Saturday, December 1, 2012

When We Danced on Water, by Evan Fallenberg, a review

Dear Hitler:

If the word didn’t strangle me, I might thank you for creating a world that brought forth the legendary power and strength of my people. You yourself, through your propaganda film department, documented our ends, but you left it to masters of fiction like Evan Fallenberg to tell our stories of survival. You have created a universe of pain behind you. It’s not our deaths we rage against in the generations that follow; it’s the pain of the last three years, the last five years, the last twelve years, even, in the case of some of us, the last fifty or sixty years of our lives. You called us vermin; we looked our torturers in the eye and spat on them as we endured their blows.

Just ask Teo. Ask him, Herr Hitler, what he did the final moment of the War, when he escaped his six year slavery as the personal plaything of an obsessed monster, who rose to be your top Minister of Culture before this slavemaster was pressed into service as an increasingly overmatched lieutenant, Captain, Lieutenant General, and finally, escapee. Ask your Baron Friedrich von Sadistschafft how many boys he demolished on the way to his enslavement of potentially the best male dancer of his era, possibly even a rival to Nijinsky. Go to Israel, and ask Teo’s friend of his twilight, Vivi, whose life was dissolute, fading, even, at the age of forty-two, who met your survivor of Reichskutltursschafft and, fired full of passion, the holy twin of obsession, created legendary installations in defiance of everything you were and everything you twisted your people into becoming. Ask their child, conceived on the very last night of Teo’s life, the eternal tribute to the fact that you were defeated, whereas we were merely destroyed. From every destruction there are survivors, memories. From your defeat, a shame that no one nation could bear, not even one Germany.

We, the readers of Evan Fallenberg’s masterful tale, will feel the passion that Fallenberg nurtures, from the Teo’s first studio, the parks and balustrades of Warsaw, to the school in Copenhagen where he would emerge, ready to take over the Reich’s balletic imagination, to Teo’s capture, enslavement, and violation at the hand of the evil of this culture officer’s obsession. We will walk the streets of your Berlin with Vivi, the Israeli whose life, and passion, had fallen out of focus at the hand of another German, who could not shoulder your burden alone. We will feel the would that seared your city’s heart for thirty years. We will follow Vivi back to the streets of Tel Aviv where, through her association and eventual romance with Teo, discovered a wellspring of passion inside herself and went from coffee-shop waitress and dilettante to the artist to whom presidents paid obeisance. Finally, I call on your rotten bones to twist and cry out like the Biblical victims of Dathan and Abiram, wailing your apologies to the grave while Teo’s and Vivi’s son Nathaniel, “Given by G!d,” dances in some decades on your metaphoric and real grave.

We, the survivors, their grandchildren, their neighbors and the descendants of their neighbors, read the words masterfully imagined by Mr. Fallenberg, and we give praise for passion, for it is passion that creates true art.

You can watch Evan Fallenberg read from his novel When We Danced on Water at the PEN Written on Water festival at

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Footbridge, by Josh Chapman: a Review

When the first squishy boy/girl scene flew by, I was thinking, “Oooh, and I getting old or what?” I think it’s “Or what,“ in the plot-rich but character-deficient The Footbridge by Josh Chapman. The plot is simple – got your temporal relativity boots on? Girl and boy are best buds since pre-K. Both become movie goodlooking teenage characters. Then, we get the old double narrator trick, in which the boy’s narrator is omniscient  - except for one huge blind spot. He’s crazy about the girl, and she’s crazy about him, but since he’s the jock, she’s waiting for him to make the move.  Neither character can see that the other is feeling deepening emotions, because they think of each other as they ware – and the risk of losing the friendship is a risk too big to take.

Kelly, the guy, may as well be a cardboard cut out of the jock character – but he foreshadows the repressed, unemotional, Jack Kemp sort of guy that he will develop into – in the sequel. Sally, the girl, is total emo at its worst. Her mom had her in high-school, or rather, conceived her in high school and then dropped out. The entirety of the first act is spent with Sally comtemplating suicide. That’s what you do as an emo girl.

Chapman sets himself a challenging task by attempting the double narrator trick. I tried that at the beginning of my own romantic fiction novel – until my writers’ group talked me down. They assured me that one of my narrators would get stuck with an unsympathetic character. Kelly is worse than unsympathetic. He’s BORING. He’s just too perfect. I want to decapitate him with his own lacrosse cross. Sally is her own kind of caricature. When reading the chapters narrated by the two separate narrators from their limited point-of-view,  I felt that the stories were alive, but not the characters. Add Alex, the role-playing dweeb, and Lauren, the trusty best friend, and I was tempted to set this one aside.

Now to the more interesting part – the plot. We find out that Sally isn’t a depressed emo girl because she was born to an alcoholic teenage mom whose seducer was a one night stand. It turns out that as the soldier of the next generation was making its way up her mom to form Sally, her mom observed something unspeakable. For the next seventeen years, an evil cabal of real estate demons, perverts, and low-level medical assistants conspire to make Sally’s mom a falling-down drunk and to make Sally so depressed that she cannot raise her head out of the botulized stew of her own life to pose a threat.

The accident that changes everything is that a temporal rift develops over the footbridge that Sally crosses every day to get to school. Now, Sally has a chance to change history, because her mother and the sperm source went to her high school eighteen years earlier. Now it gets good. Now we find out very quickly what the motivations of all the awful people of Sally’s present day lives are.

Josh Chapman clearly shows promise. I couldn’t stop reading the book after the dweeb character gets sucked into 1995. As a reader, I just shouldn’t be manhandled into investing an hour or two in wooden characters and predictable dialogue before the good stuff starts. The plot was thrilling – once I got there. I can see the movie in my imagination, and it’s better than the book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Best Book for Very Old (and some very young)

“Nothing, nothing I try, nothing I say, nothing I do, gets through to her!” How many times have we, the sandwich generation, heard this lament from our friends, our bridge partners, our work colleagues, or even ourselves? The problem is that our aged parents are confronted with the growing loss of mental capacity. Not being a clinician, I am not able to say what degree of self-awareness the increasingly demented family member retains, I know that the children or caregivers of elderly people facing dementia do not enjoy “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

So what do we do? How do we make the hours we spend with the elderly any form of a reward – or at least, not so punishing to our hearts and to our psyches? Music therapy is great, and we know that music makes a connection. In his new book, Blue Sky White Clouds: A Book for Memory-Challenged Adults (2012, Rainbow Ridge Books), Eliezer Sobel creates a storyboard of twenty-six evocative photographs in which the story ranges far, far beyond the four or five 48-point words captioning the picture.

