Dirty Girls on Top

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

St. Martin's Press

Chapter One

Usnavys

so, you know I’m not a hoochie, okay? But an unhappy marriage can make a woman do questionable things. Things she’s not proud of, things she only tells her closest friends—and even then with the understanding that, if they blab about it, they’ll get their butts kicked. So it is, m’ija, that I am cheating on my husband at a big adobe resort outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have never cheated on him before, and I’m not sure I’ll do it again. Alls I knew was I had to do it just this once.

My college friends, the sucias who’ve been my support network for fifteen years—since we met as freshmen at Boston University—will arrive here in a few days for our annual vacation trip, a tradition we started two years ago. Me, though? I flew here from Boston yesterday to take care of some personal business. A seven-year-itch kind of thing, only a little early. I am not proud of it. I decided I’d seduce the golf pro after I saw his photo in the brochure for the resort. I learned what I could about him, and I concocted my strategy. It worked.

My husband, Juan? He’d looked up at me through his smudgy Clark Kent eyeglasses over the morning paper across the breakfast table before I left yesterday, his curly black hair sticking up all greasy wherever it wasn’t receding. "Why are you going early, mi reina?" he wanted to know. Reina means queen, and to him, I’m still an empress. He doesn’t know about the golf pro, and I don’t think you should tell him, either.

I told Juan I wanted to get to the resort early, to observe some outreach programs having to do with Latinas and AIDS in New Mexico, for my work as an executive with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay. It sounded very official when I said it, and he was duly impressed with his empress. "They’ve been very successful," I assured him, with a wave of my hand. "It’s a model that might be emulated here in New England."

He believed me, el pobre. He thinks marriage changed me. For a while I did change, too, but now I know better. Listen to me. After ten years of juggling no less than two men at a time, a woman does not just up and change, even though God and the world know there’s a piece of paper and shared taxes involved now. I am a "manizer" the same way my daddy was a womanizer. I was to the manor born, as the americanos say, and, even though I’m not proud of it, I seem to have stayed the way he met me.

Juan thinks I’m different because he chooses to see the best in people, even when it isn’t there. His heart hallucinates. I know, you think that’s a plus, right? Being married to a loving optimist like Juan. But nena, that’s just it. Juan believes everyone and he does it indiscriminately. Ain’t no backbone in that. The boy is naïve. Back when he had him a job (ahem), he believed all them drug addicts when they told him they were clean and sober as an Osmond now, he believed them when they said they were going to get jobs and stop doing shit like stealing cars. Then he acted all surprised when they came crawling back into rehab after getting arrested for crime and crack again. I try telling him, people don’t change that much, m’ijo, no matter how bad you want them to. Badly. Yes, I know the difference between good and bad grammar; no, I don’t give a rat’s ass. Whatever, no?

This resort is supposed to look like a Pueblo Indian village, like in those Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, where the pastel flower petals look all coochie unfurling in their glistening glory. I think this place looks like a big bunch of caramels all stacked on top of each other, or like a dusty old stack of wedding cake. Depends on your attitude. At the moment, I’ve chosen candy over cake.

Chocolate, to be exact.

His name is Marcus Williams, and he’s the golf pro—like an older, darker Tiger Woods in his crisp white polo shirt and khaki shorts, with that salt-and-pepper hair and that little sexy mustache. He’s probably forty-five or so, but he’s got him some deltoids like cantaloupes. You don’t think you’re going to find a fine black brother teaching golf up on an Indian reservation near Santa Fe, nena, but life is full of delicious surprises, ¿sí? From what I read about him, I know that Marcus used to be a professional golfer. He retired and came to work here in New Mexico because he likes the desert but dislikes Arizona’s take on black people. I’ve seen his car, and it’s a white Cadillac, so you know he’s got at least a little something-something stashed away from the days when he almost won the U.S. Open and Nike came knocking on his door. I learned all this about him on the Internet, following his comments on message boards and things like that. I plan my attacks like an army general, always have.

I should tell you, Juan don’t play golf. Doesn’t. He doesn’t play golf. Dominos, yes; golf, no. Nintendo, yes; skiing, no. I try telling him, you will never get ahead in business inviting CEOs to play dominos, nene, but he’s like, "I don’t want to play anything with CEOs except Revolution, I want to play with my tío and my sobrino and the people I actually like." Whatever.

