(Cut from an untitled work-in-progress)
… In Los Rios, decent women don’t drink.
Yesenia drank beer in cantinas, and Eugenia told me she wasn’t decent. Norma told me she wasn’t decent. They cautioned me against drinking beer with Yesenia, but I never saw Yesenia do anything that didn’t seem normal enough. She would walk into a bar, order a beer and a small plate called a “boca,” and talk to the other people there. It wasn’t her fault they were always men. I never saw her do anything that seemed remotely indecent other than just simply be there against the rules.
Rumor had it that Yesenia’s daughter Iris was Enrique’s. This didn’t bother me in the least—at first because I didn’t know who Enrique was, and later because why should I be upset about a child conceived before I knew either parent? I couldn’t see the logic. Yesenia said the rumor wasn’t true but her denial was unconvincing. Either way, I didn’t care. I liked sitting in the bars with Yesenia once in a while, drinking beer until the room spun. Men bought us beer and told us we were beautiful. We smiled and drank and when we were tired, we went home. Yesenia could drink a lot more beer than I could. I was always the one to get beer-logged and heavy-eyed after a few hours. Everyone frowned on my friendship with this indecent woman, but I didn’t care. If she in any way deserved that reputation, she never demonstrated it while I was around.
I was with Yesenia the first night I danced with Enrique. She asked me if I wanted to go to the New Year’s dance in Santa Barbara. I was dying to go. My other choice was to stay home with Norma and either watch TV or go to church—the two things she did in her free time. I put on my bright-colored new dress, my new terribly uncomfortable shoes, put some money in my bag, and split. I felt beautiful.
Yesenia and I sat on high wooden stools in the cantina across from the dance hall and drank the beers a fat guy named Orlando was buying for us. I wished we could buy our own beer because I wanted Orlando to go away and I knew as long as we were drinking the beer he was buying, he wouldn’t. I was hoping Enrique might come to Santa Barbara, and if he did, I didn’t want to be stuck owing another guy attention for having bought a bunch of beer. I wanted to drink with Enrique, and I wanted him to ask me to dance. I didn’t care whether Yesenia’s 7-year-old daughter was secretly their love child or not. I didn’t care whether or not he had a grumpy wife he fought with, and kids. I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to become his secret lover. But if he showed up at the same dance as us on New Year’s Eve, I hoped he would reach for my hand at least once.
And then Enrique and Randy rode up on their bicycles and walked into the cantina where we were sitting. They tried to act cool, but they both smiled widely when they saw Yesenia and me, and bought us each a beer even though out beers were full.
Orlando quickly figured out he wasn’t needed anymore and he went to drink at another bar. Enrique and Randy pulled up the last bar stools and sat down. …