Copyright is held by the author.
WOULD YOU answer a message from your ex, who chopped you out of her life six years ago?
Because I wrote one — even though this is a thing you are never supposed to do.
Would you see the Facebook notification flash — see the face of the girl who left you in Germany, returned your engagement ring, deleted you from Skype — and click on it? Would you read her note — written from across the Atlantic, from a country whose back has been broken since you visited in 2007? Would you — you Raphael Werder, first world chic instead of third world bitter, could you — Raphael — find it in you to read my message?
Really, my begging letter. My “por favor, after all this time, say you will help me” letter.
For me, every moment feels like living in mierda.
I know you don’t want to hear from me. To tell the truth, as I am writing, inside me is shaking. I hope that you can, after all this time, not hate me.
Raph, I don’t know what to do.
The foreign news says Maduro might not last the year. But here, like God, he is the alpha and the omega. He who was and who will be.
We have no food. No toilet paper. Nada.
My aunt almost died because there was no gauze in the hospital.
I’m too ashamed to even put it into words. But could you, even after everything, find a way to help?”
I re-read my message. Sent two months ago. I see the picture of your face beside the writing — ice blue eyes and straight-toothed smile — indicating that it was seen.
I re-read Alejandra’s message. I read it several times a day. It’s an obsession. As if I have to check to make sure it’s still there.
I hoped for this for years. I indulged in fantasies of Alejandra in tears at my door, begging me to take her back. I dreamt of her calling me from an airport in Germany, saying that all she had was two suitcases and an apology.
I looked for Alejandra, in the mouths and between the legs of the legions of women who came after her. She was the standard against which all other women were measured — my point of reference for love. And always, because they were not her, they were not enough.
There was no reason, logically, for me to idealize her. Alejandra and I had been fighting for as long as we’d been making love.
Alejandra’s ferocious ownership — of me, of everything I looked at, everyone I knew — meant that we had roaring fights over nothing.
When I was 19, I’d bought a poster of Jessica Alba in a bikini. Alejandra tore it off my wall. Ripped a line straight from Jessica Alba’s face to her crotch. Asked why I needed to look at another woman when I had her. And I thought, this crazy bitch, I can’t wait to get away.
Only, it was she who got away. Suddenly. In what I thought was a melodramatic sulk but instead stretched to six years of silence.
I sent her cards.
Orange orchids, her favourite.
Letters written with the calligraphy pen I’d bought so I could write to her when we were apart.
I marshalled my best words. “Alejandra — my baby, my only love.”
And then there was my last email. “You fucking bitch. You can’t be serious.”
She doesn’t love me. Just wants to use me. And how can I get her out of Venezuela anyway?
Short of marrying her.
And maybe, maybe, if she had asked me to, I would have flown there. If she had been explicit. If she had written “marry me Raph and take me away from this place, I’ve been dying for six years without you and it was only my vanity that kept me from begging.” I would have played coy. But I would have done it. I would have huffed and puffed and got down on one knee and said finally, fucking finally, I’ve been waiting all my life without you for you to come back.
For better or worse.
For richer or poorer.
But she didn’t. She left it vague. I’m not about to propose marriage to the same woman twice. This is the woman who snatched back her first yes and is only writing to me because she wants to leave Venezuela.
But she has no food. No toilet paper. My Alejandra, who could wolf down a burger and fries and still have room for cheesecake. I cannot imagine her starving. Don’t I have a moral obligation to answer?
Of course not.
Not. Of course not.
Is it just that I don’t want to crawl on my hands and knees back to my first love when she’s making it clear that she still doesn’t love me?
I tell myself it’s not just my pride. It’s Katie. I call her my Mrs. Reliable. Although we’re not married, we may as well be. Almost four years together and acting like we’re 48 instead of 29.
We work our nine to fives. She cooks hot meals. I clean the apartment with vinegar and water because she read it’s better. She irons on Thursday evenings while I sort the recycling.
We make love at least three times a week. She does what I want in bed — once I suggest it of course.
Although what I really want she cannot do, which is to tear my hair and sink her nails into my back and her teeth into my collarbone and beg me to fuck her harder in the almost-sob that was Alejandra’s signature.
Alejandra never cleaned, never cooked. We lay in our sweaty sheets and ate yesterday’s cold takeaway from the box in between sex.