When I first tried to use the book with a senior, I chose for one example the picture of a row of pines blanketed in snow, arising from a deep cottony landscape with the ever-so-common grey winter sky, rendered much more friendly by the black-and-white format. I was able to create a conversation about visiting a friend’s house for Christmas. My elderly friend selected one of the trees in the picture and imagined decorations. I know that I could have led an entire therapy session if that were my profession, using Christmas ornaments, gingerbread cookies, and candles, then going deeper into a patient’s own background to make deeper and deeper connections. My friend was able to read the caption out loud, and with the book open to that picture, remain engaged for  fifteen minutes. What a gift!

Because I am an older dad, I was able to test out another hypothesis. I have long known that the cognitive abilities of children far exceeds their reading level or even their linguistic capacities. Might the rich, real, pictorial stories rendered in Sobel’s book hold the attention of people at the opposite end of the age spectrum? My own daughter, at five years of age just beginning to read, was able to turn to any picture and with some help, read the caption. More importantly, the pictures evoked stories, coming out almost without prompting from a little girl who has suffered from expressive language delay. Ten minutes talking about a brilliant black and yellow butterfly on a purple and white iris.

I am suggesting, although I don’t have research to back this up, that these evocative, rich pictures of the great and small, the very old and very young, the tiny and the vast, reach in and touch the cognitive function and emotional processing of the very old and the very young in a way that is usually reserved for the music therapist. At 26 pages, the book is more than manageable to the reader, and offers the caregiver the opportunity to connect in a rich and vital way.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Writing Blogs Made Dead Simple

Ever want to know what is behind those AOL/Google/Yahoo headlines, like, “7 Ways to Better Sex tonight!” or “101 Techniques to Raising a Healthy Teen,” or “Crazy New Weight-Loss Bean?” There is a science to this, and Nick Thacker wants you to know how to use it. If you are blogging for a job, Thacker can help you get more sales. If you want to penetrate the blogosphere without selling a product, even better. Finally, and I will revisit this later, you can follow Thacker’s suggestion to build up a community that will help you sell books and help other writers. Let me put this in my opening paragraph: or The books are also available on Amazon.
Thacker chose for the first book in the Dead Simple Guide to address the topic of headlines. I don’t care if your goal is to sell toothpaste, you will fare poorly if you use a headline that folks will blow past when they search to find you – or your competitor. When I’m searching, if I think an article will not help, I’ll leave it unread – and move on, seeking a more likely-looking answer. Don’t you? Shouldn’t you invest some time making sure that you would click on your article, advertisement, or blog post if you were doing the searching? In The Dead Simple Guide to Amazing Headlines, Thacker helps you think through this, and provides shortcuts if you choose to use them.
Now you have your headline, or at least, you can conceive of a headline that would sell your next blog post. Now what? You can make your site awesome, make your content brilliant, and still attract nobody. I know. That’s me. In the second book, The Dead Simple Guide to Guest Posts, Thacker walks you through the process of creating community, which causes people to  link to you, host your guest posts, and cross-promote your blog. What is missing here is how to create the code on your site to do what you want. For example, I don’t know how to sell my own book (on on my own Blogger page. Hmmm.
The third book in the trilogy, The Dead Simple Guide to Pillar Content, shows that Thacker is really a novelist at heart. “Creating Pillar Content.” Ever heard of it? I hadn’t, either. Pillar content is why your blog exists. You need to make something stand out to let people know who you are and why they should care.  Thacker explains why you, a novelist, should write about your philosophy of writing, how you develop your characters, where your plot ideas come from, essentially who you are as a writer. Thacker explains that, whether you are writing a blog on fishing or on writing, that you make the “pillars” of your blog out of content that will draw readers.
Is this collection a real hack, meaning an elegant and quick solution to an intractable problem, to your marketing and blogging issues? If, like me, you don’t know much about the bits and bytes of what to do to achieve your blog goals, maybe not. But for anyone with web design assets, or even a few hundred bucks to handle the tech stuff, Thacker’s trilogy will set you on the right path.
Don’t forget to buy my book 3 Through History: Love in the Time of Republicans, at Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Submission, by Amy Waldman

Where were you when JFK was shot? Martin Luther King? Bobby Kennedy? Where were you when Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man?” When Nixon resigned? When the Soviet Union imploded For two generations, these essential “Where were you?” questions were eclipsed by, “Where were you at 9 AM on September 11, 2001?” For Amy Waldman, author of The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) , she was building up the journalistic skills of a major reporter and the writing chops of the author that she becomes within these pages. As a bureau chief of the South Asia office for the New York Times, she found herself embedded in the conflicting cultures that led the story of  the memorial design competition that led up to the tenth year anniversary. Waldman is enough of a New Yorker that she could capture the view through the eyes of demagogues, widows, and Muslims. The demagogues live behind pen and microphone. The widows have the conscience suit covered deep, and the Muslims? Both the winning designer and an unlikely spokeswoman arise from the American Muslim community, with the twist that this Muslim is also a 9/11 widow.

Claire Burwell holds the lone seat on the memorial selection jury reserved for families of the victims. An Ivy-educated woman of independent means, her husband was very wealthy from his work at Cantor Fitzgerald. The jury added her because she was presumed to serve as a barrier between the artistic taste of the jury and the raw emotion of the other survivors. At the  other end of the spectrum is Sean Gallagher, a handyman living in the basement of his mother’s house in Brooklyn. Sean’s brother Patrick was a firefighter pulverized under the collapsing South Tower. Sean had build a small career being Patrick’s voice from beyond the grave. Mohammed (Mo) Khan, a prominent architect and a secular Muslim, won the anonymous competition with a garden that emerged geometrically from the irrigation canals up to the metal trees made from 9/11 rubble. When a grasping, aggressive journalist from a notorious tabloid discloses the religion of the competition winner, the city falls under another attack, this time from within.

Would the memorial garden ever be built at all?  Gallagher plays his status as the brother of a fallen hero into a speaking career with minor celebrity status, all in the name of preventing a Musilm architect from building an “Islamic garden: as a “martyr’s paradise.” Claire struggles to balance her own integrity with the raging voices of the other families. Mo fights everyone’s attempts to vilify the design by attacking the designer, or more specifically, the religious heritage of the designer. At a crucial moment, Asma, an undocumented Bangladeshi Muslim widow of the attacks, risks all she has to speak her truth at an angry gathering of the families of victims.

