Bibles and magazines with shiny, thin-stretched women on their glossy covers were strewn about, topping each mismatched coffee table in the Marcanos’ little grey apartment. In the corner, a daily calendar was turned to January twenty second.
That day, Mami was in the kitchen dicing tomatos for perico. It was a Sunday. Abuelo sat on a comfortable, cracked leather chair watching Todos en la Familia reruns and smoking a cigar. Ignacio was holding up la bebé for a Snapchat selfie while the mutt darted around, yipping frantically. Josefina was praying the rosary. Adriana was reading a century-old novel.
“Nobody ever helps me,” sang Mami to anyone who would listen. Adriana kept reading; Ignacio snapped another photo; Josefina dropped her black beads and scampered to the kitchen to chop.
The mutt had just settled down when the doorbell rang and he started yipping again.
“Door,” Ignacio mindlessly announced, putting la bebé back in his little swing seat. Josefina wiped tomato-sticky fingers on her worn blue jeans and dodged an excited dog in the family room to reach the door.
“Mateo!” said Josefina, starting at the shock of wet, heavy air, “Were we expecting you?”
“No, señorita. I’m here for your sister.”
“Mateo, hermano pequeño, I’m no señorita to you. We’re practically family. And besides, I’m just a little older than Adriana!”
Mateo nodded in agreement, then asked, “Is Adriana home?”
Josefina gestured towards the family room. “Entrar, por favor.” She watched Mateo move the mutt with his foot as she returned to the tomatoes, calling over her shoulder, “Adriana! Make yourself presentable! Your pololo is here!”
Mami leaned over the high counter separating the kitchen from the family room. “Mateo, mi niño! Welcome, welcome. You must stay for supper.”
“Gracias, senora,” said Mateo, “But I promised my Papa I would sit with Abuelita tonight. I only stopped by to surprise Adriana.” He turned to Adriana, still curled up on the couch reading something about Iphigenia. “Adriana, cariño, aren’t you going to kiss me hello?”
In the kitchen, Josefina snorted in a rather unladylike manner. Mami sighed, smiling.
In the next room over, Mateo was shaking Adriana’s Abuelo’s brown, calloused hand. He said, “Good to see you, señor,” in a voice as firm as his handshake. Abuelo puffed on his cigar, inscrutable.
Adriana marked her page and stood, leaving the book on her seat. She crossed the small distance to Mateo and Abuelo and kissed Mateo lightly on his slightly scruffy cheek. She then looked longingly at her novel as Mateo tried to engage Abuelo in a riveting analysis of the January weather. As Abuelo thawed and the conversation between the two men turned to the latest political uproar, Adriana allowed herself to tiptoe back to the couch and continue reading the story of another Venezuelan girl with a love for words and adventure.
After another moment, Mateo noticed that his novia was no longer at his side. Spying her in the couch corner, he said, “Adriana! I came today because I need to talk to you en privado. Will you join me outside?”
“But it’s raining!” said Mami, side-stepping out of the kitchen with a pan full of vegetables.
“Senora, no te preocupes,” said Mateo. “We can sit in my car.”
“Fine,” said Mami, “But Adriana, don’t forget you must be ready for la misa this afternoon.”
Mateo looked to Adriana expectantly. “Well?”
Adriana looked up with saucer-eyes. “What? Oh, yes, we can talk. Just let me finish this chapter.”
Mateo seemed incensed. “Adriana, no. I don’t have all day, remember?” He continued in a controlled tone, “I’m helping Abuelita tonight. And you have mass this afternoon.” Then, sweetly, “Besides, aren’t I more important to you than some old printed paper? You know the book will still be here when we’re done.”
“Está bien,” said she, marking her page again and taking Mateo’s hand.
Just as soon as the screen door clicked shut, Mami gasped with glee. “It’s happening!” she shrieked, “The moment has come! He’s going to ask her to marry him today!”
Josefina’s eyes opened wide. “You think so? Mi hermana pequeña, a married woman! But at only eighteen?”
Mami said, “I was pregnant with you by seventeen, and I turned out just fine.”
Abuelo heaved himself out of his chair to approach the kitchen counter. “A good Catholic boy he is,” he said, “Look at him, caring for his abuela. Too bad he doesn’t have any brothers for our solterona here.”
The solterona looked pained. Mami slung a plump arm around Josefina’s shoulders. “Your time will come, mi amor. For now, let’s be happy for Adriana.”
Meanwhile, in a clunky white Honda Accord, Mateo and Adriana were sitting with the lights off. Adriana looked at Mateo expectantly; when he said nothing, she reached out and turned the radio on low. Mateo frowned. He grabbed her hand and turned the car radio off.
“Adriana,” he said, “Do you know I love you?”
“So much that I can’t control myself. Do you remember how I was before we started dating? I was abatido, floating through school. But in the three years you’ve been mine, I graduated. I got a job. You give me something to live for, Adriana.”
