By Sof�a Quintero
Even through the veil of my hat, I see all eyes are on me as I sachet down the aisle toward Kique's casket. Good. That's the main reason why I squeezed my big ass into the red spandex dress. The same dress I wore on our first date when I was two sizes smaller.
Just as I reach the casket, a teary-eyed girl barely out of her teens carries away a toddler on her hip. Don't ask, Lili. Just let it go. I take a deep breath and look into the casket. Damn it if Kique don't look good! The bochinche was that the last woman he burned had shot him right between the eyes. Guess not. I glance at his crotch. Well, if she aimed there, the damage is not obvious.
'Chacho, the undertaker really did an amazing job. Kique's soul patch is sharply trimmed. Those perfect lips, rose and soft, are shaped into his signature smirk. Kique looks exactly the same way he did the day I realized I had fallen for him. That memory gives me the courage to do what I vowed I would to all my disbelieving girlfriends when this day came.
I look to my left then check to my right. Everyone is too busy mourning - or glaring at the llorona en la esquina who's making a performance of it - to watch me. I lean over Kique's body, lift my veil and spit on him.
�Burn in hell, asqueroso!�
Then I spin on the heels of my Via Spiga stilettos and march out of the funeral. Through the veil of my hat, I watch the others as they stare at me, their eyes so swollen and red. Look at them crying for Kique. Wearing black. Falling over themselves to praise him now that the son of a bitch is dead.
Di que Kique was so funny 'Member the time he did eso y lo otro?
Or when he was working, Kique was so generous.
And my personal favorite. Kique loved his children. All five of them. If he knew about 'em, he loved the hell out of them kids of his.
�Hipocritas! All of them, if they truly knew him. Where's the bitch who shot him? That's who I want to see. Shake her hand. Buy her a drink. Ask if his eyes were open when she did it. Why she did it? I don't need to ask her that.
Just as I push open the door that leads from the parlor into the lobby, I hear glass crash against the tiled floor. A black wave rushes by me as mourners run past me toward the commotion. When I reach the scene, Kique's brother and best friend pull apart two women who still claw for each other. Water, glass, and carnations are all over the lobby floor.
��Saca a esa pedenja, Junior!� yells the petite negrita with the box braids. �She didn't give a shit about Kique, and everybody knows it!�
The voluptuous chinita screams back, �You've always been jealous of me, bitch, because I'm the mother of his only son.�
Someone behinds me sucks her teeth. �That ain't true,� she mumbles �Doesn't Kique have a son in Santo Domingo?�
Another woman say, �And a daughter in Haina.� The revelation inspires several gasps. Don't these people know by now that scuttlebutt regarding Kique's �reproductivity� should be believed until proven otherwise?
I'm so over all this. As the catfight ensues, I ease my way through the crowd to the exit. By the door is an easel with a poster of Kique from his three-month stint as a real estate agent. It reads Enrique �Kique� Gilberto Mendoza, April 29, 1967 - October 29, 2007. As I walk by the easel, I snarl at Kique's picture and point to the crowd. �Damn it, Kique . . . even in death!�
Once outside the funeral home, I hand the parking attendant my ticket. As I wait for him to bring my car, I break out a cigarette. Fuckin' Kique Mendoza's dead.
I had just turned twenty when we met. Before Kique I was too busy being the dutiful daughter to date. Going to college, working my way through school, practically becoming the matriarch of the family as my mother cared for my father. . . What little time I had for a social life, I didn't want to waste on the boys around me because they were just that. Boys who just wanted one thing and yet were incapable or unwilling to offer much in return.
Then Kique came along and swept me off my feet, giving me all the romance I had been missing. Craving really. Then he ruined me for all men.
That's not a compliment.
Suddenly, a chill dances up my spine, and I shiver. What gives? It was almost seventy degrees when I left my apartment! The temperature must have dropped drastically in the few minutes I had been inside the funeral home. That's October in New York for you.
I wrap my arms myself while I wait for the valet to bring my car. He takes his time, stealing long glances at my dress. Or more like my ass busting out of it. That's why you're cold, Lili! I flick away my cigarette and drag the valet out of the driver seat so I can hop in. The car's pretty damn cold, too, so I blast on the heat as I drive off.
Only when I pull onto the Bronx River Parkway do I remember I still have on this silly hat with the veil. I laugh at myself as I sit on the entrance ramp and check oncoming traffic. Just before I'm about to merge, I pull off the hat and fling it onto the passenger seat.
I almost give myself whiplash in the direction of the voice. Kique? He wears his burial suit, my spit sliding down his tie. In fact, Kique, his suit, his body, all opaque like crepe paper. But my saliva glistens in the ray of sunlight beaming through the front car window, just as fresh as I cut it loose.
I scream so loud that only the blaring of the horns of the cars behind me snaps me out of it. And what does Kique do? He chuckles condescendingly the way he always did when faced with a woman he drove to hysteria. �Pull over, Lillian,� he says, pointing to the shoulder. He folds up the tail of his tie to blot at my spit. �We need to talk about this lingering rage of yours.�
My mind scampers, trying to remember how to handle a ghost. A wooden stake through the heart! No, that's for vampires. Besides, who the hell keeps a wooden stake in the glove compartment? Then it hits me. I do have my shiny new Club under my seat. I hit my blinker and make my way to the shoulder of the parkway.
Kique continues to rub at his tie, but the spit remains as if untouched. �Spitting on me. . . he says. �What were you thinking, Lili?�
Oh, now you want to know, asshole? The second I arrive at the shoulder, I reach down to grab the Club and swing it with all my might at Kique's head. It slices right through him, banging against the passenger window and ripping a crack through it. �Fuck!�
Only the sound of cracking glass makes Kique realize what I had tried to do. �First, you spit at me and now this?� He squints at me. �What happened to the sweet nena tranquila who would look away whenever I told her she was beautiful?�
Anger finally erupts, taking me far past fear. �Damn it, Kique, what are you doing here?� Then I remember. When you encounter a ghost, you're supposed to confront it. Ask him what he wants so you can give him what he needs to move on. They say sometimes a person just doesn't know or hasn't accepted that he's dead until a living person breaks it to him and convinces him to let go of earth. God, I hope this is not Kique's problem. The man was so full of hubris, it'll take his ghost weeks of hopelessly chasing live women before he accepts that he doesn't have �it� anymore and take his game to the netherworld. �You're dead and no longer belong here,� I say. �Que en carajo is holding you back?�
�I need you to forgive me, Lili.� He blinks at me like a child, that infamous smirk gone. �Without your forgiveness, I can't rest in peace.�
Shit. If that's true, I'm fucked. As a child, I never even had an imaginary friend but now at the age of thirty-three, I'm stuck with the ghost of the only man I ever loved? That'd be bearable if he also wasn't the worst ex-boyfriend I ever had. Like it wasn't bad enough that he lied to me about how many his-and-her kids he had, chased away my few male friends with his possessiveness, and eventually cheated on me with the most psychotic of his baby mamas. After I left him, Kique would stalk me every time he was in between women - from the �Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop to say hi� drives by my apartment to the �IF YOU REALLY FUCKIN' LOVED ME YOU NEVER WOULD'VE LEFT SO EASY, YOU HEARTLESS BITCH!!!� messages on my answering machine. I finally had to file a restraining order against him.
�Of all the women you've known and screwed in your forty years on this planet, why me, Kique?� I yell. �I mean, according to the chisme, I got off easy.�
Kique cocks his head to the side. �That's true. What I did to you is nothing compared to what I did to Sherry. Or Flaca. Or La Bembe. . . � I roll my eyes at him, and he halts the roll call of his victims. Kique looks at me with those sad eyes. Not those telenovela eyes reserved for performing deception and manipulation. The sincere eyes that I rarely saw in the short but intense six months we were together. The ones filled with tears at my father's funeral. The eyes wide with fear when Kique Jr. was diagnosed with leukemia then tight with joy when the cancer went into remission. The eyes that slacked with resignation when it finally sunk in that when I said I was never going back to him, I meant it and not playing along with the usual script he enacted with his other women.
