Authors: Maria Espinosa
On the floor near the bed she found the Bonwit box with her new dress. She padded barefoot with it into the bathroom. There she turned on the light, took the dress out from its tissue wrappings, and tried it on. The chiffon draped over her so gracefully. It was with reluctance that she finally took it off.
Lucille's bottles of pills were everywhere in the bathroom, but Adrianne couldn't find any aspirin for her headache. She used Lucille's toothbrush and rinsed her face with cold water. To cool off, she decided to shower. As the water washed over her, she worried about whether Alfredo had phoned. If he had, would he suspect that she was spending the night with Lucille? Forgive me, Alfredo, she thought to herself. I'm sorry about Lucille. Please God, let Alfredo know I love him, she prayed. What if Alfredo never spoke to her again? If that happened, she vowed she would kill herself.
She returned to bed but couldn't sleep, disturbed as she was by all that had happened. Lucille tossed, twisted the sheet around herself in her sleep, and got up several times to go to the bathroom. Once Adrianne heard her vomit.
In the grey light of morning, Adrianne awoke from a dream in
which Alfredo had offered her a plum. She was munching its flesh, even though she knew it was poisonous.
Lucille had already risen. She was in an armchair, dressed in a white half-slip and a padded brassiere. With her head bent over a hand mirror, she carefully plucked at her brows with a tweezer. The diamond and ruby rings on her fingers gleamed.
“Good morning, honey. Excuse me, but I just have to catch a few old straggly hairs. I've got to keep myself pretty, you know,” she said gravely.
The next day Alfredo didn't phone. So when she got off her kitchen shift, Adrianne went to the Rose Bar. She found the place nearly empty, and there was no music. She called out, “Alfredo!”
He ignored her as he filled a glass with tap beer. When she cried out his name again, he looked at her with no sign of warmth. “Why are you here?” he asked bluntly.
“To see you. Oh Alfredo, I'm sorry about yesterday.”
“I don't like you hanging out with that bitch.”
“She's ill, and she's troubled.”
“She's a ball-breaker. By the way, where were you last night? I called around ten, but you weren't in. Were you with her?”
“Tell me something, Adrianne, did you sleep with her?”
She hesitated. Gerald had never sensed what was going on between her and Lucille. Gerald left her isolated, just as her mother did. But Alfredo was reaching out to touch the tangled mass of chaotic emotions inside her, and this connecting made her feel whole.
Finally, she nodded.
“I thought so,” he said.
“Do you still care about me?”
“Adrianne, you're sweet,” he said, reaching out across the counter and stroking her cheek. “You turn me on just the way you are. But I don't want you hanging out with her.”
“Alfredo, she'll be leaving in a few days. She just had surgery for breast cancer. She drinks way too much, and now that she's so sick, her husband wants a divorce. No one deserves to be abandoned like that.”
“I need a Bud and a martini,” said the waitress, who had just come up to the bar. She tapped her long fingernails nervously on the counter.
Dismissing Adrianne, he said, “I'm busy now, baby. Wait for me until I get off work.”
Later, as they traveled back in the subway to his place, she was filled with anxiety. They were alone in the car. Beneath the overhead lights, Alfredo's face looked older and more tired than usual.
The subway rattled around bends, through the dark tunnel with its red and green lights. Lucille's mistrust of him had aroused in Adrianne an uncertainty that amounted to anguish. Thoughts of the baby girl she had aborted back in Houston haunted her. Lovelessness forces murder, she reflected. If only Gerald had loved her more, he would have wanted the baby.
She wouldn't let herself be hurt like that again. If Alfredo did not love her enough to share his life with her, then she would stop seeing him. That at least would end the limbo in which she was living now. Each day she wondered if he would phone. Who was he seeing? Had she alienated him in some way? Perhaps if they lived together, she would no longer feel as if she were about to fly into tiny pieces when they were apart.