Adriana was silent.
“Remember I love you, Adriana, okay? Before I ask you what I need to ask you.”
Adriana nodded again.
“I’m not really watching Abuelita tonight. Pablo and his girl are out of town, and I promised to keep an eye on his apartment. I thought maybe you could tell your madre you were meeting a girlfriend for some school project and come meet me at Pablo’s place. I’ll show you just how much I love you.
“It’s your decision. But, Adriana, we have been saliendo for almost three years, and I’ve been faithful all that time. El hombre can only hold out so long.”
Adriana interjected, “Mateo, are you really asking me to pecado?”
Mateo said, “Cielo, no! Never! You’re the one always looking at me with those hungry eyes. ¿Pecado? No, no. I only asked if you wanted to house-sit with me. Do you think so little of me? I’m wounded.”
“Okey,” said Adriana, “I’ll think about it.” She got out of the car without another word.
“Text me,” called Mateo out his window before driving off into the glaring sun.
Mami pounced on Adriana the moment she entered the apartment.
“So? Is my baby engaged?”
“Oh– no, Mami. Not yet.” Mami’s face fell.
“Bien,” she said, sharply, “Go put on your church dress.”
“Actually,” said Adriana, “I’m not feeling very well, Mami. I think I need to skip today.”
“We do not ‘skip’ la mita, Adriana.”
“Just this once, Mami. I think I’m getting la migraña.”
Adriana went to her room and laid down on top of her purple quilt. It was the quilt she shared with Josefina. Theirs was a pink room, almost too pink, and very tidy.
Adriana’s brother Ignacio let himself in. “Another migraine? Really?” he asked.
“Ignacio, leave me alone. I need to think.” Adriana turned over on her blanket until she was facing the wall.
“Let’s see, that’s dishonoring thy mother, bearing false witness, and refusing to honor the Sabbath.”
Adriana said, louder, “Ignacio, go away. Please.”
“No, seriously, Adriana. What kind of a woman is atea?”
“Shut up! You sound like Papi.” By now, Adriana was nearly yelling.
“What would Abuela say?”
“Get out of my ROOM!” Adriana hollered.
“Okey, okey,” said Ignacio, clicking open his iPhone. He said over his shoulder, “¡Usted estará apesadumbrado cuando despiertes en el infierno!”
* * *
A half an hour later, Adriana and Abuelo were the only ones home. Abuelo had fallen asleep, and Mami hadn’t had the heart to awaken him even for church; he would have to go to Monday mass instead. Adriana was still in her bed, listening to música pop estadounidense and thinking hard.
The dog yapped and yapped. Adriana didn’t hear him over her earbuds until she reluctantly left her bed to go the bathroom, at which point she took a detour to let the dog out. Upon opening the door, Adriana jumped– there was a child standing on the front step.
The girl was no more than thirteen, dainty, with big, dark eyes. Her black hair had a honeyed halo from the setting sun. Cinnamon skin shone, clean with childlike innocence, except for a purplish stripe around her neck and a black smudge swallowing her right eye. The girl said nothing.
“H-hola,” said Adriana. The dog had stopped barking. “Can I help you?”
“Hola. Mi amo Laura,” the girl said without expression. “I live not far from here. Please may I have a glass of water?”
“Of course!” said Adriana, flustered. “Please, come in!”
Adriana pointed the way. Laura sat on the edge of a hard kitchen chair. As she sat, Adriana saw a melon-sized mark across the girl’s right thigh.
“Laura, cielo, who did this to you?”
Her voice was quiet. “A bad man.”
“I will call the police.” Adriana went for the phone– but it was not in her pocket as it had been when she’d answered the door. Instead, it was across the kitchen, laying on the counter by the fridge. Adriana crossed to the cell phone.
“¡No!” Laura said, “It’s not safe yet.”
“You cannot go back to him,” said Adriana, taking an ice pack out of the freezer with fumbling fingers.
“Pero lo haré,” said Laura, “He still has my mother.”
Laura rose. Even without the sun on her hair, the black mop shone like gold.
“Laura, let me help you.”
The child did not respond. She walked towards the door, leaving the water untouched.
Laura opened the front door and stepped out onto the cement stairs. Adriana hurried to the door as it swung shut. She blinked. It couldn’t possibly be that she was seeing white feathery wings on the back of the girl’s frock.
Adriana opened the door and called, “Laura!” to the empty air. The child was gone.
Just as quickly, Adriana returned to the kitchen. She scrambled in the kitchen for a notepad and pen. Then, Adriana left, just as the child had done.
There was a note on the counter between the family room and the kitchen. It read, “Need to talk to Mateo. Will be home for dinner. Adriana.”
This story, a response to Teresa de la Parra’s book Iphigenia, is the product of several weeks’ work. I titled it after the protagonist of
Iphigenia in the same way that de la Parra named her novel after its inspiration, the Greek mythological character Iphigenia.