Lourdes Hernández’s only desire that Wednesday morning had been to photograph squawking birds at the park and the celeste sky above it. Three days later she pondered, How have I come to this? Turning away from the whodunit on her forty-inch LCD television, she caught her dreary image in a Rococo mirror. She was baggy-eyed, emotionally drained and nearly as tattered as her vintage sofa of dusty rose — a relic from a Massachusetts estate sale that she had acquired four years before meeting Miguel at Nouveau Romantic party just outside Thanostown. Like her dilapidated soul, the sofa was heavy with the burden of unfinished past lives.
Unlike her first ex, the settee was still a part of her life after she gained an additional thirty pounds that couldn’t be attributed to baby weight. Lourdes remained childless despite an inexhaustible supply of estrogen and ample hips that Miguel loved to grip during their intimate acrobatics. Besides her repressed memory, the brocade-upholstered sofa was the only other entity that carried the secret of her body mass index and the erotic backstories for loose springs, nuts and bolts.
She couldn’t have chosen a worse time to put on extra pounds: the occasion of her bestie’s wedding. With the regal affair looming less than a week ahead, and the bride-to-be’s “feeling fab” status updates clogging her in-box as they had for the past six months, Lourdes found herself growing more insecure than at any other time in her life — save the period immediately following Miguel’s breakup with her. Thirteen years after he and his ghastly entourage of hooded drapery and Argentan rope jewelry had swooped down on her threadbare existence, she had lost an unconsciously waged competition to the Icelandic harlot in Miguel’s alternative band, Mausoleum.
As claustrophobia brought on by her girl’s approaching wedding deadline of the twenty-second of September increased in its intensity, Lourdes was beginning to doubt that she could be anyone’s maid of honor, especially when Giovanna had been acting like a royal pain in the arse since her engagement the previous year. She couldn’t believe that her heretofore vulgar friend now was expecting her to assume the manners of a noblewoman. I should’ve suspected something when she’d rush me off the phone to watch reruns of “Last of the Summer Wine,” Lourdes thought. As the reality of Giovanna’s post-wedding relocation to Downtown San Diego closed in on her, she imagined her two-bedroom apartment shrinking to a linen closet’s proportions unbefitting a lady-in-waiting.
The One for whom Lourdes had waited had no chance of returning after a six-year absence. She didn’t believe in backtracking, and receiving Miguel’s epistolary dumping was no exception. He had ditched her via an e-mail that ended, “Until we meet again, on the other side of madness.” For an added touch of the occult, she had conjured up her immortal beloved impersonating Vincent Price’s fiendish laughter at the end of “Thriller.”
Raven hair in disarray, she tried to flip the frown in her reflection but gave up when the corners of her mouth began hurting. Perhaps we should keep this lonely interlude to ourselves, she advised her telepathic, sedentary twin. Since Wednesday’s incident, she had been experiencing a different degree of pain. As panic set in that Giovanna’s bridal shower was less than three hours away, her fraying nerves were threatening to snap. Her unraveled spirit, like threads of an antique silk dress, seemed beyond repair.
Suddenly, her image smiled derisively back at her. She grabbed her Hopi kachina doll and aimed it at the looking glass but had a change of heart when she recalled the last segment of Trilogy of Terror. More importantly, she recollected that Miguel had held her spellbound as he recounted how he obtained the colorful kachina: On a snow-dusted road back from Sedona one Christmas, he had traded a Limoges enamel vial of semen for the doll. He also had frozen his red rocks off inside his broken-down Buick.
Somewhere in present-day Arizona, Lourdes contemplated with a devilish smile, his spitfire spawn were penning hellish lyrics and burning their guitars among resilient cacti. She hadn’t been thinking that way, though, when he was spinning his tall tale that winter because he claimed that the doll’s presence under his belt from Sedona to Thanostown kept his memory of her close to his heart.
“So y’always wear your heart close to your dick?” she had gibed, melting him into a sexy smile that revealed overlapping, protruding, off-white front teeth which she found distinctive and adorable.
“What can I say, babe,” he had replied, brushing his feathery ebony mane against her flushed cheek and tracing her Luna mount with a stubby black-lacquered fingernail. “I was missin’ you so much that I was heavy-hearted.”
Their suggestive conversation, and the unbridled cosmic sex that followed, were still fresh in her mind. But the only visitations from the self-proclaimed “erotic sorcerer” occurred in wet dreams, such as the extended vignette from which she reluctantly had awakened during nap time. Fact was, the virile Miguel De Los Cuervos was nowhere to be found. Having subscribed to all the major social media networks in a desperate attempt to locate him, she was practically moonlighting as a detective.
