“Look. I don’t care about the open marriage thing. This has to be our last time.”
Carmen leaned on her elbows, came up on palms, extended her back until it made an inhuman arc over the rickety mattress. The rest of the studio apartment was, thankfully, less dingy.
Then, she sang to her lover, “Vale más un buen amor, que un costillon de oro…”
Flavio inhaled more than half an amber cigarette. “Oh God.”
“Vale más, un buen amor, por eso, eres, mi tesoro. Olvidemos el pasado, y lo que–”
“Yes, yes, and forget what the other people say about our love–except, that what we have is so very far away from lo que canta Vicente. Carmen, you watch too much goddamn television. And don’t sing at me, like some mariachi under my window. I know you have other boyfriends. Then yes, a husband.”
“You don’t like Vicente Fernandez? Flavio, did you forget you are supposed to be my Juan? El fuego en la sangre. Or, are you suddenly Catholic again?”
“Don’t make fun of me, when I’m worried about you. And it’s not just my faith. There’s this other thing, mi abuelita, she used to tell me. I swear that it’s real. Did you know that if you don’t use your humanity, Carmen, you could lose it? And after the way you bit me last night…”
“Lose it where? On the floor, out the window? With ideas like that, shouldn’t you be on a street corner, selling oranges?”
“You are so vicious, y racista, against your own. Do you see? Already losing yourself. But this isn’t just about you. Forget the devil y los pecados. I don’t want to know, querida, what is really deep down inside of me if I keep going on like this.” Flavio crossed his arms. “Besides, it’s not a Mexican saying. My grandmother was just a little crazy. But sharp also, like when you cut a carrot wrong and take off a finger.”
“Open marriage is not some vegetable, Flavio, and I’m not crazy. Is that what you think of me, because then I don’t have to come back here, ever–” Carmen flashed a middle finger. Flavio seized her slender wrist. “Please, please don’t put me out, Flavio. You begged me to take care of my marriage, and I then did–”
“Pero, cuantos veces me lo decías, con rabia! Un triángulo no es lo que quiero–”
“Harmon doesn’t have your real name, he doesn’t have anything. He and I both agreed that an open marriage is best. Things are going to be better now, I promise. Now, do you still think my husband is going to come after you?” she yawned.
As it often is with people, her little roar demanded another. Carmen’s yawn involved curling tongue to grace mouth-roof, like some lioness. Then, she rolled onto her back and began to dress. Beyond the apartment window, Orlando’s midday rain began. Hard rice being poured out everywhere.
“Look, Flavio, I’ll go if you want. You can go to church today, like you planned, and I will just spend the boring holiday with my stupid husband… hijo de puta.”
“I said, ayudame. Por. Favor. And the tie better not be in a bow. Armani is meant to be sophisticated.” Flavio sighed and undid one fast, puffy ribbon, and then re-tied long straps of Carmen’s dress into a loose knot.
“Because I date you, and I am addicted to you, I know the difference between the two. Which is sad for a man. One is for weddings and babies and my little sisters–ay, porque pienso en familia ahorita? The other way is more like a noose, isn’t it?”
Carmen leaned in to kiss goodbye, snapped teeth at Flavio instead, then left.
Mrs. Carmen Oliva Davis was last seen wearing a sundress on the previous evening. Bright yellows and oranges muted to fiery red hues. Actual flames burning up the flowers. Then charred black, along both sides of the A-line. Silk?
Harmon sat alone by the edge of the swimming pool in his backyard. Today, he was an unshaven, slumped over brute. At his best, Harmon usually enjoyed a bemused sneer through granite features, like some alpha wolf.
His wife would wear nothing less than silk. Yes, and there were high-heeled open-toed shoes too, officer, a classy nude color that did not distract from the already flamboyant dress. It went past her knees, but the drop of the neckline… Well, Carmen is the kind of vixen who makes a man get an appetite women’s fashion. Not that I was trying to make mental notes, Officer–or really, I was, you see.
