Shane Alexander Bendaña

Las Locas

We didn’t hear or see anything unusual coming from the neighboring two-story house. It wasn’t until the day that we moved in after siesta that I heard dogs howl, a loud, thin screech, and the echo of a bucket being kicked around. The noise did not startle me; it was a familiar noise I had been exposed to all my life in México City. But this particular commotion did not cease after a couple of minutes—it persisted all day like when an ear goes numb and turns red when someone far away is talking about you. My wife and I were in the bedroom, spread naked across the bare mattress, her back to me as my nose explored the rich aroma of cilantro and cinnamon rolls on the tips of her hair. Antonieta was a heavy sleeper, but if she sensed even the slightest movement, she would jump up and her eyes would pry open like those of a stray cat about to be stepped on. Where are you going? she would ask. She was always afraid that I would leave the house without saying goodbye. Yá no erés romántico, Ernesto, like before, she would say.

I tiptoed across the stained white-checkered floor, careful not to step on the stale ashtrays and half-empty bottles of mezcal. I pushed through the thick swirls of smoke stagnant around the room, pushing the chocked dark blue curtains to one side. A man selling tamales on the street with his high-pitched voice broke the silence. Antonieta’s snores trudged on. Outside a kitchen terrace a few feet below, an extremely thin woman with gray hair and veiny arms was painting a hanging mirror black. Her weakened wrists moved vertically in perfect rhythm. An obese woman stood beside her, clenching her lower lip with her top teeth. I had never seen a woman with so many folds, even for a man living in fat-nation.

“Faster!” the fat woman yelled.

The thin woman clumsily stopped painting, her upper body swaying from left to right.

            “Are you stupid? I didn’t say stop, I said más rápido, Patricia!”

            I slid back in bed before the enormous woman discovered what I was doing. I had to take a nap anyway; I had class in a couple of hours. I was taking a course on Abnormal Psychology in la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, UNAM, learning more about the field before enrolling full-time. I was eighteen and still needed to decide whether or not psychology would be a good career path even though I had decided years before. Growing up in Iztapalapa, the most beat up barrio in México City, in a house with ten children and two adults, dreams were never made and skills never praised. I wasn’t very good at anything except chasing mujeres. The only thing I enjoyed doing back then was listening to others, whether it was the 24/7 gossip stand Doña Blanca had around the corner where she charged ten pesos for the dirtiest of secrets, the way my older brother pronounced certain phrases when he read the paper about what was going on with the growth of narcs throughout Juárez, or the next-door neighbor’s sobs at night after her husband made her suck his cock—I loved it all. At the psych program offered at UNAM, I got to listen to volunteers that came to our class to share anecdotes about their chaotic lives—descriptions only seen in télenovelas. I imagined being able to fix whole Méxican generations by providing clinical diagnosis, persuading folks to believe in mental illnesses despite their belief in possessions and weak wills.

            We chilangos have an aggressive and direct way of speaking to each other, but this was unlike anything I had ever heard in other barrios. I peeked for another five minutes, staring at the black paint that covered the mirror’s reflection, knocking over one of the crystal ashtrays beside Antonieta’s corduroy heels. It was difficult to concentrate in Señor Octavio’s Abnormal Psychology class that night.

When I got home I was introduced to the other neighbors in our apartment complex. All but one passed the limits of small talk: an older woman named Sofía—the woman responsible for collecting our monthly rent.

“I wanted to ask about, well, ústed sabe,” I began to say, as I scratched the back of my neck. Sofía’s short blond hair was uncomfortably bright but I couldn’t stop staring at her dark hairline.

“Las dos locas?” she said, her face relaxed.

I was too embarrassed to say it.

“That’s what we call them around here. Their names are Claudia and Patricia,” she said. “Patricia is the mute who follows the sister’s orders. I hear she was a soldado in Nicaragua. We call the other loca Queen ‘cause of that damn bench of hers.”

She took a sip of her coffee with one hand while she held the door with the other. “They say the parents never came for Patricia like they promised.”

“What happened to them?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Have you ever spoken to Claudia?”

Sofía’s two obese pugs came running toward me, nudging me at the knees.

“I’m sorry, they haven’t eaten yet,” she said as she began to close the door. “Say hello to Antonieta for me. I hope she likes the place, it hasn’t been rented out in about two years because of this—it’s the only apartment with a full view of it all.”

