Cheryl Diane Kidder

MAMBO

Papa loves mambo!
Mama loves mambo!
Havin’ their fling again,
Younger than spring again,
Feelin’ that zing again, Wow!

Los Angeles

I didn’t know what he did with his afternoons until I was six months pregnant and he didn’t show up at home after a week or so. I got a call from his friend in L.A., the one he’d introduced me to when we took our first trip down there together. We’d gone to Disneyland first. I still have this picture. I wore a sky blue dress, belted and long, very romantic. He posed us in front of the Jungle ride, all the water behind us, his arm around my neck, my hair pretty wild and a huge laugh just exploding on my face. He wore those oversized sunglasses, said it was because he’d been pepper-sprayed in the face by the police in Obregon and ever since, his eyes had been really sensitive to light.

Cesar was born in Obregon, a small town south of Hermosio in Sonora, Mexico. His mom worked as a nurse and his dad had moved to the U.S. fifteen years earlier and started another family without benefit of a Mexican divorce. I learned that was the way in his family. The men all had two families. One in Mexico, one in the U.S., sometimes two in the U.S. depending on how picky or demanding the woman. Graciella didn’t care if Cesar’s Tito Paulo was around one day out of seven so Paulo treated himself to another girlfriend on the side who didn’t have any kids to hinder her ability to go out dancing on Saturday nights or wake him up early on Sunday mornings.

Cesar let me see all of this, his uncles, the dual families. Maybe he was hoping I’d be like Graciella and not mind so much. But I thought it would be different for him and me. I thought, anybody who spends this much time in bed with me wouldn’t have the energy to have another girl on the side, God knew I couldn’t have imagined having one more man in my life. So, for a long time I didn’t know what Cesar did when he went back to visit his mom.

I was a gringa but Cesar called me “Chero,” refusing to pronounce the “l.” He already had a cousin named “Gringa” because her skin was so light. I’d always been pretty pale, especially in the winter, out of the sun and since moving to San Francisco, but after a few months of living with Cesar I stopped highlighting my hair and just poured an entire bottle of bleach on my head. My mother didn’t recognize me. Hell, I didn’t recognize myself any more. I remembered who I was before I met Cesar, but since meeting him, I didn’t know, I was pregnant and not getting any abortion this time, I was blonde and I was driving down to L.A. on a monthly basis. I hated L.A. I’d always hated L.A.

San Francisco

When I was three months pregnant, before I was showing at all, Cesar and I entered a dance contest at this little club in the Mission, a few blocks south from his aunt’s house. I couldn’t dance Mexican to save my life but they’d switched the music to rock and roll so I’d gotten up and started moving, sweating, taking Cesar’s hand on the dance floor and laughing with him the entire time. I could dance to rock and roll, I could move.

A tall man with slicked-back hair and a formal looking, tight black suit moved among the crowd, tapping one man’s shoulder and then another until there were only three couples on the dance floor. Every song that came on was another I knew by heart. I knew where all the breaks came and how to move my hands to the beat. I kept my belly sucked in and threw my hair around and Cesar did what he does best in his one-inch heeled, pointy-toed cowboy boots and we looked good out there.

The tall man tapped another shoulder and there were only two couples. It felt like we’d been dancing for days, that every song I ever knew had been pulled out and played at top volume and the crowd egged us on and cheered when either of us made a move that coincided with the upbeat or downbeat of the music. And then the tall man couldn’t decide and put it to the audience to decide by applause who would win the trophy. And I knew it would be just like in 8th grade when I ran for class secretary and just like in high school when I ran for treasurer and it was, it was the same crowd then that loved me when I gave me speech, but ultimately voted for somebody else.

Cesar and I walked off the dance floor to give the first place winners their dance alone on the floor. They were a Chicano couple and she had jet black hair to her waist and a big ruffle at the bottom of her red dress. They looked amazing up there. The DJ changed the music to a mambo and they knew exactly what to do.

Cesar’s friends laughed and slapped him on the back and everybody spoke Spanish. I sat down and grabbed my glass of water and Cesar went right back up onto the dance floor with one of the other women at our table, one who could dance the way he loved best.

I watched the winning couple walk off the dance floor as the crowd surged back up onto it, the trophy in their hands, her red lipstick reflected in the gold of the loving cup, her nails brightly holding onto her winnings and her man. They sat in a quiet booth in the back, his hand on her leg. That man would never dance with another woman.

Los Angeles

When the baby was three months old, when I was still trying to hold things together, I drove us both down to L.A. to pick Cesar up. Only when I got to his friend’s apartment he had me drive way out to Riverside to Bruno’s house. Cesar told me Bruno was some important guy. Some guy he’d let down somehow and that it was important that Bruno see that Cesar had a family and was a regular guy.

I didn’t laugh when Cesar suggested he was a regular guy because I knew even Cesar didn’t think he was a regular guy. I believed he wanted Bruno to think he was a regular guy and at this point, I couldn’t not go to Bruno’s house. Of course I thought, what am I getting myself and the baby into now, will we be able to get out of it, does Cesar know what he’s doing, do I know what I’m doing, and more and more I realized I didn’t.

Bruno’s house was in a quiet little neighborhood, away from the freeway. One of those big pest control trucks in the driveway. I asked and Cesar said that was his day job. I thought the house was pretty low income for what I had been thinking.

Bruno showed us in and apologized that his wife and mother-in-law were not currently home. There was a lot of new-looking furniture piled up along the walls, glass cabinets with china figurines, a pretty floral rug in the living room. I put the baby down on the rug to play and handed her a bottle of juice, just in case. Cesar and Bruno sat on the couch, nice chintz material with comfy looking pillows at the ends. They spoke in Spanish.

By this time I knew Cesar enough to know the intonations of his voice and I knew he was trying hard to convince Bruno of something. Bruno kept watching me and the baby and I tried not to look at him, I tried to laugh and play with the baby, I tried to not know what was going on. It’d been two and a half years and I’d taken a beginning Spanish class at Mission High, for adults. It hadn’t helped me much with Cesar since he spoke slang to his friends but his formal tone with Bruno was easier for me to translate.

Cesar was calling him “compa” a lot and referring to me and the baby as his family. I heard him mention his mother and his brother in Obregon. Bruno spoke in low tones and much faster. I could get by the tone of his voice that he was not pleased.

Thirty minutes turned to forty-five and the baby was getting cranky. I held her and played with her and tried to keep her away from the side tables with their doilies. Then Bruno stood up and walked into another room. I’d stopped listening to the conversation as they had gotten more relaxed with each other, I thought. I told Cesar I probably needed to change the baby and he snapped at me to shut up and Bruno walked back in. I turned my back on them and concentrated on the baby but not before I saw Bruno hand Cesar something.

I didn’t breathe regularly again until we were about thirty minutes away from that house. Cesar was laughing and happy and trying to explain without explaining anything about what had really happened back at that house. I sang songs to the baby and watched the Central Valley fall away behind us.

Papa loves mambo!
Mama loves mambo!
Havin’ their fling again,
Younger than spring again,
Feelin’ that zing again, Wow!

###


Cheryl Diane Kidder’s award winning work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was also short-listed on storySouth’s Million Writer’s Award. Her work has appeared in two anthologies: Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus, and Meg Files’ Write From Life. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: The Atticus Review, The New Purlieu Review, Plath Profiles, Sandscript, Eclectica, Word Riot, In Posse Review, The Reed, Amelia, Dog River Review, Alchemy, The Story Garden, The California State Poetry Journal, Three Candles, the Clackamas Literary Review and elsewhere.

Print Friendly