Ten years and two wars later, Waldman’s novel, The Submission, tells the story of a nation struggling to affirm the principles that extremists love to hate. The Submission speaks to the morals of a people whose pluralism, tolerance, and understanding were pushed to the brink of collapse by attackers whose main objective was to make the country whose ideology they hate destroy itself from within.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


my palms feel the power of
your breath expanding the sea of
your hips, exhale rippling
your skin like a flying carpet
I cannot feel
your hear in this prayer circle -
does it flex freely
pulsing in harmonics
of breath frequency?
does it radiate,
a healing sun within you?
does it sit in you, neutral,
the waves of breath opening, closing
like sound and light, little changed by
an obstacle in a reflecting pool?
or like mine, does it weigh deeply
in the field of your breath,
absorbing, deadening,
a heat sink wicking away spirit?
bring with me the void
the abscess of dark energy that
burdens us both

this is my prayer

Let me breathe every moment of my pain.
For breath is Godding, and God
Flows even in black holes.

Help me to distinguish between
My ebullient breath,
The diffracting stones,
The absorbing wounds.

Give me wisdom to feel joy
Coursing through me as breath-spirit
And to find suffering's
Event horizon.

May I grow to share breath through our touch.
May I become strong in being Godded,
That, with time, the power of abnegation will change.

the power of abnegation

the power of




this too is breath

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shabbat Tryptich 3

The people knew I would offer my sweet voice
sending our prayers above the currents
wafting heavenward faster than airl
those chosen would grind on, voiced
wobbling in leaden braces, bearing the liturgy like sackcloth.
cain, you got a bad rap.
Would that I could stride in like a doctor, lawyer, or banker
with first fruits of lucre, smoke rising straight heavenward.
Cain offered the strength of his own sinews,
the sacrifice found no favor
I the grace of my own voice
the sacrifice found no favor
God sent an enormous mantis,
wings chartreuse, silky in the spotlight.
swirling in my music, she spun to me
alighted on my cheek.
the offering found favor
I must remember to pray before insects

Shabbat Tryptich 2

I offered the only offering that I have to bring
I offered my voice,not
as a timely man, his-is-good-as-any-man's voice,
a not as good as a woman's voice
but a voice
brings tears to lovers at the huppah,
turns hearts inward in due season
upward just on rime
cut through steel to carry messages,
cut steel hearts to carry pain
a voice that honors the words it shapes
but the offer was not accepted
but the offering was not accepted
Cain, you got a bad rap
your offering was not accepted,
though you brought your best,
but though you offered the fattest lambs
you sacrifice was not accepted.
Our sacrifice was not accepted

Shabbat Tryptich I

I advanced into the silence
to commune with God.
I did not see God I saw Iris.
Or better, spire of iris, violet on cream satin.
Rise spire of violet, seeds of plum
carry my mute soul to these plum eyes,
when gazed upon, by yours, fulfilled.

Friday, August 17, 2012

salting the hibiscus

you died on me
like Rachel on the path to Efrat
though I plantedfedwateredweeded
though my blood watered your soil

you died on me
abandoning the torments
I alone will stare out of
glass stained blue with sorrow

as I walk your gravesite I
sprinkle salt then I pour
I pour salt so that I may never plant
never forget

how I loved you
how I grieved
my grief is your
life eternal

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Silver and Fools' Gold

Toes on Schuylkill grass
Never by gravity drawn
to angles. Nor the perfect cleft between
tan calf muscles, bouncing satin thighs
hidden only at the seat
of a feeling barely known.
tied t-shirt scarcely hides
arched objects of desire.
How she might have discovered the flames
of love and passion intertwined
on these shores at night in my arms!
once I was the initiant
but I have eyes that see not,
but I have lips that kiss not,

Air flies through shoes fly through
currents of air on the Wissahickon
as the flight of athlete's legs ripple
through the course in Chestnut Hill.
Toned buttocks endless churning
salmon jogbra all revealing
once I would run backward with you
to admire your womanhood
even as I inspired the athlete.
But I have eyes that see not,
I have ears that hear not,
I have gonads that lie still
as dust in a season
of loss and death.

from the parked Lexus a toned leg and thigh
pulls yet another athlete to the current.
hints of cellulite, a scar
attests to the love you once felt.
with joy you doff the shirt and shorts,
casting a red towel on your favorite patch
The anointing oil would fuel my passion
as I made love to a woman twice my age
collapsing in run-sweat and pheromones
after an evening run in Cleveland
you glance at my memory.
your breasts quiver, hinting at
feeling. But my eyes see not.
my ears hear not.
my heart - I remember -
is is a stone that I feel?
an idol of silver and fool's gold?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tikkun Leyl Shavuot

At 10:55 last night I began creating a henna tattoo of a Blue Mariner butterfly on my right foot.  This was the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a night of study, reflection, and wondeer over the events that brought the Ten Commandments, and maybe the whole Bible, into being. But this? An activity, really. It has history, like the Bible, but that history goes to the wedding rituals of the old Yemenite Jewish civilization. . But who was I marrying – or rather, who was marrying me, since the painting of henna was done for the bride and her retinue. As a heterosexual male, I suspended my disbelief and kept detailing,  This activity begged the question. What was I doing here, and why henna painting, and not, for example, nipple piercing?

The evening marched on as Hanna the Henna artist painted a flower on my daughter. The flower must have been a lotus – it must have had a thousand petals.. Rebecca sat silently and still, noting the artist’s precise motions as she traced every petal while holding my daughter’s arm as carefully as you would a painted Ukrainian Easter egg..

“You are a very patient girl, Rebecca!” Hanna of Henna interjected.

“Thank you,” my socially inward child replied.

Hanna finished her henna drawing and we descended to the ballroom for the signature activity of the night – under the guidance of a prominent artist who is a member of our community, we made larger-than-life sized tiles based on a roughly sketched human form.  These, and hundreds like them, would be stitched together to form the Occupy quilt for this year’s July 4 demonstration. My son etched bold black outlines on his figure, rending the background in two by hurling forest green paint from his sketch’s outstretched left arm and sinking the dark green from his booted foot. On the blank side, there appeared nothing but a quote from George Washington, “Even though I was shot, I survived by great trust and loving friends.”

Rebecca and I painted in tandem on our Occupy panel. When she painted a cloud, I painted a cloud. When she drew a heart, I drew a heart. Her brush strokes were smooth and thin, mine were stippled and heavy. Her paint was mixed a shade or two darker, but otherwise our figures and landscapes mirrored each other.   She pored heart and soul into the 99% that her half of the image represented; I mirrored her gesture in the meaner spirit of the 1% that wants for nothing. Work paused only because in Rebecca’s zeal for the project, she had confused the paint with the bucket of water for the brushes and had ten fingers dripping Forest Green.