Patricia was outside the kitchen entrance when I peeked out the bedroom window. Antonieta was already asleep, one leg over the other, her toes cringed against the wall, maybe hoping to get some coolness out of the plaster.

The next day, I spotted Patricia on her hands and knees in front of Claudia. From the fourth floor, I barely made out two sand-colored shapes beneath Claudia’s feet. Two dogs sniffed Patricia from behind. Claudia sat on her throne: a white, flowered metal bench specially designed to hold a three hundred-fifty pound woman. She laughed, as she demanded her sister eat faster until the cement was completely clean. Patricia didn’t even budge. Desperately, I searched for her specific facial features, but couldn’t make out her appearance. The dark circles around her eyes hid her from all of us. All I could see was the permanent arch of her eyebrows—sadness. I ran down to Sofía’s to describe the horrible event I had just seen.

“There must be something we can do, she’s making her eat dog shit for god’s sake!”

“When we all moved in here, we tried everything. As newcomers, our emotions got the best of us just like you. Some of us called the authorities. There was even a couple that wanted to help Patricia escape.” Sofia paused, as if trying to recollect years of gossip. “They’ve lived here for thirty-four years. Patricia is mentally challenged.”

“Has she always been like this?” I asked.

Sofía only smiled. My question was redundant; of course Patricia was not like the woman I had seen—her gaze lost.

I had caught Sofía in the middle of her breakfast preparation. From where I was standing, I could see her coffee mug placed facing the living room windowsill where she had the vantage point of a first floor tenant—the chance to see the Queen and her sister from the ground floor. She told me that she looked forward to this every morning—she had learned to enjoy the spectacle. We said our goodbyes and I walked back up the narrow staircase which smelled of chlorine and rotten tamales.

“Have you noticed anything strange down there?” I pointed at Claudia and Patricia’s adobe house.

Antonieta was trying to rub off the smell of orange oil from the pans without any luck. The washer had stopped spinning and the silence made me feel as though the other tenants had heard me.

“No, why do you ask?” Antonieta said as she stored the still greasy pans in the cupboard.

“It’s just…the women down there seem strange. I saw one of them eating dog shit earlier. “Sofia told me the others have complained.”

“Are you sure this woman wasn’t just picking something up from the ground?”

With her fingers wrapped around my neck, I began to feel her tense up, her long squared nails clawing the back of my crew cut as she held me close. 

“See for yourself.”

She got closer to the kitchen window behind us but there was no sign of life in the two story house. All of México was dead except for the echo of water which drained from Antonieta’s fingertips against the tiled floor.

“You know, we haven’t made love in about two days and I thought…”

“Are you seriously thinking about fucking right now? There’s someone down there being tortured.”

The house keys felt sharp against my palm—no key chain yet, nothing to call home.

“You should’ve stayed at your mother’s.”

“You’re leaving?” she said. “Over this shit?” She threw her gloves on the sink and drew the kitchen window curtain shut. She reached for her back pocket and lit a cigarette, staining the filter with her orange-oiled residue fingertips.

“If that was your sister down there, what would you do?”

Her eyebrows were nothing but crumbling concrete and dough—disintegrating—falling and rising, probably considering what being tortured meant.

“From what Sofia told me, I know that there’s something wrong. She said the woman was a soldier. She might have trauma.”

“And so you want to help her…”

“I have to.”

“No, you don’t, your place is here with me. You can’t help every single person you think is crazy out here. You would have the whole city in lockdown.”

“Eres increíble —you’ll never accept that this is what I love to do, will you?”

 The bedroom door slammed and echoed out into the hallway. I sensed Sofia’s eyes pressed against my spine as I passed her door.

Antonieta should’ve stayed in Polanco with her parents and their polo shirts. Anaxagoras Street was not poverty-stricken but it did have its diversities and the sisters were it. Antonieta couldn’t handle the idea of them—she was too selfish.


The sisters’ story was passed down to me during a night of drinking at a bar in Garíbaldí, but I didn’t know it then until it was too late.

 I had come across an older gentleman whose name was washed away with the currents of mezcal.

The place was filled with smelly, drunken güeyes. They all had long, white beards.

“A shot of mezcal,” I said as I positioned myself on a stained barstool under the light.

The bartender looked about sixteen, but his hands moved like those of a man who had served drinks all his life.