Since her lover vanished, Lourdes had fornicated with only one guy: a Viagra-toting pharmaceutical salesman named Willie, who couldn’t resist sampling the merchandise. His near-fatal heart attack on their second date — in her cherry wood sleigh bed — convinced her to take a vow of celibacy for good. And to swear off blue M&Ms forever. She just didn’t think five years would lead to a gray wasteland at the aqueous edges of Thanostown. As she re-evaluated her vows like a nun with an aversion to blue-dyed candies, she reminisced about her true ex until her black eyeliner was bleeding into her crow’s feet.
The ornate mirror reflected one stark truth: She was morphing into one of the Goth anti-heroines of songs in which her former boyfriend once raged as Mausoleum’s frontman. Often she used to chant his name in the audience, rationalizing away the stench of the band’s sweat showers and flatulence bombs in nightclubs that were conversions from rat-infested dungeons.
In the six years that had ticked by since Miguel brought her to kaleidoscopic orgasms within his black-rose-tatted chokeholds, since his Apadravya piercing crowned her his queen on their royal velvet throne, she had buried the spoken-word poet only to give birth to the nature photographer. Three days earlier, digital camera at the ready, she had been on her way to a artistic breakthrough. Poised behind the lens, she had been eager to skew a rotten world from positive angles. Then something went awry.
Mulling over what transpired in the park, repeating the playback, she sniffled into her slate sweatshirt sleeve. For the moment, she couldn’t care less who was nursing a gunshot wound on the two-hour Saturday evening mystery movie on television. She also couldn’t abate her sobbing any more than she could stop the Iguazu Falls. But she didn’t need to fly on standby to South America to push herself over the edge.
After obsessing for three whole days about the knife she had sunk in someone’s back, she had carved a new continent on which she was destined to be eternally alienated. She huffed. Screw Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66 with their “Mundo Hermoso,” she mused. For me, it’s population one. Lourdes gave the mirror a stay of execution and dragged herself away from the chilly rec room.
In her frou-frou bedroom, she plopped on the sleigh bed and yanked open a nightstand drawer. Rummaging through an assortment of goods yielded a reward: her emergency reserve of Godiva truffles. Careful to avoid splinters from the drawer’s unfinished wood, she found a morsel of self-respect. Next she needed to summon up the moxie to phone her best friend in order to apologize for being unfashionably late to her bridal shower. Unless everyone was late, the big event would’ve begun at half past six. After all, Giovanna had selected her old pal from Sunken Meadows High over her younger half-sister, Fiamma — whom she adored — to serve as maid of honor.
A marathon crying spell had launched fifteen minutes into breakfast, making her milk salty and her Corn Pops soggy. Lourdes was left with partially congested sinuses, but by the time she absentmindedly went through half the bankrupting box of bonbons, her taste buds and composure returned. She scratched an armpit and sank her teeth into one more Champagne-filled chocolate, then speed-dialed Giovanna’s wireless number. While she waited for a connection, she wondered if a chiseled exotic dancer was straddling the bachelorette at the Nevoc Country Club, which was sprawled among the mountains above Thanostown. She hoped that forgiveness would come easy if the well-paid and -endowed stripper was helping Giovanna soak her panties until the silver studs spelling out Vincenzo & Giovanna Forevuh rusted away. Otherwise, Lourdes was going to require cosmetic surgery after breaking the news to her BFF that, worse than being late, she wasn’t planning to attend her shower at all.
She was about to hang up by the fourth ring when Giovanna answered, popping gum as usual. Probably Doublemint, Lourdes guessed. Upon hearing the bride-to-be’s terse greeting, she swallowed one more ounce of chocolate bliss and began her tearful account …
* * *
Her first mistake was skipping work that Wednesday, calling in sick when in reality she had become exasperated with the morbid realm of inanimate objects. She hadn’t earned her bachelor of science degree to end up a security guard at Thanostown’s three hundred thirty-year-old natural-history museum. Standing on her feet all day was easy; being surrounded by glassed-in stiff carcasses was creepy. There was a limited script on which to rely when conversing with visitors, as the museum frowned on “unnecessary fraternization.” Stuffed zebras and monkeys couldn’t converse with her or share their opinions about the immense world outside. She desired to be surrounded by life, laughter and what she called the sensual swells of the Panahuoca River.
By the river lay a park. Eden Park. Regardless of the season, its grounds attracted lovers and the lovelorn, athletes and intellectuals. Usually, she would scope out the park, jog its perimeter thrice, and then stop by the Jamerican Juice Doctor for an all-natural pomegranate punch. However, this wasn’t a typical Wednesday, or “hump day.” Rather, this was a day of liberation by design. To celebrate her sense of renewal, she fancied compiling a digital scrapbook of photos documenting her excursion. With her goal in mind, she reached for the drawer of one of her twin nightstands and fumbled with its brass handle, which slightly dangled from the escutcheon.
