by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
March 7, 2019
An excerpt from the novel Daughters of the Stone
Marci got up at dawn to press Elena’s hair. It was shiny with bergamot as she smoothed it into shape, making sure the curls bounced around Elena’s face. The blue or the red dress? Or maybe the new brown tweed. He’d never seen her in anything like that. So she picked that and looked at herself in the mirror. She’d lost a few pounds. She’d always prided herself on her curves. Now they were mostly gone. What would he see? New clothes, a new woman. No, same woman. She hoped he’d see that she had managed, that she was a survivor. But also that she was the old Elena, the young woman who had fallen in love with him all those years ago, who still loved him and needed him. She didn’t know why he had taken so long, but was so glad he’d finally chosen her.
She went to the bathroom four times as they waited for the flight. When she returned the last time, the plane had already landed. Pedro stood surrounded by the children and Fonso and Marci. She watched him from a distance before running up to put her arms around him. She clung to him, right there at the arrivals gate. They blocked traffic. People were staring but she didn’t care. She hadn’t realized that much of the cold she’d been feeling had nothing to do with the climate. When Pedro put his arms around her, she felt like she was home again. He even smelled like home. She didn’t know what would happen but whatever it was, it would happen to them together. Just the two of them and the children.
When the children were finally asleep, Elena and Pedro lay in bed holding each other. Elena closed her eyes and felt Pedro’s arms warm and strong around her shoulders. She settled into him, but there was an awkwardness now that hadn’t been there before. In the silence of the night, the questions that had been lying in wait suddenly took shape, like a photograph coming into focus. The unasked and unanswered questions that had lived within her for weeks now lay in the bed between them. She didn’t want to spoil the moment but she heard her voice before she could catch the words.
Her voice said, “I waited for your letters.”
“I thought you had forgotten about us.”
Then something broke, “Did you care? Was it so hard to write?” The questions spilled out, and she waited, praying for an answer that would wash away the resentment and allow the darkness to enfold them in intimacy rather than alienation. When there was no answer, she pulled out of his arms and searched his face.
Finally, he said. “It was you…you who walked out. So calmly…like our marriage meant nothing anymore. Then, for weeks, every night when I went to our empty bed, all I heard was the sound of your heels receding into the distance.”
She opened her mouth to respond but nothing came out. How many times had she told him of her unhappiness? How many times had he not listened? How could he not remember all the fights, all the tears, all the slammed doors?
He was still talking. “Suddenly you were walking away, just like that. I didn’t even have a chance to…you took my son, my children. I thought about it a long time. I discussed it with Mamá.”
There she was again. Zenobia standing between them.
“And what was your mother’s advice?”
“Mamá is Mamá.” He went on, “But I made my choice. I chose my family. I chose you. Let’s leave it at that.” He pulled her close again.
Elena felt like he was trying to squeeze away her questions. He had silenced her mouth but her mind was awhirl. She tried to look beyond the words, listen for the fine shadings of meaning. What was it she heard—hesitancy, reluctance, resignation, duty? Why didn’t she hear joy? It started in her chest, the tightening and pulling. She shifted her weight. Her husband was here now. He wanted her. He wanted their children. She was a lucky woman. Why wasn’t she satisfied? What more did she want?
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa is an Afro-Puerto Rican novelist who grounds her work on Puerto Rican communities on the island and in New York. www.DahlmaLlanosFigueroa.com
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