There was a gray-haired gentleman at the opposite end of the bar. He wore a ruffled t-shirt tucked under loose black corduroy pants. His knuckles rested on the wet table. They reminded me of Patricia´s veiny arms.

The shot cut through my esophagus.

“What´s a man your age doing drinking that mierda?” the veiny man said. I hadn´t noticed that he had already planted himself next to me. “You could be drinking something smoother—something worth your diez pesos.”

The space around his eyes had craters, his breath was stale, and he had yellow crusts on the corners of his mouth.

The young bartender walked toward the jute-box and a few seconds later, the usual “México Lindo y Querido” made the dark-red checkered floor beneath us tremble and made people outside remember why they lived where they lived.

“I drink mezcal because they say it’s the drink for romantics.”

“And who is they?”

“México,” I said, as I slumped my weight on the table.

“That´s pura mierda. Romantics don´t drink. We tell stories with these.” He pointed at his gray lips. “Until they go mute from dryness.”

My mom considered me a romantic before she even gave birth to me. She said she knew because of the way she remembered my dad making love to her—the way he looked at her straight in the eye the whole time he mounted her. That was the night she got pregnant with me. I abandoned my love letters after the first day of class at UNAM; becoming a psychologist was my ticket out of the barrio where the only guaranteed career involved driving a taxi all over the crowded streets of México City, and I don’t know about the States, but in México, taxistas earned shit for money. Antonieta despised me for wanting to become a shrink; she didn’t like the idea of having a husband that wanted to examine her brain rather than other parts of her body.

            I looked around the bar. Whoever decorated it wanted us drinkers to feel as shitty as possible. The urinals smelled of greasy mold and rot, the odor pushed forward by the lack of stalls. Instead, they stood in front of us borrachos, directly across our blurry vision two feet from the bar, without the cradle of doors or flush handles. The urine piled up high until each individual drop made it overflow, impregnating the soles of our heels by the trails it formed from their origins to the already polluted streets.

“And what´s your story?” I asked.

            The old man rested his glass of water on the bar and pointed his slouched shoulders toward me. I couldn´t figure out where to place my anxious hands. It was rush hour. The room got fuller as medical and philosophy students entered the broken-down bar. I knew all of them. We were all trying to escape the dull lives our wives comfortably provided us in the warmth of their armpits. I caught the bartender looking at the urine trails several times, but he didn’t do anything about it, he just kept filling our glasses as if one of the trails would somehow lift him from his duties and take him to a quieter place—a place where he could write poetry and forget about all of us wanna-be doctors. But instead, he was stuck in this pinche bar with its chipped white walls and the smell of rancid liquor. The only thing that seemed to push him through his duties was that damn jute-box.

            “I used to know a Nicaraguan girl whose heart was as cold as ice, yet, she was still in love,” he said.

I gazed at the man beside me without saying a word.

He asked me if I was married. I lifted my left hand to expose the ring that cut my circulation at night. He only smiled and took a long sip of water. He reminded me of my abuelo, how they both had the ability to jiggle the skin beneath their chins when they smiled about something as simple as the idea of marriage.

            “Francisco and this girl were clandestine lovers back in Nicaragua, but then she got involved with the Sandinistas,” he said. The old man traced his index finger on the wet table. “He walked her home every day after school. He had to leave before he saw her and all the other Nicas in coffins.”

            The medical students who had planted themselves on the opposite side of the bar were beginning to spill rum on their shirts. Fuck this place, come on Ernesto, let’s get outta here, they yelled. The man beside me didn’t even look up.

            “What ended up happening to her?” I asked.

            “One day Francisco had to leave the country.” He finally raised his eyes at me; I think it was the first time I saw their color—pale gray. “She wasn’t able to follow him to México City then. When she finally got here, she wasn’t the same. Francisco has been visiting her every day for the past thirty-four years, but she never notices him. For years, people have told him that she doesn’t recognize him anymore, yet he still taps on her window.”


            “Patricia! Ven pa’ ‘ca hija de su puta madre, hurry up!”

            I could barely see through the crust that engulfed my eyes. My legs were secured inside the comforter. The last thing I remembered was saying goodbye to the old man outside of the bar in Garíbaldí. There weren’t any cuts or bruises on my fingers, which meant that I didn’t spend that much money. Usually those were signs of me inserting my hands in and out of my pockets every five minutes to reach for cash until my cuticles bled, a drunken habit I hadn’t been able to kick since early adolescence. Antonieta suddenly popped inside the room, completely naked; she had just come out of the shower. Her face was turned to the window, where Claudia was yelling at her sister.     

