Marta spied a parking space in the large lot behind the restaurant after only a few minutes of searching. The lot usually teamed with prowling SUVs and Volvos and Hondas because it also served the Ralphs, Blockbuster and many little shops. But today most people headed to either the Topanga Plaza or the Promenade for the holiday mall price wars.
Her Ford Falcon creaked as it settled into its spot and Marta pulled the emergency brake with a loud crank. She sat for a moment mesmerized by a lone gray cloud that hung over a billboard advertising a Bruce Willis movie. Willis squinted and offered Ventura Boulevard a tough but playful smile.
Marta shook her head.
She got out of her car, locked it and headed to the back entrance of the deli. Marta pulled hard on the heavy glass and metal door that eventually gave with a loud moan. She walked towards the front of the restaurant and found the hostess, a rather stout woman who stood behind a wooden stand that held a well-worn spiral tablet. The hostess? hair resembled a haystack and a thin film of perspiration covered her upper lip and nose.
Marta gave the hostess her name.
The woman wielded her pencil like it was a magic wand and smiled at Marta as she asked, ?Did you say your name was ?Martha??? After Marta corrected the hostess, she found a seat in the waiting area. ?It?ll only be a few minutes,? the hostess said. ?You?re lucky, dear. You missed the crowd. Just an hour ago this place was crawling with people.?
Marta sat next to a young mother who held a squirming two-year-old boy on her lap while keeping watch over her infant daughter who sat strapped in an oversized Evenflo stroller like John Glenn in his space capsule. With her free hand, the mother rocked the stroller back and forth as her baby slipped in and out of sleep. The baby breathed noisily through pouty lips; ruddy cheeks broke the smooth sameness of her creamy skin. ?Laura,? the hostess suddenly called out as if the young mother were many blocks away. ?Your table is ready.? Laura gathered up her son with one arm and pushed the stroller with the other and followed the hostess. The baby?s eyes flashed open with the sudden jerk of the stroller revealing almost translucent blue-green irises.
When the hostess came back, she said, ?Martha, your table is ready, too.? Marta didn?t bother to correct her this time but just got up and followed. It?s a simple name, she thought. Marta. Without an ?h.? As the hostess led her to a table, Marta made eye contact with her friend, Isabel, who took an order from a lanky teenage boy who wore a T-shirt with the word ?Phish? emblazoned on its front. Isabel nodded and gave Marta a worried look.
Marta sat down. The hostess handed her a large menu and said, ?Have a nice one,? and waddled away to a waiting customer. A small man wearing an apron brought a set-up and a glass of icy water. Marta said, ?Gracias,? and the man gave a quick smile and walked away drying his hands on his apron. She put her hands around the sweating glass and then patted her cheeks with the cool condensation. After a few moments, Marta wiped her hands on her jeans and then pulled from her backpack some medical literature and various notes that she scribbled on the last few pages of her calculus notebook. Suddenly, she heard Isabel and looked up. ?Mija, what?s wrong?? She liked to call Marta ?mija? even though at twenty-two, Isabel was only two years older than her friend. ?You look like shit.?
?Thanks,? said Marta. But she smiled because she knew that only Isabel could listen to her at that moment. ?Can you take a break??
?Mija, I already told Tim that I was taking fifteen to talk to my girlfriend. He asked who it was and I said you so he said okay. That cabr?n wants to get into your panties soooo baaaad!? And with that, Isabel sat down with a little grunt. She was tall with dark brown skin and long hair pulled up in a maniacal pile like she was some kind of Chicana Medusa trying to keep her serpents in line. Her heavy eyelids barely revealed deep brown eyes. A little black teardrop tattoo adorned the outside of her left eye. Isabel?s flat nose hovered above thick lips and reminded Marta of the Aztec carvings she studied in her Ancient Cultures textbook last year but never saw in person.
Isabel wore a tight, too-short T-shirt that displayed her breasts as well as the silver ring that dangled enticingly from her outsie bellybutton. Last week she confided to Marta that she planned to get her nipples pierced once she got enough ?huevos? ? as Isabel put it -- to stand the pain she read about in a piercing magazine. She already had five silver studs running along the edge of her left ear and three on the other.
A tall, skeletal waiter shuffled up to their table and took Marta?s order while studiously refusing to acknowledge Isabel?s presence. His hair burned an unnatural red though it was not dyed, and freckles covered his face and bare arms as if a cruel prankster had splattered him with paint. He walked away silently after taking Marta?s order of matzo ball soup and Diet Coke.
