Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Ghosts of Former Lovers (Excerpt from Gitanes), Fawzy Zablah

             Sofia used the spare key Javi gave her to enter the apartment. After gently closing the door behind her, she stopped and gazed up at her lover hanging by his neck from an orange extension cord tied to the ceiling fan. She looked down at the floor before her and covered her mouth with her hands like if she was about to throw up. After regaining her composure, she locked the door behind her. She knew there was no time for sentimentality, she had to hurry and collect all her things before the body was discovered.

            She went to the bathroom first and opened the drawer on the right side of the cabinet filled with most of her feminine hygiene products and threw them all into a linen grocery bag she found under the sink. She then opened a second drawer and took out a hot comb apparatus and threw that into the bag. She left her shampoo in the bath and then went to the small closet next to the bed.

            From the closet she grabbed panties, thongs and three Victoria’s Secret lingerie outfits by the handful and threw them into a small pink suitcase that was next to the bed. She also grabbed a pair of jeans, a yellow dress with white polka dots and red high heel shoes and it all went into the suitcase and she could barely close it so she had to sit on it until she was able to lock it. Then she looked under the bed and grabbed another pair of high-heels—black this time—and noticed a gray cat with white spots trying to hide.

Sofia and the cat looked at each other. The cat had very expressive yellow eyes.

            “Gigi,” she said, “Come out here baby. Do you want a snack?”

            The cat meowed like if it was replying to the question. It was a sweet noise, like a child pretending to be a cat. It was high pitched but soothing.

            “Gigi,” she said again. “I’m sorry baby. Don’t worry, okay; I will come back for you. You will come home with me and Simon. Just give me some time honey. Okay?”

            The cat meowed again, not moving an inch. But for a second, Sofia thought that it would come to her and if she did, she was ready to grab the cat. The cat stayed in its place under the bed scared and sad and confused why her daddy wasn’t responding.

Sofia stood up and put the high heel shoes she grabbed from under the bed in the linen bag.

            The bedroom of this studio apartment had a partition with a hole in the center that looked into the living room and the low hanging legs of her dead lover Javi. She tried to ignore the body as she bit her thumbnail and canvassed the area of the living room to see if she’d forgotten anything. Her eyes were getting a little red. She looked at her right hand, and removed an engagement ring and put it in her pocket. She replaced it with another ring with a much bigger rock.

            When she heard footsteps coming from the outside stairway—the apartment was on the third floor—she stood still like a mannequin. She had an oval face and hazel eyes that were big and beautiful and her mouth was big too, almost like a clown. Her body was petite like a French ingénue.

      After waiting a moment without hearing any noise in the hallway, she opened the door and placed the linen bag and the small suitcase outside and right on top of the front door ‘Welcome’ mat.  Her final gaze towards her lover Javi was an awful blend of love, anguish, regret, and desperation and once her moment of silence was done, she stepped outside, quietly closing and locking the door to the apartment. Before grabbing her things, she took out a handkerchief from another pocket and wiped the door knob of any fingerprints. She then quite literally flew down the three flights of stairs with a linen bag and suitcase in each hand like the anime of a Japanese schoolgirl and got in her black car and left. 

            She was running late to meet her friend Carmen for brunch in Boca Raton where she lived with her husband. She called her friend as she jumped on the turnpike. Sofia knew she needed to touch base with her friend first, then after that quick call, have a good long cry on the drive about Javier Manzur and all the improper things she keeps repeating in relationships since she was about 15. It was a 30-minute drive so she would have enough time to go through all the emotions with plenty of time to clean up if she had to.

         “Hey Sofi, how’s it looking?” Carmen said.

  “I’m running late. Can you give me fifteen minutes before you leave your house? There’s a lot of traffic and I had to run some errands near my job.”

  There was almost dead air coming from the other end, and after hearing a big sigh, her friend replied:

        “There’s no rush; just call me when you’re close by.”

        “Thank you,” Sofia said. “Is everything okay? You sound stressed.”

        “I don’t want to talk about it over the phone,” she said, breaking into a laugh that could have turned into a cry. “I really need my mimosa now. I’ll see you soon.”

        “Wow, sounds serious,” Sofia said. “Well, we’ll talk about it when I get there. You’re going to love the place. Love you – see you soon.”

        “Love you Sofia.”

  She arrived about five minutes after Carmen. As soon as she turned off the car, she looked at herself in the mirror and touched up her makeup just a little bit. Her eyes were not too red, but she still applied eye drops her husband Ari had left in the glove compartment. She puckered her lips and got out of the car, and seemed to glide towards her friend and after kisses on both cheeks, and smiling big at the tall shiny mimosa waiting for her, she plumped down on the empty chair, gently tossed her pink Donna Karan purse next to her and said: “You are not going to believe the morning I had today.”

        They began with cordial small talk and made sure to order their meals before the brunch hours ended.

        “Bueno, cuentame,” Sofia said.

        “I’m getting a divorce.”

        “Oh my God!”

        “Yes,” Carmen said, then taking a long gulp from her mimosa.

        “I thought things were fine. What happened?”

        “He slept with his ex.”

        “He what?” Sofia said.

        “I found text messages on his phone between them and I confronted him.”

        “When did this happen?”

        “The sex or when I confronted him?

        “The sex, I mean, how long has it been going on?”

        “Almost a year.”

        “And when did you find out?

        “Last week,” she said, grabbing her drink again.

        “You didn’t say anything.”

        “It’s embarrassing. I told my mother, but I didn’t want anybody else’s opinion. I wanted it to be my own decision.”

        “So you’re sure you want to get a divorce? There is no going back from this— I mean—there is, but once you’re divorced, you are divorced.”

  “Yes, I thought about it. And this was my one condition. Doesn’t everyone have that one condition? He had sex with someone else. I just can’t- “

        “I don’t have that,” she said.

        “What do you mean you don’t? There’s always a deal breaker no matter what. Contracts are made to be broken.”

        “Well, Ari and I decided we would never divorce no matter what.”

        “So, you would stay with him if he cheated? Or if he was abusive?”

        “Well, I don’t expect he would ever cheat on me; he just doesn’t have it in him. That’s one big reason why I married him.”

        “Ok,” Carmen said. “But that’s not how life works. I never thought my husband would cheat either.”

        “Look, it happens. I’m not saying Ari would never do it, but it’s highly unlikely. But what I wanted to tell you was that getting at is that divorce is not the only option. What about going to a therapist? This is a big decision that you’re making. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to make the right decision. No marriage is perfect.”

        “No, I can’t. I can’t even look at him. It’s done. The marriage is dead. I should have known too because he kept in touch with her.”

        “Oh my God, Carmen,” Sofia said, standing up and moving to the seat right next to her friend.

    She placed her hands on her shoulder and squeezed.

        “I think everything is going to work out. You’re young, and you don’t have children and that’s good, so the divorce shouldn’t be so bad.”

    Carmen was now crying.

        “He was supposed to be my best friend. I’m not only losing my husband and lover but my best friend.”

         “And what did he say when you confronted him?”

        “He said it was an accident that he didn’t mean for it to happen. He got on his knees and started crying but to me they seemed like crocodile tears.”

        “What are crocodile tears?”

        “It’s an American saying; it means crying fake tears.”

        “Oh,” Sofia said, continuing to rub her friend’s arm and shoulder

        “I couldn’t look at him.”

        “Why not take a moment to think about things and weigh the positives and negatives?”

        “Sofia, I cannot put up with that type of betrayal. Is that what you would say if Ari cheated on you?”

        “Please, that man would never cheat.”

        “How do you know?”

        “Look at him.”

Carmen started laughing, “Aie que mala.”

        “I’m here for you my friend,” Sofia said.

Then the food arrived and they both looked at each other before digging in.

After brunch, Sofia called another friend on the drive home. 


        “Did you hear?”

        “Hear what?”

        “Carmen is getting a divorce! Emilio was cheating on her with his ex!”

        “Oh…MY…GOD, are you shitting me?”

        “No, I just finished having brunch with her and she confessed. She found out last week, and she just tells me now!”

        “That makes sense, she has been acting kind of weird lately. Oh my god, I’m going to call her.”

        “No, don’t call her. She didn’t want me to tell anybody. “

An incoming call was trying to get through – it was Ari, Sofia’s husband.

        “Oh God, it’s Ari. Give me a sec while I get rid of him.”

        “Ok,” the friend said.

        “Hello, hello,” Ari said.

        “Hi babe, what’s up?”

        “Why did you take so long to answer? What are you doing?”

        “I’m driving.”

        “Driving where?”

        “I’m heading home. I just had brunch with Carmen, remember?”

        “Oh yeah. How was that? I hope you didn’t drink too much.”

        “I’m fine, I just had two.  She’s getting a divorce.”

        “Did you say she’s getting a divorce?”

        “Yes,” she said, puckering up her lips again.


Sofia rolled her eyes at him.

        “I’ll tell you when I get home.”

        “Okay, hey, can you get me some food. We don’t have any food.”

        “What do you want to eat?”

        “Maybe you can pick up some chicken or something.”

        “Okay, how about a box of fried chicken from the supermarket?”

        “That sounds good. Can you also buy a couple of bottles of that fancy water – what’s it called?”


        “Yes, please. Wow, can’t believe your friend is getting a divorce.”

        “Babe, I have Maria on the other line. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.”


        “Yes, Ari, Maria is on hold.”

        “Okay, I’ll see you when I get home, I love- “

She hung up and switched the call to her friend.

        “So, where was I?”

        “He was having sex with his ex.”

        “Yes, can you believe it? She should give him another chance and try to work it out. Most men are dogs. I’m sure he feels bad. She told me he was crying.”

        “No Sofia, that is unforgivable. At least if it was some woman she didn’t know, but he was having sex with his ex, who he told her she didn’t need to worry about. Remember that?”

        “Yes, I remember. But Emilio is cute. What did she expect? She married a very handsome man— did she not expect women were going to throw themselves at him?” 

        “Is that why you married Ari? Cause he’s too short to cheat…hahaha.”

        Sofia smiled and said, “No…maybe...but Ari is dependable. What I’m saying is that if you marry a hot guy like Emilio, someone who is so much better looking than you, do you really expect him not to stray at least once?”

        “Wow Sofia. I can’t believe what you’re saying. You are a piece of work,” the voice said coming from the speakers.

        “But you know I’m right,” she said.

        “Yes, he’s better looking than Carmen, but that’s not an excuse. But tell me, why did you marry Ari again?”

        “He’s a good guy and I love him. He’s my husband.”

        “Yeah right,” Maria said, “Speaking of Telenovela situations, how is your boyfriend Javi doing?”

Sofia’s eyes turned red and tears came down her cheeks.

        “It’s over. I ended it. It wasn’t right. I really don’t want to talk about it right now. This is about Carmen. She’s the one getting divorced.”

        “You ended it? How did he take it? It must be hard, you work together.”

        “He took it fine and it’s over, and I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

        “I’m sorry. Well, you know I’m always here for you.”

        “I know, and I’m going to be okay. I love my husband and that was just a big mistake that I regret but I’m moving on.”

        “I understand. I’m not judging you. I was just asking.”

        “I know you’re not.”

There was now silence and then Maria broke the ice:

        “So, what else did Carmen say? I can’t wait to ask her.”

        Sofia told Maria all the extra juicy details the entire ride to the grocery and then when she finally got home at night, she repeated some things, but not all to Ari who would get a different version of the story.

  When dinner was over, she showered and went to bed. Then at around 3:00 a.m. she dreamt she was giving birth to a baby with an umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. She woke up abruptly, and shrieked softly. She sat up on the bed; she was sweating. After confirming that it was a dream, she lay back down and turned on her side, away from Ari, and held on to her stomach, then she curled into a ball she wanted to believe made her invincible and no ghost of a former lover could penetrate.


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