Monsters in the Agapanthus
  SIX STORIES by Jessica Barksdale Inclán
  1  Monsters in the Agapanthus
2  Salsa
3  Leaving Mr. Wong
4  Boom Boom
5  El Camino
6  Big as the World
  About the Author  |  echapbook.com  |  September 2014 Fiction Issue
 
 

Boom Boom

“Any slut can go to church,” Cami said. “I go.”

“And you are a slut bitch,” Jo said. “Don’t I know it. Wagging your big boom boom all over town.”

They were sitting in the quad, watching other students walk between classes. Cami wasn’t going to history for a lot of reasons, and Jo had totally bailed on psych. They shared a Monster drink and sucked on one cigarette. Everyone else seemed to know something Cami didn’t, such as, why go to class at all.

“Boom boom.” Jo kept at it, even shaking a little as she took a drag.

“Yeah, yeah.” Cami wished it were true. Her boom boom was flat. The only good thing about that terrible fact was that she could fit into her sister’s skinny jeans.

“Are you going tonight? That space themed party?”

Cami shuddered and turned to watch a professor hurry past, off to teach people stuff they didn’t really want to know but had to in order to get the hell out of this community college. Space wouldn’t be bad to learn about. Or theme, even. As in, what the hell was everything all about? Maybe the professor was off to explain party, though that kind of teacher would be wearing a white chef’s coat, most likely.

“No.”

“Damn,” Jo said, shaking her head. “How are you going to keep your slutness intact?”

“I have my ways.” Cami stilled, feeling those ways even here in the quad.

“That’s my bitch slut,” Jo said. “Boom boom.”

 

“And also with you,” the congregation intoned, the priest nodding. Cami sat with her sister Yvette and mother Maria, the three of them at the end of the pew next to the aisle. Like monkeys or bowling pins.

Cami performed the kneeling, the eye closing, the hand shaking. The “with you-ing” she found annoying. Plus, she didn’t mean it. She didn’t know the priest or feel like reciprocating. God was already with him, right? They were the ones that needed him most.

“It’s just being polite,” her mother said once. “You say it back, okay, cholita?”

“Fine,” Cami said. “I’ll be nice to the priest who doesn’t really care if we’re alive or dead.”

“Camilla.” Her mother had shaken her head.

“I said fine!”

But now, Cami wished she’d put up a fight. She didn’t want to go to church on Wednesdays and Sundays. Then there were all the charity events her mother made her participate in. The weddings and funerals. The visits to elderly parishioners, their houses smelling like moth-holed paper and shit. And the quinceañeras, the baptisms, the general fiesta-ness of every damn week. Some days, she just wanted to sit alone at home, eyes ringed with smudged mascara, hair a mess, and watch season two of any show in three days straight.

Besides, she was truly a slut. If the priest had a GPS for sin, Cami would be beeping: You have reached your destination.

“Come on, slowpoke,” her mother said.

Cami scooted out of the pew and followed behind Yvette. Her sister was slim and slight and pretty in a white girl, guerita way. Green eyes, long light brown hair that went all blond streaks in the summer. Legs clamped so tight together, they’d have to bring in an oil rig when she finally decided to have sex, which would be her wedding night. And oh, that wedding! The one Cami’s mother had always dreamed of. The family up from Arizona and Mexico. White dress, big bouquets of flowers.

“I have one wedding’s worth of savings,” she told them both. “Whoever is asked first gets it.”

Cami wasn’t sure her mother was serious, but she already knew Yvette would win the wedding lottery.

Yvette was in her first year at Berkeley. The good news for the wedding fund was that she’d gotten a full scholarship, having done every advanced placement everything, gone to Guatemala her junior year as an exchange student (she’d built houses and cooked soup and mended clothes for a whole village. She probably even delivered babies), served as a class officer every year, and scored higher on her SATs than anyone else in her year. She even had a letter of recommendation from their congressional representative, some guy who knew some guy who knew the principal. Plus, she looked good in a bikini.

It all made Cami want to barf. But what could she do? She smiled, went to her sister’s graduation, and then slept with Yvette’s boyfriend after the graduation party. He dropped Yvette off, but drunk and horny, his night hadn’t ended. Oh, no.

“Can we go for ice cream?”