            “You look good,” I said.

I could smell the crevice between her eye and cheekbone—the aroma of a new born’s milky fingers—from my resting place on the bed.

She jumped, covering her breasts with the drenched towel she had wrapped around her hair. “You scared me, I thought you were still asleep.” She didn’t move, she just stood there, looking down at las locas. She placed her hand over her mouth. “Increíble.”

            “Amor, is this the first time you’ve noticed them?”

She nodded.

“You weren’t joking.”

“Patricia! Ven aqui, hurry up. Why are you so stupid? Can you not hear me you fucking idiot?”

I didn’t bother getting up, Antonieta’s stiffness said it all. The curtains were pulled enough so that she could see Claudia walking on the veranda, waiting for Patirica to make her presence known. In the background, a man was holding his wife on the same floor as ours on the opposite side of the building, I could see them through the crack in the curtains. They must’ve been looking down at Claudia because they were motionless, their eyes looked shut. We were all ghosts looking down. Antonieta pulled the curtain and began to get dressed.

            She and I met almost two years ago. We belonged to the same group that toured UNAM in Pedregal de San Ángel in southern México City. Her mother and older sister accompanied her. I went by myself. My parents only had enough bus fare for one person. Antioneta and her family looked wealthy in their polo-collared shirts and leather purses. I made sure I looked at her expression as we passed by murals painted by Diego Rivera, one of my favorite Méxican artists. I wanted to see if she could feel Frida’s soul through his color pallet. She did. I could tell by the way she looked at me, the same way Kahlo looked at Diego when she wanted him to caress her breasts in their house in Coyoácan. I ripped out a piece of paper from my notebook and slipped her my number when her mom and sister were distracted by the tour guide’s mention of Alfonso García Robles, Octavio Paz, and Mario Molina, literary geniuses that had graduated from the university and later won Nobel Prizes. On the days that followed, I learned that Antonieta came from a family of writers, but she wanted to go to UNAM to study Communications. She asked to meet my parents several months after we began to go out. She knew I lived in Iztapalapa, but she didn’t seem to mind. She wasn’t like other rich people who as soon as they heard the barrio mentioned, would turn the other way. She was from a residential district called Las Lomas de Chapultepec. To get to her house, one had to cut through Paseo de la Reforma, where the Angel of Independence marked the center of the city. Antonieta liked the mole on my forearm and the deep dimples on my face and I enjoyed the smell of her sweaty hair and the nonchalant way she showed her love to me in public despite all the city’s eyes glaring down at us.

Days passed. I was constantly in front of any window that faced Claudia and Patricia’s house. The Queen kept her sister enclosed under grotesque living conditions, surrounded by dogs that never seemed to fall asleep at night. The older neighbors had given themselves to the hands of insomnia decades ago. Most of us hovered around our dining rooms at night after steamed tamales, waiting for the unexpected to arise. The city of Aztecs witnessed what happened when the two women were out on the terrace or when the Queen screamed so loud that her voice echoed throughout the block. Sofia had told me that Patricia hadn’t opened her mouth in thirty-four years, since the time Claudia fetched her sister on a bus from the city to Nicaragua.

“That’s why no one loves you, perra. If it weren’t for me, you’d be asking for change outside the metro.”

Claudia stared at the couple on the third floor looking down.

            “Everyone’s looking because of you. Por qué eres tan estupida!” With a duster in one hand, Patricia swept all the sun flower seeds her sister was spitting on the concrete floor before the dogs claimed them. Her pink plastic slippers dragging on the floor, the soles in midair as she crawled toward each black seed.

Patricia’s existence was barbarous compared to a stray dog’s whose skin barely latched to its bones. The older woman’s tehuana dress swept the cement floors as she walked back and forth on the terrace, inventing new demands for Patricia to obey under gripped teeth: take buckets of food to the dogs, bring them back down, take them up again, clean the bench, hose the terrace down, take that stupid look off your face, wipe my sandals with your fucking mouth, take a shit on the corner over there, pick it up with your hand and throw it in the trash. Claudia’s salt and pepper hair was always tightly wrapped above her shoulders, defining her posture as she sat in her throne. Patricia stood for hours in front of the giant sister—waiting —wrinkled fingers tied behind her back.

