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Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories, is a stunning debut collection of short stories that explore identity issues in the Latino community. The cast of characters in her stories include a young boy-impelled by his guilt over failing to prevent his parents' divorce-who seeks to save an abandoned baby, an elderly man attempting to invoke his dead wife by regularly donning her clothing and make-up, a former National Guardsman whose failed attempts to connect with his family do not prevent him from trying, and a young ...
Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories, is a stunning debut collection of short stories that explore identity issues in the Latino community. The cast of characters in her stories include a young boy-impelled by his guilt over failing to prevent his parents' divorce-who seeks to save an abandoned baby, an elderly man attempting to invoke his dead wife by regularly donning her clothing and make-up, a former National Guardsman whose failed attempts to connect with his family do not prevent him from trying, and a young woman determined to give birth to her murdered lover's child. In the title story, an aging Avon representative, who is often mistaken for a transvestite, has become so estranged from the Spanish language she spoke as a child that she no longer remembers that she spoke it or what happened in her childhood. Many of the characters in these stories must negotiate differences in race, culture, language, class, and gender in attempts to discover who they are and where they are going. López's vivid characters struggle both to find a place of belonging and companions who can accept them, as well as self-forgiveness for the compromises they made in living necessarily bifurcated lives as they attempt to breech the gap between cultures.
Copyright © 2002 Lorraine López.
All rights reserved.
If you are anything like me (and most likely you've had some luck, some mercy shown somewhere and you're not one bit like me—unless, of course, you travel with the circus or are on display in some laboratory) but if you happen to be anything like me, anything at all, you wake up every morning with the same prayer stamped in your heart that is burning on your lips: Dear Virgin (because you don't believe in God, never have really, but you don't dare ignore la virgen), Make me skinny! Please, oh, please! And while you're at it, fix this blasted eye!
So you have two prayers, really. But you try to collapse them into one so you won't seem so greedy, the way you were last night, stealing the last two tortillas out of the bread basket, drizzling them with butter and smuggling them into bed to wolf under the sheets, so your older sister Rita wouldn't see, so Rita wouldn't say something like what about that diet you're supposed to be on, huh? Now, if you're at all like me, you've got these shiny yellow spots of grease all over your pillowcase, which will probably never come out, which will always remind you of your greed, your piggishness. So you throw in an extra part to the usual prayer: And, Virgin, try to get these grease spots to wash out of the pillowcase, if you can. But, most of all, help me lose some weight and do something about this goddamn eye, Blessed Mother. I beg your intercession!
Then, being like me, you roll out of bed, rolling a little more literally than you'd like to, and you fumble around on the night stand for your eyepatch and your glasses. The eyepatch, a beige-colored adhesive job cut the size and shape of a campaign button, is a real fashion statement. It's meant to look natural, like a flap of skin that just casually happened to grow over your eye, but it goes with your shock-white face about as well as a splash of cocoa goes on snowy linen. It's about as unnoticeable as an I AM DEFORMED! sticker pasted on your forehead. The only thing worse than wearing the patch is having that wild eye show. Lazy eye, the optometrist, with excessively hairy nostrils, told your father. But you know the truth, that eye is about as lazy as a hummingbird on benzedrine. In fact, the way it jumps, starts and flinches, it feels ready to leap out of its socket and make its way, bouncing like a superball, for the Mexican border. It's the only part of your enormous, slothful body that isn't lazy! It's not a lazy eye; it's a crazy eye. Dear Virgin, will you please control that eye! So you pull the plastic backing off the adhesive and stick the patch over the wild eye, then you slip on your glasses.
Now you have begged the Virgin (and your father) for the newer, more attractive "granny-style" wire frames that every self-respecting glasses-wearer owns. After all, this is the seventies, and people—especially fifteen-year-old girls—don't want to look that much like Walter Cronkite any more. But the optometrist with hairy nostrils has vetoed this option, saying your lens is too thick to be supported by delicate, decent-looking frames. While your exposed eye is neither lazy nor insane, it is quite calmly, peaceably, and even legally blind. Requiring glasses as thick as a slice of Texas toast. About the only frames that can hold the lens are a mannish tortoise shell or an industrial strength pink plastic deal studded with rhinestones. The pinks are probably safe for welding in. The horn rims are in the style worn by Clark Kent, the glasses he always tears off his face when it becomes necessary for him to turn into Superman. The very act of ripping those hideous glasses off his face signals his transformation from a worthless frankfurter into the man of steel. You decided you don't especially want to look like Clark Kent, the wiener, so you've picked the pink plastic, which, with the patch, give you the look of a maniacal secretary for Long John Silver.
"Yo-ho-ho!" your seventeen-year-old brother Cary hails you when you finally force him out of the bathroom. He doesn't dare tease you about your weight because, truth be told, he is even fatter than you are, and though you're two years younger, you can fling weight insults with greater zest than he could ever muster. But, if you're like me, you don't really want to slit open that particular vein of discussion.
So you say, "What do you do in there?" You're brother spends half his life in the can, and though you've applied some thought to this mystery, you can't figure out what he's doing the whole time. He doesn't flush, run water, creak the medicine chest open, turn pages of comic books or even pass gas—you know because you've knelt with your ear pressed to the keyhole, and you can hear nothing. "What do you do in there anyway?"
