About my life and the ke.., p.6
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       About My Life and the Kept Woman, p.6

           John Rechy

  In high school, I had recently completed a much more ambitious story, a longer one titled “The Thing.” It was profoundly influenced by Poe; it concerned a woman going insane, or not; sensing a presence, not knowing whether it was real. That story was obviously pilfered from some movie which I had seen and whose name I can’t remember. I thought it was a masterpiece. I mentioned it to my journalism teacher.

  “That sounds good, Johnny. I’d like to read it,” said Miss Edwards. She was a nice woman, unremarkably pretty, an older woman, as I thought then: perhaps thirty. I had noticed her breasts, which were full, especially for such a slender woman, because at times, when we were alone, she would lean over me to check something or other while I sat at my desk. That embarrassed me because I was sure she was unaware of what she was doing, and sometimes it made me start perspiring, and I didn’t want her to notice, or, worse, to smell me sweating.

  Elated by her attention to my story, I told her I’d bring it to school next week to give to her, after we had completed the pending issue of the paper, which involved going downtown, with others on the staff, to the print shop where the columns of type were set on galleys.

  “Why don’t you bring it over Saturday?”

  “No school on Saturday,” I reminded her.

  “Oh, that’s right. But why don’t you bring it over to the hotel where I live?”

  It was not rare for people to live in hotels; small hotels seemed to be all over the city. They were more like apartment houses, except that there would be a desk for registering. Usually, there was some kind of dining room, often with a dimming chandelier. The inside of those buildings had a twilight mustiness that attested to age, to another time when Texas was more Southern than Western.

  If Miss Edwards was eager to read my story, this certainly meant that my brief description of it had excited her. I saw that development as my first opening into the world of … literature! She told me where she was living. We arranged the time: mid-afternoon.

  I went over to the hotel–apartment house, thrilled by the prospect of discussing my story in private with a teacher who had become, for me, the best authority in the world, on literary quality a quality that my story would clearly exhibit and so overwhelm her. I told the man at the desk that Miss Edwards was expecting me. I added proudly, “She’s going to read my story titled ‘The Thing’—I’m a writer.” Not impressed, he nodded me toward a room along a corridor and gave me a number.

  My anticipation growing, I knocked where he had designated. Miss Edwards opened the door, not fully, as if she were hiding from someone. I couldn’t see her entirely yet.

  “Hello, Johnny.”

  “Hi, Miss Edwards,” I said.

  She opened the door. I went in. She closed the door quickly behind me. “I brought my st—” I stopped. She was wearing a nightgown—or so I considered what must have been a negligee, with lace trimming at the top. It opened to exhibit the crescent of her breasts, now even more surprisingly large—or did they just loom that way for me now?

  “Am I early?”

  She laughed, touched my head lightly, rumpling my hair. “No, you’re just in time.” She took the story from me and laid it on a table in a small corridor at the entrance.

  “Come on in and relax,” she said, gliding through the corridor—she was barefoot!—into her bedroom.

  I looked back forlornly at my story, and followed her. I wasn’t sure what I felt: a sudden unfocused fear, yes; of course disappointment that she wasn’t going to read my story right away, yes, that; but something else I had never felt before, fear definitely, but also anticipation, and, yes, yes, a strange excitement, not entirely welcome, that seemed to grip my throat, especially now that she was sitting on her bed in her negligee and I was standing directly before her.

  If I had blacked out, I would have believed that this had occurred before I recovered; but I hadn’t blacked out. I was there, and I saw it. I saw her hand reach out toward my pants, saw it open the buckle of my belt, saw it moving down, down, toward my—

  Standing over her, I could see deep into the parting of her breasts that were being shoved into increasing prominence by her motions—mounds of flesh pushing out, out, almost out. She leaned her head slightly down. Her breasts burst out.

