contained in it!” Magdalena gushed.
“Magda, would you read that passage to me?”
Magdalena read from the book. The entire passage occupied a page and a half, but it took up most of recess to read. That is, to read a single paragraph of it. The language was dense for an adult, and these girls were eleven and thirteen. But they savored the language, the thoughts, the seriousness, the ADULTness of it, and they interrupted themselves interrupting the reading. Occasionally, Magda would look up whenever an older boy took up position nearby. She would shoot the boy a cross look and try to pick up where she and Anna had left off.
“I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Magda sniffed.
“Do what? Who?” Anna replied.
“The boys. They haven’t stopped coming since you sat down. Do they do that to you all the time?”
“No, but maybe,” speculated Anna, “I just don’t notice. That’s bruto. Barbaro.
“They don’t do that to me, and I guess I could carry their naquisimo baby.”
The bell rang, indicating that the children had five minutes left to go back to class. Both girls gathered their shoes, replaced their lunches, barely touched, in their book bags and caught each other’s gaze. Anna spoke first.
“Do you want to come over after school?”
“I’d love to! But I have to take my younger brother home. Then I have to…” The words froze between Magda’s larynx and tongue.
“My mom left too.” With that, Anna placed her free hand on Magda’s shoulder. The girls hugged. “I’ll come to your house, then. My father knows I usually stay in the library, so he won’t expect me.”
Even to the European thinness of their lips, the girls saw themselves reflected in the other.