By Sergio Troncoso
She asked me if I liked them. And
what could I say? They were wonderful. Her breasts were round and white
and everything you'd expect from a beautiful woman. I couldn't believe she asked
me, as if I could have thought otherwise. I'd never been with someone like her
before. I was terrified. But she seemed shy and even unsure about herself. I
didn't understand that at all. What did she see in me? She had of course
looked at herself. Everyone I knew had looked at her. I heard all the comments
about her, wishful comments. But with me she was just playful and tentative. I
kissed her, looked out the window of my mother's Buick Regal. She pressed
against me and unzipped her skirt. She unzipped her skirt and laughed.
My God! Did anyone do this in a car anymore? Next to an office park in the
middle of the night? Only in
She told me, after
we were relaxing in the back seat, that she had had sex only once before. Only
once. She told me that an older man, a semi-boyfriend, had forced her to do it
with him, pushed her down, taken off her clothes. She said she didn't mind too
much. She said she sort of wanted to. She wanted the experience with an older
man. She wanted to be ready for when she got married. Now she wasn't sure she
would ever get married. Now she was the older one, but she didn't really
act that way. She was shy, I tell you. I didn't know why, but I got angry.
Maybe the East Coast did that to you. I told her not to let a man do that to
her again. Ever. It wasn't as if I had been trying to score PC points to "nail"
her, as they said so crudely in
When I took Angie
back to her house just over the
I saw Angie at the Popular on Monday again, after I had finished putting
out the cotton briefs for boys, all colors, size 6 through 20. I had already
dumped all the designer jeans out, for the back-to-school sales. Joe was off my
back. He was somewhere in the back room yelling to a supplier who had brought
in the wrong stuff. That's what you get when you don't plan your summer job: a
frenetic boss who's under pressure himself and vents it on the stock boys. At
least I had met Angie Luna there. That made the entire summer. In two weeks I'd
go back to
She didn't kiss me,
and I guess I didn't expect to kiss her, not in front of all the idiots in the
store. It might even be a good idea just to be seen as "friends," and
that's what we did. She asked me if I wanted to have dinner at her place next
Saturday night, and I said that I did. I don't care what anyone else says:
women in their thirties can look great. I was having trouble breathing.
She had on her confident look, the one she pushed like a shield against all the
stares from the old men in the shoe department and the hungry male managers and
assistant managers. The other stock boys just winked at her and asked her out
brazenly and tried to get real close to her, but she didn't bite. Up to this
day, I still don't know why she asked me out. Maybe to her I was an
oddity. Born in
"Ese Victor, did you plug her, man?" the voice of Carlos Morales hissed from behind me. I turned around. The fat bastard was wearing a dirty white T-shirt, his coiffed hair almost to his shoulders.
"What?" I said. I wanted only to get away from him, so I started walking quickly toward a Dumpster in a corner filled with boxes of belts, dress shirts, polo shirts, and socks. He'd run back to the employees' lounge as soon as I started unloading this shit.
"You know, man. No te hagas pendejo." He plunged his hips forward and swung his arms back in a motion more vulgar than I can ever describe, all the while grinning stupidly.
"Shut the fuck up, man. What are you talking about?"
"You went out, didn't you? I heard about it already. From Cindy in Women's Wear."
"Yeah, so what? It's none of your business."
"'It's none of your business,'" he repeated in an exaggerated, snotty whine. "What a man you are!"
"Shut up, cabrón. You better get your ass to work. Guess who's coming down the aisle." Joe was whizzing by the dress shirts, and he didn't look too happy. Just as Carlos was stacking four cardboard boxes up to his chest, Joe almost slid to a stop right in front of him. He didn't say a word, but wiggled his finger in the fat boy's face, and Carlos waddled after him. He glanced back at me, raised his arms in bewilderment, and pretended not to know what the hell he had done wrong this time. Damn. The whole store knew about us now. I was glad I was only going to be there for a few more days. Doña Leticia Jiménez, the soft-hearted battle-ax who really ran the whole place from her perch in Women's Lingerie --42 years of selling panties!-- rushed by me as I emptied the Dumpster and gave me a thumbs-up and grinned. Shit.
