HOLLYWOOD—“Please, a gordita I would like,” said Candy with her elaborate English syntax which she distilled with the painstaking deliberation of a child choosing its next step in a mine field.
“In El Salvador we call them pupusas,” said the kid with acne taking her order and, sniffling, rubbed his shiny, pimpled nose
“In Mexico we call them gorditas,” Candy said. An arrogance entered Candy's voice when she mentioned Mexico. “Queso con loroco, please.”
“Sir, for you.” The acned kid turned to Jason.
“Queso con loroco,” Jason mouthed. “What's loroco?”
“It's green stuff.”
“I hope it's not spicy. I can't take spicy.”
In a few moments wafers of fried corn masa swimming in orange grease, filled by watery melted cheese, stared at Jason from a plate not perfectly rinsed. It was unappetizing. Yet nothing in the world tasted so good to him when Jason sank his teeth into the pupusa. It sang to his senses. Having his freedom restored unleashed a sense of joy and rebirth. His culinary taboos went by the wayside. He was spooning out more curtido, Salvadoran slaw, onto his third pupusa when his phone rang.
“I'm coming out next week,” said a dissipated crust of a voice from somewhere in Ohio. It was Mom, calling from an Indian casino and on her third cocktail. Not even the boozy call from mom, announcing her imminent visit to Hollywood, could douse Jason's spirits.
“Candy, I want to say I'm sorry,” Jason said in an excessof smugness. “Sorry for all the times when Kit and I made a lot of noise when you were sleeping. That silly jar holding the knives and forks tipped over in the sink. The quieter I tried to be the more I fumbled.”
Candy looked at him and grinned.
“Worst was the plastic inside the cereal boxes. Crackling crackle,” she laughed. “It sound like somebody trampling a bank of dead leaves. I could never go back to sleep after that.”
They looked at each other and laughed long and loudly.
After the laughter subsided, Candy and Jason sat at a booth staring into the wishing wells of their eyes. Then Jason's eyelids lowered and he took a sudden interest in the detergent-freckled utensils. His face reddened. Candy looked away, averted her eyes. She stood up from the booth, made intimate by thatched partitions on either side of the loudly colored restaurant, bright enough to make a cockatoo stagger. The lights were dim, feebly aided by a splash of anemic out-of-season Christmas lights—a lame gesture at injecting cheer—but all the electricity they were saving accumulated between Candy and Jason. Their fingers touched and they felt a tiny electric snap between them, and they recoiled.
Candy stood up and grabbed her handbag. Jason noticed she never went anywhere without that handbag. She walked purposefully around a glass-fronted fridge, rows of beers neatly arrayed inside. The door to the bathroom closed behind Candy. . .
When she reemerged from the bathroom, a good ten minutes later, oversized black glasses masked her eyes. Jason now swilled from a bottle of Salvadoran beer ordered during Candy's sojourn in the restroom.
“Candy, I thought you had been kidnapped.”
The oversize black glasses curving across a third of her face, from her forehead to her pronounced cheekbones, left her void of expression. Then a drop of water emerged from behind the glossy black expanse and was jarring as a drop of blood on a snowbank.
“Did I say something wrong?” Jason asked.
She sat down and folded her hands primly in front. Candy breathed in deeply.
“Is that where they take the fingerprint?” she pointed to the dark smudges on Jason's coiled fingertips.
“That's where I erase the board when I don't have an eraser, and the black comes off on my hands.” He chuckled to himself, a nervous chuckle. “I can never get the black washed all the way off.”
He saw another tear fall from behind the perimeter of the oversize glasses.
“What's the matter?” Jason asked again.
Candy took off her glasses and the tears poured down. She sobbed, “I don't know if I'll ever be able to love again.”
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