Miss Mexico City
In February, Greenport is a tired-looking, pushed around, weather-beaten boat wreck of a town.
This is not the simmer of summer, when the so-called “cidiots” arrive with their roller blades, their gown-like dresses, their summer hats, and paperbacks. This is lonesome town. This is jumbles of telephone wires, rotting clapboard, shuttered-up houses. Stroll by the shop windows with their dusty displays of wax candles and organic cotton shirts and real estate deals. What looks like a boat shack is going for less than half a million dollars. Almost sounds cheap.
I push my hands into my pockets, take a walk down the pier. Some signs of life as I survey the waterfront, green waters dancing below: a carousel spinning (this during winter break), some teens skating on the rink, the honk of the Shelter Island ferry gliding out like a fat goose.
I walk on. The white smoke of Aldo’s roast coffee is puffing into Front Street from those twin tin chimneys on that clean glinting metal roof, one that I always admired, one that always looked good, even in Greenport in February. Aldo the Sicilian stands inside, you can see his white afro through the window glass, stirring the beans until they toast up black. The harsh, coarse smell of the bean roast flows out and down the way, past the solitary parked police car. Across the street at the cafe, the young lady from Mexico City is wiping down the tables in her pink shirt apron.
She glides about with wheel-sized hoops dangling from her ears.
When I catch that first glimpse of Miss Mexico City again, when I see she’s real, my blood pressure rockets, pounds in my ears. A nervous jelly feeling in the guts. I had hoped that I might see her once again, but I never believed it.
But she’s here. Over there. Now. Aqui!
I come up to the cafe door, and she walks right by me, gives me the official “hello” and heads back into the kitchen like she’s never laid eyes on me before. Part of me is sad, that quick indifference from her. As if I’m just some client. She used to be so warm to me though. She used to blush. She used to make me feel special when I was lonely.
At least she’s here. That’s something. Others, you know, they come and they go. They come and they order the organic African coconut curry, or the vegetarian chili with cornbread. They get their groceries and spend too much money. Or maybe they even work here for a spell, she she works here, but they move on too. This cafe can’t pay much. So they work a summer or two and they vanish. But Miss Mexico City? She has just stayed here working. I saw her soon after we came in years ago — was it only three? — back when we moved out to this end of the world.
Back when I was married.
We moved in and then we moved out, after a year or two that was all over. I haven’t been back since.
This young woman with the pink shirt and hoop earrings had nothing to do with that though. Nothing at all. I should admit though that I liked her already though. It’s safe to say that now isn’t it? Sometimes, when I was on the beach, I swear she would materialize out of the humidity. I’d be standing there alone and see her floating over the Peconic. Her chocolate hair was dripping over her nakedness. She looked like a goddess from an Aztec codice.
It made me feel so warm and fantastic.
I haven’t thought about her much since we left, but now with her here before me, it comes back bubbling like hot chocolate, those daily declarations to customers (“How are you today, Frank?” “How’s it going, Annie?”) the way she bites one nail while she rings up the register and says, “I’m sorry, but we have a $10 minimum for credit cards.” She has no detectable accent. Speaks like a California girl. Met a boy on the Internet, moved up to Greenport. They had some stereotypical young couple plan, “One day we’ll buy a bus, travel to California, get rich, and live off the land.”
She had me flustered. I’ll admit it. Red in cheek, numb in tongue. Dreadful moments in my late married life. Dreadful. Harsh recollections of my father flirting with the girls at the local Starbucks up island, you know, the only women in his life that were actually happy to see him at that time (Because they’re paid to). Then my then wife scolding me when I once mentioned my “friend at the cafe.” “Wait? You mean you’re flirting with some cashier girl? Just like your father?”
Her name is now a mystery to me. It was something flavorful though. Hot and tasty. A dash of red cayenne powder with plenty of garlic and melted butter in the mix. Okay, when she bent over to price up a new box of fizzy drinks, I might have looked once. Yet it was all innocent, I swear. Just looking. A momentary impulse. Besides, my daughters were tearing up the place with special demands to try some vegan ice cream, or stock up on those dark chocolate peanut butter cups. They had little carts for my little ladies to push around the store and cafe. And now I’m broke.
Miss Mexico City would look at me though and make that consoling, pitying face. A face you could love. “Your little girls are firecrackers,” she would say. “Oh, I used to be like that. Oh, I should really call my father and apologize.”
Then she would mention casually that she also worked as a babysitter and bite her thumb nail. Couldn’t bring myself to set an appointment. I’m not like that. Saw her rise over the beach sands, a mirage, a voluptuous statue from the crypts of Tenochtitlan. She came gliding up through the air. Another ghost woman in my arms. She was so warm.
In the corner I write, I watch, I wait. From the kitchen she returns to the register. With my lunch all done — the vegetarian chili, the cornbread, and the fizzy kombucha — I make my move. I need to look her eyes one last time. She might not be here next. She might go back to Mexico.
“Hello,” she says, big pretty eyes rising up to meet mine and then looks away quickly. Then it all seems to click in her mind and she looks back, sharp. “Oh, God, I haven’t see you in like five years.”
I lay my left hand dead on the counter. “You mean you actually remember me?”
“Of course I remember you!”
“And you’re still here?”
“Oh, I am still here,” she says with a more resigned look that says Greenport in February all over it. As tired as those sinking roofs. She does look a bit older now. You can see it in the eyes, the redness, puffiness. That’s work. When I met her she was still young. Now I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she married. “I live right across the street now, by the wharf. I’m working at another cafe here. You were the one with the crazy daughters. Two right?””
Eyes widen, a sorrowful look. Then another sigh. “Oh, don’t you worry. They’re only a bundle until they hit age 18. They get on their ways after that. Until then though …” She taps at the register. I remember you and your girls well, you know. Your daughter was like, ‘My daddy’s our chauffeur. He goes everywhere with us. Everywhere.'”
“Oh, come on, it’s not so bad,” she says shooing away the worries. “It’ll pass. Don’t you worry.”
“At this point, I’ll take it.”
A very sad look at my left hand, which I offer up on the counter again like some weird sacrifice.
“No, really,” I repeat. “At this point in my life, it’s good to be anybody’s chauffeur.”
“Oh,” she says, and then she strokes my hand on the counter. “I should really call my father in Mexico City. I was such a hellion growing up.”
Miss Mexico City takes my card, runs it through the reader, types a few digits into the register. When the receipt prints, I sign it and hand it back to her. I do have to ask her one last question.
“Hey. What did you say your name was?”
“What?” Her cheeks are suddenly flushed, and her eyes retreat a bit, as if drawn into a dream.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten it.”
“Oh, Luz,” she says by placing a firm tongue behind that top row of teeth. “My name is Luz. It’s like light, you know.”