My friend Paola had an American boyfriend who paid for her new breasts. She found him through an online agency that connected gringos with Colombian women. You had to send photos before you could be called in for an interview. Paola did it for the breasts. I admit that I judged her for this. I want to say that, when I sent my photos to the agency, I was looking only for love, not surgery or money or a visa. But this is only partially true. I was twenty-five years old and had recently been abandoned by Anselmo, the married man with whom I’d been carrying on an affair since I was sixteen. He was my high-school English professor. I signed up with the agency because I hadn’t yet found any other way to forget him.
I lived with my parents. They’d been married for thirty years. They have only ever loved each other. My mother took care of elderly people in their homes. My father was a luggage porter in a hotel by the convention center. I would have had an older brother, but he died of pneumonia at two years old, before I was born, and so we never had a chance to meet. My parents kept a photo of him in every room of our apartment, so it was as if he were still with us, the perpetual baby. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I never wanted children.
My professor was afraid of impregnating me. He already had two children and insisted on using condoms. I was a virgin until him. The first time was in a supply closet at the school. He seemed so familiar with the space that I wondered if he’d done it like this before, with someone else. He was not a young professor, the kind you see in films about such affairs. He was near fifty at the time. I was closer in age to his children than I was to him. But he was slender and soft-spoken, and he told me I was brilliant, which I knew wasn’t true.
He led a school trip to Cali, and I begged my parents for permission to go. They could not afford the fees, so he paid for me and I told my parents that I’d received a scholarship. I snuck out of the dormitory room I shared with two other girls and went to his room. I became pregnant on that trip, but he made me drink enormous amounts of aguardiente until I threw up and blacked out, and the next day I bled and bled and bled. It never happened again.
At the agency interview the woman in charge asked what I was looking for in a man. I said he should be kind and patient and sensitive. She laughed a little. I added that he should have a good job and own a house and never have been married before. She nodded but asked if I was flexible about the never-having-been-married-before part. I said I was. She asked if I would be willing to move overseas for marriage. I said yes, though I hadn’t really considered this. It would mean leaving my job. I was a cashier in a specialty paper shop during the day. At night I sometimes helped my mother with her elderly charges.
The woman wrote down my responses. She took more photos of me and said she would put them into her “book,” though she meant her website. It was a directory where an American man who had paid a membership fee could browse women’s photos and request three introductions. I asked her if I would get to browse a directory of men, too.
“No,” she said. “All you need to do now is wait. Keep yourself pretty, your nails painted, and your hair done. And wait.”
I ’m not a pervert. I have no criminal record. I don’t smoke and only have an occasional beer, usually at my brother’s house when the family gets together. I don’t gamble, except when some guys from work organize a poker night about once a month. I don’t watch porn, only what’s on the cable channels I’m already paying for, but not real hard-core stuff, so I don’t think it counts. I go to church. Not a traditional one. This one is small, started by this hippie pastor. I like what he has to say, so I go — even to Bible study sometimes. My family are atheists. They say I joined a church looking for a woman. That’s not completely false, but I didn’t find one there.
I’ve been divorced twice. The first marriage was to my “high-school sweetheart,” as they say, but she left me after five years because she realized she prefers women. The second was to a woman I met at a bar here in Harrington. Now, she was a drinker. She fought mean and dirty, and the next morning she would want to have sex, and I’d remind her of all the unforgivable things she’d said the night before, but she never believed me. She got my house in the divorce. I bought a new one. Smaller. Far from town and the highway. I’m not cheap but I’ve always been a saver.
I manage a Home Depot, and one of our vendors told me about the agency. He’d met his wife, this beautiful Colombian girl, that way. I say girl because she was under thirty. I think that’s the appropriate cutoff. I’d just turned forty and was looking for a girl myself. I’d never dated anyone from another country. My wives, and every girlfriend in between, were all from upstate New York with backgrounds similar to mine, rooted in the area for generations. They could have been my distant cousins.
To be honest, all the girls on the website looked really similar. Dark hair, except for the ones who dyed it blond. (I’ve been married twice; I know what dyed hair looks like.) Most wore a lot of makeup, which I don’t care for. The first two girls I picked said they spoke English in their profiles, but when we got to e-mailing, I could tell it wasn’t true, and I wasn’t in the mood to be anybody’s teacher. The third girl didn’t have e-mail. “Only phone calls,” she said in her listing. On our first call I liked the sound of her voice. She put English sentences together slow and steady, like a young gymnast walking a balance beam. I liked that she was deliberate and thoughtful. It said something about her character. Maybe I was wrong, but that’s what I thought then.