  I froze—no, I grew hot—at the sight of the startling twins of white flesh that had just popped out, a smirch of red on each one. More panic, more excitement, more apprehension, more fear, a confusion about running away or staying—all at war. This was definite: I couldn’t breathe—was I gasping?—because she had opened my fly, and was pulling my shorts down. Did this happen? Yes, I saw it: She took out my cock, which sprang out hard, so hard that it seemed pasted against my groin, firmer and longer than I had ever imagined it could be. Hot, sweating, embarrassed, terrified, I wanted to demand that it return to its normal stage—no, that it spring out even more—no, that I could hide it, knowing she would be upset with me, scold me, yell at me, send me away, accuse me of—


  I couldn’t move, I didn’t know where to move—or how to move—whether to move, where to go, what to say, what—

  “Relax, Johnny,” she said softly. She shrugged off her nightgown. It fell like froth to her hips, the firm breasts even whiter; the reddish smears that had crowned them, darker circles—with nipples.

  What was one of my hands doing cupping one of the extravagant breasts? I hadn’t put it there. Had she? That hand felt as if it was being struck by hot lightning bolts, small ones. Now she was guiding my other hand, also burning, over her other breast, and I seized it, hard.

  “Yes, Johnny!” she said.

  No, no! I thought as I squeezed harder. I don’t want to do this! But I did! No, I didn’t! Yes, I did! Her hands were stroking my fiercely upright cock. Did she know what she was doing? Did she know what would happen if she continued? Did she know that I would burst open right in front of her and spatter—? Why did my hands refuse to remove themselves from her breasts? Why were they pinching her nipples?

  When had she pulled my pants and shorts down? When had she opened my shirt? Stumbling on my pants gathered about my feet, I fell back on the bed, my legs straight out before me. She took off my shoes, my socks. I was naked!—and so was she, the nightgown clinging only in patches to her body, intensifying the whiteness of her flesh. Were my hands really roaming all over it, over that startling, astonishing, naked white flesh?

  My cock was pulsing, moist.

  “Not yet, Johnny!” she said.

  She thrust herself back quickly on the bed.

  “Quick! Get on top of me! Quick! Now! Now!” She parted her legs wide.

  I saw a patch of hair—so that’s what was there! It gleamed as if she had applied something to it—brilliantine?—a small patch of hair so abrupt that I stared startled and awed that a woman would have pubic hair, and into that moment, there entered the memory of the day I had gone to congratulate my brother in the showers and there had been slabs of naked flesh interrupted by patches of hair—

  Somehow, somehow, I was straddling Miss Edwards and her naked body was under my naked body, and I was about to burst open somewhere, everywhere.

  “Fuck me!” Miss Edwards cried.

  My cock was in the furry nest! Inside her?—inside a moist velvet smoothness that nevertheless clung to my cock tightly and made me want to pull out and yet stay and stay as she trembled and made sounds like a kitten and my body convulsed as if I was about to die, once, twice, and then again, coming to life again, coming to—coming—

  I lay exhausted on top of her. I didn’t know what to do next.

  She decided that for me.

  She jerked away from under me. I fell facedown on the bed—but I quickly turned over and sat up.

  She straightened her nightgown and shouted at me:

  “What did you do, you dirty little boy? Get out, get out! What did you do?”

  I put on my clothes, dashed into the corridor, closed the door, remembered my abandoned story, pulle
d on the door expecting it to be locked—but it wasn’t. There lay my story unread on the small table. I grabbed it.

  Before I could run out, I heard Miss Edwards’s sudden sobs.

  In class, Miss Edwards acted as if nothing had happened, except that she no longer stayed to plan the school paper with me. I wondered whether she had forgotten what had happened; I longed for that to be so. The very day that I had fled from her apartment, I had felt a sense of something not completed, despite the orgasm, something not yet fully satisfied that made me sad.


  At school today, as the new girl walked by as usual ignoring me pointedly, I stopped for a moment, disoriented, doubly disoriented. I had a vague feeling that I had seen her before. Where? Who? Yes!—Isabel Franklin was the girl who—What? Any association I had been about to make vanished.

  Smoking was forbidden even within the environs of the high school, but groups of teenagers would congregate, a few in each bunch, under the steps of the school or at other places hidden from open view though known to the teachers, who probably resignedly preferred to ignore the activity.

