It was a dark and gloomy night. 7:30 p.m. State Street looked like if it was part of an old and haunted ghost town, with the exception of a homeless man taking a nap on a public bench, a young adolescent coming out of the bookstore with a copy of Kafka’s The Trial, and a woman standing alone on the corner of State and Canon Perdido.
Her name was Paola. She had on a short, red dress, and long blond hair. Her lips and shoes matching the dress, her hair complementing her Caucasian skin tone. No, she wasn’t a prostitute. She was waiting for Paul, her boyfriend.
She looked at the logo behind her, while gently hiding some of her hair behind her ear. “Borders, Book Store,” she said out loud, confidently knowing that the napping homeless was not close enough to listen to her soliloquy, and the teenager was halfway on the other side of the street. She then looked at the main entrance and was happy to see that they were going out of business soon. “Hopefully they open up a clothing store,” she said, cheerfully.
But of course, she wasn’t there because it was fun to look at signs. She’d been waiting for Paul a lot longer than what she anticipated. “Fifteen minutes is a long time,” she said, as a reddish blush of anger appeared on her cheeks.
She hated to be there. It was so frustrating. But it wasn’t just the ‘waiting’ part that irritated her. No, it was more than that. In fact, she was a little bit possessive and couldn’t help but think that Paul was fucking another woman in his office; added to that the fact that she didn’t know where his office was.
Paul never told her.
They’d been going out for a month, so there were things they didn’t know about each other. And she hated that. She wanted to know everything about him since the moment he started hitting on her at Sandbar they night they met. According to her, it was love at first sight.
Wait for me outside the Borders store. There’s something I want to talk to you about. I’ll be there by 7:15, his message said. She reread it, probably thinking that she misread it the first ten times.
They’d planned to go out, have dinner, and make love after that, hence the sexy, short dress and the lack of underwear. Sadly, it seemed liked none of the above was going to happen. That uncomfortable thought occurred to her again, more graphic and disturbing nonetheless. She imagined him hugging, kissing and loving someone else; she had a whimsical brain and a broad imagination.
Anyways, she wasn’t going to be anybody’s toy, no matter how handsome and tall Paul was. She was done waiting. She walked towards the nearest parking lot with a frown on her forehead, in addition to the still notorious reddish blush. When she was in front of his black Jetta, Paola opened the car’s door, stepped in, and slammed the door shut.
Then, she heard something. A bang? She thought. Someone’s playing with fireworks right now? She then turned on the engine and drove away, swearing to have Paul’s balls on a stick for having her wait in that corner like a prostitute.
The drive to her house could’ve been done in less than ten minutes, but she deliberately drove all over downtown, hoping to spot Paul’s car somewhere; but of course, she paid more attention to bars and hotels. Maybe he is at Sandbar, picking up another blonde, she thought, getting angrier at the idea. She did see a couple of blue Mustangs, but Paul’s had a particular sticker that nobody else would dare to have.
By eight, she was opening her house’s front door. She looked at her phone for the seventh time, saw that Paul hadn’t called, and a look of defeat clouded her green eyes. She heard noise in the kitchen and assumed her mom was in there. She walked through the living room and her heels nearly broke the wooden floor every time she took a step. Such was her frustration that she even ignored the welcoming meows of her white cat, which lay peacefully on the black sofa. She also glanced at the phone that was on the coffee table, in the middle of the living room, hoping it’d ring.
Susan, Paola’s mother, was whistling Don’t Talk To Strangers, as Rick Springfield sang on the radio that was on top of an old and brown Liverpool refrigerator.
“Hi Paola, why did you come so early?” she curiously asked while washing some dishes. She was the exact older version of Paola; same eyes, hair color and a well-preserved body that made her early forties look like early thirties; yoga and constant exercise were her secrets.
Still, with anger drawn on her face, Paola said, “He never came.”
“Maybe something happened,” Susan suggested while putting away a white plastic plate and cleaning her hands with a paper towel she had on top of the window, next to the faucet. She then readjusted the pink, plastic apron she was wearing over her black culottes and one of her husband’s white t-shirts.
“I don’t think so,” She shrugged, while resting her left arm on the center table, and rubbing her forehead with her right hand, perhaps trying to erase the promise of a headache.
Susan looked at Paola while pursing her lips. She knew how jealous and possessive her daughter was about the man she dated. “Honey, you don’t have to be so dramatic.”
