I sit on the hammock on the roof eating chocolates, writing, and I can see her in my peripheral vision. She’s been standing on her head in the corner of my bedroom night after night. I catch glimpses of her when I wake up for a second. She’s blurry in the dark and without my glasses on, but her presence is unmistakable - judgmental but not malicious. This might scare me if I was in my apartment in San Francisco, but I’m not. I’m here in Mexico, and this is the sort of thing that happens in tiny studios on the top floor of apartment buildings.
In the corner of my room there’s a little mason jar filled with two bunches of jasmines, which I bought from a man with plucked eyebrows, near the zocalo. I like smelling them before I go to bed, and when I come home from running errands or eating ice cream. My great grandmother had a jasmine garden. She loved the smell, too. Almost too sweet. I knew I could get her to come if I put out the jasmine. Behind the jar there’s an enormous bean bag that doubles as a chair, I guess, for guests or bitter old apparitions.
But for the first time now she’s with me on the roof in the daytime.
And here she is, sitting and glowering while I eat chocolates. One of my legs is in the hammock, straight out, and the other bent at the knee, the tip of my big toe against the cement of the rooftop, rocking myself back and forth. Careful not to scrape the chartreuse nail polish. I’ve always been meticulous about the tiny things I know I can control.
“You’re going to get fat with those,” she says in that Spanish I know, the kind my grandmother used to speak to me.
“Too late,” I say, putting another chocolate in my mouth, refusing to look up at her.
“Everyone can see your pussy, too,” she continues.
“I’ll look forward to the thank you cards.”
We’re both silent after that. I can hear her exhale with delighted disgust. For women like us, hating someone feels better than loving them. It feels like winning and never having to tip your hand. I can almost hear her purse her lips, her old skin wrinkling around her mouth like an accordion.
I’m pretending to write, but I can’t concentrate. My heart is beating. I have to be ready to counter whatever vitriol comes out of this old woman’s mouth next. I know how to be defensive. This is my favorite. This is my least favorite.
She takes in a breath.
“Clearly you wanted me for something or I wouldn’t be here,” she says, her words like little balls of dough.
“I thought you were going to be nicer; that’s what grandma said. She said you were nice,” I say to her looking her in the face.
“Ooooh mijita, shit changes when you’re on the other side,” she says exhaling, slowly, pained, holding her hand below her belly button just like grandma told me she did before she passed. “Besides, memories make things look different. She was just a little girl when I died, and then my husband (she says "husband" slow, pulling her head back a little like she intended to spit the word out but instead it came out like a tendrilous snot) married that 19 year old buck-toothed bumpkin. He was a ‘man of the lord.’ Shit. I never should have let him take my religion from me. The virgen had been my god until that preacher man came through from Texas, put ideas into my husband’s head about curing the sick. I knew it was witch craft when he put his hands on my little brother’s eyes and made him see again. He was so young when he started to lose his sight. We knew it. He would walk around touching the walls to steady himself, touching around for the silverware at dinner. And then that brujo came and my husband made a pact with him. That was a devil’s pact. It wasn’t a pact with god. I know a lot more now. If I could go back I would have cut his dick off then when I had the chance.
“I used to go for a walk every afternoon, and I went out of my way to go past these two old spinsters living in a pink house. Back then I thought I was going out of my way to make them jealous of all that I had, but now I realize I was jealous of them. They would sit out front, drinking tequila, almost like they were waiting for me too. I would look over at them every time and say ‘have a blessed evening, ladies.’ They used to laugh - cackle and howl - at me. Their teeth were yellow and black from smoking cigars. I would walk past their house with all my kids, your grandma in her little buggy, with my starched collar and a self-righteous stick up my ass. They used to tell me how greedy I was for wanting to suck not only my husband’s dick but also God’s. ‘All that dick sucking is gonna get you tired, sister, gonna kill you’ they’d say. I thought they were sad and crazy, but I was the one. They were telling me about my future. A few years later my uterus got filled up with cancer. Pregnant again, but this would be for the last time.”
to be continued next week, in chapter 12