In the midst of his divorce, Mel’s first instincts led him to women who somehow replicated his first wife’s Italian features — her olive rich color, her deep voice, her sensuality, even if “errant.” Early along his road to recovery, he hit on Lisa Serrano, a perky Italian American divorcee roughly his age who had taken a course with him some years before and now was working for a colleague just down the hall. Much lighter-skinned than his wife, who looked more Calabrese than Abruzese, she nevertheless had that southern exuberance mixed with an eastern U.S. urban streetwise air that was all too uncommon in the border zone. He especially admired her pouting lips, her vixen-like eyes, and her ample breasts. The pair seemed to click on their first date listening to one set of music from the group his friend Dwayne played with on the Shelter Island turnoff to Point Loma; and then, waving at Dwayne, he steered her out the door, and without hesitating took her back to his house.
“So this is it,” she said, with some cynicism, “an hour of music, and now you want it all.” “Well, it’s not like we just met,” he explained as he turned off the motor, “I’ve wanted this to happen for a long time, and I was hoping you did too. But if you don’t want to…” Suddenly she leaned over and kissed him, parting his lips with her tongue; then before you knew it, they were embracing and he was running his hands up and down her body, touching her fine breasts only slightly, casually as if inadvertently passing, as he teased her into deep breathing, as his cupped her breast now insistently and then passed his hand between her panty-hosed legs till his sensed her clitoris under his hand, and her breathing turn to moan and gasp, until they struggled to separate enough to get out of the car into the house, into his room and onto his bed. There he continued to stroke her, rubbing his hand fingers more and more frequently against her crotch and all, till she helped him shed her bra and then the black pantyhose which seemed to almost strangle him until, throwing them aside, he buried his head in between her legs, and gave her the oral loving his exwife had never allowed him to undertake. It was delicious, mouthing her nub, making her sigh and moan and laugh — yes she began to laugh in a kind of crazy ecstasy, even trying to escape his tongue and mouth until she could stand it no longer and actually came blasting and almost screaming, as she had one of the most complete and noisiest orgasms he had ever had to honor to witness in person.
Later, he drove her home, and said he’d have a wonderful time and she said she did too and sighed ever so slightly before making a kind of bland but remembering repeat or maybe quote of the little laugh he had heard earlier. He found the laugh sexy, encouraging — a world of passion seemed to speak through that strange laugh. He promised he would call again and left in awe of their evening, and wondering where, from what low part of Palermo, Catania or Naples — or Hell’s Kitchen in New York —that crazy little laugh had come.
And so it came to pass that they began seeing each other a few times a week, going out to eat, going to movies and usually spending some small but very happy time making love together. He got to know her two children and found them as sweet and beautiful as can be. He took them to the park and to the beach, and it even seemed that a new little family was forming. The couple talked of their past marriages, their sense of betrayal, their hopes for better in life, and they even began to project a little bit the possibility of a life together. The summer coming, he probed her clitoris through her jeans first with fingers and then his mouth, as her kids slept in the next room, actually coming himself as he felt her tremble in orgasm. And sure enough, that very evening, their passion subsiding, he felt her reaching back and blurting out a small version of her laugh, and he suddenly realized it was her little way of registering pleasure and small life triumph to herself and the wider world — in this case him. He waited for the blare to subside and then, though he felt a pang of doubt, he bit the bullet and asked if she might want to go on a trip to Mexico with him, to visit a few key places and see how things might go between them. She was very pleased and kissed him, but wondered if she could get her mother to care of the kids for a decent stretch of time.
Sure enough, the arrangements were made and he booked their flight to Mazatlan, Guadalajara, Acapulco and a few places in between. What he didn’t tell her is that he had arranged the trip so he could visit many of the key places he had gone with his wife, with his overt, conscious intention of thereby obliterating their connection with his lost love and opening the door to a woman like Lisa. And yet some part of him continued to doubt the relation — and that part somehow focused on her laugh. It had some bray mixed in it, coming from some reservoir of decaying donkey; it then seemed also overlaid by a kind of anticipated or actually fulfilled lust, as if shading from bray into something deeper, at once more profound and guttural ranging down the scale from hyena to coyote or god knows what. Mel couldn’t quite characterize it, but he knew the laugh was even possible in a moment of failure — a bitter version expressing some degree of pained deprivation or frustration, echoing the success shout but now as a sign of failure, regret and maybe resentment. In its smaller, more limited expression the laugh annoyed him, pricked him — its enunciation made him wince and wait for it to pass. But in its larger full-blown versions or variants (for it was never quite the same), whether positive or negative, it unhinged him, undermined his own sense of happiness and anticipation and made him wish he were miles away from the woman who otherwise (and perhaps in inverse proportion) seemed to attract him and be so right for him.
