Magdalena On: Psychological Highlights

After Junah, my hair went dark.

They say that can happen, you know. Shock or something. But not my whole head, just a streak. Like an inverted skunk of brown tailing its way through the top left part of my yellow head. Jersi, my stylist, said on most people it usually goes white.

Well fuck me for being the exception.

He sighed, brushed a small brown strand high above my head and held it there, the ends tightly wrapped around the bristles of his brush. The rest of my hair was wet, and my shoulders and chest were covered with a silver smock. I looked at my reflection and followed the lock of brown hair upwards towards the exposed bulbs running in a straight line across the top of the mirror. There were six of them and they cast a hyper-white glaze across my face so that my skin appeared translucent. You could actually see the veins pushing blood across my forehead. It was rich. It was much too much. I looked at my lap and said, Do what you can.

Jersi looked at me, or at least the mirror image of me, and said, I’m not going to pretend that it will be easy Cupcake, but I think, although the texture’s changed, that I can bleach it out, maybe add a few psychological highlights.

That’s when I started screaming. When I couldn’t stop.

Losing Junah isn’t something I like to talk about.

So I’m not going to.

What I will say is that sometimes I wonder, if Ricky wasn’t on liquid time, if he didn’t sleep only four and a half hours a night, if I would be able to stay awake and pretend not to go crazy, pretend not to know that it’s impossible to only sleep four and a half hours a day, pretend not to care that if he isn’t sleeping here he must be sleeping somewhere, right?

But where?

And with whom?

And if he slept, say, six or seven hours like most people, would I make it? Would I be able to lie beside him night after night and hate him? Night after night in some sleek and silly nightie with my arm almost touching his thigh, with my head almost touching his chest. (If I actually touch him, he says, Mags go on your own side. Like we’re six and seven in the backseat of the station wagon and have drawn imaginary lines to mark territory. Pretend there is a chain saw running down this line, Junah would say, tracing the vinyl ribbing that ran the length of the upholstery, and if you cross it you will loose your arm. That’s how it is with Ricky, only now it’s a bed and we’re twenty-nine and thirty-four.) For eighteen months I’ve lain here, almost insane, almost ready to leave, almost ready to scream: I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! I’m not touching… But before I can finish, Ricky’s alarm (set to New York time) sounds. If we were in New York it would be 7:30 am. But we’re not in New York. We’re in Los Angeles, or some Hollywood extension thereof. And in Los Angeles Ricky will shower and shave and dress himself up in gray slacks, a lavender shirt and paisley tie because it’s the outfit I have laid out for him. On the back of his belt I have written i love you in Mauve-a-licious nail polish. He won’t notice. It’s been there for three months.

Should I say it again?

That he doesn’t notice anything?

When he actually does notice he’s liable to shout. Then I will have to go to Bloomies and buy him a replacement. It will be something to do. Something besides trying to peel the label off a bottle of gin in one fluid, untorn piece. Something besides imagining my hangover is morning sickness. Something besides seeing Junah die, over and over and over again in the backspaces of my mind.

Excerpt from “Treatment” So L.A. by Bridget Hoida, copyright 2012

Magdalena on: Fact

Somewhere near breakfast Juan Duran signaled, and one by one the train of now-dusty cars pulled to the left and parked near a field. The field was full of crops, something low-cut and greenish, like parsley; and speckled throughout the harvest were farmers in old Dodger caps and white t-shirts, digging up produce and depositing dirty bunches into large wooden crates beneath umbrellas of bright orange and yellow and pink.

You mean the umbrellas aren’t for the workers? I asked Ricky in a hushed voice.

What? Donna, who was riding shotgun, asked.

The umbrellas, I said, pointing, you mean they aren’t…

Unbelievable, Donna said, before opening her door and directing a sharp glare at Ricky. I thought she grew up on a farm. I should have guessed this from you, she said, though it was unclear to whom she was speaking. Then she slammed the door and walked off barefoot towards the lead Caddy, mumbling under her breath.

I sat in the backseat with my hat in my lap, stunned and looking at Ricky. It was a vineyard, I said quietly, a small one. When we hired people it was just a few and they used the house.

Hey, don’t worry about it, Donna’s second husband, Christopher, said as he pushed the tip of his foot against the e-brake and took the keys out of the ignition. She’s still bitter about the scars and the smell of cilantro brings it back. Then he opened his door and slipped out after Donna, carrying her heels in his left hand and her sunglasses in the other.

Ricky slipped an arm around my shoulder and rubbed the back of my head with his palm. Hey, don’t worry about it. How could you have known?

You could have told me, I thought. Should I apologize?

Nah, she’ll forget about it before lunch. Just next time, maybe save your questions for when we’re alone. He opened his car door and let in a burst of golden light that had been previously muted by tinted windows.

Right, I said, pulling on my hat and pushing my sunglasses against my face.

