On Happiness

For Women All Over…

There is no such thing as happiness, she sighed. Then she leaned back into her lounge chair, a movement that forced her false teeth to press down on her lower lip. A pale blue film covered her black eyes. It was a sign of old age not blindness. Her stare drifted far out over the veranda. At first I thought she was appraising the figs hanging from her tree, but after further study, I realized that she was looking at something way over the brick wall that separated her from the rest of the community. It was a place I could not see. It was happy.

Her sister was older and forlorn. Her toes pointed outward in the wildest directions. Each toe appeared to have lost its way and I knew she could hardly bear to stand for longer than necessary. Yet she stood for me and for all the other visitors that passed through her home. Leaning, of course, on the wooden furniture piece that contained pale yellow dishes and several old photographs set in plastic frames. There were snapshots of hope and each face held the promise of youth. I noticed one in particular. It was of a small blue boat that carried her husband out to sea each morning. The handsome man was standing proudly holding a fresh tuna and a cigarette hung from his thin sun burnt lip. His blue eyes glimmered like the sun dances on water and I knew that this look was the one thing that made her life bearable. She laughed at everything in his presence— even life’s gravest maladies were funny. I’ll never forget the way she looked at him that one night! It was as if I had caught them seducing each other in their bedroom. I dropped my eyes onto the tiled floor giving them the privacy they deserved. No matter. She felt no shame being stripped naked in front of me. Not while he was there anyway. His love was the magic potion that kept her cooking day after day long after she lost the strength in her knees. My mother in law told me that no one ever knows what people have in their pot that keeps them stirring.

The last time she smiled it was before the babies. Now she just holds her face together in spite. She walks through the house and a black cloud follows her. Even when the sun is out, the cloud dampens the air and she sweats profusely. I think it’s her body’s way of releasing the toxins built up around her heart—all that perspiration, I mean. Shame the way the youth in her died suddenly. I could feel her crying on the inside like a schoolgirl who’s left alone in the yard and her lunch money’s stolen daily. I wanted to reach out over the kitchen table and touch her skin to remind her that she was still living but I decided against it. I was afraid of what I might find on her side. So I kept to myself and nodded like a silly jack-in-the-box and hoped that somehow she’d find her own way back home.

The four of us sat drinking wine on the beach discussing things. We wanted to know whether it was a possibility or if we were just silly to dream. One of us said it was momentary and that you’d better appreciate it when it shows up because it’s quicker than a shooting star. It might as well disappear into the night ‘cause you forget that it was ever there. It’s an illusion, said another, to give you the impression that you can control your destiny. But you really don’t control anything, do you, really? It lasts long enough to confuse your senses. I thought about how they still tell women labor is not too painful— that you forget it all when you watch your baby sleep. What a mean hearted lie, I think, but I guess we have to keep human kind going. It’s just that sort of thing, I realized just then, a hint of mint in a cup of fresh squeezed lemon tea. You hardly know it’s there but somehow it changes the taste of things.

She went into four or five stores searching for it until finally she walked right into her mother who was searching for the same thing. There she was with her hair pulled back and no make-up on. She had no bags in her hand but she knew she had been shopping for a long time. It must have been the crease of her clothes, the sag of her shoulder or the curve of her back that told her so. She asked her what she was shopping for and she said, “Oh, nothing really… just needed to get out of the house for a while.” Then her lips curled into a false smile and it dawned on her that her mother had spent years searching. So, she fell in step beside her. Together they strolled along the cement pavement, from one store to another they chatted lightly about the most banal things. At first their energy was that of two old friends. Then the conversation began to wane. Until each one noticed that neither of them was going to buy anything. So they decided to part ways. But just after she had turned her back, she shouted, “Hey- you should come by for dinner later!” And the other woman nodded simply. Just like that she had accepted the invitation with the grace of a pond lily. Both women left the mall that day with hands empty.

2 responses to “On Happiness”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Dr. Raquel Rios,
    Thank you for sharing that story. Your insight into the character's feelings, thoughts and life's essence is consistently refreshing. You really know people.

    Kind Regards,
    Maria Elena

  2. Anonymous Avatar