CAROLINA, HIM AND US
Although we didn’t altogether agree, we told him yes, when he asked—Carolina was pretty, maybe the prettiest woman in town. We couldn’t tell him the truth; he was in love, and none of us wanted to be the one to dispel the illusion. A year later he married, and children appeared, along with rumors. When asked again, we replied as before. No way, we said: she had not betrayed him. How could we tell him the truth? We were his world, and couldn’t admit we’d made the most of his loose, less-than-attractive, dim-witted wife.
Forty-three years later she died. We approached at the wake as he wept without cease; we told him again we did feel his loss. She was indeed a good person, a saint, we agreed, opting for the cliché. Still weeping, he told us each the same thing, more or less: that he’d seen through our lies, he’d understood from the start, and allowed it because we were his friends. It wasn’t our fault she was such an astonishing lover.
ROMEO AND JULIET
One afternoon in a clearing in the woods, the sun stifled by edgy, elongated clouds, the little blonde girl with long tresses grips the knife firmly, and the boy with the large, sensitive eyes and delicate hands holds his breath.
—I’ll do it first, she says, aiming the sharp tip at a vein in her wrist. —I’ll do it because I love you. For you I’ll give everything, even my life. There’s no love like ours, or ever will be. That’s why we’ll do it.
The boy is crying quietly, lifting his arm.
—Wait, Aleja . . . I’ll do it first. I’m the guy. I have to set an example.
—This is the Gabriel I know and learned to love. Here. Why will you do it?
—Because I love you like I never thought I could love. Because my life is the most I can give you.
Gabriel raises the blade, drawing it close to his veins. He hesitates, his dark eyes widen. Alejandra presses against him, passionately kisses his lips.
—I love you a lot. You don’t know how much.
—I love you lots, too—you don’t know how much.
Gabriel considers the knife, inhaling, tears drying. And in a flash the sharp steel finds a vein. Blood begins to flow furiously. He’s surprised; he’s never seen liquid so red. The pain rises, he lets the knife drop, easing onto the carpet of earth: the sun fills his eyes. Alejandra throws herself on him, kissing him, licking up blood.
—Oh, Gabriel! How I love you!
—It’s your turn now, he stammers, less able to breathe with each breath.
—My turn, yes, she says, embracing him.
—You . . . you love me?
Alejandra turns, and then rising, heads home, thinking about the homework in literature she’s supposed to hand in in the morning. Behind her, the uncontrollable red puddle swells.
Thursday’s the only day my father allows late-night TV—he knows tales of terror captivate me, and Hitchcock shows are my favorites. Together on the sofa, he in his pajamas and I in my night shirt, we sit silent an hour, devoted to different ends, me to pleasing myself with twists and turns of terror onscreen, he to scaring himself with its pleasures.
When the program is over, we exchange the usual comments, and the fake goodnights. Fake, because every Thursday before I’ve been in bed for ten minutes, he appears, timidly asking if he can join me. Of course I accept. Holding him, I feel his body tremble, feel the unfaltering fear that keeps him from sleeping alone in his room after Hitchcock. He presses his body tight into mine and we drift off immediately. It’s lovely, each morning, waking before he does, feeling his heat, our legs intertwined, hearing his hoarse, arrhythmic breathing, seeing him cushioned in sleep with such expertise.
I am fourteen, and I have heard of perverted fathers, perverted girls. But in me no doubts exist: mine and his is a thing apart, a pocket of pure and sublime in a corrupt world, a magnificent moment untouched by sin.
And I stroke him until I see he’s awake, despite the closed eyes, and then closing my own, feel a hand grazing, discovering, and feel the lips grazing, discovering, and eyes closed, feel a body explore and discover, explore and discover, explore and discover.