The Shine Journal - The Light Left Behind

Journeys Through Grief and Beyond

 

Love Remembers

        by
 
             Tess Almendarez Lojacono
 
 
 
She watched him from the corner of her eye. Trees whizzed past, traffic signs, other cars. He drove quickly—efficiently he said. His lips formed a tight line. The song droned on.

Love remembers…love remembers…

He winced when he heard it; his eyes grew small as though he was concentrating on his driving. Or the lyrics. Or the memory that used to haunt him only when he was alone, and now could crowd out everything at any time without warning.

She gritted her teeth, made herself look out the window. She knew if she asked what he was thinking he’d only murmur nothing, look surprised. He’d have forgotten she was there, sitting right beside him, and if she said you’re thinking about her again, he’d say about whom? Like he didn’t know she knew the other one was always there.

She’d seen a picture of her once. Tall, thin, muscular you’d say. Long dark hair, really long. Curly too, all loose and wild like models used to wear in the seventies. Oh, she was a looker, that’s for sure. And he was mad for her. But like a lot of picture perfect couples, they didn’t last.

She left him he said; he didn’t give the details. And she was too polite to ask--way too elated when he asked her out. So handsome, smart--she didn’t question anything, couldn’t believe her crazy luck.

Four months later they moved in, found a place near her work. Of course, this meant he had to drive some to reach his office but he said he didn’t mind, in fact he’d welcome the commute.

Welcome it? She let it go. She wasn’t one to stir the pot.

They finally reached their parking lot. He said, “What the heck?” His best friend’s truck was pulling in behind them. They all got out and she nudged him toward his friend.

“Go ahead honey, I’ll take the groceries in.”

The guys took off. She watched them go, then struggled with the bags. Impotent anger flared, but it was her own fault. She practically made him go, didn’t she?

She wrestled everything into their apartment, put it all away. Cooked dinner, ate, cleaned up. Then she read a while, watched some TV and just as she was giving up and thinking about bed, the doorknob turned and he came in.

He didn’t speak, but hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. She heard the sounds of vomiting but stayed frozen where she was. And then she heard the lock click, small, ominous sound.

His friend shuffled in, embarrassed. They were drunk, or at least they smelled like it. Her nose wrinkled. She shook her head. “What did you guys do?”

“Listen, Sugar, don’t be mad. He had some, well, bad news.”

“What? You can tell me. We’re practically married.”

He cleared his throat. “Margo’s dead.”

What?” Her stomach lurched. She never wanted to hear that name, dreaded that name, hated it. “The witch is dead? That monster—that bitch?”

“Hey now, she’s dead. Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do that—don’t do that? How could she? How dare she!” She jumped up, trembling.

He grabbed her arms. “Quit it! She’s dead. What do you care? It was over anyway--.”

Over? Are you serious? Are you insane? It isn’t over—it never was and now it never will be!”

“You’re crazy! I told you she’s dead! She’s gone! Can’t you hear? Don’t you understand?”

“I understand plenty.” She glared at him then slowly began to sob.

“What?” he said, plainly annoyed. “What’s it to you anyway?”

“Don’t you see?” she wailed. She struggled to regain composure, wiped her hand across her nose. “There was always a chance he’d run into her—we’d run into her—and—my God, I’ve prayed for it, wished on stars and wishbones, stupid wish flowers—please God, I begged and begged Him, let this be the day!” She wrung her hands. “And then he’d see I was the one. She’d be fat. She’d be gray—vicious, mangy, cruel. He’d finally see she was no good for him. He’d stop thinking about her dreaming about her keeping her between us. Now it can never happen. Now she’ll always be perfect. He’ll keep her that way and I might as well pack up and leave.” She dropped onto the couch.

He wanted to argue with her, but he figured it was pointless. Women understood these things on a different level. “I never thought of that,” he admitted. He shook his head, stuffed his hands in his jean pockets and slowly walked away.

###

Tess Almendarez Lojacono is a writer, business owner and a teacher. Her company, Fine Art Miracles, Inc., serves the elderly through fine art education. She has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. She's worked as Editor of International Family Magazine's Latin Families Column and as a judge for several prestigious writing contests. Her own poems and stories have won awards in the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contests. She's been published in print and online in such publications as OffCourse, Etchings, The Cortland Review, Words and Images and others. Her poems were selected for the Silver Boomer Books anthology, "From The Porch Swing" and her first novel, Milagros, was published by the same, in February 2011. Tess's second novel, The Book Of Zane, will be published by Sunbury Press in May, 2013; her latest (unpublished) novel, The Golden Age Quest of Don Miguel Aguilar, was a finalist in the 2012 Tarcher/Penguin Best New Artist Contest.

