San Diego

Daniel A. Olivas

I have no reason to be nervous. We planned this dinner long ago, after a few false starts. But now my famous lengua smothered in thick mole sits in the middle of the dinner table, anchored by a large bowl of steaming Spanish rice at one end, and at the other a bowl of refried beans, looking as elegant as sliced cow tongue in a dark red sauce can. The table looks perfect with three place-settings — my husband safely at the St. Francis in San Francisco for his annual law firm retreat — perfectly-chilled bottles of Dos Equis waiting patiently in the fridge, and Susana Baca crooning on the Yamaha with other nice choices sitting in their cradles. But no Papa. And no Papa's new girlfriend;shit.

I know what you want to say to me: Of course you're nervous. Your mom has been dead five years and your dad suddenly decides to find a new woman after swearing there could be no one after Leticia. It's perfectly normal. Just let the night happen. Everyone is entitled to a second chance. And I'd say: You presumptuous little dumb-fuck. How can you even pretend to know my Papa? Or me, for that matter. And there ain't no way you could even fathom my late mother. And then I'd kick your pitiful fat ass.

Okay, even with a low six-figure joint income, I'm still a little rough around the edges. You can take the girl out of La Puente, but. . . . And sorry about the hostility but you don't know Papa. He's an idiot. Not the classic nitwit who sits-in-his-own-feces-drooling kind of idiot. No. He's made a pretty good living all his life running a little business here, another one there. Nothing fancy. But he goddamn put food on the table, put a small but decent roof over our heads, sent me and my brother to college, and kept Mama moderately contented with no more than three, maybe four, affairs with customers. Nothing Mama couldn't handle. But when it came to choosing a suitable mate, what did Papa know? I mean, he never should have married Mama. She was a bitch-on-wheels and it's no wonder he cheated a few times. If she'd had big tits and a face to die for, maybe I'd understand why he chose her. But Mama's chest was as small as Michael Jackson's nose and homely as a stick. Thank God I take after Papa who is pretty handsome if you ask me. But he hung in that marriage for thirty years. He said he loved her. Love. Fuck. He believes in love. So, you see, he's an idiot. And I have a bad feeling about this new woman he's hooked up with. Connie. Connie Garcia. That's her name. I almost choke on it and I haven't met her yet.

Ah! The doorbell. I get up, straighten my skirt, examine my teeth in the hall window, and open the door. And there he is: glistening gray hair combed back, clean-shaven, grinning like a schoolboy, wearing that perfect-fitting blue blazer I bought him last Christmas. On his arm is his date. Connie Garcia. Okay, let me stop here. I have an announcement: I am not a racist. I might be a bitch (I blame genetics), I might be a pain-in-the-ass, I might drive an SUV, but I do not dislike people based on race, ethnicity, religious persuasion, or whether they can afford a Coach purse. But why oh why did I expect Connie to be Mexican like us? Her last name perhaps? Duh.

"Mija, this is Connie," chirps Papa.

Silence. My mouth hangs open like a used condom. Papa and Connie just stand there smiling. Connie sticks her hand out to me. Somehow I gain enough control to take it. It's very small, her hand. Tiny. A diminutive sack of bird bones. I try not to hurt her as I shake it slowly.

"Hi," says Connie.

"Hi," I manage to get out. "I'm Sonia."

More silence. Suddenly I feel like a schmuck — a word my husband picked up at the firm — and I motion them into the house. So, we have progress. They are now in standing in my home. I close the door. Papa hands me a bottle of white wine which is all wrong. He knows better because I told him that I was cooking lengua. Unless of course it's Connie's stupid idea to bring white wine for a Mexican meal.

"For you, Mija."

It's a warm night so Connie doesn't have a wrap or anything to hand me. And then I notice that she has a very nice figure. She's wearing this simple little summer dress, must be a size two for God's sake, a floral print, that shows off very young-looking, thin arms and a very nice, non-surgically enhanced neck. She reminds me of Mrs. Tanaka, my fifth grade teacher. Pretty, petite, with perfect skin. But Connie must be at least sixty based on what Papa has told me about her.