After fidgeting among three years’ worth of EterniReady lithium triple-A batteries for nearly as long, she finally found her Canon Mark III. In her imagination she was an optimist, storing her EOS digital SLR camera bedside with sealed-in-package blindfolds, anal beads and a neon-pink feather that she should’ve used to dust the eclectic furniture in her spacious apartment. Before the demise of her and Miguel’s gothic romance, if a burglar had stumbled upon the deep drawer, he or she would’ve assumed that the apartment’s occupant had stock in the company which was a head above the rest in producing the thoroughbred of condoms. However, because of rubbers’ shelf life, for the second time in five years she had discarded only one twelve-pack of the lubricated, ribbed variety. Before she closed the drawer, her eyes crinkled as she remembered one of Miguel’s wicked jokes as they snuggled in the afterglow of his Dracula-inspired bedroom: something about the coup de grace of casual sex, a ripped condom and glue.
Within an hour she was dressed in rufous sweats and a roomy white T-shirt reading BITE ME in 78-point black Impact font — a June birthday gift from the vivacious, tenacious Giovanna. Or Vanna for short. Since she was none too eager to show her belly rolls to passers-by, Lourdes allowed the tee to flow over her pants, which hugged her honeydew melon-sized glutes. Turning away from the lengthwise mirror in the hallway, she muttered, “Camera, check. Smart disc, check. Batteries, check.” A full exhale later, she sprinted past the sunny kitchen to unlatch the chain on her door. The cordless phone ringing by the pantry froze her midstep.
Figuring it could only be Giovanna begging her to recite an affirmation for the day — anything to distract her from her wedding a week away — Lourdes dashed out the door and left for Eden Park. Already she was feeling guilty but her new day of freedom could wait no longer. Her lively gait drew a smile from an elderly widowed neighbor, Mrs. Gertrude Simmons, who attempted to shout but managed to rasp: “Enjoy this fine, fine day, young lady. And,” lowering her trifocals, she added, “beware of strangers.”
I’m not that young anymore, Lourdes thought to herself. She ambled over to the curb, gave herself a once-over starting from her tangerine-and-white kicks and ending at the gravity-afflicted breasts that she tried to ignore were squeezed together inside her sports bra. “Fuck it,” she said, not caring if anyone heard her. Shrugging off a shadow of despair, she reflected: After all, I am in the autumn of my life. Just when she was feeling confident, a nubile twentysomething jogged inches from her shoulder, causing her bouncy blonde pony to flaggellate Lourdes’ tan face. “Puta!” she yelled out, feeling rosy splotches rise up in her cheeks, but she was wasting her breath on the plugged-in, iPod-entranced Aphrodite.
* * *
Stepping onto the pier at the western end of Eden Park, Lourdes was pensive. The park offered picturesque panoramic views and sinuous paths. Beyond a wide curve facing Tituba’s Island in the direction of a red gazebo, one couldn’t know what awaited. Heeding Mrs. Simmons’ warning, she remained vigilant. She scrutinized her surroundings and strained her eyes to inspect the far reaches of the pink-brick promenade, which circled a vast Italian-style garden on both sides of the acid-rain-washed gazebo.
Keeping pace with a male pigeon puffing up and showing his true colors – fuschia – to a reluctant mate, she leaned into a mid-September breeze billowing from the Panahuoca River. Pausing, she shut her eyes to allow the fantasy of cool air currents dancing through her thermally straightened jet-black hair, which tickled her lumbar spine. She imagined the small wind blowing around the pier flowing upward. Smiling, she observed receptive trees chattering with crispy leaves.
Fall was her fickle lover, often leaving her chilly. “How I long for spring!” she wanted to exclaim. Springtime offered many chances to reach out to caress supple, green leaves and to reflect on distant youth. In contrast, autumn reminded her of how quickly she was approaching the winter of her life. Despite nature’s beautiful symmetry in red, gold, wine and orange, the crêpe leaves descending upon the pavement sounded thuds to her ears. Before depression could grip her spirit, Lourdes sipped from citrus-flavored water that splashed around in her trusty squeeze bottle. “Ahhhh,” she said, aware of her breath and the tranquillity of her surroundings. She removed her camera from the messenger bag that Miguel had gifted her during their penultimate year as a couple.
Barn swallows and seagulls waddling closer to the steel railing appeared to pose for her, when actually they were loitering in search of food. She didn’t care about their intention; only that she co-existed with them in those moments over the pier. Allowing nature to guide her camera, she pointed with purpose: straight ahead to a swallow hopping over seams in the pier, obliquely to a seagull pecking at its side, then upward to a periwinkle sky threatening afternoon rain. She fancied Thoreau as her Muse and Eden Park as her Walden Pond.
