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A Little Love

Isabel Landon

Forgive me, Father, for I've had sex."

"When was your last . . ."

"Four years ago."

"Your last confession was four years ago?"

"No, Father, I had sex four years ago."

"Were you married?"


"Where's the sin in that?"

"The sin is in not having had any for four years."

That was my last confession with that priest. A good Cuban girl doesn't talk that way, especially to a priest. I was a good Cuban girl. Ay Dios! How many years with David. Mrs. David Landon, that was my title. No, it was my name and I loved him. David was everything I wanted in a husband. He was tall, fair skinned, broad shouldered, and with a faraway look in his eyes, not a dreamer's stare, but a hawk's. David always knew where he was headed. I like that in a man. But David has been out of the picture for four years now. Well, I still have pictures of him all over the place. The kids insist on that. Every time I see his face in their bedrooms, in the family room, and in the bathroom, I want to tear my heart out; I can't get to his because he doesn't have one. I have to stop thinking about him.

What was I thinking with that priest? Coño, I've been trying to get back to the church. My little cousin Mercy got me in this parish, Saint Anthony of the Lost Souls, what a name. I'm not lost. But it has a great school. "Isabel," mami always says, and I'm translating here, "a Catholic education is money in the bank and love in the heart." I received a good Catholic education, up in Connecticut. Lots of discipline and much mia culpa, guilt all over the place. That's good for the soul, but hija, can it make a mess of your love life. So I put the kids in the best parochial school in Miami. It has two priests. One is really an Irish Monsignor; he runs the place like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. They call him Father Rambo. Gets it all done ahora. And then there's sweet Father Paquito, still wet behind the ears. And what an accent! It took me a month to figure out that "Leh-oh-pay" meant "Let us pray." That's what you get when you mix a Cuban with a Puerto Rican. He'll have to do my confessions from now on.

I've been doing everything since the divorce. Why is it that they never get the kids? Perdóname, Dios! Don't get me wrong. I love my boys, but if you add up everything I do for them — the baseball games, the play rehearsals, the guitar lessons, the homework assignments, the driving to and from places that if they can't get to they'll just die, plus the summer trips to Kansas to stay with their father, and those damned pictures of David — where am I? Not in Kansas. Gracias a Dios for that! Imagine a Cuban in that place? Everything is so flat. "There's nothing flat about you," so says my little cousin Mercy. "With those curves you'd have every farm boy trading their pickups for Ferraris." Well, it serves him right, with that big Great Plains face of his, to end up in Kansas. I loved that face, such a sonrisa, from dimple to dimple. When you squint your eyes he looks like Kevin Bacon. I fell in love with David the first time I saw him smile in chemistry class at the University of Connecticut.

Connecticut is where I lived as a kid. My parents left Cuba in the early sixties; we stayed in Miami for a week, and then, thanks to the generous Americano volunteers at the Freedom Tower, we were given three winter coats, two hats, and three one-way train tickets to Meriden, Connecticut.

The Freedom Tower, I see it every day on my drive to work. Now it's an exclusive office building with a Moroccan ballroom in what used to be the basement. We've all gone there, all the Cubans, to dance in our Oscar de la Renta dresses and our Anne Klein shoes. Raising money for the Cancer Society or some other cause. When I have the time, I attend a few of these a year. A good Catholic Cuban divorced mother, setting a good example for her boys.

I can still feel the sting on my hand from the example mami gave me in that same basement when we were refugees. We were waiting in line, something papi swore he'd never do after leaving Cuba, waiting for some canned cheese and powdered milk, when I noticed the janitor emptying the garbage can next to me. Being curious, I peered inside it. At the bottom was a nickel, an American nickel! Not a day in America and I was already making money. I dove into the can, stuck my arm out with the palm open, and yelled out, "Dinero!" The nickel went flying along with my tears. "Isa," mami growled, "free food is charity, an act of God; free money is mierda, take it, and you're mierda." With that, this small unassuming woman yanked me out of the garbage can, wiped my tears, and gave me an incredible hug.

I have never taken money, not ever, even though my lawyer said that the way David was feeling about this divorce I could've walked away with everything and David wouldn't have lifted a lawyer's pen against it. I never accepted alimony. It's garbage money. I take David's child support and school money, but that's different.

Mami was never against revenge. "Ojo por ojo," she'd often say. She had another favorite saying; it went something like "Whenever you're in the company of strangers, put on your Son-of-a-Bitch-Ometer, and if it starts buzzing, run like hell." Coño, for fifteen years I had that Bitch-Ometer off. Something else went buzzing the minute David walked into that chemistry class and smiled at me.