?Pendejo,? said Isabel. ?Just because I let him feel-up my tits after a party he thought we were fuckin? married or something. Shit, I was drunk. ?Chingada!? Isabel shook her head as she pondered the stupidity of men. ?He stopped talking to me when he finally got the message. Not my type. Too gabacho. And you know what?? Before Marta could respond, Isabel answered, ?He tried to sweet talk me by giving me this little boy look and saying, ?Yo quiero Taco Bell?! I slapped his pinche gabacho face. I think I chipped a tooth, too!?
Isabel took a drink from Marta?s ice water as she picked up one of the medical pamphlets. ?Mija, what the fuck is this shit??
Marta pulled the pamphlet from Isabel and put it with the others and set them aside. ?I?m sick,? she said.
?What do you mean you?re sick?? Isabel looked down at the medical literature and saw the word ?ovarian.?
?You ain?t got cancer, mija??
The waiter brought the soup and drink over. Isabel ignored him and waited for him to leave.
?No, but I am sick.? Marta picked up her spoon and carved out a piece of the matzo ball and placed it gingerly into her mouth. It felt so peaceful and warm on her tongue. Isabel perched her head on her fists and looked very worried. All ten fingers glistened with silver rings.
How did we ever become friends when we have nothing in common? thought Marta.
In her early teens, she was an inch away from being a Chola in a gang. The teardrop tattoo was the last straw. It symbolized a year in jail even though Isabel had never gotten arrested, but she clearly wanted to show her allegiance to the local gangbangers.
Marta had little doubt that Isabel was saved when her mother got a new job eight years ago to get them out of the Pico-Union area. They moved twenty-nine miles west to the San Fernando Valley. Isabel finished at Canoga Park High and immediately went from part-time to forty hours a week as a waitress at Solley?s at Ventura and Topanga Canyon. She didn?t like it much when Jerry?s Famous Deli bought it out but she stayed more out of inertia than anything else.
Marta sometimes felt hopelessly na?ve in Isabel?s presence. She attended Catholic schools for twelve years before enrolling at Cal State Northridge. Her parents had a solid if boring marriage. Marta?s two younger brothers were doing just fine as well. Isabel introduced herself to Marta one day two years ago at Starbucks at the Topanga Plaza. They?d been friends ever since.
?Mija, you better fuckin? tell me what?s going on or I?m gonna? kill you!? The hostess passed their table leading a thirty-something Chicano wearing an expensive blue pinstripe suit and carrying a briefcase. Isabel?s head swiveled to keep him in sight. ??Qu? mono! ?Verdad??
Marta sighed. ?Yes, he?s cute but you already have Roberto.?
?A girl can always trade up, mija.? Isabel suddenly felt embarrassed at her inability to focus on her friend?s problem just because a good-looking male happened to wander into her sphere of consciousness. ?Marta, as my Moms says, ?Cu?ntale tus penas a quien te las pueda remediar,?? she offered.
Marta looked around at the other tables. Too many people, too much noise, she thought. I need to sleep, not talk.. She took a deep breath. ?Look, I?m trying to figure this all out. The doctor didn?t even have very much information that she could give me. This problem is so new.?
?What problem, mija?? Isabel leaned forward so that her nose almost touched Marta?s. Suddenly Isabel threw her arms to her sides and leaned back into her chair. ?This has to do with that fuckin? yuppie couple you helped out with your eggs, right??
?Yes,? said Marta.
?So, what the fuck did they do to your insides?? Isabel said rocking her head back and forth and jutting out her chin for emphasis.
Marta pushed her soup away to the side of the table. Her chest and abdomen ached. Marta focused her eyes on the cloudy broth that slid up and down the bowl?s sides in mini-waves. ?Well, they warned me that there could be side effects.?
Tim the manager walked up and said hello. Isabel gave him an annoyed look and said in an exaggerated whisper, ?If you give me ten more minutes, I?ll give you the best blow job you?ve ever had. What do ya? say, hombre??
Tim blushed redder than the vinyl that covered the booths and walked away without a word.
Marta shook her head. ?Isabel, how could you be so crass??
?The pendejo loves it. Anyway, so what DO you have??
Marta grabbed her notes. ?They call it ?ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome.??
Isabel blinked. ?What the fuck is that??
Marta shifted in her chair. ?You know how they had to harvest eggs from me??
?Yeah. I remember calling you ?Old MacDonald? because it made me think of a farm.? Marta managed a small smile. Isabel continued: ?You told me that this pinche egg thing?s illegal in other countries.?
?Yeah,? said Marta. ?Canada and Israel, I think. You don?t forget a thing I tell you, do you??
Isabel gave a self-satisfied smile.
