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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Someone Loves You

Story by María Alejandra Barrios (Read author interview) March 23, 2020

Art by Kerstin Rünzel

You tell yourself this every day hoping that someone will appear to make it true. What Mateo felt for you, you realize now, wasn’t love. He loved that he had the power to “forget” to introduce you to people. He loved having the power to erase you.

He never asked about your work. This made it easy to lie to him. On your first date you blurted out that you wrote articles for a living. He never asked to read them.

One day, Mateo came back home moments after he’d left for work. He’d forgotten Detectives Salvajes, the Roberto Bolaño book you bought him on a trip to a secondhand bookstore in Bushwick. He liked reading books in Spanish during his commute. He said it reminded him of life back at home. You were both Colombian and you were both alone in New York. Life in full Spanish, at times, seemed like a life that belonged to someone else.

When you saw him, you shut down your computer with such force you ended up pushing papers, books and notebooks from your messy desk to the floor.

“Are you okay, mi amor?”

“It was the wind.” But you lied. It was all you.

He came back fifteen minutes later while you were in the shower to see why you were so startled the first time. Your computer was open to the page that advertised you as the girl of the month. At first, he confronted you only about not telling him the truth, that you were a webcam model, but a couple of days later, he cited irreconcilable differences like you were both in court. He started looking for a job abroad and not coming home at night. He used to love your spaghetti squash, and your arroz de cerdo and your tortilla but not anymore. He was too busy to eat.

“Sorry baby, sorry baby,” he would say. Like he was singing it you. In your anger, you worked more hours. You dressed sluttier. You got to know your clients by likes and kinks. While Mateo was out, you ate dinner at home with your chatroom. They did appreciate your recipes. They said they wished someone would cook dinner like that for them. If they could only smell it!

Mateo found a job abroad in Europe. The day he left, like a real estúpida you made him breakfast, washed his clothes, helped him pack his suitcase and went to the airport with him. At least you didn’t cry when you saw him wave at you through departures. In the taxi, you were starting to contact people through your secret Instagram and Twitter to invite them to your show when Mateo texted.

“If you weren’t such a slut this would have never happened.”

You thought about all those times he called you a slut in bed. “Tell me you’re a whore. A puta. Tell me that you been thinking about me all day.”

The taxi driver turned around and asked if you were okay. Did he know? Did he know that you were crying because you were a whore and a puta and you deserved what was happening to you? Would he recognize you from the chat? You opened your chat and saw that there were thirty messages waiting for you.

You used your phone’s camera to look at yourself. You took a Kleenex from your coat pocket and dried the mascara traveling to your cheeks. “A raccoon!” Your mom would have said. Ojos de mapache. Mami expected so much from you so you told her you wrote articles for a living too. It was hard to tell people you loved the truth. You stopped looking at yourself and opened the chatroom. Soon you were inundated with words:

“You’re the hottest woman I’ve ever seen.” “If I could only meet you in real life. I. Would. Treat. You. Like. A. Princess.” “Ur so hot. I love your sexy glasses. And that messy hair! GOD.” “Isn’t it hot in New York right now? You should take that sweater off.” “I love you. Do you know that? I love you.”

“I’m fine, just having a moment.” You told the taxi driver. More comments came rushing in asking where were you.

“Airports make me a little homesick sometimes,” you typed into the chat. “I’m almost home.”

 

When you felt alone, you moved your laptop to the window to get some sunlight and you felt them there with you. Your clients knew you were going through a hard time and started having conversations about you while you were in the chatroom. You listened, while they decided what was best for you. Maybe you needed to get out more, they said. You were young and beautiful. The possibilities! Maybe you needed a dog or more plants in the apartment. A hobby. More nutritious food. More veggies. Less coffee. It felt nice for once to leave the weight of your fate in someone else’s hands.

Sometimes, when there was a lull in the chat or not many clients online, you thought about Mateo. You listed all the occasions when he never listened. How he talked first when being introduced to someone. How he ordered for you as soon as a waiter would come to your table. How sometimes when he was really drunk and you were having a conversation with someone else he would hang around correcting your tenses.

“Sorry baby, sorry baby,” he would later say when he would sober up.

Your followers always wanted to hear what you had to say. What you needed.

This morning, a client asked for you home address so he could send you gifts and food. “To give you the life you deserve.” You looked at the contents of your kitchen: a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, crackers, some old cereal and some cans of fizzy water Mateo had left behind. You hated those.

You started typing your answer.

About the Author

María Alejandra Barrios is a pushcart nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. Her stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante and Shenadoah Literary. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center and the New Orleans Writing Residency.

About the Artist

Drawing on her background in theater and dance under Jo Fabian, Kerstin Rünzel found visual art a natural continuation of her experience as a dancer. This led her to a combination of body work, photography, drawing, and screen printing. Her work brings an attention to detail to ordinary things and the ephemeral aspects of experience. Japanese aesthetics is a particularly important influence on her work.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Seven
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Next Date to Join: January 1!

On September 1, SmokeLong launched a workshop environment/community christened SmokeLong Fitness. This asynchronous community workshop is happening right now on our dedicated workshop site. If you choose to join us, you will work in a small group of around 10-12 participants to give and receive feedback. Each Monday, you will receive a new writing task (one writing task each week) designed by the senior editor team of SmokeLong. The core workshop is asynchronous, so you can take part from anywhere at anytime. We are excited about creating a supportive, consistent and structured environment for flash writers to work on their craft in a community.