Welcome to this inaugural installment of The Texas Observer’s 2013 short story contest, judged by Dagoberto Gilb. Throughout September we’ll be publishing the contest’s four finalists in this space, one per week, leading up to the winning story, which will appear in the Observer’s October Books Issue, and online, early next month, along with a list of the contest’s honorable-mention entries.
Our first finalist is “Amalia on the Border” by Dini Karasik, who spins the conversational tale of a Latina woman, Amalia, who discovers that her husband may be having a fling with another woman from their tight-knit community. Humor and a strong sense of local color carry this story.
Amalia on the Border
By Dini Karasik
Yvette hooked up with Loverboy at my husband’s birthday party. Was probably my fault since I introduced them; Loverboy was one of the mariachis I hired for Marcos’ thirtieth but he’s a customs inspector for reals. My Marcos knew him from his trucking job. I think his name was Ronald or Connor—a real good-looking gringo with a super-ugly name.
Anyways, the mariachis took a break and Jorge, mi hermano, was doing the carne asada. You could see him standing in a cloud of smoke, drinking beer from a can and wiping the sweat from his face with that old bandana he always wears when he’s cooking outside. He wasn’t paying no attention to his wife; Yvette was smoking a cigarette around the side of the house, talking to Loverboy all sexy-like. I said to myself Look at Yvette, all over that guy. Ay si, I’m so sure, with her super-pink lipstick and short-shorts. Mira nomas. She was leaning against the house with her hip all out to one side and Loverboy was holding his guitarrón like a baby in his arms. I think he was showing it to her, like telling her about his instrument. Did I just say that? Ay no, don’t make me laugh!
Then I got distracted with the baby. A little while later, I looked for Yvette to have her help me bring out the rest of the comida, but she was nowhere. And when the mariachis started playing again, you guessed it: no Loverboy. Not until the third song did he come back. When they were singing “Solamente Una Vez”—it’s the song from my wedding so I remember real clearly.
Come to find out, a couple months later, Yvette goes to Jorge—and I know ‘cuz Jorge told me even though my brother don’t like to talk to me that much—she’s like, “I’m leaving you. Ronald-Connor loves me and we’re moving away to El Paso. Try to stop me.” Jorge was all like, “Vete si quieres.” He was not going to stop her. And so she left him, así nada más, after he got her papers for her and everything. She was just using him for the papers all along.
Entonces, listen to this. A few months ago—and this was the same day as Marquitos’ first communion—Jorge starts crying in the parking lot about how Yvette left him. I was like, “¿Porque estas llorando? She’s been gone for six months!” But he had just got the divorce papers, that’s why and, ay, he would not stop crying! It was embarrassing! He had to wait in the car until the mass was over!
Meanwhile, Yvette was putting things on Facebook about how she was so in love and how pretty she felt y quién sabe qué. But then, all of a sudden, Yvette was back. She took the Greyhound home because Loverboy broke up with her! Can you believe it? He didn’t really want her after all! Then she started begging Jorge to take her back. And you know what he did? He took her back!
Like a week later, after Yvette and Jorge got back together, I found out something real bad. Marcos was cheating on me. ¿Que coincidencia, verdad? Y te voy a decir algo, I think a part of me deserved it because of the lie I told him on our wedding night. So what goes around comes around, ¿que no?
Marcos had started driving on night shifts y un viernes mi amiga Lucy, who works at the new hotel on Route 1, she texted me, que Marcos estaba allí con una güera. Ay no, I couldn’t believe it.
It was after ten o’clock at night. I was washing my face when I saw the message. I almost dropped the phone in the sink, it was such a shock. I looked at myself in the mirror; my face was all white with Noxzema and I had my hair así, en un chongo. The nightgown I was wearing was the one Marcos got me for Christmas. A sleeveless batita with pink flowers that comes to my knees with a ruffle at the bottom and buttons down the front. Mi favorita. Maybe Lucy got it wrong, I thought. It’s not Marcos. It’s some cuate who looks like him. I wiped my face clean and changed my clothes.