So, they’d know it was her own fault. Carmen was the one dressed to kill when she walked out the night before, not him.
The rain stopped and Harmon stood, swayed, then cocked his lighter sideways as if it was some gangster’s piece. As air cleared, the strong smell of lighter fluid came right back. Now, his smile could come back. Bright teeth pierced granite features, the grin of some alpha wolf.
Creak of the back gate. “Carmen? Oh. You’re not my wife at all.”
Binny was his wife’s friend, a plump southern belle who wore too many rings on her fingers. And, she was presently wearing a knock off of what Carmen had spent good money on. Binny was so good at looking like his wife but not being her, in any useful way.
“Yes, looks like we’re gonna have another sunny Florida day afterall–what in the world are you doing?”
Click. Fwoosh! “Happy Cinco de fucking Mayo, Carmencita. Hahahaha!”
Harmon should have used a match instead. The cigarette lighter was still attached to his hand when he leaned down and the box caught fire. Pale flames peeled the folded cardboard edges and singed them black. He barely retained enough sense to toss the hot lighter into the aqua swimming pool.
And then Binny screamed over Harmon’s blurred conscience. The silly woman was trying to reach, through the flame, and salvage Carmen’s wardrobe. Harmon kicked the flaming box in flip-flop, then braced low to heave Binny upright again before she fell into the pool too. All that dazzling aqua water clouded as ravaged, fire-eaten clothing floated to extremes of the pool.
She was getting hysterical. “Those were gonna’ be mine in, maybe three sizes!”
“Oh yeah? Well I lost my job a few months ago. Carmen still doesn’t know. In fact, she’s been having the time of her life, screwing some hot-shot guy she met when you two ran off to Miami that weekend, remember?”
“What? That doesn’t sound like Carmen at all. And you can’t be seriously blaming me when, if anything… well she’s just a lost soul, maybe.”
“Well, you’re her henchwoman, so of course Carmen is innocent. In your ears, it’s going to sound like we both mutually agreed to have an open marriage, or whatever she wants it called.”
The ruined moving box, still marked ‘Carmencita’s LA babies’ began to gurgle as it melted down, down, into the swampy swimming pool. Chlorine, embers, and burning hair smell bubbling together. Orlando and its close marsh heat used to be that, before Walt Disney moved in.
“It’s not our marriage, Binny. It can’t be. We have this house, I still find money for us. My woman has everything she could want. I’ve been holding everything together just fine, until last night. We were good, dinner was great. Joking, laughing, kissing…”
“Well, usually things like this are just building up in a marriage, until–”
“I bit her. That was when Carmen changed. We argued, she ran out of the house. I know it sounds crazy, Binny, but I swear, that’s how it happened. What’s wrong with me? Is it stress? Maybe some deal is about to go wrong and I can feel it.”
“Oh, calm down, wolf-man.”
“What if that’s what I am, for making her move all the way out here? Turned into some heartless monster, some vampire… One thing after another going wrong, I feel like I’m cursed. What’s that legend, the chupacabra, or something?”
“A chupacabra is for sheep, last I heard. Harmon, honey, you’re still drunk. And maybe even there’s an itty bitty touch of heatstroke in there? Some illegal substance, too, knowing you…”
“Oh God, oh no. Vale más, un buen amor…”
“Harmon. Your gringo Spanish sounds exactly like one of those cheesy lawyer commercials, ‘si, se habla Espanol.’ So, definitely don’t start singing in it, either.”
“That’s how we met, you know.” He sniffled, “One of those Hollywood celeb parties. I don’t even remember whose. My firm used to have a contract with Telemundo. She was trying to find this Juan guy from her favorite novela. But I was determined to have a conversation with Carmen in my broken Spanish.”
“Oh? Well that’s sweet. Buster was just my old prom date.”
“…And then Carmen cussed me out in English. Best day of my life.”
“Alright, that’s it, Harmon. Let’s get inside the air conditioning. You definitely need some coffee. Or an exorcist.”