Miguel Gardel

Posted on May 1, 2017

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Eve

In school we looked at each other from a distance but didn’t talk. And then it passed and we began to greet each other. Her emotions were always in check. But were they? She had a master’s control of her face. It never twitched. She had practiced superiority. Embarrassment was for inferior people. Had she ever cried?

Eve was the most jealous girl I’ve ever met. She once kicked me in the ass, literally, and hard. She had slithered behind me as I waited at the bus stop for her. The kick was to punish me for saying hello to María Ojara, perhaps the most aesthetically enjoyable girl in school.

Eve smiled her cryptic smile, she was evil as hell. I feared her a little and at times even believed she was superior. But in what? In that she was sixteen and was about to graduate and go to college as I sensed I’d never make it to the twelfth grade because of my poverty and impatience? In that she had taught me all about the modern poets and with that had facilitated a fast track to my intellectual utopian future? And these not so comforting words were hers: The white middle class of New York is as racist as the Southern or Middle American ones, and phony, too.

She insistently wanted me to know she was different. I wanted her to know I was different. And I learned this is what people are doing all over the United States, trying to be different from each other.

But did she give a damn? Anchored the way she was in her sense of intellectual superiority– no, she didn’t. Or did she?

She came to school in faded jeans and an old tattered leather jacket. You couldn’t tell what its original color was. Old black sweater underneath. No bra. No socks. Her clogs were off as soon as she sat down; and walked barefoot to the back of the room to sharpen pencils.

Too bad if you didn’t like her using pencils. She had a typewriter at home and used it for her witchy modern poetry. She wanted me to be aware she was the witch out there accumulating horrors to terrorize me when the time was right. For a long while I spent nights with her in the role of lover that was not a true lover. No love. She disliked my touch. You’re too aggressive, she’d say. But she must have been talking about a stereotype. I was only breathing next to her.

She thought I had to take all her shit. And become sophisticated. She was fascinating and I took some of her shit.

Her real first name was chosen by her mother. She was “Eve” because Eve was the first woman. It makes sense if you’re thirteen and conceited. And you are ahead of everybody in class. And teachers don’t know what to say to you after “Great work, Eve.” The students disliked her and she had no real friends.

Her real first name had been the name of a woman her mother admired. A revolutionary woman, a leader of the working class who had led a victorious strike against capitalist bankers in Massachusetts; a tough and beautiful woman of Irish descent. Eve had read a biography of this woman and thought of her as courageous, but she noted this courageous woman shared her name with a queen. This was when Eve did not care for royalty and privileges. Then she fell under the spell of the play Romeo and Juliet which she had gone to see with her mother, a lover of Shakespeare. Eve had chosen “Juliet” for her name before she settled on Eve.

I met Eve in an English class, a special class; a class for the advanced. I don’t know why I was put there; I was not advanced. I was mediocre and full of fears. I feared schools for no discernable reason and I feared teachers and students who could talk to teachers as equals. I would have felt better in a ghetto school. But I don’t know. I didn’t like those either. I was new in Queens. And this school was where I had to go. They stuck me in a special class with special students like Eve.

The teacher was young, Jewish, and liberated. She was liberated from Mrs. She made sure she was Ms to us. One month into the school year it was Eve and the Ms. The rest of us just listened. It was an advanced class and no one had anything to do but listen and jump in whenever. There was a reading list with six titles. All were classic novels of the English language. I was bilingual and the only one from the working class. All the others were middle class and white. From the list, I finished only one book. It was easy and familiar. I had seen two movie versions.

I didn’t learn much in the class. I didn’t learn much in school. I got more education out of that time with Eve than all the stuff they taught me in my entire high school years.

Eve cut her own hair. Her hair was dark and straight and always looked uneven. She told me she didn’t care if it looked uneven. What was she trying to prove? How can she not care?

She used black makeup around her eyes and nothing else. She was impressive-looking somehow and reminded me of an actress looking for a part to play. No one knew what to make of her. She followed me around the school. I don’t know why. I hardly spoke in class. But there must have been a reason. She had a copy of my schedule. The conversations she initiated were interesting but I could only go so far. That must have frustrated her. Or maybe not. The objective could have been to simply impress someone. I said I was full of fears and vulnerable. She could smell it on me.

She kept two snakes in an aquarium in her room. I don’t know what she fed them and didn’t want to know. Elvis and Marilyn. The Hollywoodish names made them a little less frightening for me. But once I familiarized myself with her room I had absolutely no fear. Eve’s room had bookcases bursting with books on all four walls. It was definitely one of her most outstanding features. I felt my potential and felt closer to all the possibilities that lay ahead. Eve said, I want you to read the modern poets.

I never did. I didn’t read any of her books. I learned through her. She was the modern poets. Her books were hers, I had mine. I was awed by her knowledge and the power that it gave her to be what she thought she wanted to be. I stayed over one night and we smoked pot and drank wine and in the morning I woke up with an earring in one pierced ear, just like Shakespeare. Another morning I awoke to the clicks of a camera and then realized I had two three-foot long grey snakes crawling on my belly. I was usually pissed at her, but proud of myself for withstanding it all. The nights with her were blue ball nights. I don’t need sex, she’d say every time I reached out for her breasts. And condescendingly she’d say, Behave.

You’re a bad boy, she’d say, feeling superior and, perhaps, motherly. We pushed and shoved each other in bed. And I would wonder, How confused is her heart? Until I had enough. All the poets in the world couldn’t talk me into staying with her another night.

Sometime later in school she told me she was taking belly dancing classes and that she was dating some guy who had a role in a TV soap opera. She stopped running after me and I missed her for a while. And then the advanced class came to an end. I made it, but still had two more years to go. She was on her way to the university with all her mystery and straight A’s.

I saw Eve for the last time at the bakery where I had a part time job. She liked Dominican pastry. And she wore a very ugly black dress that looked to me like a death shroud. I made it myself, she said proudly, and then she smiled the smile no one would care to decipher. Her parents were college professors and were sure, I had to assume, it was just the top end phase of the “death phase” that began some years ago after she saw Romeo and Juliet.

She surprised me when she said good-bye. Formalities were not for her. Aloofness was her thing. I walked to the back and took off my uniform. And then I walked outside still feeling baffled, and already nostalgic for Eve.

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Miguel Gardel lives in New York. His stories have appeared in Bilingual Review, Best Fiction, Red Fez, Pemmican, Press One, and other publications.

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