  As I was rushing home from school for lunch, I saw Isabel Franklin moving surreptitiously under some shaded steps outside the school, apart from where the others congregated during the noon break.

  I halted before she could see me but close enough that I could see her.

  She brought an unlit cigarette to her lips—no, not yet to her lips. She was holding the cigarette as if contemplating what to do with it. In an odd sort of exaggerated arc, she finally brought it to her mouth, but didn’t light it—I did not see a match spark.

  Of course. She was rehearsing smoking before she exposed herself to anyone else. That would be typical of the haughty girl, yes.

  She saw me—and quickly looked away, then just as quickly down, searching around her with exaggerated earnestness as if she had lost something—the cigarette had disappeared from sight. Dropped? Discarded? As if she had found whatever she was looking for, she stood up and walked away, stopped, turned around, and—

  She looked at me again as if challenging me, although I had no idea what the challenge was, but I did know this: Isabel Franklin was the girl I had seen staring at the kept woman of Augusto de Leon the day of my sister’s wedding, the girl who had been as enthralled by the glamorous apparition as I had been.

  After the long sullen period during which I nurtured my resentment about her marriage—I had made sure not to reconcile with her too quickly, to punish her for getting married—my sister Olga and I became close friends, even closer as adults. We were confidants. I visited her often. These visits were times of respite away from the clouds of my father’s lengthening moods that hung over our house, especially now that my brothers and sisters were all married and I was the only son left to witness the decline of someone who had become for me an intimate stranger.

  I had come to like my sister’s husband, who worked as a car salesman. Their child, Louis—Louie—had become, I now admitted ungrudgingly, a cute playful kid; he was always happy to see me, though I forbade him ever to call me “uncle,” a title that didn’t fit my developing image of myself.

  My sister was always full of news. She seemed to know everything about everyone, and she delivered the information with unabashed authority, often dramatizing her stories, even mimicking the voices of those involved. Her main sources of information about her husband’s family were Tina, her sister-in-law; and, unlikely as it seemed, Señor’s wife, who visited often and who had become quite heavy, to the point that I had not recognized her when I had seen her leaving my sister’s house—fat and sassy, a sassiness emphasized by the fact that she never appeared without a proud plume on one of the jaunty hats she had begun to wear after Señor’s death. I had also learned from my gleeful sister that Señor’s wife doted on my nephew, Louie, as if to affront the memory of her dead husband. “To think,” she had once said to my sister, “that that madman would have stopped this angel from being born!” (I had been astonished to discover that, in her wedding scrapbook, my sister had pasted on a special page, alone, Señor’s newspaper notices threatening to stop her wedding.)

  Now I did not want to think that my sister had become a gossip. My tomboy buddy grown into a gossip?—my buddy who had given me my greatest baseball triumph? Never! The gossipy aunts looked like gossips, unattractive, speaking in whispers that occasionally stumbled into a loud blurt, whereas my sister Olga had become so beautiful that I was sure she now could win the role I had submitted her for long ago, even over Yvonne de Carlo, whom she was coming to resemble.

  Today, her husband was at work, Louie at preschool. I planned my visits around those absences so I could have my sister to myself and enjoy her stories. We had settled in her living room in the small rented house she now occupied—not yet entirely furnished. I had just mentioned to her the girl at school; I always attempted to make my sister jealous, as I had been about her husband. I had added that I was sure the new girl had been at the wedding, wondering whether Olga would remember her.

  No sooner had I mentioned the name Isabel Franklin than my sister folded her hands over her chest, firmly, and sneered: “Isabel Franklin? Oh, really? That’s Alicia Gonzales.”

  “Olga, I’m telling you, she’s in school with me and her name is Isabel Franklin.”

  “She just calls herself Franklin,” my sister said. “Franklin is the last name of Tina’s second husband. Not even Tina uses his name since she divorced him; she calls herself Gonzales, Alicia’s father’s name.”


  “Alicia,” my sister corrected.

  “—is Tina’s daughter?”


  Then the girl who had been as enthralled by the glamorous apparition as I had been, the girl I had seen practicing secretly how to smoke at school, that girl was Alicia Gonzales, who was now Isabel Franklin, who was—

  The kept woman’s niece!

  A sharp image pounced into my mind, the entrancing memory, sharp, intact, as if I were seeing her again, the kept woman of Augusto de Leon. It was an image that must have been implanted deep in my mind, exact, ready to spring forth, exact:

  As if deciding not to complete the smile, or because the memory aroused had turned bitter, her lips parted, instead, to receive the cigarette she brought slowly—almost thoughtfully—to her lips.

  That assertive image had been evoked, yes, by the discovered association with Isabel, that day of my sister’s wedding, but there was more that kept pushing the memory forward, now at this moment of my sister’s disdain for Isabel. It was a memory of words overheard, spoken in the drab room that the kept woman had ruled proudly, words—

  “—Isabel was always her middle name,” my sister had gone on, and stopped. “Little brother?” she nudged my attention back.


  “Where were you? You weren’t listening to me.”

  “I was.” The memory of the kept woman dissolved.

  “I wonder, though,” my sister resumed, “why Alicia’s at El Paso High now. The last time I heard from Tina, she was going to Bowie. Maybe that’s why she changed her name—Gonzales was too Mexican for her. Hmmm. The only way she could transfer to another school is if she lied about her address.” She paused in a way I had come to recognize as preparation for the height of the drama she was recounting. “I always thought, you know, that Alicia is ashamed of being Mexican.”

  My voice edged toward anger. “I think the matter of Isabel is much more complicated than what you’ve assumed. You know, Olga, you don’t know everything. Something else, too, Olga—I think you’re becoming a gossip. No, I take it back, I don’t think you’re becoming a gossip. You are a gossip.”

  That was all I could say now to my sister—who smiled indulgently—in order to end the conversation about the new girl who had transferred to the Anglo school, had changed her name, and was suspected of being ashamed of being Mexican.

  In El Paso at the time, shame at being Mexican was an
easy, often unfounded, accusation to make; it was sometimes routinely made of guerros.

  I had always been assumed by strangers to be Anglo. As a kid, before I learned English, I would necessarily respond in Spanish to whatever might be asked, in a store, at the barber college we went to for the cheapest cuts, at the library, the bus. Then, someone would often protest, saying something like, “Oh, you must be Spanish, you’re too fair to be a Mexican, don’t say you’re a Mexican.”

  I had witnessed many manifestations of discrimination in El Paso against Mexicans—there were very few “Negroes” then in the city. Anglo waitresses at the Newberry lunch counter pointedly hesitated to wait on Mexicans, so that, often, a family so disdained would walk away. Though I never denied being Mexican, I saw little reason to court the kind of cruelty that often attended such identification, cruelty that I had experienced on my first day at school.

  In the kindergarten classroom where about thirty children, all five- or six-years old, congregated, the prim teacher—a knotted bun planted atop her head with no relation to her hair—went about the room touching some of the children lightly on the shoulder and smiling, avoiding others and frowning. When she passed me, she brushed me on the shoulder and smiled. She instructed those she had touched to stand up. I stood up, to join the others so designated. The teacher then ushered us out of the classroom—“March, one, two, three”—toward the playground while the others remained in the room with her.

  As we were filing out along the corridor, a girl in my group said something to me in English. I answered her in Spanish, shaking my head to indicate that I didn’t understand her. Overhearing me, the teacher—a deadly frown crinkling her white-powdered forehead—yanked me back, mumbling something, while leading me back to rejoin those still in the classroom.

  In the classroom, she snapped her fingers and flung her hands up, signaling us to rise. We—the fifteen of us, all Mexicans, who remained in the room—stood bewildered, and now somewhat afraid. Her hands now sheathed in transparent gloves, she went to each of us, one by one, parting our hair in several places, inspecting all of us for lice. Humiliated, I pulled away from her and ran home.

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