By Wednesday I had already dreamed of Angie Luna twice. Once on Monday,
in that black dress, on the escalator. And again the next night. A more
complicated dream. We were in
When I finally got to Angie's house, it was just getting dark. The desert sun was just a faint crown of orange and yellow lights peeking out from the mountains. Angie had told me to be there by eight o'clock, and I was early. If I had waited any longer at home, my little brother might have taken off with the car. Anyway, maybe I could hang around and see what her house was like. I didn't mind. Angie answered the door, wearing an apron and looking like a voluptuous version of Ozzie's Harriet. An apron over a sharp party dress. She said she was glad that I was early, gave me a real wet kiss right on the mouth, and told me her older sister would be back in a second. Rocío had gone to the grocery store. Angie told me to relax and asked me if I wanted a beer, and I said yes. She said she was angry with her little sister, who had promised to be there to meet me but had then taken off with her boyfriend and probably wouldn't be back until late. Her little sister, Angie said, was a problem. A couple of months ago, Marisela had stopped going to nursing school. Now she had quit her job and was looking for a new one, and her novio would take her out dancing and drinking every week until the wee hours of the morning. Marisela did nothing around the house, and the two older sisters were having trouble controlling her, getting her on the right track.
Angie told me, as
she was putting away a bucket and bottles of cleaning fluids, that they were
planning a big get-together for Saturday. Could I still come? Sure I would. A
couple of their friends would be over for dinner, including Rocío's
boyfriend. After dinner they'd sit around and have a few beers and
"Oye, Victor," she whispered in my ear, catching me by surprise from behind as I strolled around the living room, "eres un amor," she said sweetly, kissing my earlobe. I shivered.
"Angie. What if I got a room for Saturday night after dinner?" I said, having thought about this now for hours, my shoulders and back still sore from pressing against the Buick's door handles.
"Perfecto. ¿En donde?"
"Maybe Motel 8 or the Holiday Inn. Something nice."
"Muy bien. You know, I'm going to miss you so much."
"Me too. I can see you en navidad, right?"
"Sí. Ay, mi rey, why do you have to go study in
"Entonces dame algo para soñar en ti," I said coyly, finding everything I wanted in her dark brown eyes.
"¡Ay, diablo!" she said and kissed me so softly, her lips lingering over mine and opening up into a chasm and taking me completely in. I couldn't believe what I felt. I took a step back to kiss her hand, but it was really to calm down so I wouldn't be completely horny the entire evening. Jesus, she was incredible.
As we were about to
walk out the door, Rocío stepped inside and said
hello and asked what movie we were seeing. I said we weren't sure yet. She
asked me if I was coming to the Saturday night reunión,
and I said that I was. I didn't think I was too articulate, in fact I thought I
was stammering. If Angie was voluptuous, Rocío was
downright elegant. Like an Isabella Rossellini: reserved, confident, playful.
When Angie and I finally got into the Buick, I kept thinking that in a weird
way I could understand why they had had so many problems growing up, with their
father and his friends and whoever else had tried to dominate them. These
sisters were resplendent in a rough and unforgiving world. But I didn't get the
sense, from that first and very brief meeting, that Rocío
was shy like Angie. The older sister seemed capable of being tough and even
competitive. I now knew where Angie had gotten her own confident look, the one
she plastered on her face like a mask when she was at the Popular. What would
have happened to the two other sisters without an older sibling like Rocío? In the cowboy country of
We drove to the
State Line, an expensive restaurant, at least for
Angie told me that she had just been promoted to "Assistant
Manager" of her small department in the mezzanine, so I made an impromptu
toast to her success, which made her eyes become even brighter and more loyal.
