Mary, now embarrassed, "Margaret, the word is ballena,
comprenda?" [ballena is
Margaret looking puzzled, I asked for a litter, a ba-he-na. "In
Cabo we called a liter bottle of beer a whale, a
bahe-na. Is not
whale the correct slang
Mary, who had taught both Spanish and English for nearly
a year in Guadalajara, gives Margaret a quick lesson. "You pronounced what would
in English be spelled B-A-H-E-N-A, but in Spanish it is spelled V-A-G-I-N-A."
Margaret laughing, "Oh, I was asking for a vagina of beer."
She turns to Mary. "How absurd, I had been all
those times in Cabo asking for a vagina of beer."
The clerk then interjects in perfect English--few Indians speak English
well, "It was too comic to correct. I though, Margaret, that maybe you wanted something else."
The smile fades and his pupils become dots, he stares into Margaret’s
eyes with the fervor of a Latin lover. The counter on which the groceries sit is low, and so allows us a view of the bulge
in his pants. His eyes turn in hopes of response by Mary, then drifts to the fullness of her blouse.
Margaret, who stands an inch taller than him, coldly replies, "I
have been the brunt of a joke. Nothing more was meant; you understand!"
Mary, now chuckling, "A sober lover,"
referring to Howard's nightly drinking, "would surely ring your bell."
"One can only hope. I here things about American women," the
clerk sheepishly reply.
They pay, then leave. Mary
continues with the lesson the lesson in their taxi. "'B' and 'V' are pronounced
the same, double 'L' is pronounced 'Y', and 'G' is pronounced 'h' when it is followed by 'i' or 'e'. Oh, and 'i' is
pronounced 'e'. The word for whale is ballena, pronounced 'BAY', then LONG 'e', and 'na' with the 'a' being
short. Ballena, is the word for whale.
The scene flashes across my mind, then subsides in the smoke of unanswered
questions: Why are men so easily aroused and extinguished? Why do they consider sexual promiscuity vulgar in women and virtuous
in their case? Why are they so willing to violate their sworn-before-God pledge? I know that David is different.
Now in the bathroom, Tigre is on the cabinet besides me. I look in
the mirror at tangled black hair. "Would anyone prefer me to Mary?" I ask Tigre softly. "Her breast large,
and she has mastered two languages. Not much for breasts, but they are firm, and I am 2 inches taller, and my skin is
fair. I would look like a lady in the right clothes. Even cats are chosen because of fashion; you’re just a tabby."
I often daydream about things being better because of a special man.
I need the dreams to forget about the unpleasantness of poverty, the draining of the coolers, the shallow lives, and my brother
and mother who have placed themselves in the way of college so that they won't have to work a few hours in the store, &
then use the traditional excuse that women don’t need an education.
It feels good to lie alone in a clean bed, in a clean condo, with
a clean kitchen, and nice clean furniture, and without have to hear and give in kind the drivel that passes as conversation.
I can see him again, that first day in the store. He sure is handsome, polite, soft spoken. Mary says, ‘he is G-I-B’ [Great In Bed]. I see again, as I close my eyes, the picture she took of him naked and stiff. I touch my breast gently
and feel like rubbing myself, but I don’t want to dissipate my energies. It is wrong to be my age and live without love,
and still a virgin.
I lay down in bed; Tigre joins me for pets. Even cats like to be
stroked. I think again of David as I scratch behind Tigre's ear.
However, the romantic feeling is gone
for now. I must decide if I am to move here, and the thought of change has made
me jittery. I then start thinking of Mary's first romance. It was to an attorney in Guadalajara, who after 3 months emptied their joint bank account. There was $5,000
she earned from 3 summers working in the fields in Idaho and one year as a beautician.
The next lover, David, came
at the wrong time, followed the wrong act, even though she had a year to heal. Besides
he was an intellectual, which was just what she needed.
High school had been a big
zero for Mary: the first two years she was learning English while the rest of the class was learning history, science, mathematics,
and literature; the last year she was too far behind. If they failed, her father would have pulled her from school. In
Mexico you learn or else; in the States they pass you for merely attending. She needed someone to shape her mind
and fill the cultural gap so she could be middle class. David was patient and
he had a graduate degree in philosophy.
The effects of their traveling
together very noticeable. Before we engaged in the drivel of two, young woman;
upon returning, she was insightful. She had been exposed to a world of ideas
and analysis. Now she, for example, could explain why she didn't believe
in the Catholic teachings. I liked the change, for now I had someone to bounce
ideas off of, and I am learning from her.