A week after Antonieta and I moved into Anaxagoras Street, I spotted Patricia painting the same mirror she had painted black the day we moved to the apartment. I tried to get a concrete image of Patricia’s face, but I couldn’t, she was always facing somewhere else, like someone looking out to sea in search of a drowned lover at war. It was as if her eyes weren’t really planted on this planet. It was as if the black mirror concealed Patricia’s decaying face from herself. By not letting Patricia see her real features, the Queen helped her sister avoid sinking deeper. But the brutalities continued. The Queen’s coarse screams woke us each night. Unlike my spouse, it took me hours to fall back asleep—the mirror’s image penetrating an inner sadness that my professors tried to deprive me from feeling. Señor Octavio claimed that to be a reliable psychologist, one must detach from emotional grief.

I began to sleep for half hour intervals. Claudia’s demands for Patricia to move faster woke me in a second. But the worst were her impersonations of popular Méxican ballads at three in the morning, one Jenni Rivera song after another. She would sing so loud that dogs from faraway neighborhoods would start to howl.

“Mi amor, do you hear that?” I would tell Antioneta as I shook her body.

She struggled to wake up. “¿Ernesto, qué pasa?”

I would run toward the window and spot Patricia crawling to the second floor of the terrace. Claudia was waiting for her on the lower level, one hand on her hip and the other on her side with a rock inside her closed fist. I knew she would throw it at her as soon as Patricia finished her task.

“She’s gonna kill her. I know she is.”

“Mi amor, you have to let this go. Every time I turn to look at you, your eyes are glued to a window. Come back to bed.”

Antonieta would just fall back asleep, not caring about what happened to Patricia. Not me. I would just stand there for hours, even after Claudia had gone inside to watch her télenovela. Patricia would just stand outside of the kitchen door, swaying her body from left to right, waiting for a command, her mouth opened, looking at an invisible target. And I would stand there, clutching the curtain with a cigarette between my teeth as I wondered what her skin and fading clothes smelled like.

In two weeks my wife only heard the unbearable sounds of Claudia’s screams. She thought it was too disrespectful to peek into other people’s lives. She shut her ears without pressing too hard because to her, the noise meant nothing. My eyes were glued to the events that went on. The arguments with my wife started around this time. She accused me of spending more time looking out windows than spending time with her out in the world. In the year that we had been married, we had only been exposed to the confines of some four wall enclosure—a bedroom, a kitchen, or in front of my newly found obsession; a window. She complained about wanting to take walks, have babies, go to art galleries and readings, yet all I wanted to do was observe the Queen’s next extreme demand.

“Are you in love with Patricia or something?” she said one night after dinner.

 I had been staring out the living room window, witnessing Patricia going up and down the spiral stairs with buckets of water while we ate. I had ignored my wife’s effort to make conversation at the dinner table. My eyes couldn’t help themselves—I needed to see everything that was going on next door.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Then why do you spend hours upon hours staring out at those two viejas when you could be spending time with me?” She grabbed my plate and slammed it on the kitchen sink. When a Méxican wife takes a man’s uneaten plate, the pinche güey must know that his vieja is pissed.

I wanted to tell Antonieta that I needed to see everything that was going on next door. I wanted to tell her that Señor Octavio’s theory was sinking in. That what was once pity had turned into simple curiosity.

“I don’t know,” I said, but she was already out of sight.

Back when Antioneta and I weren’t married, we had sex every time she came to Iztapalapa, which was every day, because unlike me, she had money for cabs. We didn’t mess around at school; we weren’t that type of students. But now that we were married, we had spent the last two weeks in our new apartment without making love. She blamed las locas. I didn’t blame it on anyone.

I used to go down with three other psychology students, Juanito, el Chino, and Gustavo as well as Professor Octavio to the bar called El Tacón across the street from the university every Monday and Wednesday evenings after abnormal psychology, the class el Señor Octavio taught with an ardent hunger for human behavior. We would always get super drunk, call our exes, talk about our current relationships, and then I would catch the twenty minute metro ride back to Anaxagoras Street, where the screams of las locas could be heard even from the sidewalk. The Monday evening after my wife accused me of being obsessed with Patricia, my conversation at El Tacón changed from women of my past to my neighbor’s brutalities. I sure as hell couldn’t talk to my wife about it without her questioning the sincerity of my love for her, so I brought it up to the boys. Señor Octavio showed more interest than the others.

