by Mary Jo Garrido
The afternoon pretends to be insignificant. I sit on a solitary corner of the small café with European airs. On the other side of the glass window, Santo Domingo and the muffled sound of traffic struggle before the commercial plaza. The sun glints on the vehicles, on the cobbled parking area, in between the slate grey delineating the clouds.
Before me, the cappuccino with extra cream I ordered and some cookies. We used to come here. But I love these deditos de novia bride-fingers cookies, metaphor and all.
A few feet in front of me, two lovebirds are seated on the same side of the table. She is resting her head on his shoulder; his arm cuddles her back. I take my eyes away from them swiftly and nibble on one of the deditos de novia: butter, sweetness and the acidity of the guava, melt on my tongue. The rest of it disappears in my mouth followed by a couple of sips from my cappuccino.
A flirty giggle makes me turn to the opposite side of where I’m seated. Another couple. But these ones don’t seem to know each other well yet. They are seated on opposite sides of the table, no hands held across it. She leans toward him every time she giggles and then jerks her hair back, smiling wide. She sips from her cup, her eyes fixed on his. Flirting ritual: let him almost caught her and then run to extend the thrill of feeling desired and hide a bit longer her incognito answer. They talk from time to time, but I only meaningless syllables reach me.
I can’t see his face, but when he rests his arms on the edge of the table and starts stroking with his fingertips the ghost ring on his left hand, a mouthful of air gets stuck in my throat. I recognize the navy and forest green stripes over the white shirt and the dark hair on his cinnamon skin arm: sweet, bitter, forgotten. He keeps rotating the invisible ring on his finger just as he used to do when it wasn’t invisible, when my name and a date surrounded that finger.
He laughs. I could hear the Casanova words hidden in his laughter. I know them well.
It had only been three months and there are spiderwebs like creepers all over his memories. His laughter uncovers them, abruptly: the silence that lingered at our dining table; the business calls that made him walk away far enough from me; my desire tossing and turning on our bed for weeks alongside his tiredness; his Judas kisses when he got home and I pretended I was sleeping but the alarm clock at my bedside accused him because it was two in the morning; the foreign perfume on his neck and the strands of someone else’s hair on his suit, blatant, shameless; the moment I spilled what was left of my love all over the floor and yelled “I’m no shit for you to trample on me”; his sheepish eyes making more promises, reciting in vain more of his lying verses of love… How soon after, everyone saw him strutting around the city with her, greeting my friends to introduce her, unabashed, and then leave holding her hand.
I look again at her. It’s not “her”; this one is barely twenty. They keep giggling, flirting. He reclines on his chair and rests his ankle on the opposite knee while shaking his feet. She sips her cup and smiles, eyes and all. Then, he leans toward her and tries to take her hand, but she rushes to hide it under the table, on her lap. He leans further, close to her ear. Whispers something, and as he does her smile flatlines. She gets up, grabs her purse and leaves.
He stays, playing with the mark of the ring on his finger. For a few seconds he stares ahead at nothing. Then he gets up. As he turns around to walk out of the café, he sees me. Smiles. Hesitates? He approaches me anyway. I remain seated; don’t invite him to join me. He bends and kisses me on the cheek, too close to my lips. His political discourse starts, love demagogy; even his eyes turn red when he says “the woman of my life”.
I devour the remaining deditos de novia from a bite or two, while he keeps babbling.
“Look at me, please” he says, but I don’t. The bubbles of his “I love you” of his “no one like you” of his “I’m devastated”, vanish in the air before they can touch me. When I take the last sip of my cappuccino, I’m not listening anymore.
I stand up. He grabs my arm to stop me, and from his lips, strange beasts, desperate creatures, come out. I say nothing, push his hand away and walk out.
My love for him was locked moribund in our forsaken home, whispering “nevermore”.
As I walk to my car, a yellow butterfly flutters before my eyes. Free.
The afternoon doesn’t pretend insignificance anymore. It transcends.
Mary Jo Garrido is a Dominican-Canadian fiction author who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her stories have appeared in English in Raconteur literary magazine and Dreamers Creative Writing. In Spanish, her work appears in “Nostalgia bajo cero,” an anthology awarded Best Multi-author Fiction Book 2021 by the International Latino Book Award and in “La casa en el race,” a collection of short stories by seven Latin American writers, published in June 2022 by Editorial Lugar Común. Currently, she’s working on a collection of interrelated short stories as her final project for the Creative Writing certificate at the University of Toronto. You can follow Mary Jo at @maryjogarrido.