Back in the hoary days of 2005, I began a project entitled Dramas & Fables. These were going to be a series of short short stories, working off of the idea of Joycean epiphanies. Of course, I was in grad school at the time, and the project petered out. For the blog, I will post what I got through writing: three Dramas and three Fables.
Alma said, “Well, I don’t like it at all. No, not a bit. I mean, divorce is never the answer, is it? I mean, it’s against God’s law, isn’t it?”
“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t live in Iran,” her daughter, Lourdes, said.
Alma looked at her blankly. “Ay, what does Iran have to do with it? This is you! You won’t be able to take communion, ever! Not unless you get an annulment.” She kneaded the masa furiously, digging her fingers into it. “Can you get an annulment? I mean, you did marry young, didn’t you? We can tell the archdiocese that you weren’t emotionally mature.”
Lourdes, narrowing her eyes, said, “Maybe I don’t care about communion.”
Ay, ay, that was never the thing to say to Alma. “Lourdes, I’ve lost your sister. I don’t want to lose you too! It would be too much to bear! I can’t be the only one in communion with the Church. No one will be left to say Masses for me after I’m gone!”
Lourdes sighed and stretched, then rubbed her eyes, suddenly feeling very tired. She had been feeling tired for months, months of fighting, caviling, sniping, a guerilla war fought in Los Feliz and environs. The modern world tired her. Fifty years before her husband would have had a harder time finding some puta with whom to cheat. Now, chat rooms, emails, message boards; it was all so easy. And the pictures she’d found on the computer! Him, naked, erect, holding it like a lance or scepter, displaying it for whomever wanted to watch. Oh, it disgusted her, and she didn’t consider herself a prude. No, far from a prude; she’d always thought herself a bit wild, in touch with her sexuality, more than willing to try new things with her husband. But, perhaps, some people need more. Not that it mattered; if some people needed more, then she didn’t need them.
“I was married. It was real. And for a while we were happy. I’m not going to annul a whole chunk of my life. This isn’t like grade school where you can have a do-over. Sorry. If you want a Mass said, I guess I’ll have to lie and pretend to be a good Catholic.”
Alma emitted a low moan, and focused her eyes back on the masa, kneading, kneading, pouring whatever energy coursed through her into the dough, getting the tamales ready for Sunday dinner. Oh what a dinner it would be. Just the three of them, her, Lourdes, and Cecily, the other lost daughter, and she never even married, and said she had no intention of doing so. Alma had asked her, “Eres lesbiana?” To which, in a fit of pique, Cecily had responded, “Maybe. I’ll let you know after my date tonight.” Alma had stayed up that entire night, clutching at her rosary, wondering what Cecily had meant, what could have lain behind those cryptic words. As the girls had grown older, she grew less able to read them. Her daughters, such modern women, one about to divorce, one never wanting to marry, and Alma, poor Alma, without grandchildren, without a son, without a husband, just the house and her daughters and the masa for the meal. If she could have blamed God, she would’ve, but that would’ve been blasphemy, and of course she didn’t want to think that her daughters, her loves, were being moved by the devil. It was just the trouble that God sends you to test you, to see how stalwart you are in your faith, how you cleave to him even more strongly when things go badly, when the world has turned and fall has become winter. Except, of course, it was never winter in Los Angeles.
Lourdes had moved into the living room, leaving Alma to her own rituals. She didn’t know why she subjected herself to the torment. Dinner wasn’t for another few hours. She didn’t have to be there. But, she had nothing else to do. She didn’t really want to see any of her friends. Her apartment was large, and empty—and soon not hers, because how could anyone single afford the rents in Los Feliz? They were barely able to afford it between the two of them, but they had been so eager to leave Hawthorne, to get out of the South Bay and the little barrios that dotted it, to be able to say that they actually lived in “L.A.” At that exact moment she wished she’d had a child, because then, oh boy, she would’ve hooked him for alimony and child support. But, no child, so it was a no-fault divorce, everyone keeping what they had, which meant she got nothing; not that he had anything to give her. They’d never even bought a house, watching as the prices rose and rose, as they waited for them to come down, the pleasant entropy of living in their flat keeping them content. She wondered if Alma would mind her screaming. It was, perhaps, excessive. And it was fortunate she’d had no child; the poor thing would’ve become nothing but a weapon, regardless of their best intentions, a means to extract money and revenge. That was what tortured her the most, that she had no means to exact retribution. No fault. Feh! It was his fault! She was blameless in all this. He should be annulled, his whole useless existence, his wandering dick, his round eyes that couldn’t stay in their sockets long enough to look at her. At least he’d had the decency to not say “Baby, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.” What he had said—“I just want to be with other women. I want to live a bit before I become old and fat with someone who’s also old and fat”—had frozen her so quickly that it had barely hurt. She’d just nodded and told him to get out. She smiled to herself; no screaming, no histrionics, no useless tears. The fact that now she felt like screaming or crying or rending her garments every few minutes was besides the point; he never saw her like that.
Lourdes stretched out on the sofa. Oddly, she missed the one from her childhood, wrapped in a plastic slipcover so that she and Cecily and their friends and cousins wouldn’t spill soda and chips all over it. In the summers the plastic was always cool on her bare legs. It was so Alma, this ferocious desire to protect everything within her purview. She and Cecily had bought her current living room set between them, with no plastic. She vaguely regretted that they didn’t save the old sofa, even if just stored away somewhere. Lourdes decided that she would just lay on the couch for a while, and wait for Cecily to show up. She was waiting for Cecily to keep her company; Alma was waiting for Cecily to drill into her life, trying to pry out bits of information to get to know her daughter again. And, perhaps, they were both waiting for Cecily to join them, one already old, one creeping perilously close to middle age, both alone, disappointed, adrift and unmoored. Both were waiting for Cecily to finally grow up and join them, in the grasping earth.