The sad heart of Luisa Fuego (short story)

March 27, 2011

This is an edited excerpt from my first ever attempt at a novel, from about five-six years ago. I don’t know why I’m busting this out now.

Sitting on her sparse chair in the corner of the yard under the shade of an old tree that no one had ever classified on account of its substantial foliage, she decided to name the world Luis.

The yard had not seen much rain the last year. The vegetable crop had withered in chunks of roughage to her right, and if she had the patience to water it, she was sure it would at least be grateful for the nourishment. Luisa didn’t, however. She never did. She liked to sit out in the yard on sunny days and imagine the world outside her walls and ever so often, she would think of a man, Luis, who was just like her, only an older gentleman, dressed in a breezy cotton shirt with lapels the color of their eyes and he was smiling and she was too and all was well between them and the world and thus she had no choice but to name the entire world Luis.

The entrance to the yard was a dark metal gate of fauns and satyrs and the trellis was bare beside. She imagined the dark gates creaking open the way they did for the milkman who made his rounds every morning. She heard the patter of a child’s feet, stumbling uneasily into the yard. She saw herself preparing for the long winter standing in her grey housecoat and in her ear, she heard Luis whisper in tongues and every fourth word was querida. And by the time he had reached the two sixteenth word, Luis’ tongue had already made her shudder and she’d forgotten where she lived and why it was lucky that it had not rained.

The air was weak and smelling of disease. The last month alone had seen fifty-seven people take to the beds of The Hospice of Our Lady of Civil Tongue. Half of them had sores and boils on their lower back-arse-and thighs. Nothing much could be done about them. They lay in the smells of their own refuse. Her friend Hanna brought up the topic every day, the poor dear. Hanna was a nurse. Luisa thought of Hanna’s plain starched uniform and how she’d reacted when she told her she’d named all Hanna’s patients Luis. They lived in her world after all. This was Luis’ world and all the people in it were him also. Mad Luis, giggling hysterically as he poked his fingers in his refuse; cynical Luis, resigned and apathetic, the only sane person in the sardine-can; crazy Luis, sniffing his fingers and sucking them questioningly; even tired Luis who was really a girl and photographer Luis who scrawled his socialist beliefs on the wall in his own blood in a slanted scrawl. The clock indoors struck four. The telephone, prompt as ever, rang dully four times without a response and before it could stop, little Simon climbed over the garden wall and hurried towards Luisa’s chair.

“Mama needed to go to the ferry and here’s your food, Luisa,” he said, setting a steel tub of food on the bench. “I’m supposed to stay with you tonight.”
“Yes, yes,” she replied. “But you must promise not to make any noise. A gentleman’s coming to visit your Aunty Luisa. Be a mouse, will you?”
“Okay,” said the boy and was gone into the house, which like her, had turned fifty the previous year. He would return with a deck of cards like he usually did. But for now, she was alone in the yard with a container of black beans and rice on her lap and she began thinking of Luis, who hadn’t returned to her in so long.

She blamed Luis’s absence on the moon and all those girls from the big towns who surely he hated for their easy virtue. She said a prayer for Luis, counting off beads on her rosary that was allegedly blessed by His Holiness. Luis’ tongue was fire when he swore to return to her and she knew from looking at him that there was love in his eyes and that she’d forgive anything. In her mind’s eye, she knew this was exactly how the apostles had won the world over, with fiery tongue and a rumbling, misguided love. A trespass would do her good, she mused. Her last had swollen her belly and knocked the wind out of her and two teeth but she whistled when she spoke and no one could take away her joy at hearing her new magical whistle. Like a child, her breath came out of her in gasps. Ever so often, her breath would coalesce into a little-girl sigh through the partition in her incisors. Luis had done this, also. The gap in her teeth was rather endearing, her friends had said, and there was no need to get it fixed, they asserted, and she knew what they weren’t telling her was that the only dentist was also named Luis.

She laughed, a melodic whistle-laugh, and thought to herself, how is it that I may think of myself when I have named everything Luis and at once, a dried-up leaf alighted upon her belly-button.

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