When people ask, we will tell them that it happened when we were cutting a box open to make a collage. Collages hung all over our bedroom walls, glossy pictures of who we wanted to be, all the adjectives we thought we were: strong, independent, intelligent. The romantic images of feather-like models clinging to strong bodies of tanned, glowing-eyed men were always the center. They were pasted to cardboard like skin.
It is always summer when these things happen, the thick air hanging over me like suspended rain. It is night, and all of the windows are open, but still it’s hard to breathe. It is always the kitchen. There is grease coating the copper wall behind the stove. There are mice hiding in the cabinet beneath the sink. There are lines of roaches waiting for the lights to fade into black, so they can creep over spilled water, crawl over racks of spices, and nibble at the crumbs forgotten in the cracks of the sea green and peach tiled floor.
I am just drying off from a shower. I am wrapped in my favorite mauve towel, my dark hair hanging heavy as warm water slides down my back and shoulders. I hear his voice coming from the living room. He is on the phone.
It sounds like butterflies are streaming from his mouth. My stomach feels heavy with stones, like the prehnite and prasiolite that will hang from my neck and wrists twenty years later. I stare at the yellow, corded phone hanging on the kitchen wall and lift it so slowly, so quietly that every muscle in my arms and legs
I cup the bottom of the receiver, and listen.
Her laughter is electric--
Coiling though the twisted wire like meteorites blasting through the tiny holes in the receiver. She enters my pores in quick, jagged pulses, and I am left there aflame, hiding in a bedroom with ugly brown paneling, half-naked, the cord straining through the closed door.
I am eighteen, and my parents left a year ago.
It was after mom found out about dad’s second life, after I heard them yelling, really yelling, for the first time, after I realized that it was about a hidden woman and two hidden daughters, my two sisters. I had two other sisters. This was after I entered the room like a naïve five year old hiding in the body of a teenager, after dad tried to quiet mom when he saw me, after I stood there broken, realizing that my father was not the innocent, accented, immigrant hard-worker I thought he was. It was after I understood his capabilities, how a father can smile at you like you are his entire world, how a father can wear masks so thin they blend in with his skin, how a father can lie.
It was after I was seven months pregnant with a wild boy’s baby, a boy who loved me, he must’ve loved me. It was after he pulled me close to his bare chest the afternoon I told him that I was pregnant, after he whispered, “we’re gonna have a shorty,” into my ear. His heart open and alive, even with rough tattoos covering his skin, even with weed lingering on his fingertips, even with another baby’s mama at seventeen, even with a gun hidden beneath stones in a corner of the hood, I was sure he loved me. It was after I had fallen in love. It was after all of this.
I’m not sure how it happens exactly, how long I stare at the dusty paneling, how long I listen or what exactly they say; I don’t know if I say something to her or what she says back to me. I don’t know when the cord coils back and hangs knotted beneath the phone or how long it dangles there, or when and how I move from the bedroom to the kitchen. I can’t say when he enters the room. I don’t know when the interrogation begins or the yelling escalates, or when I get so hot that I need to release the white fire from beneath my skin. I’m not sure what he says as I scream and beg for clarity. Who’s the girl? I’m not sure when the towel falls or how long I’ve been standing there naked and shaking. I’m not sure how quickly I pull out the knife or if it comes from a drawer or the dishrack. I’m not sure what words I use to threaten him to tell me the truth, or else. I don’t know what he replies. But I know it is a lie. I don’t remember if the baby is sleeping or wakes from the screaming. I don’t remember if this is going on for five minutes or two hours. I don’t remember pressing the knife too hard on the outside of my left wrist.
But I do remember the blood. I do remember my open skin. I do remember the artificial lighting in the hospital beaming down on me and the lies I tell the doctors. I was cutting a box open. I do remember waking with him the next morning, his tanned, tattooed skin in the center of the bed smelling like borrachero flowers.
About the Author: Ana Arredondo teaches composition, literature, creative writing, and sociology at Richard J. Daley College. Her work has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Hotel Amerika and Storm Cellar, and has been nominated for an upcoming Pushcart Prize. She is a yoga-loving, feminist romantic who lives and dreams in Chicago with her family.