I was really happy for her. She deserved every good thing she got. She said the
new position meant more work and just a few extra dollars at the end of the
week, but maybe she could eventually move up even higher. She said she was a
little apprehensive about some of the things she would have to know in her new
position. She was afraid the other cashiers would be jealous of her promotion
and would jump on her mistakes when and if she made them. Up to this point, the
manager in charge had been supportive and had told her she deserved a shot
because she had worked so hard, without ever being absent. But she did have to
master certain skills. I asked Angie what these things were. She said the most
difficult one was something called "Inventory Accounting," something
she had never had in school in
"Entonces, what are laughing at?" she asked, still serious and stealing a pair of ribs from my plate.
"I just finished my second course in accounting. Got an A minus. I'll help you with inventory accounting if you want me to."
She smiled hard at me, in a friendly sort of way but still prideful. "Well," she snorted, "as long as you teach me so that I can get an A because I don't want any A minus." This Angie girl was something else.
So instead of going
to the movies, we drove east on I-10 to the UTEP library, which I knew was open
until midnight. She had never been there before. I told her anyone could just
walk right in, find a comfortable sofa overlooking the atrium, and read or relax.
I showed her where she could get snacks, where the newspaper room was, and
where she could make copies of whatever book she wanted. I found old editions
of the accounting books I had used at
After a couple of hours, we drove back to Juárez. I promised to help her a couple more times so that she would be ready to get the specific information she needed for her new assignments. When I pulled the Buick up to the front of her house, she slid closer to me, to the middle of the front seat, and kissed me and stroked my neck and chest until I told her I was going to rip her clothes off if she didn't get out of the car. Before she opened the door and stopped tormenting me, she whispered in my ear that I shouldn't forget the room for Saturday night. I could hear her black pumps clicking on the sidewalk as she walked to the front door, each click opening up and pinning back my heart to the wall of a blissful hunger.
The next day I
finally got my airline tickets in the mail, and it suddenly dawned on me that I
would be leaving next week. I had already told Joe that this would be my last
week, and he had grunted a thank you and told me to come back if I ever needed
a summer job. Sure I would, I said, thinking that if I ever needed another
mindless stint of time I might instead opt for a temporary lobotomy if there
was such a thing. I didn't bother to say goodbye to anyone at the Popular
except Doña Leticia and the rest of the
"girls" in Women's Lingerie, none of whom was younger than fifty. I
had always liked their raucous free-for-all and the fact that these ladies
could talk enough trash to make me blush and then turn on a dime and face a
waiting customer with the most serious of faces. Angie Luna I didn't need to
say goodbye to because I would be seeing her on Saturday. I'd also see her a
couple more times next week so that she could get a good sense of accounting,
or at least enough for her to find, on her own, the answers to any questions
that might come up. It occurred to me that I was teaching accounting to Marilyn
Monroe's Mexican double and that somehow I should feel stupid about that. But I
could never figure out where exactly the stupidity was in that situation. My
mother, in another of her prolonged goodbyes, was already hugging me and
kissing me whenever I walked through the house, imploring me to write and
telling me not to walk alone at night in
On Saturday morning I got up early and told my mother I was going over
to Grandma's to say goodbye in case I didn't get a chance next week. I had
breakfast with my abuelitos, who were always early
risers, and then drove my grandfather to his favorite store, the Western Auto
I finally took off
in the early evening, after renewing my lease of the Buick with my mother. Be
careful, she said, don't get too crazy with your friends. She didn't know I was
going to my first Mexican party. The whole scenario made me a little nervous.
All of a sudden I thought I'd forgotten my Spanish. I didn't know if they would
just hang around, drink some beers, or dance. What music would young Mexicans
dance to? I didn't know if I'd feel too young among Rocío's
friends or if they'd think I was just a quasi-gringo invading their territory.
