1. Sorry for Partying
For single black female Alison White, Pilsen was a precious place to live.
Hi, Medium! I’m Tessa, and every day this month I’ll be serially posting my unpublished novella “Sorry For Partying,” in honor of National Novel Writing Month. You can read all the posts right here. This novella was named a runner-up for the 2013 Paris Literary Prize and you can watch a short video of me discussing it here. “Sorry For Partying” draws on my experience as an educator and a native Chicagoan. I hope you enjoy, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Hit me up on Twitter @tessalaprofessa.
“Wherever the law is, crime can be found.”
- The Gulag Archipelago
On the Moral Implications of Ali’s Intrauterine Device
For single black female Alison White, Pilsen was a precious place to live. Populated mainly by Spanish-speakers, tacked onto the south side of the Loop, divided from the rest of Mexo-Chicago by a freeway whose job it was to do just that, Pilsen persisted. Even now, in the fall of 2011, as the heat hung on and Hispanic radio drifted through the streets, as the impeding hordes of hipsters—having exhausted themselves moving northwards and west, priced out by the gentrification they themselves had produced, having in recent months doubled back, for the first time, to the south side of the Loop, to discover Pilsen—even through this, Pilsen persisted. The taquerias still sold chiles rellenos, the bodegas laid out their tomatillos and tortillas every morning, the murals in bright yellows, blues and reds were hardly tarnished by these demographic shifts. For the most part, Alison was glad.
But not right now. Now, she was laying on Carmen’s bare mattress, as he cleaned up his life around her. For a year they had shared this second floor apartment in a humble home on Loomis and 19th street, had lived happily in some kind of domestic bliss, but apparently this was the end. He was leaving her.
“Don’t go,” Ali moaned. She grimaced and clutched at her guts. On top of everything, she had her menstrual cramps. Also, it was raining. She could hear the rain surround their little house, flooding their small neighborhood with wet. Ali groaned. She had a theory that when her abdomen hurt this bad, Wallo had successfully impregnated her this month, and the pain wracking her south-of-the-border was her IUD rejecting whatever illegal alien had implanted itself on her uterine wall.
“Don’t go,” she said again. She opened her eyes and marveled at the sight of Carmen’s emptied room, barer than she’d ever seen it. He stood at the dresser, dusting the edges of its empty drawers, surrounded by the disappearance of himself. Gone were the bright red curtains and Himalayan prayer flags, the faded posters of Ricky Martin and Shakira, the nails above the bureau where he had hung the necklaces he only wore around the house. She had never seen the room like this, devoid of those artifacts of Carmen which constituted his very Carmen-ness. Even Carmen seemed half gone. All he hadn’t packed was the photograph of Howard Zinn, clipped from the People’s History at the Pilsen Public Library, now on a dining chair forming a makeshift shrine with a statue of Ganesha and a dollar candle of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Onto the candle’s glass wall the virgin mother was painted with her palms open and her eyes raised, her suffering nearly as graceful and exquisite as Carmen’s, who only this morning had been fired from his job as fourth grade special needs coordinator and Alison’s co-teacher at Progress Charter School, née Cermak Elementary, where they had both until recently worked.
“How will I do Columbus Day without you?” Ali asked.
Carmen came and sat at the edge of the bed. “Just bring that picture of Zinn with you to school,” he said, rubbing Ali’s back. “And hold it to your heart mientras se lo dices a los chiquitos how Cristóbal Colón was a racist, rapist, slaveowner who thought their ancestors were stupid animals and he stole their country for imaginary gold.”
Ali propped herself up on her elbows to better consider the picture of Zinn. “It’s like the worst of both worlds,” she said. “Yes Columbus was horrible, but he also spoke Spanish, which everyone also forgets. What do I tell our little hispanohablantes?”
“Tell them the truth,” Carmen sighed. “If you don’t lie to them, that will be enough.”
Alison flopped back down onto her belly. Traffic rattled past the window, sending water droplets fluttering down the iron tiers of a fire escape.
They stood dancing in the kitchen as the onions and peppers sputtered on the stove, Carmen occasionally spinning out from Ali’s embrace to stir them with a battered wooden spoon. Through the floor they could hear the family downstairs arguing in Spanish, the mother chiding her kids like all mothers do. On the kitchen table, Ali’s cell phone buzzed. She dropped Carmen’s arm to take it.
“Wallo’s coming over,” she said, sitting down. “What? He called me.”
“Bullshit, muchacha,” Carmen said. He spooned the fajitas onto a plate and carried them over to the table. “So why you don’t turn him down?’
Alison knew her roommate was mad, but it felt easier to let him slip away, drip drip drip, like whatever blue-eyed baby grew inside her. “Leave me alone,” she said. “I have cramps.”
“Yes, a gringo pendejo will solve your womanly pains, absolutamente,” Carmen said. He held a taco over the stove range’s open flames, then flipped it with his bare fingers.
“I’m sorry,” Ali said. Carmen was older, he knew things she didn’t. His eyes told her he knew what she was doing, that he saw her preemptively pulling back. But understanding didn’t mean it felt good. He walked to the table with a plate of tortillas, sliced tomatos, grated cheese.
“Uuuuuuoooooooggggggghhhhaaaaaahhhhh,” Ali cried, the African-American Ur-groan writ spoiled. “How am I going to survive without you?”
“No se,” he said. But his eyes said: so tell me not to go. So say you love me the most.
They ate in silence until the doorbell rang. Ali buzzed Wallo in and then there he was, sliding past her through the open door, his thick black hair piled atop his head, almost female in its luxuriance, his feet skittering across the kitchen tile as though this was a television set, his slim hips leading like Ali and Carmen had pulled Wallo in by his corduroy waistband.
“Hola, fuckers!” said Wallo. “Alison, Carmelo.”
Grimacing at his given name, Carmen stood and carried some empty dishes to the sink. Wallo promptly took his seat and patted his knee, inviting Carmen to sit down there.
“How did you not get fired today?” Carmen asked, from the sink.
Wallo grabbed some peppers with his fingers and tossed them into his mouth. “Who did?”
“Carmen did,” said Ali.
“Well shit,” said Wallo. “Now what.”
Carmen steeled himself against the sink for his announcement. “I’m going to occupy Wall Street.”
Wallo laughed, threw his head back and positively guffawed. “You’re fucking kidding me.”
“I am not,” Carmen said. “Now go. Both of you. Don’t crowd the kitchen for my sake.”