My room

My room
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sisters

Published in The Helix in 2008

I sometimes wonder if my sister is real.

Sometimes, when I’m forced to face the harsh light of day, I wonder if I dreamt her up, if somewhere down the line she became an imaginary friend gone bad and I am now clinically insane. It scares me, that thought, because if it were true there is a chance I belong in a padded room somewhere, working out my issues with some shrink who thinks I had the hots for my daddy. And it scares me because some part of me would be relieved if she wasn’t real, if life were normal, and in that relief I am ashamed of myself.

But she’s real. When I tell her of my fears, she laughs at me, one of those deep, throaty laughs she gives me whenever she thinks I’m being silly. She says the world would be better off without her, that I shouldn’t be ashamed. But disagree. I have to. She’s my sister.


I think of this as she paces in front of me, so pretty, so fragile, like a china doll that escaped from her glass case. Her pale skin almost has a light to its own, and even after all these years she still amazes me. Sometimes she forgets herself and moves so fast I lose sight of her. Still, she moves like a cat: fluid and hypnotizing, with the kind of grace that could make a ballerina cry. She is beautiful, and she is dangerous, with long dark hair and deep dark eyes that see to the soul. Anyone else would miss the bluish circles under her eyes. Anyone else would say she’s just another pretty girl.

I know better.

She’s restless, and she looks thinner. That’s the reason she’s here, although neither one of use wants to admit it. I sit on the couch while she paces across the six steps that make up my living room, cigarette in hand.

She hates my apartment. It’s a small one bedroom with paper thin walls that are in dire need of a fresh coat of pain. For the first few weeks after I moved in, I had trouble sleeping here. There wasn’t a night that I didn’t hear police sirens in the wee hours of the morning, and I was afraid that I had moved into a bad neighborhood. It wasn’t until a few more weeks later that I found out I was half a block away from a police station, and that made me feel safer somehow. I knew that if there was ever trouble, help was around the block.

Still, the apartment isn’t without its downsides. The hallways sometimes smell like kitty litter, and smoke that isn’t cigarette smoke, and from time to time, my mail has gone missing. But it’s my place, crappy as it is.

“You could live somewhere better, you know.”

I sigh. “We’ve had this conversation.”

“All I’m saying is, let me get my hands on the right person…”

I give her a look.

“You’d do the same if the situation were reversed.”

“No,” I finally say. “Because if the situation were reversed, you wouldn’t let me.”

She picks up one of my framed pictures and sighs. It’s the picture of us at Disney world. We were pre-teens then. Dad had just finished law school, something that seemed nearly impossible once Melanie and I were born. He went to school at nights and worked during the day mopping floors. Then suddenly, when it began to feel like it would never end, Dad finished his degree. We took the trip to celebrate.

In the picture Dad has a chocolate smudge on his cheek and doesn’t know it. He’s pointing at something out of frame and has a goofy smile on his face. Years later he would swear that he had planned it that way, that his pose and chocolate smeared cheek were completely premeditated to produce the perfect picture.


We believed him because dad was that kind of guy: a goofball that didn’t care if you laughed with him or at him, just as long as you laughed.
Oh, and he had a great laugh. It was throaty and deep, and his face lit up in a way that made you wish he’d never stop. Melanie and I used to take turns telling jokes, just to keep him laughing.

Mom stands next to him in the picture, reaching out to him with a napkin in her hand, her long black hair swirling around her head like a halo. You can almost see it move within the frame. Her blue dress was one of my favorites. I swore that if she wanted to, she could hide in the sky. She was so quiet compared to Dad.

Melanie and I are the only ones looking at the camera, arms wrapped around each other, with matching smiles and Mickey Mouse ears, so that anyone looking at it would swear we were twins. We were so close then, sometimes communicating without ever saying a word. Every time we had pizza for dinner Melanie knew to give me a cup of milk even before I asked, and only I knew how she liked her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After school we would do cartwheels on the way home, and at night we would climb on the roof and count the stars.