The time for study had arrived. My son, Erez, sat on one knee, Rebecca, on the other. The tractate that we study by tradition on this holiday would come many hours later. Now, we studied Pirkei Avot. This book, known as “Ethics of the Fathers,” is a small but controversial piece of Talmudic literature that speaks to how people should live in society. I imagine groups or Rabbis scratching their heads to come up with a system to encode revolutionary messages to their followers. Revolutionary or not, the acts of tzedakah (righteousness, charity) and kindness speak through the often contradictory text.

Two days earlier, I had “bought” ice cream for the children and myself, but discovered that I had no cash in my wallet and worse yet, my card was rejected.  I explained to the manager, who has known my family for years, that I had a little over $1,000 in the bank, and would he please let me bring the money back to him a little later. Fearing the worst, my son paid the check with his own money while I was occupied with my daughter. As I had promised, we finished our ice cream and went off for cash. Erez patted my right shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Erez intoned soothingly.

I looked at him, puzzled.

“I paid the check already.”

Honesty had been an issue for Erez ever since my marriage to his mother imploded. In fact, one source of his ability to pull off a gag was to lie about himself, falsely incriminating himself only to have a good laugh when evolving facts prove him blameless.  So I had to check. I returned to the ice cream vendor prepared to pay the check, but instead found that, true to his word, Erez had paid for the ice cream.

No “I told you so” followed. Just a tender, profound hug.

As I was putting the children to sleep in the Teen Lounge this Leyl Shavuot, I told Erez that we were all studying Tzedakah up there, but he didn’t have to.

“Erez,” I told him,

“Yes, Daddy?”

“You don’t have to study Tzedakah. You ARE tzedakah!

He squeezed my hand and mumbled, “Dad-dy,” and drifted off to sleep.

Those henna tattoos on my daughter and me? They began to deteriorate before I put Rebecca to sleep.

“Look at my flower!” pouted Rebecca, in obvious distress.

“Baby,” I replied, There is a certain  kind of sand painting that people make over hours and days and even weeks, and when they get it just right, they either leave it to fall apart or they celebrate and pile the sand up again. Just because the painting was destroyed didn’t matter. What mattered, Becca,“ I whispered, “is that it was perfect once.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Short story author

Shereese Maynard, writer of short stories and literary critic, also manages to post interesting links for the art, craft, and business of writing. Check her out:

Friday, May 11, 2012

tiempo para esperar

si te dibujaria bastante veces
podre pasar las paginas
desde llegas a mi

voy a mirar a tiempo mismo
como mirete tiempo? faltas reloj, faltas
no mirare reloj,digo. mirare el tiempo

en la ondulación de voces en una multitud
la conjelación de vapores en forma nube
la desapareción, la descubración del sol

en la manera des mareas superponen
en forma de las tijieras
la forma de las ondas que resulten.

en las alas invisibles de un colibri, cuando come
los impresiones tomadon por cado muchacho extranjero
como juega en atender a las reflejos en la charca

la manera que cado copo de nievese sienten sobre estatua que he construido por ti
y los veces que  he la construido otra vez
cuando mis sueños permitieron mi mente para vagar

y si no tu pintare con bastante bien detalle
y si no dibujare tu forma con tocas bastantes ligeras
que no llegas al final

aun asi cuento el tiempo
en gotitas de sangre
en anchura de rio de lagrimas.

Time for Waiting

if I draw you enough times
can I flip the pages until
you arrive at me

I will watch time itself
how will you watch time there is no clock
I will not watch a clock I will watch time

by the undulation of voices in a crowd
the way clouds congeal
the covering and uncovering of the sun

by the cut of tides, patterns slicing
the sound waves thus produced

by the beating wings of the hummingbird
each fleeting glimpse stolen by a stranger
pretending to see ripples in a pond

by the way each snowflake layers itself on
the marble statue I have built for you
and by the times I have rebuilt it, for my mind wandered

and if I can't paint with enough precision
and if I don't draw with light enough stroes
that you come to me at last

Still I will measure the time
In drops of blood from my beating heart
In the width of a river of tears

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Crear Más – Mucho Más

Anna’s father, Ernesto, had taken the day off from his practice in order to give the keynote address – more by the profit motive than by support of his daughter. Ernesto’s business practices book sold out at the Homunculus of Desire performance, and Lopez bought another 500 copies for his management and sales staff. Within months, the book hit the non-fiction bestseller list at #25 in Mexico. One of its rules – not entirely original – that Anna practiced to her benefit in the first two sales seminars she had held was to underestimate the house. If the turnout would exceed expectations, the problem of supplying the unexpected crowd was a happy one; if the event bombed, but places were only set for a fraction of the expected house, people would be impressed with the good planning of management. In this case, Anna was clearly overwhelmed, and despite all efforts by her friends from the theater company, the good businesspeople had taken to attributing to Anna the lack of punctuality they had come to expect out of their countrymen.  César was the first to note this to Anna in person.

“I thought about paying for my secretary and my intern to come with me. I think I still could. If you need them, let them come for free and they’re your slaves.”

“Interns, Sr. Castilañez. Remember, we are all learning to build relationships here. To get me to say “yes,” you have to show me how you are offering value. When you offer me value, I will look for a way to provide value to you in return. If you provide me with slaves, I’ll just look to see how I’m being used.”

“Señorita Garcia, tienes razon. Of course, I was just kidding.”

“César, may I call you that, here you will use every contact to maximize the value you build for other people. When you create value for others, you may increase the belief that clients, prospects, employees, and even your volunteers have in you – in the value you provide.”

César’s business eyes pierced his own muchacho-on-the-make gaze. “Crear para creer,” he assented.
Punto. You don’t have slaves, you have skilled interns. You are negotiating with me a meaningful role for your junior colleagues as you seek the value that we can provide by training them. You will bring this value back into your firm. Not to mention,” Anna punched César in the bicep in the manly gesture of an auto mechanic, “you want to keep Señor Arguello’s junior architects and draftsmen out of the ring with me.”  Her wink toward César’s amigo made it clear that she was de modo  with the sports and political worlds travelled by Arqueo’s near-namesake, worlds that were, at least in the Spanish-speaking world, exclusively travelled by men. 

The architect, upon hearing his nickname used in such an overtly competitive fashion,  shot his own eyebrow up faster than you can say, “Fascinating, but highly illogical!”