So occupied was her mind that she failed to notice a fellow pedestrian strolling behind her. After he waltzed in front of her, eliciting a gasp, he said, “Sorry, doll.” Oozing Philip Bosco’s charm but possessing Robert Loggia’s craggy voice and snow-white hair, he bowed like a gent in a Belle Epoque ballroom and asked permission to snap her photo.
“Uh, noooowuh,” she declined in her passive, little-girl’s voice. But the seventy-ish man was persistent. He figured that he could persuade her differently. “Call me ‘Pops,’” he insisted.
“Hola, Pops,” Lourdes said, reclaiming her natural vocal timbre, which was a sultry and coquettish combo, if Jennifer López’s voice could be superimposed on Dania Ramírez’s. “I’m nobody special. Why don’t you bother some other girl, hunh?”
“Don’t sell yourself short, dear,” he advised her.
“I’m not for sale,” she cracked. What she felt, though, was fear.
“You misunderstand,” he returned. He paused, then leaned his five-foot-nine frame toward her and formed a church with facing palms.
Apprehensive that he was a charming thief, she tucked the camera in her bag and moved what was supposed to be an idyllic photo shoot to a temporary file within her consciousness.
Pops eyed her movements and then danced around her, and his intentions, again. “I would’ve framed your essence, if you had let me.”
“Yeah, sure,” she said, trying not to peer into his bewitching brown eyes. “Besides, no one gets to touch my camera but I.”
The suave, senescent stranger desired to touch her. Though fighting temptation, he nevertheless was enjoying the flirtation. He was the Cabernet to her must. Oh, she has so much to learn, he assured himself. It delighted him that he had closed in on her like a late-summer gust off a bend in the Panahuoca River. Now his body was betraying him with insidious reactions: Palpitations increased, and his emerging erection filled out any creases in his crotch. He allowed his eyes to fall on every curve that the soft breeze winding around her tee and sweats revealed there on the pier.
“You can trust me,” he kept repeating as he tapped his loafered foot on the pink pavement. Watching as her pupils returned to a state of relaxation, he moved in for the thrill.
Lourdes had heard various acquaintances relate stories of faith about ordinary people disguised as angels and thus began to lighten up and just observe the man. What can this ol’ geezer possibly do anyway? she asked herself.
Within minutes she was seated with the gray-bearded drifter on a park bench, disclosing to him various events of the past decade. As a tear traced her cheek during one memory of the cad who downed so many male-enhancement pills that at times he could’ve been a fourth member of The Blue Man Group, her mysterious companion reached up with a monogrammed handkerchief to blot her face dry. Snuffling, she tried to make out the two embroidered, maroon letters as the cloth touched the tip of her nose, but when her eyes crossed, she abandoned the effort.
Deep inside she was at ease with the stranger, who on second impression seemed a gentle soul. From time to time she glanced over at the ominous river, meditating on how it overflowed with broken dreams and romances. Seated to her right side and hanging off the park bench a tad, the man traded his own stories of love and loss with her raw tales about Miguel. Although no one was passing by them at the moment, she lowered her voice to a whisper as she recounted how, toward the end of their relationship, her ex once shared with her his dream of taking her slowly in the real-life Blue Lagoon.
“As he thrusted in and out of my channel from above,” she revealed to Pops, “all that I could focus on were his glossy dark brown eyes and remote smile in the natural light of my double-hung bedroom windows, not my pleasure and our bliss.”
“I bet your lover was doubly hung,” he interrupted, then erupted into laughter.
“Cool it, Pops. It was a prophetic moment between us. That asshole,” she said, trying not to laugh. “And you know, the funny thing is: Despite how exquisite it felt with him banging me like that, I started thinking that he was fantasizing about pounding his Björk doppelgänger bitch.”
“Oh, are they engaged now?” he asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” she said, “but I sure disengaged his cock that morning.”
Pops scooted closer to her on the bench. As sensitive in body as in mind, she absorbed his thermal heat. She started fanning her face, but he pushed down her hand with his. “My turn,” he spoke.
“Sure,” she said. Perhaps she was uncertain about his motives, but she no longer was jumpy. He had hooked and reeled her in like a fish that had strayed far from its school into the alluring Panahuoca River.
Noon closed in as Pops captured Lourdes’ heart as intimately as her camera had framed the birds. She wished that Miguel had possessed his genuineness, especially when the man confided in her a story about a series of trysts “in the old country” with a homemaker who specialized in kneading dough with her massive breasts. “Never since then have I tasted bread that delectable,” he remarked, guffawing and slapping his left knee so hard that Lourdes felt the vibration travel to her clit.
