Inelda Flores would’ve preferred a doctor whose looks didn’t resemble her boyfriend’s. Not that he wasn’t cute, it was just that maybe like Eddie, this doctor had most likely cheated on his exams and god knows what else? Thirty-five and Eddie still lived with his parents and rarely did he put a hundred percent in anything he did. Her boyfriend of seven years was always looking for short cuts, angles or edges. This included their relationship and so Inelda was already having second thoughts about believing anything that this doctor would tell her. She wanted a doctor she could trust because these were her eggs. Inelda felt she was running out of them and in her culture, twenty-eight and childless is considered ancient.
“What’s taking so long,” she whispered as she sat on one of those cold tables dressed in those hospital gowns that never seem to close all the way up. “I’ve been turned inside out and given blood, what else is there left, god? Like Eddie this doctor is probably drinking beer, right now.”
Downstairs in Metropolitan’s Hospital visitor’s lounge, a delicate, graceful and crossed legged Papelito Sanabria waited patiently. He had agreed to accompany Inleda because like many of the women in Spanish Harlem Inelda treated Papelito like an older sister. It was for this reason that Papelito’s botanica wept femininity. Women went there to inquire about their health, family and love life. And it was during a consultation that Inelda asked about her eggs, about children and family. Papelito let her know that the Orishas, the Black Gods of Santeria, had told him that her future in regards to children and eggs was too clouded and murky. And if she was too worried, Papelito advised her to go see a doctor.
The doctor that looked like Eddie entered the room and amicably scribbled on his clipboard. “You can get dressed, now. There is not much to tell you until all the blood results come in. But your reproductive organs are extremely healthy.” He reassured her, “you’re only twenty eight.” He handed her a simple prescription of vitamins and iron. He then told her that if she was so worried, she could have some of her eggs “frozen and stored.” It was a simple procedure, a bit pricey but many women were doing it these days, he said. To Inelda, that right there told her that this doctor, like her boyfriend, was an idiot. She wanted to tell this doctor to go freeze some milk for ten years and then thaw it and see if he’d like the taste of it. To open his refrigerator and read the expiration dates. Those numbers are there for a reason you stupid doctor that looks like my stupid boyfriend. She wanted to tell him that her numbers were adding up, women in the neighborhood were constantly teasing her. Twenty eight is old, you stupid doctor, in Spanish Harlem it might as well be sixty five. But Inelda stayed quiet and just got dressed.
Outside she met up with Papelito who as soon as he saw her, he stood up from his chair and went over to weakly hug and air kiss her cheek.
“Nothing is wrong,” she said to him.
“Mi amor, I told you so. You are still young, honey.”
“Well this doctor was an idiot.” She looked at her prescription for his name but couldn’t make out the letters. “I want another doctor taking a look at me.” They walked out of the hospital as Inelda gave up on figuring out the doctor’s signature.
“It’s all my fault Papelito,” she said angrily, “all my fault.”
“Now, now, don’t say that, sweetie.” He said swaying his hips like a cable suspended bridge walking beside Inelda.
“No, it’s all my fault, Papelito. I would be pregnant right now, if I wasn’t that stupid. If only I hadn’t let Eddie make a job out of it.”
Eddie’s room had a flat screen television hooked up to cable, TiVo, and a satellite dish. It had beer in this mini- fridge, porn DVDs under his mattress and posters of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models taped to the walls. It was a room which he never forgot to lock so his parents, especially his mother wouldn’t go sniffing around his stuff. His mother wanted him out the house and married but Eddie had used the excuse of saving money. He was always saving money. He had used that excuse for so many years and now like Inelda, his mother was running out of patience.
“What kind of man are you?” she’d say as she’d entered his room to gather up his laundry. “You have no kids, no wife, not even a mustache.”
Eddie would pause the TiVo, sit on his bed and begin to clean his empty gun. “I’m almost there. I almost have enough money. Just wait.”
