WEDNESDAY: The Day She Remembered Her Own Name


Copyright is held by the author.

SO JUSTICE has been done. Or has it? She’s heard it somewhere, or maybe made it up herself, that the purpose of justice is not universal happiness but the satisfaction of the wronged individual. Yet she feels nothing — no happiness, no satisfaction.

But then, she has never been one to self-analyse. Or maybe she has, but simply has forgotten it like so many other things she has always thought impossible to forget. There are things and situations, of course, one forgets easily: one forgets to pick up umbrellas on the bus or pens and keys left in handbags and pockets. Or irrelevant dates. Jorge, her husband, forgets names, or rather fails to match them with faces. But to forget so much of her past?

It’s been a gradual process as far as she can tell — shadows blotting out memories not all at once but in parts, as if on the instalment plan from a Sanborns catalogue. She’s aware that whole chunks of what used to be are now mislaid and no matter what she does, which isn’t much really, she can’t pry open the airtight door to her past.

Her mind seems honey-combed with missing recollections: happy, sad, indifferent. It is as dry as an orange completely squeezed of all the sweet contents.

She can understand how the tasteless, odourless, achromatic slices of life or those that brought nothing, but grief have been sucked into the whirlpool of oblivion. Mental blocks — she once heard a TV presenter call it in a mid-afternoon talk show. But why has all the joy been wiped out as well? Is it because there has been no happiness at all? Not a drop of it in an existence consisting only of black and grey?

From above she can hear the creak of the floorboards answer the steady pressure of the wheelchair going in circles like in a treadmill. She gets up and fills the kettle with water. The reassuring warmth of tea has a calming effect on her. But it’s more than that. The whisper of puffing steam will drown the squeaks and groans sifting down from the ceiling.

That day in Hospital Español when the doctor’s mild, nothing-is-too-difficult-to-bear voice called her back from her self-induced trance, she blinked rapidly, more surprised at the sound of her name, or what she thought was her name, than at the news.

“Señora García? Señora Rosa María García? “

It took her a moment to realise he was speaking to her. The unfamiliarity of the name jarred. It was as if he were speaking to someone else, to a person looking over her shoulder.

“Mrs. Garcia?”

She slowly extracted her attention from the bog of passivity.

“Yes, I’m Rosa Maria Garcia.” The r’s rolling off her tongue left a bitter taste.

For years, she’d been nothing else but “Licenciado Garcia’s woman”. For her in-laws, she was simply “Jorge’s’ wife”.

Jorge . . . Jorge used a plethora of names that had nothing to do with her own.

“Useless, absolutely useless. Can you do anything right?”

He called her feeble- minded, touched by insanity that ran rampant in her family. That’s why the name, spoken in the soft tones of intimacy, jarred.

“Yes, my name is Rosa Maria Garcia”, she repeated, gnawing at the clusters of sounds.

The doctor’s face adopted the lines of compassion reserved for the bearers of bad news.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Garcia. We couldn’t save your husband’s leg. Had he come a month earlier . . .”

She smiled and a look of incredulity dilated the doctor’s pupils. But the stretching of never exercised smiling muscles was not the outcome of her insensitivity, but of hearing her name spoken aloud. She was not gloating in Jorge’s misfortune. Far from it. She would have never expected it would be Jorge – strong, infallible, and bursting with nearly insolent health who would get sick and get his leg chopped off right up to the hip. The dapper lawyer of high-flying but corrupt Mexican politicians, actors and yes, why not say it, Sinaloa drug lords failed to look after his own damn leg and would, for the rest of his life, be wheelchair-bound.

 “Do you understand what I’m saying? “The doctor asked again.

Aware of his disapproval she wiped off the smile at once.

 “Yes. Yes. I do. You couldn’t save Jorge’s leg.”

Afterwards, things happened with such speed that it gave her no time to file away impressions and thoughts. They brought Jorge home, instructed her on his post-operational care. The wheelchair, shiny and new, began its dizzy rounds in the bedroom upstairs. And she was left alone to cope both with her husband’s unexpected illness and her own muddled emotions.

She looks out of the window onto the undulating garden filled with a promise of spring: green fronds poking out of the still dark soil, the crimson atzcalxochitl, the purple and white dahlias, the speckled tiger flowers, and the sun like a swollen daffodil blooming over the edge of the world.

She hoped for a certain mellowing in Jorge. She thought that the sharp rims of his temper would be toned down by his predicament. But instead, he wore his temper like a badge of merit, took pride in it and, if anything, his blustery impatience grew more pronounced. After all, all his life he had been forced to deal with clients who were used to power and in a matter of seconds could point a gun at his face if challenged. And neither did he expect the fires of rebellion, the tiny but still smouldering vestiges of resilience hiding under the ashes of his wife’s life-long acceptance.

 “How long do I have to wait for you to come up?”

He would holler and shake the bell until his bones rattled.

 “Get that lazy ass of yours up here at once!”

At first, she obeyed. Like a Pavlov’s dog trained to salivate on command, she shuffled up with mugs of tea and platefuls of alegrias and camotes. Emotionless, she watched him eat, mushy spit dribbling down his chin.

“What? What are you staring at?” he growled between the mouthfuls of food.

 “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

A vortex of anger was gathering inside her. The hardly smouldering sparks of rebellion were not extinguished, merely gone into eclipse, waiting to burst into flame. A one-sided grin landed on her lips.

