My name is Henry. First off, I want to say that I slobber when I talk. I can’t help it. I’ve always done it. I can’t control it. The children sometimes follow me home and mock me. It’s their way of being more grown-up, I guess. It’s their way of asserting themselves. You know how kids are. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. Kids are kids. Please forgive my slobber when I talk, I’ll try not to do it too much. I can’t help it, it just comes out when I talk. I’ve tried to control it by not talking to people, but that just made me feel really frustrated. I went to a doctor once, but he couldn’t help me. No one can help me. My mother often tried to get me to stop. She would put a bib under my neck and make me wear it all day long, so I wouldn’t spoil my clothes. She thought she was being helpful, but it made me feel awful. My mother was a kind woman in many ways, but she never understood me. Just because I slobber is no reason to assume I have no intelligence. In fact, I am quite intelligent. All the kids would cheat off my exams in school. But I never got good grades, I don’t know why. Everyone assumed I was stupid, I guess, because I slobbered; and the teachers gave me poorer grades than I had really earned. And the children taunt me. It’s okay, they’re just children. They have to taunt someone, and it may as well be me instead of someone who would really feel hurt by it. That makes me happy, to know that someone else isn’t being taunted because I am. Maybe I can’t help them, but I can slobber for them.
Actually, I’m pretty happy now that I’m married. Oh yes, I am married. What happened was that one day I was sitting outside on the front steps of my rooming house, and a girl I had seen around the neighborhood came up to me, crying. She was in her twenties, and was very pretty. She sat down on the stoop next to me.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“Oh Mister!” she said in a Spanish accent. “I don’t know what will happen to me. I in this country not legal. I so afraid they catch me and send me back to my country!”
It turned out that she was from Salvador. She had had a very sad life in Salvador. Her father had been killed in the war, her family had no money, so one day she ran away and came here to live. She was crying while she told me this, and I felt like hugging her but I didn’t want her to misunderstand. I thought maybe she wanted some money, so I offered her some, but she just shook her head.
“Isn’t there anything I could do for you?” I asked her.
“Yes. You can marry me.”
“Yes. If you marry me, then I can stay here. Will you marry me?”
Well, I was taken aback, but I thought about it. It seemed very unlikely that anyone else would ever marry me, and if that would make her happy, then why not? So I told her I would do it.
“Oh Mister!” she cried, overjoyed. “You so nice!”
She hugged me in joy, and even went to kiss me, but I was afraid I would slobber on her, so I just hugged her. I was happy that she was happy. We made a date to get a license the next day, and then we made an appointment to be married by a Justice of the Peace the next week.
That was a happy week. Actually, I didn’t see her at all that week, but I thought about her all the time. I took some money out of the bank and bought a wedding ring. Then I thought maybe I should buy her a wedding dress too, so I went to a bridal shop and bought a dress. Truthfully, I bought the cheapest dress they had because I hadn’t realized how expensive wedding dresses were, but I thought it was the thought that counted.
As my wedding day approached, I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep at night. I thought about how beautiful Carmen would look in the dress, and how happy she would be. The morning of the wedding she came over to my room. I hadn’t seen her since the morning I proposed to her. She was even more beautiful than I remembered. She went into the bathroom down the hall and tried on the ring and dress. Unfortunately, I must have bought a dress several sizes too big because it sort of hung on her like a shroud, and the ring was too small to fit her ring finger, so she’d had to put it on her pinky. She wanted to take them off, but I guess I looked sad when she said that, so she decided to wear them. That was nice of her. She even went up to me and hugged me and thanked me for them.
Well, the wedding was a nice wedding. We got married in the office of the J.P. It was rather business-like and was over in five minutes, but I was really happy, except that on the way out Carmen tripped over her dress and fell down the steps, but luckily she wasn’t hurt. Then I realized we should have a real wedding dinner to celebrate, but I didn’t have much money left, so I took her to a diner. I was so happy, I wanted all the world to see us, but in the diner all the people stared at us and laughed. That’s okay, I guess we were pretty funny-looking.
When we got back, she kissed me on the forehead and thanked me and went to her apartment, and I went back to mine. I lay on the bed for long time. I guess I should have been really happy, but for some reason I felt sad. I felt sad for a long time after that. I tried to make myself happy by thinking about how pretty Carmen had looked on our wedding day, but truthfully she had looked sort of funny in that saggy dress. But at least now she could stay here legally, and that made me happy.
About a month later there was a knocking on my door, and I got up to answer it, and it was Carmen. She was so beautiful, but she was crying again.
“Carmen, what’s the matter?” I asked her.
“They throw me out of my apartment!” she wailed at me. “I have nowhere to live!”
“Carmen, don’t you worry, you can stay here.” I told her. I told her that without thinking, because actually my apartment is just one room, with a bathroom down the hall, and it’s kind of small even for just one person. But after all, she was my wife, so I was responsible for her. And when I told her she could stay, she became happy at once.
“Oh Mister Henry, you so nice!” She hugged me and it made me feel sort of embarrassed, but I was happy that she was happy.
Later that day she moved in. She didn’t have many belongings, just a big suitcase with clothes, so we weren’t too cramped. I offered her the bed, and I bought another mattress so I could sleep on the floor. Those days were very happy for me. Actually, it was the happiest time of my life. She worked nights and would come home around nine o’clock, and I would greet her with dinners I prepared in the communal kitchen downstairs and brought up to her. In the morning I would make breakfasts and take them to her.
One night I was napping and was still asleep when Carmen came home from work. I was so sleepy, I just lay there as she tiptoed in and began to undress, it kind of embarrasses me to say this, but I want to tell the truth. I watched her undress. I know that was wrong, but after all, she was my wife (or at least that’s how I justified it to myself). You know, she was so beautiful, I can’t tell you. I’ve never seen a more beautiful woman, although to be truthful I’d never seen a woman undressed before.
I could barely sleep that night. I was in a strange state of mind. The next morning when I brought her breakfast, I tried to act normal. I tried not to look her straight in the eye, but I think she must have known that something was the matter. Maybe I was slobbering more than usual. For the next few days, I tried not to look at her as I served her her meals.
“Something is the matter?” she asked me. “You don’t look at me anymore. Maybe you don’t like me?”
I assured her that I liked her, but something was the matter with my eyes.
“Maybe you don’t like me because I so much trouble for you.”
“Oh no!” I told her. “I like you a lot. My eyes have been bothering me, that’s all.”
“Oh poor Mister Henry!” she said and went to hug me. “You better go to eye doctor.”
“No, it’s okay. Sometimes my eyes bother me, that’s all. It’ll go away.”
“You better go to a doctor to be sure. I take you. Maybe you no see where you going and a car runs into you.”
So I let her take me to a doctor. Actually I have very good eyesight, but there in the doctor’s office I pretended I couldn’t see the last lines on the eye charts. The doctor told me it wasn’t a major problem, but that I ought to have corrective lenses, and he wrote me a prescription. When we left the doctor’s office, I thought that was that, but then Carmen said,
“Well, let’s get the glasses.”
“I don’t have enough money right now.” I told her. “I’ll buy them next month.”
“Oh poor Mister Henry.” she told me. She looked in her purse and counted her money. “I buy you glasses.”
So we went to a store that sold glasses and I tried on a lot of different frames until I found a pair that she approved of. “You look handsome in those.” she said. So we ordered them, and she went to pay the deposit, but I tried to stop her.
“Carmen, I can’t let you pay for them.”
“Oh please, Mister Henry. I make money. Let me do it!”
So I let her pay for them. I felt sort of ashamed of the whole thing, but what could I say? A week later she picked them up and brought them home.
“Now put them on!” she said proudly. I tried them on, and they weren’t too bad except they made things look kind of woozy.
“Now your eyes feel better?” she asked. I assured her that now my eyes felt great. After that, I always had to wear the glasses whenever she was around. I got used to them, but I had to be more careful going down the stairs.
A few days after that, there was a knocking on the door. I answered it, and there at my door was a fat man with a dark woman and three children.
“Here where Carmen Sanchez live?” he asked me in a Spanish accent. Actually her name was now Carmen Peachus, but Sanchez had been her maiden name. I answered him in the affirmative.
“Good. She my sister.” He offered me a hand, and beckoned to his family to come on in. They walked in and sort of flopped down on the bed and mattress. They must have been very tired. I was taken a bit aback, but after all, he was apparently my brother-in-law; and these were apparently my sister-in-law and nephews and niece, so I told them to rest while I fixed something to eat in the kitchen.
When I returned they must have rested, because the kids were running around the room yelling at each other, and my sister-in-law was poking into the drawers of my dresser, and everyone was talking but I didn’t understand what they were saying because it was in Spanish. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to entertain them, hoping that maybe Carmen would come home early that night.
Carmen got back late. When she saw the family, she laughed for joy and ran and embraced the children and her brother, and then the two of them carried on a long conversation in Spanish. However, she didn’t talk to her sister-in-law; actually it seemed to me that after the initial glance, she ignored her. Then she came to me and explained,
“This is my brother Carlos and his family. He my only family. He has nowhere to go.”
Well, the ball seemed to be in my court. It was a pretty small room, but they were after all my family now too. So Carmen slept on the bed, her brother and sister-in-law on the mattress, the kids on some pillows, and I dozed off on a chair. We bought some more mattresses the next day.
Truthfully, it was pretty crowded in there for a few weeks. Also I wasn’t getting much sleep, what with all the cooking to do and the cleaning up after the kids. But at least it took my mind off of Carmen and my confused feelings for her. Also, in the beginning, Carmen was really happy that her brother was there, so that made me happy.
But after a while it got kind of hard. The brother couldn’t find a job, and he used to come home in the afternoons really disappointed, and then he started drinking. He borrowed money from Carmen to buy drinks, and he even borrowed money from me a couple of times, but I didn’t have much left from my pension to lend him, after paying for rent and food. I didn’t mind lending him the money because I could see how unhappy he was, and at least the drinks made him happier.
Also, it seemed that Carmen didn’t get along too well with her sister-in-law. In the beginning they didn’t talk to each other, but after a time, especially after her brother started coming home drunk every night, they snapped at each other. I didn’t know what they were talking about because they spoke in Spanish, and even after I bought a Spanish dictionary I couldn’t tell what they were arguing about because they talked faster than I could look up what they were saying, and I found it hard to read the small print with glasses on.
Also, the children seemed to grow more and more unhappy. They were sort of mean kids, but maybe they were just bored. I took them to the park a few times, but it always seemed to wind up with them getting into fights with the other kids. I didn’t really understand them. They would point at me and call, “Baba! Baba!” and laugh, while I was happy that they called me papa, it seemed like they were teasing me. I guess I didn’t speak their language well enough to understand them.
It was during this time that Carmen and I would sometimes go out for long walks together at night after she got home from work, and on weekends. It was nice that she asked me to go with her. She would tell me about her life in Salvador, and about how nice her brother was to her when they were growing up. She told me she felt really sad seeing him so unhappy now.
“He changed so much. I no like being with him now. It very hard for me, and it very hard for you, too.” she said.
Then she cried sometimes. She would walk hugging me close or holding my hand. That made me happy, that I could comfort her. But it also made my confused feelings for her come back.
Truthfully, I think I was in love with her. But I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t know what being in love felt like. Once we sat on a bench in the park and she snuggled up to me and hugged me, and I hugged her back. Then she looked up at me, and I thought that maybe she wanted to kiss me even, but I wasn’t sure, and I was sort of scared, and that made me start to slobber, so I turned away. Poor Carmen, to be married to a slobberer.
Anyway, after that she spent whatever time she could down in the kitchen with me helping to cook and clean up. That was fun. She didn’t know how to use American utensils, like pressure cookers, so I taught her how to cook. We had lots of fun in the kitchen making meals together in the middle of the night.
Well, the situation with my in-laws got worse and worse. One Saturday afternoon her brother was drunk and was lying on the bed. Carmen said something to him which I didn’t understand, but the sister-in-law jumped up and got really mad at Carmen. They both cut loose and began yelling at each other in Spanish, and then the kids joined in and started yelling and crying too. All of a sudden the sister-in-law slapped Carmen on the cheek. Carmen’s eyes blazed, and I saw that real trouble was brewing, so I stood up and moved in between them. Then the sister-in-law turned on me and began yelling at me in Spanish. I tried to calm her down and explained I couldn’t understand what she was saying until I got my dictionary out, but I must have started slobbering because the next thing I knew the brother was there too, yelling at me:
“¨You spit on my wife! You pig! Don’t you spit on my wife!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I apologized. “I can’t help it, it just comes out when I talk.”
“You pig! You spit on me! Don’t you spit on me, you dirty cheat!”
Cheat? That was an odd thing to call me. I don’t think I’m a cheat, but then his English wasn’t very good. Maybe he meant “slobberer” or something.
“You spit on me, you cheat, I spit on you!” he yelled, and he began to spit on me. “You cheat! You cheat!”
He grabbed my glasses and threw them to the floor and stomped on them. At least now I could see him clearly, but Carmen became enraged. She threw herself at him, screaming in Spanish, and he backed away from me. Then there was all this screaming and yelling that I didn’t understand at all, and finally Carmen said something which produced a dead stillness. Everyone looked at one another. Then they all looked at me. I felt like smiling or waving or something, but I thought maybe I’d better just keep still. Then the sister-in-law and the kids started crying, and the brother gathered them all together and hugged them. Carmen started crying too, and came to me, and I hugged her.
After a while the in-laws quieted down and moved apart and began to silently pack up their belongings. When they had everything together they stood for a moment looking at Carmen and me, and then they left, banging the door behind them. Carmen began crying again, and hugged me tighter. When she had calmed down I asked her,
“What did you say to him?”
“I told him to go.” she said. “He no can act like that with my husband.”
She looked up at me, and then she reached up and pulled me to her and kissed me on the lips. I was afraid maybe I would start to slobber again, and I tried to turn away, but she pulled me back and kissed me again. And then, well, it doesn’t matter what happened then. But I knew I was really in love with her.
Anyway, we have a little baby now. She’s really cute, she looks just like Carmen. The only thing that worries me is that she slobbers a lot, but Carmen says that’s okay, it’s perfectly normal. I guess she’s right. I hope she’s right.
(Copyright © 2010 by Bob Makransky. All rights reserved).