Oh, come on, Magsie, Ricky said, ducking back into the car and planting a kiss on the top of my head. Don’t let it get you down. He tugged on my arm and I let him slide me across the leather seat and out of the car.

Outside, doors and trunks began to click open and slam shut as the Mora de la Cruz family poured out of their air-conditioned cars and into the heat of the Mexican morning sun. Their polo shirts and pressed Levis contrasted loudly with the tattered, muted colors of the farm around them.

We walked en masse along a cracked dirt driveway and into a stucco barn-like structure that functioned as sort of multipurpose dining room/mess hall. The girls and their men spread out and took up occupancy around the various tables, fanning each other with poorly folded maps and sun hats while Ricky, who held tightly to my hand, was corralled by his father into the kitchen.

Three old ladies tied up in faded paisley aprons—their arms covered in cornmeal to the elbows—were pounding tortillas, while a small, gold, portable radio hummed Mexican folk songs from the windowsill. When they saw Ricky they exploded into Spanish pandemonium, exclaiming and folding Ricky and Juan Duran into a sweaty embrace and littering their faces and starched black shirts with kisses and corn-covered pats. Overwhelmed, I managed to wrestle my hand from Ricky’s grasp and took a seat on a wooden crate in the corner. The old lady shrieks seemed to set off some sort of chain reaction and, before long, what appeared to be the entire town had gathered around, some of the children and a few older boys singing in broken English and particled Spanish, He’s here. He’s here. Yup the guy from California and his son. Happy.

Of course, the Spanish part I didn’t understand. My mother had been trying to teach me a working vocabulary since before I could walk, and Ricky had managed to teach me a word or two, but for the most part I nodded a lot, held up my fingers and used gestures. It worked well, but there were a few flaws. For example, my hand held like a cup to my lips seemed to be the universal sign for water (agua, duh), but even with the word there was no gesture for water from the bottles in the back of the truck and not Mexican water from a rusty pipe. So rather than ask I’d just brave the heat, follow the dirt drive back to the car, fish around under the tarp of the truck, wrestle with a gallon sized jug and pour myself a hot glass of L.A. tap. And that’s how it happened. How it hit me. How I knew that it would be water, in small plastic bottles, sold to America by a Mexican son. The irony was enough to make me choke, but I didn’t. Instead I spit the water from my mouth in a single stream onto the cracked brown dirt below and twisted the cap back on the recycled gallon-carton.

Of course, I could have said all this to the adoring crowd assembled around Ricky, but I didn’t.

Unlike Ricky I didn’t say a word. Didn’t correct a single fact. Didn’t rearrange anything at all. Instead, I stood with my back to the sea and looked around at Ricky’s assembled beach-front audience. I eyed each of the interns in turn. I scanned tanned and tucked faces illuminated by the subtle orange glow of Tiki torches and tried to figure out which one. Which slut. Which common whore was screwing my husband right under my $22,000 nose?

Magdalena on: Memory

It’s pretty, that story. Pretty enough to make you fall in love. And it’d be pretty too, to think the story ended there. To think that Mom, a little muddy but no worse for the wear, follows the river upstream until she’s spit out with her child on some San Diego shore. Towing the Styrofoam box behind her, she trudges through the silt to safety, her fingers prunish and her knees purple and sore. She puts her baby in the grass, where he coos and giggles from a tickle of dandelion brushing across his tummy, while she wrings out her skirts in the sun. That’s the way Ricky remembers it, so damn pretty. He remembers too that shortly thereafter Dad, an uncle of no relation and all six sisters came tumbling out of the hedges and trees; and before long they were in the big house in Riverside, splashing it up in the swimming pool, the river sledge long forgotten.

Of course, it didn’t happen like that. Never does. But whose gonna tell Moses that his momma pushed the cradle upstream while she swam up a sewer, filling her mouth full of piss and shit and raw scum? Who’s going to tell the baby that momma held her breath, the filth and refuge still inside and trickling down her lips, and faced the immigration police face front? That she spat the festering contents of her mouth, in one solid stream, straight into the blue-green eyes of the border patrol, and then she ran, her baby still bobbing about unawares?

Nobody. That’s who. Nobody’s gonna tell the baby a goddamned thing. They’re not going to linger on the lack of hedges in the desert. They’re not going to mention the indescribable taste shit leaves in between your teeth and on the inside of your cheeks. They’re going to let him float straight onto the chosen land, and they’re only going to cringe a little when the baby grows up and announces his intent to marry a yellow-headed wife.

Magdalena on: the freeway

I like to drive. Not to anywhere in particular because I have no place in particular to go, but I’m addicted to freeways. The 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101. It’s so L.A. I used to like driving more when I had a piece-of-shit Escort. It was a stick shift and unreliable and I never knew where I’d end up stranded. Since the move to L.A., nothing’s been unreliable, at least in terms of cars and appliances.