“Bad news travels fast!” she burst.
“Ok, think whatever you want,” Her mom said, giving up on a meaningless discussion, and kept washing the dishes. It was pointless to try to give her advice. Been there, done that, Susan thought.
Paola left to her room, as Rick Springfield finished the last line of his song. Susan wasn’t in the mood to keep whistling.
Walking upstairs, Paola had that abhorrent thought again. She pictured another woman (the slutty kind) with her boyfriend, and the images vividly dancing around her head. She didn’t really want to reach the room, for she knew she would see the picture of him on the nightstand. She counted the stairs: one, two, three, four, five, six…. When she was done, Paola found herself in front of the room. Her room. Staring at the white wooden door, Paola stood motionless for a couple of minutes. Then, she turned the knob open.
Then she turned on the light, and the room’s smell hit her nose as she stepped in.
“That is his aroma,” she thought.
The two windows in front of the door had red curtains. She had recently changed them because…
“This is his favorite color,” She whispered to herself.
The bed was between the windows, and it was also dressed in red. On the right side of the bed, was his picture on a brown wooden nightstand. He had on a black tuxedo and she wore a red dress (different from the one she had on at that moment). She felt how the picture was staring at her. Although she had seen it many times, she felt a weird tingle in her back after noticing a bit of sadness glimmering from his eyes.
“Those eyes are different… eerie,” She muttered. However, that negative thought was stronger than her mother’s more bearable advice. “He has to be with another woman,” she insisted.
Or maybe two, a voice, other than her own, whispered in her right ear. It was the voice of that crazed and possessed woman who lives inside her.
Then she shut the door and started sobbing. She jumped on the bed and hit it, imagining that she was hitting him. There she was, somehow still thinking that nothing wrong had happened.
He is fucking someone else! He is too cute to be attached to anyone.
Meanwhile, somewhere else in the city, freeway traffic was very slow.
Waiting on a long line of cars, a man driving a gray Passat was yelling, cursing heaven and hell at the same time. He was wearing a black suit and had taken off his red tie, which was on top of the passenger’s seat. Some other drivers were hitting their car horns as if they were their worst enemies, trying to make the traffic move. The man cursing heaven and hell was Paola’s father.
His name was George.
He was in his early fifties but looked younger. He was a member of the 24 Hours Fitness Club in Santa Barbara. Although he’d been working out since he was 25, his body wasn’t huge and bulky like Arnold’s used to be. On the contrary, he looked a lot more like Bruce Lee: lean, strong- muscled, shaven, oval face, and black, brushed-to-the-front hair; he used to be blonde, like Paola, but decided to dye his hair when the first signs of gray hair were visible; it didn’t look that bad, but he was too worried about his appearance. He was inching to the place where an accident had occurred. A policeman stopped him. Two paramedics carried a man into an ambulance. When George rolled down his window, the police officer said, “We’re sorry sir. There was an accident here. We are clearing the area so traffic can get through.”
George nodded. What other choice did he have? Then, because he’d been fortunate enough to be closer to the accident, George saw a wrecked blue Mustang on the right side of the freeway.
“Officer, what about the blue Mustang over there? Looks like one I know,” George asked, pointing towards the car.
“Really? Is there any way you could help us out and take a look at the driver? We couldn’t find anything that could help us identify him.”
George didn’t respond right away. Instead, he was thinking about Paola’s boyfriend. “Let’s take a look,” he finally agreed.
George parked his car on the right side of the freeway, behind the ambulance’s shut door. He stepped out of the car, ready to go and check on Paul (and hoping he was wrong).
“How do you think you know this person?” The officer asked, skeptically.
“I know there are plenty of blue Mustangs around. However, this one has this Mickey Mouse sticker above the license plate, and I think it’d be a coincidence if somebody else had another one. Don’t you think?”
The officer nodded.
Then, without any warning, the ambulance took off, and the sirens began blasting their colors, illuminating the night.
“Why is the ambulance leaving?” He asked.
The police officer shook his head.
“I’m going to make a phone call,” George said while getting his Blackberry out of his pocket.
“I’ll be right back,” the officer said, walking towards his patrol car. Meanwhile, George stared at the Mickey Mouse sticker. He half wanted to be wrong, but his opinion about how many similar cars had the same sticker did not seem to be a wrong assumption. George waited for the officer’s return while at his house Paola remained possessed by her destructive jealousy.