“Ta’ bien,” his mother would fling a dirty sock at him, “since you never contribute a dime to this house. You must have some money so spend it on a wedding, coño.” She then threw her hands up in disgust. “I hate to curse Eddie. Every time you curse the devil takes a little bit of you, pero tu me tienes hasta aqui—” Just then Eddie’s father entered the room and interrupted the two. There was someone outside by the hallway who wanted to talk to Eddie. Eddie quickly finished polishing his gun. Work was calling. Eddie needed more work, it had been a slow month and Eddie wanted to buy some tickets to see Wrestlemania. Triple H was going to wrestle the Rock at Madison Square Garden. Eddie wanted to take Inelda though she hated wresting; he knew she rarely denied him anything. Eddie shooed his mother out of his room, telling her he had to go to work. Eddie’s mother picked up the last of his underwear and shook her head. “Tu llamas eso trabajo? Those poor things,” she protested as she exited his room carrying his laundry. Eddie took his empty, cleaned gun and put three bullets inside his pocket and then locked his room. His mother went to the bathroom to collect the rest of the clothes in the hamper. Eddie’s father went back to whatever it was he was doing.
“You’re that guy who does that, right?” The man out by the hallway said to Eddie because shooting a dog in Spanish Harlem will get you known as a man who will shoot a dog.
Five years ago, a thirty year old, career supermarket stock clerk, Eddie had shot Inelda’s sick dog. Inelda had had the dog since she was twelve. But the dog was now old, blind and suffering. He was constantly relieving himself on her rug and had trouble breathing. The dog needed to be put to sleep. The ASPCA asked for a hefty fee to cover the humane injections and Inelda was broke. She could only afford the first injection, the one that numbs the bones and muscles but she couldn’t afford the other one, the one that takes the dog to heaven. So she had arrived at Eddie’s parents house in tears. Eddie held her close. To cheer her up he whispered these tired lines again. “Don’t worry mami, I’ll find a real job. Then I’ll save money and I’ll marry you and have children.” This would usually bring happiness to Inelda’s eyes and she’d clear her tears with the back of her hand and smile. But not on the day her dog was dying. So Eddie, who had won an old, rusty gun while playing dominoes told her that he’d put the dog to sleep. Inelda didn’t like the idea. She forced herself out of Eddie’s embrace and yelled at him for thinking such cruel thoughts. How could he even think that she would let her dog go to heaven like that? “My dog is a good Catholic.” She said. Inelda stared at Eddie’s eyes and couldn’t believe that she had ever loved a man who would shoot a dog. “What did you think the ASPCA was going to do?” Eddie shrugged. Inelda cursed at him. Calling him every name in the Latina Bible and promised him no oral sex for six days. Inelda then visited Papelito at his botanica, to tell him about all that had happened. Seeing Inelda so sad, Papelito offered her a free consultation and it was then that the Orishas let Papelito know that it was okay to free a suffering soul.
It wasn’t long before people with old and suffering dogs were knocking at Eddie’s parents door asking for Eddie’s services. A single bullet cost about ten cents and Eddie would ask for eighty bucks with an extra twenty if you wanted it buried in Central Park. Eddie would agree to do it but he didn’t want the owner telling him anything about the dog. This never worked. The owners would show up in tears. They’d wail to Eddie about when their dog was a puppy, the way it ran and stumbled. About the shoe it mangled. About the eyes looking back at you like a newborn. Eddie never wanted to hear any of that but he always had too.
“Yeah,” Eddie said to the guy who had waited out by the hallway, “But you see it’s not that simple. It’ll cost—” and then Eddie saw the project’s elevator doors open and heard Inelda’s voice. “That’s it, Eddie,” Inelda pointed at him as she drew closer. Her voice echoed all over the project’s hallway for all the neighbors to hear. “That’s it, Eddie.”
Papelito walked behind trying to calm her.
“Not like, this, mija. Right now you’re too angry.” Papelito gently held her arm down, only to feel Inelda yank her arm back.
“Can’t this wait?” Eddie said before Inelda got close enough to him. “I’m doing business, here.”
“I’m not going to be like Doña Ramonita,” Inelda complained, pointing out Spanish Harlem’s famous spinster, “I’m not going to live all my life with a bunch of cats.” When she reached him, she stared down at Eddie whose mouth was so wide opened she could see his fillings. Then she let him have it. “The doctor said I was running out of eggs. You marry me, you marry me now, or you lose me coño. I’m running out of eggs. You hear me, I have almost no eggs left.”
Time stood still for Eddie. He had never heard her talk like this. She had threatened him before but she had never talked of leaving him. Eddie was stunned and worse was that right that minute, Inelda looked good. Her legs were tan and she wasn’t wearing any stockings. She had a beautiful tight blue dress that clung to her the way robes cling to images of catholic saints, leaving no space between her body and the cloth. This meant that she wasn’t wearing any panties for the sheerest of panties would create lines. Her feet were adorned by these great, high and mighty fuck me pumps. Where in god’s name had she been hiding that push up?
“I’m almost out of eggs, Eddie.” She said puckering her lips, shaking her head said to side, “out of eggs.”
Of course Papelito knew the truth. The doctor had said no such thing and Papelito was aware that her cut off date was still years away and even then, there were still other options for conception. He also knew Eddie was an idiot and would believe anything Inelda told him about the doctor visit. But in the end, this was their thing, so Papelito stayed out of it.
“But I love your body too much, baby.” He said it with such puppy innocence as if he was the one who would suffer if she got pregnant. “I love when you wear those tight jeans and you free ball. Your ass looks like a cherry. A kid will kill that, mami.”
“I’ll work out, damn it.” Inelda wasn’t having any it. “I’ll get my body back in shape. Just marry me! I’m running out of eggs.”
“Pero. . . pero . . . mami,” he stuttered, partly because she looked so fine, and the other half because he knew the ultimatum was coming, “I . . . I saw on tv that nowadays, like you can put away your eggs for later. Movie stars are doing it—”
“Use your head, Eddie,” she tapped the side of his skull as Edie’s customer and Papelito waited patiently. “Use your head stupid. Would you drink milk that’s been frozen for ten years? No, right. Go an open your fridge Eddie? Read the expiration dates. Those numbers are there for a reason, Eddie. For a reason.”
It made perfect sense to him. He always liked the word, “fresh.” Fresh went hand in hand with something that people wanted. He had seen how people paid more for fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh fish and he knew even beer went skunk.
“Okay, baby,” he said noticing that his mother had been listening through a half opened door. “Let me do this last job. Okay?” Inelda’s eyes turned towards the man who was standing, waiting. “Just this last job and,” he kissed his hand and the held it towards the sky, “te lo juro, I will marry you.”
“No.” She violently tapped a long and sleek heel to the hallway tiles. “No. You quit right now. You go fine a real job. It can be anything. It can be sweeping floors or cleaning toilets, I don’t care. It just has to be a real job.” Never had Eddie seen so much horror verbalized. He could picture those words that Inelda was spewing and they scared him unlike any horror film he had seen on cable.
“Look at her,” his mother appeared from behind the door and pointed at Inelda’s outfit, “isn’t that enough for you?”
Inelda spread her legs wider, crossed her arms tighter and stuck out her breasts. She nodded a hello and a thank you to her boyfriend’s mother. The two had always gotten along well and they had tried on several occasions to get Eddie to grow up. Like the day Eddie voiced that he might like to attend night school to study marketing. Both women were so excited that they went out of their way not only get him the applications but they filled it out for him. They paid the admissions fees, and they registered Eddie for two courses. Eddie attended one class and never went back.
“Maaaaaah,” Eddie said, “please go back inside.”
“Listen to her, listen to her” his mother said in Spanish before she did as Eddie told her to. “She’s running out of eggs. Y cuando no hay, no hay má ná.”