All my life I dreamed that I’d marry the kind of man who played him some golf, and liked to ski and went to places like Jackson Hole, okay? I imagined it, and it felt good. So, I’m not saying I’m falling in love with Marcus or any nonsense like that, I’m just saying Marcus plays golf and Juan doesn’t. Marcus has a Cadillac and Juan doesn’t. Marcus wears polo shirts, Juan does not. I’m just saying that sometimes you have things in your head a certain way and life spins you a different way, and you still wonder about that road not taken, only my road not taken is more like a little path for golf carts. I like Marcus, and I wonder, you know, if I’d married me someone like that, would I still be struggling to pay the Bloomingdale’s charge on time. I wonder if I’d still be choosing to go to fancy dinners for work alone because I can’t bear the sight of my husband in his Che Guevara T-shirt and tuxedo jacket sitting next to me. I am a woman of class and substance, and I’d like to imagine what it would be like to be married to a man of class and substance, or at least to spend some time with one. So sue me.

Oh, and the best part? Marcus likes me back. I knew he would, though, and not just because he said my Boston accent was cute. It’s because I look good and I smell good and I’m full of compliments of the type and caliber that make a man feel important. That’s all. Oh, and he likes some big thighs, know what I’m sayin’? You know how black men feel about curvy women of a generous size and proportions. Uh-huh. He gave me a lesson this morning, wrapping his big old arms around me to show me how to swing, holding me so close I could smell the manly spice of his deodorant and the heat of the sun on his clean cotton clothes. He eased his hand over mine and whispered in my ear, "Don’t swing carelessly, Usnavys, don’t lose focus on your game, girl."

I could have taken him right then, okay, nena? I coulda had him this morning, that’s how bad he wanted me. But I had lunch to attend to in the resort café. Some things are better if you have to wait for them—including me. I sat outside, behind my big sunglasses with the golden dior on the sides, with a view of the kiva-shaped pool and the jagged plum-colored mountains, with my copy of Oprah and Gourmet to keep me company. I started with some baby pork ribs marinated in red chile and hoisin sauce, with a side of rainbow-striped designer coleslaw with black seeds in it. To drink, I had sparkling water with a twist of lemon, and a sweet white zinfandel. Then, because I knew I’d need some energy for the afternoon, I had the leg of lamb, marinated in garlic sage oil. There was polenta on the side, which is really grits but nobody around here is going to tell you that, baby, with tomatoes and pine nuts all sprinkled up on it. They say pine nuts are the most expensive nuts in the world to harvest, the caviar of the nut world, because it’s so damn hard to get them out of the pine cones. I had a local red wine with the main meal. Even though I am not big on drinking so much in the middle of the day, I knew I might need to drift away a little bit because of what was coming. There was something else I wanted to tell you. What was it? Oh, right, m’ija. The rest of the meal. What was the side dish? I remember now. You would have died, girl. It was sautéed vegetables, which ordinarily would not sit well with me because I do not do vegetables, but they were tossed with a pecan demi-glace and mint. It was so good I almost decided not to go for dessert, but when I saw the light, simple strawberry cheesecake, I could not refuse.

Same goes for Marcus. Look at him. Look at him. You know what I’m saying.

No, Marcus will not be finding out I’m married. Are you crazy, girl? He doesn’t need to know. Four years married. I’m not trying to hurt Juan, the main man in my life since high school. Seriously. He’s good enough at doing that all by himself, okay? He started that masochistic trend by not having him a real job, with real pay. He made it worse by deciding he wanted to quit his job as the director of a rehab center for Latino men to be a "stay-at-home papi." Because I, an executive with style and grace, made three times his salary. We agreed we didn’t want a nanny raising our Carolina, because I can tell you from personal experience, that whole nanny thing is for people who care more about their dogs than their children. I always thought it would be me at home with the kid, not him. He’s all, "Go ahead and stay home, but we’ll have to downgrade a few things on my salary." I drive a BMW, nena, and I wasn’t about to go back to a backfiring Neon with a dragging tailpipe. So here we are.

Pero, Mister Mom, how joto, no? I don’t care how good he is with her. Watching Juan answer questions from Dora the Explorer with our daughter doesn’t exactly make me lustful for him. Dora’s all, "Do you see a monkey?" and Juan’s like, "Right there, Dora!" Pointing his finger and shit. I can’t stand that show. That Dora girl, and Diego too, they sound like they been drinking lead paint. I appreciate my husband. I do. Seriously. I just don’t want him. He might as well dress his hairy ass up like a French maid, m’ija. That’s how much he’s turning me on lately.

