the intolerable lightness of being
If I had been a rational human being, I would have had a
normal job and I never would have gotten involved with any
of them. But I was not a rational human being. I was and
remain a square peg in a round world.
You would think that a girl with a degree from a Fancy
University would have been hired muy rÃ¡pido by some
big corporation anxious to ladle on numerous perks and a
generous salary. Sadly, my F.U. education did not lead me
directly into wealth and fame. All my attempts to become a
worthwhile cog in the capitalist machine were met with
rejection, the type that has driven many other creative
souls to despair and Great Art.
Here are the results of my attempts. No response at all from
the many newspapers that should have been interested in a
columnist who focused on bargain gardens. A soul-killing
stint at an ad agency that concluded when the art director
read my sardonic copy for fortified wine. A happy stretch
writing a newsletter for a nutritional supplements company
that ended abruptly when the FDA raided our warehouse.
Miscellaneous temporary jobs, each more wretchedly
depressing than its predecessor. Also two entry-level
marketing jobs terminated after "improprieties," which were
not my fault.
Okay, my mother Regina would have said that they were
my fault. My mother Regina thought that anyone with breasts
as vulgar as my own induced otherwise upstanding citizens to
behave badly. My mother Regina had neat, tasteful
chichis. When she bothered to look at me, an
expression of dismay almost came over her immaculately
made-up face. "Almost," because medical procedures rendered
her incapable of normal facial expressions.
My mother Regina believed my father had wasted his
hard-earned cash sending me to F.U. because I was not a
serious person. My mother Regina thought thusly because I
always referred to her as "my mother Regina" and because I
had not dedicated myself wholeheartedly to the reformation
and improvement of my garish carcass. "You have wasted your
father's money," she said, ignoring the fact that I had
worked, taken out loans, and earned scholarships in order to
I now lived in a windowless basement flat of a nice house in
a nice neighborhood of the City. My rent was low because I
maintained the garden and my landlord found my bosom
enchanting. While he never exactly said, "I am captivated by
your enchanting bosom," he did stare a lot and that's
practically the same thing. The dark flat had a cement
floor, a dinky bathroom, and a gloomy kitchenette. At night,
I heard scrabbling in the walls, which, I suspected, was
caused by fearsome Norway rats.
My income was earned by toiling as a reading consultant to
executives and society dames who were book club averse. I
garnered extra cash by filling in at a local nursery. My
jobs were irregular, sometimes taking only ten hours of my
week and other times taking fifty, but I didn't mind. It was
better than sitting in an office trying to keep my eyes from
bleeding while copyediting training manuals.
I worked diligently on my novel every single possible second
that was available after going out, thrift store shopping,
spending quality time with my friends, and finding gyms that
offered the first month free. In addition to this exhausting
work/art/life regime, I tried to improve the world by
writing letters to political leaders about Important Issues.
I wasn't picky about the issues. The world was full of pain
and injustice, and writing the letters helped me keep proper
My friend Nancy had come up with the reading consultant idea
because she knew how much I liked recommending books to
friends. She had given me business cards on lovely ecru
stock with "Bennett" hyphenated to my last name. Underneath
was "Reading Consultant," with my phone number.
"Why the Bennett hyphenate?" I had asked.
"Like Eliza Bennett, you have a fine posterior," she had
said. Nancy had been my F.U. roommate freshman year. Despite
her unfortunate WASPier-than-thou perkiness, we had become
"Eliza had fine eyes, not a fine fanny, you cultural
barbarian. You never even finished Pride and
Prejudice. I wrote that paper for you."
"And now I am showing my tremendous appreciation for your
scholarship. Also this gives you credibility with Anglophile
aspirants, my little brown amiga." This is how we
talked to each other. We thought being silly was the height
Speaking of which, my name was outlandish enough without the
Bennett hyphenate, but I took the cards and thanked her.