Sometimes Cami imagined her sister holding a straw basket full of flowers, birds fluttering around her, cherry trees in bloom. Cinderella and Mexican Snow White combined.

Si, mi’ja,” their mother said. “Vamanos.”

They got into the Camry, Yvette behind the wheel, still working on freeway merging. At least, Cami thought, she was bad at something. Driving. Oh, and having sex. Not.

Her phone vibrated and she read Jo’s text: Space party BOMB. Wearing a NASA suit, yo!

Cami’s fingers hovered over the screen. She wished she’d gone, and, at the same time, wished she didn’t even know about it.

“That priest was boring,” Cami said, putting down her phone and staring at the back of Yvette’s head.

“Give him a chance.” Yvette flicked on her turn signal a quarter mile before the freeway entrance.

“Jesus,” Cami said.

“Camilla!” their mother said.

“Whatever. Anyway, he was boring. I’m tired of going on Wednesdays. No one’s there. We get the relief priest.”

Mi’ja!”

“For God’s sake.”

“Camilla!”

“Whatever.”

“Is there anyone coming?” Yvette’s voice was panicked, clipped. Camilla turned, wanting to say, “Damn! A semi’s barreling at you. Brake! No, go! Brake! No, go!”

But instead, she said, “All clear.” And it was. Just like the evening sky. Just like Yvette’s conscience.

 

Because he’d worn her down with all his texts, Cami was in her history teacher’s office—again—sitting on his desk. All the shades were drawn, a post-it with In Conference on the closed door. He’d turned on his iPhone with some kind of older person music, but the only thing Cami could hear was his snortled breathing between her spread legs.

Sure, it felt good, but she was struck mostly with the photos on the wall opposite, Professor Dore’s children and wife, class visits to Sacramento and the Gold Rush country (Sutter’s Mill—Cami recognized that from her own field trip there). But, oh, he was getting it right, and oh, she closed her eyes as feeling ran up and through her body.

“Wow.” He sat in his chair and wiped his mouth with a towel (did he have it in his office for just this event?) “You needed that.”

Cami sat up, pulled down her skirt and pulled up her leggings. “Yeah.”

She bumped a stack of books and papers and grabbed for them as they teetered. Professor Dore helped steady them and held out a hand and pulled her off the desk. As she stood, she noted her own paper. Looking at all the others, Cami saw she’d done something wrong with the first page, her name on the wrong side, her title font too big. Everyone else seemed to have written more, too, their papers thick, maybe ten pages? Hers was only six. Probably everything she wrote was wrong, but could Professor Dore flunk her now?

She ran her hand through her hair. The air smelled like pussy.

As he tucked in his shirt, Cami wondered about all this. They never had sex. She wasn’t sure he ever actually came. Maybe it wasn’t sexual harassment that way. He didn’t even really ever let her touch him, shooing away her hands, her mouth. She’d put her hand on his shoulder, his head. She’d felt him rock hard all the way up to his belt buckle. She’d wrapped her legs around his neck as he sucked at her like she was a watermelon. That’s all he wanted. Not her face or her breasts. Just her part. Her slutness. But now he was all tidily packaged away, the only trace of what just happened a sheen of sweat on his forehead and her smell. Professor Dore flicked on his fan, pushed his chair toward the desk, his back humped over the papers. She wasn’t sure how old he was. Maybe forty. Maybe thirty-eight. His hair was brown, his eyes wide and blue. In class, he moved back and forth in front of the board, striding as he talked about the Wild West. His hands were strong and lean, a gold band just where it should be. He wore button- down shirts and khakis. He looked like one of those bone fide college students back east. All preppy and shit, leaning against brick buildings and wearing thick sweaters.

“Um,” she said.

“Right.” He picked up a folder.

“See you in class.”

“Uh, huh.” He didn’t seem to care if she was in class or not. All he had to do was text Office? Then she attended. Last week, she didn’t show up for the test, but he posted a 96 percent online. Score. Literally.

Cami pushed aside the shades and then opened the glass door. She passed through into the hallway, the wind blowing her hair, whisking away the closed room and her own smell. Other students walked by. Her secret glowed inside her like a bad moon.

Slut, she thought, closing the door and walking away. Boom boom.

