It was in one of those neighborhoods where people know each other and talk among themselves of the undesirables. For instance of the woman who puts her dog in the yard when she has company. The dog doesn’t bark and they could care less about the dog. It’s always something else that makes people talk. If Mona were a man it would be fine. But she’s not, and it’s October and she’s still wearing shorts, some of them think and say to each other. The Summer is dragging on and so is her love life.
Mona hangs onto every noise the phone makes thinking this time it would be a text from Iago as she calls him. Except it was her sister, then it was a student, then some guy that likes her. Someone she doesn’t like an iota. Unlike the amount she likes Iago. The one with the tendency to flash in and out of her life as he pleases. Some days it seems to be everyone except him. So she has come to hate the phone. Nothing good about objectifying hate, she thinks.
To distract herself Mona goes on a walk without the dog even though people are so friendly when she walks him. Outside, the neighbor pushes her kid away as she passes and screams irritated at him to let her finish texting. The kid looks embarrassed then starts crying.
“I’ll let you play games when we get home, just shut up.” The woman tells him angrily.
Feeling vaguely sick Mona walks trying not to think. Anytime, some inane message from him will come. Then what? Nothing. It gets darker sooner these days. More darkness than she knows what to do with so she welcomes it the same way she welcomes any vapid comment from him. He can be funny most of the time. At times she laughs at his texts making people think she’s crazy. One of the neighbors once told her it was much nicer to see her smile than look unhappy. It will pass she thinks to herself. “We are all so full of broken images,” that phrase she read keeps going around in her head. But is that an excuse to linger on to this, whatever it is? It will pass. But when? Curiously piercing, rendering her feelings insufferable and unable to control these damn emotions she clutches onto every sound emitted from the phone.
There was a time when Mona cherished her freedom, now it is escaping. She lets her body be used and uses that familiar body for her own pleasure because after all, what is wrong with indulging in hedonism. She likes his touch, the way he feels from every angle. There’s nothing extraordinary about his looks, she just likes to see him, to watch his movements. Where one ends another begins. And the things he says, those senseless absurdities that make her question her own intelligence because she finds them amusing. Has she lost her mind or just her sense of self? She says things she would never think of saying, not to mention the ones she does. Let the vile neighbors gossip. One of the nice ones looks at her as she walks the dog and always has a piece of Mexican bread to offer her in the mornings. She doesn’t even like sweets, but is afraid to tell him. So she takes the bread and gives it to some kid down the block.
Nothing explains her attachment to him. It’s been a year since she felt pain strangle her. She thought she was through with men and now this. Perhaps that explains it. The despair comes and goes these days. It no longer shocks her into lethargy. Mona forgave her husband’s humanity because resentment corrodes and if not for that she would not have returned and started this, whatever it is with Iago.
Everyday’s ritual upon waking is to check the texts, read the messages. Nothing at all from him. Resigned she stops herself from writing. Not out of shame or anger just an unbearable sorrow. The kind those unwanted tend to feel. She tries to walk away when a homeless man asks her why she looks so sad. She hurries to change her features and puts on a smile. He says, “Life is too short to be unhappy,” or some insipid comment of the sort you only tell strangers who happen to look blue.
Mona misses his kisses. That’s not why she feels wretched. A grown woman dares to desire. But why Iago of all people?
The day was mild, she went for coffee and those base emotions just popped up when she heard a song that has nothing to do with him. Her eyes got watery, contempt for herself and her emotions overtook her. The bank rejected the transaction when she tried to pay. Feeling sorry for her, the waitress told her to pay next time. She felt a fool, hated the bank and couldn’t stop looking at the structure of the church in front of the cafe. The decorations being so solemn, and she couldn’t stop thinking what a waste of space churches are. The tears stopped and she left feeling empty. She felt people’s eyes on her and put on her sunglasses. People are either nice to others when they think they are desolate or they ignore them. Mona rather be ignored. There’s nothing kind about strangers. The dam in her head was about to burst. She contained it, walked faster and ignored the person sending those frivolous messages that finally came that day.
The sky looked normal, nothing rare about its beauty. Sick of feeling miserable she welcomed the sun on her body the same way she welcomes his touch, those emotions that perplex her. Together with the incoherency of her existence she felt dazed. She took a hold of herself and calmed down feeling comfortably detached, but giddy. She tried to imagine a time when she would no longer think of him with plenty of suspicion and intoxication. “The time will come,” she thinks.
She felt happy about nothing, with a fear nagging in the back of her brain about that very nothing. Oh but why dwell on the play on words he texted some hours ago, Mona thought. “Stop being so darned literal, laugh now that you understand it,” she said to herself and a smile came to her face. A man walking next to her told her that she reminded him of a Brenda. Annoyed at the interruption, she told him it was probably the hat she was wearing.
“No, it’s not the hat. Brenda doesn’t wear hats,” he said looking at her.