I filled my days, but there were times when I awoke in the
middle of the night, listened to the scratching in the
walls, and felt afraid and lonely. I missed rooming with
Nancy and hearing her gentle snoring at night. Nancy did not
miss me; she had moved into her boyfriend Todd's condo and
was a happy camper.
People can be divided into two
distinct groups: those who desire constant companionship and
those who prefer calm solitude. The unnecessary crowding in
The Brady Bunch repelled me, but I longed for an
Eliza Bennettish existence: a house filled with family and
friends, the agreeable conversation of a kind and
compassionate sister, and the promise of dances and
Instead I had my mother Regina, rats in the walls, and
boyfriends who were like beach reads, momentary fun but
nothing you'd ever bother to buy in hardcover. I worried
that perhaps I, as a nonserious person, was only a beach
read as well. I had just reread Middlemarch, and I
had a deep and sincere desire to be a deep and sincere
Nancy had connected me with most of my reading clients, but
one of my former beach reads, a Russian artist named
Vladimir, introduced me to Kathleen Baker. Kathleen was one
of the Bakers, known for their famous sourdough
bread: "Did a Real Baker Make Your Sour Round?"
Kathleen was fiftyish and very chic. Like my other clients,
Kathleen wanted me more for company than guidance. Sometimes
she patted my head as if I was a pet and I half expected her
to toss biscuits to me and say, "Good girl, catch!" I had to
constantly steer the conversation back to her reading and
remind her that we had a scholarly purpose.
In her enthusiasm for literature, Kathleen decided to host a
reception for hot new writer Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon.
She was absolutely thrilled when he accepted. I know because
she said, "I am absolutely thrilled that Sebastian
Beckett-Witherspoon has accepted my invitation to hold a
reception for him. Are you familiar with his work?"
In a word, yes. In three words, all too familiar. In a few
more words, why wouldn't Sebastian B-W die, die, die a
grisly and humiliating death? I pulled my lips into a simian
grimace that I hoped Kathleen would interpret as a smile. I
told her that we had met at F.U. "Marvelous!" she said. "Of
course, you will be at my reception. I'm sure he'll be
delighted to see you again."
"Perhaps you overestimate my delightfulness," I demurred. I
had taken up demurring like mad. I thought demurring was the
last word in refinement, right behind murmuring, deferring,
"Don't be a silly goose," Kathleen said. "This will be a
good opportunity for you to meet other literary people."
So here I was at Kathleen's soirÃ©e for Sebastian
Beckett-Witherspoon, the highlight of a lackluster season of
morose poets, grimy novelists, and patronizing essayists.
Kathleen had a magpie's fascination with all things shiny,
so the room gleamed with polished floors, glittering
mirrors, and lustrous furniture. I was afraid that if I
moved too quickly, I'd skitter and crash down on my sincere
and serious colita.
I wore a simple linen shirt-dress that I'd bought at a
thrift store, cream sandals, and fake pearls. My straight
black hair was pulled back into a low, Grace Kellyish
ponytail, and I'd used a light hand with my makeup because I
wanted to look good without looking like a good time.
I did what I always do at gatherings: an initial scan of the
room for people of hue. One Asian man in a pinstripe suit,
an African-American couple in earth-toned natural fibers,
and a mixed-race woman. No obvious Latinos except for me and
one waiter. I sent him the silent message: "Right on, mi
hermano. Power to the people."
At a real party or in a club, I knew what to do or say, but
here I felt as awkward as I had my first day at F.U.,
hauling cardboard boxes to my dorm while almost
Nordic-looking people strode confidently forward with
matching luggage. The other guests seemed to know each
other, but their eyes slid over me and moved on to others
I was all too aware of the ecru business cards in my small
pocketbook. Sometimes you seek guidance in
nineteenth-century heroines and other times you find
inspiration in nineteenth-century hucksters, such as P. T.