“How long did the affair last?” she asked, crossing her legs to stave off the excitement. She could feel a drizzle heading down a warm thigh. While he stared up into the portentous sky, she wondered, What I’d give right now for a tryst. An appointment. A rendezvous. Now that I’ve opened myself to a random stranger, I feel that I’ve signed a pact with the Devil. An antitryst.
“When la balena went into a baking frenzy at the expense of her husband’s dinner,” Pops said, “he turned so suspicious that he quit his job as a fisherman in la Marina di Pisciotta.”
He overflowed with stories, yet the one that had Lourdes transfixed involved his own wife, who had lost her libido somewhere amid his last confessions of adultery and eventually divorced him. To make matters worse, Pops said, he hadn’t seen his daughter in decades because his ex-wife had turned her against him. He clutched his heart at the end of the sentence, where he explained how “the absence of sex can be compared to death.” Lourdes sympathized with her newfound acquaintance’s grief, absentmindedly patting his left hand. He, in turn, slowly lifted her hand with his right one and planted a peck on her reddened knuckles. She smiled, assuming his anachronistic gallantry would end there. To her surprise, he was only beginning. Over five decades of loving and losing, he had learned all the artful manners of seduction.
Leaning back, he unbuttoned his black cotton shirt and then folded it on the bench’s arm. Then he slithered so close to her torso, wrapping his leathery arms around it, that she trembled from the shock of full-on human embrace. As he licked between her stubby fingers, she couldn’t fight the involuntary right-toe curls inside her soft white tennis sock. Her uneven sighs coaxed him into kissing the palm of one hand, then the other. Her moans mingling with murmurs of rustling leaves sent a surge of lust through his brain right down to his scrotum. She felt his hands over her breasts, on top of the T-shirt, but cupping her generous flesh there nonetheless. When she tossed her head back against his shoulder, he didn’t lose time lifting her shirt to taste what fought to escape the sports bra. Feeling his steamy mouth enveloping her right tit, she gasped and kicked his shin, which had the unintended effect of him biting where he desired to suck.
“Mi dispiace amore mio,” he apologized, hardly pausing from making love to her.
“Te perdono, señor,” her voice lilted toward his flushed ear.
The May-December lovers’ sensual movements went barely noticed as if there were some kind of park etiquette for observing extreme public displays of affection. This ol’ dude’s got no hangups over PDE — public displays of erections, she thought whimsically as the elderly man’s road-mapped hands rediscovered secret crevices that were hers alone to cherish. Never before had she exhibited odd leg movements outside of playing a sordid version of Twister or fighting to free herself of Miguel’s labyrinthine ropes and chains. Just as uninhibited as their caresses was their laughter. But Pops’ ambidextrous fondling had a way of reminding her that his levity cloaked a serious brand of lasciviousness. Ohhhhh, Miguel, she sighed within as Pops continued to rub and diddle her feverish parts.
Through the undulating mist from the Panahuoca River, she heard the man’s moist whispers, such as “I desire to tickle your ears. Close your eyes.” She kept both eyes open, however. Not being able to see his tongue tip wriggle along her pinna titillated her. His thick, fuzzy pink organ reminded her of how the cilia of a lime green caterpillar felt after it had tumbled from a dangling tree branch and then crawled along her auricle during her Girl Scout troop’s nature walk in the Adirondacks. She was twelve then. Now she was forty-three but no less confused. As the serpentine stranger convinced her more and more that he was no angel after all, Lourdes split into her emotional and rational selves — one trying to convince her to follow his wisdom, the other urging her to worm her way out of his lubricious embrace.
Lourdes suggested they amble over to the red gazebo, surprising herself at the same time that she was enabling an absolute stranger’s outdoor fetish. Pops’ tongue invaded her mouth while his restless fingers slipped beneath her sweatpants’ waistband. Her brain shut down momentarily, lengthening seconds into an excruciating eternity. When her bag slid off her lap, carrying with it Miguel’s ethereal presence, it was replaced by rising and falling knuckles that resembled tiny, orange, grotesque heads sucking at her cunt lips. On the sturdy park bench of peeling green paint, she enjoyed his fingering of her vulva, and stroking and kissing on her clavicle and neck, which felt like the bodywork of two men. A supernatural ménage à trois.
Like Miguel, Pops knew how to tantalize her to convulsive effects by never directly rubbing her clit. Squirming against him in the breezy harbor, she felt his shifting position and, to her surprise, his generous member poking sizable dimples in her fleshy thighs. Between lapping of river waves against the pier’s shafts and naughty encouragements rolling from the man’s Southern Italian tongue, her labia were throbbing above her pelvic floor like a reddish pink octopus trapped in a viscous sea. He unscrambled her spell and found her magic spot. Ignoring her warbled protests, he pinned down her leg with his knee. When the first of several lightning bolts hit her, she nearly blew out his eardrums and could’ve summoned Yemaya from the depths of the Panahuoca River.
