by MD Maurice
1st Place in the SM Switch It up Round & Jan 2012 Special Round Monthly Winner
|Full Word Count: 3206
The call comes on what would have otherwise been a normal Tuesday afternoon. I walk through the door to find my wife Sarah in the kitchen, our son Ryder perched high on her hip. She has the phone pressed between her shoulder and her ear and she is nodding wordlessly. I reach to take Ryder but she pivots away, handing me the phone and mouthing "your mother...".
"Alejandro Rafael?" My mother asks, her voice sounds strained.
"Me Escuchas?" she asks, and I hear clearly the tremor in her words.
"Ponchito?" She says louder and her use of my childhood nickname has all my internal alarm bells ringing. I grab a chair and sit, waiting for the bad news.
"Senior Varga...he is muerto, mi hjio. Dead."
The jolt I had prepared my body for never comes. This news is sad but the death of our long time family friend does not begin touch the well of grief I have known. Though the news of his passing fails to evoke one memory of the man, I am suddenly assailed by memories of his daughter, Maria Elena. I push these thoughts aside, realizing that my mother is sobbing softly.
"Mama... por favor, calmante..." my Spanish sounds rusty, oddly foreign in my mouth. I do not often speak in my native tongue.
"Alejandro, will you come home?" she asks, switching over to heavily accented English. I understand she makes this effort so it will be harder for me to deny her request.
I have not set foot in my parent's home in Cuernavaca, Mexico in almost 11 years, not since that summer, my last summer with Maria Elena. I frantically search for some viable excuse but I know I will go. At that moment I am already making mental notes about which patients will need to be rescheduled and which meetings I will be forced to postpone. My mother needs her son. I tell her I will leave as soon as I can. I hang up and Sarah pounces.
"Alex? What's happened? Your Mom sounded so upset. "
"An old friend had a heart attack. It happened in their yard, she's distraught, wants me to come home for the service. They were very close."
I start for the bedroom, tugging my tie free, feeling the weight of the news bearing down on me and the memories surging forward.
Sarah follows me, prying for details but she catches sight of my face and something she sees there makes her back off.
"Why don't you go take a shower Alex? We'll talk about it after dinner, " and with that my wife is gone and I am alone in the darkening shadows of my bedroom.
The memories are tumbling over one another in my mind, each one fighting for supremacy until at last I am overrun. They drive me to my knees in the hot spray of the shower, force their way inside, assaulting all my senses and I am powerless to prevent their intrusion.
The first time Maria Elena came to Mexico, she could have been no more than fifteen months old. Her father Jose Luis had brought his baby girl to the big cement and stone house on Calle Primavera to meet her grandparents. The Vargas owned the big ceramic factory that joined both our houses. My father ran the factory for them and my mother was their housekeeper. The residences also shared a gated, earth and stone courtyard. There is a picture that I have seen, taken that first day, of the Maria Elena and I. We are both wearing only diapers, sitting side by side on the grass in that courtyard. It is clear, even in this early, sepia-colored image, that Maria Elena is a force of nature. Her bright, wide eyes engage the camera while I shrink from the attention, hiding behind my mop of unruly black curls.
Maria Elena's father left home in his late twenties to make a life on the ranches and farms of the borderlands. He met Maria Elena's Irish-American mother somewhere along the way and their brief union resulted in the child that my father would one day aptly nickname, "la tormenta". She would come three months out of every year, in the summer, to visit her father's childhood home in the hills of Cuernavaca where the paved streets of the urban center gave way to ones made of dirt and stone and the colorful blooms of bugambilias hung heavy along the walls.
For those first years we played and fought as growing children do, confined as we were, to the narrow courtyard and rooms of our houses. As we grew older and bolder, our unsupervised explorations took us through the alleyways and abandoned yards adjacent to our properties as we hunted for fat scorpions to race. We would spy on our old neighbor Senora Pena, who it was rumored often cleaned her house in the nude. In the heat of the afternoon, we would play hide and seek in the cool shadows of the ceramic factory until the workers kicked us out. When the weather grew unbearably hot, our fathers would fill an wide old steel tub from the hose and we would splash and play until the water grew lukewarm and muddy. These were sweet afternoons when Maria Elena's squeals of laughter were like balm on the raw soul of a lonely boy. Some days Senior Varga would take us down to the town pool. Maria Elena liked to float on her back in the cloudy water, the sun glistening off her caramel-colored skin, her wild mane of soft red curls flowing out behind her like a curtain of crimson.
Maria Elena acted like a boy herself most time. She was loud, burped and cursed with unbridled zeal and seemed determined to disobey just about everything the adults said. Her green eyes sparkled with rebellion. She would distract me from one chore or another and drag me off on some adventure that always ended with at least one of use getting punished. Though she was fluent in Spanish, she and I only spoke in English, understanding that this made it harder for the adults to eavesdrop on our hushed conversations and our secret plans. In those days, thankfully, there wasn't much real danger we could encounter in our sheltered world. The crime and corruption that had begun to devour the country had yet to infect our corner of the world, high in those rustic hills.