Barnum and his Feejee Mermaid. If Barnum could shamelessly
peddle a monkey head sewn on a fish body as a sea nymph,
then surely I could try to promote my novel to an agent or
Then I saw Sebastian B-W, scion of one of the most powerful
families in the country. He stood by a window, and most
people would have thought it was merely a lucky accident
that a shaft of light from the setting sun glowed on his
golden hair. He smiled and nodded as he talked to an older
man. Sebastian's skin was evenly tanned with a slight,
marvelous blush of pink on his cheeks. His teeth were as
pearly as ever, and he seemed to have aged very little over
the last several years. He was just over six foot, slim and
graceful in a navy jacket and a soft blue shirt that brought
out the sea-color of his eyes.
I had thought, la, la, la, that I would come here and
Sebastian would see that I had moved beyond the past, that I
had matured into an urban and urbane woman, a fellow scribe,
and that we could have a civil, even friendly association.
But just looking at him made me panic like a hemophiliac in
a pin factory.
"Yummy," said a voice nearby.
"What?" I was startled and turned to see a small, wiry
redheaded waiter with a tray of petite pastries.
"Would you like something yummy?" The waiter held the tray
toward me and winked. He was as gay and pleasing as a posy
of Johnny-jump-ups. He had a wide smile and big green eyes
to go with his shock of red hair.
"I always enjoy something yummy," I replied suggestively,
unable to stop my chronic flirting mechanism. Nancy said
that my need to flirt was directly linked to the lack of a
strong paternal figure in my life and the dominating
presence of an unloving mother. I thought it was because
boys were so dang pretty.
"I certainly didn't mean him," the waiter said, tilting his
head toward Sebastian. "That novel was offensive."
Of course I had read Sebastian's novel, looking for secret
clues to his character in every word. "I thought I was the
only one who didn't like it."
"Please, girlfriend, it was pretentious as hell," said the
waiter. "His school churns them out like that." He saw my
expression and said, "What's the matter?"
When I admitted that I had gone to F.U., he grinned and
said, "Well, present company excepted. You aren't involved
with him, are you?"
"Me, involved with him? Ha-ha, you
make the funny," I said flippantly. "Does he turn your
"Not my type. I like them less evil incarnate," he said.
"And also hairier."
Before we could continue our fascinating conversation, the
headwaiter angrily gestured for my new friend to circulate.
It was time for me to circulate, too, and the first person I
had to talk to was the guest of horror. My heart was
pounding faster than a flamenco dancer's feet. I grabbed a
flute of champagne off a tray, downed it quickly, and
Moving through the crowd, I noticed that everyone was
surreptitiously peeking at Sebastian, all awaiting their
chance to have a clever or insightful exchange so they could
relate the story at their next dinner party. He caught sight
of me and his smile froze. I tried to calm myself as I
walked to his side.
He continued his conversation with the older man.
"Naturally," he said, "I only write about perversions to
expose them to the condemnation they deserve. I am not a
voyeur, not one who is titillated by the steamy, I mean,
Seamy underbelly? I guess that was my cue. "Hello,
He turned his head fractionally toward me. "Hullo," he said
tersely without meeting my eyes.
"Hullo? Are we suddenly British? Lord love a duck." I
didn't know what that expression meant, but I'd always
wanted to use it. "In America, we say 'hello' with the
accent on 'hell.'"
The older fellow said to Sebastian, "I enjoyed talking with
you," then edged just far enough away to eavesdrop.
Sebastian held out his hand and actually said, "I'm
Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon. And you are . . . ?"
He won tonight's P. T. Barnum award for even trying this. I
wanted to stab him repeatedly with a tiny cocktail fork
until he leaked all over like a sieve. "If you don't cut it
out, Sebastian, I swear I'll make your evening here one of
He blanched and spoke in a low whisper. "Undiluted misery!
You have no idea how much you've caused me. What are you
"I'm a very close and special friend of
Kathleen's. In fact, I'm her literary consultant," I said,
trying to sound important.
Sebastian was confused. "You mean you suggested that she
have this reception?"