“Have you tried approaching Claudia?” he asked.

“No, I don’t even want to think about what she would say if she knew I’ve been studying her actions.” I tried to drink less during our reunions. I wanted to have my recollections of las locas fresh in my mind, without the currents of mezcal washing away my reality, like the bartender with his jute-box in Garibaldi.

“Are you sure you’re studying?”

Señor Octavio had been divorced for over a decade. He was caught cheating with the nanny when his ex-wife returned from their son’s fútbol game. He would explain to me that he and his wife didn’t have any marital problems before he was caught with his dick inside the girl from my barrio. I always thought that the reason why he taught abnormal psychology was not because he was trying to decipher other people’s behavior, but his own. He wanted to figure out why his twenty-two-year-old marriage went to shit all because one day his huevos itched.

 “What do you know about Patricia so far?”

Señor Octavio was already on his fourth shot of mezcal.

“Not much only that my landlord mentioned she took to the streets during the Sandinista revolution.”

My professor sighed. He straightened his back and hovered over my shoulder as if he wanted to tell me something. The people walking the street outside peeked in to look at how much we had drank and then walked faster out of sight.

            El Tacón seemed smaller. Juanito, el Chino, and Gustavo were over by the pool table with their cell phones in their hands. They weren’t paying attention to each other. I knew that they were texting their old lovers, asking if they missed making love to them on winter nights. Or maybe they called their fathers to tell them they were fed up with school. Either way, there was a woman out there eating shit and we were there, full of choices.

Internally, I questioned Claudia’s behavior. Something must’ve gone wrong in her life to not have the soul to feel the slightest remorse for treating another human being like she did her sister. Or maybe it was the bitterness of the Méxican sun that got to her—the heat that enrages people. I thought of all the possibilities reflecting my marriage to Antioneta. Maybe the sun was getting to us too.

From a block away, I could see someone standing outside of Claudia and Patricia’s street-view window, the one that looked inside the sisters’ living room. As I got closer, I stood next to the old man who stared at Patricia through the dark tainted windows. She was standing in a corner, her arched eyebrows staring intensely at the whitewashed walls. The older man didn’t seem to understand Patricia’s stillness. He tapped at the glass with his untrimmed nails to grab her attention but she didn’t turn. Disillusioned, he walked passed my apartment complex and disappeared as he turned the corner. I ran after him.

“Señor,” I yelled, “¡Señor, espere!”

He slowly turned around. His face was no longer darkened by the dimmed bar light. His white, fuzzy beard pricked the inside of his nostrils.


He finally looked at me, lowered his face and kept walking. Swirls of scorching fumes outlined Francisco’s shoulders, silhouetted against the setting sun. The heat consumed him for good until he made a right turn, out of sight.


As soon as I got home, I saw the thin woman outside of the kitchen entrance; one hand clutched to her mouth while the other grasped her untamed gray hair—as if she was trying to control herself from yelling only to find herself silent. I looked down at the third floors and saw the neighbors stand quietly at their windowsills.

Patricia’s punishment was less harsh when Claudia sensed that we were looking down at her from above. Unlike her sister, Patricia never looked up at our windows. She was incapable of looking anywhere but down at her plastic slippers. I had yelled at her twice when the sounds of Claudia’s snores were secured within my senses—but Patricia never looked up—we didn’t exist to her. It makes you wonder what a revolution can do to someone.

It wasn’t until day thirty six when I spotted the Queen getting in her ’67 Chevy that I learned that one of las locas went grocery shopping. I was walking home after class when I saw Claudia waddle on the sidewalk and place herself on the driver’s seat by gently sliding backwards, deeply inhaling all the gray fumes in the air. It took several times until the ignition started. Running up the stairs to my apartment, I realized that Patricia was alone.

Outside of Sofia’s door, I heard the deep pug snores through the cracks.

            I knocked twice.

            “Doña Sofia, está en casa?”

            A trail of sweat pressed through my shirt. The sun peered through the glass stair rail.

And there she was, Sofia with her bright blond hair and not-so-smooth wrinckled face.

            “Oh hello Ernesto, como estas?”

            “There’s no time to explain, but can I come in?”

Beads of sweat formed on my hairline and I could see Sofia staring. Her pugs joined and sniffed my pants as they wagged their donut tails.

Before her lips parted, I was in her apartment, headed toward the huge window sills in her living room which faced the lower terrace outside of Claudia and Patricia’s kitchen entrance.

