You Can't Say Die

Irma and Adela sat on the heavy high backed Spanish couch, legs curled, heads touching . "It happened three blocks down, beyond the helado de coco place. The dog lunged for her neck and bit her jugular. A big red nosed pitbull. He bit off the tip of her finger when her arm came up to shield her face. You know who she is. Her husband owns the farmacia at the little mall and sometimes, in the morning before the kids come home from school, she works there." Irma listened spell bound. Adela paused and turned to gaze at Pulgarcito, only three weeks old, breathing loud in his basket on the coffee table. Any minute he'd want to nurse. But for right now he wasn't announcing his hunger with that piercing nasal baby cry that put Irma in mind of Tomas, still a crying baby in a 17 year old's body. Maybe she should have nursed him every time he cried the way Adela nursed her child. "The dog belonged to that skinny sargento." "One of Ignacio's I'll bet." They doubled forward laughing. "Sh, sh. You'll wake him and my nipples are aching." Irma muffled her face with the brocade toss pillow. She whispered. "They found another woman day before yesterday, stuffed into a sewer ditch." She shuddered. "Stabbed through the vagina." "Noel told me that was a common way for women to be murdered that's never talked about." Adela began to raise her nursing blouse. Irma set the pillow on her lap. "Murder? Those aren't murders. Didn't you see it in the last Nuevo Mundo Sin Censura? Those women are tortured by the likes of Ignacio," "Tu marido." "Mi ex ex ex." "They've been going after the grass widows of the rebels. They're being detained. Nobody knows where or Nuevo Mundo isn't saying. Ignacio let it slip that they're in the interior someplace, not in the Presidio. The women's side is the only one that stayed standing after the explosion." "Their Mothers and their sisters are calling me all the time at work. Do you suppose it's them, the ones with the stabbed vulvas? Noel hasn't seen anything in the press." "The press?" They said the word at once and fell forward laughing just as Pulgarcito stretched and cried. "Nothing's ever in the press." Adela picked up her baby, undid the front clasp of her nursing bra, let him nuzzle for the nipple. She gazed into little Jimmy's bluish eyes. Pulgarcito. Named Jaime for Noel's Papa. Nicknamed Little Jimmy after her childhood baby doll. "If it wasn't for what Ignacio lets slip when he comes to pick up Tina, we'd know nothing. " "He tells me horror stories. Women with gouged eyes, who've been douched with acid, who've been killed by stabbing down there. He wants me to realize being abandoned by my husband to raise a drug addict son alone is no problem at all." "You think you've got problems? I'll show you." Pulgarcito finished with one breast, released the nipple and moved his head toward the sound of their laughter. Irma lay curled on her couch in a fetal curve, head sunk into her chest, not hearing Tina and Lydia's game. The girls walked on the balls of their feet, barefoot on the cold tiles, their index and middle fingers waving to and from their lips, their lips pursed and blowing out imaginary cigarette smoke. Tina yelled, "Dame otro." She slammed an invisible glass onto the counter separating the living area from the kitchen. Lydia, now playing the bodeguero, poured her a shot of rum from the other side of the tiled plank. After they drank down their imaginary rum they stood close to Irma. Tina yelled, "A bailar." Lydia hummed and banged a fast percussion on the coffee table. Adela came in through the back door, through the kitchen, and past the counter. The girls swarmed her, pulled her down, looked close at Little Jimmy in his blue front carry pouch. Adela looked the two girls over. Their faces were smeared with Irma's rouge and eye shadow, their mouths painted way outside their own lips in bright red. "Que lindo juego." Adela kissed them. "Jugando a putas." She pushed them gently toward the bathroom. "Go wash your faces. Vamos a pasear." The girls covered their wine red lips with their hands but couldn't cover their black lined eyes and eyebrows and still watch Adela's amused smile. She could hear their laughter and the running water from the bathroom. She knelt beside Irma who had not once spoken or stirred. "Levantate. Nos vamos. You've got to get out of this house before that muchacho kills you." Irma sat up. She saw Adela and she took her in. Tears gushed. She doubled over with her hands in fists. "How am I going to go out. Y si llega Tomas?" "He hasn't come in 20 days." Irma doubled over and let out a small, sharp yell. "I can not live. How am I supposed to live?" Tina and Lydia stood at the archway leading from the bathroom hallway to the living room. Make up spread all over their faces by soap looked like war paint. Adela drew Irma up, led her to the kitchen, nuked instant oatmeal. Irma sat on the straightback chair closest to the kitchen door, slumped forward over the table, her forehead sunk into her hand, her elbow planted on a food smeared place mat. Adela brought a spoonful of the sweet mush to Irma's lips, took a breath, and spoonfed her friend. "You can't say die." The little girls had sat on the table across from Irma and they opened and closed their mouths like little birds, cooing and trilling. Until Adela fed them too. When the oatmeal was gone she dipped a paper towel in corn oil and rubbed off the make up from their faces. "Son divinas." She kissed Lydia, then Tina. "Ustedes dos son divinas."