I know kids need their parents to stay together and all that. I mean, I thought that was basically true, until I heard some guy on a progressive talk show saying how the Bible actually doesn’t say squat about monogamous marriages, and how David in the Bible had him seven hundred wives and how up until three hundred years ago, polygamy was the damn norm for most of the world. I didn’t believe it, and went and looked it up, and saw that it was true. All these "family values" people who thump the Bible around don’t even know what they’re thumping, that there was lots of humping going on in that book. That made me think. Lots of things do.

God knows I don’t want to hurt our daughter (even if she does act like a filthy little tomboy), but I was raised to want a real man, a man’s man, and right now I can’t believe my stay-at-home flojón fits that description. Anyway, he’s too tired to seduce me anymore, right? Girls like me? We’re raised to be conquered by our men, okay? That’s the verb we use for seduction, m’ija. It’s conquistar. "To conquer." With his dishpan hands and aching back, Juan doesn’t have the strength to conquistarme. It’s sad.

Don’t get all preachy with me about this, either. Listen. Tell me, nena, do real men make their grandmama’s sancocho recipe from memory, cracking the corn cobs in half like a practiced campesina, with their favorite daytime talk show playing on the kitchen flat-screen? Do real men call abuelita in Bayamón to ask her the best way to mash the tostones, all the while licking yellow cupcake batter from the wooden spoon out of the pink Williams-Sonoma bowl I bought myself for Easter last year? Cupcakes he takes to Carolina’s exclusive preschool for her snack day, while I’m slaving away at the office in a pants suit? Tell me. Don’t be shy now. I’d like to know. Do they? Bueno.

Mira, I know it’s retro, the way I’m thinking and so on and so forth. But I, like George Washington and esa animal con pistola Lolita Lebrón, cannot tell a mentirita. Okay? It’s that simple. It’s like this: With the way my family goes on about it, like when my mami clicks her tongue like a chicken and says how disappointed she is I couldn’t do better than some masculine moocher, I feel like he’s taken my womanhood from me, like he done gone and cut my uterus out with pinking shears.

Marcus, when I invited him up at the end of the golf lesson, lifted his big mirrored aviator sunglasses and watched me walk all the way across the putting green to the clubhouse in the bright white sunshine, a smile of scandal and surprise in his wide-set, honey-colored eyes. I was all, swish-to-the-left, swish-to-the-right, and I wore me a pretty pink golf skirt, okay? Not wide-ass khaki shorts like all the other women with their flat butts. Those women look like they’re about to wrestle a crocodile down or something, girl. Not me. I wore me a sexy little skirt, and he watched my nalgas like they was one of them golden pocket-watches German hypnotists pendulum around when they say "you’re getting sleepy." My body is mad hypnotic, right? Five four, a size twenty curved up in all the right places, thirty-three years old, and men still be begging me for a piece, okay? You know I got it like that, girl. You know I do. I take good care of myself, that’s all.

Five minutes ago, at two in the afternoon on the dot, Marcus knocked on the door to my mountain-view suite and I, wearing only my black lace body stocking, shiny black do-me pumps, a three-strand pearl choker, and the hotel-issue robe, answered. I don’t wear a body stocking because I’m embarrassed of my size or anything like that. It’s just nice to have something holding me all in place. After having a baby, things jiggle-wiggle a little more than a girl is used to, and this way I have the support. Anyway, it took less than twelve seconds of his nervous small talk for the thick white robe to slip off.

Whoops.

So there I was, all curves and soft brown skin. I have to tell you, I have gotten sexually bold in my thirties. If you’re a modern Latina, I swear it’s like you spend your whole twenties working like loca to get over your Catholic guilt at being sexual at all, just so you can be a vixen in your thirties. Marcus whispered "whoa," and stuttered after that, wanted to ask me what I did for a living, what brought me to the resort, what city I lived in, and all that kind of nonsense, but I shut him up quick. "I don’t know you, Marcus," I said, handing him a cherry-flavored condom as I draped myself across the big bed with its earth-tone Southwestern bedspread, "and you don’t know me. Let’s keep it that way for now, nene, ¿’ta bien?"

When he heard the Spanish he was all, "What’s a fine African-American woman doing talking Mexican?" and it was all I could do not to turn him around and drop-kick his ass back to the clubhouse, okay?

"For your information, I am Puerto Rican," I told him, pointing to my luscious neck with my French acrylic tips. "And the language you heard was Spanish. Ain’t nobody in the world speak no Mexican, okay? Mexican? That’s not a language, now shut your mouth before you start to look ugly to me, and let’s do this thing."