I flew down to Medellín two months later. This was after we’d sent each other several photos through the agency. Nothing dirty like people do all over the Internet. Hers were posed shots, probably taken by parents or friends: Sitting on a park bench. On the sofa near a baby picture she later told me was of her dead brother. All dressed up for a cousin’s wedding. Mine were snapshots of me at barbecues at my brother’s house, fishing on the river, standing in an aisle at work. I found one of me in a suit, but my second wife was in the picture, too, so I cropped her out.
She wouldn’t meet me at the airport. She said the proper thing was for me to meet her parents first. I came to her door with a bouquet of flowers. We sat around their living room. They offered me soda and coffee and sweet things to eat. I was watching her the whole time, the way she helped her mother serve, how she touched her dad gently, like he might break. I wanted her to touch me with that kind of care. I took her to dinner that night. She wanted to go dancing, but I can’t dance, so we just sat on a ledge in the Parque Lleras with the weird trees, and she said I could kiss her before I even worked up the nerve to ask.
As a girl, my mother took classes in school to learn how to be a wife and mother and keep a home. By the time I went to school, those classes had been removed from the curriculum, though some mothers paid for their daughters to take private lessons from ladies who knew not only how to keep a home, but more refined skills like how to eat at an international table, how to serve a menu of several courses, and how to sit with your hands in your lap, knees together and ankles linked. But I didn’t go to any of those classes either.
Our wedding was a small affair. There were only my parents and a few relatives. It was a church ceremony followed by lunch in a nice restaurant — the nicest my parents could afford. No family or friends from his side came. He joked that they’d already seen him marry twice. When I didn’t laugh, he said it was too expensive for them to travel to Colombia for a wedding. He said we would have another celebration when we returned to New York, and this way I could meet everyone he loved at once. But there was no such party. And it was months after I arrived that any of them came around to meet me.
I couldn’t yet work in the U.S., and he said I would never have to, anyway. He left me in charge of the household, which meant cleaning and making lists for shopping. We went to the market together on Saturdays. I could see he didn’t yet trust me with money. He let me buy new sheets and blankets and pillows for the bedroom after I said I didn’t want to sleep on anything his former wives had slept on. There were two empty bedrooms in his house. We filled one with furniture so my parents could visit, and the other he insisted we keep empty and waiting for a baby.
It didn’t bother me to sleep with him. He was not thin or fat but somewhere in between. A soft belly. Slack muscles. But handsome in clothes. He grew a short beard sometimes. I didn’t mind when he kissed me. Sometimes he asked me to be more affectionate. He wanted kisses as soon as he walked through the door. He wanted me to respond to all his touches with desire, to take everything as an invitation and promise of sex. When I wasn’t in the mood, he would sulk. “I thought Latinas were supposed to be more understanding about these things,” he would say, and I would pretend I did not understand. We fought from time to time. His temper was not too horrible. He never hit me, though he did lock me in the house a few times while he went to work. It had not yet occurred to me to run away.
I asked for a gym membership so I could keep my figure. It became inconvenient for him to drive me there and pick me up, so he allowed me to get my driver’s license and bought me a new car, which was really an old car, but it was my car, and that was all that mattered. I would drive to the gym twenty miles away and stay there for hours, even when I wasn’t exercising, simply to see and talk to other people. Some of these people were men who smiled at me and sometimes asked me on dates even though I was wearing a wedding band and the emerald-and-diamond engagement ring he’d bought me on his third visit to Medellín. I always said no to these men, but sometimes I thought about them after I returned to the house, so far away from everything, set on a yellowed field with a view of only more yellowed fields and some pale hills in the distance. It was nothing like Medellín, so green and lush, an accordion of hills folded into one another; smells and sounds and laughter and voices everywhere.
He bought a computer for me and another for my parents so we could use video chat and avoid enormous phone bills. My parents cried each time they saw me appear on their monitor. I noticed them growing older. Every year I promised I would visit, but every year he told me it wasn’t a good time. Sometimes I spoke through the computer with Paola. She had married, too, though not to the American who’d bought her the breasts. She’d married a Colombian, something she’d vowed she would never do; she said they were all cheats and made rotten husbands. She had a daughter. Sometimes she breastfed her as we spoke. Paola asked me to tell her all about my life, and I began to cry.
“Don’t worry. It’s not so much better here,” she said as she held her baby close. “You did the smart thing in leaving.”
