Lucia wears too much make up. My boyfriend has a crush on Lucia. For months now I have been stealing looks at her when she undresses at work. About four months ago she started to gain weight. Every day when she walks past a mirror in just her bra and panties she stops, sucks in all the air she can, and uses her hands to pull her stomach flatter. I have never told her that I think she looks better now, fatter, with more firmness. Lucia would probably think I was mocking her or patronizing her if I tried. Sometimes when we are ushered into a small room so a man can walk through to the bathroom I sit close enough to Lucia for the little hairs on our arms to touch and so I can get a better look at the weird bruises on her arms.
At 8am Catherine called me. Catherine is my manager at the dungeon. We get along fine for the most part, but it was strange for her to be calling me this early in the morning- most men don’t want to get abused until after noon. I was drinking coffee with Anna when she called. Most mornings Anna and I drink coffee together.
“Hey,” she said, sounding breathy, panicked.
“Hey Catherine, what’s up?”
“Lulu got in a fight with Hector last night, we are at the police station. I’ve been here all night, so I’m going home soon. She’ll be at work around noon, probably.”
“Can you take her home with you tonight, after work? She doesn’t have anywhere to stay right now.”
“Oh, sure. Yeah go sleep, I’ll see you tomorrow maybe.”
Anna was calmly staring at me when I got off the phone.
“What did you just agree to babe?”
I don’t know how she knew. It must have been my tone. Anna is one of those insightful people who can decipher feelings just listening to the tone of your speech.
“My friend Lucia got beat up by her boyfriend again, but it sounds like this time she is pressing charges. She needs a place to stay for a while,” I said, knowing before I finished saying it that Anna was going to be uncomfortable.
“You know how dangerous this is, right?”
“Yes.” I lied. It hadn’t occurred to me until right then that Hector was violent and obsessive and that sometimes people can make bail.
“She can’t stay here.”
I looked at my coffee while I thought of what to say next.
“I know that sounds cold. My family is coming in three days. We have spent so many years not living in chaotic homes anymore, and my mother worked so hard for us to be safe. I just can’t put my family in that kind of danger,” she said. She looked so unhappy just then.
“I know. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think of you.” I wanted badly to cry at that moment, but it wasn’t appropriate, so I just kept staring at my coffee.
“It’s okay. You just want to help her.”
“Can she stay for two days? Until I can arrange for her to stay in a shelter or something? Please? She has nowhere right now.” I kept trying to look up but it felt impossible to take my eyes off my coffee while I pleaded.
“Alright. Are you sure he’s incarcerated right now?”
“Yes.” I lied again.
Anna got up and walked to the bathroom. She ran her hand over my shoulder as she walked past, and then closed the door. I called Rachel and arranged for her to pick Lucia and I up from work so we could try to get some of her things out of her apartment.
That night Lucia slept in my bed. It turned out her boyfriend was incarcerated with three felony accounts because he pointed a loaded gun at her head during the fight. We tried to go to her apartment to get her things, but their roommate changed the locks. Our police escorts banged on the door with their batons shouting “Police!” but no one answered. I was sure that the neighbors were all standing still just behind their doors, looking through the peepholes at us. I wanted to go slap every door in the hall when I looked at Lucia, whose legs were shaking. Nothing happened. We all looked at each other. The policemen looked just as lost as we did just then and we felt like a bunch of children who had run out of games to play but still had plenty of daylight. After a while I shrugged and turned away towards the stairs.
“It’s fine, I don’t want my things anymore,” she said to me while she followed the policemen down the stairs. On the way down the three flights of stairs in the Bronx I caught one of the policemen looking at my legs. It was the same man who asked us all what our ethnicities were before we went over to the apartment. We answered him: half-Italian half-Swedish, half-German half-English, and half-Puerto Rican half-Irish. That was stupid of him, I thought, my legs are too skinny to peek at, he should have looked at my tits. We walked to the car with Rachel. There was a ticket on the window because she parked in front of a fire hydrant.
“Where are you girls going now?” the policeman who looked at my legs asked.
“To my place, back in Bushwick,” I said to him. I was hoping he would offer to fix the ticket for us but he didn’t.
“From the Bronx to Bushwick? No wonder you girls get guns pressed to your heads.” We all shrugged and stepped in the car and drove to Bushwick in the middle of the night.
Lucia sat in the backseat. She was quiet for most of the ride home. She stared out the window when we went over the bridge. I tried to point out the big red moon to her but she was in a daze while looking at the city skyline. It felt strange to see someone who was a native New Yorker stare at the skyline like that. Most people from here don’t look anymore. I kept reaching my arms behind the seat to squeeze her legs. “Hi,” she would say, in this little tiny child voice. I just kept thinking about how much I hoped that Anna would be asleep by the time we got home.
Benny and The Jets came on the radio and Rachel and Lucia both made excited little squeals. For a little bit everyone seemed comfortable and normal. I turned up the volume hoping that if it were louder things might get a little better. We all sang the chorus as loud as we could, but it would become awkward right after, because no one knew the rest of the words and Lucia would go back to watching the skyline until it couldn’t be seen anymore.
The toll to enter Brooklyn was five dollars and there was a moment when Rachel was digging through her quarters to see if she had enough and we all got quiet. I wondered what happened to people who arrive at a tollbooth and don’t have the fee. Right as we pulled up to the window Lucia pushed a five-dollar bill up front and I felt shitty taking it, like I should have been more prepared. We had to take it from her because neither of us had five dollars on us and we were all tired and wanted to go to bed. I thought for a while after that about being a mother some day. Suddenly, it seemed like a really bad idea.
At home there was nothing to drink. Anna was either asleep or not there. Rachel left. Lucia and I walked her out, and then walked to the bodega. I told her about my neighborhood on the walk. How children out number adults, how summers are crowded, how even the drug dealers care enough to walk me home when I am drunk late at night. We arrived at the small late hours window.
“Two forties of Olde English, thanks papi,” I said.
Lucia pulled money out of her purse. I tried to get mine faster.
“I got this honey,” I said to her. She winced.
The man shuffled to the back of the store and came back with our malt liquor. We had already placed a five-dollar bill on the lazy susan inside the bulletproof glass, waiting for him to give us our drinks. He had no front teeth and Lucia liked it when he talked.
Inside my apartment we sat at the red kitchen table and talked about things that didn’t have a lot of meaning, but it wasn’t small talk either. Lucia played with the little scraps of paper and stupid figurines lying around. Her fingers looked pretty to me. I didn’t want her to cry anymore. She was a good sport. We drank our forties until they were gone and we felt tired.
“Do you want to sleep in my bed with me Lu?” I asked her, trying not to sound too worried.
“Is it okay? I can sleep on the futon.”
“I want you next to me.”
“Okay, yeah, me too.”
We undressed in my room and then took turns shuffling quietly back and forth to the bathroom to do things like brush our long hair and wash off our make up. When we would pass each other I kept thinking about life changing or comforting things to say, but when the sentences came together in my head they all sounded like a cheap self-help book you find in the check out lane at the grocery store. We stayed silent and crawled into bed together.
Lucia turned away from me. I thought she might cry. I expected it, but she didn’t. I watched her breathe, evenly and with what seemed like precision. After a while I knew she was asleep. I pressed my belly to her back slowly and then put my arm around her. In the morning I woke up that way, still. I don’t think either of us moved at all for nine hours.
I got out of bed and smoked a cigarette on the balcony. Anna was making coffee when I came into the kitchen.
“You know, statistically speaking, she’s probably going to go back to him,” she said while starting the stove. I could see that Anna didn’t like having to say what she was saying. I thought of all the stories she told me about her father being in and out of prison, in quick succession, trying to piece something together of all the sad information I had acquired from the women I knew, but failing completely.
“Yeah, I know. So what should I do?”
“I really don’t know.”
When I came back into the room she had finally moved. She was on her back with the covers kicked off and her soft little arm above her head. She was sleeping still, but it seemed like a shallow sleep. I moved really slowly when I got back in bed with her and laid on my stomach. The sun was coming in through my white gauze curtains. Her black hair looked blue and her face was almost as white as Xerox paper. The morning light is the nicest in my little apartment. By the afternoon it’s grey and too soft. I decided to watch her chest rise and fall as long as I could before the light would shift and become ugly, and then we would have to leave. Back outside, with too much daylight left.
It was about an hour before she woke up. She looked at me and stretched, rubbing the tops of her feet on the bottoms of mine for a second. The whole time I’d been watching her I was trying not to plan out what I was about to say, but I couldn’t stop myself from running over all the possible reactions that it was about to have.
“Hey girl, we need to be at work in an hour, let’s get up. I made you coffee.”
“Oh,” she said, not really a part of the day yet. I tried to look cheerful. I got her the coffee I had made.
“So, you can only stay here for two more days. Anna has family coming and she feels a little uncomfortable with the whole situation. You know, we want to help. Maybe you and I could call in sick today and just look for new places for you to stay. Or we could go to work and worry about it later. It’s up to you, I guess.”
Lucia stared at a stack of books and reached out to touch their spines while I talked. She sat up and blew on her coffee, which was already tepid. We sat there quiet for longer than was comfortable. I got up and grabbed my towel. I held it up in her view and motioned to the bathroom, “I’ll be back in like, twenty minutes.” Lucia nodded and I walked away.
When I came out of the shower no one was there. I looked around and couldn’t find any of Lucia’s things. On the kitchen table I found a note.
I’ve decided to stay with my aunt, who lives on Long Island, for the week. Lucia can stay a while longer than expected. My family is with me. Please tell her she is free to stay in my room for the next eight days or so. I love you.
After reading I sat at the table, wrapped in my towel for a long time. I thought Lucia might be getting breakfast from the bodega or maybe tampons or something. An hour passed quickly while I played with the little figurines we keep at the table to make it look more cheerful. Lu never came back. I called work, told them I would be in a few hours late. I asked if Lu was there. She wasn’t. I called a few other people. No one had seen her. It became dark outside and I never went to work. Eventually I got dressed and walked around the apartment until I was sure I wouldn’t see Lucia again. The pajamas I lent her were neatly folded on the end of my bed. I smelled them and they still smelled like her. I changed into them, with a guilty feeling that what I was doing was perverse. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep.
Kendra Grant Malone was born in 1984. Her first book of poetry, Everything is Quiet, was published by Scrambler Books in 2010. Her second book of poetry, Morocco, co-written with Matthew Savoca was published by Dark Sky Books in 2011. She lives in Brooklyn.