I had to pull him to me after that, not because he didn’t want none of mama’s island papaya pie, but rather because he was all human popsicle in shock, like he couldn’t move. Men dream about women doing this kind of thing to them all the time, but there aren’t many mujeres who can pull it off, you know what I mean? So, when it happens, they get stiff as uncooked pasta. A practiced campesina like my girly husband has become coulda broke that boy in half with her bare hands.

Now, here we are, ten minutes into it, and Marcus has apologized for his ignorance about Spanish. "I am sorry. That was very uncouth of me. You wouldn’t know I went to Yale talking like that, I suppose," he said, and I was all, "Yale?" and he said, "Yeah, I have a law degree that I don’t use anymore," and that’s when he told me he was a widower whose wife used to be an attorney, and that he’s actually quite well-off and only does the golf pro thing because he loves golf and needs to be around people so he doesn’t go crazy.

That last bit made me have to respect him, m’ija, and even though I don’t want to, I am now seeing him as more than a piece of ass. Now he looks like a potential friend, which is no good. I mean, my husband Juan? Soon as that boy sees we’ve got enough money, he quits his job and stays home. But not Marcus. Marcus has enough to retire on and live comfortably, but he would rather work because he takes pride in work and likes it. Why didn’t I marry me a man like this, girl? That’s what I want to know. Why did I think Juan would shape up just because I bought him some nice shirts? Life doesn’t work like that, and now it’s too late. Or not. I don’t know. You make your own life, and it ain’t over until it’s over.

I push the possibility of falling for Marcus out of my mind and focus on the task at hand, even though if I’m honest I’d say he looks a lot better now that I know he’s a man of means and substance. He’s gotten over his stage fright nicely now, too, and there’s a passion to him that pleases me. I was worried he’d be wooden about this, but he isn’t. He’s all down on his knees at the edge of the bed, his oval face all up in my cocoa-puff, nosing around like a pig in truffles. And if you were to bottle it, I bet it’d cost like truffles, too. I’m that good.

He’s making satisfied sniffles and there’s the sloppy wet sound I haven’t heard in a while. It has been. Too long. Okay? Something happens when you have a baby, nena, and it has nothing to do with your body. It’s all flat psychological. You and your husband? You get so tired from the whole thing, all the up and down all night with the baby, all the fights over whose turn it is to change the diapers or warm up the bottle, all the arguments about the best way to do this or that, that you just lose interest in each other like that. I didn’t lose interest in sex, okay? I just lost interest in sex with my husband. It’s been three months since Juan and I knocked the booties, and I wouldn’t care if we went another three years, I really wouldn’t.

"A little more to the front," I tell Marcus. He follows instructions and, oh my goodness, girl, gets a bull’s-eye. Juan, though? Please, girl. The one time I tried to suggest he do it differently, three months ago on a night when I worked late and got home in need of loving, he sighed and looked all beleaguered, wiped his mouth on the back of his soggy gorilla hand like I made him tired, and whined, "Do I have to?"

What is that shit, m’ija? "Do I have to?" Please, psh. How can you get busy with a man who asks you something nonsensical like that? I was all, "If there’s something you’d rather be doing, then by all means, nene, go do it." I closed my legs to him then, and I haven’t had the urge to open them to him again. It’s not entirely my fault that I’ve wandered down the path to Marcus. It’s Juan’s fault, too, for not trying harder to keep me interested.

"Así, papito," I call to Marcus as I run my hands over his short, kinky hair.

"I’ll assume that means ‘yes, Daddy,’ in Puerto Rican Spanish," he mumbles.

"It means ‘like that, Daddy,’" I correct him. He smiles up at me as he tweaks my nipple with one hand, and I feel like I’m on fire.

I read one time that some marriages need affairs, because they reignite the flames that went out between husband and wife. Honestly? I love my husband because he’s the only fool who completely understands where I come from. I don’t have to explain anything about being a Puerto Rican New Englander to him, because he’s one too. I’m hoping that’s what happens here, okay? That I can take these flames that this golf pro man has fired up in me and keep them lit up like the Olympic torch until I get home.

"I want to be inside you," he mumbles, twisting out of his polo shirt, coming up toward me all sculpted muscle. He’s removing the golf pro shorts, and mama is pleased to see his club’s nothing less than a seven iron.

"What a boy wants, a boy gets." I arrange myself for easy access. "Gimme that putter, baby. Sink it in the hole."

"More like a driver, but who’s going to quibble over semantics at a moment like this?" he asks as he slides in with a groan, and tells me how warm and soft it is. Like I didn’t know. I’m pure melted butter, nena. Okay? He begins to rock me, gently, with a sweet smile on his face. I don’t mean to, but I start to make some little noises. Before I know it, my eyes have rolled back in my head, and I’ve begun to suck my own damn finger. For Catholic girls, it’s easier to be kinky with a man we don’t know.

Don’t think less of me, okay? I have never been a one-man woman any more than my daddy was a one-woman man. It’s in my genes. I didn’t sleep around, exactly. But you know how I did. I had multiple possibilities to get me through my day. My girlfriends can confirm this for you when they get here. Just ask them, any of them. All my adult life, until I got married, I juggled men, at least two at a time, as a form of insurance. If one left me, the way my daddy did, or didn’t pay enough attention to me, the way my daddy did, or got his ass shot dead by hoodlums, like my brother did, there was always the other one to step in. I been like that since high school, when I first started dating Juan and realized my love for him was so big it might crush me if he ever lost interest. I kept them all at a distance after understanding that. None of them have been close to my heart except him, and now he’s breaking it with his santa madre act. I am a sound investor—never put in more than you can afford to lose. The safest bets involve a diversified portfolio. I’m all about biology and financial planning.

The pumping gets faster. Marcus goes to work, okay? Something about athletes. They know their bodies. Ay, m’ija. Why does chingando have to feel so good? Wouldn’t the world’s problems be solved if sex felt more like plunging up a clogged toilet? You don’t like to think God screwed up, but with the whole sex-drive thing, he just might have. Without pleasurable sex, there’d be no risk of overpopulation, no AIDS, no unwanted pregnancies, and no cheating wives.

"Harder, baby," I tell Marcus as I press my eyes closed and flex my calf muscles. I could get used to this man. Yes, I could. If I weren’t married, I mean. Which I am. I am married. Have to remember. That. Oh. God. "I’m almost there."

He says nothing, and, like the husband I wish I had married instead of the one I got, does exactly what I ordered.

When we finish, he leans up on his elbow, all sweet-looking, kisses me gently on the lips, and says, with a tear in his eye, "It has been a long time since I did that, Usnavys Rivera."

"Pssh. You’re lying."

"No, no, I’m not lying." He closes his eyes, flops onto his back with a satisfied, melancholy smile, mouthing numbers as he counts on his fingers. His eyes open and he regards me seriously. "Three years. It has been three years since I made love to a woman."

"What? Why? You scared of girls, Marcus?"

The tears brim a little more, and one of them traces a line down his check. He wipes it away with a strong, solid hand I’m sure doesn’t do dishes all day. "No, I’m not scared of girls. Three years ago. That’s when my wife died. I haven’t met anyone who interested me, and, frankly, did not think I ever would. Until now."

I balk. "I’m the first? Since your wife died?"

Marcus nods, and smiles with a hint of sadness that is quickly replaced by something that looks like love. "You remind me of her. You two. You look alike. She was a firecracker, just like you."

"A firecracker," I say. I don’t know what else to tell him. I remind the man of his dead wife, and he loved her, and I know he’s transferring that onto me and I don’t deserve it, but still. Transfers can feel real, m’ija. They can. You shouldn’t be jealous of a dead woman, but for some reason, I am. I imagine the house they lived in, the wine they shared on the terrace, the elegance of her husband a sharp contrast to the ordinariness of mine.

"So, I hope this won’t be the last time we see one another," he says. "I’d love to get a number for you in Boston. I travel out that way quite a bit. And now that I’ve met you, I have a reason to go more often."

I should know better, girl, I should. I realize that. This is the part where a nice person would tell the truth about her husband and child. Denial is a wonderful thing, though, when you need it. So it is that I get up and walk to the desk, and I write my cell number down on the little hotel pad of paper. I rip off the sheet, hand it to him, wondering how on earth I’m going to keep Juan from finding this shit out. I’m going to have to start policing my phone like a guard. I’m going to have to sneak and lie my ass off. What is wrong with me, m’ija? I shouldn’t have opened this door, but what else am I supposed to do? Old habits die hard.

The man, Marcus, this beautiful man who pleased me, is crying, and he plays golf, and I remind him of a woman he loved. And you know what that all means, don’t you? It means that even with my size and attitude and my current moral relativism, even with my head all screwed up like this and my heart flying in a thousand different directions, he just might be able to love me the way I have deserved to be loved all my life.

Excerpted from Dirty Girls on Top by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Copyright © 2008 by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher