A short story by Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones
The woman was not a sister. A sister is any butterfly in the genus Adelpha. Their dark wings look like the black habits nuns wear. The woman could’ve been that kind of butterfly, but the thought left her as she sat in front of a plate of reheated split-pea soup. Next to her, the hostess’s sister gesticulated wildly as she asked the woman about her car trouble on I-495 earlier that day, and bemoaned the ways luck just sneaks up on you. Then there was silence.
The woman was not the hostess’s friend. A friend is a part of you that bounces off other people’s parts in the Platonic Cave. The hostess had gasped when the woman answered I don’t have any to the question of what are your holiday plans, after a staff meeting. The word ‘staff’ comes from the Old English ‘stæf.’ It can mean a scepter, a flagstaff, a group of officers assisting an officer in command, or the people employed by a particular organization. The woman was not a rod, but she was part of a particular organization; more specifically, an agency that rented out summer homes in winter. She lived in one by herself.
The woman was not a wife. A wife is a married woman considered in relation to her spouse. Synonyms include ‘consort,’ ‘helpmate,’ and ‘partner,’ but these could apply to both genders. An archaic definition of ‘wife’ is simply, ‘a woman, especially an old or uneducated one.’ The woman was not old, but after replacing her tire on I-495, the AAA guy asked why her husband – or boyfriend? – wasn’t there to help. The woman shrugged. She had lived with a boyfriend in a studio apartment in the city. And then she lived with a man who was not a boyfriend. A boyfriend was introduced as a woman’s paramour in 1909. She stayed with that man until the holidays were over that year. It wasn’t so long ago, but it wasn’t recent either.
The woman was not an owner. An owner doesn’t risk losing deposits or think twice about painting a kitchen wall marigold. Marigold is the woman’s favorite color. It brings out the dark in her eyes. Warm colors are those made out of red or yellow, like the sun. The woman sits in a moonwhite kitchen in the mornings.
The woman was not a floriographer. Floriography studies the messages flowers send to people who are afraid to say I love you in English. When the hostess opened the bright red door, mid-dinner, she looked at the lily the woman placed in her hands and gave her an open-mouth smile like an overstatement. Lilies are the flowers of poetry, of churches, and death.
After dinner, everyone but the woman moved to the living room. No one noticed her absence, nor that she opened one of the bottles of red wine that was on the table and took it with her to the covered porch. White Christmas lights peaked out from the tree outside, softly illuminating the stick figure family stickers on the car parked next to hers. A baby, an older brother or sister, a mother, a father, paper thin, touching fingers like angels in old paintings, stuck to a forest green SUV. The woman was not a daughter. A daughter is a nuclide left over from radioactive decay.
The woman had a mother who lived far away, in a small concrete house by a swamp. A mother is the zoogleal mat containing bacteria and yeast in kombucha. The woman’s mother was neither mother nor wife. She was neither when she made the woman, nor when she carried the woman, nor when she had the woman. A mother is a virgin who teaches you to change a tire and boil an egg.
The woman drank on the porch until the hostess asked her to please stay the night in the guest room. It wouldn’t be an imposition at all. They would love to have her. To have is to hold. The woman said, no, no, goodbye, and thank you. She got into her car and cried. She cried and fell asleep, and the people behind the bright red door played Cards Against Humanity.
The woman wasn’t home. A home is a square filed into a circle with a shroud draped over it, to keep the cold out. The woman woke to the sound of a chunk of snow falling on the windshield of her car. She looked at the time and thought she might still beat the morning traffic. She peed into her thermos and drove away from the hostess’s house, up the winding backstreets, away from the sun beginning to rise, to the house she rented.
The woman isn’t an angel. An angel is someone named Michael, touching fingers with other angels stuck to forest green SUVs. SUV stands for ‘sports utility vehicle.’ The woman drives a sports car to a house she doesn’t own. A home is not a house; it’s a circle with a shroud draped over it to keep the cold out. A home is something owned. The hostess owns and is owned. She isn’t the woman’s friend, but she’s someone’s friend, someone’s sister, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s angel, someone’s home. The woman is not someone’s. She’s not a friend, either. She’s neither sister, nor butterfly, nor wife, nor daughter, nor nuclide, nor mother, nor angel. The woman is in the house she doesn’t own, under the roof she doesn’t own. A roof isn’t a shroud, and neither is a body. But a body keeps the cold out. The woman has a scalp, a spine, a breastplate, a pair of hands and feet, a bag of cells with which to move and breathe. A home can move and breathe as long as the woman owns it. From house to house, the home body, moving and breathing back home. It’s enough to keep the cold out.
Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Southampton Review, TINGE, and Muse/A Journal. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, USA. cacevedoquinones.com