She never asked me if I loved him. No woman would dare ask another woman that.
Once, I cried in front of my mother and father, and for a few moments all three of us wept together into our computer screens.
My mother regained her composure first, suddenly scolding me: “Get yourself together. You’re a wife now. Don’t let him see you as weak.”
When I left my family for my new married life, my mother gave me a book of saints she’d always kept next to her bed, beside my brother’s portrait. She said it gave her comfort to read about the tragic lives of the martyrs. It made her own burdens easier to endure. Sometimes at night, as my husband sleeps, I go into the bathroom, turn on the light, sit on the cold tile floor, and read my mother’s book.
She wasn’t the most beautiful of the girls I had to pick from. I told her this once, because I thought it would make her feel special, knowing she had qualities that set her apart beyond her tits and ass and the same fat lips every one of those other girls had. She gave me this look like she could hit me over the head with a shovel and bury me herself. Everyone thinks about killing their spouse at some point though. My pastor once told me that.
She won’t come with me to my church. She says she’s got her own, which is Roman Catholic, just like the one we were married in down in her country. It was allowed, since none of my other weddings had happened in a church of any kind, and the priest was willing to overlook my divorces. Sure, it’s probably the same God and all, but Catholicism is just too much ritual for me. On Sundays I drop her off at her church and then go to worship in mine. She usually hangs around with the Spanish-speaking gang at hers for coffee and doughnuts afterward. They’re mostly local gardeners and restaurant workers, lots of women and kids. I know a couple of the guys from Home Depot. After I pick her up, we go back home and I take a nap till she puts together lunch. We’ve got an easy routine. She keeps the house nice. I like that about her.
When I proposed, after I’d gotten the all-clear from her parents, she asked me, with this worried look in her eyes, if I was sure I wasn’t burned out on love on account of my two dead marriages.
“Are you sure you can love me?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I already pretty much do.”
“What does ‘pretty much’ mean?”
Her English was good, but some things slipped past her. I had to explain it means “basically,” “more than almost,” and “already kind of.” She still didn’t get it. So I told her I loved her down to my bones, and she seemed happy with that. She’d been telling me she loved me since our second date. I wondered if it was because she didn’t understand the weight those words carried, though she insisted she did.
She was darker than any girl I’d ever been with, and her private parts were even darker. Her nipples were like pomegranates. She always looked kind of bored when we were fucking, but that usually turned me on more. I would sneak her over to my hotel while her parents thought we were at dinner or the movies, and we’d bang like a porno — I mean, the light ones I’ve seen, not the heavy stuff. Then she’d get dressed and put on her lipstick, and I’d take her home, and she’d sleep in her little-girl bed in her little-girl room.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to that girl in the hotel room, if she was ever really that girl. My parents and brother and friends all told me before I married her that girls like her know the game of how to land an American sucker. They said she’d take me for all I’m worth. There are ways around that, I said. No credit cards or property in her name, for example. She’s got her own bank account with a few hundred that I deposited as a wedding gift. I’m no fool. Not this time. But the original hotel-room sex — I thought that was real. She keeps asking to go back to Colombia to see her family, and sometimes I think we should go, just so we can stay in the same hotel again and resurrect that girl I so loved to fuck.
I’m forty-five now and have put on twenty or so pounds since our wedding. I tell her she’s to blame, since everything she cooks comes with a side of beans and rice. Maybe it’s so other women won’t look at me. She doesn’t act jealous, but I’ve always heard that Latinas are the most possessive, so maybe she just hides it well.
She doesn’t know I’ve set up two cameras in the house so that, if I feel like it, I can check in on her from work without her knowing. There’s one camera in the living room that lets me see when she’s loafing on the couch in the middle of the day, and another in the kitchen, because she’s gained a few pounds these last five years, even though she swears she hardly eats till I get home at night. I didn’t put a camera in the bedroom or the bathroom because I think that’s crossing a line. I also put spy software on her computer so I can see what she’s looking at, since I’ve learned from watching her on the cameras that she spends hours and hours on that thing. Now I know she’s not just talking to her parents or looking at the Colombian news but searching for images and information on other cities, even looking at apartment rentals and job listings in Miami and Los Angeles and New York City.
It’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with wondering about other routes your life might have taken or could still take. Nothing wrong with having fantasies. I’ve got some of my own. Real detailed ones, too. I don’t share them with her, so she doesn’t need to share hers with me. That’s why I’ve never brought it up to her. It’s not like she’s cheating. No harm done.
