A short story by Ricardo Córdova
The Sound of Her Laughter
Under the Water Fall
We were sharing a forty under the 18th station, the pigeons were staring us down as if they were getting ready to make their move. I still had the keys to my old apartment so I asked her if she wanted to go. She handed me the bottle and looked up at the sky through the train tracks. My lips touched the rim, I could taste the apple lip gloss right before I chugged. The beer was flat and warm, it tasted like a stream of hot piss running down my throat. As we started walking, I offered to carry her because her sandals were thin and worn; her feet must have been burning on the pavement. She looked into the distance and shook her head no, her sunglasses fell from her tiny head. We stopped at the liquor store to get a bottle of vodka and a bag of ice. It was beautiful how we walked through the aisles of the bodega, throwing things at each other, playing like children. The old man behind the counter yelled at us and we picked everything up. The sun was finally going down and the sky changed from blue to a gushing blaze of reds and oranges, as if god had finally given into the guilt and committed hara-kiri.
The kids in the neighborhood had opened the water pump. She took off her sandals and ran into the water with the rest of them. I stayed behind and watched her, enchanted by her joy. She had a smile that could restore any broken man’s faith in humanity, a smile I hadn’t seen in weeks. She was jumping, yelling, splashing water on the kids as they chased her around the pump. Lately she had a worried look on her face, like she was always in deep thought, as if she were mere moments away from breaking into tears. It was obvious something was hurting her but it couldn’t have been me. We never fought or went deep enough to hurt each other like that.
The door to my old building was broken and gave way with a light push. We walked up the stairs slowly so as to not make any noise. She walked in front of me like a pale ghost floating up the stairs. Her wet clothes pressed against her skin, she was so skinny, frail. She must’ve read my mind because she turned around sharply, then I looked away and walked past her. When I opened the door it was like opening the door to an oven. We opened up the windows and let it air out. My mattress was still there, so was an old dresser next to it and a radio. I knew that the landlord kept it vacant and used it to escape from his family. I sat back on the mattress against the window and watched as she wrung out her clothes in the bathroom sink. Her body was weak; she could have snapped in half any minute. But still, there was something pure and innocent, something untouched about her.
We had been on the street all day, it felt good to be indoors, peaceful. It had been raining earlier in the morning when we met up. We took the bus to Michigan Ave. We got tipsy on our way downtown. The heat and the rain made it feel like we stepped outside of the bus and into a steam bath. Our arms were locked together as we ventured into civilization; we were so out of place. There was a hole on the bottom of my right shoe, after a few minutes of walking my foot was soaking wet. Every time I took a step there was a loud squishy sound which she pretended not to notice. We took applications from every restaurant and cafe we could find, every business we came across. We walked all day until we were drooping with exhaustion. I called my sister from a pay phone and told her I had submitted a bunch of applications with her number, and to keep an ear out for a message...
She hung her clothes on the bathroom door and she threw her naked body on top of me. We both hadn’t showered in days. I turned the radio on, the station was playing 1930’s era jazz. I could see her beautiful eyes perfectly under the faint light of the lamp. I told her I had just gotten my driver’s license the day before and she started making fun of me, telling me that I didn’t even have a car. She thought it was funny that I was 19 and had barely gotten it. I asked her to let me see hers, she stopped smiling and got really quiet. I pulled out my new driver’s license and used it to cut up coke which we sniffed. She grabbed a long shirt from her bag and threw it on. She made both of us a drink in some old cups from the kitchen. We laughed and kissed; we said cute shit to each other that made us feel like we were in love. We lost ourselves in our skin, after we found our way back, she went to the bathroom to take a shower. I sat there sipping on the vodka, looking outside the window at the shadow people who walk slowly under the glare of the orange light above them after midnight. The music had been replaced by news but I wasn’t paying any attention. When she got out she sat next to me. She grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes. I’m pregnant she said, I need to ask you for a favor. Can you please punch me in the stomach a few times as hard as you can? It sickens me to admit that I was relieved; I thought she was going to ask me for money. We sat there for a long time staring at the cross on the wall. I took it down because it reminded me of my mother. We left the next day at around 8 in the morning. I made sure that before we left, everything was clean and it looked as if nothing had happened. I went with her to the emergency room, spent the last dollars in my pocket for a cab. When they called her name she hugged me and kissed me goodbye. We never hung out again. She disappeared for a few months. I kept track of her for a few years. It wasn’t hard, despite what people say Chicago is a really small city. Last time I knew of her she was a waitress at a cafe downtown. I used to pass by and stand across the street and look at her. She seemed happy, healthy. I knew that girl for 8 months and I’ve been thinking of her for 10 years...Her name was Julia.
Ricardo Córdova. Writer, lives in Pilsen, Chicago.
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