            I reached for a peso stuck at the bottom of my jeans pocket, wrapped around a left over piece of gum. The windows open, I flung the coin between my fingers without feeling the motion of flight.

The coin hit the kitchen’s shutters and landed on a puddle of dirty rags.

Nothing moved. In fact, things became silent. I could no longer hear people’s TVs or radios. Everything stopped moving. Even the pugs’ breathing and Sofia’s footsteps ceased existence.

            Slippers scrapped the concrete somewhere. The plastic sounding silence got closer until the thing attached to them emerged against the sunlight. She was taller and skinnier from ground level yet her face was still hidden. She slowly looked from side to side like an actress in slow motion during an exaggerated audition. She was lost, even at home. In front of her only stood concrete walls like those seen at high security prisons. She wore a sleeveless green top and on her left arm I saw a faded tattoo that had turned pale green during her long years of life. Her tattoo was unreadable from where I was standing.

I knocked on the wooden window pane with my wedding ring.

Patricia approached with the speed of a thirsty desert adventurer.

She was so close that I could count the wrinkles on her cheeks but far enough that I couldn’t see the color of her eyes. She wasn’t looking at me. She looked down. Her tattoo read:


DOB: 1961

FSLN Exile


“Do you see it?” I asked no one. Patricia didn’t move. She kept turning her head from side to side. Her gray wiry hair stiff.

            “I see it.”

            Sofia stood beside me with a coffee mug in her hands.

            “I’ve never been this close to her before,” she said.

            There were dried scars around the tattoo and I realized that what Patricia had on her arm wasn’t a tattoo but a finely encrypted stigma.

There were white paper bags in the hallway forming red carpet lights toward the dining table in the middle of the room. The water tank buzzed and the shower head picked up momentum.

            The smoke in the bedroom finally evaporated into the paper-thin walls after weeks of chocking. Claudia appeared on the terrace with her two dogs at her side. The front side of her shirt was drenched in moldy sweat. Her eyes trailed to where Patricia still stood searching for the coin’s echo.

            “Inside,” Claudia told her dogs. She followed behind, taking one last look at her sister, her hands in fists just like her ponytail behind her.

            The bedroom door slammed far away and the vibration made the curtains hit me in the face.

            Claudia came out with a leather whip that trailed down several yards behind her slippers.  The thing curled at the handle and every bit of it was worn out.

            Antonieta came in the room fully clothed, exasperated by an unknown force and by the looks of it, I knew she had been talking to her mother in the bathroom again.

            “What the hell are you doing?”

She pulled my forearm toward her.

The Queen raised the whip and swirled it over her head like a lasso.

“Leave her alone bitch!”

My throat became dry and I felt a blow at the back of my head. Patricia didn’t look up but her fat sister’s eyes met mine for the very first time. The crevices on her cheeks looked bleached dark. Her hair had a cruel part in the middle and her lips were paler than the knuckles on my toes and a strip of hair was engraved above her lip, yet she wasn’t ugly. She was just bloated by the sun and mass quantities of orange oil.

The whip’s tail fell on Patricia’s curved spine. She didn’t move. She couldn’t. She couldn’t understand anything of this world. My back cringed and folded up as if someone had poured salt on my sluggish body.

I passed my placement exam by the end of the semester, surprising Señor Octavio’s doubts. My emotions had ceased interfering and not because I wanted to be a psychologist but because the more I saw Claudia treating Patricia like a circus monkey, the more I became indifferent to the sight. Claudia’s screams somehow became lullabies and I began to sleep better than ever. Along the way, I became bored with them, bored with how simple and clear everything was until I began to imagine what Patricia’s life used to be like. The boredom came from Patricia’s inability to shed a tear, scream, lift an eyebrow in surprise or move her veiny arms to say “No, I’ve had enough.” No one has been close enough to her to describe her aroma or the way her eyes look—she’s arm’s length from everyone and therefore she’s a stranger, someone I shouldn’t care about but I do because there’s still someone out there that is waiting for her with the same intensity Claudia waited for their parents to take her sister away.

“Patricia, get your dumbass in here right now!” the Queen yelled as I walked toward the bed—my wife spread naked across the mattress, waiting for me with the same excruciating desire she waited for me in Iztapalapa under rusty zinc roof strips, the same way Francisco waiter outside Patricia’s window before class started.

©The Acentos Review 2015