Lourdes couldn’t believe pleasure could be so random and yet bring her so close to the truth of who she was as a woman. Moments later, she also couldn’t understand how she could ponder metaphysics while scraping her knees against the brick pavement, masturbating and orally stimulating a man old enough to be her father. Light-years away from Miguel, she was really engaged in the action at hand. Replacing Pops’ prick with her ex’s, she lost track of time and her sanity during the act of irrumatio. Her aging Casanova knew intuitively that she was using him as a tool, and he couldn’t be happier. She indulged in deep-throating him while he grabbed a palmful of dark tresses to modulate her rhythms till they were evoking the hypnotic percussion of Cuban son. Her plump breasts, which he had freed from her sports bra, were sore from banging against the bench’s edge. Such was the intensity of her pleasuring. Each time the wily stranger groaned, the wet spots on her sweatpants multiplied. Her mind spun with the anticipation of how he would reciprocate, if his pre-climax verbal meanderings about not underestimating a septuagenarian were genuine.
At some point between tonguing the stranger’s sweaty scrotum and slobbering over his near-purple, erect frenulum and shaft, she heard him yammering about an upcoming wedding. She sucked harder at his manhood, but her paramour was losing his erection, to her dismay. If only Lourdes hadn’t asked him if he wanted to talk about it — but she did and he seemed to speak in slow motion as he complained about the enormous cost of his daughter’s wedding. She switched back to giving him a handjob and intensified each stroke while talking filthy in Spanish. When his rigid cock was, again, begging for relief in her warm mouth, he resumed chattering about his “goddamned daughter, Giovanna.” He was banging her tonsils as he said it. At the exact moment that her face registered surprise, he came.
Daaaamn, I’m glad I got mine. I guess the only way he’s going downtown now is to shoot over by the bar on his way home, she contemplated. I must’ve lost a helluva lot of weight sucking his dick because I thought that it wasn’t over “till the fat lady sings.”
After Pops’ orgasm finished wracking his wrinkled body, his lips widened into a smile akin to Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland fame. To Lourdes, he was no cat, but a snake, and she wished for the mongoose of a Rudyard Kipling tale. While he shook his dick and thanked her huskily, she gave herself a reality check. Watching him drain the shrinking head, she tasted his bitter seed on her tongue. Disgusted, she roughly wiped his semen from her neck and breasts. Avoiding his stare burning through her swollen nipples as she retrieved her bag, she prayed that the few, white drops of semen which she had flung from her flesh and now were pooling in the cracks of the pier wouldn’t kill the weeds and sprout into a homunculus destined to live beneath the Panahuoca River, feeding on bloated bodies of the drowned. Or, worse, fated to live among the droopy trees in Eden Park and, upon maturity, preying on virgins sunbathing on the moist grass the following summer.
Despite her abundant body fat, she had enough adrenaline to jump to her feet. As she gathered her belongings, giving Pops the silent treatment the entire time, she wondered: How could I be Giovanna’s bridesmaid now? Undeserved tears rolled down her cheeks, but this time she wouldn’t let the swinging smooth operator play Bogart to her Bergman. Loverman was left stupified on the bench, his fly open, and his genitals exposed.
It didn’t matter that her knees were as sore as those of a pilgrim crawling up the limestone steps of some church in Southern Spain. For Lourdes, faith and love had taken a holiday as surreptitiously as she had called in sick that morning. “Hump day” in all its meanings went unfulfilled; her lusty path to liberation detoured into seedy territory. With a tear in her eye and a cramping in her calves, she limped away from the pink promenade, waving her raven hair from her face. She abandoned the chirping birds and gray sky. She cursed the Panahuoca River under her breath for luring her with its sensuality and the promise of rebirth from its amniotic depths evermore.
* * *
After listening in silence to her maid of honor explaining what had gone down in Eden Park three days prior, an exasperated Giovanna blew a raspberry into the phone and then snickered for a solid minute. Lourdes was befuddled. She had just confessed to her best friend that she had blown her father, in public. Absorbing Giovanna’s comical reaction, all she could think was: What Mr. Buonofacci had flaunted on the park bench was far larger than a raspberry — but far more bitter.
“So’s that the only reason ya hidin’ out in the Beaumont Apartments instead of shakin’ it up wit my wedding party heah at the Nevoc Country Club?” Giovanna asked while Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” was blasting in the background amid louder perimenopausal female shouts of “Hey, hottie, c’meeere!” and “You got enough room for ten singles, handsome?!”
Lourdes was flabbergasted and aroused at the same time. A mean shade of red. “Shit, yeah. How can I face you now?” she quizzed.