Okey Señorita Garcia. If you will provide my bookkeeper Magdalena and my co-op, Armando, with your attention, and assure me that they will report directly to you,” César proposed, noting that Arqueo’s copy of El Economista had disappeared under his arm faster than a breakfast taco at a construction job, replaced by a small black tablet with a keypad on it, “I promise that you will have the time and capacity to communicate more effectively with your clients and prospects, of which we are clearly two.” Arqueo grumbled. César had been beating him up since both men were eight years old sparring partners in a gym in which, Anna would have chuckled slyly to know, the career of Alexis Arguello was celebrated in every detail from the packed dirt paths of Managua to World Champion in three weight classes. 

“Arqueo,” Anna practically giggled, “cierre el cellular. Good idea, but César was first in the ring. César 1, Arqueo 0. TKO. Now,” she turned back to César, tell me about each intern in a way that will make me want to give you the best deal possible, and under that, will not bore me.” Anna switched to English, paraphrasing the well-known bromide used to teach sixth-graders the difference between adjectivos and gerundios en Inglés: “I do not like to be boring.” 

All three laughed like brigands.

“Armando Frias works for me as a draftsman-detailer, but his heart is in graphic design. I hired him on the spot at his senior gallery at BUAP. He has the eye for detail of an Escher. I take him on client calls, and inevitably he comes up with a revolutionary idea that would cost me my shirt. Although I like my shirts, I admire the precision he employs in executing the more manageable designs I give him.”

“Well spoken. What about the other?”

“ Magdalena da Silva, my bookkeeper, is a lot like you, Anna. She runs the commercial sourcing end of her father’s produce business. Xtalplagpwsfhui bzyfondre, como galvcycbreniamo sobre Albdhv. Rsajgb en OFG, esterlvualy aqursnvfu, en aofnruh, Magda sdjkdacbd. Ninciu, en su vida vieqbofboqb como o2chfbo. Okwhdhvbobhdovhcfdobvvohabbirihfhhcb whbcds…

There were syllables, words, even. Some syntax fragments. Several sentences in it dawned on Anna that César had finished trumpeting the virtues of Magda da Silva Hjort, Anna’s best friend since childhood. It had been six months since Magda and Anna last spent an evening on the rooftop, discussing Magda’s need for a second job and listening to Puebla go to sleep.

The man is cute. And he certainly impressed Magda, enough for her to take another job with him. I wish I knew what she was thinking about him – but no, she’s a lesbian, she says, so she might see him like I do, or she might not. Maybe I can get her to go out with me and double-date Arqueo. I had better re-engage in the conversation; it’s my convention, after all.

“I went to BUAP.”
“When did you graduate?”
“From which major? I have two.”
“Really, what are they?”
“Communications, of course, and…”
A flash of self-doubt crossed Anna’s brow.
“And theater.”

“Theater? What’s wrong with that?” César offered. “Isn’t this all theater? Aren’t we all actors,” now both quoted Shakespeare in unison English, “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, signifying nothing?”

“Hilario! Tu inglés es exelente!”  Anna slapped César just under his left shoulder, on his chest, It was solid. It reminded her of Hector. César’s and Anna’s eyes met. César’s eyes were deep, soft, subtle – in short, everything that Hector’s were not. 

Anna remembered the time. “César, here is my card. You may call me.”  When she flipped her curls to end the conversation and return to business, César saw what other men had seen, César saw the perfectly styled, thick, shiny hair, just beyond shoulder-length. César noticed the aquiline, Conquistador nose, the thin but expressive lips, the long, statuesque neck. He took the proferred card, fumbled for his own, and offered it with a smile and a slight bow.

Mentally, César removed Anna’s pinstriped suitcoat, and tasted her rose colored bare shoulders, ruing that she had chosen to wear a strapless bra under her white cotton blouse with its embroidered white frill on the neckline. César’s gaze slipped to her trim but healthy waist, cumbered by a wide patent leather belt with a brass buckle that would have suggested naquismo on a man, but served to tie together woman and outfit. The skirt, a matching pinstripe, hit Anna’s shapely thighs above the midpoint. César wondered how long Anna had shopped to find a banker’s suit with a miniskirt instead of a standard issue midcalf dress. The legs that pivoted  away showed an almost insanely perfect sense of proportion – an anatomist placed the long, thin hamstrings tying to the knee, each head of the large calf muscle perfectly defined but not bulging, and tapered down to the grey suede strap on Anna’s perfectly fitted pumps. How César wished that he could see more! How he wanted this woman! 

Callate, gorilla!  The line is moving – we are next.”
Arqueo’s voice shocked César out of his reverie.
“Beside, César, you’re here to learn about relationship marketing, not about relationships.”
César turned toward the registration table, but shot a glance back at the departed empresaria.
“Padrísima. Múy, múy padrísima.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Two Big to Fall (2001)

