(illustrations by Laura Cerón)
“Milagros, la verdad ó te atreves?”
“Did you make-out with the panadero on Monday?”
We all giggle. Rumor has it that half of the seventh grade has been fingered by the baker during recess behind the basketball court. Rumor also has it that Milagros was seen running out of the bakery, fixing her skirt after the bell rang on Monday.
The Coca-Cola bottle points at Milagros’ black shoes. You take a drag from your cigarette. You feel the smoke inflating your lugs, you can almost picture your lungs like two black balloons united below your heart, underneath the blue uniform and the little Virgencita hanging on your chest. The four of you smoke Kool Lights in a circle on the floor. The room is hazy and you wonder about María’s mother, how could she possibly never notice we are in here drinking her aguardiente? Milagros hugs both of her knees, her bangs have highlights and you remember the day she first arrived at school with the yellow streaks on her long hair and how you thought she looked like one of those mulas you see in the Noticiero caught sneaking cocaine into Miami and, that day, you thought she only wanted attention because her father had died and everyone gave Milagros hugs and kisses and fake tears and colorful letters with hearts and starts in them and you remember wishing, just for one day, that you had a family tragedy, you wish a call from the principal informing you your father had died of a heart attack we are so sorry, so for a day you could have as much attention and fake tears and letters with hearts as Milagros.
“Well, Milagros” you blow smoke out, “responde, we don’t have the entire afternoon. I have to be home by 8pm.”
Milagros half-closes her eyes, flips her hair awkwardly
” I already told everyone on Tuesday that it is all a big chisme started by Martica because Martica is the real slut here and she doesn’t want anyone to know she likes the baker. She told me, she is embarrassed about it. “
You think that sometimes Milagros could do a little better with her lying. Sometimes, like now, Milagros bores you, her voice a constant whine and all those layers of clothing and her arms crossed on her chest and those enormous titties squished like arepas. When she talks Milagros tightens her arms thinking, you wonder, that this would make her breasts invisible.
Leticia pours everyone another shot in the minuscule, almost toy-like, plastic cups of the aguardiente. The first shot is always the hardest to get down, after that is like water. You hear the same thing every Thursday night as the four of you get together after school to drink at María’s when her mom is away playing cards with her friends, you all meet and play this stupid game with no boys and a bottle of Coca-Cola the only phallic object. No one new, nothing exciting, everyone indulging in fake grandiosity. You know Leticia, María, Milagros and you all lie to each other about Carlos and Juan digging their tongues deep in your throat or Pablo writing love letters, or that boy Martín who supposedly all of you dated and fought over, where is Martín now? But it all feels good and after two shots the aguardiente feels wonderful and all those boys feel so real you could even feel the acne on their faces if you closed your eyes tight.
Bogotá is like a cavernous freezer right now. Through the window you see grey cotton balls hanging low against a pale halo and, Josefina, you have to take a buseta to your house and you imagine yourself on an aisle seat with a damp uniform sharing the space with some bald dude who will try to rob you with a pocket knife and you will call him an imbécil and spit on his face and walk to the back of the bus and yell at the bus driver acá me bajo! and you will come home with your socks brown and wet and with that sticky, uncomfortable feeling while your mother listens to the Beeges holding a glass of whiskey.
It pours outside while María spins the bottle again.
The Coca-Cola bottle points at your white socks. Your turn Josefina.
“La verdad ó te atreves Josefina. And you already exhausted your two truths so you have to take a dare”.
“Entonces, I dare. But I’m not going out and showing my breasts to anyone in this weather.”
Milagros laughs and chokes on the cigarette smoke. We all think she is teasing but then she coughs and coughs and turns bright red and starts spitting on the carpet and her head hangs like she was just decapitated. She sounds like a tired dog or a dying dog and we all point at her and ha, ha, ha and we ask her to please Milagritos, don’t die today, please Milagritos, don’t fuck up the carpet, please Milagritos, clean your babas, please Milagritos, please. ha. ha. ha.