“Easy,” said the inebriated bride-to-be. “Lourdie,” she slurred, “my fuckin’ dad’s a ho, and that’s accordin’ ta my ma.”
“Geez, Vanna, even though I was sucking down a throatful of his cock, I wouldn’t go that far,” Lourdes said, surprising herself that she was defending her parkside prowler.
“Oh yeah? Hmpf. Some nights,” Giovanna explained, “Mami caught him in the shadows, creepin’ toward my childhood room. Seems he wasn’t gettin’ enough from his hoes, but she stopped him from touchin’ me and my older sister, Tessa, wit the threat of doin’ a Bobbitt.”
“Vanna, I didn’t know thaaaaat. How could I have? Shit, I’m sorry you went through all that,” Lourdes said by way of apology.
“It’s all right ’cos we both was spared the wrath of his dick. Mami kicked his sleazy ass out,” Giovanna said.
“Wow, you were a strong person even way back when,” Lourdes praised.
“Welllll, not as strong as ya knees three days ago,” Giovanna japed. “Anyways, you obviously needed ta getcha some — wait, ya didn’t actually screw ’Signore Pene,’ didya?”
“No, pero, I crossed a line. Dammit, I sucked your father’s dick! There, I said it,” Lourdes confessed. Again. This time, however, she started bawling.
“Save ya tears, girl. Now we’re even,” Giovanna reasoned through the murkiness of her pickled brain.
“Vanna, how can — ” Lourdes was interrupted by more laughter from her bestie.
“Remember when ya went away ta Broward U and didn’t bring ya ass back home until the followin’ summer?” Giovanna forced her pal to recall.
“Yeah, but I’m sure you can remember that around that time my dad and I’d been spatting more than he and his hoochie-girlfriend-of-the-month. That bitch Quiana,” Lourdes growled.
“Unh-hunh. Welllll, I got an update,” Giovanna informed her. “Quiana put on her fuck-me heels and stepped out on his ass, leavin’ him lonely and …”
“And?” Lourdes pressed her.
“Girlllll, I …,” Giovanna answered cautiously.
“You what? What-what-whaaaaaat?!” Lourdes implored her.
“I fucked ya papi. That’s what,” Giovanna shot back.
“¿Qué? You mean César, right? The dude we met in our junior year at Sunken Meadows, at that basketball game?” Lourdes asked, her perspiration beading on her high forehead.
“Nah, chica. Wrong papi. I mean Mistah Hernández,” her sotted bestie revealed. Burp!
“Oh, hell! My dad?!” Lourdes exclaimed.
“Uhmmm-hmmm, and he was so gooooood ta me,” Giovanna boasted. “Whatta dilf! Made me dress up like a fuckin’ schoolteacha.”
“That’s fucked up, Vanna. You know how often I used to tell you back in the ninth grade that my Pops wanted me to become a teacher. Geeeez, you were a slut back then, too!”
“Oops, ya said ‘Pops.’ Isn’t that what my dad wanted ya ta call him in the park, Lourdie? Ooohhh, who’s the slut now,” Giovanna teased.
“Screw you,” Lourdes snapped.
“No, girl, I don’t do that yin-yin shit anymoah,” Giovanna joked. “Besides, ya need ta save that pussy for my fatha. He’s what ya’ll be doin’ after the rehearsal dinner next Friday. Ho-ho-hoe!”
“That’s so low of you, Vanna,” Lourdes said.
“Not as low as ya ass was ta the ground in Eden Park, ap-par-ent-ly,” her drunken friend reminded her. Just then, Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” surfaced in the background, and Giovanna yelled “Oh-ohhh! Oh-ohhh!” in Lourdes’ ear, then added: “I can just see ya scrapin’ ya knees on that pavement the way ya described ta me.”
“Shut it,” Lourdes retorted in frustration. “I may be a newbie at casual sex, but I’m no ho.”
“And droolin’ ovuh my papa’s salami,” continued Giovanna as if her friend hadn’t been speaking. “Ha-ha-haaaaa!” Howling, she began snorting like Sandra Bullock, then choking.
Giovanna’s callousness had Lourdes imagining that she could’ve snorted something in the company of her dicey fiancé, Vincenzo – nicknamed “Neve” – prior to leaving for her shower. Or right there at the party. “You are fucked up, Vanna!” she cried. “All this time, I thought you were my girl!”
“Look, I am still ya girl,” Giovanna relented, “so getcha thick ass ovuh heah ta my bridal shower. Ya need ta get some life in ya — before my dad pumps it outta ya.”
Fuming, Lourdes disconnected her intoxicated friend. Stripping on her way to the bathroom to take a shower, she hoped that she could cool off. At the very least, she would try once again to cleanse Mr. Buonofacci’s film from her body, though the filthy negatives stored in her photographic memory were indelible.