 

The Last Time I Painted His Face

by

Tess Almendarez Lojacono



I always drew.  Just what we did as kids-everyone does it I guess.  Our home was simple and dedicated to children.  Fisher Price hadn't invented the plastic kid's table yet, but our dining room held a wooden picnic table, just the right size.  A carpet of linoleum protected the floor.  With windows wide or cookies baking, there was always a comforting smell.  Mum sang off key as she did her work and we sat and did ours.  She liked to see us draw.  And just like handwriting, we all came up with our own way of doing it, our own style.

"Hey, Lily, draw me a horse."

"I can't draw horses Bell."

"Aw, c'mon.  Yours are better than mine!"

"No."  I kept drawing. "Mine don't look like dogs.  Yours look like dogs and mine look like-cows!"  I glanced at my brother's page.  "Hey, yours looks like a dragon."

"Mine is a dragon!"

"Oh.  Sorry.  I thought it was a horse."

"C'mon Lily!"

"Hey, I know.  Let's make paper dolls."

So we'd draw paper dolls, cut them out and play with them until they got torn or dirty.  Then I would pretend to throw them away, but really stash them in a used envelope in my treasure drawer, laying out their wrinkled bodies, kissing each one gently before folding the envelope shut. 

I always drew two boys and half a dozen girls.  The girls' names would change with their looks and my mood, but the boys were always Otto and Ben. 

As I grew older, I studied art seriously.  In college we painted landscapes, still life's, classic nudes.  But whenever I painted people, a face kept appearing that I recognized.  It was a boy's face, someone from my past.

"You know, your work is reminiscent of the Mexican Muralists," my fellow art majors said.  I nodded. Without really trying, my figures kept coming out rounded, brown skinned, my paintings brightly colored, pictures of children playing, families praying, people living out their lives.

I painted a classroom scene beginning with the popular mathematical under-painting, meant to draw the viewer's eye throughout the composition.  When I overlaid that with children, desks and blackboards, a boy lifted his desk lid and peered at me from underneath.  Otto?  Ben?  The warmth of recognition ran down my spine.  I laughed out loud.  He was back!  That painting sold quickly and Otto or Ben went to live on a business major's wall.

Next it was a family playing on the beach; then children squashed between grown-ups in a pew at Sunday Mass, a family waving from their car.  Otto or Ben appeared in each, grinning or winking at me.

When I graduated, I turned to sculpting; painting, sculpting, work and life.  Now that I'm old, I teach more than paint, but I pick up the paintbrush when somebody asks.

The last time I painted his face he looked sad.  He showed up in a mural on a gymnasium wall. I wondered, why now, why so sad? 

Otto or Ben had something of mine-something he couldn't give back.  Like a door that had closed or a day that had ended, he couldn't reach into my world. His look squeezed my insides, such deep wistfulness there.  I squinted.  I stared, blurred my eyes, determined to see.  

This thing felt like love, because my heart ached, but it wasn't my heart that he held.  It was something more precious, less tangible.  I tried closing my eyes.  I smelled cookies baking and crisp autumn leaves.  I felt smooth linoleum spreading under my feet.  The gym began filling with horses and dragons... could Otto or Ben have my youth?

The next day I went in to finish the mural.  Some kids started playing before I was through.  When the basketball hit me, it could have been an accident but their laughter made me think it was not.   My paintbrush hit the wall smack on Otto or Ben's mouth and now he was laughing with them.  Kids will be kids, but I wasn't fooled.  His eyes still gave him away.


BIO: Tess Almendarez Lojacono is a writer, business owner and a teacher. Her company, Fine Art Miracles, seeks to accomplish two goals: 1) to bring attention to the underserved through fine art education and 2) to embrace humanity in the elucidation of common experiences and emotions. She has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University.  International Family Magazine has named her Editor of its Latin Families Column, where you can find stories from her collection, Milagros, along with the work of other Latin writers. Tess's work has appeared in OffCourse, a literary journal, in The Cortland Review, Flash Fiction Online, St. Maria's Messenger and Falling Star Magazine.  Etchings will feature one of her short stories in their Aug. 09 issue.  Two of her stories won awards in The Writer's Digest's 77th Annual Writing Competition.

Motivation: "This is a little piece of memoir, a snapshot of my artistic life."

Image by: Asif Akbar

Contact Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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