Fawzy Zablah

La Femme

ElSalvadorTrip 015



Fawzy Zablah is the author of the short story collection Ciao! Miami (Little Havana Press, 2006) and the novel Rarity of the Century (Tiny TOE Press, 2014). His short story, "This Modern Man is Beat" (Acentos Review, Feb. 2011), has just been adapted into a short film by "Across the Hall" Director Alex Merkin.  He blogs regularly at: http://mipatriaeslaliteratura.blogspot.com 

         She was smiling when she told him but the words had a numbing effect by the time they reached his ears. They were sitting on a white leather sofa in their living room, and she was wearing a yellow dress with thin straps that illuminated her smooth, brown shoulders. Her dark hair, like a wild horse's mane, went way down her back and he remembered thinking that she had the prettiest hair of any girl that he had ever loved. 

         “Are you listening to me?”


         “It's not that I stopped loving you,” she said.

         “But you just said that you don't love me. Why did you stop?”

         She looked at his face and the answer was in her eyes. Then he felt a knot in his chest.

         “I was never in love with you, Habib,” she said.

         He didn't say anything, and she continued.

         “I think I was in love with the idea of a new life with you, or the life you could give me.”

         “What about the kid?”

         “You will always be the father of the kid.”

         “I don't understand,” he said. “Are you having an affair?”

         “There is someone, but it doesn't matter. He has nothing to do with this. I tried to pretend to love you but it was unhealthy for me and you and for the kid.”

         “Tessa is staying with me.”

         “Can we please be civil?”

         “Who built your family's house in Cotui? It was me and my money. Your family has the biggest house in the ghetto because of me.”

         She didn't say anything.

         “I love you Oona. Think about what you're doing.”

         “No, I've already decided. There's nothing to think about.”

         He got down on his knees and begged her. When the tears started coming out of his eyes, she stood up and with the skirt of the yellow dress waving like a cape behind her, she marched to the front door.  He followed her, and watched her get into a black Mercedes Benz being driven by a small man with a shaved head, a Charlie Chaplin mustache, and aviator sun glasses. After she was gone, he went to the bathroom and washed his face. He looked at himself in the mirror; his eyes were red and his nose was stuffy. At 1 o'clock, he got in his car and went to pick up his daughter from school. It was the start of the holiday weekend and they drove from school straight to McDonald's like he had promised her in the morning. He got her a Happy Meal, and ordered a cheese burger with fries for himself. They sat on a table right next to the indoor playground. Tessa ate her nuggets slowly while playing with the toys that came with the meal. He gazed at his daughter who was lovely and angelic in the fishtail braids her mother had sent her off to school in. He wasn't totally alone, at least he still had the kid, he thought.

         “Is mom gonna meet us,” his daughter said.

         “Not right now sweetie, but maybe later.”

         As soon as he said that, he imagined her mother getting stabbed repeatedly by a tall figure in a green ski mask.  Let's not get angry, he thought, for the sake of the kid. And besides, he remembered reading somewhere child psychologists saying kids can sense every—sense e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

         The next day, a Saturday, they went to the grocery store. The store was empty except for a dark-haired woman with a little boy. His daughter sat in the shopping cart, and as he got closer to the produce section he noticed a body hanging from the ceiling. He wasn't sure if he was seeing things or if it was an actual body. The closer he pushed the cart, the more scared he felt; for the body hanging by the neck was of his wife. Then he asked himself honestly if he was seeing things or if this was wish fulfillment fantasies? He was way too resentful. First murder and now suicide.  The body hung limp, almost stiff, and she wore the same yellow dress that now resembled a tattered flag. He wanted to get on a step ladder and bring it down, but instead he just pushed the cart towards the grapes.

         “I want the purple grapes daddy,” his daughter said.

         “But daddy likes the green ones.”

“No, purple.”

         When they went for the bananas, that's when they were directly below the body of his wife. He noticed no blood. He looked at her Jimmy Choo shoes and he was positive that he was seeing things nobody else could see. Was it the future? Was it a ghost?

         “What are you looking at, daddy?”

         “Nothing, let’s just grab these bananas. Do you also want tangerines honey?”

         “Let's get some chocolate ice cream.”

         “Okay, let's get some ice cream.”

         He pushed the shopping cart away from the produce section almost in slow motion. When he turned into the freezer aisle, he could still feel his wife's body hanging from the ceiling. The dark-haired woman passed him going the opposite way, giving him a penetrating stare like if she had just seen OJ Simpson shopping at Kmart.

         After getting home, putting everything away, watching a Disney movie with his kid and finally taking her to bed, Habib stepped outside to his driveway to smoke a cigarette.

         Across the street, his neighbor Miguel Santiago was staring at the moon hiding behind the clouds.

         “Hello Habib, how's it going?”

         “I'm doing okay, sneaking a cigarette, how about you?”

         “Molly left.”


         “Yeah, she said it's for good this time. I know she's at his house, but you know what? I don't care anymore,” he said and walked over to Habib.

         He was half Jamaican and Puerto Rican and his face had the broken lines of a much older man. His smile kept breaking, but he kept trying to maintain his pleasant demeanor.

         “The way I see it,” he said, putting his right hand on his chest. “I will let go. She doesn't belong to me anymore. Life is too short. If my love is not enough for, then it's okay, I can live with that. But I sure hope the kids stay with me. I need the kids, you know?”

         Habib threw the unfinished cigarette on the floor, stepped on it, and crossed his arms.

         “I saw Oona leave yesterday,” Miguel said.

         “It's what she wants. I thought about going after her, but what's the point.”

         “Can you believe these women? And we are fools for loving them. We continue to love them despite their faults. But that's love. I love my wife so much. And I'm sure you love your wife too.”

         “I think I do. I'm not even sure anymore.”

         Miguel looked at Habib with the hollow eyes of a man who'd survived a trek through the desert.

         “You have just spoken the unspoken truth,” he said and turned around to go back to his house.

         That night Habib could still smell his wife's scent in their king sized bed.  He turned towards her side of the bed and pictured her there; he felt like he had a missing a limb. Why is she always wearing that yellow dress, he whispered to himself in the darkness. He closed his eyes and tried to stop thinking about violent things happening to her in the yellow dress.

         On Sunday morning they went to a park next to a canal that leads to the sea. He saw his wife's body floating face down. They were having a picnic and he had to stand up to get a good view; it was definitely her and she was wearing the same dress, but her hair was coming off in tufts.   

         “What's wrong dad?”

         “Nothing baby, I was just looking to see if there was any fish in the canal.”

         “Are we gonna try to catch a Catfish?”

         “Yes, of course,” he said grabbing their fishing pole.

         They walked over to the canal, and he flung the rod trying to fish his wife out, but he couldn't get the hook on her.

         “I wanna try daddy.”

         “Hold on honey, daddy needs to try to bring this in.”

         “There's some fishy right there. What are you doing?”

         He tried once more to hook the body, but it was useless, and it continued to drift and then it sank until he couldn't see it anymore. He gave up and handed the rod to his daughter. As soon as she cast the rod, she had a bite, and he helped her pull in a very curious looking green fish with black vertical stripes. It was too small though, so they had to throw it back.

         When they arrived home, the neighborhood was full of police cruisers and an ambulance. Habib drove slowly and followed a police officer's instructions to stop.

         “Excuse me sir,” the police officer began. “You're going to have to turn around if you're not a resident.”

         “I am a resident. I live in that house right there. What's going on?”

         “There was a murder suicide at the house across the street. Did you know your neighbor sir?”

         “Yes, that's Miguel's house. What happened?”

         “Your neighbor just gunned down his entire family. We're going to have to ask you some questions before we can let you through. Can you pull over?”

         “Please keep it down. My daughter is in the back.”

         “What's happening daddy?”

         “Everything is fine honey. There was an accident. That's all, but everything is going to be okay.    Daddy just has to pull over and talk to the officer for a minute.”

         “Just pull over here,” the police officer said, pointing to the side of the street.

         Habib pulled over and talked to the officer, telling him everything he knew about Miguel Santiago. He told him they were friendly, but not exactly friends, and that their kids sometimes played together. And yes, he was aware of their marital discord. The last time he spoke to Miguel was yesterday, and they talked about his wife. Or at least, Miguel talked about his wife and Habib just listened. And no, he did not seem angry, he seemed relieved.  No, he didn't know of Miguel owning any guns. Yes, Habib said, he will contact the detective if he can think of anything else that might assist in their investigation.

         He put his daughter to bed in the early evening without explaining to her the incident. He didn't go in front of his house because the cops were still there, but instead went to his backyard to smoke a cigarette. Despite standing under the shadow of his mango tree chain smoking for a long while, he didn't see his wife anywhere, and couldn't even clearly see her in his mind's eye. There was one moment where he thought he saw someone walking away but he didn't bother to investigate it. She wasn't there anymore. She wasn't dead. She wasn't alive. She was just gone. Miguel stole his anger and apparently used it on his own wife and kids. Habib was beat now; he almost had no purpose without the anger.

         In the morning, he awoke from a dream that he couldn't remember to discover his daughter's flat hand resting on his forehead. She was sitting Indian style on the bed right next to him in her Sponge Bob pajamas watching him.

         “Daddy, you were talking in your sleep.”

         “I was,” he said raising himself to sit up.

         He put his hand on hers. “Are you hungry?”

         “Yes, I want pancakes.”      

         “Let's go make some pancakes then.”

         They both got off the bed and went to the kitchen to start breakfast. He grabbed two bowls from the cupboard. She sat on a stool next to the counter and watched him get the flour, milk and eggs ready. He sifted together the baking powder, the flour, and salt. He then grabbed the second bowl and mixed the eggs and milk together, finally adding in the flour mix and stirred it. Once it was smooth enough, he stirred in the butter.  

         “How about blueberries?”

         “Yes, please,” she said, while resting her small chin on the knuckles of her hands leaning in close to his face.

         After getting the blueberries from the fridge and washing them in the sink, he mixed them in and continued stirring the batter. He poured a little vegetable oil into a pan, and let it heat up for about ten minutes before pouring the batter in to form a large pancake.

         “Can we go to the zoo today?”

         “Sure, we can go to the zoo.”

         “Is that were they have the manatees?”

         “No honey, the manatees are at the Seaquarium.”

         “Then let's go to there. I want to see the manatees.”       

          Habib flipped the large, golden pancake which kind of reminded him of a giant yellow sun expanding, ready to engulf a planet. So this is how worlds perish, he said, mostly whispering to himself.

         “Daddy, are you listening to me?”


© The Acentos Review 2015