Under the Echo Park summer sun, brown and pale, longhaired beauties dress in hand-me-downs from one to the other. Slender hands with amber and turquoise rings pick through heaps of clothes in the courtyard. Some stand naked so long. I fear my boyfriend Ricardo will look through the window at them. Him full of lust. Me full of jealousy.
Ricardo likes Bob Dylan, old movies, Somerset Maugham and Bukowski. But Ricardo writes poetry. One thing I said is I’m not having any poet. My father is a poet. No money. Constant revisions.
I was sitting on a red velvet couch at a party in Echo Park.
Ricardo came over, "I write poetry."
"That's too bad." I got up. Walked away.
The next morning he tipped his 1950s hat, bowed goodbye. Eight years later we are still together.
Every weekday morning Ricardo delivers flowers through Echo Park, with its taco stands, burrito trucks and carts with cayenne-peppered cucumbers, pineapples and mangoes. The skinny ice-cream man pushes his cart “helado” painted in orange with two wheels and a bell. One wheel about to fall off. I run out, wanting ice-cream. He’s too fast. Ringing that bell up the hill, never looking back to see if anyone wants a frozen strawberry bar.
Red watermelon trucks tumble down the street on Saturday mornings. Sometimes watermelons fall out. We run into the street, get them and have watermelon parties in our courtyard with the neighbors. We spit watermelon seeds in the fire pit.
Then Ricardo and I walk across to Chiquita’s Market where cornflakes are in the wrong aisle next to canned beans with rusty tops. Chiquita has black hair to her waist, strands of silver coming through. She is sitting on an empty milk crate behind the counter with her sister who is visiting from Mexico. Spanish soap operas play on the black and white TV set on top of another crate. The antenna is wire coat hanger. Dollar Store Jesus candles stand underneath where the milk used to be. We put tortillas on credit.
“Anything else?” Chiquita asks. “Red pepper, banana?”
We pick raisin rolls from a big plastic bin with a red top. The rolls are discolored from sitting in the sun.
Chiquita has chickens fenced in the back of her market. That rooster she used to have got confused, crowing earlier and earlier. One day there was no more crowing.
“A coyote must have got him or he moved away,” Ricardo said.
Our neighbor, Lelita, bungalow queen, collects rent so she gets a discount on hers. She lives top center of the five bungalows. We live just below by the courtyard. Today, sitting, writing on our hand-me-down love sofa with a Balzac book under where the leg is missing, Lelita walks by in a Pirate costume. Yesterday she had on a felt hat that had a bird stitched on with purple feathers coming out of it, a silk Kimono, nothing underneath. Most days she's nude modeling for drawing classes downtown.
When Lelita’s Flamenco singer father came to visit from Spain he never left. He stands on the red picnic bench in the courtyard at three in the morning singing Flamenco in dingy white boxers, skinny bare legs, cigarette between two bony pale fingers.
Pink flowers bloom in the summer, reaching out beyond the crooked wood fence. Francesco twists each flower around, so it faces the courtyard, away from my front window and door. I twist the flowers the other way. Back and forth we go.
For Ricardo's birthday I blow up silver and green balloons. Slip heart-shaped notes on his pillow, in-between his guitar strings. Then I put on Candy Apple lipstick, make kiss marks on the cracked bathroom mirror. He keeps all the hearts I give him.
We walk through Elysian Park to his birthday party. Piñatas hang from trees. More balloons, yellow and purple tied to branches. Carne asada on the park grill. Little brown-bellied kids run with sticks in between walnut trees and balloons trying to hit the swaying piñata. Back and forth, back and forth. Families spread out around checkered tablecloths on the grass.
It is Monday morning. I’m in my see-through white nightgown with pink embroidery cut above the knee. Standing outside the mud-brown front door, barefoot on tiptoes. I like to lick Ricardo's eyelids, salty and warm, kiss him goodbye on his warm neck.
“Have a good day at work,” I say.
Ricardo doesn’t go home for naps like some of the other flower delivery drivers. I watch him start up his 1998 white stick shift Honda and he’s gone. Gone to deliver those flowers.
Lelita walks down the cracked concrete pathway. She's wearing a pink boa around her neck, sunflower dress and a cowboy hat with a peacock feather sticking out of it.
“Can I borrow a cup of rice?” she asks.
“There’s some in the cupboard,” I say.
I go to Chiquita’s Market, buy lettuce and carne asada for dinner. On the way to Chiquita’s I see that Rita, my friend, has posted on all the trees that Chewy, her cat, is missing.
Later, I set the table, light a candle. Stand outside to greet Ricardo when he comes home. Bamboo chimes hang over my head from a hook screwed into the green awning above the door. We found the chimes on top of a garbage bin. Two chimes missing, it slants heavier on one side. I’ve never heard it make music with the wind.
Ricardo parks his car, walks up the steps. He has orange lilies in his arms for me. We hear an eerie yipping. Look in the street, three Echo Park coyotes have got Chewy. We lay two lilies across Chewy. And walk over to Rita’s.
When we get home we sit side by side on our hand-me-down couch. Ricardo lays his head on my shoulder. His brown hair is floppy, clean. I run my hands through it. Rough it up. Sniff it.
"How do you say apple in Spanish?" I ask.
"That's what your hair smells like when it's clean, manzana."
"And your hair in the morning, it's wild like a buffalo. You're my baby buff."
"I thought I was Santa?"
"When you're good, Santa. Baby buff when you’re bad." He kisses me. His brown eyes soft and eyelids sleepy.
I lean in close to his cheek. Flutter my eyelashes against his skin. "Butterfly kiss."
"Your my best friend," he says.
"Your my best friend too, Manzana. Tortilla time?"
"Let's take a bath first."
I run the water in the iron-clawed tub. Pour White Rain coconut shampoo under the faucet to make bubbles. Testing the water with our toes we sink into the tub up to our chins. Making Santa Claus beards with the coconut bubbles.
HANNAH SWARD has published short stories in numerous literary journals including Other Voices (CND), Milk, Rozyln: Anthology of Women Writers 2015, Erotic Review, Word Riot, Alimentum, Hypertext and Vagabonds: Anthology of The Mad Ones 2016.