Paola was lying on her bed. By that time, she had already thrown away the picture of Paul and sprayed lavender lotion all over the room to make his aroma disappear. She was mad as hell because of the images rolling inside her head. Her hair was a mess, for she pulled it, stupidly hoping to get rid of her visions. Without realizing it, she fell asleep. The quietness of the room somehow softened her bad temper and discontent. Paola’s mother suddenly interrupted this tranquility when she knocked on the door.
“Paola, your father is on the phone!” she yelled through the door.
“I don’t want to talk to anybody.”
“Stop being silly and pick up the phone. Otherwise, you will be sorry for the rest of your life.”
Like a baseball bat, those words hit Paola’s head. Then, springing from the bed, she got out of the room, ran downstairs, and answered the phone call while fixing her hair with her right hand.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
George, who was normally cold and heartless when talking to anybody else, began to stammer while talking to his daughter. “Paola, I’m sorry, but…but I have some bad news.”
“What kind of bad news are you talking about, Dad?
“Baby, come to the hospital. Paul had an accident and-” he said, paused, and took a breath. “And it’s not good.”
Paola felt paralyzed as her bad assumptions fell to the ground. “I’ll be right there, Dad,” she said, hung up the phone, and went to the hospital with her mother.
Driving to the hospital, Susan scolded her. “What I told you, huh? You were creating a soap opera in your head instead of considering what I told you.” She stopped, just to take a breath. “Also, did you notice that bad news doesn’t always travel fast?”
Unable to utter a word, Paola just listened to her mother. She felt sorry but didn’t admit it. Too much fucking pride. She thought it was easy to assume a wrong idea about Paul instead of waiting until the bad news came. All the way to the hospital, her mom did not stop scolding her. It seemed like she had a certain skill in driving and arguing at the same time.
Paola kept quiet.
“Did you call his family?” Susan asked.
“I don’t know them.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t know them’?”
She rolled her eyes. “Mom, we’ve been going out for a month, ok?”
“A month? Your father introduced me to his family a week after we met.”
“Back in the day,” Paola said, sarcastically.
Susan made a face. “What are you insinuating? That I’m old?”
“I didn’t say anything, mom.”
Susan decided to stop talking, but Paola wasn’t done. “About the car accident,” she said, “what if Paul was with somebody else?”
“There you go again,” Susan said while rolling her eyes.
George told Susan that he’d be in the lobby of the hospital, waiting for them. The big glass door opened automatically as they approached it. Once they were in, Paola looked around. George wasn’t there. The Admission desk was in the middle, and a young, brown-haired woman in a pink outfit was on the phone while putting a manila envelope in a black three-drawer file cabinet. There were seats on both sides of the Admission Desk, and sick-looking people on every single one of them.
The brown-haired woman saw Paola and signaled her to wait because the phone call was apparently more important. Susan and Paola looked at each other, thinking just how rude the nurse was. Then, from afar, George opened the restroom’s door and walked towards his family.
After having hugged his father, Paola asked, “Did you see him, Dad?”
“No, I didn’t. They say he is severely injured and also had a heart attack.”
“Did you say heart attack?” Paola asked, not quite getting what he just said.
Susan was also surprised to hear that.
“Yes, that is what the doctor said,” George answered.
“I don’t think so,” Paola said, with his index finger moving like windshield wipers in front of her. “Paul is not that old to have a heart attack.”
“I don’t know, let’s wait for the doctor and see what happen,” George suggested.
They waited around six minutes, standing next to the Admission Desk.
The brown-haired woman asked, after having finally finished her important phone call, “Can I help you with something? I was on the phone with a patient. Sorry I kept you waiting.” She said, very slowly and politely. Her thick, Spanish accent suggested she was still learning how to speak English.
“We’re ok,” Susan said, smiling. “We’re waiting for the doctor, sweetie.”
The nurse kept on doing her thing, whatever that was. A young doctor, who was around thirty years old, with feminine manners, came to the lobby, waltzing like a model on a catwalk.
He spotted George, walked toward him, and asked, “You’re the person waiting to see the man who had the accident, right?” His voice was softer and a lot more delicate that Susan’s when she called the nurse ‘sweetie.’
Paola answered, even if the doctor wasn’t talking to her, “Yes, he is my boyfriend.”
“I believe he must be your father, darling,” The doctor said, smiling sarcastically.
“What are you talking about?” Paola asked, already hating the joke of a man she was talking to.