"Connie," I say. "Connie Garcia?" I can be blunt.

"Yes," she laughs. She covers her mouth with her teeny-tiny hand when she titters. Just like Mrs. Tanaka did. But I need more information.

"Garcia?" I emphasize again.

And she laughs again and now Papa joins in with a chuckle. "My late husband was Garcia," she says through her hand. "I was Fujiwara before that."

So she has thing for Latin men. Sick. Totally sick.

"Oh," I say, not smiling. "That's interesting."

More silence.

"So," says Papa. "Are we just going to stand here, or what?"

Connie laughs again. I come to.

"Lo siento," I say falling into Spanish for reasons beyond me. "Sorry. Come on. The food's ready so let's get started." My chones are all in a twist now but I better pull my shit together.

Connie smiles broadly. Nice teeth. "Good," she says as we walk towards the dining room. "I'm famished."

The size two is famished. Yeah, right.

"Then you'll love my lengua," I say.

As Papa pulls a chair out for Connie, she says, "Lengua?"

"Let me put this in the fridge," I say ignoring her question. "Beer goes better with Mexican food."

As I walk to the kitchen, I hear Papa whisper, "We'll have the wine later." Bingo. I was right. It was Connie's idea to bring white wine. Chardonnay to be exact. Nice label actually. Napa. Something nice for me to drink when they're gone. I grab three bottles of Dos Equis and bring them to my guests. And then he does it. Papa opens Connie's beer and pours it into her glass. He never did this for Mama. Never.

"Thank you, Al," she says.

Al. Al. Who the fuck is Al?

"Al?" I say.

Connie goddamn laughs again. "'Alfonso' is such a mouthful."

Papa just opens his beer, dispenses with the glass, and takes a gulp while keeping his eyes on me. His eyes say, Please don't do this.

"Al," I say. "Al. I like it. It's so new. So modern. So La Jolla." You see, after Mama died, Papa followed me down to La Jolla. He sold all his little businesses, the house, almost everything, and bought a neat little condo down here a couple of miles from me and Carlos. He didn't want to live in Los Angeles anymore. "Anywhere but L.A.," he'd said after the funeral.

"Mija," Papa says. "I like it. I know it's different from what Mama called me."

"You mean, 'pendejo'?" I say as I open my beer which lets out a defiant hiss. I also bypass the glass and take a long, cool gulp. Damn it tastes good.

Papa almost chokes. But Connie laughs. Again.

"Danny used to use that word," she offers. "My late husband. Danny. He liked to say that, and I quote, 'The whole pinche world is filled with pendejos.'"

Papa lets out a bellow of a laugh. "I would have liked Danny," he's able to get out.

Well, you can imagine how sick I felt at that moment. That bitch had Papa tied-up in knots. Everything she says and does seems charming to Papa. She must be good in bed or something, the little cunt. Shit! My Papa in bed that that size two. I felt like puking. But I'm hungry so I serve dinner.

As I serve, Papa falls into small talk.

"So, you see, my Sonia here runs the entire computer system for the San Diego Superior Court," beams Papa. "She has a huge staff."

"Yes," says Connie as she admires the food. "You told me she won this big award for her work."

Oh, so this is her game. Get on Sonia's good side with flattery. Well, it won't work.

"So, how long has Danny been dead?" I ask as I pile my plate high with rice.

Papa's eyes widen like the huge inner tubes floating in my pool. But Connie is unfazed.

"Three years," she smiles. And then after taking a bite of lengua, "Oh, so tender!"

"Yes," I say, "you have to cook tongue a good long time to get it that tender."

"Like butter on my tongue," she jokes, not bothered by what she's eating. Papa likes this joke and chuckles casting adoring eyes on Connie.

I need a different avenue of attack. "So, Connie, Papa tells me you're retired."

She nods chewing away happily. I pass her the basket of steaming corn tortillas. She takes one with a smile.

"From what?"

She puts the tortilla down and takes a delicate sip of beer. "Teaching. Special ed."

