October 6, 2000


THE RAINBOW CHRONICLES

Chapter XVII

By Jeannine Diego

(Due to error in electronic transmission, last week's version of chapter 17 was incorrect. We are running the correct version this week for chapter 17.)

Despite the thorns still embedded in Sal's ego from their last meeting, and despite himself, he was looking forward to seeing Geri. She didn't used to be that critical, he thought, looking out onto his garden. The orange tree came into view, abundant but somewhat lopsided. Sal wondered when it had acquired this asymmetrical posture. The sea grape next to it had matured into a serpent-like organism, unable to uphold its own weight, twisting onto itself and settling its few huge leaves on the ground. The assemblage of foliage, branches and fortuitous crops, all seemed foreign to Sal. He could recall planting each one. He could even remember what they had looked like before. Now, unencumbered by Sal's grooming and prodding that had waned through the years, each had developed into a sovereign entity, growing wild and unfettered, fighting to coexist in spite of the kinship imposed by human aesthetic.

Sal wondered if Lauren would also seem unfamiliar to him now. He wondered if she kept her dark, thin hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, perfectly poised at the very center of her head, mimicking her own mother's emblematic and unchanging hairstyle. Their shared ability to affix the ponytail with such exactitude, without the aid of a mirror, had always amazed Sal. He wondered if Lauren still fought with the idea of showering in the morning, always preferring to take hour-long baths in the evening, then scurrying off to her bedroom, heedfully burying herself and the phone in the pillow and talking till all hours. Inevitably, Sal would wake up in the middle of the night, to the sound of her unhindered giggle-chat-chat-giggle. He'd still lay in bed for a few minutes, postponing his nightly ritual of reprimands and forewarnings, enjoying the reverberation of her voice through the wall that separated their rooms. It was the only time of day when Sal could glimpse in on his daughter's world, from which he felt so excluded. The sound of her laughter, of her inflections, was auditory proof that the blithe and complacent Lauren she had once been still existed, the one beneath the layers of resentment and hostility, the one that would surface only in his absence.

The ringing of the phone scared Sal's thoughts away and brought him to.

"Hello?… Hi, Geri… Good. Are you in San Diego?… Yeah, I know… We can watch it here, if you… Okay… No, not yet. I was waiting for you to get back. No, just kidding. It arrived just today… Yeah, I have… Okay… See you…Oh, wait! Olives. You can bring the olives… See you in a bit."

Sal left the front door slightly open and headed toward the bedroom to arrange some pillows on the floor in front of the bed.

"Hi."

Sal turned to see Geri standing under the frame of the doorway, arms crossed over her chest and smiling. She was a sight for sore eyes.

"You look tan," said Sal.

"Yeah?"

"Hard work over at UCLA, huh? Looks to me like you're not having such a bad time."

"Nope."

"Don't start getting any ideas, now. You wouldn't be considering moving out there."

"Why not?"

Sal's truth had gotten confused with his jest just enough so that he had no response.

"Just kidding," said Geri, walking over toward her usual spot in font of the TV.

Sal returned a smile and sat next to her, pressing PLAY on the remote. They sat in silence as Sal tried to act as unsuspecting as he could with regard to what they saw. Sal had cheated, but he wasn't about to admit it. He'd already watched the new video, just in case. He'd have to be prepared, he'd figured. Much to his relief, it had seemed quite harmless. The short film had depicted a young, jovial blond woman, sitting in a room surrounded by piñatas, explaining that it was her birthday, and that she was planning a celebration in her hotel. She'd said something about being surrounded by strangers and the situation in the hotel being tense. A Mexican band had then entered the frame, playing what Sal assumed was "happy birthday." They continued playing as the woman stood and walked out of the room, followed by the musicians and some others. The shot that followed had portrayed the woman blowing out the candles from the cake resting on a table in front of her. An upsurge of claps had come forth from unidentifiable sources, bringing the segment to an end, and making way for the introduction for the "next visitor," a person by the name of Joris. A text explaining who this person was scrolled upward on the screen, superimposed upon a strange image of human figures standing on the branches of a gigantic tree, chirping like birds. Weird though innocuous, Sal had deduced.

"So," he announced, "what'd you think?"

"I don't know, really."

"No theories today?"

"Very funny."

"Just kidding, just kidding. I don't know. I mean, I can't figure out what they're trying to say. Here's this woman, celebrating her birthday, saying all sorts of things, insinuating but not telling. Why all the mystery?"

"There's always a mystery lingering in everything."

"Everything?"

"Everything."

"What's your mystery?"

"I said mystery, not secret."

"Aha. Okay, so what's your secret?"

"How about we don't focus on me anymore? Let's focus on someone else… say… Mohandes, for example."

"Oh, good. I thought you were about to suggest we focus on me."

"No, we did that last month."

"Right. I'd almost forgotten," retorted Sal, sarcastically.

Sal grabbed the postcards from a chair next to the bed, and flipped through them in search of the last one they'd read together. This time, he hadn't cheated.

"Here, let me," asked Geri, reaching for the stack.

Sal relinquished the postcards and leaned back comfortably on the bedside.

"Okay," said Geri, "we left off with Mohandes back in Rome, right? He's got some fabulous plan involving Mexico, the Bahamas and God knows what else. Okay, so, this one… here we go… September fourth. Look! It's Mexico!," she exclaimed, holding up the postcard, " He made it that far. Oh, I've been here, on this street. It looks like the Champs d'Elysees…"

"What does the card say?"

"Alright, alright… let's see… Dear Sarita… I am in Mexico. It is a very big city. I am going to Bahamas in a few days. Milan was very difficult to leave. The woman I told you about found out that I was leaving. She made me go to a party on the same day that my train was leaving. She said she would tell the police if I left. I escaped from the window in the bathroom of the bar where the party was. I ran all the way from there to the train station. I almost miss the train, but I jumped. I am very happy to be away from her. I think that now she told the police but it is fine because I am here. I write again from Bahamas. Love, Mohandes. Wow. How about that? I can't believe this guy's travesty, I mean…"

Sal had long since lost track of Mohandes' story. He was too busy focusing on Geri's face, on her movements, on the sound of her voice, now more of a soft, uninterrupted melody than fragmented words. The sudden impulse that permeated Sal's being was uncontrollable. Reason was trapped somewhere in the jail cell guarded by his emotions. He leaned over and planted a soft kiss on Geri's cheek.

 

…to be continued…

 

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rainbow Chronicles is a sponsored project of inSITE2000, a non-profit arts organization operating in both San Diego and Tijuana. The Chronicles will be published in La Prensa San Diego for 19 weeks. For information on the project visit www.insite2000.org.)

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