“I apologize,” he said, noticing how inappropriate his comment was. “But the man we have in the hospital is around this gentleman’s age,” he pointed at George.
“No way, there is a misunderstanding here. We are waiting to see the young man who was driving the blue Mustang,” Paola said, putting a lot emphasis on ‘the young man’ and ‘the blue Mustang’ part.
“The Mustang wasn’t driven by a young man,” he reaffirmed. “As I just said, he’s older.”
Everyone was thinking about the obvious misunderstanding. Even the sick-looking people and the brown-haired nurse were listening to the agitated conversation, wondering who was the man they’d brought to the hospital. The doctor was worried, too, mainly because Paola’s piercing eyes were about to open a hole on his forehead.
Paola noticed this and decided to play nice. She didn’t want this effeminate doctor to color his underwear out of fear. “Can I see the person who was driving the car? Please?”
“Of course,” he said, and his girlish tone of voice made Susan looked like a man in comparison. “The room is located that way,” he pointed toward the door from which he’d come minutes before.
Walking toward the room, the doctor advised Paola not to be rude to the man inside. She gave him a look that made the poor man gulp.
Paola was ready for everything. A Martian with a big head wouldn’t frighten her. And just like she’d been told, the man on the bed wasn’t Paul. He was certainly old and had an impressive jawline, and short white hair that made him look rather handsome. She thought that he was like an old version of Paul. Maybe he is Paul’s father, she thought.
“I believe he isn’t who you are looking for,” The doctor said.
She shook her head.
Everyone remained quiet. They realized that waiting was the best thing to do. Then, as if he’d felt the presence of the people in his room, the old man opened his eyes. He looked at them and centered his attention on the younger woman.
“You must be Paola.” He said.
Paola was surprised. Normally, when someone doesn’t know you, he asks a question. Not this man. He knew who she was. “How do you know my name?”
“Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever seen you,” he answered.
She didn’t like the mystery in his tone of voice and went straight to the point. “Where is Paul?”
“He is somewhere inside a building in the city,” he said, with sarcasm all over his face.
Paola was pissed at the mockery in his voice “Don’t fool with me! Tell me where is he?” Paola shouted.
“Paola, don’t scream like that,” Susan said, after noticing how a small crowd of people stopped outside the door, just to listen at the woman who was yelling at the top of her lungs.
“What do you want me to do? This jackass is fooling around instead of telling me the truth.”
“I am not! He’s somewhere that I don’t remember,” He said while laughing. Paola wanted to kill him, but George and Susan stood behind her, probably guessing their daughter had in mind.
“Who was this man?” Everyone was thinking. Nobody said anything. Everyone was possessed by the silence in the room. What did they have to say? Saying nothing was wiser than trying to come up with assumptions. Finally, Paola realized that she had to play nice. Again. Yelling and insulting this man, whoever he was, wasn’t going to give her the answers she was looking for.
Now she asked, with a softer tone in her voice, “Can you all leave me alone with him? Please?”
At first, they hesitated, but then, everybody left the room. George told her that they’d be just outside the door, in case she needed anything. She nodded, even though she knew that wasn’t true; they’d be just outside, in case she wanted to go crazy on the old man.
May I please know what your name is?” She asked.
“My name is Jimmy,” He answered, pleased by her sudden and more pleasant choice of words.
“How do you know my name?” She asked.
“Paul always talked about you.”
What do you mean ‘he always talked about me? She thought. “Are you friends?”
“You have so many questions, don’t you?”
“Of course I do!” she said, as a tear dribbled down her left cheek. “Since I don’t know what is happening. First, Paul told me that he wants to talk to me, but he never arrived where we were supposed to meet. Then, you appeared here driving his car. I have no idea what is happening here!”
Jimmy started crying, too.
“Paola, you must know all the truth.”
“Please,” she said.
“First, I want you to forgive him, for this is my entire fault,” he said, in a very poetic and old-fashioned tone of voice.
“Forgive him for what?”
Paola patiently waited for Jimmy to speak. It was obvious that he was tired, and she didn’t want him to die just yet. Meanwhile, she was creating a possible explanation in her head: maybe he is not Paul’s dad. Maybe his boss? They were possibly drinking. Paul might have drunk a little bit too much, and Jimmy decided to give him a ride home. Then, Paul might have decided to call me later and tell me that he was sorry.
Yeah, that sounded just fine in Paola’s mind.
“He was my lover,” Jimmy said.
