Fiction by Anthony Alas
Staring into the rugged East River, Lupe was glad to have left the boredom of small-town El Salvador. While at an ideal job at an East Village bookshop, Lupe fine-tuned her literary palate. Toni Morrison, Dorothy Parker, and Maya Angelou became favorite authors.
As an intellect, she questioned the world and her position as a brown woman. Her mother didn’t expect much from her, only to work at a factory or moonlight as a waitress. However, Lupe detoured from expectations, winning a full ride to Brown University.
During her first semester, demons attacked her. They were scarier than skeletons, devils, and witches. With her brain at constant battle, she curled into a human ball. Struggling with her first semester at Brown, Lupe decided to take a leave of absence.
Depressed, overweight, and anxious, Anita took her daughter back with open arms. She never quite understood her daughter. Lupe was more like her father, obsessed with books, writing, and always slightly depressed.
Her appetite remained healthy. A new Salvadoran restaurant opened blocks away. It served many of Lupe’s favorite dishes especially “Pan con Chumpe” (bread with turkey and stuffing made of pork).
Since her disheveled appearance would alarm Harlemites, she ordered delivery. On a very warm night, which resembled those of humid, Chalatenango, she ordered a Salvadoran feast (Pan con Chumpe, tamales y chicken soup).
A new delivery boy, Eduardo rode his bike up 116th street. He hailed from Guatemala. He lived with his brother in Jackson Heights, Queens. Having worked as a waiter on the Upper East Side during the day, food delivery was his extra income.
Bike rides through East Harlem were oddly therapeutic; especially having to work seven days a week, in mostly rough weather. He hurried to the corner of 114th and First Avenues. Glancing up at the old tenement building, he saw a raven flying.
After a more careful examination, he noticed it was not a bird. Human hair was flapping out of a window. It swayed freely with the bit of wind drifting from the River.
“But, what in the world is that? Is that a shaggy dog,” he said to himself.
Buzzing apartment 5A, He was let in. Walk-ups were never enjoyable. Tenants in elevator buildings never ordered food as much. Having to catch his breath by the third floor, he pressed on.
The door of apartment 5A creaked slightly open. A black pupil made contact with his eyes. Raven hair peek through as well. Eduardo wanted nothing more than to caress the hair, and examine its hints of blue. Unfortunately, a hairy hand grabbed the plain paper bag, and shut the door.
“Gracias, amigo” said, the female voice from a distance.
After reaching the corner, he untied his bike from the parking meter. He read the name of the order, “Lupe. “ Confusion sunk in,
Was that the arm of drag queen? Her arms were burly, and voice tone slightly mousey.
Questioning his sexuality, he returned to the restaurant. By the end of his shift, he rode his bike back to 114th and First. Curious about the mysterious figure in the tenement apartment, he looked up at the apartment.
The fire escape glowed blue, green, and red lights. It was odd. Slightly puzzled, he hurried to the Lexington Avenue subway, making the long trek to Jackson Heights.
Lupe’s appetite increased. Once again, she ordered from the same Salvadoran restaurant. Eduardo enthusiastically returned with her favorite dish, Pan Con Chumpe. More energized than before, he climbed the stairs. After knocking on the door, he was once again met with those black eyes.
A strange, and pungent smell flowed from the apartment. He knew it smelled of dirty armpits, but it woke up his sexual yearnings. Grabbing the bag, he heard sobs from the door’s opposite end.
Desperately, he wanted to see if the person was okay. Rather than raising suspicion, Eduardo walked slowly down the staircase. As he rushed to return to the restaurant, he was halted by a group of teenage boys. They beat him. His blood sprayed onto the East Harlem pavement.
Not remembering much, he woke up in the emergency room of St. Luke’s, a gash to the head. The fluorescent lights of the hospital greatly annoyed him. After having a CAT Scan on his head, Eduardo was released. An astronomical hospital bill worried him. He could barely afford to eat on his two salaries. Now, a potentially crippling financial woe made him more depressed.
On that twilight, he found a way to make him forget life’s woes. Returning to the corner of 114th and First, he saw Lupe’s beautiful raven hair flowing outside of the cracked open window. Since the street lay bare, he mustered up courage.
“Please let down your hair.” His voice simply echoed. “Please let down your hair,” he yelled again.
As he walked away, the long hair flowed from the apartment to the street. It had the familiar pungent smell from earlier. Bravely, Eduardo Climbed up the tenement using Lupe’s hair. Even as he climbed and saw the cold pavement, the fragrance motivated him. After reaching the fifth floor fire escape, Eduardo locked eyes with Lupe.
Lupe’s long hair came from unkempt armpits. He was shocked to see her masculine haircut, practically a buzz cut. The long armpit hairs frightened him visually. They locked eyes. He sniffed and caressed Lupe’s armpit hair. It was familiar and comforting after a night of terror.
“My mama sleeps, learn how to fuck quietly” Lupe replied, in her signature husky voice.
They made love all night. By 5:00 AM, he sneaked out of the apartment, climbing down through her armpit hair. With little sleep, he went to work his day job at the diner. Thoughts of Lupe obsessed him. However, he feared she was simply an allusion or dream, after a traumatizing night.
Eventually, his employer surprised him with a new bike. His routine returned to normal. However, his favorite customer at apartment 5A hadn’t ordered delivery for a long time. Eduardo became puzzled. Months had passed, snow banks, hot churros, and Meringue, gave 116th Street its identity.
After work, he garnered the courage. He buzzed apartment 5A. Anita, haggard and sad, opened the door. She stared at him, in shock.
“Hola, senora, is the other lady of the house home?” He asked, with a very nervous smile.
My daughter? She has gone for good,” Anita said.
Eduardo’s eyes reddened with sadness. Death, he only thought of death. His eyes served as a window into his fear. Anita studied his body language. Compassion,
“She has returned to El Salvador to help her ailing abuela run the family rancho.” Anita said, with a disappointed smile.
He nodded, and left. Before Eduardo could make his way through the maze of stairs, Anita quickly peeked her head out, once again.
“Mi hija is also pregnant with child.” Anita said, before she disappeared into her apartment.
Eduardo’s eyes glowed in amazement. In his heart, he knew the baby belonged to him. Desperately, he thought about his future son. Would he be a grand ranchero like his great abuelo? Would he adopt his mother’s mystique and his hard-work ethic? Eduardo would question it forever. He remained in New York, but the curiosity of his mysterious family would always linger with him.
Year later, as he nervously ran through Grand Central Station, he saw a window display of books. One book stood out to him. It read “Yo Soy Rapunzel: My Journey Back to El Salvador.” He was paralyzed with curiosity. After entering the bookshop. He picked up the paperback, looked at author’s photo.
It was Lupe. She had arms extended out, with armpit hair dangled like puppet strings. He took the book, held it close to his heart, and made his way to the cash register, then through the zaniness of Grand Central.