Eva, by Glendaliz Camacho
The train car was empty. I usually stayed awake on my way home from work at four in the morning, but I’d been studying for midterm exams that week. After three years of community college, I still found them draining. I leaned my head into my chest and closed my eyes, pretending to read the copy of El Diario on my lap, in case someone stepped into the car.
I smelled her before I saw her, a mix of citrus and the trace of an extinguished match. It wasn’t unpleasant though. When I opened my eyes, she was sitting next to me. Her black hair was impossibly shiny and fell down her back like a waterfall. She had dark makeup on her eyelids and most of her crimson lipstick had worn off. Her black belted coat stopped right below her knees, exposing her alabaster legs. Beside her was a large suitcase, antique looking, almost like a trunk, but on wheels. She rested a gloved hand on it. Why was this woman sitting so close with the entire car empty? I thought of Idalis and grew uncomfortable.
I closed my eyes again. Her perfume was even stronger now, penetrating my nostrils directly into my brain. I felt an overwhelming urge to reach out and feel her soft black hair in my fingers and got aroused. I swallowed my own saliva and tried to slow my breathing, hoping it would make my thoughts stall. I never felt so tempted by a woman, especially not a stranger. I decided to pretend the next stop was mine and move to another car, but when I opened my eyes, the woman was gone.
That night, I made love to Idalis furiously, tangling and pulling on her curly brown hair.
“What got into you tonight?” She tumbled onto her pillow, out of breath.
“Nothing.” I laughed and smacked her on the thigh, but found it difficult to push thoughts of that woman out of my mind.
Sleep, classes, and work smothered any lingering thoughts about her until the next night. I was on the train doing some reading for my English class—no easy thing, as rough a language as English is—when I smelled the same perfume. I looked up and there she was again, next to me. Her head was tilted back slightly, resting on the train wall and her eyes were closed. She had thick, long lashes like paint bristles dipped in black paint. The top two buttons of her coat were open unveiling some sort of black corset. Maybe she was out dancing, I thought. Her cleavage was clearly visible. I’m not the type to exaggerate and I’ve seen a good amount of breasts since the first time I spied on my cousin showering back in Santo Domingo, but these were amazing. They were almost bursting, rising and falling with her deliberate breathing. I thought of caressing them, running my tongue across them…
“Do you want to know what’s inside?” she asked in Spanish.
I almost jumped out of my skin. “¿Perdon?”
“You were staring at the suitcase.” Her voice was guttural. She opened her eyes and looked directly in mine. “Aren’t you curious?”
When I came to this country five years ago, I learned quickly that New York contained more lunatics than I had ever come across back home and they all seemed to take the train, so I was more than hesitant to answer. Beautiful or not, I didn’t want any part of crazy. She leaned in, her hair caressing my cheek. “I’m a magician. I keep my secrets in there.” Her full lips curved into a smile. The picture of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from my art history textbook came to mind. Three enormous latches locked the trunk closed. Whatever secrets were inside were going to have trouble getting out.
“I don’t believe you. You’re telling me you pull rabbits out of hats and make things disappear?”
She reached into her coat pocket and handed me a flyer that read, Eva The Magnificent. It listed the theater she performed at and show times. She winked at me as she stepped off the train.
I tried to toss the flyer as soon as I got off the train that night. I even got as far as holding it over the trash can, but my fingers wouldn’t release it. At home, I slipped it in a textbook, but then I thought it could easily fall out so I shoved it in a drawer. Then I thought Idalis would find it when she was cleaning. Women always use the excuse that they’re cleaning to go through your things, so my pocket was the safest place. I patted my thigh constantly just to feel that it was still there. At night, I began to sense the damn flyer in the pocket of my jeans, waiting for me in the dark. I couldn’t sleep, arguing with myself to throw it out, focusing on where it was all the time—and where Idalis was so that she wouldn’t discover it.
“What’s the matter?” Idalis mumbled, still half-asleep, feeling her hair to make sure her pins were still in place.
