I played Andres Jimenez for her – you know, Yo quiero que mi Borinquen sea libre y soberana – and then we drank a pot of café. El Pico, I told her. Nothing but the best. We didn’t have much to talk about. She was depressed and tired and I had the worst gas of my life. Twice I had to excuse myself. Twice in an hour. She must have thought that bizarre as hell but both times I came out of the bathroom she was staring deeply into her café, the way fortune-tellers will do back on the Island. Crying all the time had made her more beautiful. Grief will do that sometimes. Not for me. Loretta had left months ago and I still looked like hell. Having Girlfriend in the apartment only made me feel shabbier. She picked up a cheeb seed from a crack in the table and smiled.
Do you smoke? I asked.
It makes me break out, she said.
Makes me sleepwalk.
Honey will stop that. It’s an old Caribbean cure. I had a tio who would sleepwalk. One teaspoon a night took it out of him.
Wow, I said.
That night, she put on a free-style tape, Noel maybe, and I could hear her moving around her apartment. I wouldn’t have put it past her to have been a dancer.
I never tried the honey and she never came back. Whenever I saw her on the stairs we would trade hi’s but she never slowed down to talk, never gave a smile or any other kind of encouragement. I took that as a hint. At the end of the month she got her hair cut short. No more straighteners, no more science fiction combs.
I like that, I told her. I was coming back from the liquor store and she was on her way out with a woman friend.
Makes you look fierce.
She smiled. That’s exactly what I wanted.