The baby was asleep but Marquitos was in our bed watching the TV “We’re going to see Papi,” I told him, and I put them both in the car y nos fuimos. Pues, where was I going to leave them?
It took thirty minutes to get there. Why did Marcos have to take her to the nicest hotel in town? Hasta allá, near the mall? So far away? He could’ve taken her to the Super 8. It’s closer, right by the freeway, and a lot cheaper. That’s where we take the boys swimming a veces because my sister, Blanca, she knows the manager.
Anyways, we get to the hotel and it’s super nice. There’s a fountain inside with blue water and a glass elevator that goes up real high. They also had a sign in the lobby about free breakfasts y no le digas a nadie pero I still go there in the mornings to eat sometimes con los niños.
So I go to the front desk and ask for Marcos Rivas’ room. The clerk was a pimply young guy with droopy eyes that made him look all sleepy. He said that he wasn’t really supposed to give out the room information. Turned out he was real nice though because when Marquitos saw the indoor pool on the other side of the fountain, he was like, “Can we go swimming, Mami?” and the clerk looked at me and said, “Sorry. Pool’s already closed but we have happy-hour prices at the bar until midnight.”
Then I go, “Don’t I know you? Eres de la familia…” and I paused for a sec, squinting my eyes like I’m trying to place his face.
He goes, “Mendoza.”
“Pues, si. I know your tío. We go way back. High school.”
“Oh, you went to Retama High? My uncle coaches football there now.”
“Ay, que bueno. Tell him Amalia asked for him.” I tapped my fingers softly on the counter and smiled real big. Then he looked up the name on the computer and gave me the room number, no problem.
The room was on the third floor so we got to ride the glass elevator. When I found the door, I knocked real hard. I heard voices inside and then Marcos opened the door and was like, “¿Amalia, que haces aquí?” And I was all, “You know why I’m here! Where is she?” and I walked inside. It was one of those rooms that had a separate living room and a mini-kitchen. Real cute. So I go, “My God, Marcos, what a nice room! Just like the one where we stayed on our honeymoon. I can’t believe you would do this to me!”
And he goes, “Amalia—”
Y le digo, “No, I don’t want to talk. Where is she?” But I didn’t wait for him to answer. No, I walked right into the bedroom, holding Marquitos’ hand and with the baby in my arms. Marcos didn’t even try to stop me. Just followed right behind me. And, like, you know me, I’m not that way! Marcos is the one always in charge, but I knew God was on my side and basically I had to see who she was for myself.
So, I pushed the door open and there she was in the bed, all covered with a sheet, and I told her “You are sleeping with my husband! He’s a family man! These are his children! You should be ashamed!” My heart was beating so fast. I wasn’t scared, though. I felt strong.
The girl, she was hiding under the sheet. “Show me your face,” I said. And she slowly pulled the sheet down. And you know who it was? No me lo vas a creer. It was Marta. Marta Pérez. Javier’s sister. He used to work with me at the plasma center putting the bags of blood into the machine to spin them around. Marta would pick him up after work and sometimes give me a ride home. She used to drive como loca, so fast in her tiny car. It was a Toyota Corolla, the color of rust, no air conditioning or nothing, and it was the summer and so hot.
Pues, it was Marta in the bed! I couldn’t believe it. I was like “Marta Pérez, is that you?” I was still holding the baby on my hip because he was so tired and almost sleeping on my shoulder. And Marquitos was standing next to me in his Winnie the Pooh pajamas, chupándose los dedos, pobrecito. He was also so sleepy, barely awake, holding his teddy bear.
Marta wouldn’t answer. I saw her clothes all over the floor. Even her purple lace chones! Thongs! ¡Ay, que feo! I don’t even know how someone can wear something like that, the material all stuck in the butt.
¿Y sabes que? I heard these sounds, like heavy breathing and moaning. They were watching porno! I couldn’t believe it! My Marcos! So, I cross myself, go over to the TV, and turn it off. I stood at the foot of the bed and I go, “Marta, I know it’s you. Get out of here now and don’t come back. Marcos is my husband.” But I wasn’t really yelling. I was just telling her.
And she was all like, “I need privacy.”
That’s when I started to get mad. Privacy? How can she ask for privacy? “No, I don’t think so,” I told her. And then I started to yell. What I yelled, I barely remember, I was so mad.
It smelled like rose water in the room. I remember that. Like the kind my abuelita used to spray in her drawer where she kept her bras and batas. And then, as I was yelling at her, she threw off the covers and started getting dressed. Oh my God, she was so skinny. That’s what made me stop yelling. De veras, like all of a sudden I was wondering what she ate ‘cuz I don’t know nobody who looks like that. For sure she doesn’t eat the free breakfasts at the hotel. Her bones were all pointy at the elbows and knees. And her tetas? Como pasitas, small and dried. Her hair down there? Casi no tenía. That’s not normal.
Entonces, se puso la ropa, a tight sleeveless black dress and red high heels with shiny leather straps that wrapped around her ankles. Her hands were shaking as she sat on the bed and tied the laces. She looked up at Marcos and said, “I need a ride home.”
Marcos sat down in a chair across the room and put his head in his hands. He didn’t say nothing to her. Didn’t even look at her. So I told her, “Fine, I will take you home but you wait in the lobby.” I guess I felt like I owed her a ride or something.
Marta got all her things, her clothes, her purse, and something from the bathroom, maybe that rose perfume. I stood in the mini-kitchen between the bedroom and living room, still holding the baby and watching her the whole time. When she opened the front door to leave, she tripped on the carpet and I laughed a little. I couldn’t help it.
Then Marquitos, standing in the doorway to the bedroom, was like, “Mami, tengo sueño. I want to sleep.” And I thought, Marcos already paid for the room, we shouldn’t waste it. So I said “Acuéstate, mijito, but on the top of the covers.” I put the baby down with the pillows next to him so he wouldn’t fall off the bed and then I went to the living room and sat on the couch. It was real soft, not like the one we have at home with the lumpy cushions. And I sat there in the dark for a real long time. When I thought the boys were asleep, I got up and told Marcos I was going to take Marta home.
“You don’t have to. I can take her,” he said. He sounded tired like he was the one who had done all the work of stopping an affair.
“¿Estas enfermo? No, I will take her. You stay here and we will talk when I come back, oíste?” And I got my purse and keys. I couldn’t even believe it was me talking like that. Like I was the one in charge.
And then you know what he did? He followed me y de repente, he gets down on his knees, grabs my hand, and goes, “Amalia, discúlpame, por favor.”
I go, “Forgive you? I don’t know, Marcos. I’m super-mad right now. I’m going to give Marta a ride home and when I get back, we will talk about it.” He looked really surprised because I never talk like that. No way.
Luego, out of the blue, me abrazó. I could smell the rose spray on his skin but I also smelled him, his cologne, the one I bought for him on his birthday. It smells like vanilla and caramel, sweet like that. He wore it for the first time at his party, when Yvette met Loverboy.
Marcos held me real tight. My face was against his chest and I could feel the soft hairs on my cheek. I asked him: “Why did you cheat with her.” I started to cry.
And you know what? He started crying, too. Not like super-loud or whatever, but when I looked at his face, it was wet with tears. And he goes, “I didn’t do it with her yet.”
“But you were about to.”
“I’m sorry. Te quiero tanto. Please, mi amor. Perdóname.” Marcos kissed me on the lips. It was very soft and made my lips taste salty.
“Marcos, I lied to you. I lied to you on our wedding night.” I looked up at him, para ver su mirada. “I wasn’t a virgin when you married me.”
Marcos closed his eyes and squeezed me tighter. “No importa, Amalia. I love you no matter what.”
In the end, igual como Jorge with Yvette, I forgave my Marcos. ¿Pero, sabes que? First I gave Marta a ride home she won’t never forget. Luego te platico.
Dini Karasik is a Mexican-American writer and lawyer. Her writing has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Más Tequila Review, Red Savina Review, Kweli Journal, Zombie Logic Review, Sixers Review, and Bartleby Snopes. When she’s not writing, she’s working with the outreach and development team at Narrative 4, a new literary nonprofit that promotes “radical empathy” through story exchanges.