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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERO KARMA
By Mariel Yovino

 

 

 

I used to tell Dahlia the story of the princess and the cowboy when we were all together – the one about a princess who was dancing at a ball. That was how I assumed stories told to your children should begin. I usually changed the ending, unless I was very tired. Some of my favorite versions of that story were when the prince's stable boy arriving on a motorcycle or helicopter, to which Dahlia would giggle and inform me that there were not motorcycles then. All the men rode horses, she'd say, and I had to agree. Ever accurate, like her father. So eventually the hero became a cowboy just to keep things interesting. He would lasso the highbrow suitors and throw the princess on the back of his horse – although I still imagined it was a motorcycle. This night I told it as I had before; the princess hated dancing and instead preferred to climb trees. She was climbing one outside to get away from the King and the Queen and all the suitors, when a branch broke and she was caught on the way down by a passing guard. She ran away with the guard and became a singer.

Dahlia drifted off and I tucked up the covers and left her to sleep. Luke was on his antiquated calculator at the kitchen table, mumbling to himself. He had been working most of the day and night all throughout March, preparing for the mid-April crunch. I didn't often ask him about his work, or our own taxes, or even our credit. I knew everything was always put in its place, lined up and ordered, perfectly formulated. We were one of the few couples I knew who had never once argued about money. We never bought a boat on a whim without consulting one another, or gave money to a friend's start-up or charity when we couldn't afford it. I kissed him on the cheek and pulled on my coat. "Where are you heading?" he asked without lifting his head from his numbers.


"I'm just going over to Lisa's for a little bit."

He sat back in his chair and sighed. "How is she doing?"

"She's alright...considering."

"Did the insurance money come in yet?"

"I'm not sure. I think his family is helping her in the meantime.” I tugged at the sleeves under the jacket. “She said it makes them feel better,” I added.

"Hm. Well, good luck."

I nodded and opened the door.

Lisa lived across town in a complex of condominiums, unusual for an established suburb like this. Her apartment was half the size of the main floor of my house, but I always found it charming nonetheless.

Lisa answered the door in jeans and a sheer t-shirt. She looked thinner than usual, her collar bone casting a shadow over her chest. "Christina!" She said as she hugged me. "Come in, I'm making tea."

I hadn't been in her apartment for about two weeks, not since the funeral. The normally cluttered unit was now bursting – the boxes and stacks of books had swelled in all directions. The smell of sweat-soaked clothes permeated the living room. I followed her to the kitchen, which was an improbable departure from the main room. Where the boundary of the living room ended, the strewn clothes and tissues on the floor gave way suddenly to a shiny, pristine tiled floor. I sat down at the table and she turned off the stove top. She pulled two mugs from the cabinet and poured the water over the teabags, then sat across from me and stirred her cup as it steeped.

"So, what's new?" Lisa began. Her elbows were sharp on the edge of the table.
"Not much."
"How's Dahlia?"
"She's good. She likes her teacher this year, which is a relief. Luke is working non-stop."
"How's business for you?"
"Fine. I just redid some housewife's home over in Englewood. That was pretty fun. She had a stupid budget so I went a little nuts."

Lisa didn't seem to hear me well. She stirred her tea three times in a clockwise direction, then three times in a counter-clockwise direction, and back again. She had many such habits. She pulled two cigarettes from a pack in her pocket and offered me one.

She lit them with matches that were left on the table and we sat that way for a minute without speaking.

"Luke was wondering if your insurance check had come in?"
"It'll come when it comes."
"So how are you doing?" I asked, not really wanting to ask, but more so not wanting to keep sitting in silence and watch one another smoke cigarettes.

"I'm alright. I keep having these dreams,” she began as she inhaled and leaned forwards, “that my nails, teeth, hair, or whatever, are falling out. My doctor says they are fears of loss dreams." She placed her hand in her mouth and begin biting at her fingernail.

"If you keep biting your nails, maybe they will fall off."
She smiled and put her hand down. "The Times might do a piece on Henry."
"What kind of piece?" I asked.

"Sort of a bio thing. His life, his work. What it was like for a photojournalist over there. How the violence carries home with you, they said. I haven't decided but I might let them write it. Henry loved things like that. He would have liked the validation, I'm sure.”

"I think you're right," I said.

I don't know what made me think of it, but I remembered a party the four of us had gone to. Luke was chattering away about work with another party guest about the state of the Congress and some recent Federal Reserve policy, and Lisa and I were drinking martinis away from everyone else. She had been telling me about a trip she had gone on with Henry: some story about sneaking through a militarized border between two Arab nations. Henry had come in – from where I didn't know – and interrupted us. He announced the hosts were in possession of a great, underutilized pool in the backyard and we should take a swim. "I don't think it's that kind of a party," I had said, but Henry and Lisa laughed and walked together out of the sliding glass doors. I approached Luke, and asked to borrow him for a moment. I whispered in his ear that I wanted to swim, and he simply replied that he didn't have his suit on him and that no one was swimming. I left him, predictably annoyed, and went to the backyard. I loathed nothing more than acting predictably anything. Lisa and Henry had already pulled off most of their clothes and were kissing and trying to splash each other. I had told them I had a headache and asked if they could drive Luke home later on.

At her small formica table, Lisa was just about finished with her cigarette when she pulled out another, lighting it from the last one. "It's weird being alone here," she said.

"Well, Henry was always gone a lot, so..."

Her brown eyes sharpened at me. "It's different now."

"I know, I don't know why I said that." I didn't want another cigarette, but without one I twisted my fingers onto themselves in my lap.

A few years before, we had built an office for Luke on the second floor of our house. Somehow he still insisted on working at the kitchen table most nights. I imagined what he would do if I just sat down and lit a cigarette next to him.

I shifted and took a sip of my tea. "So, when will the photos come out?" I asked.

She seemed to hear that. "Well, they are being restored and developed now, by Peter – do you remember Peter? He is probably the only one Henry would've trusted with them.” Lisa had took on the tone of a great artist's wife when she spoke of his work. “They are going to be released in a gloss spread, then the full book released with an article some old colleague of his is writing, explaining the photos in the full context of the situation. The magazine will probably go out after the summer, and the book next year sometime."

"So what is the story?"
"The narrative?"
"Sure. Yes, what are the pictures?" The narrative.

"The photo narrative begins with children born to widespread devastation and poverty, a lack of clean water, rampant honor killings and social resistance to change, and a resistance to acknowledge how bad things really are. You know, the usual Henry themes.”

I thought of Dahlia dreaming of princesses, and how very glad I was that she liked her teacher this term.

"The narrative follows the idea of honor and necessity, and how these children need to balance both. It ends with a refugee who saved his brother from falling off the edge of a mountain – or something – in a remote area, when they were orphaned and migrating to Islamabad for work."

"What's his story?" I asked.

"Well, his brother had cracked his ankle, or something like that, so he had to literally carry him twenty-three miles. And he did,” she said with a dramatic exhale of smoke, “and when he got there what do you think happened?" Lisa pushed her empty teacup to the side and leaned forwards on her sharp elbows. She looked tired, and a little crazed, and very chic with her cigarette and ruffled hair.

"I don't know. Someone found him, called him a hero, and gave him work and shelter. Did I guess right?"

She shook her head and smiled. "No. Nothing happened. No one cared. The community he walked to wasn't his community, so he was just an outsider. The village he entered had seen soldiers and volunteers come and go and come again, and its people didn't care for anyone outside the community. When Henry found them they were near starving, just begging for rations from a care package truck. The younger one's ankle had never been treated so it had healed wrong, and he couldn't work. Henry eventually got them to a refugee camp and tried to set them up as much as he could...but it wasn't enough, he said."

A small laugh escaped me. "So the story is about how it's so bad and there's no happy ending? Henry was ever the optimist.” Lisa cracked the hint of a smile.

"Sort of. The collection is called 'Hero Karma.' "
"What does that mean?"
"Hero karma,” she said again. “Ugh, it's a myth – bravery and honor don't get you the accolades you think they will. Obviously."

She sat back in her chair, a widow, and I didn't want to stay in her dirty apartment but I didn't want to go home. I couldn't imagine driving back to the house where Luke was almost certainly already asleep, satisfied that he had successfully organized his set number of client receipts for the day. My daughter would certainly cry and moan in the morning if I didn't help her get her hair just right. Lisa was biting her nail again, and I could see her eyes were seeing the photos Henry took. She was living in those camera images that came home with him. She was living another life, very far away. Lisa was fragile-looking and severely thin perhaps, but her eyes were fierce, her face stern. She lit a third cigarette and shut her eyes. I brought the teapot over from the stove top and warmed up her tea. She was like some animal who knew it was being watched, but who felt no discomfort in the intrusion.

As I left Lisa's apartment, I remembered that night she and Henry went swimming. He was tan and his shoulders were sculpted from trekking for miles with all his equipment. I had gone home early and gotten mad at Dahlia for not cleaning up her toys. I put her in her room and went to look for the babysitter. I found her in the backyard. She was seated on the edge of our coy pond in the dark of the night, her jeans rolled up to her knees and her feet dangling in the water. She leaned back on her hands and looked off into the woods that edged our yard. An inch of her stomach was bared below her T shirt and cascades of young, thick light brown hair curled its way down her back.
I'd startled her by the pond and scolded her for Dahlia's heap of toys, and not only for disturbing the fish. The girl had tears in her eyes, and I'd felt my cheeks flush with remorse almost immediately. I felt bad and tipped her extra before I'd sent her home.

I'd smoked a cigarette on my back porch after Dahlia had fallen asleep and I'd stared into the woods that bordered the yard. The house was silent behind me, but I could hear a low hissing in the thicket of trees. I sat there a long time, waiting for a pair of glowing eyes to emerge from some shadow, wondering what animal might live in that dark curtain that cloaked like a shroud.

 

 

About the Author:

Mariel Yovino has had poetry published in The West Trade Review, VerbalArt Journal and Gyroscope Review. She has poetry and short fiction forthcoming in Loch Raven Review, Caesura and the Santa Fe Quarterly Review. Mariel pursued a BA in literature at Boston University and now works as a freelance writer in the Boston area.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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