One of my fantasies she does know about, because I talk about it all the time, is the two of us having a baby. I ask her when she’s finally going to decide she’s ready. She made me get her birth-control pills after we got married. She says that’s why she’s gotten a little fatter, not because she’s nibbling on coffeecake at two in the afternoon while watching Spanish courtroom shows. Sometimes I see her pudge and pretend she’s pregnant, that a baby is coming, and sometimes I think about throwing out her pills and telling her, “That’s it! Done! No more pills!” But that wouldn’t be right.
My daughter and I share a birthday, thirty-five years apart. When I was pregnant with her, I often thought of the baby I might have had with Anselmo, my high-school English professor. That child would have been fifteen. I think of him as a boy, lost to heaven like my brother. The year I turned thirty-two, my husband said his insurance would no longer pay for my birth-control pills. To pay for them ourselves would cost a fortune, he said. I knew he refused to wear condoms, so I offered to have my tubes tied.
He looked horrified. “What’s wrong with you?”
I didn’t answer.
But I didn’t become pregnant, no matter how often he worked for it, finding energy I never knew he had.
It was more than a year before there were signs of her life in me. He was full of joy, and soon I was, too, because I thought of this baby as all mine.
I had a premonition that he would leave me. Maybe it wasn’t a premonition but a suspicion. And maybe it was partly my doing, because in many ways I thought I might be driving him to leave. I did not love him. Of this I was certain. I had loved him once, during our very first months together, but I think this was because I knew it would make him want me. Love is magnetic that way. My love for Anselmo had kept him gravitating back to me for seven years, even when he tried to tear himself from me because, he said, I was ruining his life.
Perhaps my love for Anselmo has never been undone, and this is why I will never love my husband. He is good to me. He has chosen me over his family. I can see his mother is envious. I suspect she is partly to blame for the end of his other marriages. The few times she came over, when our marriage was still new, she followed me around the house like a hungry hyena, waiting for me to do something wrong. When I cooked, she claimed to get food poisoning. She picked at my husband’s shirts and trousers and criticized the way I ironed them. She opened the refrigerator and cabinets and complained about the quality of the products I bought.
I heard her tell my husband’s brother she couldn’t understand how her son had married an “animal” like me. I told this to my husband, and he confronted her. She denied it, of course, calling me a liar — then asked why he’d been so desperate to find a woman that he’d gone to a Third World country and married a prostitute. This was enough for my husband. He showed his parents and his brother the door, and I never saw them again, though I suspect he still visits them on his own sometimes.
The prostitute thing stuck with him, though. He asked me once — late at night in bed, when our heads were close on the pillows, though mine was turned to the window — if I had ever slept with a man for money.
“No,” I said. “Have you?”
He laughed. “No.” Then he said, “But would you?”
“No,” I said again. “Would you?”
He didn’t answer, and I pretended to fall asleep.
I wanted my parents to come stay with us for the birth of our baby, but he said we couldn’t afford it. We had already gone to visit them last year and the year before that, and we had spent a lot of money setting up the nursery with new furniture and all the baby equipment he was sure we needed. When it was time, he came into the delivery room and held my hand, but when he tried to kiss me, I screamed into his face in pain. I didn’t want him to watch the baby come out. I made him promise to stay north of my spread knees. I didn’t want him to see the tearing of my flesh. I couldn’t think of anything more intimate.
When we brought our daughter home, he held her so I could sleep and brought her to me when she cried so I could feed her. He was peaceful and patient and kind and cared for me as I rested. He took time off work to stay with me. One afternoon I awoke from a nap and saw my parents standing over me. I thought it was a dream. They sat beside me on the mattress and hugged me the way they would when they came to say good night to me in my bedroom back in Medellín, in the only home I’d ever known until this one.
My husband brought the baby from her room and placed her in my arms, and I placed her in my mother’s arms, and then she placed the baby in my father’s arms, and we stayed together, passing the baby among us while my husband watched, still and quiet, and I was grateful to him for letting us be. I think now that I have never loved him more than I did in that moment.
I ’m not going to lie. I’ve thought about leaving her. For a few years I thought she couldn’t have a baby, and that caused me to wonder what I’d loved about her in the first place. Some days, when life became even more ordinary than usual, I started thinking maybe it wasn’t too late for me, and I could divorce her and marry someone else. There are people who marry four or five times. It’s not a scandal. I could go back to the same agency and find another young lady the same way I found her. She turned out to be trustworthy. She never even lifted a twenty from my wallet or pocketed the bills I left around the house as a test. She’s honorable. Surely there had to be more women like her.