I think of how for a year David and
Mary were a couple, lived together and traveled around Mexico. But now they parted,
not from a quarrel, just drifted apart. Two months ago they were living together;
this month she is in a company condo. Simply got tired of the semi-retired life style, I suppose. Well, whatever, I felt that he liked me. How am I to ignite
I could tell from the way he would look
when he came into abarrotes, little grocery store in Guadalajara. Before
she left on her trip with David, she had brought him just once to meet the family. I
was working the counter and didn't really get to see him that time. Mary had
gone with David on a 4-month tour of the beach resorts. On returning they rented
a place in Guadalajara for the winter. Then they would come by 3 or 4 nights
per week. It is of those nights that I got to see him, I noticed the way he looked
at me: three was a twinkle in his eyes. Doesn't take much for me to read a man’s mind. It wasn’t lust but rather
a longing for involvement. For various reasons Mary and David were too different,
not in background, but in how they felt about the world.
Should I take a bath before going to the beach? I'll take a taxi to his favorite beach; no a bus. I could run the hot water and lay in the bathtub. At home there is only a shower with cold water.
Talking to a cat again. The luxury of solitude. Even the attention
of a cat is appreciated. "I'll run the bath later, right Tigre?"
As a child I fantasized a modern, wealthy, Latin gentleman.
That changed into a modern, educated Latin lover when I met David through Mary. Now I dream of David All I have at 22 are
dreams, no university, and no man from my station.
My mind drifts into a sea of fellow feeling and torrid love. I am visualizing David car; us exploring the ruins of Central Mexico. He can be for me as he was for Mary, and he already knows my family.
Dreams are an evasive thing.
I went to the beach by Playa de Oro for a couple of hours, but all I got was knocked about by the waves and pestered
by the vendors. That evening we went to Dinner with Margaret and Howard. I am informed that the after Easter things will be very slow. This translates into three will be a job for me in November, if I improve my English a bit and Mary is
still working for them. There goes being working with Mary, getting away from
Ester and Miguel until possible the fall.
The next day we stop by Club Santiago and find David in the
company of a mature lady whose family owns a home there. Moreover, David has
decided to miss the hot summer this year. He will be off for California in 3
weeks. Dreams are built on puffs of hope.
He says something about coming back in the winter, but from the drift of the conversation, that is definitely uncertain.
Hopes are called dreams for they are different than plans. Few people live their dreams. I try to be of good spirits. This last full day at the coast
I think of how summers are near perfect in Guadalajara, in Manzanillo the sweat is constant during mid day. I console myself with that thought.
All too soon I am back at the store.
I still dream of course, and now I listen to conversational English cassettes.
Mary has given me her Biology textbook and I bought a logic book in Spanish, couldn’t find one in English. I dream now of college. One should have
several dreams. I still haven't told mom about the job offer for the fall, but
she knows I would like to work with Mary. Manzanillo would be a start.
Summer proved uneventful, its now October. I still
out of habit listen to the sounds of cars when they park nearby, like a dog listening for his master’s car. But some of the taxis sound quite similar to his car. It is
now mid-October and Mary is still working for Club Royale. As of their last letter in August, David has not made plans for
the winter. Phone service is both expensive and unreliable in 1989. In fact, at home we don't have a phone.
Mary has told me on her last visit in September that things are still a go at Club Royale once
tourist season begins. I dread the thought of dealing with mom and Miguel.
Actually, it is the change that scares me most. Home has been the only
world that I have known.
It is quite a contrast my dreams and the abarrote that occupies 10 hours of my day. We live in one of the poorer neighborhoods.
It is a good size house, but run down. Houses in Mexico do not have a
front yard; the entrance normally leads to the living room. The store occupies
it. Past the store is a family room which has two old, dirty couches. Beyond them are the kitchen and
3 bedrooms, then a courtyard and a final bedroom. Everything is old and cheap.
In the store there is an old refrigerator with ham, cheeses, and butter. On the floor are 4 crates of bottled milk; they'll be sold in 3 hours.
On the far wall piled nearly to the ceiling are the crates of empty soda bottles, and next to them 4 creates with soda. There are two ancient soda coolers, the type where the bottles sit in cold water. There are two display counters occupying the remaining space. Behind the counters are shelves going up the wall. Near the
entrance are two trays of pastries, which are delivered every morning. I sit
behind one of the counters. It not a pretty store. Everything is old and in need of painting. To the right of
me is a curtain, which serves as a door to our home. Physically, this is a typical
arbarrote, but psychologically there is the grime of poverty that makes this store fit in with the city and this neighborhood.
I hear a motor and car door sounds sort of familiar.
Mary enters, instead of asking how she is, I haven't gotten David out of my dreams, "Have you came alone?"
Mary with a stern look, Its come in the present perfect, you have come, you have gone,
not you have went, Mary corrects me. Go, went, gone, and come, came, come; irregular verbs.
"Forgive me niece the verbs and pronunciation are my largest foe. Spelling I don't attempt to master. By the way did you come alone?"
"Much better. You need practice in conversation. It is 'are my largest
foes, not foe.' Errors in grammar are like zits on your chin, distracting. Your listening to songs in English is
I ponder for a moment the meaning of zits. You have come alone? I almost said you have
gone alone. I listen for sounds outside.
"I think," Mary asserts, "that Howard will find store. That was all. I thought, bullshit! She can put long hours in front of the television; it’s no different."
Something makes me suspect; why did she correct my English. It's her tone. I
know Mary. Slowly and distinctly and loud enough to be heard outside, "I have
been studying more than English. I can even explain evolution and operant conditioning.
They are two theories you never full grasped.
Evolution is a concept that Mary never quite understood in spite of David’s help.
Operant conditioning is entirely new way to understand human behavior. Mary is not theoretical in her thought.
I continue, "Have you heard from David since August?" Mary
didn't know if he would return for the winter season. It is now November. I can only hope that
he will come here. Maybe Mary has a new lover. I didn't think she
took a bus. Mary would not have got up so early as to arrive here by 8 AM, not
by bus. She must have got here last night and stayed in a motel, undoubtedly
with someone. Then how did she get here?
Possible a new lover? I suspect, hope, it’s David who
Mary looks bemused, "Do you think Gloria would look after the store for a couple hours?"
"Are you taking me shopping to show me how good you have done? Material obtainment means less
to me." I think of David possible listening. "I have read a book on Gautama
Buddha and another on Greek moral philosophy. Both in English, I say proudly."
Mary smiles, 'Oh God! I don't know if I can put up
with you as a roommate. Philosophers are too opinionated. Then with a warm smile, you are odd for one with just a high school education."
"I wonder what David thinks of me."
Mary, "Not that topic again. Let us talk about your coming
to work with me. Thanksgiving is next week," Mary says as she opens a bottle of Orange Crush.
Mary says loudly, "A soda for my dry throat, after the long drive."
I think, 'I didn't hear the car leave. I could have missed it while talking.'
I hear someone at the door. I look up and try not to seem overly pleased.
"I have brought you music." I hear the sound of cassettes being placed upon the counter.
"Johnny Mathis is good for learning English," David says in a melliferous voice, "The sentiment is excellent, quite romantic. His English is easy to follow."
"Thank you, David," I reply.
"I had just got into town this week. Mary asked me
to do her a favor, help you move to Manzanillo, David says warmly. I thought
it a wonderful plan, you working with her."
Our eyes meet. Mary
breaks the silence. "We need to talk to Ester. But first we should go shopping
and get breakfast." She makes a face as she reaches into the murky water and
pulls out a club soda for David.
My mind is flying with questions.
Where is David staying? Will he be here for the entire winter? Will he be again with Mary? Did he come alone? And most importantly, what does he think of me? But the mention
of Ester, my mother, has got my mind back to the present. I must officially break
the news that I will be going.
"We ought to have breakfast," David says to me. "We left the motel at 7 AM."
I have long wanted to converse with David, but was embarrassed by my English. Six months
of study has made a difference. "Sounds like the best plan." I am not anxious to explain to mom about my moving.
Mary brakes in, "You're not leaving me with Ester, to break the news. I am hungry too."
"Of course, we all should go for breakfast," David agrees.
Mary interrupts, "I'll go and wake Gloria, so she can mind
the store. And shell tell mother for us.
Going for breakfast is an excellent plan."
"Yes, we left after Mary finished work yesterday. We
are staying by the Plaza del Sol."
He sees my expression change, and chuckles.
He says in a voice that hints that they done more than talk last
night, "So Mary has been filling you in about me."
I am embarrassed, and thus lost for words in English. His voice,
the tone says so much.
David says, "The brain has distinct areas, and so distinct
areas of proficiency. I will have to quiz you on behaviorism and evolution. Quiz you in private."
“That would be . . . .”
and I group for a word.
Mary inserts “Wonderful.” She is back from waking Gloria, my younger sister. "They say
in English, one brick at a time. First you move in with me, then you’ll
do well at work. David can help you with English.
It is a start, aunt. But if we don't start for breakfast, I'll become
The words, David will help you with English, gave
my heart bump. I felt a romantic rush, a tingle, my heart was thumping. Obviously they had been talking at length about me, and that he wants to help with
English, means that he will be doing more than driving me to Manzanillo. He will
be seeing me.
I'll remember the 23rd of October 1989, for the
rest of my life. He drove us back to Manzanillo.
I started working within a week showing the timeshares; Mary did the sales. And
David taught me much more than English. I learnt enough by 1990 for to matriculate
into San Diego State. I never imaged a lover could be such a gentleman. Even after marriage, the love between us is as strong as in 1989. And Mary, she too is married, raising a family, and selling real estate, but not in Mexico. 1989 was for us a good year.