She spent all our money on things we didn’t need. Like gigantic, blown-up photographs that she used to decorate the apartment. Us in the Alps. Alejandra swallowed by her fire-engine red coat with the fox fur fringe that I hated because it used real fur. Us, at 20, in our Cambridge gowns kissing on King’s Parade with the great, gothic spikes of the chapel behind us stretching and stretching through the smoke and midnight clouds.
Alejandra questioned, all the time. “How can you know this is it? — Is this it? — How will we know it won’t get any better?”
I never needed other women. She was my alpha and omega. I was happy, happy, to have only ever been with her. To have lost our virginities together on that bloodied, college single bed. I never needed anyone else to validate us.
Still. There were plenty others after. And. And? And hadn’t I enjoyed it? If she’d never left me, I wouldn’t have had that beer-soaked Oktoberfest with two girls in a Berlin hotel paid for by the hour.
And after my good times, hadn’t I settled right down with someone who wasn’t about to run halfway around the world because I wasn’t enough?
Hadn’t I gotten someone dependable? Someone who told me that I looked dashing (dashing!) in my suit before work instead of asking who the hell I was dressing up for. Someone who didn’t pick at my edges — the times when I drank too much with friends and forgot to text saying I would be late, the times I glanced — for fuck’s sake Alejandra it was just a glance — at another woman.
There is no way I can go back.
And go back to what exactly? It’s been six years. I’m 29. Not some fresh-faced Cambridge grad who thinks the world will roll out the red carpet for me because I have a first class degree and a long time love.
Not some boy who thinks that love and anger are wreathed so that you can’t have one without the other.
There is nothing to go back to.
I see, as if I am watching a movie, Alejandra springing into my chest and burying her nose in the side of my neck because we’ve been apart for two weeks and she missed my smell. I hear her talking in that throbbing alto — she could make anything exciting. The story of a trip to Sainsbury’s was lit up with an averted bicycle crash and the struggle for exact change. And anybody else telling that story would put you to sleep, but Alejandra made it an adventure.
I tell myself to stop. Damn it. Stop.
I walk up the stairs to our apartment. I inhale the smoke and peppercorn char of meat on the stove. Katie’s wearing the apron I bought her with the three ducks on the front.
“Wie geht’s?” she asks.
“Better than your German,” I say. I kiss the freckled tip of her nose. “What’s for dinner?”
“Pork chops. I’m trying them with a garlic peppercorn brine.”
“Do you think you can put the clothes in the basket to wash?”
I put the lights in one pile and the darks in another. There are her pale panties and the white shirts I wear to work in one heap. In the other, my boxers and the navy dress she wore to dinner with my parents.
And I am asking Alejandra’s questions. Is this it? This? Is this it?
So many men would love to come home to pork chops.
Katie and I have saved enough to move out of the city and put a down payment on the two-storey house in Pinneberg with the sprawling backyard that our children (when we have them) can play in. I can build a swing set and we can barbecue in the summer.
I’m not really thinking of hurting her. My Mrs. Reliable.
I’m not really thinking of responding to the Bitch Who Broke My Heart.
It will pass.
It will pass.
Give it time.
So I give it another week.
When Katie is sleeping I look at old pictures. Alejandra and I are on the beach in Margarita. She is straddling a deck chair and I am sitting behind her, both arms fitted in the grooves of her waist. Her head is tilted up to mine and she is kissing me as if she will never taste anything more delicious.
I wonder if I will ever be kissed like that again.
Does buying a house before 30 and marrying Mrs. Reliable mean that a kiss will never heat your hips and curl your toes and fucking make you want to throw the kisser onto the ground and kiss her like she kissed you?
I write to her. On a scrap of paper — the back of a bill.
Who the hell do you think you are? What am I supposed to do?
I’m German. Not God. You can’t make me feel guilty for something that
is not my fault NOT MY FAULT.
Do you want me to send you food? I can send toilet paper. Give me your address and I can send you things.
I’m in love with someone else. I’m in a relationship. I found my Mrs. Right and I can’t jeopardize that.
It took me years to stop reaching for you on the left side of the bed. Years to stop waiting for a message. An email. A letter. Years to even start letting go of that picture of us waking up together every morning. Years before I could even make myself sell the engagement ring. Years. I can’t go back to wishing that every woman would shed her skin and become you.
I’ll send you a package every month. But don’t ever send me another message. Unless it is to tell me that things have gotten better and you want me to stop.
Stop. This is over. It ended six years ago.
I loved you. I love you but”
Why waste words? On something that does not matter anymore. I tear the bill to shreds.
I pace up and down in the kitchen until two in the morning.