Sex was never a problem with us. David was an athletic lover, an all-American letter earner. But that was later. We both married virgins. I was a virgencita, untouched by desiring hands and other dangerous body parts. All through high school, papi was my chaperone. His idea of a good date was the school's athletic games. I went to every basketball, football, baseball, and swimming event the school competed in. Always by my side were my pimply date and my enthusiastic papi. With every score made, papi would whoop and holler; my date would sulk with limp hands and something else. I would sweat like a pig at a luau.

"Americano boys, you can trust them. Cubanitos, olvídate. Never date a Cuban boy! Mucha mano en la masa!"

"Sí, papi," and I never did. I never did anything with a boy. You can imagine my honeymoon night with David. Being trained engineers, we bought three sex manuals and a racy video titled Orgasmic Universe.

"No, not that way. Look at the picture on page seventy-four."

"Which book?"

We finally settled on The Joy of Sex. It took me six months to figure out the joy part. After that, well, put it this way, if sex were a sporting event, papi would get laryngitis from all the whooping and hollering he'd be doing. David and I loved the chemistry between us.

And we both loved our chemistry classes. For me, there is something about putting my hands into the basic elements, the things that really matter, and then building something new out of the old stuff.

I got this love for chemicals from papi. After we arrived in Meriden, we lived in an old three-story schoolhouse; an old Irish priest converted each classroom into two-room apartments. Ten Cuban refugee families lived in that schoolhouse. The adults had quickly made it into a little piece of Cuba. I remember seeing some potted palm trees next to the steam-heat radiators in a few of the apartments as the snow fell outside. And each evening, after the men had their black beans and rice, they would sit along the grand staircase, in the center of the building, drinking their Cuban coffees, talking, or I should say shouting, island politics. Papi could not often join them. He was too exhausted from the shift at the foundry. My father worked like a mulo. He was the supervisor of the day shift, which at least three times a week would turn into the night shift as well. He never said no to his bosses. Once in a while, when I had a day off at the public elementary school, he would take me to the foundry. I'd stay there the whole day watching the men mix the sand, the iron, and the carbon, heat it all up, and pour it into various molds. The men had big hands, with big veins crawling all over them. Hands big enough to take bits of powders and metals, and re-cast them into something useful. Papi made sure the men did their job right. But he was always tired. I think he looked tired from the day he left Cuba. Mami worked at Napiers, Inc., a costume jewelry maker. She assembled the earrings by hand. All the Cuban women of the schoolhouse worked there. "Isa, never work alongside of your friends," mami would repeat often like a Hail Mary on a rosary. There were days when the men would be full of island talk, and the women could not stand each other.

As soon as my parents could afford it, we moved to a respectable townhouse development (really remodeled row houses, all brick) on the edge of town, and I went to the all-girls' Our Lady of Sweet Charity Catholic School. Because I belonged to a minority (my maiden name, de la Llama, gave me away) and because of my high grades, I eventually got a full scholarship to the state university.

There's where I met David. We married the year we graduated, each with our own M.S. degree in Chemical Engineering and a desire to leave the cold. We left all right, and fifteen long Third World years later, he went off to Kansas, transferred at his request by Texaco Oil, the company he worked for in the Dominican Republic. And when I clicked my heels, I ended up in Miami, except that I got the kids and he got, as he put it, "kinfolk." I landed in the City of Exiles with both feet running and a banana peel under each heel, as mami likes to say. I was slipping, sliding, and running my way to the top of the heap. And as any decent, divorced, professional Latina would tell you, I am doing all this for the boys.

They're good boys, a couple of caballeros. David Jr. is fifteen years old, he looks like a Latino version of his father, and Sam is fourteen, he looks like me. We had the boys back to back. We planned it that way. I can tell you right now that the rhythm method works, that and celibacy. That's what I've been the last four years: celibate.

Here in my office, right behind my head on the credenza, there's a picture of the boys fly fishing somewhere in Kansas. El comemierda. Who's got time to fly fish? Maybe if there was one of those A River Runs Through It streams next to the Palmetto Expressway I could find the time to fish. The traffic is so backed up each morning and afternoon that I could fill up my Ford Expedition with trout and make a killing at Normita's Fish Market in Little Havana. Instead, on my Express-jammed way to work, I put on a "Books on Tape" and listen to Burt Reynolds read The Frugal Way to Riches. Don't get me wrong; I'm not struggling economically. My job as Senior Engineer for Boxer Medical Technologies pays me well, about $100,000 a year. I read in Parade magazine the article about how only 2 percent of Americans earn $100,000 or more a year. Well, ahí estoy yo. I buy what I need and what I want, but with two teenagers about to drive, my parents living with me in the house I just bought in Pinecrest Village, and the fact that I'm alone, I always feel like I'm on thin ice. So I buy a few nice things for myself, put some away for the future, and the rest goes to the everyday living expenses of two growing boys, two aging parents, and a big house. I'm the sole breadwinner in this family; I wear the pantalones around here. My favorite style of dress is a pantsuit but with a Latin twist. Sharp creases on the pants with a bolero jacket on top. Always in navy blue and black, or when I want to make the men in the office nervous, blood red. Add to this high heels and a touch of jewelry — a diamond tennis bracelet I bought with the company Christmas bonus, 18-karat gold loops on the ears, and my ex's solid karat diamond engagement ring (for protection against intruders) — and I'm ready to produce. I work long hours in a leading-edge company. I have a nice office with thirty people under me and two on top, and I still have a long way to go before I sleep. I can't have it any other way. No time, no love, and definitely no hombre.


Enter Rubén

My dearest Isabel,
The moon was radiant last night, like your smile. I savored a cup of chamomile tea sweetened with honey, the color of your hazel eyes. I am in your power, Isabel. I feel a warmth when I think of you, a warmth I haven't felt in years. Your auburn hair flows like autumn leaves. As they float, I want to caress each strand with my very hands. Though we have hardly spoken, the words you have sprinkled on me have taken root. I feel I have known you for a lifetime. You are delicate in size, like a monarch butterfly, yet your strength has given me the courage to pour out my heart. Please be kind to someone who has the purest of intentions. Accept these flowers, fragrant like you, and answer me not with gestures but with words I can read and re-read until eternity. Your admirer,


He sent the flowers to work. Everybody saw them being delivered to my office. No doubt the coffee-break talk will be about me and the damned flowers. You spend four years putting everybody in their place, "I'm the boss and you're not," and now a bunch of — what are these? — "Butterfly Flowers Bouquet by FTD"—can put you back in the caveman days. I could just see my male underlings getting their clubs ready. I gave the letter one last look. Its sappiness was giving me sticky fingers.


"Yes, Ms. Landon."

"Dorothy, type this up for me and send it ASAP."

TO: Mr. Rubén Garcia
FROM: Ms. Isabel Landon
RE: Flora
Received your flowers in good order. Thank you for the words. Regards,
Isabel Landon


"Yes, Ms. Landon."

"This matter stays in the office. Comprendes?"

"Sí, señora. My lips are zipped!"

I like Dorothy. I hired her because she speaks fluent Spanish. She's a bilingual gringa; it throws everybody off around here when it comes to office gossip of the multilingual kind. She's also as loyal as a toothy terrier on a pant leg. Pero este Rubén is a dog of another kind wanting something else with my pants.

"So qué; pasa with that?" Mercy, my little cousin, is saying to me on the cellular, as I'm making my way back home. "After four years of living like a nun and working like a man you get a little attention of the love kind and you freak out! Estás loca or what?!"

"I don't need a man in my life right now."

"You may not need one, but don't you want one? It's been four years, Isabel."

"So now you and a priest are experts on my sexual status."

"A priest came on to you también?! Oye, is it that obvious? You better get to this Rubén García before the Pope visits Miami again!"

"Qué graciosa estás, Mercy. This is serious. I see this guy at the monthly meetings of the Chemical Engineers Association of South Florida (of which I'm a sitting board member). All we ever do is talk strategy. Not once have I given this guy a hint of any possibilities."

"What does he look like?"

"He wears gray suits."


"And black shoes."

"That's all you can remember about this guy?"

"That's all I notice."

"Well, notice his words. Caress, warmth, flood — this guy is a romantic, your very own Pablo Neruda. What's the harm in going out with him? He's a Latino, no?"

"Sí, I think from Chile."

"There! You've never been with a Latino man, your own kind for a change. You might like it. Just don't jump all over him on the first day. Wait for the first night!"

Traffic got moving again on the Palmetto and I hung up on Mercy. My own kind, that's what David said to me when he wanted out. He left me for a culture. What am I supposed to do, feel threatened by every McDonald's that comes my way? Qué carajo kind of a reason is that to break up a family?

It was past seven and I had enough time to get some take-home food before the boys got off to their rooms to interact with Nintendo, and before my retired parents retired to the TV room for their nightly novela.

"I'm home! Who wants the Big Mac with cheese?"

A Little Love
by by C. C. Medina

  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446609765
  • ISBN-13: 9780446609760