"Oh, be real," I snapped. "Did I like your incest-fest
novel? I did not." It occurred to me that this was not the
most politic thing to say if I wished to resuscitate our
"You are criticizing me? You, who write political
horrors!" He snorted. "Blood and gore and monsters and
tedious left-wing diatribes. Utter swill."
Why were my feelings hurt when I had no respect for him?
"You said you liked my stories," I said before I could stop
myself. I pushed away a memory of the early weeks of our
acquaintance and how I felt seeing him strolling across
campus toward me, smiling as the wind blew back his hair.
"I may have said it, but I didn't mean it."
"Did you ever mean anything you told me, Sebastian?" It was
as if no time had passed since our last encounter: I was
flooded by unnameable emotion, wanting to cry and shout and
say all the things I'd never had a chance to tell him. I
hadn't done anything wrong, yet he had cast me out of his
world. What was worse, he'd done it when I was taking a
course in Milton, so I'd become obsessed with finding the
answer to my misery in Paradise Lost. I'd received an
A on my term paper, but my time would have been better spent
getting advice from Cosmopolitan.
"Why are you here, Milagro?"
The whole history of our relationship was in the knowing way
he said my name. It felt too intimate, as if he knew too
many of my secrets. "I'm here to make contacts. Introduce me
to your agent or your publisher."
"You are still out of your tiny little mind."
Before I could retort, wheedle, or threaten, Kathleen began
speaking on the other side of the room. Sebastian moved away
so fast, it was like he had been teleported.
feminine wiles leave something to be desired," said a deep
voice so close to me I felt warm breath on my neck. I
stepped away reflexively. Beside me was a somewhat fabulous
man in a strange suit. Now, Nancy would tell you that I
often see fabulous men, that I think more men are fabulous
than not, and that I am overly generous in bestowing the
description of "fabulous" on a man. Her comments have caused
me to doubt my ability to judge fabulousness, and I was
feeling particularly insecure right now.
I focused on this man just to center myself. Rich brown hair
brushed straight back, gray eyes, a strong nose, pale,
perfect skin, nice cheekbones, and a lovely, rosy curved
mouth. He was medium height, lean and muscled. He smiled
crookedly, which either added or detracted from his charm,
depending upon your point of view. "Aren't you going to say
anything?" he asked.
"As you have noted, my feminine wiles have eluded me this
evening." I was still trying to figure out what was wrong
with his suit. It was well made, but the cut was about fifty
years out of style, give or take a century. And the smell .
. . under the light, clean scent of a good aftershave was
cedar. My guess was that his suit had been hanging in a
closet for ages.
His smoke-colored eyes took a leisurely journey up and down
my body, causing my trampy internal gears to shift of their
own volition. "Perhaps I misjudged," he said. His voice was
as sexy as a funky bass line on the dance floor.
My recent encounter with Sebastian had made my nerves buzz,
and I had no idea if this man was flirting with me or
insulting me. "So kind of you to offer your criticism gratis
to strangers," was my utterly pathetic retort. Who said
"gratis"? Pretty soon I'd be uncontrollably uttering "pro
forma," "ipso facto," and "carpe diem" in conversation ad
nauseam. As a tactical maneuver, I moved through the rapt
audience to the other side of the room before I said
anything else idiotic.
Sebastian was now addressing the guests, droning the usual
glad to be here, happy so many devoted fans, et cetera, and
opening a copy of his novel so that he could read a chapter
aloud. Had I ever enjoyed his writing or had I been so
flattered by his attention that I convinced myself I liked
The other guests seemed enthralled by Sebastian's stream of
blather. He used words like "luminescent," "tumescent,"
"iridescent," and "transcendent." Perhaps they handed out
New Yorker vocabulary lists at every graduate writing
program in the country. I wouldn't know. My mother Regina
had convinced my father that liposuction on her "problem
spots" was more critical than helping me through grad
school. Listening to Sebastian now, I began to think that
maybe she'd had a point.
The carrot-topped waiter returned and whispered, "Warm
chÃ¨vre with tapenade," as he offered his tray.
"No thanks," I said.
The waiter gracelessly deposited his tray on a side table.
"You seem to be attracting the attention of some of the
gentlemen here," he said chattily. I wasn't surprised at his
unprofessional interest in me. I have always had a symbiotic
relationship with the waiter species.
"If by that you mean I imposed my company upon the guest of
honor, then I guess, yes."
"No offense, but these guys aren't your type. I know what
I'm talking about." Coming from someone else, his statement
would have sounded like a West Side Story
stick-to-your-own-kind, but I assumed he was offering his
assessment of sexual orientation.
I wasn't going to insult his obviously flawed gaydar, so I
said, "Thanks. I'll take that into consideration."
The waiter winked at me, then slipped away. I wondered why
he left the tray of hors d'oeuvres. He was a nice guy, but a
very bad waiter.
Sebastian finally concluded his yammering. There was hearty
applause, and then I saw the fabulous man smiling in my
direction. Sauntering to me, he said, "This joint is a bust.
Though I had come to the party to hawk my wares, this was
not what I had in mind. But the room seemed too close and
too crowded. I was still fantasizing about stabbing
Sebastian, and I thought it was a good idea to get away
before I did something legally prosecutable in front of
numerous witnesses. "I don't suppose you're connected to the
"Why else would I be here? You're a writer?" His lopsided
smile inspired parts of my body to attempt mutiny and throw
themselves at him. "We'll go somewhere quieter where we can
talk about your writing. I can tell you are an interesting
"Excuse me, but exactly how dumb do you think I am?" Men
seemed to think there was an inverse relationship between
bouncy bazooms and brainpower.
His laugh carried to his eyes and he said, "That did sound
like a bad line, didn't it? But I'm right, aren't I?"
"Every writer wants to think that she's unique and
interesting. That doesn't mean it's true." I hated the idea
that Sebastian had out-P. T. Barnumed me tonight. Would
Barnum have rejected a potential investor? "You haven't
introduced yourself," I murmured, as if I was a proper young
The fabulous man took my elbow and led me through the crowd.
He escorted me down the marbled hallway, through the
wood-paneled foyer, and when we were away from the chatter
of the party, he said, "I am Oswaldo Krakatoa."
His name was patently absurd. I was strongly tempted to
question its veracity. "I'm Milagro De Los Santos." Judging
from his expression, I had just won the ridiculous-name
"Miracle of the saints?"
"It's a sad little story. I'll tell you sometime when I'm
feeling particularly full of self-pity. You can call me
"All right, Mil." We stepped outside. The fog
had rolled in and the damp Pacific air was refreshing after
the packed, overperfumed room.
My bus stop was far down the street. My options were: talk
to this handsome fellow, track down my pals for a
whine-and-wine session, or go home and cry a million tears
because my business cards were still in my handbag and
Sebastian had frazzled me to the utmost.
A limousine pulled up and the driver stepped out, opening
the passenger door. I wondered who the lucky bastard was.
Yes, I knew every drug dealer and prom kid rented these, but
those tiny bottles of liquor were so amusing. Oswaldo said,
"I'm staying at the Hotel Croft. We could talk there in the
I loved the Sequoia Room at the Croft. They had silver bowls
of salted cashews and the waitresses let you nurse one
overpriced cocktail for hours while you listened to the
pianist play Gershwin. It was one of the City's great old
hotels, and I always liked to imagine the passionate trysts
that took place there, the corrupt business deals, the
after-theater dinners. "I'm not . . . ," I began, and then I
saw Sebastian rushing out of Kathleen's house. He looked
outraged and he was heading my way. "Sure, let's go,
Oswaldo waved to the limo driver, who said, "Good evening,
Doctor? Perhaps he had a PhD. Personally, I felt that if
someone couldn't prescribe entertaining pharmaceuticals, he
shouldn't use the title of doctor socially. I slid into the
backseat of the limo and the driver closed the door.
