Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo
She pushes and pushes and pushes and nags and nags and nags, and her voice is shrill like the whistles of irate policemen saying stop/obey, stop/obey. The glass shatters and I sit before a lighted cosmetic mirror, pushing my hands against the flesh of my face, pressing to release trapped noises from beneath my pores, and she yells hitmemotherfucker, then cries for help, when he does.
Cluttered untidy in her anxiety, porous with nicotine. Her flesh, not far older than mine, puffed and stained with bitterness and regret. She reminds me, often, that she is good to me.
1968: straight-legged wool slacks, plaid rust-brown, tight and coarse against a bar-stool. She is smoking non-menthol tobacco and drinking gin; gold frost lip-prints tell where her mouth has been. The diet-pill frenzy in her body starts at her wriggling ankles, and ends at her teased and sprayed head. Perhaps she is pretty in this half-light: she is 26 and thin, and she is lonely. This is an attractive look, for a woman in a bar. She moves to the pool table, to stand at her lover's side. He is married and fifteen years her senior. He is playing in a tournament, for great piles of money. He rubs the cube of chalk in hard, slow circles against the tip of his stick. Snatches at her breast, grinning. A blue smear across her sweater.
The children are at home with anyone; it doesn't matter: teenagers who smoke pot and play with the doll sets, mocking; a woman who punishes them hysterically for dressing up in sheets and pretending to be the Holy Ghost; a man who pretties them both with ladies clothing and cosmetics, lighting their cigarettes. The girl (myself) is eight years old; her brother is six. They both make a lot of trouble, and everyone hopes they'll grow out of it. They don't.
The tournament is over; the lover has won. He takes his trophy, and his woman, to his car.
When the children are a little older, the woman moves them from the endless tiny apartments to a real house, the man's house. The children are apprehensive. They think of the nights he's pulled them from bed and dragged them through a kitchen peppered with broken glass. They remember the rage in his red face the time he thrust a series of polaroids at them, saying "Who's this? Is this your mommy? Who's this?" Her lines and edges. We don't know the words. And now she is pressed and bleeding against a blank tile wall, shaking her head with her hair knotting, saying nonononononono.
Or his foot on the dog in the yard. Thick white hands making a fist around its throat, dragging it back to a corner by the fence, forcing it into the air again. The girl stands at the kitchen sink, watching the dog arcing across the yard, hitting the ground with a high-pitched whimper. Him, kicking and throttling until it dies.
Itching black and brown boys sit on the empty hill next door, smoking pipes, joints, sherms. He plants thin trees in the hard dirt, wooden steps and signs. They keep coming. Boys knowing they will be men: walking straight, clicking heels on asphalt, running their games. The females hardly matter: we are kitchen whores, mattress appliances, filthy plumbing dug in to receive the waste of the streets.
You're such a big man, she taunts him, Big white man. Come on: hit a woman. Show the kids what you've got. Twist her arms and throat. Cut her with a knife. Kick her on the floor. Use fist on face, on eyes. If the boy comes, break him quickly; if the girl comes, make it a slow and dirty thing.
This house had stairs and a yard and televisions and we each had a room of our own. Christmas came down from the attic: a big plastic tree vomiting gifts and gifts. Mami often reminds me that we never wanted for anything.
He eats in the living room; the children in the dining room; she eats standing while she cooks or washes dishes. He calls for a beer and she jumps for the dish-towel, wiping the top of the can before she lifts the ring for him. He threw her down the stairs, once, because she didn't match his socks by color. He throws my brother down the stairs all the time. I can make him stop now; he won't hurt me. If he's angry, or just in a bad mood, he lines us up in front of the fireplace, hands behind our backs, and makes us wait for punishment. He just sits there and eats; acts like we're not there. This can go on for hours. My brother stares at the ground, trembling. I stare at him, watch him ignore me. Glare at him pitifully, like he's a tired, broken dog I know will die someday.
The girl runs the street. Leaves by the side door and hides in the closets of friends, when the police come for her. Sleeps in laundromats and washes her hair in gas station bathroom sinks. Long brown hair, green eyes. Men find her attractive. She stands on corners and puts out her thumb, and they take her away, away. Feed her sweet smoke and chemical candy, for coating her with their stickiness.
Do you want a daddy? Do you want a daddy? He slides up into me and says all my names, crooning against comfort, whispering for relief. Here. Here. Now you're my baby; you're my girl. Now. I watch myself in the mirror, the shining on my thighs. Slick. He pulls out. You're not just the babysitter, he says, smiling. We're like family. She is there with me then, in the open kitchen. Lights a ring under the kettle and rubs her hands on mine. Everything's going to be all right. The words. No one knows but you, for the secrets, and I couldn't make it without you, for the lies. When they are a couple, she smiles beside him, and he is clean. He edges the zipper up the back of her dress. They give me the baby, then they leave. Later, he will give me ten dollars.
Absence with men wearing shoes, wearing boots sneakers sandals shirts sweaters trousers jeans neckties neckchains wristwatches tattoos and fitting cars around themselves like condoms. She is silent, numb, ticket-punching needles into her arms, riding long white lines in a single breath. She relies on distance.
Mama's face is a dustrag; her body is a sponge. Hands are abrasive cleansers. At least I'm not cleaning toilets.
One of them is sixteen; the rest look twenty-two. I am far from legal. We provide easy decoration in rooms like this: girls, jacuzzi, wet-bar. Harper is almost young as I am, strung out longer but still pretty. The men like to take her, but think she talks too much. Harper sits alone on the floor under a yellow lamp, slicing pieces of her hair with a razor blade. Says: I am forever punishing myself. She slides the metal inside the length of her thigh, scratching out a little blood. I keep changing music. No one is listening.
They say this is not a lock-up, then they take away my clothes and cigarettes. The glazed linoleum squeals beneath rubber soles, and I wish to fall through the hard shine and smash the strength of my bones against its flatness. The girl, Cindy, who shares my room, doesn't want her parents to visit. Her father rapes her all the time, at home, and Cindy can't stop bleeding. Her parents come and laugh at her. Her father says: come on baby, you know you love it; you know you do. Cindy's vomiting and I hold her head, stroking. We rock back and forth, back and forth, holding on tight. Afraid that one of us will smash through the glass, the iron, the brick, if we let go. Or afraid that we will not.
I am zero. I am nothing. But I can play the game. No one can make me cry. I smooth into the bedclothes, flatten out the corners. My hands are something small. No one can make me cry.
"Isolated Instances: First Fiction" © 1990, 1995 by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo. Portions of this text originally appeared, in an earlier version, in Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldúa. SF: Aunt Lute, 1990. Original Photo, this page, © 1995 by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo.