Excerpt from 'twin time'
twin time: or, how death befell me
By Veronica Gonzalez
Semiotext(e)Copyright © 2007 Veronica Gonzalez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne quick turn
The night was long. It was dark and the night was long. He was a man; she saw that now. And she a girl. She'd never ever dreamt that this could really happen. Like this. In a car, fleeing in the night. The darkness of the night. He was driving and she was staring out the window, silent, a girl, sixteen, who had never left her mother's side. It was like a dream; in fact she thinks she dreamt this once, a man she does not really know, does not feel anything for, his face unfamiliar, driving her, fast, away from her mother. And the landscape, in her dream it had changed quick several times, like it has here, now, changed several times in the past six hours, the big forests to the north of Mexico City-she'd never even known there were forests to the north of the city, they are forests, all those trees-and then dry almost desert when they came down, and now back to lush green as they began climbing out of the dry valley once again; and she was tired. In her dream she had been tired, head knocking into glass. He had not even stopped to eat. For he was driving with determination. And she was staring out the window, eyes big against the lack of light, head sifting like two kinds of sand what was once a dream and what was her life now, here, in this car.
They hadn't spoken since just after he'd started driving. And she would not look in his direction.
With her mother she could cry and scream and throw a fit and it meant nothing. Could cry and scream and scream, was just a way to let it out. Her mother would grab her up from a crumpled heap there on the bed, a mess of limbs there on the floor, and hug her. Tell her to be quiet, collect her and pat and pat and smooth her head.
What was she doing here, with this young man? She had said yes. Kind of. She knew him; kind of.
What she did know well was that he was different than anyone she'd ever met before. She knew this from the first time that she saw him and already there was something which told her she would get to know him well before too long. He was not handsome or at once smart and quick tongued, so it was not these typical things which had attracted her, but she could tell that he was different; and it must have been this that made her angry too, for she did feel angry: his differentness, her inability to know what he was all about. Can the same thing that attracts you make you angry? she wondered once or twice. And then she found out more about him and one of the things she found out was that he wanted to make things all the time; and this too was different. He had a little bakery already, a little shop all his own and it wasn't like other bakeries with their huge trays onto which you just piled and piled the heavy bread-he made really special things, delicate little sweets; and it was this that had brought her back, the specialness of his treats. She'd wandered in one day and had meandered around the small space, the light pouring in through plate glass windows, and it was a relief from the great big harshness of the street, the smell of warm cakes; and she saw him stare from where he stood behind his counter. She continued to peer into cases, the custard pies, not just flans, but pies with rosewater custard inside, and little lime tarts, a row of small purple cakes-and those impossibly fragile chocolate labels defining every treat, lavender essence this one read; and instead of the cinnamon and molasses cookies in the shape of piggies which every other bakery had, he had a whole farmyard: cows and chickens and a little licking cat. And then in a case right by where he stood was the chocolate and the marzipan; and she saw it there, the tiny little mouse made of chocolate with eyes of pink marzipan. And when she glanced up there he was still staring, and she decided that she would not like him right then though she could already tell by the way he shied away when she looked back, could tell he did like her.
And then she asked him for the mouse in a slow and measured voice and he stuttered as he asked her which one, though she had just told him, the mouse, and he awkwardly handed her that treat she had picked out. She smiled at him even though she didn't like him, only for an instant; her own smile a surprise to her, and then she ran out of the door. And then later on, that night in bed it made her angry, much more so than before, that he liked her. This was when she got really mad. Who did he think he was? Didn't he see that she was too pretty? That she had a mother who loved her and let her cry and throw fits? Who did that stuttering idiot baker think he was? She knew her eyes were hazel, and large, and that she shut them so slow with each blink. She knew what she could do with one of her slow looks; and who did he think he was? She had men chasing her and her mother loved her so much.