“It was like a big rumble – first I thought another train had just passed, but then after a few minutes, the rumble just got greater and greater. Shit, Dimitri, I was less than two stops away from being turned into human sawdust.” Arnie Goldstein, Dimitri’s brother-in-law, a Princeton professor and thoracic surgeon specializing in pulmonary trauma, had invited the family to his six-bedroom, four-bath Toll Brothers mansion in Hamilton for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Dimitri usually arrived last at family gatherings, and was first to leave. His father, Maksim, still could barely say a full sentence to Dimitri without mentioning his disappointment as an immigrant parent on the choices Dimitri had made. This time, because Arnie had made a point of befriending Dimitri while engaged to Dimitri’s sister,  Dimitri came early in order to spend some man-time, free of the status differences between them.
“Yeah, I had a prep first period. The kids in my second period are always the hardest, because they’re the Russian and Ukrainian kids. They know I’m Russian, so all they want to do is jabber on in Russian with me. So I’m sitting at my desk, trying to get some materials together to try to keep these guys from going off on – “
Dimitri slowly became cognizant that he had just disrespected his brother-in-law’s near death experience for a full fifteen seconds and…
“Arnie, you were WHERE!?”
“Yeah, Canal Street, headed south. Another two minutes and I’d have been rubble.
“JEEEEzus!! What happened!?”
“The lights go down, flicker, then off. At first, I say, Damn. I am not going to make it.”
“Make what?”
“I had an appointment with a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. He wanted to look at my research for stenting a collapsed lung for commercial viability. I think I mentioned that when I was at your parents’ house for Passover.”
“Right. That was one of the few things I remember. You know how much I like those gatherings.”
“Give ‘em a break, Dim. You really never know what might happen.” Arnie’s half-hatched dodo of a thought needed no completion. Not this New Year. Not this September. As Rabbi Amnon of Mayence said about the Book of Life – and Death, “the seal of every man’s hand is set thereto.”
Arnie continued as Dimitri looked pensive – and oddly receptive.
“I never thought of what a cocoon the subway is. You just check out of the world, cocksure you are going to emerge – like Jonah and the whale.”
“From Hebrew school. You know, the whale picks you up in the maelstrom and uncertainty of Manhattan life, and then it vomits you out on dry land, hopefully safe and sound, right where you should be. Not this time.”
Dimitri inched to the very front of the taupe fluted leather Chippendale chair in Arnie’s drawing room. With his elbows on his knees and his jaw resting on his fist, he looked for all the world like Rodin’s sculpture, “The Thinker.”
“When the lights went out, and the subway stopped, I was thinking only of what the suits at Cantor Fitzgerald would think about me showing up late. The whale never sleeps. You can make an appointment anywhere in Manhattan at 4:30 am. The next thing I remember was the blue glow of all the cell phones. Rows of blue rectangles. Then, a buzz of consternation.”
“Right, duh. If you just can’t get a signal in the beast’s belly at a random train stop on a good day, what made us think that we were going to get any action out of our devices in an emergency? Someone did it – a conductor, I think – the woman made the announcement in our car to pay attention to her voice only in this car.  She instructed us to save our batteries, and turn the cell phones off, because we were safe where we were, and that she would bring the news to us as soon as she got any. She had the wisdom to suggest that we get to know each other, The woman must have known something. She suggested we tell our seatmates or fellow straphangers what work we did in seven words or fewer.”
“So what did you say?”
“I came up with something like, ‘pop balloons in lungs to heal walls.”
“I bet that one crossed some eyeballs.”
“May have, but I couldn’t see. Nobody could. I thought that it would be a good idea to follow up by asking people questions, but all they wanted to hear about were my balloons. The I. P. lawyers at Princeton – I. P. means “intellectual property” – buzzed in my ears, you know, if I release the information into the public domain, I can’t get rich off it, but I told them anyway. One of the passengers, I guess a college student at NYU, created a good laugh when she called it “a condom that goes down the wrong way!” 
“Did you tell her you’d copyright that line if she didn’t do it first?”
“Good one, Dim. The weird thing is that it started a discussion of different ways to die – like a kind of gallows humor. Sex and death. I mean, it was sick! Sick, but funny. I think that the whole car picked up on the theme. I overheard the blessed, “I want to pass out of consciousness in bed with my beloved,” to the sick, “I saw this cartoon once that had someone beheading his boss in a file drawer  and sticking a bunch of daisies in the empty neck.”
“Too bad someone didn’t have a recorder on. Or maybe they did.”
“If so, you’ll be able to find it on the Internet soon enough. It’s amazing what people will say when they’re contemplating the end.”
“My students would love it. Maybe I’ll teach a lesson on black humor. I might even ask Mom if she remembers any in Russian.”
“Ask your dad instead. Your mom seems way too polite.”
Dimitri fidgeted at the thought.
“How long did you sit in darkness like that? How was the air?
Arnie lifted his head ever so gently, slightly, as if to remember the olfactory sensations of the day.
“Funny you would ask that. I expected to notice a slight staleness of the air as time passed, but quickly I saw people taking Kleenex out and sniffling or sneezing. I didn’t think that we were under attack at that moment, but I guessed that a part of the subway had collapsed. Then I thought about all the redundant construction techniques in there, and I thought, “Naaah. No way. An airplane could hit the Amsterdam Gardens and the people in the subway would feel a shock, but that’s it. No breach. I read a briefing once that covered that kind of accident.
“So I stopped thinking about above-ground accidents, and started wondering about a bomb. You remember the last time they tried to bomb the Towers, right?
“I was in Israel at the time.”
“Well, ever since then, I’ve been looking for a truck bomb to go off in the Lincoln Tunnel. A hundred million PSI of the Hudson River washing away half of Midtown. Now I was sure in my own mind that some Khaled Abu Jihad or somebody had planted a bomb on the subway. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to freak anyone out. I’d be the one who would have to tracheotomize the victim. After a good twenty minutes, our conductor comes back, and confirms what I already knew. She says ‘There’s an explosion up ahead of us that has cut power to the subway. It’s a mess, but MTA has all their towing engines on the job, and all the trains are being towed out of the area. Please stay calm, and wait for more instructions.’
“Well, we weren’t about to jump out the train and wage war against the rats. So there was little to do but sit while our conductor kept whispering to the motorman. Looking back, I can’t believe that I made it out alive.”
Dimitri put his hands on the curved leather wing of the Chippendale chair. He shifted positions, not from boredom, but from dead sensation he was feeling in his legs from the pressure of the edge of the seat on his major blood vessels.
“After a while, we heard a pneumatic gasp from a valve open, which I guessed was the motorman’s door. I looked up, and noticed a spotlight falling out of the front cabin. Recognizing what was happening, I told the other passengers that the motorman had put on an emergency helmet with a spotlight, and he had jumped out of the cabin. Someone suggested he committed suicide. I calmed the moron down, ‘cause I knew he wouldn’t have put a hardhat with an emergency lamp on if he were planning on offing himself.
Dimitri interjected. “So how long did you have to wait until someone said something?”
“You read my mind – again, ” Arnie continued. “Practically before the parabola from the guy’s headlamp stopped, our conductor announced that they had hatched a plan. They were going to shut the emergency brakes, one by one, and assuming the third rail was still live, they were backing up to Canal Street and evacuating from there. I was really concerned about my appointment at this point, so I called above the murmuring, ‘Will there be alternate service to Cortland Street from there?’ She replied that the explosion had shut down the area, and that people were being evacuated from the World Trade Center area.
“What happened next could have been an acoustics experiment in reinforcing and dampening harmonics, because everyone gasped and went, “What happened?!” in the same moment, some loudly, some soft, high, low, but all at once. The conductor had put her hard hat on. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was pretty good. Like they’d rehearsed this scenario.”
“Well?” Dimitri urged, leaning forward into history.
“She said something like, ‘It’s no surprise to anyone in this car, but something big has occurred. First, our evacuation plan will put you on Canal Street, where you should turn toward the docks. The air is filled with dust and ash, so make sure you have one hand free and something to cover your face. What I know is that the World Trade Center has been hit by a plane, and that one of the towers has collapsed.’
“The buzz on the train now sounded like crowd noise on a sitcom.  The conductor repeated that a tower had collapsed, and that burning debris was everywhere. ‘I have been given no further information. I need to know what’s happening too, and I will relay information the moment that I get it and have been cleared to do so. The motorman has reentered the cabin, and we are reversing to the next emergency brake.’ Did I mention that the low hum of a generator served as a soundscape for this insanity?”
“No,” responded Dimitri, “but it would make sense.”
The pause that fell on Arnie’s drawing room felt like a news broadcast over which the camera had lingered just a bit too long. Like everything this week, things just weren’t right. Dimitri did not follow up. Arnie was supposed to go next, but he sat still for a moment, pendant from the moment that just passed and the moment that was to come.
“Well, now the hum increases in pitch – I swear I thought it was coming from inside my head, and maybe everybody felt the same thing.  We back up with a start – and then a stop. It doesn’t take much to travel the sixty feet between emergency brakes on the subway. This process repeated five times in all, and then what a sight when we got out at Canal Street! Imagine a snowstorm had hit Manhattan, and you were getting off the subway after drifts of snow had blown down into the subway. Only it wasn’t snow, Dimitri, it was ash.”
Dimitri gasped. “Bozhe fucking moi! It’s like the Towers were two giant crematoria, but they got the gas wrong and blew up the building along with the Jews inside. If it had happened tomorrow, the Black-Hatters would have trumpeted that this was the punishment for the sin of not observing the Lord’s Festivals or something.”
“Yeah, as it was, we felt pretty much like a marching herd of zombies. I guess you could call it a “life march,” instead of a death march. I think the people at MTA were just doing what they had been trained to do, but by my account, they sure did it well. I don’t think they were coordinating with the Coast Guard, but by the time we got out of the ash-trap called a subway entrance, there were two ferries and several riverboats waiting to take us to Bayonne. “