I wasn't a real Mexican, and I wasn't an American either. At least not at
It was unlike any
party I had ever been to. The first thing that struck me was that this crowd
was slightly older than me, in their thirties. A few were at the university, as
instructors, others worked in Juárez, only one other
person worked in
Someone brought in a tray full of little tostadas topped with pinto beans and a tangy white cheese, they called them "sopes," and there was a huge bowl of guacamole, extra-spicy, and another bowl of tortilla chips on the coffee table. More trays of hot food would just suddenly appear in front of the small group. Angie and Rocío kept shuttling to and from the kitchen without missing a beat of the conversation and laughter. After a while, a friend of theirs walked in, Fernando, and he was carrying a guitar which he started strumming and tuning before he sang a Mexican ballad, very softly at first, until the rest of us joined in. I felt a little stupid because I didn't know the words, but everyone was smiling and having a great time, and after the second verse I knew most of the refrain. Fernando sang for a while, one or two or three would join in, sometimes he'd just play without singing, letting us decide whether to join in or just listen to the guitar. I laughed a lot with Angie because she would keep whispering all sorts of things in my ear. We were both a little drunk. Everyone else was too. They only got friendlier with each other, arm in arm at the sound of their favorite rancheras, singing and swaying and declaring to the world that they were Mexican and proud of it. There were serious discussions about death and the purpose of life. We also laughed wildly, at the simplest things. One of them suddenly stood up, took out some papers from his coat pocket --he was the only one wearing a jacket, but no tie-- and demanded silence and was greeted first with hoots of excitement and then with a quiet so unnerving I thought I could hear myself perspire in the alcoholic heat. He recited some of his own written words in a voice at once passionate and then vulnerable. Poems about love and affliction and not knowing exactly who you were. Poems about courage and even the wretched life of the poor. I saw Angie shed a tear, and others too, including the men, whenever something struck them deeply in the heart. Instead of feeling embarrassed, they were comforted and held by their friends, and I thought I was a part of them. After what seemed centuries of time gone by, Angie squeezed my hand and said we had to go. I stood up, kissed the women goodbye, and shook hands with the men. They asked me to come back, and I said that I would.
As we drove across
the international bridge, I could feel Angie's head resting on my shoulder, her
hand on my lap, her slow and warm breathing. I thought she might be falling
asleep, but when I glanced down she smiled at me and nuzzled my neck. I exited
We talked about
everything. When I would come back to
I held Angie Luna in that room for hours, and I remember the different times we made love like epochs in a civilization, each movement and every touch, apex upon abyss. In the luxury of our bed, we tried every position and every angle. I explored the curves of her body and delighted in seeing the freedom of her ecstasy. Her desperate whispers and pleas. I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me too. We lay in bed with our limbs entangled, in a pacific silence that reminded me of existing on a beach just for the sake of such an existence. I couldn't imagine the world ever becoming better, and for some strange reason the thought slipped into my head that I had suddenly grown to be an old man because I could only hope to repeat, but never improve on, a night like this. I finally took her home sometime when the interstate was empty, and the bridges seemed to lead nowhere, for they were desolate too.
I saw her a few more times before I left for Massachusetts, but nothing shattered me like that particular night, the night of my first Mexican party and my first teary-eyed ranchera, the night when I knew nothing would stop us, and then nothing did. And I just slammed into that black wall. I came back to El Paso for Christmas, having written to her but having received only one brief letter in return. She had returned to Chihuahua, her sister Rocío confirmed this in the empty coldness of a desert winter. Angie had returned to take care of her ailing father when nobody else would. I had never bothered to ask Angie about her mother, and I felt like an idiot. Rocío said that indeed their mother had died many years ago, of breast cancer and its neglect. She told me not to feel guilty about it, most of their friends didn't know either. She told me that Angie had made the decision to go back to Chihuahua, freely and without any remorse. Rocío asked me if I wanted to stay for a drink. I told her I couldn't but only because I thought I was going to choke. She said she would tell Angie I had stopped by. I thanked her for being so kind.
"Angie Luna" originally appeared in New World: Young Latino Writers. Copyright 1997 by Sergio Troncoso. It is one of the twelve stories in The Last Tortilla and Other Stories.
Angie Luna --- Spanish translation of "Angie Luna."