?Well, anyway, the fertility drugs that they gave me to drop a lot of eggs worked too well and I?m having a bad reaction.? As Marta said this, she seemed to shrink.
?Like what, mija?? Isabel?s stomach tightened.
?I?m going through...? and she looked at her notes again. ??It?s called ?premature? menopause.?
?What the fuck!? Isabel almost yelled.
?Quiet,? said Marta in a whisper. ?You?re embarrassing me.?
?You mean you helped that Chicana with her gabacho husband have twin girls with YOUR eggs and now they turned you into an old woman? You should be the one screaming! That?s fucked!?
?Isabel, it doesn?t matter what color her husband is. Color doesn?t matter.?
Isabel shifted in her seat. ?Look, forget that.? She began again: ?You got rights, mija. You gotta? sue or something. If you don?t, you?re a muy loca girl!?
?I can?t sue. I got paid $2,500 and I signed all kind of waivers.?
?There must be a way out of that shit,? said Isabel. ?Besides, you didn?t do it for the money. You felt bad for them. I remember. That ad you saw made you cry and you told me that you could have your ni?os later.?
Marta just sat there. Her physical demeanor and shape contrasted dramatically with that of Isabel?s. Marta was barely five feet tall with a tight well-controlled haircut. Unlike Isabel, she wore little make-up and her features were fine, almost Asian, and she wore simple gold studs, one in each ear. Marta?s skin glowed with soft, creamy-olive tones and was much lighter than Isabel?s. She slumped while Isabel sat up straight ready for battle.
Isabel broke the silence: ?Mija, they gave you all kinds of shit that messed up your body just to do that FBI shit on that woman so she could have YOUR babies!?
?IVF not FBI,? said Marta calmly. Normally she laughed at Isabel?s malapropisms.
?Whatever,? said Isabel undeterred. ?FBI or IVF, the fuckin? result?s the same. You is fucked up, mija, and you gotta? do something about it! Hire Johnny Cochran or something!? Isabel thought for a moment. ?Or maybe,? she suddenly offered, ?maybe you can get on that show with what?s his face?. You know, that Jerry Springer guy. That?ll embarrass the hospital and they?ll throw money at you!?
Marta didn?t want to hear any of this. Next, on Jerry Springer: Stupid and gullible Chicana screws-up her body because an ad made her cry! And who do we have waiting in the green room to meet her? The woman she helped, Patricia Novas-Hall, and her beautiful twin girls and gabacho husband! Marta needed comfort right then and not the type of advice being dispensed by her friend. She felt as though she found out she had six months to live. It wasn?t that Marta knew that she wanted to be a mother but she wanted to make the choice like any other woman she knew. Now a whole part of her life was ending -- cut out like a tumor -- and Isabel?s comments weren?t helping. But Marta knew that Isabel loved her and wanted to help.
?Can you have babies if you try right now??
?My doctor said that the odds were extremely low and that it might be dangerous,? said Marta almost in a monotone. ?You know that I?ve been in a lot of pain. My system?s all messed up.? She stood up. ?Isabel, can I come over tonight and talk some more? I have to get to school right now. I have to meet Jaime for coffee. I need to tell him.?
?SHIT!? Isabel sputtered. ?Mija, you haven?t told Jaime yet? He?s going to be so pissed! He?s always talkin? about getting married to you and having tons of babies! SHIT!?
Marta felt spent and empty. She put some money on the table. ?Can I come by about nine tonight??
Isabel stood up and hugged Marta. It created an odd tableaux because Isabel towered over her friend so she had to hunch over to embrace Marta.
?I?m so sorry, mija,? said Isabel. ?I?m so sorry. Come by whenever you want. I love you.?
Marta offered a wan smile. She turned and headed to the back door of the deli to get to the parking lot. Isabel stood with her hands on her hips and watched her friend walk away. Marta passed a table where Laura, the young mother, sat hugging her baby. Laura rested her lips the baby?s forehead while keeping an eye on her son attempting to pour catsup on his plate. Marta?s nostrils widened as she imagined smelling the baby?s talcum and milky breath. She continued and pushed the glass door to get out of the deli. The door felt heavier than before and it let out a mournful creak. The sun shone hot and bright. As she walked to her car, Marta wrapped her arms around herself. Maybe, if she squeezed tightly enough, she could stop her body from changing. She knew she could stop it, somehow. She would not become an old woman. Not before her time. Not yet.
"Muy Loca Girl" first appeared in the Southern Cross Review.
Daniel A. Olivas:
Daniel is a Chicano writer. Visit his website at: http://www.homestead.com/DanielOlivas/olivas.html.