“Well, I’m not Brenda,” Mona said abruptly. Later she wished she had asked him for his name or his number, but things like that always come too late to her, like understanding jokes. “I get it now,” Mona wants to text Iago, but stops herself thinking a Brenda would not write something so inane.
She does her best to escape into the reality around her and goes into a store to buy underwear. “They come in many colors.” The saleslady tells her adding that she, “should choose different colored ones, not just dark ones.” She probably gets paid to say such things Mona thinks picking a few blue ones to shut her up. She leaves with a some underwear, without worries, with a lingering memory of the sulky sound his voice makes. Here she is thinking of something clever to write as if it mattered. Putting the phone away she thinks of what to do with her hair, and imagines Iago somewhere near the streets she walks. She strolls around the neighborhood and feels she has entered a different city. This foreignness comforts her. Mona goes inside a fast-food restaurant even though she is not really hungry and certainly not hungry for that kind of food. The server and a customer argue over what to put in the sandwich. The client tells the girl behind the counter that it’s obvious she hates her job, but that at least she could be nice. The girl answers that they don’t pay her to be nice, but to take the orders and make sandwiches. Annoyed the woman tells her to make her sandwich and shut up. The girl doesn’t move. The woman shouts some obscenities at her. The girl threatens to throw a cup of coffee at her face. The customer tells her, “You are ugly and, have a crooked nose.” There are two cops sitting in a booth eating their meal looking on. The manager comes out and tries to appease the situation. Mona’s hunger vanishes and she leaves the place. It smells nasty outside, whatever hunger she had has evaporated. Maybe all types of hunger will disappear like this one she thinks. The noise of the train bothers her ears as it passes. She covers them too late.
It feels like an almost forgotten story, watching love grow. Those are the lyrics to a song that has nothing to do with her. These things going around in her head unnerve Mona. She’s not the kind to tell him anything because of an obnoxious fear she feels. Iago already warned her not to fall in love with him. “As if it´s any of your business if I do,” Mona told him. A halo covers her mind, she’ll hurt him when she can and then what? It’s pointless like the people coming home from work tired, weary and searching to forget. Is this how estrangement begins. A feeling of famishment starts to gnaw at her being so she stops at the street vendor to buy vegetarian tamales. The woman doesn’t have any. She says those are the first to go. The Puerto Rican man who hangs around her stall starts a conversation about how nice the day is, how Mona should have come earlier. “I wasn’t hungry then,” she tells him. Think ahead he tells her with that Puerto Rico accent, dropping the last consonant in the words he says and turning the “r” into an “l.” She continues to talk to him just to hear the intonation in his voice. But then she thinks she must seem bizarre to him so Mona says goodbye.
“Where are you going,” the man asks her as she walks away. She goes home to try to write about a human being who hates her cell phone. A person with longing for another who is calm with the sense of a disappearing desire. Is this how the birds and the bees feel. Stop thinking nonsense, she tells herself.
It has passed. Sick of writing in the third person, Mona visualizes a story in the first person would sound more exciting. What happens to life? She imagines centering her thoughts on one person. Sleepy, vacant, tired she finally falls asleep and waits till the day she’ll see him again. And it comes and goes like their relation. Like the meal they shared, like their touches. Skin on bare skin even though the apartment was cold.
They went to dinner. Mona was happy and would laugh much throughout the night especially as they drove to her place. Later certain words come back circling her brain. He commented on a woman’s ass, on his girlfriends and how, “they are fucking crazy” he said laughing. She couldn’t even ask if she fell in the crazy category because she knows she is not one of them. Mona’s glad she didn’t ask.
Iago left soon after everything was done. Now she notices the noises the dog makes as well as the many sounds coming from outside. The endless ambulances, the wind. Was he making fun of the stockings she wore when he mentioned them? When she asked him he said, “No, why, should I have?” No, they’re very serious, she wrote back. “They didn’t seem serious to me.” He wrote. Mona laughed when she read this. But what if he doesn’t find her in the least attractive creped in her mind. “Oh, stop thinking,” she tells herself. She tries to go to sleep and forget. It will pass, perhaps it has. The close proximity of two people transpired. Mona tries not to think of the outlines of his features, his body, his hair, the way he tastes, his touch. Those perceptions that come in between her senses. Now she feels sleep come at last.
It was through him that she learned to see and appreciate the ordinary. For instance, the shape of a bridge, of the train tracks or a building. They say women’s eyes look beautiful when making love. Mona wonders how she looks. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is in the background and helps her think, put thoughts together, make up words, form sentences, paragraphs, and a story. Back years ago when the world was younger the past was allowed to happen. Now the music flows and so do the memories. The story ends the way it began with the wonders of Beethoven´s sounds.
Leticia Cortez is a teacher, writer, and activist. She was born in Mexico and grew up in Chicago. She travels the art world, both in her imagination and in her music, book, art and film reviews. She writes political essays, short stories and poetry. Presently she teaches Latin American Literature and English at St. Augustine College.