Of course, Cary doesn't answer, he just starts singing, "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum ..." Since these are the only words he knows to the pirate ditty, he simply sings them over and over and over. "Yo-ho- ho, and a bottle of rum!"
But you put this out of your head and you try to enjoy your bath, ignoring your older sister who has begun to pound intermittently on the door. If it's urgent enough, she'll bust the door open with a shoulder block and come in to piss while you shave your legs. But when your dad starts yelling, "Por dios, hurry up in there," you figure it's time to grab for the baldest, stiffest, and scratchiest towels on earth which your family happens to collect much like other families collect pewter or valuable stamps. You wind yourself in the best and biggest of the lot.
"Sophia!" your dad is screaming, "Sophia Loren, please, hita, I gotta go!" And you think what a sour joke it is for your mother to have named you for one of the most gorgeous women to grace the planet. She died (your mother, not Sophia Loren) before you were one, so you never knew her, and you don't miss her. You can't even cry for her, especially not with this patch threatening to curl off with any trace of moisture. But you've always wanted to meet your mother to trade a few words on this subject. Somehow, it's not so bad for your older sisters to be named Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Rita Hayworth Chacon. Even your brother being called Cary Grant doesn't seem too jarring. But when people hear your name is Sophia Loren, they just have to laugh. You are resolved to change your name to Ethel Bland as soon as you are an adult.
Though the mirror is foggier than ever, you can see that your huevon eyepatch is getting limp from the steam of the bath. You press it back in place, but it wilts away from your damp skin, and you know you will need another one before school. You hate wasting them, but it's worse to have Cary or your dad see the eye and look away sharply, pretending not to have seen it at all.
"Hijolé, muchacha, I thought you was never coming out," says your father, taking in your towel, your piglet skin, the electrified look of your toweled hair and your rebel eyepatch. He suppresses a smile, but gives in to a snort—a single honk of laughter.
"What's so funny?" you say, imitating Minnie Mouse, so he will have something legitimate, something other than your frightful appearance, to laugh at. "You think I'm funny or just funny-looking?"
Here he laughs long and hard, pushing you out of the way to get in the can.
You roll your eyes, heading for his room, for the small cabbage of bills he leaves on top of his chest of drawers with his penknife, the twelve trillion keys and assorted wads of lint, pencil stubs and crumpled scraps of paper from his pants pockets. You are careful to pluck only one dollar bill from this nest for your lunch, just in case you get hungry at school. You have made up your mind to fast all day, but you never know what they'll serve in the cafeteria. If it's taquitos with guacamole, you're a goner, even though the guacamole is as thin as water and a shade of green not usually found in nature.
On the way to the kitchen, you stop in the laundry room and flick on the iron. You wash your uniform blouse and skirt every night and iron them every morning. Always. You are the neatest, best groomed freak in the world even though you're not sure why you bother. Maybe you're hoping people will be so taken with the razor pleats of your hounds tooth skirt, the glowing whiteness of your blouse that they will completely miss your hideous eyepatch and the several pounds you need to shed. Are you listening, Virgencita? That Sophia, some kind of ironer. Wonder what bleach she uses?
But wait, what's that rich buttery smell curling suggestively from the kitchen? Can it be? Yes, Loretta is diabolically and delicately sizzling french toast in a skillet, your favorite food in the world, especially the way she makes it with finely grated orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream beaten into the egg. Loretta and her cooking are your body's worst enemies. At least with Bette, and her habit of preparing dried-out, unidentifiable meats with blackened potatoes served cold night after night, you had half a chance. Not so with Loretta at the stove. Clearly, you'll have to begin your fast tomorrow.
"You're gonna eat in that?" Cary asks, not very nicely, jutting a thumb at you.
"I'll take it off, baby, if that's what you want. I'll take it all off!" And you begin to hum the striptease song while plucking at the knot of towel between your breasts. Ta-da-da-DUM, ta-da-DA-DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM-DA-dum-dum-dum!
Loretta thinks this is funny as hell. Somehow, she knows how to laugh without smiling. Her pretty mouth just opens and the laughter streams out like a musical ribbon. Cary, of course, fixes his eyes on his plate, turning blister-red clear up to his scalp. "Ta-da-da-DUM, ta-da-DA-DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM-DA-dum-dum-dum!" You stand, dropping the towel in a puddle at your ankles, and you start shaking and gyrating, wiggling your boobs like a tassel twirler having a seizure. You grab the towel and start swinging it over your head. You think you might hop on the table, but you're not sure it would take your weight, when the towel catches on the light fixture overhead. You interrupt your performance for a brief tug of war with the fixture, which you win when the glass globe comes loose and shatters on the kitchen floor, just missing your head.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" screams your aunt Nilda just opening the back door into the kitchen. Her brown face is bleached with shock. "VÁLGAME, DIOS, YOU'RE NAKED AND YOU'RE BREAKING THE LIGHTS! ARE YOU IN SANE?"