“What did you say? She asked, claiming she didn’t hear what he said.
“You heard me. We’d been together for a long time. I actually met him first. Then, you appeared in our lives. He was mine, you know?” he said, and paused to inhale some air. Talking was beginning to be unbearable, but he had to finish. “You have to know why he didn’t go to see you.”
Paola looked at him with obvious skepticism. Whatever he was talking about smelled like bullshit.
However, in a very twisted way, she wanted him to keep talking. She wanted to know more about his alleged relationship with a younger man.
“Tell me. I hear you.”
“This morning he told me that he wanted to break up with me,” he went on. “That he was tired of living like we were. He was tired of being a man with you and somebody entirely different with me. I was pissed, but it got worse when he told me he wanted to marry you,” he paused to inhale more air and pointed at her with his index while speaking. “I kinda agreed with the idea of sharing him with you, but I couldn’t stand that he preferred you over me,” he paused again.
Paola was shocked. He actually believes what he’s saying, she thought. Could it be true that Paul, the man who made crazy love to her was also Paulette, the young and handsome homosexual who’d bend over Jimmy’s desk every time he asked for it?
No, it still smelled like bullshit.
“I didn’t know he wanted to marry me,” she said, willing to keep listening to this old man’s farce.
“He was going to tell you.”
“And what happened?”
“I had to find a way to stop him. I called him to my office one hour before the time you were supposed to meet. My office is across the street from Borders and-”
“Wait a minute!” she yelled. “Are you saying that he was right there, having sex with you, while I was waiting for him like a whore?” Suddenly, the doctor opened the door and George ran toward Paola. “I’m ok, dad!” she said.
“I did not say that, Paola,” Jimmy said, afraid that was going to be his last breath.
“What’s happened here?” George asked.
“Nothing. Everything is ok, Dad,” Paola said. Then, George left but told her that he would be just outside the door.
“I know,” she said, as he and the doctor closed the door behind them.
After that, Jimmy repeated, “I did not say we were having sex, Paola. I was just trying to find a way to keep him with me. He was mine. I possessed him. I told him a lie, so he decided not to go and see you.”
You possessed him? She thought. Then, deciding not to play nice anymore, she asked, “What did you tell him?”
“The answer almost made Paola’s eyes jump out of their sockets and the ground felt like if it was opening under her feet, burying her alive.
“I told him we had AIDS,” Jimmy said.
She didn’t say a word.
“Don’t worry. That was just a lie. Wish I hadn’t said that. Otherwis,e he’d still be here. With us.”
“What do you mean?”
For some reason, Paola remember the bang she heard that night. It wasn’t fireworks? She wondered. And yes, she still had a penchant for thinking the worst, but this time she was about to make an exception. She wished she had made an exception.
“Did you kill him?” she asked, and was ready to jump on top of him and put the pillow on his face.
Noticing this, he said, “No, I didn’t!”
She looked at him, and how guilty he looked. “Did he?” She asked, still wishing she hadn’t.
“Yes. He did,” he said. “When I told him we were infected, he started crying. I hadn’t seen him cry like that before. I stepped out of the office to go to the restroom. I didn’t even reach the restroom door when I heard the gunshot. I came back to see him lying on the floor and covered in blood. He was near the window. Perhaps, he wanted to see you one more time before he died. I was afraid that someone might call the police, so I grabbed his car’s keys, ran towards the parking lot, and basically stole his car,” He paused to inhale more air.
Paola was overwhelmed.
“That was it,” he said. “Now I am here, talking to you, the woman who-” he stopped, as a pain struck his chest.
Another heart attack.
Everyone hurried into the room when they heard the monitor beeped. The doctor called for help, and two nurses rushed in. One of the nurses pulled the defibrillator from one of the corners of the room. The doctor put the paddles on Jimmy’s chests and yelled, “Charge!” the shock made his body jump, but his eyes were still closed. “Charge!” he yelled again, but the flat line was still there.
George and Susan hugged Paola. She was quiet, just watching the doctor and the nurses trying to keep Jimmy from dying. It was too late. The doctor and the nurses were possessed by the idea of bringing Jimmy back to life. George and Susan were possessed by doubt, since they didn’t really know what happened. Finally, Paola was possessed by silence, although the room was pierced by the screams of the doctor still trying to save Jimmy. Paola was wrong about Paul being with another woman, but she was right to think the worst. And that is how she will always be.