Then, I crawl in beside Katie. “Everything all right?”
“Just went to the bathroom.”
The pillow is cold in the winter. Katie throws an arm across my chest. I tell myself, this is it.
I shouldn’t have done it. But I logged onto his computer.
I’ve been trying — I’ve made his favourite foods. I even did two types of steak — tenderloin and T-bone. And he smiled and kissed my hair but he was always looking just behind my back while we ate. When he spoke, I heard his German accent. “Vat vould you like to do this veekend?” It only ever comes through when he is angry or sad.
So I log into his work email. We’ve always been the type of couple to share passwords and bank balances. But there’s just the usual stuff from the office. I check his personal email — some pictures from his dad. A note from a college friend that he answered warmly, if briefly.
I check his Facebook. The usual messages. Me, sending a link to a new pulled pork recipe. Our friends sending a photo of their baby.
And then I see it, sent three and a half months ago.
Alejandra Delgado Torres. That bitch.
I stare at her picture. Her honey-over-toast skin and the hip bones visible through her flimsy white dress. Eyeliner makes her eyes darker and droopier. Her hair fans out in waves of chestnut and bronze.
We have no food. No toilet paper. Nada.
I’m not a vindictive person. But, at that moment, all I can think of is it serves the bitch right.
Who told her to go back there?
This is karma and I’m not usually the type of person to believe in things like karma but this is it.
Because he didn’t answer her.
Irritation buzzes in me as if I swallowed a bee’s nest. He didn’t tell me about the message. But that’s probably because he didn’t want to upset me.
Most importantly, she got nothing from him. Not a single word. Not a moment of his time.
Is there any feeling as sweet as seeing the love of your life ignore his ex?
I put on my walking shoes and run to the store with the imported meats. I break the bank and buy the very best. Japanese rib eye. I’m going to make it so that he comes home to the smells of all his favourite things. In the grocer’s, I buy the red potatoes and purple cabbage he loves.
I feel as if I’m a balloon and need to be anchored to the earth.
Alejandra was a shadow cast over our relationship. The name he always wanted to say. The remembered voice he smiled at in his sleep.
I’d never met her, but I’d heard the tone of his Cambridge friends’ voices when they spoke about her. Nathan Frost after a bottle of wine had once shouted, “Now THAT was a woman” and I’d had to excuse myself to bawl in the bathroom. Because she was Miss Latin Lover. Miss Makes Everything Interesting. I’d heard she moved like liquid when she danced.
But here she was begging. And he hadn’t even said no. He had just ignored . . .
He hadn’t even said no? Hadn’t told her sorry, I’m in love with someone else? Hadn’t said I never want to hear from you again? Hadn’t said piss off you bitch?
Was it because he was leaving himself space to say yes?
To say Alejandra, baby, what took you so long?
To say now YOU are a woman.
He didn’t tell her no?
I bet life isn’t even that bad in Venezuela. I bet she just misses things like Amazon next day deliveries and trains that run on time. I bet she just misses him and thinks that if she sells some sob story about starving to death he’ll fly to Venezuela and sweep her off her feet and bring her back to Germany and propose like she’d never given him his ring back and tell all their friends that THIS is a love story that stands the test of time and laugh about that frumpy girl Katie that he’d wasted years with.
When he comes home the steak is cold and raw. I know I look like I’ve been crying but I don’t care because I have been crying and so what if he knows? “What the fuck is going on with you and Alejandra Delgado?” I ask. The first time I’ve ever even used the f-word in front of him.
He stares at me as if he can’t quite believe what I said, which I suppose he can’t.
There would be days when I would wake up first and just look at him. Blond hair like sand made into strands. The sharp lines of his cheeks and chin contrasted with that swollen red mouth. He is beautiful. Could have been chiselled from marble. Is stunning now, even with his furrowed forehead and the blood roaring though his cheeks, turning him scarlet.
He spreads his hands. As if that is an explanation.
And I make myself.
I make myself ask him.
Although I know the answer and I’ve known it all this time.
And he says “Yes.”
Last night the gangs rode through the barrio on their fat black motorcycles, firing rounds of ammunition into the sky. Because they can. Do they need another reason?
My phone is about to die. We have no electricity to charge it.
I decide to risk checking the messages anyway. Swipe right. Please don’t die.
I feel as if someone has dropped a bowling ball in my stomach. I shake my head but they are still there.
Three messages from Raphael Werder.
“Alejandra, who the hell do you think you are?”
“What am I supposed to do?”