“Honey, he'll use you however he can,” Lucille's voice jeered. “He's a con artist. I wouldn't trust him at all.”
“Alfredo, can I move in with you?” she heard herself say. Her words sounded shrill. There was a long, painful silence. As the subway swayed around a bend, she knocked against his shoulder.
“Let me think about it.”
At the Fourteenth Street station there was a delay because of some obstruction ahead. While they waited in the subway car, Adrianne gazed down with a kind of despair at her chipped pink nail polish.
That night she lay in his bed, unable to sleep until nearly dawn.
The next morning while they were drinking coffee and eating toast, he said casually, “We can give it a try.”
“You mean about moving in?”
He spoke off-handedly, as if it were a matter of taking in a stray cat overnight, something he might do on an impulse, while to her the decision was a lifeline of certainty in the chaos around her.
She could scarcely believe him. It seemed so simple. Over and over she rolled his terse response through her mind, trying to analyze it, trying to pierce through the words and the expression on his face to discover what he truly felt.
The next day Adrianne called in sick at work and packed three large suitcases with everything she owned. She took a taxi to Alfredo's. He had given her the keys that morning, and as she unlocked the door to the building, excitement filled her. She sensed that this was a new beginning. They would be a couple, united and close.
This was the first time she had been here without him. The stairs creaked as she carried up the suitcases one at a time, leaving the others in the small entrance. Except for stacks of paintings and canvases on stretching frames, his studio was huge and bare. Flecks of dust floated in the air, lit up by the late afternoon sun. She could hear the sounds of machinery from the furniture shop on the second floor. As she looked out through the dusty windows at the narrow street, she saw two men carrying wooden tables out from the shop.
She was tired, and she would have loved to go out for some ice cream. Instead she took out a bottle of Dexedrine pills that a doctor had prescribed just a few days ago to help her lose weight. As she feared the possible effects of the pills, she had put off taking them, but now she swallowed one with a glass of water. She wanted to get thinner so that she would be beautiful for Alfredo. After taking the pill, she felt jittery and on edge. She longed even more for ice cream to fill her up and calm her, but she resisted going out.
In his bedroom she took off her sandals and lay down. It would be a long time before he came home. He had told her to wait here and not to meet him at the bar, as she usually did. She had an irrational fear that he would never come. Perhaps this was a trick, a trap, and she would wait for him forever until she ran out of food and until rats devoured the shreds of meat on the chicken bones that had fallen next to the garbage can.
Although she wanted to unpack, she didn't know where to put her clothes, as there was scarcely any space in the closet. She began to go through her suitcases, running her hands over the soft chiffon dress as well as the luxurious satin slip and the lacy panties and bras and garter belts that Lucille had bought her.
In her jewelry pouch was a gold locket on a chain that Gerald had given her long ago. Opening it up, she looked at his photo. How much suffering he had caused her! She half wanted to throw the locket in the garbage, but some clinging instinct forced her to put it back into the suitcase.
She fingered a cedar and silver rosary which had come down through her mother's family for generations, traveling to Santiago from a village in Germany. Just before Adrianne left home, Elena had given it to her as a keepsake. She thought of her mother's remote expression and her perfectly coiffed graying hair. Despite being religious, Elena was so cold and so lacking in compassion. Elena admitted only certain realities.
Adrianne remembered how her mother had ignored the probability that Adrianne and Gerald had been making love those nights Adrianne came home so late. Although Elena was courteous to Gerald in her cold way, she had been strangely lacking in curiosity, even as to how the two met. (It had been in the gift shop.) Elena had never seemed to notice that Adrianne gave a start whenever the phone rang, and that her daughter was on edge when Gerald failed to call.
From her luggage Adrianne took out an envelope containing several photographs. There was one of her mother Elena, who looked sad even as a young woman, and one of her father, Julio. Adrianne had inherited his large bone structure. However, his hair and eyes were as black as Alfredo's. In the photo, her father gazed at her with burning eyes. Nonetheless, she remembered him as distant, absorbed in his work as a geological engineer. She thought of the papers that had been continually heaped on his desk.