With his mother back inside and a customer waiting, Eddie again faced Inelda and promised her that he would look for real work first thing in the morning but only after he had done this last job. Inelda repeated her threat. “Think I’m playing, Eddie? Think I’m playing wi-choo? I ain’t paying with wi-choo, motherhfuckah.” Eddie’s fear rose to a new level. Inelda had now turned street on him. Her hands were posturing her every syllable, her hips were swaying to the rhythms of her threats. “I’m going down to the Night Cafe, that’s right Eddie. I ain’t got dress like this to go home and take these clothes off myself.”
“Oh God,” Papelito shot his hands towards his mouth like he had heard something blasphemous. “Oh, no you didn’t say that, girl.” He thought Inelda was overreacting. But he was her friend and he had to stick by her side, wrong or right. That is what big sisters do.
“What you gotta do that for, mami?” This was serious. “Okay, okay, I need time, like a month?”
Inelda held her anger in check. She had given him seven years.
“Time? Time? God created this,” she said pushing up her tits, “in just seven days.” She then took Papelito’s hand and whispered to take her away from the sight of her now ex-boyfriend.
From where Eddie stood the two walked away, leaving Eddie to feel like he was crossing over to a new era in his life, an era that he did not care for or think it was good for him. Still, Eddie didn’t try to stop Inelda when she left with Papelito. What Eddie did was tell his costumer who had waited patiently that he didn’t want hear anything about the dog. That as the customer just witnessed, Eddie had his own problems and therefore he didn’t want to hear anything about anybody. “Just take me and let’s get this over with.”
The Shumberg towers on 110th Street and Fifth Avenue are circular project houses that resemble 35 floors of hexagon Lego blocks that children play with. Eddie was led to the 27th floor, apartment 27B, where he saw a group of people huddled by the hallway. They were all happy to see him and they said he was a blessing because both owner and pet were suffering. Eddie repeated he didn’t want to hear anything. He never cared to hear about someone’s pet and especially that night when his mind was still on that fight with Inelda. He didn’t want to lose Inelda but he didn’t want to leave his mother’s house either. He had exhausted all his excuses and he had to think of something beyond words that would keep this wonderful arrangement in order. That was what occupied Eddie’s entire mind as he loaded up his old and rusty 32 caliber. But the people kept trying to explain the situation to Eddie and he told them to stop. To stop. To stop right there. “Where’s the job? That’s all.”
Eddie was then led to a bedroom where he heard a wailing. It was a sobbing of someone in deep pain and Eddie asked if it was okay if he could take the animal to the bathroom and do it in there. He asked for trash bags and towels and if they wanted it buried in Central Park, which would cost an extra twenty. The man who had led Eddie told him that Eddie could have anything he wanted. Eddie nodded and opened the bedroom door where he saw three people tending to a man on his bed with a python clamped up his arm. The python was about six feet long and it had stopped at the man’s shoulder. The reptile’s eyes were big and they were staring with love and hunger up at the face of its owner. “What the fuck?” Eddie said out loud. One of the people tending the man said the python’s name was Missy and that it was Hipolito’s pet. That Hipolito loved Missy and would always put her away in her large fish tank right before going to bed. But that last night Hipolito had forgotten to put Missy away and he woke up with Missy up his arm. The more the man tried to break free the tighter Missy’s jaws squeezed him. The man was already turning blue and they feared he was passing out and someone in the crowd had heard about a man who shoots dogs for a price and so, they sent for him.
At about the same time, inside Papelito’s botanica Inelda Flores was having a consultation. She sat with her Padrino inside a special room, the Ile, the house of the Black Gods. The space was huge and had no chairs, only pillows. Straw mats covered the floor. Nailed to the wall were bows and arrows, spears, sugar canes, a white flag, alters to every Orisha, ribbons, silk scarves. There were many statues of the Catholic saints that share a duality with the African powers, the Orishas. Some statues were life size, others no smaller than a hand. At times an Orisha could be depicted as gentle and delicate, at other times fearsome and angry. There were two icons of our Lady of Charity, who shares a duality with Ochun, goddess of love and beauty; one huge icon had her represented as a prostitute because she uses sex in order to get power and obtain favors from the other Orishas, and the other Icon had her represented as the mother of marriage.