Our bedroom was hinting that the sun was on its way up. I’d gotten home from work an hour before and should have been snoring since I had to be up at eleven to make it to my first class at noon. I couldn’t get comfortable in bed. My mind wouldn’t quiet down; thoughts rushed back and forth like ants.
“You’re moving around a lot.” She curled herself against my back and exhaled.
“I have an exam coming up.”
“And you’re getting like that over an exam?” Her body tensed.
The question infuriated me, even though it was in response to my lie. Idalis resisted the idea of me being in college since I enrolled—not with fists, but the way women do, with stiff spines and flared noses. If I had one of these American-born Dominican girls who rushed from work to classes at night and spoke in perfect unaccented English, maybe I could’ve reach my goals quicker. I just wanted to get my degree from an American university—even if it was a city university—so I could return to the Dominican Republic and get a good teaching position at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. After graduation, I was going to buy a small house in the capital. Nothing big, but something that was mine. Whenever I had one of those days when my eyes stung with fatigue, when I felt buried alive under reading assignments and deadlines, when my paycheck was spent before it was even warm in my hand, when I was so exhausted at night I fell asleep in the bathtub, I thought of that house. Something with a white gate, a small yard, a marquesina for the car.
“That diploma is my key. When will you understand?” I shrugged off her rigid embrace.
“When I see that it brings something into this house.” She propped herself up. “But all I see is that it takes away. Your time, your energy and now even your sleep. How do you expect to be a good husband, a father in the future? You’re never here. And when you are, your nose is in a book.” She sat up, wide awake now, the spark behind her eyes igniting.
I turned to face her. “How do I explain it so that you understand, once and for all? Why is it so hard for you to see past what’s right in front of your face?”
“Because you know what’s right in front of my face? This city where there’s no room to breathe, not even in my own house. What am I saying? This isn’t a house, it’s a box.” She waved her arms around the bedroom that was crammed with two dressers, plastic bins, and a laundry hamper, barely leaving room to navigate around the bed without banging your knees.
I stood and yelled over her. “Maybe if you got out of the apartment and did something you wouldn’t be so frustrated. Did you go to the school to check the English classes? Or downtown to see about work? No, right?”
“Ahhh, so now I don’t do anything,” she whispered, crossing her arms.
I closed my eyes and ran my hand over my face, regretting I’d said that. The truth was that she did a lot and she did it flawlessly. Everything from shopping, cooking and cleaning to laundry and going to the check cash to pay the bills. All the things I would never have time to do.
Without another word, Idalis tucked her pillow under her arm and a blanket over her shoulder before walking out to the living room. The springs in the sofabed squeaked as the mattress accepted her. All the while, that flyer in my jeans that were lying in a heap on the floor, mocked me. I snatched it up and ripped it into as many pieces as I could. I smelled my hands; they reeked of citrus.
I hadn’t slept well in a week and it was catching up to me. I always ate at home with Idalis before running to work, but this day my food sat alone in a plate on the stove. I told myself I’d do something nice with her that weekend. Maybe a walk in Central Park if it wasn’t too cold and some hot chocolate from the diner on the corner. I was on the train after my shift at the factory when my thoughts were interrupted.
“Exhausting, isn’t it?” Eva was even more beautiful than I remembered. Her face had a powdery softness to it, but her lips were blood red.
“This city. The work. The people. Steering in and out of each day.” Watching her lips move when she talked was intoxicating. I wanted to rub the color off her lips with mine.
“I suppose. But what can we do, right?” I heard the defeat in my own voice.Eva didn’t say anything until the train pulled out of the 137th Street station. “Would you help me back to my place?”
I concentrated on slowing my heart beat. “Listen… I’m married.” I fingered my ring with my thumb. “I don’t think my wife would like it.”
She looked at me for a moment, and I couldn’t see anything beyond her eyes–no thoughts, no feeling, no opinion.
“It’s the case. It’s heavy.” She nodded towards the same rolling suitcase I’d seen her with before.
“You managed it pretty well before.”
She smiled, as if she were proud of a child who answered correctly. “It’s been a long week. I would be very grateful.”
I stood up and grabbed the handle of the case. We exited on 145th.
We walked towards Eva’s place, a room in an apartment on 148th Street and Riverside Drive. We talked easily. She asked me about the Dominican Republic. I asked her about the places she had traveled through like England, Italy, Egypt, even China. She was humble for someone so worldly, so unlike the rich girls back home or the Americans here, who used any opportunity to make you feel backwards.
She had no family in New York; they were scattered throughout the world like gypsies. I remembered how lonely and homesick I was when I first arrived in New York. It felt like I was living someone else’s life and I couldn’t tell if my old life in Santo Domingo had been real. Only in moments when something pricked my senses like the melody of an old merengue pounding its way out of a neighbor’s apartment or the slang from home floated past me from conversations on the street. Then I knew my old life had been real.
I hesitated at the front door to her apartment. “Well, I think I’ll leave you here.”
She slipped her key into the lock. “Come in for a cup of coffee.” She unlocked the front door and the apartment’s warmth coiled itself around me. “I brought it from my last trip to Cuba. It’s very good. Like nothing you’ve ever tasted.”
I checked my watch. If I had one cup of coffee I could make it home by five-thirty. Idalis would still be asleep. I promised myself if anything crossed the line between good and bad morals, I would simply excuse myself and leave.
“Just one cup.” I followed Eva down the hall.
The apartment was deathly quiet and the faintest rays of light were beginning to stream in. We passed a locked door in the hall, turned past the living room where I only saw a plastic covered cream sofa, a loveseat and armchair, ceiling high bookshelves, and an empty wall to wall curio. There were no photos or art on the walls, no knick-knacks, no piles of mail, none of the clutter that said people lived there. We stopped at the kitchen where Eva took off her coat. Her shoulders were bare. She asked me to take her things to her room, further down the hall, as she began unscrewing an old-fashioned cafetera.
Her room, in contrast to the rest of the apartment, was warm and busy. There were props, hats, wands, cages, handkerchiefs, and jars everywhere. I laughed at a crystal ball on a shelf. I wasn’t one for divination, but my mother believed in reading coffee grounds from the bottoms of cups. To be honest, Eva’s room, with its red velvet curtains, was a bit tasteless and antiquated like something out of Victorian times. The smell of patchouli hung in the air like cigar smoke. She materialized behind me with two mugs of coffee. They were carved from a dark wood and polished to a glossy finish. The carvings sloped into jagged points in some spots and dipped into bowl-like indentations in other places.
“These are interesting,” I said, taking one of the mugs.
“From Cuba too.”
I took a sip of coffee, which was so good I thought the heat of the Caribbean was in my belly.
“Good, isn’t it?” She glanced at me from the corner of her eye and swept her hair off her shoulder.
I was halfway done with the coffee when I felt exhausted. It must’ve shown on my face.
“Sit while you finish it.” Her voice was inviting and thick like the blankets at home. The home that seemed so far away right now. I sat on the edge of her mattress.
“Just for a moment. I must be more tired than I thought,” I heard myself say.
“Why don’t you close your eyes for a minute?” Eva slipped the cup out of my hand.
“I really shouldn’t,” I protested, before sinking into her burgundy pillows.
The air in the room was dense. I struggled to breathe. Maybe it was the weight of Eva’s body, which even though she was petite, snuffed out every ounce of energy from me. She pressed her lips against mine. They were warm and voluptuous, but when I slid my tongue into her mouth, I had the most frightening sensation. For an instant, it felt like she had no tongue. I searched her mouth, almost frantically, before breaking away from her. She gave me a curious look and then kissed me, her tongue playful. I laughed off my panic, telling myself I was just out of practice. Her hair fell around my face like a curtain and the world fell away from us. I fell away from myself.
Afterwards, I had the strangest dream. I was sitting at the foot of Eva’s bed again, drinking coffee from that same wood mug, but this time when I looked down at it, the carvings began to swim and undulate until a set of hollow eyes and a mouth appeared. The mouth said something I couldn’t make out. It howled, but it sounded like someone yelling from across a field and the words being carried off by a gust of wind. I held the cup up to my ear. The mouth bit my earlobe sharply. Terrified, I threw the thing on the floor. Coffee grounds spilled across the floor like sand and formed themselves into a triangle with a black hole in the center. The hole began to whir and pull the room into the abyss inside of it. I tried to hold onto the bed which was now almost vertical, but I lost my grip and tumbled into the darkness, yelling all the way.
I woke up with a start at the moment I crashed into the bottom. I felt Eva was gone. The bedroom, which appeared as alive and warm as a beating heart when I first saw it, was now cold and stale. I jumped out of the bed in a panic, as the realization of where I was and what I had done stood out from the fog in my mind. I hurried to put my clothes on. I had no idea what time it was since Eva’s room had no windows, but hours had to have passed. Idalis was probably worried sick and I had no idea what I was going to tell her. I’d never been this late before and if I didn’t come up with something, the way things were, she would be furious enough to leave. I grabbed my watch and headed out the front door. Everything I thought up sounded stupid—the train getting stuck, or being robbed. Saying I did overtime wouldn’t work because she saw all my paychecks and there would be nothing extra.
Why did I even get caught up with Eva in the first place? I was perfectly happy with Idalis. Wasn’t I? She was beautiful, a good person and a good woman to me who didn’t deserve this deception with someone I barely knew. I berated myself as I raced down the stairs, leaping over the last three steps completely. When I approached the building’s front door, I negotiated with God.
If you save me from this one, I swear, I’ll never even think of Eva again.
I burst onto the street, expecting to wince from the sunlight and the noise of people on a Saturday morning. Something felt wrong. It was dark. I turned, looking up and down the street, but no one was outside. I checked my watch and it was only five-thirty in the morning. Only half an hour had passed at Eva’s when I was sure it was hours. Only a fool would have seen that as nothing more than good luck.
I woke up around two in the afternoon, later that day, to the sound of a running faucet. Iron pots clanged in the kitchen. I felt disoriented. Idalis had been sound asleep when I crept in, but I wasn’t sure if I was in hot water or not. When I tried to make sense of the time that morning, I only tangled my thoughts more. I took a chance and snuck up behind her as she cleaned a whole chicken in the sink. I slipped my arms around her and kissed her neck.
“Ay, you scared me!” She jumped, dropping her knife in the sink.
I laughed. “I’m the only other person here. Who else would it be?”
“Don’t start with your jokes today. I’m in no mood.” She shrugged out of my arms and washed her hands.
“Is that for today?” I pointed my chin at the chicken.
I left her alone and took a shower, dressed, and grabbed my books. As I zipped up my coat, I called out, “I’m going to the library. I’ll be back later.”
There was no answer except for the oven door slamming shut.
“Did you hear me?” I poked my head into the kitchen.
“Yes, master. Your servant will still be here when you get back.”
“Idalis, please. Are we gonna start?” I hated leaving the house on bad terms. God forbid, if something happened to one of us, an argument would be the last memory we’d have of each other.
“I just want to know when you’ll make some time to be home.” She threw a plastic bowl into the sink. “This isn’t normal. We spend every day trapped in this routine. We came here to live better. We’re not living at all.”
She had a point. “Let me get this out of the way today and we can spend tomorrow together. We can go out to dinner, that place on the corner you like.” I hugged her from behind.
She softened. “You promise?”
“We deserve it. I get tired too, waiting for all this work to amount to something. Let’s live a little.”
She kissed me on the cheek.
I enjoyed the peace of the library for a few hours, but found my thoughts drifting to Eva. I wondered what she was doing, I relived every detail of what she looked and felt like. I read the same paragraph in my textbook over and over. When the library closed, instead of heading home for dinner I stopped by a coffee shop and did some more reading. I tried to, anyway. The evening flew by and when I looked at my watch it was eleven o’clock. I collected my things and started walking towards 148th Street. I can’t give you a good reason why I went. I just did.
I waited for Eva inside the small lobby of her building. She appeared around midnight, smiling like a cat that had finally gotten its mouse, completely unsurprised to see me. She was even more radiant than the night before. I carried her trunk and followed her up the stairs. In her room, she lit a few candles and in their glow, she undressed. Her body was out of this world—limbs like a dancer, heavy breasts, strong legs. I escaped into her perfect form.
When we finished, I dreamt I was on the street and Idalis was a few steps in front of me. I tried to reach out and touch her shoulder, but no matter how far I stretched, I couldn’t catch up to her. I ran, I shouted, but nothing. She sped away from me and disappeared. Then I tried to take the train to class, but the stops were completely foreign. I tried again and again to switch trains, to ask people for directions, but the trains only took me further away from where I wanted to go. I woke up in despair. I looked over at Eva, who was staring at me. For a moment, her eyes looked like two black voids, all pupils with no iris or sclera, but the flame from a nearby candle crackled and I saw it was a trick of the light.
“You were dreaming,” She pressed herself closer and wrapped a thick leg around me.
“How can you tell?”
Eva smiled and shrugged. “I can tell you what you’re thinking too.” She leaned in close. Her smooth forehead wrinkled, but a smile flickered on her lips. Eva placed her palm on my forehead and closed her eyes. “Your job. All those hours. For what? To get things you won’t even have time to enjoy once you finally get your hands on them. You’re smarter than your boss; you work harder than him too.”
“Stop it. It’s not funny.” I tried to lift my head, but Eva was surprisingly strong. She forced my head back down to the pillow and leapt on top of me.
“You want freedom from your responsibilities. Your wife, you’re thinking of taking that weight off your back. It’s always been you with the plans. And you don’t even have children so it would be so easy…”
She threw her head back and laughed. She began writhing on me. I tried to throw her off, but she might as well have been a tombstone. In spite of myself, I responded to her. I hated her and fucked her that way, but the more I tried to hurt her, the more she giggled and enjoyed it. “Tell me you want to disappear with me,” she panted.
I closed my eyes, shook my head and doubled my effort.
“Tell me you want to disappear in me,” she repeated. The candlelight illuminated the sweat on her skin. The glare was like the sun bouncing off the ocean at noon. I shut my eyes again.
“Tell me you want to disappear,” she hissed. Finally, I exhausted myself and whispered it into her ear.
When I woke up, Eva wasn’t there. I rushed out hoping time had played the same trick in my favor, but it was Monday afternoon.
At home, I was greeted by a bare apartment. The bed was stripped down to the mattress. There were no bottles of lotion or nail polish on the dresser; the dresser itself was empty. I pulled out a bottle of rum from my desk in the living room that I was saving for graduation.
I woke up Tuesday in time to make it to work an hour late. I headed straight to my boss’s office. He looked up at me surprised.
“Yoskar, I didn’t think you were gonna be in today.”
“I am very sorry. I was not feeling too good.” My heart was trying to pound its way out of my ears. I couldn’t lose my job.
My boss came around from behind his desk and guided me into the chair. I hadn’t noticed I was pacing.“I know. That’s why I didn’t think you were coming in tonight. Your wife called Sunday night. She said you had a high fever.”
“Yeah, your wife. She just called a little while ago to say you were still out cold.” He looked at me side-ways. “You sure you okay to work, Yoskar? You have plenty of sick days and you’re never out so…”
“No, no. I feel better working.”
I was afraid of going home. I didn’t understand what was going on and I felt like I was under attack. Why would Idalis have called? Was she trying to get me fired? No, I was being paranoid. That would only hurt her too since she depended on me for money. I’d never known Idalis to be vengeful. It had to be Eva.
I tried calling Idalis for days. Whoever picked up the phone at her mother’s house pretended they couldn’t hear me, then hung up. I was restless at home and falling even more behind in my classes. I went to Eva’s twice and waited for her an hour each time, but she never showed. Finally, on Friday night, I called out from work
I got to the theater about nine-thirty. I hoped Eva would be between shows so I could confront her about calling my job. Despite being angry about that, I felt a tremendous hunger to see her, to feel her skin, to make love to her. It was all I could think about.