Sebastian was in such a rush to get to me that he stumbled
on the curb and fell. Through the dark window, I could see
his features contort, more in rage than in pain. What in the
world was the matter with him? He should have been relieved
to see me go.
My escort leaned forward and said, "The Croft, please." I
liked that he said "please" to the driver. Turning his clear
gaze on me, Oswaldo asked, "Are you a colleague of Mr.
I supposed that technically I had been his colleague.
College, colleague, and all that. "I was, but we had
He said, "Tell me about your
writing," when I was busy noticing how nice his knee looked
in his ancient trousers. Why had I never noticed men's knees
before? I was amazed at how quickly the torment from
encountering Sebastian was dissipating in the company of an
"Hmm?" I said cleverly. "Why don't you tell me about what
you do?" I wanted to know what he did so I could decide
whether to tell him about my novel or my short stories.
"This and that," he answered. "Handle documents, read
things, ensure they get to the right people."
Was he an agent, an editor, or a mailman? "What genres do
"Fiction, nonfiction, theology, philosophy," he said.
"Prose, poetry." Well, that about covered everything from
the Koran to dirty limericks. I wondered if I was being
taken for a ride in more than one way. It didn't matter. At
least I could grab a cab or a bus from the Croft.
"Excuse me for asking," he said, "but how well do you know
I could tell this was a trick question. "How well do we know
anyone? How well do you know him?"
"Oh," said Oswaldo, "I know him more by reputation."
"So, are you a real doctor?" I didn't think so. He looked
"The driver likes to make people feel important." He added,
"I've often thought that I would like to be a
And I would like to be the Princess of Mars. I didn't bother
to make small talk the rest of the way, which left my mind
vulnerable to totally unwarranted images of mad lovemaking
I was so unevolved as a human being that I thought it was
cool to get out of a limo in front of the Croft. One of the
doormen recognized me and winked as he held open the heavy
brass-'n'-glass door. "Just one drink," I murmured to
Oswaldo. I needed just one drink before I could face going
back to my dark and dismal abode.
We crossed the cushy burgundy carpet to the entrance of the
Sequoia Room, where we were assaulted by raucous voices
raised loud over a hearty band. It was that traditional
matrimonial celebration song, "YMCA." The concierge rose
from behind his desk and glided to us. "I apologize, but
we've had to move a private party from another room due to a
damaged carpet. Perhaps you would like to relax in the
A bar had to be bad in multiple ways to earn my disfavor;
the Hamburg Room was one of the City's few watering holes
that achieved this classification. It was a dim,
uncomfortable room decorated with truncheons, shields, and
suits of armor. I had had a particularly unpleasant evening
there after ingesting some hallucinogenic mushrooms purely
for research purposes. (I was creating a character who
returns to her shamanistic roots after discovering she can
shape-shift into a mountain lion to avenge a polluting
chemical plant.) I said, "I don't think so . . ."
"Or if you like," said the concierge obligingly, "the Croft
will send drinks to your suite, Doctor. Complimentary, of
The odd doc turned to me. If Oswaldo had suggested drinks in
his room, I would have said no. If he had tried to urge me
or in any way lure me, I would have said absolutely not. But
the offer had come from the concierge, so I said, "Fine."
"What would you like?" Oswaldo asked.
tropical in a coconut with little parasols."
"Send a pitcher," said Oswaldo. Ordering too much booze was
not necessarily a mark against a man. Most of the published
writers at F.U. were drunks.
We silently rode the elevator to Oswaldo's upper-floor
suite. He unlocked the door and held it open for me. Judging
by the size of the rooms and the view of the City, he was
either successful or profligate. The lights glimmered
charmingly in the night. The sitting room was all coffee
tones: mocha armchairs, an overstuffed espresso-covered
sofa, thick latte-colored carpets, and the walls were a nice
steamed milk shade. Okay, I'm making that up, but they were
a creamy white. There were no obvious signs of literary
business: no manuscripts on the desk, no books piled on the
coffee table, no Post-its stuck to the walls.