Friday, April 20, 2012

synecdoche two

wrinkled knuckles rumpled bills
ruched cuff longing for jimmy stewart
thank you have a good one

silken milk chocolate with raspberry tips
pinches a $20 like tissue
thank you have a good one

veinous hand in white cuff
protrudes tonguelike from grey pinstripes
thank you have a good –
how was the traffic in jersey
bet your bmw is nice and quiet
yes thank you bye

gold metal sits window scrolls down
illustration of a girl’s chin and t-shirt
pocketbook snaps sorry for the delay it’s ok miss
thank you have a good one

bass throbs from a hundred yards
security glass lowers, dude asks how much
two dollars where you from sir
DC not the comics she thinks
thank you have a good one

hand like hers weighed down with $2
gold curls splay against the invisible divide
eyes meet furrows lighten
thank you, hon, rest easy, OK?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


“Magda,” Anna offered, “what if the man in the moon were a woman?”
“Maybe she would go be the seventeenth moon of Saturn.”
Magda’s house was tiny by comparison to the Garcia mansion that occupied the street corner. The rest of the block used to house people who worked for the occupants of the Garcia mansion in the nineteenth century; Magda’s was the last one in the row of narrow two-story adobes. For weeks now, Anna had been skipping across the rooftops to reach the roof exit at Magda’s. There wasn’t any logistical reason for this odd route; but there were whispers that Magda was showing too strong an interest in the female students at the new high school. Anna had heard the whispers; she didn’t like it. She knew from the way Magda hugged her, touched her, even held her hands and touched her face, that this was a special friendship. Anna, now in seventh grade, liked the touch; Magda felt like a dear sister to her. Magda, in ninth grade, was old enough to mean something different by it. The rumors left Anna confused.
Still, the two girls created a little hideout on the roof for sleepovers. A small blue plastic tarp, weighed down by jagged chunks of concrete, covered notebooks, flashlights, Anna’s emergency cigarettes, a lighter, and an alarm clock. Sometimes the cigarette box contained marijuana, usually inserted into a cigarette that had been emptied of its contents. Magda had stopped lecturing Anna about cigarettes; Anna’s whole family smoked – even Ernesto the doctor. Another key piece of equipment climbed up the ladder to the roof in the hand of one girl or the other, switching hands when the girls parted. This was the foot-powered air pump to inflate the tarp into an air bed. Tonight, the bed was inflated. A shared cigarette, smoked down to the filter, exhaled its last wisp of smoke from its deathbed in the fine gravel on Magda’s side. The girls held hands, lying at an angle, looking mostly at the moon.
“The only difference, I guess,” Anna picked up the metaphor, “is whether she would cross the Asteroid Belt.”
The night was just a bit too warm for early May, even in Puebla. A breeze came from La Malinche, rustling both girls’ straight hair. Magda’s belly button contracted from the breeze, peeking out in the moonlight under her bare-midriff white peasant blouse with an embroidered white-on-white neckline. Anna smiled at her friend. She lie on the volcano side, from whence the wind had come.
Ja, I even covered you. Shall I give you my coat?” Anna was only wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts.
Magda squeezed Anna’s hand and continued. “I wonder which I would like less, if the moon swung back to Earth orbit from time to time, or if it crossed the Asteroid Belt.”
Some time passed. The girls listened to the Puebla evening. In the stillness of the hour before midnight, they could hear the passage of each car or truck on Avenida Vicente Suarez. Even on a weeknight, one salsero played clarinet in the background. You could tell that this came from the neighborhood, not el Zocalo, the open plaza at the center of town. Magda thought the rhythm must be coming from a synthesizer, because it was just too perfect. Beside, there would have been few people to play for. The sound was faint, and no singing could be heard. The only distinguishable voices were those of the nocturnal owls seeking mates.
Anna brought the metaphor back to Earth – or more precisely, back to Puebla.
“My mom left when I was eight. She was really separated from my dad for a year already. She had her own bedroom, and for all I knew, she might have had a boyfriend. Our family had been falling apart from the time I went to first grade.”
“Where did she go?”
“She flitted back and forth to Cozumel. She didn’t say who she was seeing or what she was doing, but she just took money and comes back every now and then to make my life mierda. I haven’t felt anything except anger or hate for her since last summer.”
“But she taught you to smoke?”
“We all smoke. Some gift, right?”
“I like smoking joints with you. Didn’t you share that?”
Chinga tu – mi madre, no! She slapped me in the face when I lit a cigarette in front of her.”
“Hipocrita. Did she slap you a lot?”
“Slap me, shake me, yell, always yell. She hasn’t been back for six months.”
“What happened?”
“Magda, I just don’t care.”
A statement of such utter disdain for the woman in whose womb one grows tends to burrow itself in one’s consciousness. Both girls fell silent.
“My mom didn’t divorce my dad, either. She just left.”
“You come by your big sister role honestly.”
“Yes, I have no complaints about that part – I feel closer to my dad. He needs me. It feels good to work in the store. The vendors drive in and ask for me. I do work that my mom would never do. I just hate being abandoned, that’s all.”
“Magda, how did your mom get here?”
“It had something to do with politics. Puebla and Copenhagen were talking about a sister city relationship. The PRI wanted to show the people that they were doing good things outside the capital. My mom came on a development mission, met my dad, and they got married.
“I don’t even know how she decided that she didn’t love him. Mostly, I don’t know how she could have ever decided that she didn’t love us. She has two girls here in this town, under this volcano, breathing this air and listening to these owls and that salsero. My father and I built a little shrine, not to Jesus, but to Heike Hjort da Silva. I wonder what she tells her Danish lovers.”
The last line shot like a ballistic missile in the direction of Denmark.
“It should have been so romantic. Sharing cultures, languages, hopes, dreams, futures, bodies, souls.”
“My own parents met in the boring way, family, church and all that. Your mom was probably full of romance, but it sounds like the Gringo romantic writers and the Tainos, the …”
“Noble savage,” the girls said the phrase in unison. Anna was studying U. S. literature from the Romantic period in her Language and Literature class. Magda remembered the class well. That phrase left a permanent hole in her character. She developed a loathing of James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. She found a poster for a production of Moby Dick, stenciled, “Comen los Blancos” on it, and drew a crucifix behind the “savage” Queequeg.
The full moon cast enough light on Magda’s face that Anna could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Anna stroked Magda’s hair and curled it behind her ear. The gesture was too close to home. Recalling the exact same touch from her mother when she was five or six, Magda burst into tears. Anna took her friend deeply into her embrace, absorbing Magda’s shaking and her sobs.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Step Ahead