But then she got pregnant. I think I worked harder at it than her. I mean, I was near fifty. It took all I had to hammer into her whatever I had left. But she carried the baby those nine months, so in the end we are more than even. She’s a good mother. It’s like she gave birth to her best friend. She whispers all day in that little baby’s ear like she’s telling her all the secrets of her life, and maybe she is. She insists on speaking Spanish to her, and I think that’s a good thing. It will serve our daughter well when she joins the workforce. God knows the few phrases I’ve learned have helped me on the job. My wife wants our daughter to be able to talk to her grandparents. She talks about taking our child to spend summers down in Colombia. She doesn’t know it yet, but the answer is: Over my dead body.
We had a christening. By then, her parents had come and gone twice: once on my dime, once on theirs. She insisted we invite my family to the ceremony, so I did, but nobody showed up. I stopped by my brother’s house to ask him what the fuck, and he spoke on his and our parents’ behalf, saying they weren’t interested in having a relationship with our child. They said my wife had never taken the time to get to know them, that she just wanted me all to herself.
“Isn’t that how marriage is supposed to be?” I asked my brother.
“You should know,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get along with your fourth wife better.”
I’ve never told my wife about these interactions. She doesn’t need to know. It’s hard enough for her to deal with people in town looking at us funny, and when she gets pulled over by a cop for going over the speed limit on the highway, or even for no reason at all, they always ask her for her green card. She’s a citizen now. Her English, as she would tell you, is “pretty much” perfect. Still, when she goes out with the baby in the stroller, she’s regularly mistaken for the nanny — as if we could afford one. My wife mutters in Spanish after these incidents. I can make out a few words, such as “rosado como un marrano” — pink like a pig. I’m pretty sure she’s talking about whatever white person offended her that day, and I hope to God it’s not me.
I was certain she was going to fall into some kind of depression after the baby was born and her parents had gone home and I was back at work and she was alone in our house with a crying, hungry, fussy child on her hands. She can be an angel, our baby girl, but she’s also got a devil in her and pipes that turn our house into a cathedral of screams no matter the many ways we try to soothe her.
She’s been baptized now in both our churches, so I’m sure she’s not cursed or possessed and is just being a normal, natural baby. I’m getting older now, and maybe all of this is harder on me than I want to admit.
I’m still pushing for a second kid. I’ll take another daughter, no complaints, but every man wants a son. My wife sometimes says she wouldn’t know what to do with a son. She says men are born to wound. I don’t know how to take comments like that, so I keep quiet. Then, after a good, long block of silence, I go over and tell her she will be a fantastic mother to whatever kid shows up in her womb, and she sort of smiles, and I kiss her face and her hair and finally her lips, and she lets me.
All the pigeons had died. I had taken my daughter to the Parque Lleras in Medellín, where I used to go with her father, where I went with Paola and with Anselmo when we were still pretending to be only teacher and student, practicing English over an ice cream. At the park my daughter and I saw feathers all over the ground but no birds, and no old people with little sacks of birdseed waiting for a flock to feed. I asked a woman on another bench where all the birds had gone, and she explained that it was a local tragedy: the caretakers had used a new kind of fertilizer on the gardens, and the poisonous runoff had killed all the birds.
My daughter’s Spanish wasn’t fluid enough to catch everything I’d been told. So she asked me again where all the birds were, and I found myself lying to her, saying they’d gone on vacation to visit their grandparents, just like we’d left our home in New York to come to Colombia so she could see her abuelos. My daughter accepted this. I felt ashamed for taking advantage of her gullibility.
We had flown down to Medellín together a few days earlier. It was my daughter’s first trip, and I’d wanted to show off my country, prove it could compete with the only one she knew. She had a terrible attachment to that house surrounded by fields. Whenever we went beyond the town limits, she cried to go home. She wasn’t even impressed by the beach, or the mountains, or Niagara Falls. She only wanted to be in that stupid house. I’d been bragging to her all her life about Medellín’s permanent sunshine, the rivers of flowers, the sweet air and delicious food. The last time I’d tried so hard to seduce someone was when I’d met her father.
When he arrived to meet us two weeks later, my husband insisted we leave our daughter with my parents and stay in a hotel. He said we needed the time alone together. He said it could be like the honeymoon we’d never taken, since he’d spent all his money on his trips recruiting me to be his wife. In the hotel room we made love several times, though my husband seemed more tired than usual. My mother had warned me a man ages rapidly after age fifty, and this seemed to be the case for my husband, but I said nothing, not wanting to make him feel bad.