Kique says, �But it doesn't matter that I was at my worst with them. You were the one I hurt the most. That's because you were the only one who truly loved me.�
I did love the son of a bitch. It hadn't matter to me that he was a twenty-eight year old father of three children already. I didn't care that he had those children with two different women, neither of whom he married. I didn't care that he only had a G.E.D. and changed his career every month.
�Look, Enrique, I really do want to forgive you. I mean, it's been thirteen years.� I say. Can you lie to a ghost? Probably not. So I level with him. �But I just can't. I've gone for months, even years not giving you a second thought, but when a certain song comes on the radio or I drive by a place you took me to, all the dirt you did comes rushing back right along with all the hurt and anger, and it feels like it just happened yesterday.� And here the feelings come again, and this time with an additional dose of despair. I start to cry. �I want to let go of all that shit. I've tried really hard to focus on all the good times we had. But I just can't.� Now I start to sob. �The fact that you're dead now doesn't change it.�
Kique shakes his head, and that smirk of his reappears. Bastard. This is what he wanted all along. Rest in peace my ass, he came to haunt me. Like the realization that I will never be free of these ugly feelings toward him wasn't horrible enough. I'd try again to crash in his skull if I knew it'd do any damage. Maybe I should do it anyway, it night make me feel better even if just for a moment. No, Lili, you can't afford to break that window any worse.
�So you can't forgive me,� says Kique. �Do you know what that means?�
I wipe my runny nose against my sleeve. �What?�
�You haven't forgiven yourself yet.�
I suck my teeth at him. �Forgive myself for what?�
Kique sucks his teeth back at me. He knows I hate when he mimics me, pendejo. �For putting up with the shit I did and never giving me the hell I deserved for it.�
I think about that. I was so young. Back then I thought that if you were truly committed, you loved unconditionally and that meant relaxing my standards beyond recognition. All through high school and college, I told myself You're pretty, intelligent. . . You come from a good family. You're getting an education and planning a career. Why is it so hard for you to find a boyfriend? Then Kique came along and heaped on the romance, and grateful for attention, the validation, I did overtime to rationalize all the flags. So he didn't go to college. Don't be such an elitist, Lillian. And so what Kique has three kids but has never been married? Nena, if you prefer a Latino man and rule out single fathers, you drain an already shallow pool! OK, so he didn't tell you about them until you were head over heels. He was falling for you and was afraid of losing you. How can you not forgive him for that?
For the first three months when things were idyllic, it was easy. Kique always has a job, sometimes two. Kique not only supports his kids, he actually makes time for them. He didn't pressure you into sex, was gentle when you were ready, and is always attentive to your pleasure. I used all the good things about Kique as excuses for putting up with the mind games he played during the last three months. Only when he stood me up one night after going to his ex's apartment to visit his son did I draw the line. He said that had just pulled a double shift but didn't want to disappoint Kique, Jr. and ended up falling asleep on his ex's couch.
While he was �sleeping on the ex's couch,� I was crying my eyes out on mine. But the possibility that Kique had been cheating on me was the farthest notion from my mind. In my lovestruck naivete, I truly thought that something terrible had happened to Kique. (He did allude to a thuggish youth.) I had called his job, his friends, and even his mother. She actually sighed and said, �Nena, there's nothing wrong with that boy for you to be so worried about him. Nothing you can fix anyway, and you shouldn't have to if you could because you're a good girl, Lili. Por favor don't give Kique another thought.�
I couldn't understand how his own mother could say such a thing. Eventually, Kique arrived at my door with a half-dozen roses. I rushed into his arms, sobbing with relief that Kique was with me in one piece.
My genuine concern floored Kique to the point that he couldn't tell me his story with a straight face. He expected me to be furious. To interrogate him while knowing all along what he had been up to, curse him out, maybe even hurl something at his head. Then Kique was supposed to seduce me, I was supposed to forgive him, and then we were supposed to have a fuckfest, all the while knowing that we were entering into an unspoken agreement that this scenario would repeat itself for as long as we were together.
The problem was I had really loved and trusted Kique with all my heart. Unlike his other women, I didn't need to be with him. I wanted to be with him. Looking past all our differences, I chose Kique, and that made his betrayal all the more egregious. As young and inexperienced as I might have been, I wasn't going to tolerate his constant betrayal of my love and trust. When Kique pulled me away from, looked me in the eye and insisted that nothing had happened between his ex and himself, the guilt in his eyes told me that I needed to stop lying to myself. He was not the man for me.
Damn it, Kique, er, his ghost or whoever, he's right. It's been thirteen years since I've been with the man, and I still haven't forgiven him for what he had done to me. But that's because I still blame myself for allowing him to do it.
I look at Kique who's checking himself out in the rear view mirror. Some things never change. �Kique. . .� I say to get his attention. He taps his finger on his tongue then wipes it across his eyebrow before looking at me. I snicker at the paradox of his old vanity and his newfound depth. �When did you get so damn insightful?� I ask.
�When you run toward the light,� he smiles, �a lot of things get really clear.�
�You're supposed avoid the light, Kique, not make a mad dash toward it.�
�Only if you want to live, Lili. Not when you're ready to go.� He pauses then continues, his voice heavy with exhaustion. �'Chacha, I ran toward that light, and I got, like, hosed with more wisdom then I could handle. That's probably why I had to come back and unload some of it. You know, before I could rest.�
It never occurred to me that Kique was unhappy. When I would hear through the grapevine about his latest escapades with the woman of the hour, I would swear that he enjoyed it. That it was all sport for him. That he reveled in the drama that he created over and over again. How bad it must have been for Kique to be so ready to let go and leave his kids behind. Especially if in that rush toward the light and the accompanying torrent of wisdom, he finally got an accurate count of how many kids he actually fathered.
I try to find something nice to say. Despite all the bonding, it's kind of hard. Finally, I settle on, �You made a really pretty corpse, Kique.�
Of course, he beams at that. �Thanks, Lillian. And thanks for coming to my wake in my favorite dress.� He hands me the veiled hat. �You know, you were the best thing that ever happened to me, but I always knew you deserved better.� Kique has said that to me before, but for the first time, I actually believe he's sincere. �That's why I did everything to mess it up. Then when I did mess it up, I tried so hard to win you back. Which is why when you wouldn't take me back, I got ugly. But I never stopped loving you, Lili. I mean, as best as a guy like me could. I truly gave you my best and, I'm sorry it wasn't worth much and that I broke your heart.�
I take a deep breath and give a long exhale. �I forgive you, Enrique.�
�No, you don't.� Ever the drama king, he practically sings when he says it. �You're just saying that to get rid of me.�
�Uh, if you were in my shoes, wouldn't you?�
�Yeah, but 'member what I said. You can't forgive me until you forgive yourself. You didn't realize that was why you were stuck until I told you three minutes ago so no way you're gonna get over it. . .� Kique snaps his fingers. �� Just like that.�
I think I'm going to cry again, this time out of frustration. The ghost is more trying than the man ever was, I swear. �OK, here's the deal, Kique. In order for me to forgive myself so that I can forgive you, you gots to go, man. I mean, be reasonable here. If you haunt me, you're gonna piss me off, and that kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think?�
Kique gives it some thought. �Yeah, I can see that.�
�And have I ever lied to you.�
�So please I'm asking you to trust me on this. If you leave and go wherever it is you belong - and stay there! - I promise you that I will work through this.� I start to cross my heart but quit when I remember that the last time I crossed myself, I heaved a wad a spit onto Kique's cold body as it lay in a casket. �In fact, I guarantee you, Kique, your leaving is going to go a looong way in helping me make peace with what happened between us. It's best for both of us if you go.�
There goes that impish smile again. I brace myself for the worst, but Kique say, �OK.� His apparition steps through the door and climbs out of my car. My car suddenly becomes so hot, I snap off the heat. Kique turns around to look at me through the cracked glass of my passenger window. �One more thing, Lili.�
Damn it. �What?�
�What, Kique, what?�
�That dude who keeps hanging around your cubicle? Stop punishing yourself by blowing him off. He's the One.�
�Nena, don't play dumb, you know you're no good at it. I ain't telling you nothing you haven't already wondered. Get over yourself and go out with the man.�
Before I can say thanks and goodbye, Kique's ghost blows me a kiss, pulls away from my car and just fades away.
� Sofia Quintero 2007