The first day of their trip came, as a friend dropped them at the border and they took a cab to the Tijuana airport and flew south to Mazatlan. They spent two days on the beach sunning, flirting and petting, retreating frequently to their room to consummate their spiraling passion. Then they flew to Guadalajara, went to a bull fight, a cock fight, the Patio Tapatio, inflaming their senses with tequila and a little marihuana, making love time and again in an air-conditionless and windowless room of the Hotel Morales, which he had visited and suffered with his first wife and, as in a nightmare, had now once again chosen to experience with the same suffocating results. Then in the middle of the night, she had her fullest orgasm, laughed her enigmatic and enormous laugh and fell to sleep, awakening seconds later, covered with sweat and now saying, “Why don’t we leave? Why don’t we just take a bus someplace?” The laugh and suggestion irked him, but he said, “Yes, why not?” And suddenly their intimacy disturbed him; and he realized she was right, it was best to go. They got up, packed, showered and left for the bus depot taking the first deluxe bus heading through Zamora and on to Guanajuato.
They were exhausted when they arrived and decided to nap before they explored the beautiful town, one of his favorite places in all of Mexico. But once in bed, he found her on him, aggressing him, wanting to take him as fully as he had taken her so many times before. And strangely as he lay on his back and she mounted him so completely, he heard a laugh issuing from his own mouth that somehow, inexplicably combined his own normal (and probably not so attractive) laugh with one that uncannily and quite involuntarily sounded like hers. Suddenly he lost his erection and stranded his lady on a staff that turned to puree. But desperate for her pleasure she draw away only to mount his leg, rubbing her clitoris against it, roughing him up to meet her not easily satisfied needs, until, not finding all she wanted in this, she finally lifted her body and planted her clitoris right on his mouth, until, perhaps more fully than with penetration, she approached the climax she had sought and desperately needed, and, now, reaching it, began to laugh that laugh which soon turned into a hymn of great triumph and lust in which, as much as he abhorred its occurrence, he now found himself joining all too fully.
Now lying in bed with her, he found that her body that he had thought so pleasingly voluptuous — or softig, in the picturesque language of his people — was rather fat; her short and shapely legs began to look fat; the penciled in moon-shaped curve of her eyebrow, the over-gunked curve of her lashes, her over-reddish brown hair and above all her over-light skin, too far from the olive complexion of his beautiful if awful first wife — almost everything about her seemed wrong. No physical beauty himself, bald and overweight, with legs that narrowed from his enormous calves to his skinny lower joints, he mourned his having fallen in with a woman who was too far from his image of beauty, who topped all her defects off with a horrendous laugh and who now was infecting him with the same unbearable sound that might follow him all the rest of his days and his nights.
Of course he said nothing; but as they dressed and walked out on to the beautiful central square they had seen from their window, he found his eyes wandering toward the beautiful young women who circled the plaza while the men circled in the opposite direction, Mel wishing he were one of those young men instead of the shabby and forelorn Jewish intellectual without religion or deep roots that he was and that one or maybe more of these beautiful women, and not this pathetic, inferior version of his Italian dreams, could be his. By the time he reached Acapulco, he realized he’d be happy bedding with any number of Mexican prostitutes rather than with Lisa, who seemed to almost love him and care for him and for whom he felt only a growing sense of antipathy. He could not explain it, he seemed powerless against the magnetic pull of these Mexican women who so excited him and who (he was told, and the prostitutes excepted — or perhaps not), were so difficult to win over.