 

Later at work, she sat at the computer and updated the Apple Valley Convalescent Facility’s Facebook page. She was in charge of all the social media pages.

“The families like to keep informed,” Mrs. Ryan said.

“Social!” Jo had said. “As if. TV in the lounge. Polka in the parlor.”

“You’re a real card,” Cami said, a phrase Professor Dore used in class when someone said something dumb.

“Cards in the cafeteria!”

Jo worked over in accounting and had hooked Cami up with the facility manager Mrs. Ryan who liked Cami’s typing skills and her know-how about Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pintrest.

“More photos,” Mrs. Ryan said. “I’ll have the staff take some today.”

The patients and the families had signed photograph waivers, and now Cami uploaded a few, tagging and commenting: Mrs. Sofia Lopez learning a new step! and Mr. Lambert Fellows winning a big hand in the gin rummy throwdown!

She moved over to Twitter, 140 characters or fewer about the gardening demonstration on the weekend.

Mr. John Sommers from Orchard Nursery came to show us how to pot geraniums the right way!

She attached a photo of Mr. John Sommers and Mrs. Mavis Richards smiling into a small terracotta pot. Mavis held a small geranium plant as carefully as she would a baby bird, a smudge of dirt on her wrinkled cheek.

Mrs. Ryan leaned into Cami’s small, windowless office. “Looks great! Keep them coming.”

Cami nodded. “Okay.”

Mrs. Ryan left, the office smelling for a second like baby powder.

Mr. Sam Bowles buys Girl Scout cookies!

 

Mi’ja,” Cami’s mother said. “You have to come. It’s your sister.”

“So?”

“She won an award. It’s not every day—“

“It is every day. I’ve been to them all. I have stuff to do, too.” Cami looked up at her mother over her laptop. “I have a paper due in English, okay? I’m sure the Rotary or Synagogue or whatever will be able to give away my chicken dinner. And besides, I’ve heard her scholarship acceptance speech enough that I could do it myself.”

Mi’ja—“

“Seriously, Ma. I’m not going.”

Her mother stood like a deflated balloon in the doorway, a round beige blimp clutching a leather purse. Her mouth was an oval of red, her hair perfectly combed and pulled away from her face, now so tired and so lined. It was almost impossible to say no.

“If I don’t do well this semester, I’ll never transfer, okay?”

Cami looked back at her computer, waiting, and then one two three, there it was, the sigh.

“Okay, mi’ja. I understand.”

Cami nodded, swallowed down a horrible lump in her throat, all her lies and stupidity and hate. All the things she wasn’t and could never be. Not like Yvette. Not even like her mother. Not even like Jo, who was transferring next semester to San Francisco State.

No, it was like this: Cami Figueroa in Professor Dore’s office! Legs spread!

 

“Why didn’t you come with us?” Yvette later asked into the darkness of their bedroom. “It was really nice. They made a big deal. Mom loved—“

“I had to write a paper. I told you.” Cami turned over to face the wall. They had been sleeping in these same twin beds since their mother moved them here. Twelve years. Right after their dad left. Right after Maria burned all his belongings in the Rite Aid parking lot at three in the morning. In one night, their father and his clothes. Gone. Poof! When the fire engines roared into the parking lot, Cami’s mother just shrugged and hugged her body. The firefighters looked at Cami as if she were contagious. Yvette had stayed in the car and cried. But Cami had watched it all, her father’s shirts and pants and shoes. His framed high school diploma that he’d hung on his closet wall. His photos and even his cologne that had sat on the bathroom shelf forever, dark amber and smelling like the burnt bottom of a cinnamon cake.

“I can help you,” Yvette said.

“I don’t need your help. I can do it. I just needed some time, okay?”

“Okay, okay. Jeez.”

Cami flushed with shame, sighed. “Look, I’m sorry.”

But Yvette was quiet on her side of the room, the clean side, the orderly side, all her books stacked on her desk, her underwear and socks in tight balls in her top drawer. Her homework was completed, her lunch for tomorrow packed and in the fridge. Everything that was hers was where it should be. Even her boyfriend--who now avoided Cami, averting his eyes and turning his back--was at home, texting Yvette goodnight and making promises about the future. Yvette’s good Catholic soul was white and clean and thin as air.