As we grew, the months between Maria Elena's visits became increasingly unbearable. When the rains ended, I would rush home each day and throw the gate open, hoping to see her father's beaten grey SUV in the drive. One day, on the summer we would both turn eleven, Maria Elena was waiting for me at the bottom of Calle Primavera. I saw her through the window of the ancient ruta as it bounced and squealed to a stop. Her red locks seemed to capture the blazing sun itself. It had looked to me for a moment that her head had caught fire and the flames were licking down her back and tanned shoulders. This day she wasn't wearing her cutoffs and torn tee-shirt but a plaid sundress and bright white sandals. I told her she looked pretty and was rewarded for my candor with a punch on my arm. We walked up to our houses in silence, all the while I was sneaking sideways glances at my friend's new dress and the way it hugged her budding curves.
That summer our play took on decidedly different undertones. Maria Elena became increasingly frustrated with the rules levied against us by the adults. She seized upon every opportunity to break away from their watchful gazes. One afternoon she dragged me up onto the flat roof of the factory and together we discovered a magic world. You could see for miles from the rooftop. You could watch the sun slowly melting while the music and noise drifted up from the valley below. Here you could audit life, from the heated words of a young couple having their first row, to the soft and sweet chanting of the elderly man three houses down. One night we laughed into our fists as we listened to the grunts and moans of young couple who were making out in one of the narrow alleyways below us. Maria Elena rolled her eyes in mock disgust. The next day during our game of tag, I pursued her on pumping legs into the farthest corner of the factory. There, amid the discarded molds and decades of dust, she abruptly stopped and pressed her lips to mine in the gloom.
That unexpected contact registered in my young body as a cataclysmic event. My skin was suddenly awash with prickling red bumps and my loins surged with a unfamiliar ache. The next morning I awoke, hard and heated. When she left that year, Maria Elena hugged me close and whispered that she would miss me. The dreams began almost that very night, dreams that would leave me festering and sticky in the morning light.
My mother eyed me suspiciously when the letters began arriving, pink envelopes scented like gardenias that I would snatch greedily from her hands. I would take her letters to the roof, lie on my back and read them. They would always begin, "My Sweet Raffy.." Maria Elena refused to call me Ponchito. She once said it was "a stupid name, more suited for a baby and made me sound like a snack made from pork fat." Her letters were always long and rambling accounts of her days in school and on the ranch. Those letters, read and re-read in the glow of the setting sun, filled the long hours until she came back.
Then came that empty, endless summer when she did not visit. Senior Varga had gotten sick, too sick to make the trip that year. That summer her letters came with more frequency and were filled with regret and angst. Her prose was soaked in loneliness. I longed for her in a way that was new and acutely painful. Then, shortly before Christmas, I came home to find her waiting for me.
I rushed through the gate, disbelieving the vision before me was really my Maria Elena. She had grown nearly four inches taller than the last time I had seen her and her hair, still that beautiful red mane, was tied back from her face with a pale blue ribbon that matched her dress. When she turned to greet me, her lips were wet with gloss and I noticed she was wearing makeup that brought a cheerful flush to her cheeks. Maria Elena embraced me and I felt the soft mounds of her breasts rise against me. It took an effort to fight the urge to kiss her mouth.
That night our families joined others in the neighborhood procession for the Posada. We moved in groups by candlelight visiting the doorsteps to ask for shelter just as Mary and Joseph did on the night the Christ child was born. I recited the words of the Posada but I was distracted by the way the candlelight lit Marie Elena's lovely features. Later, after the feasting and pinatas and the dancing, when the adults sat slowing getting drunk and reminiscing, she reached under the table and clasped my hand in hers. So began a sweet courtship that would continue for a few years, interrupted but not diminished by the months when Marie Elena would leave Cuernavaca for the wide fields of her Texan ranch.
That last summer, we discovered that our love had bloomed with the same fragrant promise as the buglimas that covered Cuernavaca. Senior Varga and his parents decided to close the ceramic factory for good. It was agreed that my father would stay on as caretaker and my mother as housekeeper to the aging couple. Maria Elena's father took everyone out that day for Botanas, a festive meal consisting of an endless supply of small plates and treats, tequila and dancing. I watched my parents dancing together. I was suddenly filled with dreams of dancing that way one day with Maria Elena, of being that much in love that we could effortlessly anticipate each others movements. I imagined her staring up at me, in the way my mother did to my father, singing the words to the old ballads as we swayed and twirled.
I caught Maria Elena watching them too and when our eyes met across the table, there was an unmistakable question both forged and answered in the smoldering silence between us. Later, when we returned home, the adults still singing and flush with drink, never noticed that we slipped away in the night.
The rooftop was lite by moonlight. The two of us found a shadowed corner where the linens strung up on the clothesline shielded us from sight. Maria Elena's eyes glowed deep emerald as she pulled me close and kissed me, the soft darting of her tongue instantly igniting a fire in my gut. Her kisses grew more fervent and I heard myself panting in ragged gasps. I explored her body at long last, like a starved man would handle sweet, ripe fruit. She helped me move aside clothing to find flesh that was warm and trembling. In between kisses I professed my love and I felt her lips curl into a wide smile under my mouth.
"I know Raffy. I love you too." she whispered back.
She pulled away from me then, took a step back and tugged her dress over her head in one smooth motion. There she was, standing before me, as magnificent a creature as I would ever lay eyes on. Her skin was flawless, shimmering under the stars. Her breasts, high and tight, were two perfect mounds that fit into my palms as if they were designed for just that purpose. I gazed at her, heaving with a desire. When I took her in my arms, her bare skin was warm and moist under my touch. I cupped her breasts, coaxing the delicate pink nubs to hardened tips with my thumbs. I sank to my knees on the concrete, rubbing her flat, smooth stomach with my cheek, running tentatively fingers up her between her thighs. I pulled her down to me taking first one nipple and then the other into my mouth, flicking the hardness with my tongue, driven by some magical instinct I never anticipated. Fueled by the sensual arch of her body and her soft keening, I eased her onto her back on the blanket. I covered her body with my own, careful not to crush her but terribly aroused by the sensation of her body pinned beneath mine. I could smell the new and wondrous scent of her arousal. My erection strained against my pants and when she finally freed it and wrapped her hand around me, I had to bite back my own scream of pleasure. Maria Elena spread her legs and guided me to just outside her downy slit.
"Here," she whispered.
I hesitated only a moment before pressing inside. Startled by her sharp intake of breath, I immediately withdrew in alarm.
"No, its okay Raffy." my lover assured me in breathless whispers.
I entered her again, this time sinking deeper into the glorious mystery of her warm, wet folds. We rocked into each other at an awkward pace until we finally found the right rhythm. Maria Elena's moans turned quickly to primitive grunts and squeals that were swallowed the by music drifting up from the valley below. I felt her nails bite into the tender flesh of my back and buttocks and her aggression made me drive into her with even more lust and ferocity. Her body began to vibrate beneath me, her sex squeezing me so tightly that my head began to throb. I felt my own release unfurling in my stomach, rushing to meet Maria Elena's. I gripped the gentle globes of her buttocks and plunged those few precious inches deeper, feeling my seeds pumping into her most sacred spot as the pleasure overcame me.
We lay sated in our youthful afterglow, our naked bodies still entwined, the heat emanating off us in waves you could almost see in the dark. We dressed slowly, distracted by the wonder that was our own newly discovered sexuality. I moaned with a renewed and powerful need as Maria Elena pulled her dress back down over her perfect breasts. I fondled their sweet plumpness through the thin fabric, aching to have her again. I pleaded with her, kissed and caressed her like a mad man. I wore her resistance down until she was once again naked and spread before me. We buried our moans in each others necks and whispered our ardent promises until the sky grew lighter and the fear of discovery outweighed our desire. We spent the remaining weeks of that summer planning our lives together and making love wherever and whenever the opportunity arose. It was the best summer of my life, the one that would define my definitions of love and of lust. It would leave its indelible mark on me always, in a large part, shaping the man I would become.
That summer was the last I would share with Maria Elena. Three months after returning to Texas, she would be struck by a drunk driver and killed walking home from the library. It took a full week for my mother to find the words to tell me the news. When she finally did, she wept with me for hours, rocking me against her as she did when I was very young. The loss of Maria Elena was like a plague that swept through our houses, dosing the light and leaving a gray pallor that settled over everything in its wake. Her father returned to his parent's home for good, finding nothing more to keep him away now that his only child was in the ground. He returned a shell of a man, shriveled and defeated, his grief etched over his features like a mask he could never remove.
It was with a similar determination that I left Mexico. In some strange way, knowing Maria Elena was never coming back there, made it less my home. I threw myself into forging a life but would forever haunted by the specter of my Maria Elena. There were days I swore I saw her, a fleeting glimpse of flowing red hair, a smooth shoulder, heard her high-pitched giggle. There were still nights when I dreamed of her caramel body, glistening in the moonlight.
I pull myself free of the undertow of memories realizing I have been standing in the shower for far too long. It is a wonder my wife hasn't come in search of me. I think of poor Senior Varga and of how his broken heart must have finally given out. I am anxious about returning to Mexico. I think about that rooftop where it all began for me and I can not help but wonder what lovely phantoms I may encounter when I return to that place again.
Word Count: 3189