“Sweetie, we are only in this room because the Orishas have let us,” Papelito’s voice was now a slow meditation. A consultation was as real as poverty. Inelda’s body was tense but then she relaxed and bowed her head. With her eyes still gazing at the floor she brought out two twenties that had been stuffed inside her bra. She folded the bills and crossed herself with the money and then blindly handed the fee to Papelito. With her respects to the Orisha’s already paid, Papelito then kindly held Inelda’s face in his hands and brought her back up so he could see her tears. “It’s okay,” Papelito said. “Go over there and cover that mirror, Mija.” And Inelda went over and taking a large towel covered the mirror. “The Orishas are vain, like spurned girlfriends they want nothing distracting their image.” Inelda nodded, crossed herself, lowered her head never looking back up. “Now, light a candle for Eleggua, he is the first. He holds the keys to the gates, so that we may enter and speak with the Orishas.” Inelda did as she was told by lighting a candle to the icon and then Papelito motioned with his hand for Inelda to come over and sit down on the mats next to them, encircled by candles were bowls filled with grain, slices of bread, seeds, nuts, hard candy, coconut whites, and some bottles of Florida water and of rum.
“Now, Inelda, Mija.” Papelito whispered in Spanish, “speak to the Orishas, tell them what you wish of them.”
She wiped her tears and looked into Papelito’s eyes. They were like a prism. Light shone through them because the Orishas had now entered him and he could see and know many things. “Eggs,” she pleaded in English. “I need more eggs.”
“Dogs.” Eddie barked, “That look like a dog to you?”
The people tending the man with the python clamped up his arm doubled their price. Eddie felt the desperation in the bedroom. He heard the man wail that he couldn’t breath but to not hurt his Missy. He loved that snake and that he’d rather die than to have his Missy hurt. It soon struck Eddie that these people could have gathered enough money to call the ASPCA or whomever, so trained experts could inject the python and put it to sleep. What worried these people were the police. A python was an illegal pet and they wanted nothing to do with the cops and though Eddie felt the same way, he thought them crazy to offer him so much money. But hey, the money was there and Eddie wanted it.
Eddie asked for a measuring tape. All anyone could find him was a wooden ruler. Good enough. Eddie measured the python and then the man’s other arm which lay at his left side, free, limp and weak. If Eddie was right, if both the man’s arms were the same size, Eddie had some slack, a good two and half feet at the bottom of the snake’s tail. He put his gun away and asked for a machete.
It was a messy affair, fat all over the place. Eddie needed a bath but that could wait. He left the apartment with Inelda still on his mind as he carried a heavy trash bag that he had to bury in Central Park. But that would have to wait as well. It was still on only nine o’clock and the jewelry store didn’t close till ten. Eddie went inside the store smelling of something that had clung to him before it had died. He asked for the cheapest ring. The sales clerk offered a variety of cheap rings, but Eddie wanted to know which was the cheapest. The lady at the counter was in no rush and showed him a few rings. When he settled on one, he put down fifty of the two hundred dollars he had just made that night, and placed the ring on layaway. When he was handed the receipt Eddie snatched it like a ticket. He stared at the receipt and saw down the road, children and flowers. Music and cake. There was a glow on his face because he felt he had done something great. He felt like he was going towards a place that he had never been to but was taking baby steps to get there, and yet, he was holding back time because many things would still stay the same. He placed the trash bag on the newly and unevenly cemented sidewalk and dug into his pocket for the receipt again. Eddie stared at it as if he had fallen in love all over again. “Wow,” he whispered to himself, “I can read her signature.” He thought about the sales lady’s hands and how unlike doctors, sales clerks actually had great penmanship. He traced the signature with his finger and smiled again, thinking how doctors couldn’t write well. All that college and they can’t write. They should learn how to write good. They should learn to finish off their letters, he thought. Because people could read their prescriptions wrong and that wouldn’t be right, Eddie thought. Than wouldn’t be right at all.