One night when Adrianne was twelve, the police called to tell them that a drunk driver had smashed his vehicle headlong into Julio's car, and her father had died en route to the hospital.
For months afterwards, Elena seemed almost unconscious of her surroundings and barely spoke to Adrianne. They were both submerged in grief. Then her mother began to erupt into fits of rage over small thingsâAdrianne's failure to wash the bottom of a frying pan, or Adrianne's breaking a dish. “
Â¡Eres una tonta!
” Elena would shout. As the months passed, Elena's rage became controlled. “I have
something to discuss with you,” she would say in a dignified voice before she began to scold Adrianne for yet another minor sin. If Adrianne shrieked in protest, Elena would upbraid her even more.
As Adrianne remembered all this, she was filled with a wave of anxiety. Suppose Elena were to call the rooming house and find out that her daughter had moved? She ought to let her mother know her new address.
With this in mind, she found a pad of paper along with a few envelopes in one of her suitcases. Then she sat down at the kitchen table, lit a cigarette, and wrote a note, saying only that she had moved in with a girl friend to save on rent, that they had no phone, and that she was doing well at her job. Adrianne feared divulging anything at all about Alfredo, as she credited Elena with a mysterious power to jinx things.
Suddenly, she realized that the cigarette ash had burned nearly to her finger, and she flicked it into the sink. She looked across the room at herself in the window glass. Her eyes looked huge, her features half-formed.
She still felt hungry. It took all her will power not to eat the banana lying on the counter among unwashed dishes. But she had to transform herself so that Alfredo wouldn't leave her the way Gerald had.
Returning to the bedroom, she heaped her clothing into piles on the floor. She had fallen into a fitful sleep when Alfredo's voice awakened her.
“Adrianne, are you here?” he called out.
“What?” For an instant she didn't know where she was, and she didn't recognize his voice.
“You left the door to the street unlocked.”
“You've got to be more careful. Someone could get in. They could be hiding right now inside the building.”
He stood in the doorway, glowering at her. In his arms he held white roses wrapped in green florist's paper. Above his open collar, sweat glistened on his face and neck. Even though he was angry, she found comfort in his presence.
“I'm sorry. I didn't realize I'd left it open.”
He placed the flowers on the pillow beside her. “For you,
“Oh, Alfredo.” She pressed them to her nose, savoring their fragrance.
His face softened. He leaned down, put his arms tightly around her, and rolled on top of her, squeezing her breasts. “Baby, it's good to come home to you,” he said. The happiness she felt at this instant verged on pain. How could he possibly love her? She felt so inadequate, and the sense of some unknown sin she had committed haunted her.
Releasing her, he stood up. A fatigued look came over his face. She thought that she must be an added burden.
He glanced at the empty suitcases and piles of clothing on the floor as he lit a cigarette. “I wonder where we'll put all your stuff.”
“Oh, I can get rid of some if it,” she murmured. She had too many belongings. She wanted to efface herself totally and slip into his life without these encumbrances.
“Make me a cup of tea, will you?”
She started to get up.
“Wait! Are you my woman?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “Oh, yes.”
He kissed her with passion. Then releasing her, he whispered, “I love you.” Her heart pounded. “As for you,
, I think that you love me more than you know.”
She credited him with more insight into her feelings than she herself had. He would be her savior. He would tear her open, revealing her to herself. Through him she would be purified.
“Go on, make me the tea.”
“Yes,” she said. She flung his maroon silk robe over her and ran to the kitchen. In her haste she left the flowers on the floor. She was only too glad to be able to fill some need of his, however small. As the needy one, she must cause the flame of her love to burn strongly enough for them both. She must sacrifice daily on the altar of devotion, anticipating all his needs. She must be as pliable as plasma, oozing around him, filling up the cracks and emptiness in his life, disappearing when he wanted freedom.