I Dreamt You Made Me
Maria could not remember the song her brother had taught her. She remembered the way he had placed her fingers upon the guitar frets, pushing the cutting wires up against her fingers till they connected her body to the music – that pure sound. She remembered the tent of illumination on their porch as the lamplight reduced their world to just two. She could not however remember the words, the chords, or the rhythm. She lit another Marlboro and wished it were not a dainty cigarette she smoked, the delicate white tissue hiding the truth of the dark and dangerous tobacco beneath. Who wanted to smoke paper? Paper was for Popes.
An afternoon of English lessons with Miss Jaff had calmed her nerves. Maria’s English was extremely good but her strong R’s, and machine-gun speed when she got impassioned about something – ‘you get so wrought-up, my little conquista!’ – meant she jarred with the furnishings. She was trying hard, and it helped that Miss Jaff had a filthy sense of humor, and also that she liked to add a touch of rum to proceedings. She was an amazing teacher too and liked to have Maria tell her all about life back on the island, but only that she must do it with the most ridiculous Scarlett O’Hara ‘Fiddle de dee’. They got on famously and had become fast friends. Where the Doctor had come up with this idea of ‘improvement’ she did not know. But he wanted so much for her not to embarrass herself that she could only do as bid, and whisper her thanks to him as he drifted to sleep beside her on the soft pillows of their marital bed.
The car ate-up the miles along the coastal road. Everglade turning more and more to open pockets of water as rafts became skiffs became yachts approaching town. She looked at the names of these travelling vessels: ‘Lady Beth’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Becca’s Birthday’, and knew they were just playthings of the rich. Beyond town were the docks where freight came in, and the fishing marina beyond that where real men worked hard at bringing in the catch. In these suburban waters overgrown boys just liked to make pretend and play at work. Maybe casting a line for a prize red drum or snapper to take home to supper. The Doctor had taken a charter out of Naples in Summer to catch snook with some buddies, and she had admired him for being just that bit more adventurous. As she appreciated his willingness to marry the foreigner, the outcast. To give her license to remain.
Hair streaming from the open window, she fished around in the glove compartment but again found only Marlboro. The Doctor called the glove compartment a ‘Jockey Box’, which marked him out as not from round these parts either. He could work in general practice here, he could sponsor the Easter parade, he could even socialize with the mighty; but he would never be fully accepted. You could not be if you had not inherited a plantation. That’s how these parts were. And no government interventions would ever touch the mindset of these people.
The scent was in the air as she came through the heavy front door. The house calm. Everything in position. Nothing but the French grandmother clock ticking off the endless seconds to disturb the ear. But the perfume came to her, as faint as though in memory. This was not a scent she owned. It belonged to Veronica Happlestead. Their husbands were in the same private members' club at the ballpark. The Doctor had remarked once or twice at the age difference between Harry and his much younger acquisition.
She closed the front door behind her, unpinned her hat and hung it along with her silk scarf and evening gloves on the hall rail. Slipping out of her patent winklepickers to enter the master bedroom that she had thought hers, she threw open the door but there was nothing amiss to see. The strong afternoon sun flooded the scene’s innocence through the high windows. Gauze netting filtered the true nature of the light’s source, but it was white as white could be. She stepped within and everything slowed as her heart quickened its pace, rendering the scene before her as a nightmare in which everything had changed without anything ever having really changed at all.
She picks up the single hair from the coverlet, so fine and blond as to be almost invisible. The bed sheets smoothed as tight as the maids make them, and yet they have the weekend off since nobody is meant to be home. It is not a hair as long as those black exotic ones that stream from Maria’s own scalp. It waves slightly in the breeze of being moved, bringing to mind the golden gloss of Hollywood starlets seen in the colorized magazine shoots she is supposed to enjoy flicking through. Shaking, yet not knowing quite why, she sits at HER dressing table. On HER fragile round-backed white painted wooden perch. She opens the cigarette case she keeps always tucked within her evening purse and lights the first cigarillo of the afternoon with HER Tiffany table lighter; the miniature bronze nude turning her miniature bronze head away in disgust, gripping the underside of the rim with even tinier, more desperate fingers, lest her hard yet exquisite frame is tossed from the parapet to be dashed on the Chinese rug below. Drawing deep on the honey-scented smoke, Maria brings the hand that holds the offending string high. With each intake of the thick, Latin vapor she brings the burning cherry forwards and onto the stinking, burning, matted knot that has formed at the hair's end, sending acrid and odorous sparking ash to die in HER silver Tiffany ashtray.
His smoke-white lozenge Packard Deluxe glided through the sticky streets, top down and smelling of expensive tobacco smoke. The Doctor, sitting upright and staid, alone at the wheel, viewed the late afternoon Florida scenery through a smile as warm as his engine. He talked a lot at soirees about his time in Africa, but here was where he was happiest. Respected. Learnèd. A beautiful and exotic wife on his arm. A boon to the community. Trusted and liked. He turned-up the Motorola to hear the storm reports. The weather guy was saying, one professional to another, that the hurricane was passing many miles to the South of here. He relaxed a little at this message of continued peace.
The valise on the back seat sat center in his mirror. The locks looked solid. He would check every twenty seconds or so, just to make sure he was possessed of this object. Hence, why it was there and not in the trunk. It weighed on him, this responsibility. Unlike anything he had ever had to undertake.
He swung the motor into his driveway, past the sky vines' barbacana of blue. The smaller black car he had given to Maria was under the carport. He drew-in beside it, admiring the fit his larger saloon made with his wife’s racy but respectable machine. He pulled the valise from its position and entered the garage door using the key he kept in his wallet. Stowing the bag under a tarp on the steel work shelving, he locked the door again and went up to the front entrance.
Since Maria was obviously at home, the door was unlocked. The doctor placed his homburg on the hall table, beside the telephone. It was best, he had explained, to keep it here so that it could be grabbed on the way out if an emergency call was to come in.
‘Maria, baby?!’ He wondered if she was out back on the deck, looking over the lawn with a glass of lemonade. After the day he had just endured, a long cool lemonade would go down just right. ‘Maria?’ He glanced at the drawing room through its twin open doors as he went to the kitchen. Some books were on the floor, covers wide. The kitchen was bare. They gave the servants weekends off if no engagement was planned. The break from their professional company suited him. Being able to drop his constructed veneer was such a relief, having to act a certain way even when at home simply for the benefit of one’s own employees was ridiculous. It was bad enough that he had to wear a tie when visiting patients. Tiresome that his wife was not accepted by the other wives, even though they were so jealous of her that they gossiped of little else. Husbands too were jealous, it was one reason they were invited to dinners so frequently, for the talk that hid what was really meant. Life down here was far too formal sometimes.
Out on the deck was nothing but breeze. Until he looked down and saw a broken crystal tumbler and several cigarillo stubs, simply ground under foot on the whitewashed planking. ‘Maria!?’ A note of anxiety unavoidably crept into his voice. He had been careful hadn’t he? He had removed every last trace imaginable?
She was in the drawing room. On the floor hidden from the hallway by the couch back. The books were books on colonialism in the South. On the Spanish war. She had been drinking and her eyes were pools of deep despair. Down her cheeks a deluge had run and her lips were puffy in a way he had never known from previous upsets.
‘Baby?’ he tried, the word sounding hollow even to him. For the first time, she turned her eyes in his direction, acknowledging only that he was in her way.
‘Why?’ She said in a voice as soft as a girl seeing her pet die. ‘I don’t know why you would do that. Am I not enough? Am I not your every dream?’
‘Baby, of course you are. You are everything.’ His instinct was kicking-in now, fighting hard to break the surface before the last breaths were inevitable. ‘From the first time I saw you, you were the best, the brightest, the most beautiful, passionate, and purest angel I have ever known, baby…’
‘This is nothing, Maria. Mary… This is a foolish man who doesn’t know when he’s scored a home run. I don’t know what came over me. It’s the Devil, that’s what..’
‘You have betrayed me, Mike. I sit here like a stupid woman, cheated-on by a high-school nothing whose cock tells him he’s the ‘big man’. That one Paraíso is not enough for such a good, such a gracious… such a charitable man as he! You are nothing, Mike. All your charity is for nothing. I do not want to be your little project any more. I am going to leave you as soon as the papers come through. I am going to divorce you to…’
'¡Cállate! Maria Christobal Bourgasse was a mongrel. I am Taranta, reborn! I will go amongst whomsoever I choose, D-o-c-t-o-r!' And this word she extruded from her mouth like a Guinea worm. Long. Slow. Patient. White. 'You are right - not all my countrymen see my best favor. But you are hardly the man I thought you were either, mister.' She spat on his shoe, the hot saliva tracing a Spanish line down his otherwise all-American Oxford brogue.
From his superior position, her husband tried to match the Hispanic gaze, but wilted like a petal in a furnace. He had been caught in the act and his solidity was... wet on his shoe. He left the room deflated and took his whiskey out on the porch to sit and do his thinking alone. He knew she meant it. He just didn’t know yet what shape these next few months would take.
* * *
Taranta sang that afternoon in the language her husband had denied her. She closed her eyes and breathed the words of her homeland:
‘Ay, San Roberto, este macho es un Superman.
Ay, San Roberto, lo siento grande.
Estaba gritando tanto que tuve que decirle,
“Esto me tiene tan caliente y ya estoy que me vieja.”
‘Y asi fue. Siguió moviendo esa pequeña pizca.
Y ella me gritó “¿Como me hiciste rico?”
'Y soñé que eras un Maricao
Ai final, cuando ya terminó el combate…
‘¡Ah! Y me engañó porque hay estamos esperando con cariño, Puerto Rico...
Éste es mi amor con pueblos de Puerto Rico’*
A roar of the smaller car’s engine announced her departure. She was off downtown where her people lived. Off to speak Spanish, share some jokes and catch-up on some memories she had tried far too hard to forget. She would find Roberto and take him up on his offer. Felipe might even now be on the mainland and she must know. She would not live this life reliant on largesse. In her marriage she was nothing. In America, she was only a step above the street. In Taranta, Maria Christobal Bourgasse was just beginning.
* ‘Oh, Saint Roberto, this macho is a Superman.
Ay, Saint Roberto, I'm so sorry.
I was screaming so much I had to tell him,
“This has me so hot and I'm already old.”
‘So it was. He kept moving that little bit.
And she shouted "How you made me rich?"
And I dreamt you were a Maricao.**
In the end, when the combat is over…
Ah! And he cheated me because there we all wait with affection, Puerto Rico...
This is my love with the Puerto Rican people.
**Maricao is an inland municipality of Puerto Rico, once synonymous with coffee growing, and coffee barons; it lies in the foothills of the Cordillera Central mountains that divide the island North and South.