Now, you and Nilda have a lot in common when it comes to praying. She talks to God at least as often as you call on the Virgin, but she never asks for anything. She just shares her insights on how all the people around her are out of their minds and a real pain in the ass to deal with, then she tells God to value her. Válgame, dios is her favorite saying, and literally it's "value me, God," meaning you got to notice I'm surrounded by nuts and that, God, has to count for something. But just because you and Nilda are both prayerful people doesn't mean you get along too great. You wrap yourself back in the towel remembering what Bette says about you and Nilda, and that is that Nilda just doesn't "get it" about you. Usually everyone else laughs their head off whenever you open your mouth or just walk into a room—which can be disturbing—but Nilda is almost always immune to your kidding and funny faces.
Never in a million years could you satisfactorily explain to Nilda why you were caught naked breaking the light fixture with a towel. Truth be told, you're not quite sure yourself, but it's not something that upsets you, the way it seems to upset Nilda. But she's calmer now, after a drink of water and then a plate of french toast—your breakfast—which she ate while Loretta swept up the mess and you ironed and put on your uniform, hoping to erase the earlier impression with your superior laundry habits. Nilda sadly takes your hand and looks into your good eye, which is also a bad eye. "I guess I'm just in time with this," she says softly, handing you a flat package you didn't notice when she walked in.
"What's this?" you ask, thinking it's to do with dieting. Nilda's a great one for telling you just how fat and terrible looking you are. Her favorite greeting to you is: "My God, you're so fat!" She was probably horrified when she saw you in the raw.
"Pues, it's a record, one of those record albums. Go on, open it up."
You pull off the bag and hold an album with a big-headed bald priest smiling at a bunch of zombie-like teenagers on the album cover, which reads: Father Cochran: The Straight Dope on the Birds and the Bees. Great waves of laughter roll to your throat, but you swallow them back because Nilda is so wholly and seriously embarrassed.
"It's about the you-know," she whispers, "the facts of life."
The title alone makes your eyes sting with merry tears.
"Thanks, Tía," you say, humbly, while biting the soft skin inside of your cheek hard, very hard, so you don't giggle. "You want to listen to it with me?"
"Oh, no, no, no, no." Nilda shakes her head several times, saying, "absolutely not. You and la Rita listen together. You can get some good information, you know what I'm saying? Good information for teenage girls. You'll find out why a girl shouldn't fool around naked in the kitchen breaking the lights, válgame, dios."
"Really?" You turn the record around to read the back, curious to see if there is a relevant track. Disappointed the tracks aren't listed, you tuck the album under your arm. "I'll listen to it after school," you promise Nilda, wondering if your friends Rosa and Aracely will be free in the afternoon to come over for a few laughs.
"You listen to it good, and you mind what it says, muchacha," Nilda advises.
Cary laps up the last of the syrup on his plate. "Maybe I oughta listen to it too," he says, reaching with smelly fingers to grab the record.
"No, no," says Nilda, "this is not for boys. This will only give them ideas."
"But I need ideas!" protests Cary, and you can't help thinking, boy, does he ever. He makes a lunge for the album, but Nilda smacks his paws with her sharp little hands. "Yow!" cries Cary, pulling back.
Now, if you're like me, it's not sufficient for you to have a freakish appearance, but you must also have freakish friends as well. And owing to their grotesque appearances, it doesn't take you two seconds to spot Rosa and Aracely in the crowded schoolyard before first bell. Loretta once mentioned that it was like seeing a Watusi walking with a Pygmy whenever Rosa and Aracely came over to the house. Rosa is at least six feet tall in flats, slightly taller in her uniform regulation saddle oxfords, and Aracely's lucky if she reaches four foot ten in hers. And it's not just size that makes these girls odd. Rosa looks like she could be Frankenstein's sister, not his bride, because her lank black hair hangs flat, like a dull horse's tail. But she could easily be his sister with her greenish olive skin pocked by deep acne scars, pits and blips and boils. If you come upon her suddenly, she could give you a fright, until she opens her mouth, that is, and the whining starts. She's Frankenstein's whiny sister, the one who never made it out of the laboratory because she was so busy complaining about everything. Then there's Aracely, a brown terrier of a girl, who gets so worked up running around and shooting her mouth a mile a minute that she actually does pant with the tip of her pink tongue showing. A-huh-a-huh-a-huh.
You know these are not easy friends to be branded with, but with your weight and the eye thing, what can you expect? The three of you blend in with the crowd in the school yard about as well as a trio of circus clowns in a Junior Miss Pageant. Mother Mary, how about some new friends? Some normal looking people to hang around with? Would that be too much trouble? This morning, you see Aracely has a new hairstyle or maybe she had some bad luck with her crème rinse. Her short blue-black hair rises shock straight up from her scalp, giving her the look of a startled hedgehog. And Rosa has forgotten to wash her face; yellowish crust is wedged in the corners of both her eyes and her short lashes are dusty.
Still you saunter over and hear them talking about one of their usual subjects—sex. Rosa is whining, "But my amá says the only reason to do it is to get babies."
"I'd say that's a sad commentary on your old man," you say, plunging right in.
Excerpted from Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories by Lorraine M. López. Copyright © 2002 by Lorraine López. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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