“What are you grinning at, woman? Have you gone completely mad?”

He swallowed hard, the cartilaginous protuberance in his scrawny neck flicking up and down.

She chose not to answer, smug in her knowledge that he had no idea of what was going on in her mind. With a bolt of comprehension, she realised that absolutely at her mercy, Jorge could hurt her no more.

She went on with the punctilious rituals prescribed by the doctor, massaged the pathetic stump of his leg, washed off sweat and dust collecting in the creases of his skin, but she let him wait a little longer each day, withdrawing her presence, ignoring the ugly notes of impatience from the summoning bell. And watching him eat she let the you-don’t-know-what’s-going-on smile linger in the corners of her mouth.

But the newly found independence failed to bring pleasure, just as it failed to bring back the missing chunks of her past. The lost pieces of her existence that would fit into the empty slots did not emerge. Nothing came.

As the kettle whistles, she puts a handful of hierbabuena into a pot and fills it with the boiling water. Soon Jorge’s now timid and beseeching voice will call from upstairs.

It rained in the morning and the little hill crouching behind the house exhales steamy clouds of evaporating moisture. She hates the city and the house with the tiny hill and longs for the sea of her childhood surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur: choppy waves splintered into a myriad of holograms by the setting sun and boats ploughing the furious swell as young, tanned Acapulco divers pirouetted into the water.

Her childhood . . . rays of warmth burst into her mind and smudges of colour blossom on her cheeks. The memory, a distant spot in her thinking like an inkblot on paper, invades her. She remembers tiny snatches of her past. The village, perched on rocky slopes, with houses clinging to their spines. And the people — simple people who ate simple food and enjoyed simple things: rainbows for their announcing of good weather and night for bringing a well-deserved rest.

She is enjoying the unexpected excursion into her past like she has not enjoyed anything for a long time. Silhouettes come out of the fog. Her mother bent over the table kneading dough for chalupas. Nora, her sister, waving from the train window, the handkerchief white, trimmed with lace going away to service to the far, far away Texas. And Jorge — dressed in his finery, without the daunting promise of things to come, pushing the door open, and calling her, saying her name. And she — smooth-faced, untouched by age and adversity.

Jorge, one of the Acapulco tourists, the best dancer she had ever seen, invited her to the Sunday dance. His arms around her, keeping a proper distance warned, of course, by Father Grande’s vigilant eyes. They danced, it seemed, forever to the sibilant voice of Percy Sledge’s “When a man loves a woman”.

Where had they gone wrong? How did it all happen?

Jorge proposed that same summer before going back to Mexico City and his law studies. His shaking hand clutched hers as if his life depended on it. She remembers his manly scent of the Varon Dandy cologne, his face angled towards her. He said he’d make her happy but that he preferred the old ways, the good ways, the tried ways he could trust and rely on, she’d have to give up her emancipated ways and the job at the Acapulco Post Office. And her dreams of becoming a nurse.

So she did. She put on hold assorted ambitions and followed him to this city full of smog and swarms of unfriendly people. And she accepted his ways.

Soon after, things started to turn sour. Silences, prolonged and wounding, lurked in the corners of the house. They wanted children, the stay and prop of old age, but none came. She grieved quietly but blame began to seep into Jorge’s voice when they settled on the sofa in front of the TV in a drowsy conversation before bedding down. She answered in a hesitant, bird-like voice. He responded with slaps. Gentle at first, more like love bites meant to bring no pain or damage but awakening.

“You get the worst out of me,” he accused and withdrew into a deeper silence.

She persisted, trying to be the tender wife he wanted her to be. She trailed after him from room to room, begging for an explanation, for a touch other than the slaps. Unwillingly he admitted that a part of him was missing, blamed his childhood and adolescence for the violence, the echo of family combats neither distance nor time could put to rest.

With time, the tenderness he demanded turned into acceptance. She stopped trying to understand the world in which, against her wishes, she was immersed.

And gradually the process of forgetting began. Her past, snatches of happiness and stretches of grief sank into oblivion. Until nothing but a husk remained. She became “Jorge Garcia’s woman”. And lacking the determination, the will to preserve her identity, she put as much distance as possible between herself and the dangerous mental processes called remembering.

The wheelchair above begins its routine rotation. She pushes aside the nostalgic musings and reaches for two mugs heaping sugar into Jorge’s daisy-patterned one, squirting milk into the other and places the two on a tray. Balancing carefully, she trudges up the stairs towards the squeak of the wheels, towards Jorge.

As she opens the door, she sees her husband sitting hunched in the chair, the swollen flesh under his eyes moist. Looking at him now, the bitter sediment of revenge in her mouth is gone, replaced by the sweet taste of recovered recollections.


Image of J. B. Polk, wering glasses and bright pink lipstick, in a car.

J.B., Polish by birth, is a citizen of the world by choice. J. B.’s first story was short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland 1996. She regularly contributes to Women’s Quality Fiction, Books Ireland, and IncoGnito. She is also the co-founder of  Virginia House Writers, Dublin, and helped establish the OKI Literary Awards.  Her creative writing was interrupted when she moved to Latin America, started contributing to magazines and newspapers, and then wrote textbooks for Latin American Ministries of Education. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, 56 of her stories have been accepted for publication.

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