The closest a normal person, your typical neurotic, will get to feeling like a psychotic is when they are in love. A psychology professor once told me that. I definitely felt plagued by an illness. I told one of the stage hands, a tall guy who looked and smelled as if he didn’t bathe too often, that I was Eva’s boyfriend. He looked at me strangely. At the time, I didn’t think anything of the fact he said Eva was expecting me. I brushed past him before he could finish telling me where the dressing room was.
I walked through a musty corridor and approached a door that was left ajar. It was the only source of light in the hall. The smell made me dizzy. It was as if an inferno had been put out, the smell of sulfur was so strong. Mingled with it was that other familiar smell, like a whole grove of lemons. Then the sounds I heard from the room made my stomach churn. The grunts of a man exerting himself and a woman moaning in pleasure. I snuck a look into the room.
Eva was naked, sitting on a vanity table with her legs wrapped around the waist of a blonde man who was going away at her with such force the mirror shook and threatened to shatter completely. Eyes closed, she uttered unintelligible words into his ear, like an incantation. I thought I actually saw smoke rising from their bodies, but it was coming from Eva’s trunk that lay open like an expectant mouth underneath them. I watched, unable to pull myself away from the torture of watching Eva with another man. I was so weak I could barely support the weight of my own body and had to lean on the wall for support. Finally, they gasped to a finish like dying fish and I could hear what she was saying.
“Tell me you want to disappear.”
He spasmed loudly and grabbed hold of the mirror. His reflection stared back at me. His eyes opened wide, but before he could say anything I barreled through the door and sent him flying. Ignoring his pleas, I hit him over and over until the blood gurgling from his mouth was the only sound he made. When he was still, I stopped. Eva was where he’d left her, perched on the vanity, looking perfectly composed as if nothing had happened. Her skin was still glistening and she was glowing with satisfaction.
“What are you doing to me?” My voice caught in my throat.
She examined her nail polish. “You were sick of your struggle, day after day. You wanted an escape. To be released. There is always something or someone listening.”
I wanted to run from that room, to get to the train station wheezing and sweating like a madman, to go home and find everything was just a dream or a rupture in my mind. But I was frozen in place.
Smoke collected near my feet. It was coming from my body. I looked at her one last time. She looked glorious and even through my fear, the desire to be with her one last time lingered. I tore myself from the room and down the corridor.
I never made it to the train station. Before I could hit the panic bar on the side door of the theater, my legs went out from under me. I stopped propelling forward. I looked down and my legs had become two ribbons of mist that were dragging me back to her. I didn’t fight it, as I drifted down the hallway. My pelvis was nothing more than a thick mist now and I laughed—inappropriately, given the situation—at how fitting it was that my penis should turn to smoke.
I was floating around the doorway to Eva’s room when my torso began to fade. What I would’ve given to be curled up on the couch with Idalis. That’s all she wanted, wasn’t it? A break from the loneliness of our separate routines. I wanted to yell it loud enough for her to hear at her mother’s, “I understand and I wanted the same thing. I should’ve told you!” It was no use now.
The last thing I saw was Eva. She was horrible. A decrepit old woman with a garishly painted face and loose flesh. She held the trunk open for me as if it were a door. I thought of my house—our house, mine and Idalis’—the one that was waiting for us in Santo Domingo. A peach colored house with a white iron fence. I walked through the fence, up to the lemon tree growing in the front yard. I was so relieved to know it was still waiting for me.
Glendaliz Camacho studied English literature at Fordham University, and her writing has appeared in DTM Magazine, Miami New Times, The Acentos Review and Whistling Shade, among others. She is also an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) summer workshops. Camacho knits, struggles with speaking Italian and working out when she’s not yelling for someone to please fill the ice cube trays after they use them.
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Tags: affairs, break ups, creepy, relationships, short skirt, spirits