Oh, so she's fucking Mother Teresa now. Think. Think. Ah!

"How can you afford to retire?" Gotcha'! If she's fishing for a new paycheck in Papa, this will come out. Connie pauses, looks lovingly at Papa and sighs.

"Well, Danny did very well as an engineer. Good pension. Very large life insurance. And we could never have kids."

At this, Papa consoles Connie with a little pat on her arm. I offer a kind nod though the kids thing kind of hits home because of my fertility problems and all. But I must keep focused.

"How much did Danny leave you?" I ask.

Papa's head snaps up like some sort of toy on a spring. "Sonia! Such a question!"

Connie stays cool. "No problem, Al." She turns to me. "Danny was very wise about the insurance. One million. I've invested it in an annuity." She wipes her mouth as daintily as a Southern Belle. "God bless him."

The Yamaha switches to the next CD, a Stan Getz bossa nova collection.

At this point, I would have liked to tell you that dinner was a disaster with my every pointed question ripping a new hole in the shroud of Connie's secrecy to reveal to Papa the she-devil that she is. But no. Dinner goes just fine if you like uneventful meals. No matter what I say, Connie charmingly relates it to her past life with Danny and Papa laughs. We finish dinner, enjoy dessert, have nice coffee.

"How about that wine?" asks Papa after we finish. "We can sit by the pool. It's so beautiful out tonight. ¿Verdad?"

"Al," coos Connie, "why don't you take the wine outside while Sonia and I clean up a little."

Papa smiles in agreement, almost skips to the kitchen, gathers up the wine and three glasses, and disappears through the back door. Connie and I stand and silently bring plates into the kitchen. Then it happens. As I rinse a plate, Connie comes up close to me, right under my chin because she's so short, and grabs my arm. She pinches me, not in a sweet, motherly way, but in a vicious, I-want-you-to-listen-up-now-bitch way. She narrows her eyes and I can't move. She hypnotizes me. And then she says it to me very slowly so I can understand every word.

"If you fuck this up," she begins, "I will hunt you down. Got it? He's mine. End of story. ¿Me comprende Ud. bien?"

At least she uses the formal tense.

"I understand," I answer. All this time, she's pinching my arm harder and harder. Finally, I let out a little yelp and pull away.

"Good," she smiles. This time she doesn't cover her mouth. I see that her teeth are indeed perfect. Too perfect. A mouth full of dentures.

"Hey you girls," my father yells from the backyard. "The wine is poured."

Connie pats my arm. We walk out in silence. Papa hands us each a glass. He looks so handsome standing there. Trim and dapper. And happy.

"A toast," he says as he slips his arm around Connie's tiny waist.

We raise our glasses. I'm still in shock.

"To my two girls," says Papa.

We clink our glasses. Connie narrows her eyes at me again. And smiles broadly.

"Yes," I finally say. "Your two girls."

We sip our wine as the crickets chirp wildly and the well-lit pool fills the backyard with glistening blue-green reflections. Our lemon trees infuse the air with a clean, spicy scent. Stan Getz's smoky, sexy sax serenades us through the outdoor speakers. It is a beautiful night.

"Nice wine," I say.

"Yes," says Connie. "Napa Valley."

"Yes," I say. "Delicious."

Papa grins like an idiot as he savors the moment.

"My two girls," he almost whispers. "My two girls."

Daniel A. Olivas

. . . is the author of Devil Talk (Bilingual Press, fall 2004), Assumption and Other Stories (Bilingual Press, 2003), and The Courtship of María Rivera Peña (Silver Lake Publishing, 2000). His stories, essays and poems have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The MacGuffin, Exquisite Corpse, In Posse Review, THEMA, and Pacific Review among others. The author's writing is featured in the anthologies Fantasmas: Supernatural Stories by Mexican American Writers (Bilingual Press, 2001), and Love to Mamá: A Tribute to Mothers (Lee & Low Books, 2001). His first children's book, Benjamin and the Word, will be published by the University of Houston's Arte Público Press in spring 2005. Visit his web page at: