by M. Thomas
Loose Maria was a whore, and she lived on Blue Cat Way. She had inherited her house and her profession from her mother and her grandmother. The house was once surrounded by land, and darker people than Loose Maria had once picked cotton out of the dirt of what were now Acre Boulevard and Whitney Street and the 7-Eleven with the topless bar next to it. When the dark people moved out, Loose Maria’s grandmother moved in and set up shop. At first the men came to her on horseback from an hour away. Over the years they moved closer, and their sons came to see Loose Maria’s mother from only half an hour away.
The house still did not have a toilet, or running water. When the city came and told Loose Maria she had to have those things she shook her head and stamped her foot and hired a lawyer with the money her grandmother had left under the floorboards all those years ago. When that didn’t work, she hired another lawyer with the money her mother sewed into the seams of the heavy lace curtains to hide it from thieves. When that didn’t work, Loose Maria hired another lawyer with her own money and at last the city gave up.
When Loose Maria turned thirty she began to be bothered by the neighbors who had snuck up without her really noticing, until the shoulders of their fences bore the weight of the branches of her pecan trees. They were bothered by her chickens, and by the stench from her outhouse, they said. Loose Maria snapped back that she was bothered by the noise of their children and the stink of their cars. It became so bad that she couldn’t go out to pick the rough-skinned green beans from her garden without someone yelling at her. But Maria could give as good as she got, because she had a talent for hard words, as all her clients knew. For most of them, that was why they came.
It wasn’t really Maria’s fault she was no good with soft words. She never heard them from her mother, before the woman died. She rarely heard them from her customers. Besides that, she had a sharp mind and a sharper eye that saw all the small, veiled nastiness behind smiles, the harsh words they saved up for their children, their spouses, their mothers and fathers, and she didn’t like it.
“Go home,” she’d say to someone who wished her good-morning. “What are you talking to me for? Go home and be angry with your children some more, and tell them how stupid they are. Go home and nag your husband about where he takes off his socks. Go home and tell your wife the dinner’s no good. What are you talking to me for?”
It wasn’t only the small lies that made Maria’s tongue wicked. It was more than that. Loose Maria had been born with a pointed tongue; not because she was evil, but because that was the way it came out. Kind words that rolled off the tongues of kinder people were difficult for her, because her tongue wasn’t shaped right for them. Sometimes the tip of it even got caught between the egg-pale platters of her teeth. And her saliva was bitter too. Her customers never kissed her. There was something in her spit that made it sting if it fell on them, sometimes leaving a red, painful patch of skin. So she was never kissed, and never really loved, and she could see small lies, and some would have said Loose Maria was a woman cursed.
Then, when she was forty and only old men came to see her out of a sense of obligation, she met Allejandro.
Allejandro told people he was sixty-two, although in the place he came from they didn’t mark birthdays, only days of death. He once had a farm, growing yucca and smoky blue agave that yielded tequila so clear and pure people in the United States paid $150 for a sip, or so he was told by his buyers. When the farm bored him he took his money and went to the United States, to see for himself this place where people paid so much money for a sip of tequila. He didn’t mind it there, so he stayed. After cleaning banks and fixing cars and trimming trees, he decided to settle down and bought a small cold-chest on wheels. He put bells on it, filled it with cheap ice-cream in sticky paper wrappers with splintery wooden spoons, then walked up and down the streets all day, ringing the bells on the handle with his thumbs. Some days children came running. Some days he just walked around, having a look at things, stopping in at the corner garage to trade ice-cream for shade from the sun for an hour.
The first day she met him, Allejandro stopped at the end of Loose Maria’s gravel drive to eye her sitting on the porch, fanning the sweat on her wrinkled chest and neck with a newspaper ad.
“Hey, Loose Maria! I heard about you!” He wiped his sweaty palms on his baggy trousers.
“You haven’t heard nothing, you old fag!” she yelled back, then closed her eyes and put her head back against the chair.
Allejandro grinned and walked on, ringing his ice-cream bells.
The next time he saw her on the porch he said, “Hey, Loose Maria! You want an ice-cream? I got vaneeya.” The way he said it made her tongue sticky.
But Maria said, “Why I want ice-cream from an old man whose carajo is like a dried-up worm?”
Allejandro grinned and walked on, ringing his ice-cream bells.
He came back many times. It was only July, and the summer would go on through October. Every time he came, he would say something to Loose Maria. Every time, she had something to say back.
“Hey, Loose Maria! How you been?”
“Take your piss-ice somewhere else!”
“Hey, Loose Maria! You look nice. The sweat shines on you!”
“You can eat my concha.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t bring my wallet today!”
By the middle of September, Allejandro decided they had talked enough.
“Hey, Maria! You want to marry me?” Madeee-ya, he said, as if she were some exotic island.
Instead of answering Loose Maria got up out of her chair, and went in the house. Allejandro parked his cart by the porch, and followed her in.
They were married. Loose Maria quit her day-job and lived off her savings, and Allejandro moved in. He kept his ice-cream cart, and went out every day until he was eighty, ringing the bells. Clang-chank.
Loose Maria’s neighbors, who were mostly young and didn’t know much about things, said they couldn’t believe how those two could be married. Never did they hear a kind word drifting out of the torn window-screens of Loose Maria’s house. When she stood on the porch in the mornings to see him off she would say, “You may as well not come back. If I wanted something to lie in my bed and do nothing, I’d get a dog.”
Allejandro would wave and grin and say, “Okay! G’bye Maria! Blow me a kiss!”
Loose Maria would stick her finger up at him, then let the screen-door slam shut behind her.
But he always came back. And she always let him in.
On Halloween, Allejandro dressed up like a matador and handed out candy, and Loose Maria told him he was an idiot. On Christmas, Allejandro put up a tattered string of blinking lights around the door, and Loose Maria told him they looked stupid. On Valentine’s Day the neighbors saw him come home with a bouquet of expensive roses, and some chocolate candies. Actually, that day, they didn’t hear Loose Maria say anything at all.
They both got old. Allejandro’s journey around the neighborhood seemed to take longer and longer. His bells changed. Now they went clang…chank. Clang…
His eyes got foggy, and his cheeks sank in. Loose Maria’s skin sagged, her breasts hung down under her blouse, and her hair thinned. She dyed it black, then forgot to keep re-dying it, until the white roots showed.
Still, every day, Allejandro would take out his cart and wave from the end of the drive and say, “G’bye Maria, with the stars in her eyes! Blow me a kiss!”
Loose Maria would give him the finger and go inside.
Until one day when he didn’t get up from the bed. Loose Maria thought he was just sleeping in, so she shuffled off to the pump in the backyard, washed her face, peed in the outhouse, and fed the chickens. Then she went back inside. Allejandro was staring at the ceiling.
“Hey, Maria,” he murmured. “I think I’m gonna die today.”
“Oh, get up you lazy shit.”
“No really, Maria. I think I’m gonna die.”
Loose Maria stared at him, then came around the bed and sat down in a chair by the window.
“Well,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. He moved his head a little. “Hey, Maria. Tell me something. All this time we been married, you never once kissed me. Why that is?”
“Kiss that breath, like a dog licked itself? Kiss those lips, like old fish?”
“Okay,” he said, looking up. He wasn’t really seeing much now.
Maria stood up, and knotted her hands in her skirt. “You want to know so bad? You see this mouth? It’s always been poison. Everyone said so. My mother said ‘Maria that’s an evil tongue you got, and the devil got hold of you in my stomach, I think.’ That’s what she said.”
“Okay,” Allejandro whispered.
She sat back down in her chair.
“Hey, Maria. Hold my hand, okay?”
She took it in her own, and patted it roughly. “You’re being stupid.”
“Give me a kiss, Maria,” he whispered.
“It’s bitter. It stings,” she said.
“Give me a kiss, Maria. All this time you never kissed me. I’m dying Maria. Give me a kiss.”
Shaking her head at his foolishness, she kissed him on his old, dried-apple lips.
His rheumy eyes narrowed. “Ah, Maria. You want to know something? It’s like honey.”
Then, because her spit was poison, he went to sleep and never woke up. When the city people came to take him away she was sitting by the bed, stroking his bony hand and calling him horrible names. Little by little the tears came out of her hard eyes and dripped into her mouth, catching on the pointed end of her tongue. From that day on, Loose Maria never spoke another word. Because the evil ones tasted like tears, and the kind ones tasted like honey, and she didn’t like the flavor of either.
M. Thomas is a teacher and writer in Austin, Texas. She writes primarily humorous fantasy using her one-eyed cat, her students, and her neighborhood goings-on for inspiration in her stories.
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