He was especially quiet. I wondered if he was keeping something from me. I had no reason to suspect another woman, but I began to regret leaving him alone in New York. Then I remembered I wasn’t even sure I loved my husband most of the time, and this made me think of Anselmo.
As soon as my husband’s plane was in the sky, headed back home, I left my daughter with my mother and told her I was going to the store. I found a quiet alleyway between two buildings and called the only number I had for Anselmo, the one I’d memorized years ago and had dialed many times since from the U.S., only to hang up before the first ring. This time I waited. I heard his voice, sounding so much older.
I asked him to meet me at the same hotel where I’d been with my husband. We got a room together, which I paid for in cash. For a while we only watched each other. He’d heard I’d married an American and moved to New York. I told him I had a daughter. His children were grown. He was a grandfather. We kissed, then started to remove our clothes, but something stopped me. I put my clothes back on and told him I had to get home to my family.
I gave up smoking twenty years ago, mostly because they made a rule against it at work and I got sick of having to stand out in the cold just to light up. I’ve always been in good health. Never a trace of a smoker’s cough. I thought my aches and pains were just symptoms of old age. Arthritis runs in my family. The last thing on my mind was cancer.
They said it started in the lungs, maybe from the smoking way back when. Or maybe it’s all the chemicals and crap I’m exposed to at my job, or the dust and paint fumes I breathed when I was younger and worked construction, before all the current safety rules about masks. The doctor said there’s no point looking for the cause when it’s already moved well past my lungs and settled into my bones. Stage IV. Bad, to be sure, but not necessarily lethal.
They put me on an aggressive four-week chemo regimen, followed by four weeks off, then another four weeks on. The doctor had to disclose that sometimes people don’t even make it through the treatment, but he said my odds were good. And miracles do happen. Everyone knows that. My wife and I have people in both our churches praying for me.
Our daughter is in school already, so my wife can take me for my treatments and get me home in time for the school-bus drop-off. There’s not much for her to do at the treatment center but sit with me and hold my hand. Even that hurts sometimes. Overnight my voice became this faint, scratchy croak. It hurts to talk. So my wife does the talking for both of us. She makes plans for trips we can take when I’m better. Her new thing is trying to convince me to buy a house for her parents in Medellín, someplace we can retire to when we’re older. I tell her yes, anything she wants.
I’m glad I let her get a driver’s license back when I first brought her to this country. She’s been saving my life. She’s the one who told my family I was ill. If it were up to me, I’d have left them in the dark. And if I’d gone ahead and died, I’d have enjoyed watching their guilt and grief from above. But my wife went behind my back and told them to come over, so I was stuck on the sofa, with a puke bucket next to me, watching my wet-eyed mother kneel beside me like I was already half dead. She wasn’t apologizing for anything. Instead she acted like she was the one forgiving me for being sick. Then she told my wife to make us some tea, and I said, “Jesus Christ, Ma, she’s not the goddamn maid!”
They were strangers to our daughter, and I didn’t make any effort to warm things up between them when they were introduced. My mother told our daughter she was her grandmother, and our daughter responded that her grandmother was in Colombia, and my mother looked kind of devastated, but I was not at all sad for her. My brother just watched the whole scene: me sick as shit, and this strange reunion, his arms like logs crossed against his chest, his mouth screwed tight like an anus.
“Fuck that guy,” I told my wife as soon as he was gone. “Fuck them all.”
My wife said the medications were probably making me extra cranky. Our daughter was playing with her dolls on the floor beside the sofa. Every now and then I’d feel a doll walking up my leg. I dozed off, and when I woke up, there were dolls and stuffed animals all over me, and my daughter was at my side, watching me.
“Are you and your friends all here for my funeral?”
“No, Daddy. We’re here for your birthday party.”
And then I saw my wife coming through the archway from the kitchen, balancing a cake on a tray, candles lit, tiny orange flames swaying like feathers plucked from some poor dead tropical bird.
They were singing “Happy Birthday” and “Cumpleaños Feliz.” My wife. My daughter.
“I’m so happy,” I told them, my eyes misty as my wife set the cake on the coffee table and helped me sit up, and the dolls and stuffed animals tumbled onto the sofa cushions beside me.
My daughter climbed into my lap. “Con cuidado,” her mother told her. “Be careful with your daddy.”
“I’m so happy,” I said again and again, but they were singing once more and couldn’t hear me.