Milagros is red, her eyes fountains. You think she looks like an ugly mannequin. She gasps for air but María gives her some water then turns to you:
“I know what you’re going to do! Josefina. You have to kiss Milagros. But don’t just give her a pico, you need to kiss her like this”
We all turn to look at María who starts sucking and licking her right hand, violently thrusting her tongue against her palm like she is at an eating contest while Leticia laughs ha, ha, ha and Milagros still coughing moves her head, and her index finger, in disapproval.
Your heart gains some speed, it bumps like house music in your rib-cage against the two-black balloons. You picture Milagros’ red face smeared with spit trying to pull you in and kiss you. You imagine every girl from Santa Francisca Romana School inside María’s room watching in excitement and disgust, the ones in the inner circle like cannibals with their faces dimly lit as Milagros licks your lips, then your face and while you try with your tiny tongue to follow her pace you cant, rather you feel inmensely sad and alone. You also try to lick her face but you fail and everyone points at you and calls you a lesbiana and nobody sits next to you during Spanish class and the nuns find out and the nuns slap you across the face and obligate you to pray one thousand hail marys and clean their kitchen and you are doomed, doomed because you kiss Milagros.
“Qué? asco! I’m not kissing a girl. I’m not kissing Milagros. That’s against the rules. I rather kiss the dog”.
You immediately feel bad after saying this. You lower your eyes to the brown carpet, light another Kool Light. You didn’t mean to say the dog but why Milagros? and why don’t we ever have boys over? We don’t have any boy friends. Milagros stops coughing, her right hand shinning with saliva, she fixes her hair and tells you you are a puta ingreída and she would never want to kiss you even if you were a boy. You hold the cigarette with your lips, squinting at her because the smoke gets into your eyes, the aguardiente has warmed your body. You tell her you are sorry and would she please forgive you and…. Milagritos… would you want to…. kiss me now?
María and Leticia are rocking themselves going ha ha ha wild but Milagros doesn’t say anything. There are two empty bottles of aguardiente and Milagros picks on the label of one of them. She is really considering kissing you. You stare at her unibrow, stare at the shadow on her upper lip, you are hypnotized by her thick lips like two chorizos embracing that Kool Light, maybe you could kiss Milagros if she were not a girl, maybe you have enough aguardiente to bite off her chorizos and chew them. Maybe.
“Okay I will kiss Milagros but not in front of you two. I cant do it infront of both of you”
They both stop laughing and Milagros nods in agreement. Maybe she is excited to kiss you, maybe she has enough aguardiente but your lips are thin and pale and there is nothing to chew on.
“Ay no Josefina! cual es la gracia, if we don’t see you kissing then how do we know it happened?”
María talks to you with her eyes closed and she licks her lips after every sentence.
“If you don’t trust me then I’m not doing it. Give me another dare”
She sighs heavily, looks at Leticia, looks at Milagros. Milagros agrees that she would only kiss you if the other two are not watching, it is not even my dare! she says and she is right.
“Bueno bueno. Go into the bathroom”
You wonder who appointed María the owner of the fucking game, the leader of the group for her to be delegating like that. Leticia tries to light another cigarette but she is too clumsy or too drunk and just laughs and nods at whatever María says.
How do you do this? you wonder, how do you stand up and walk to the bathroom and kiss Milagritos? do you hold her hand and help her get up? Is she going to think you are a lesbian if you do that? do you wrap your arms around her uniform or do you hold her face probably feeling her pimples? you anticipate Milagros’ tongue on your lips and you lick them. Is closing your eyes too much? would she think you are into her? do you turn the light off?
“One last thing” you say as you get up
“This has to stay in here. None of you can tell anyone. You know what happens if the nuns find out.” You take one last drag, then put one the cigarette on the ashtray.
“Ay Josefina, why would we say anything? Like always, everything stays in this room. I mean, Leticia is not even going to remember. Now go before Milagros decides she doesn’t want your precious kisses”. María makes kissing noises and chuckles after saying this and you know how much she enjoys having you kiss Milagritos.
You could have probably kiss María. If María and you had to make out it would be a violent competition. María will push you against the bathroom wall and you will feel her thick blonde hair poking at your eyes and she will hold your wrists tight against your legs with one hand and grab your jaw with the other and then softly bite you. You saw her do this with a boy at Leticia’s birthday party and you envied her determination. For her, you thought, even kissing is about winning.