I dropped into the armchair closest to the door. "Are you
really in publishing, Oswaldo?"
"Not major publishing, but I've got a little publishing side
"Answering personal ads is not considered publishing."
He laughed. It was an honest, warm laugh from inside. It
washed over me like spring rain and I relaxed and started
laughing, too. "Really, I have been published," he insisted.
"Articles and research papers."
"Why the ruse?"
" 'Ruse'? You have a strange vocabulary."
"Books have always been my consolation." I said it mockingly
although it was true.
There was a discreet knock at the door. Oswaldo opened it
and a waiter wheeled in a cart with a frosty pitcher and two
drinks in coconuts with pink parasols and pineapple
garnishes. They were so perfect I wanted to take a picture
When the waiter left, Oswaldo handed a coconut to me and sat
on the sofa.
I took a sip of the frozen concoction. It was sweet and
fruity. Only an hour ago, I had felt out of place and
insecure, but now I congratulated myself for my admirable
sophistication, enjoying the attentions of a fabulous man in
swanky digs. "I'm pretty sure this is what the Lost
Generation drank," I said.
"You haven't told me what you write about yet."
Still stinging from Sebastian's criticism, I answered
blithely, "Fiction, stories with political implications."
Oswaldo leaned forward, looking at me intently. "Political
thrillers, then? Like le CarrÃ© or Cruz Smith?"
Although I had not read either of these authors, I doubted
that their novels featured zombies. "Not quite. I use the
supernatural to represent the manifestation of various life
forces, good, evil, the unconscious, the id, et
Now Oswaldo grinned broadly. He had a
generous mouth, a sensual, facile mouth, and I found him
more attractive by the second. "You mean horror stories?" he
asked. "Do you believe in those things? Monsters, ghosts,
I didn't want to waste my time defending my writing to
someone who preferred more conventional literary fiction, so
I said, "I'm not superstitious, but myths do serve a
purpose. They symbolize and explain fears and anxieties in a
way that science cannot."
"Do you think so?" he said. "What purpose does the Loch Ness
Now he was teasing me. "Do you like Sebastian's latest
novel? Because if you do, you may as well know now that my
style is very different."
"I would have guessed as much," Oswaldo said. "I was there
because I was curious about his work. I've heard a great
deal about him. I haven't had the chance to read his book
"The critics love it," I said, thereby not committing one
way or another regarding Sebastian's work.
"So they do," said Oswaldo. "He seems rather businesslike
for an artist, so establishment. Is that how he always
"You're assuming that I know him well," I said.
He sipped his drink. "Um, yes, I got that general
I suddenly had a shift in awareness. "I thought you invited
me here because you were interested in me, my writing. But
all you really want to know about is Sebastian." My breasts
practically slumped in shame. I swallowed my drink quickly,
feeling momentary brain freeze, which seemed appropriate for
the situation. I would have bet Oswaldo was a heterosexual,
but that dang waiter had been right. "That's the icing on
the cake for this evening!"
I stood up and grabbed my bag. The evening could yet be
redeemed. I'd go to the lobby, phone my friends and find out
where they would be tonight. "Ask Kathleen," I told him.
"She knows where Sebastian's staying. A man of your means
can surely schedule an appointment or an interview or a
tryst or whatever it is that you want."
Oswaldo jumped up. "No, no, that's . . ." He grabbed my arm.
His lovely fingers were warm on my flesh. "I did want
to know about him, but, you, there's something about you and
I didn't expect to meet anyone who could make me feel . .
I could have huffed, "What kind of girl do you
think I am?" But the truth is that I'm the kind of girl who
can be picked up by some fake doctor bozo in a weird suit at
a posh party, go to his hotel suite, become insulted, and
then realize that she's never been so attracted to anyone
before. I'm the kind of girl who impulsively tugs him close
and kisses him like there's no tomorrow.
I felt as if there was no tomorrow and no yesterday and
nothing but this moment and this moment and
this moment. My need to touch him went beyond coconut
drink-fueled desire. My mind shut down entirely and turned
control over to my nervous system. I lost sense of where my
body ended and his began. I felt an arm stroke a back, but
could not tell if I was stroking his back or he was stroking
mine. Our tongues slipped into each other's mouths, our legs
tangled in an effort to meld our bodies. We pushed together
carelessly, wildly, and crashed against the coffee table
before tumbling to the carpet, his body beneath
I felt as if a door had opened and I'd stepped
into light and open space. I felt truly happy in a way I had
never felt before. It was like I had been living in black
and white and suddenly I could see in color.
I became aware of a warm mineral taste in my mouth and I
broke away from Oswaldo. I put my fingers to my face and
discovered that my lower lip had been cut. My fingers came
away glistening with blood. Oswald's lip, too, had been cut
in the fall. A gleaming red drop beaded at the corner of his
"Milagro," Oswald said softly. He didn't pull me toward him
or push me away or laugh about our clumsiness. He just
stared at me with his smoky gray eyes, his chest rising with
every slow breath, the red, red drop of blood exquisitely
balanced on the edge of his pink lip and his creamy skin.
I knew the dangers of exchanging body fluids, but an
inexplicable compulsion rose in me. Irrationally,
unreasonably, I didn't try to repress it. The caution I had
always taken seemed insignificant compared with the desire
that now enflamed me. I lowered my lips to Oswald's and put
my injured mouth to his, tasting him, hungry for every drop,
every part of him.
He tasted like the ocean; he tasted like the earth; he
tasted like the sky; he tasted like life itself. I heard him
say, "No, we can't," and his argument convinced neither of
us. He grabbed me tightly and rolled our bodies over until
he was on top. Our hands were fumbling with each other's
clothes and I became aware of a banging, a loud insistent
banging, but it wasn't us, not yet, and then the door flew
open and someone shouted, "Stop!" Turning to the door, I saw
Sebastian, who looked furious.
I was about to tell him to get lost, to go to hell,
wondering why he had decided to bother me, when some tiny
part of me became aware that I felt strangely disoriented.
And while I wanted to stay with Oswaldo forever, the core of
me that was Milagro De Los Santos, miracle of the saints,
ordered me to get up, to grab my bag, to get away now before
I lost all will and control.
Shoving Sebastian aside, I rushed down the hall. I was aware
of the men shouting at each other. Then the walls began to
waver and the floor roiled under my feet. I stood still,
thinking that it was an earthquake. None of the pictures on
the walls fell, though, and the flowers were still in their
The elevator doors were open. I stumbled inside, punched the
lobby button, and leaned against the mirrored wall. My mouth
was red and my eyes were wild. I noticed that my dress was
partially unbuttoned, but I didn't care. When the elevator
doors opened, I nearly collapsed into the lobby. The
redheaded waiter was standing there and he caught me. "Are
"No," I said, but I was thinking that it was an awfully big
coincidence that the same dang waiter was in the Croft
lobby. And that made me wonder how Sebastian had found me in
the hotel room. Why were we all at the Croft? Was someone
having an after-party for Kathleen's reception? Had I come
here for an after-party? My thoughts were slipping and
sliding around in my brain like eels. I couldn't hold on to
any of them long enough to make sense out of the
"Come sit down here," the waiter said, and he helped me to
an enormous ottoman by the entrance. It was scarlet, like
Oswaldo's blood. I rubbed the dark leather with my thumb and
licked at my lips, my tongue searching for a last drop. The
waiter's deft fingers buttoned my dress to my neck. "Stay
here and I'll take care of you. I have to do one thing.
Stay here, okay?"
I may have nodded or my head may have just dropped.
"I'll be right back." He ran off and left me.
Copyright Â©2006 by Marta Acosta