The apartment was down in the Temple University ghetto. Samantha cautioned Dimitri about living on-campus, but he wasn’t about to keep his 280 ZX with the salt-eaten exhaust system when he could get $2000 for it as a classic. So Dimitri would have to walk or take the bus everywhere he went, and his retraining grant had no money to subsidize housing. So here he was, on a third floor of a N. 16th St. row house, overlooking a rat-infested, trash-strewn vacant lot where two houses had been pulled down. A stump, five feet in diameter, remained from a junk tree that had burst through the foundation and crashed through the basement and first floor. I wonder what the neighbors thought when they looked through the window and saw the forest on the inside of the house. Did they just pass by, thinking it was an indoor pot farm?
The house itself had art deco molding and wood trim – if you could call it “art” when the red paint had faded to a washed-out fuchsia, and when you touched the wood, it crumbled as if it were filled with termites. Like most of the other houses on the block, its concrete steps were cracked or crumbling. Unlike most of the other houses, the wobbly wrought-iron railing remained in place, and from the change in color of the concrete where the railing met the steps, had recently been reseated.  The steps to the second floor were hardwood – freshly sanded and polished. Dimitri was impressed. On the way to the third floor? A threadbare indoor-outdoor rug whose color palette ranged from a dull weave of mud-brown and grey at the walls to the indescribable nothingness of packed clay where thousands of feet had tread.  Samantha groaned. Su forma es demasiado saludante para ser tan cansada, thought Magda. She looked too healthy to be out of breath.
In the apartment, things looked up. The ceiling was a fresh white with new fixtures. The wood floor was buffed, and Magda’s space rugs and wall hangings showed a cross of good taste and ethnic pride, representing the best of the indigenous textile trade around Puebla. The appliances were old but functional, and unlike the original design of row houses built to contain the new industrial workforce of the turn of the century, cabinets and closets popped out of strategic places in each room. This cut into the evident living space, but as Samantha kept reminding Dimitri when he was staying with her after getting caught with a naked girl between his legs in Atlantic City, nobody wants to look at your personal stuff.  
As Magda, Samantha, and Dimitri hacked out a conversation in one-and-a-half languages, it became clear that Magda was looking for a man as a housemate because of security reasons, but really wanted one with a girlfriend. Hearing sex, in Magda’s mind, was better than being hit on for it. As for her situation, Samantha figured out that Magda was, in fact, a lesbian, and that her comment about taking Samantha from Dimitri was a jibe with a foot in fact. Magda had not mentioned Flora by name, choosing the code phrase, “mi socia,” or “mi companera.” Samantha didn’t understand the female suffix at first, and Dimitri missed it completely. But Samantha noticed the slight flush in Magda’s light complexion when she tried to talk about Flora. Magda also squeezed her slight legs together and looked up. It seemed the Magda touched her right thigh just below her denim miniskirt.
Magda’s mind wandered to the first time she suspected that she wanted to be with a woman. In Catholic Mexico, it was a matter of common knowledge that homosexuals were going to hell, and even heterosexual sex outside of marriage was a mortal sin. In this repressive environment, the liberalization of the previous decade seemed more rumor than fact. Even Flora, a girl who wore tie-dye and hemp sandals, found herself dogged by boys who wanted to be her first encounter. They even said so. Anna knew Flora, and they had been friendly since third grade, when Flora got bullied regularly for her weight. By the tie-dye and hemp days, Flora’s baby fat had disappeared, but her curves had not.
Anna had introduced them. Only Anna knew that her best friend would never be interested in boys. Or in men. Anna had no clue that Magda would be interested in Flora. Sitting in front of Dimitri and the smoking-hot Samantha, Magda mind wandered and her whole body thought about her “socia.” Flora’s broad, soft facial features. Flora’s rich latte skin. The shape of Flora’s thighs, her calves. The infinitude of ways that she touched Magda with all her body. And those incomparable hands. Magda didn’t notice that her right foot had slipped out of her sandal, embraced her left, and all her toes were curling.
All parties snapped out of their reverie, and concluded their business. Dimitri paid Magda the $250 for the first month’s rent. He shook her hand, put his left hand on her right shoulder, and placed a chaste kiss on her right cheek. Samantha hugged the shorter woman around the shoulders, while receiving Magda’s arms around her waist. The embrace lasted only a few seconds, but engaged both women from head to toe. They kissed, just for an instant, and smiled.
On the way out of the row house, Dimitri stumbled over Samantha’s ankle and caught himself on the wrought-iron railing. Whispering a silent “thank-you” to the landlord for making that repair before worrying about the non-carpet on the steps, he turned to Samantha, who had grabbed his other arm to keep him from falling.
“You like her, don’t you.”
“She seems really nice. You’ll have a great roommate.”
“And which one will you sleep with?”
Samantha swatted Dimitri over the head with her Fendi purse.