 

After work, Cami drove to Jo’s apartment, but Jo texted just before she got there: Stuck at work with the accountant. And then there was silence, even after Cami texted two more times. After all her talk about Cami being the slut, and all this time, it was Jo. Boom boom.

Cami thought about going home, but her mother’s church ladies were there making decorations (almonds and ribbon and batting) for a wedding, rushed, her mother told her. “Don’t look too closely at the bride’s stomach.”

So Cami drove past Jo’s dark living room window and then back onto the freeway, accelerating as she merged, heading west, through the tunnel and into Oakland. She’d memorized the directions awhile back, googling him and then linking and clicking her way to his address. She took the Highway 13 ramp, and then the first exit, heading up into the hills. A right, a left, more up, and then she slowed as she approached his house: Number 2134, 2140, 2168. And then there it was, number 2180, a large rancher hugging the road and next to the park. He didn’t have a bay view but a view of all of Contra Costa County and Mt. Diablo, the sky a pale gray, wisps of fog licking up the hill but not sticking, burning off in the last moments of orange sunset.

What would it take, Cami wondered, to live like this, in a big house with a big family? How many kids were there in that photo she stared at when he was going down on her? Three? Four? She parked across from his driveway and scanned the trees and shrubs, the windows and the roof, the lawn and careful plantings. And if you had all this and a good job and a family, why would you pull someone like Cami into an office and eat her out on a weekly basis? What could possibly be between her thighs that was worth risking any of this?

A Tweet: Question: Why do men cheat on their wives? What makes them throw away everything? Answers please. #Cheatingheart

He wasn’t really even cheating because what they did was nothing. Over in minutes. Once he’d managed to lure her into his office the first time, he’d stopped making small talk. Now, she needed him. Now, she just wanted someone to listen. Just for a second, it would be great if he could look at her in a different way. She could scare the history right out of him. He’d be forced to look her in the eye.

Cami put her hand on the handle and opened the door, the cab light flicking on, but just then, his garage door opened, curling up and into the garage. Her heart pounded in her ears and she shut the door and hit the light button, her car filled with twilight. As she watched, his wife walked out to the driveway and picked up a newspaper, unwrapping it, and then throwing it in the recycle bin. She—Janet—was tall and ordinary, brown-haired, her hair pulled back into a tidy ponytail. She wore slacks just like Professor Dore, beige khakis, and a black sweater.

Cami had seen her photo before, too many times, but here she was, turning on the garden hose and spraying something off the driveway. As she hosed in an organized manner, she seemed to be thinking, looking out into her yard. And then, someone called to her from the dark garage. A light flicked on, the Volvo inside illuminated, red and shiny. Professor Dore came into view, smiling and calling out. They talked about something, he moving his hands, she nodding. Then she made a play as if she were going to squirt him. Even from her car, Cami could hear them laugh.

 

By the time she got there, the parking lot was almost empty. It was close to nine, closing time, and there were a couple of cars parked out front by the automatic doors and a row by the back, employees, Cami thought. Cleaning people. The night watch.

Even after all this time, she remembered where her mother did it. Around to the left of the building and by the dumpster. Maybe that had been Maria’s plan, at least initially. Throw all his stuff into the dumpster and take off. But something had come over her. Cami had seen it happen, a crazy gleam lighting her mother’s eyes before she pulled out a book of matches and started his papers on fire—his bills and receipts and newspapers and magazines. Then she tossed on the lighter clothing, underwear and t-shirts. One by one, Maria worked the fire as if she’d learned the skill at summer camp. His soccer ball popped and burst open with a wet splat boom. By the end, it smelled horrible, the smoke twirled slow and black, the air filled with the wrongness of smoldering wool, nylon, and leather.

As Cami had squinted, her eyes streaming, the night wind blew away the last remaining evidence of her father. As her mother began to heap on his pants and jackets, Cami thought she saw him, there, for a second, his dark eyes, his smooth black hair, a flash of white teeth.

Now, Cami got out of her car, using her phone’s LED to examine the asphalt, looking for the exact spot, her father’s last dark place. He had to be here, her old life, too, the one that had burned up in a heaviness too big to swallow.

     
  © Jessica Barksdale Inclán, 2014

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