It never stops hurting. Everytime I remember how much I miss our family, I get such a sharp pain right in the middle of my chest and I break down in tears. I miss how Dad never got mad. Even when I deserved it, he never shouted at me. I remember once in the third grade, I pissed my pants because I was having too much fun playing after school. I came home a wet, smelly mess, afraid and humiliated at myself. Big girls didn’t wet themselves, I knew that, and I knew I was in trouble. But Dad only ran a bath for me and kissed me on the forehead, and never mentioned it again.

Our lives fell apart after that picture was taken. It was as if our existence was destined to crumbled, slowly and painfully, like frogs that are being slowly boiled alive and don’t even know it.

Mom drinks now. She spends her life sitting in front of the TV wishing, only I don’t know what she’s wishing for. Melanie is no longer who she used to be. And Dad, well, Dad is dead. The picture is a souvenir of happier times.

Melanie puts the picture down and digs into her coat pocket. Her hands shake slightly. She’s hungry but can’t eat, and instead treats her body to a cigarette. Again. It’s the fifth one I’ve seen her have since she’s walked through the door. Part of me cringes. She is still physically seventeen, after all, and some irrational part of me wants to protect her from that. But the cigarettes couldn’t hurt her, I know that. They could be laced with arsenic and mercury and wouldn’t trigger much more than a yawn.

“How long has it been,” I ask in a low voice. I know she hears me. We don’t usually talk about it out loud, and my question catches her by surprise. She stiffens at the sound of my voice and burns the tip of her finger with her silver lighter. I know she can’t feel pain, but she pretends to nurse the burn just to avoid facing me a little longer.

“Six weeks,” She finally says, not looking at me.

“Well, you’re getting better at it.”

She sighs. “Not good enough. I have to kill someone.”

I nod.

“Tonight.”

* * *

I guess I should explain, about Melanie, about my family, but the truth is that I don’t really know. It was my first year of college, and it had hurt enough to leave home without my kid sister, tragically born a year after me. I got the call late one night from one of the cops who used to come to my house for dinner. I remember how my brain was fuzzy from the alcohol we snuck into the dorms, how we were dancing and laughing to some song on the radio, but the news shocked me sober. My father and sister were dead, my mother, forced to watch, was traumatized into silence. They explained it to me, carefully, repeatedly, that someone put a hit on the family. That Dad, the great public defender, was onto something big, and that I was lucky to be alive.

They didn’t explain that I was an orphan.

The first time I saw Melanie again was after the funeral. My chest was weighed down with the full force of my grief. It was so heavy that at times I was afraid that I couldn’t breathe. I had cried myself to sleep, begging god to kill me too. As far as I was concerned, my entire family was dead. I would never see my sister grow up, my mother would never hug me again, and I would never hear my father laugh again.

While I drifted into sleep, she came into my room and crawled into bed with me, something she’d done a thousand times before. The move was so comforting, so welcome that for a few seconds all I did was hold her cold hand to my chest and cry. And then I looked up into her eyes.
“It’s me big sis,” She whispered. She looked like death, her sweet sixteen dress streaked with the blood of the man who had tried to violate her motionless body.

“No, I buried you today. I buried you!” I cried.

“Yes,” She whispered. “And now I’m back.”

I landed in the hospital shortly after that, raving about how my vampire sister visited me at night. Melanie visited me every night without fail, and we talked about what she was going through, about how she needed me to be strong. The doctors told me that I was wrong. That the grief was making me see things, that I was in shock. I soon learned to keep my mouth shut, but sometimes I wonder if I still belong in that padded room. If your sister were a vampire, you’d think you were crazy too.

After I got out, I once asked Melanie if she remembered what happened the night she died. She shuddered, something that she really doesn’t do these days, and told me that she only saw beautiful sharp teeth. And then she felt pain. I never asked again.

* * *

Tonight we wear fishnet stockings to the bar.

I stand at the bar, waiting for my signal. My brain is already comfortably cloudy and I suddenly find myself giggling at the clothes that I’m wearing. I look like a hooker from a B movie, with a tight leather skirt and dark red lipstick. I look like a vampire groupie.

I try to stop myself from laughing, instead taking another sip from my drink, feeling the alcohol sting my throat as it goes down. I hate alcohol, but I pretend to enjoy it regardless, licking the lipstick-wound of my lips in its aftertaste.

I drink peppermint schnapps, a little joke of mine. Melanie once told me that the first time she had fed, the man had been so drunk on cheap peppermint liquor that she could taste it in his blood. It had made the kill easier. Blood and candy, she said, taste best together.

Melanie is here, but exactly where I am not sure. I can feel her presence pushing against the edges of my consciousness. She’s here somewhere, hiding in the shadows, whispering in my head. Every time I look at a guy she whispers something to me about him.

What about the bartender, I think.

He has a wife and kids.

Cute guy with the blond hair?

Don’t even think about it.

How about bald tattoed guy?

No, I would rather die than have his blood running through my veins.

I sigh. For a blood sucking fiend, I think, you sure are picky.

Then something happens.

He has a sweet smile and warm eyes, and suddenly I think of Dad. He puts his hand out and says, “Hi, I’m Pablo.”

Melanie hisses softly in my head, a warning.

Get out.

I stutter. “Hi… umm, I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t talk. I have to leave.”

He takes my response for rejection. “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“No!” I shout, not wanting him to turn away. “I’m sorry, it’s just that my sister is waiting for me outside. I have to go.”

The smile returns. “Oh, I understand. Can I give you my number, at least?”

“Sure,” I say shakily.

He takes my left hand, and for a second I think he’s going to kiss it. Instead he turns the palm up and writes his phone number on my hand.

“There,” he says. “Call me.”

I get up to leave, and in an unexpected moment he kisses my cheek. The feeling makes me warm, so that I have to force myself to walk away.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been kissed.

I step outside. The bitter cold cuts into my skin and I’m almost shocked sober. I take a second to light a cigarette and pull my jacket on.

Take a left.

To the left is an alley. It’s almost pitch dark and very dirty. I walk into it, knowing trouble is coming, so I smoke my cigarette and wait.

I don’t have to wait for long.

I can feel fingers wrap around my hair. Before I can react I’m thrown to the ground. Glass breaks my fall. It cuts into my hands, my thighs. There is a piece of glass deep in my knee and all I can think about is how many stitches its going to take to close the wound.

Five? Six?

I look up. I expected someone else, a large and angry guy with a deep resentment for women. Maybe even bald tattooed guy; he looked like he considered sodomizing fun. But it’s Pablo. Pablo whose kiss is still keeping my cheek warm and phone number is written on my palm, smudged by the blood he caused. He’s undoing his belt with one hand and hold a knife in the other.

“You’re going to take this,” He shouts at me, his eyes no longer warm. We’re so far from anyone and the music from the club is so loud that no one will hear us. “If you make a sound, I’ll slit your throat.”

But it doesn’t get that far. A hand reaches out from the darkness and breaks the wrist holding the knife. Before he can scream Melanie wraps her arm around his chest and sinks her teeth into his neck in one swift motion. I watch his eyes go dead as she drains him, not feeling a bit remorseful for him. The first time I watched her feed I cried myself to sleep. I prayed and begged for someone, anyone, to bring my sister back, to make everything as it used to be. But no one answered my prayers that day.

Instead I watch Pablo die. His muscles are twitching, skin growing pale at the loss of blood as Melanie radiates in the moonlight. Her cheeks are blushing pink and for a second she looks alive again.

She drops the body to the ground and walks over him.

Poor bastard, I think viciously. He never saw it coming.

“Thanks,” She says.

I nod.

“Are you ok?”

I look at my knee. “I think I’m going to need stitches.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok,” I tell her. I’m used to playing bait.

“We’re gonna have to keep doing this, you know.”

I nod.

“And you’re ok with that?”

I nod again, not wanting to talk too much, afraid of hearing my voice shake. I pick up my things from the ground. We take Pablo’s body and throw it in a dumpster, setting it on fire, watching the flames dance before our eyes.

Then I look at Melanie, strong again. I know this is wrong. I know this is crazy, but the truth is I have to help her.

After all, she’s my sister.

Keys

When I was young, I had one key.
So if my mom wasn't home I could always get in.
In high school I had two keys,
one for home and one for my diary.
For a while I had a handcuff key.
Just for laughs, nothing here to see.
When I fell in love I had no keys
because there was only one shared between him and me.
And now I have eight keys
and twice as much responsibility.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On days like today

Printed in The Recorder on February 22, 2006

Living with four other women is hell. I wake up to the sound of my sister's voice. "Andreina."She says."Mamí wants to know where you put her curling iron."

I groan. It's five in the morning. FIVE in the Mother-Loving-Morning!

So that means that I've only had three hours of sleep. Just great.

"It's sitting on top of my dresser," I say. My sister grabs the curling iron off my dresser and runs out my room. "Shut the door!" I scream after her, but of course she doesn't hear me. And so begins another day.


I drag myself out of bed at 8:15 am. I got it figured out perfectly: I have fifteen minutes to shower, and fifteen to get dressed. I have to be out the house by 8:45 so I can catch the bus in time to be in class at 10 am.

Forget makeup and hair, most days my hair is in a bun and my face is so shiny it reflects sunlight. Most days I perform my routine on autopilot and I’m not fully awake until I take a hot shower. But today the bathroom is locked. I pound on the door. "Who the hell is in there? I have to get ready for school!" I scream.

"It's me," my cousin Tatiana shouts back. "I'm dyeing my hair!" "At eight in the morning?" She opens the door and looks at me. She has a shower cap on her head and brown hair dye is staining her hairline. "I couldn't get back to sleep, so I figured, why not?"

I give her a look and push her out of the bathroom, then I quickly jump into the shower before realizing that there's no hot water.


I’m sitting in class where my professor is explaining something I’m sure is going to be on the test. But I’m not listening. Instead I’m thinking about the fact that all I have is twenty bucks in the bank and no job.
My original plan was to take a year off and return to school for the fall of 2006. That plan changed three months later when I realized just how incredibly and utterly bored I was. I quit my full time job and picked up where I left off. But the time off made me rusty, and balancing my school schedule with my hectic home life is a lot harder than I remember.

I try to remember when was the last time I had a full night’s sleep when my phone rings. It’s my mother. I run out of the classroom under the pretense of going to the bathroom. The professor gives me an annoyed look, but he is not quite as scary as my mother is.

“Que?” I whisper. Translation: What Do You Want? “I need you to buy me some cough medicine on your way home.” “Ok” “And remember that your father is going to be here tonight.”

Great. A visit from my Dad usually means its Let’s Pick On Andrea Day.

“Anything else?” I say. “Yes. You left your homework on the kitchen table.” God, please kill me now.

I get home by 7:30 looking forward to watching tonight’s episode of Smallville, my first in two months. My mood is lifted with the thought of seeing Clark Kent and his perfect abs. I run down the stairs to my room to drop off my book bag, but the sight stops me in my tracks.

My room is clean! I can see the floor! Wait, since when do I have a carpet?

“Your sister and Tatiana cleaned it,” Charmaine says to me. “They know how stressed you’ve been so they cleaned it for you.”

The gesture makes me warm inside. Maybe it’s not so bad, I think. Maybe having a crazy life with a crazy family is good for me. It’s a nice thought.

I manage to hold on to those warm and fuzzy feelings until I look into the fridge and realize,

“Dammit! Who ate my Crunchy Peanut Butter!”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Retail Workers Know (But Won't Tell You)

One of the great things about working at the mall is that you are privy to all the sales, markdowns and coupons.

I once did all my Christmas shopping on a budget and bought a Land's End dress for $4. Granted, its a size too small, but as bob as my witness, I will fit in it someday.

Even without the sales I still got a good deal. Some of the higher end clothing stores offer employees a 40% discount. And when you work in the mall, you always know someone who works in the store next door.

For those of you who are not part of the retail elite, you can still afford the brands you love on a budget. If you love a certain brand or store, sign up for every newsletter they can offer. You may not need them right away, but it'll allow you to catch those awesome sales that come around every once in a while.

Stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx are amazing places to find great deals, but if you're an online shopper with something specific in mind, and want to shave a few dollars off, there are websites that share coupon codes for any store you can think of. However, I don't know how legal this is, so tread carefully.

And as always, be nice to the girl behind the register.