He tried not to let on his true feelings, acting toward Lisa as if nothing had changed. And yet she must have felt something. There was that terrible moment when she turned to him in a clear gesture toward the bed, and he rebuffed her, saying they had so little time and they should explore the city and its beaches. How different it all was from his first date, where he’d practically ripped off her panty hose and tongued and mouthed her till he thought he’d die and she with him; how different from all the times when he explored oral and once even anal passages with Lisa, doing all he had never been able to do with his sex-crazed but highly specialized and selective first wife, until Lisa became almost a sex slave, swooning as she pressed his hand or tongue toward her craving clit. But here he was, now not wanting her, friendly but not inspired and indeed totally turned off when out of her growing nervousness (the best symptom that she was aware of something) she or he made some comment that sent her rocking with the laugh which now sounded hideous and that, now when that laugh had come to shape his own, made him wish she did not exist in his world so that he would be free to speak a new language and pursue the women who now haunted his every waking and sleeping hour. There was nothing he could do about it; he just went through his paces, was amicable until their arrival back in San Diego; and then, feeling a tremendous sense of relief as he dropped off at her home, kissing her tenderly (he sensed it would be their last) and made his way home. He didn’t call her for several days, and then when she did call and asked about his silence, he was at a loss to say anything. “What’s with you?” she asked. “We had such a great time, and now you’re so distant.” “I don’t know,” he said, “I guess I was overwhelmed with all the work that had piled up and then, I guess I felt empty and not wanting to talk to any one.” When she persisted, he claimed that he was feeling the’ effects of his divorce, that he was strangely missing his wife, that getting close to her had made him all the more entangled with the memory of Marlena, that he simply couldn’t seem to give her up in memory. “Maybe it’s because I’m Italian,” she offered out of her bewilderment.” “No,” he said, perhaps lying. “Well, maybe it’s my laughter,” she said, shocking him, because he had never mentioned a thing. “What do you mean?” “I don’t know, but my first husband complained about it, said he hated it especially after I came, as if he couldn’t stand my womanly pleasure.” “Maybe that’s it,” he said to himself even as he denied this as a reason. For what could be farther from the truth? At least consciously, he glowed with her sexual pleasure even if he didn’t like the sound of laughter which all too often accompanied it. And could it be that his first wife had indeed spoiled him for the joy of a woman’s healthy and life-affirming orgasm? Could it be that he simply could not endure her blantant expression of sexuality?
“Funny,” said Lisa, suddenly sullen with the loss of her illusion of growing love, “You have your own little laugh,” she said, “in case you didn’t know. I didn’t notice it at first, but then I did, and it began to sound more and more like mine — as if you were making fun of me or becoming too much like me. I wanted to ask you about it, but I guess I felt I couldn’t broach the subject.” And indeed he recalled how he had come to the point when in hearing her own laugh in his, he seemed to lose all his desire and sought some way to shake her influence. But he, even more than she, had remained silent and somehow they’d lost even their tiny thread of communication. And now there seemed to be no way to repair the thread, which was becoming a shred, especially since he longer had any wish to repair it. And now too, as he all but confirmed this state of paralysis by the longest of telephone pauses, she said , “Well, if this silence is where we are, and if you don’t think you can talk or want to see me, I guess I can wait a while to see if it’s a passing thing, but don’t wait too long. I’m not that young, I know what I want, and I’m not going to sit pining for you forever.” “Yes,” he said, he understood, yes, he wouldn’t wait too long, yes, he’d be calling her soon, and yes he’d had a wonderful, memorable time with her, and he didn’t want to lose her from his life. He said all this consciously lying about everything and without any intention of calling back this woman who, perhaps of all the women in his life up to that point, had shown more love for him and more fascination with him than had any other.
A few months after his conversation with Lisa, as he continued an all but pre-doomed campaign to latch on to a Mexican woman like those he saw in the plaza of Guanajuato, (or whatever he could garner in his border world), he caught up with a former student of his who told him, to his surprise and dismay, “You know I’m dating your ex-girlfriend — Lisa Serrano, We’re really hitting it off, and she told me about you and how you dropped her like a potato pancake. She says she felt real bad, but that she’s ok now and happy with me. I think we’re heading toward marriage, and I just thought you should know.” “Thanks,” he said, and wished them both well.
Actually he took the news to heart, and before the young man could go his own way, Mel just couldn’t resist. “By the way does she still have a kinda crazy laugh that, well, it’s really unique…” “Oh yes,” said the friend. ‘It’s a great life-affirming laugh. In fact that’s what led me to push her about her relationship with you, because, I swear, the only other laugh I know that’s anything like it is yours.” “Really?” Mel questioned. “I thought I was getting it from her.” “Well, maybe she had it on her own, but it’s kind of like the laugh I always associate with you from your earliest teaching days when sometimes you even seemed happy. I guess you made a big impression on her, because that laugh’s become more and more a part of her and gotten bigger, I think, since you and she dated. It’s one of the things about her I most love.”
Marc Zimmerman is author of U.S. Latino Literature (1992), Defending their own in the Cold: the Cultural Turns of U.S. Puerto Ricans (2011); he has edited volumes on Latin American/Latino transnational processes, Latinos in U.S. cities and Chicano art in Mexican Chicago. He is currently developing essays on Chicago Latino writers and artists, as well as stories on his Latino and Latin American experiences.