* * *
Forty-five minutes after one of the most dismal telephone conversations in her life, Lourdes asked the cabdriver to pull over to the curb. “I’ll just need a few minutes,” she assured him, “but in case I’m longer, I’ll give you a twenty for your troubles.”
“Thanks, ma’am,” he said, grinning and flashing dollar signs for pupils.
“You’re welcome, sir. I’d pay you mo’, but I’m po’,” she replied, then chuckled halfheartedly. She caught him trying to study her face in the mirror that he had adjusted above his dashboard, but she turned toward the window so that he couldn’t see her velvet black eyeliner running into the corners of her pouty mouth.
“Anything wrong, lady?” he inquired.
“No, it’s the streetlight glowing in my eyes,” she lied. So fuckin’ intuitive, she cursed him silently.
The driver tipped his tweed cap, scratched his balding brown head and parallel parked outside Eden Park. Moments later, it was a struggle for his passenger to exit the backseat, but he didn’t mind the wait. His head seesawed as he enjoyed ogling, through the rectangular mirror, her soft breasts tumbling toward the sliding window as she stuffed the bill in the wooden groove. She was aware that he was peeping through his mirror and, in her dark mood, hoped a concussion would teach him a lesson.
Ignoring her black taffeta gown’s three-foot train, Lourdes traipsed the tree-shrouded pavement toward the railing at the park’s northern border. Under a quarter moon but a dearth of stars, her eyes twinkled as she strolled the harbor. When she reached a point directly across from Tituba’s Island, she bunched the sides of her dress with clammy hands. Silver slivers of waves seemed to wink up at her, and her draped hips resisted the magnetic field as if pinned beneath a doting lover after his long, unexplained absence. Her eyes cut a path in the Panahuoca River toward the island, where dark surf licked at the shore the way Miguel’s slender fingers often had picked the strings of his Strat in bed.
Those melodies were part of the soundtrack to their romance lifetimes ago. Behind the dawn he would gun his motorcycle toward her place after his band’s last set. Noisier than his hog’s engine, she used to snore through a third dream as he charged through the apartment door and barked at her like a short-order cook to “wake your hot ass up!” Then he would unsling his case, whip out the “Ripper” — Miguel’s hypocorism for his ax — and climb atop her shuddering supine bod. She would return to sleep while he crooned a smut-laced lullaby, a blunt balanced behind his left ear. She would awaken in a pungent haze to his dissonant groans as he snaked in and out of her — a silhouette burning into an abyss where the yawning sun couldn’t reach.
The only music in her ears at the moment, though, was the harmonious sound of rippling water. Like a black wallflower peeled away from the flimsy security of invisibility, she vacillated at the pier’s edge. Although barely perceptible, the structure’s gentle surrender to the river’s caress disoriented her. Gripping the railing’s top barre, she resembled a novice ballerina disguised as a Victorian time traveler. Clinging to steel, to something real, she sensed that her soul was slow-dancing to the waves’ splashing through fluid memories of Miguel. Searching for his intense, deep-set, pinched eyes among shadows hovering over the waves’ illuminated crescents, she failed to grasp why his spirit lingered.
“Where are you?” she asked the silence. She wondered if his preference for her middle name — Esperanza — had cursed her, especially when its meaning had eluded her once he departed her life. So many unanswered questions raced through her mind, not only about her erstwhile lover’s disappearance but also about her sleazy recent encounter with the beguiling stranger. Phantom fingers, both Pops’ and Miguel’s, stroked her hair while she resigned to whiffing decomposing leaves and marine lives in the air.
There she languished. At an ageless pier from which sunburned fishermen cast out lures on lines sturdier than those of would-be romeos, and tossed back undesirables, she wondered how long she could withstand her emotional weight. Unlike Miguel, whose confidence was rooted in him like a mandrake in fertile soil, she was as fragile as a twig in a gale. Her heart mirrored the crumpling autumn leaves behind her, and she couldn’t bear the thought of their crumbling underfoot upon a new day. A massacre in red, gold, wine and orange.
Lourdes failed to hear the taxi’s tires skidding in the distance; nor did she notice the pier swinging to the river’s deeper rhythm. She would sway in the dank atmosphere, blending with the night, until her raven hair whipped around her body thrice. Until Miguel whispered among Djangoesque chords that he desired her now and forever: Te quiero, mi amor. Ahora y siempre. Until she shed her mourning dress and dreamed of her gray spirit mingling with the deceptive estuary’s hypnotic waves at dawn.
© 2010-2012 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
“A Raven on the Panahuoca River” is un hommage to a writer too easily misunderstood, and a man too hastily disregarded, in his time:
Edgar Allan Poe.