But she went back after a stroll through the park on her way home from school and again she looked through every case and this time she bought a lovely meringue, like a white cloud, and on top of it a little chocolate heart. And after a few more times of this going back he began to talk to her. And to her surprise his talking eased her anger so she began to talk back. And on this day she said she was on her way home from school, that she hated school and that sometimes her mother did not make her go. Though she did not tell him that much of the time she and her mother just lay in bed when she was supposed to be at school. Or that if Mother were not at home to lie with, she would often just go to the cinema alone. And then the next time she went back her voice went proud as she told him about how much fun she had with her mother, how many friends her mother had, but after a short and confused pause her voice faltered and then softened and she added that even so her favorite thing was to go to movies and walk around the park all by herself. And then, on her now frequent visits she began to complain to him about things she had not even known were bothering her, about things she had not even known were problems at all. Her mother was always pressuring her. She had a friend who had a lot of money and was in love with Mara. And, well, Mara didn't love him back. He was old and she didn't even want to be around him, this old man, when she knew he loved her like that. And he stunk. And here he was, this baker, this sweets maker and he listened to her, listened so well that she did not even know what she was saying when she said it. So well, that it was only upon listening back to her own voice at night, in these late night I-can't-fall-asleep replays, that she knew things were problems at all. If she were a better sleeper she would not have gotten to this place. She would not have gotten to this dark place where she began to get angry at her mother, now, for pressuring her to be with a man she did not love.
But her mother brought her balloons all the time, and she brushed her hair one hundred strokes each night, and caressed sweet oil into her legs and arms, and told her always how very pretty she was. And she bought her beautiful clothes and ice cream cones and she let her yell and scream and cry. And she'd never yelled back. She'd never hit Mara, or ever yelled back.
And then things would be fine. She would be in her life, just in her life, until she went in to the bakery again and she would walk around and stare into magical cases and after picking just one he would hand her her treat wrapped in wax paper and then just as she was reaching out for it her mouth would start going-why did she always feel the need to go back?-and then her heart would start racing, and she'd complain complain complain ...
Chapter TwoThose lives
You can't see in the houses. They are all enclosed by tall walls. Though many have gates and are set back from the street so that sometimes you can get views of the gardens but not inside, not deep inside the houses. And you can't imagine the lives people live there. How do people get those houses? How do people get those lives? Though you know that they are happy, and that mothers live with fathers and the children they might bicker but they all love each other so much, and they eat food at a table which is set, and there is a woman who cleans up after them and keeps things tidy and washes underwear which she then folds and puts in a drawer all by themselves. A whole drawer full of clean and folded underwear, kept neat by the woman who gives their mother time to be their mother and take them to the park and sing to them and cook them such good food which they eat at a table which is set; and this mother she teaches them how to do things like wrap presents and tend to gardens and she kisses their father on the cheek when he comes home from work. At a real job. With an office. And, yes, you know that it's not perfect, that they fight sometimes and one time in their anger even threw things all around, but you know that there are lives there in those houses which you can only dream of, because you can never peer much past the gate and the front garden, never to the inside where the people live those lives.
They lived in an apartment building, in a tiny apartment and her mother worked and she went to school, sometimes, and at night, sometimes, her mother and she would go out.
Mexico City is a city of subways and busses and cars. It is large and there is money and there are trees and it is beautiful even when there is trash on the streets and bands of wild kids everywhere and the city is a lot of things though mostly you don't leave the neighborhood that houses the apartment where you live. But when you ride around in the cars of all those men you look out the window and the air sticks to your face while it all flies at you fast, and at this speed you see that Mexico City is a vast city of parks and fountains and people in groups and countless fairs and carnivals and beautiful restaurants and little food stands and Indian beggars and women and men in gorgeous clothing, and the children of these well dressed people always hold their parents' hands.
And in these rides through the city you sometimes see it from above like a French film as you sit in the back and you just look down, way way down from up there, at your mother where she sits in the front seat with that one man's arm tight around her shoulder sounding phony laughing too hard, and smoking cigarettes and then again laughing a fake laugh which goes on for way too long and then she holds her head back in guffaws so that you see her teeth, her ugly teeth; and you will not ever hold her hand, or anyone's hand, not ever, not ever again.
But there are the parks, your park, and alone you like to walk in it, and you sneak in to the movies, and when they're over you stop and smoke a cigarette. And when you walk on you look down mostly, and you don't talk to any other people, even though there are boys who walk around in groups and some are very handsome and there are girls and they stroll in groups too, and at school you meet a lot of them but those groups seem really pretty firm. But you don't care; you don't lift your eyes and you don't care because you don't need them, for your mother likes to go out, and there are lots of bars and a young girl can go out with her mother if Mother says she can.
And Mara doesn't like that old man.
Sometimes, late at night, from the front room Mara hears them in the bedroom. Her mother and a boyfriend, though she does not call them boyfriends, but Mara always does, because it doesn't seem so scary to her then. Boyfriend has friend in it, and though she knows that this is so lame, is the motion of a baby, still it makes her feel that then, with just that one word of amiable commitment, boyfriend, then really it can not be all that bad.
And as she lies there on her couch, hearing shrieks and grunts she thinks of that film where the man leaned back by the front door of the apartment building, leg perched up on the wall, cigarette in hand and the pretty girl with the short bob walked another man right past him then took this new man up into a room. And in the hallway this prettiest one of all the girls quietly greeted many others while they walked in and out of doors with no clothes on, being followed each by their own man all fully suited trailing right behind. My life to live. And the grunting and the shrieking don't seem so bad in French.
If her mother kept a job or if they stayed in one place, kept just one apartment then it would be easier on them both. But things get in the way of each other, because a new boyfriend often wants to do things and they almost always promise something and the combination of going out at night, day trips, and jobs do not mix well. And there is always the promise, with each one, of something better, so why even keep a job? And then apartments are lost and it is hard for her to hold on to friends who are so hard to make in the first place if you move around so much.
And there is this old man, now, and he loves her not her mother, and though his breath stinks-stale cigarettes and alcohol-her mother is constantly reminding that he has a lot more money than any of the past ones. Plus he travels back and forth from the US, is back and forth and back and forth so that there are always gifts, if she will just sit on his lap a little bit. Let him kiss there at her cheek and down her neck, a little bit.
But Mother hugs her and when she cries and throws a fit, only to let things out a bit, her mother loves her and caresses and smooths and pats with every kiss, some shiny earrings, or other pretty little gift in hand.
Chapter ThreeNights like this
Let me tell you this. It is beautiful. The nights are beautiful. Especially when it is warm. And on an early evening when things are feeling calm they walk down past all those big houses where there is often music pouring out-Elvis, always Elvis, or the Beatles or sometimes, from the best house, the one that she imagines as a someday stand-in for her own house, Billie Holiday-to the park, together, and there are children, always children there running around parents, little tiny kids; and they, she and her mother, buy ice creams and they sit on the park bench and watch the children play. And there are lovers kissing in the shadows, and old couples who talk in whispers and stroll very very slow. There are nights like this too. When she feels inside a movie because it is warm and the air feels fine and she just wants to be in it in a dress and her flat shoes. Young people call out at each other. And girls smile in their tight skirts that they wear for the boys, all those handsome boys who call out.
If they have not yet had their dinner then on these nights they ask each other: What do you want to eat? and then she and her mother go down a list of good food, grilled meat tacos, or quesadillas or pork soup from the old woman's stand by the market, and then they go back and forth and argue as they try to choose. And they walk there, just the two of them and they sit at a table and they talk a little and she feels calm. For only a few minutes, though, because there is always something on the periphery, there is always something which catches her mother's attention and does not let her be. There is always this thing which Mara notices but does not see and this something keeps her mother from really looking or laughing or enjoying being here with her. There is always this in her mother that reminds her a little of a trapped animal, a little like it wants out, it wants out of the here and now, a little like there are better things, wilder more interesting exciting things, for her, out there, somewhere else.
And why does her mother not understand how delicious the breeze is against her skin? How delicious her food, how delicious her drink? Why isn't this enough? Why can't she just sit and smoke a cigarette and want to be here just with her? Why can't she just want this? Why can't she just be? But her eyes are always darting. Her sentences are short. And the only way that Mara can get a hug out of her is to cry and scream and say No No, No.
Chapter FourRoutine being
Her favorite days now go like this: her mother gone, since the old man it is best if her mother is gone, no school of course, and lazy morning in apartment where she listens to her music and makes herself a quick egg and then slowly bathes and gets dressed so at noon she can walk down to the park where for an hour or so she watches the youngest children playing with their mothers, who never look her way. At two the brothers and the sisters, the uniformed and big kids come loudly rushing through, weighed down by leather backpacks which dance down spines and into hands. The hands go up then, and reaching out, arms catching at each other, another boy another girl and often with thumb counting fingers giving reasons for compliance or else pushing away and pulling back, boys and girls in joyful screaming, flying limbs, while the long haired quieter girls in knee length skirts and long wool socks whisper in each other's ears; and though she is much older, she wishes she were one of these.
But she is not, so turns away for she has somewhere else she has to be. A quick walk through the middle of the park past the raised and never once that she can remember officially used bandstand, though the children do use it for their hiding running chasing games; at two-thirty she sneaks past the ticket guy, whom she is sure always sees her though he pretends that he does not, and into the inside of the theater where she sits off to one corner in this way making sure that there's no chance that anyone will come and sit by her.
Excerpted from Twin Time: or, How Death Befell Me by Veronica Gonzalez Copyright © 2007 by Veronica Gonzalez. Excerpted by permission.
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