Laila tightened the last screw that secured the ladder-like rack to the floor, nine inches in front and to the left of Amparo’s refrigerator. “How is that?” she said, examining her work.
I wrote this story last week, as my response to Magpie Tales 228… But I was in so much pain by the time I finished telling the tale, that my mood didn’t feel like relishing in the passionate throes of poetic justice. I still wanted to share the piece with the image that helped inspire it.
“Fantastic.” Amparo smirked. “No more laugh-crying on the floor after I fall in front of the fridge.” She gave the metal rack a little wiggle. “My dignity and I are quite thankful.”
“Come on, try it.”
Amparo widened her smirk, and articulated a completely out of character damsel in distress shriek as she drooped to the floor.
“Jesus! Shut the fuck up.” The ejaculation was accompanied by the thump, thump, thump, which Amparo recognized as her downstairs neighbor’s broom handle banging the ceiling.
Amparo used the new makeshift rail to lift herself up. “Sorry,” she said.
Laila waved a dismissive hand. “I thought your dragon was at work prettying people up.”
“As did I.” Amparo glanced at her watch. “Maybe she’s sick or something.”
“She’s sick all right.” Laila crossed her arms under her breasts. “She has a severe case of inhumane bitchiness and—”
“Just let it be, Laila.” Amparo sighed when she noticed her cane was not within arm’s reach. “Hand me my stick, would you? I’ll go get some groceries until she’s gone.”
“Groceries?” Laila’s exasperation seemed to make her loom over the other woman, a strange concept since Amparo was nearly two feet taller than Laila. “You were up all night, you should—”
“My stick, Laila,” Amparo said in a tired voice. “Or I’ll just drag my foot to the foyer to get it, and leave you here to listen to Ms. Horne roar holy profanity.”
Laila’s jaws tightened, but she got the cane and helped her friend out of the apartment. Once standing over the stairs that led down to the first floor, Laila couldn’t hold her peace. “I still think you should talk to that landlord of yours. What if your foot or cane get caught in one of the holes in this beat up rug? It’s just not fair, Amparo. He’s obligated—”
“Please, Laila.” Amparo closed her eyes and lifted her head towards the ceiling. “If he doesn’t do something by the end of the month, then I’ll talk to him.”
“No need to be, mi querida. Friends are supposed to bitch on each other’s behalf, aren’t we?”
Laila stuck her tongue out at Amparo before heading down the steps.
They said their goodbyes in front of the building. Amparo went left towards the grocery store and Laila headed right, in the direction of her antique shop.
After Amparo disappeared around a corner, Laila crept out from behind a parked car. She wouldn’t betray her friend’s trust by having words with her neighbor behind her back, but she could coincidentally be around when Amparo returned from the grocery store. She needed to see her friend safely up the deathtrap her landlord called a staircase.
Getting nearer to the building’s door, Laila stopped and pressed her back against the wall to avoid being seen by the owners of the shouted whispers echoing inside the lobby.
“…clubfoot isn’t the issue, Henry. I know she can’t help that. But she needs to be conscious of the situation the rest of us have to endure because of her. I don’t get government money. I have to work to make a living. I have to get up early after miserable sleep because Amparo and her foot spend the entire night dragging around the floor and dropping crap. She needs to go to a place where her noise doesn’t disrupt everybody else’s life. And look at those damn steps, all ripped! I can’t invite my friends over. I’m ashamed of what they might say. Is it too hard to lift a damn foot? If she just lifted her foot, the dragging wouldn’t eat up the carpet. Henry, you need—”
“Ms. Horne,” Henry interrupted, and Laila thanked the universe for it. She wasn’t sure she could keep herself from making Ms. Horne’s head explode, if the horrible woman spewed one more word. “Amparo has lived here for over a decade,” Henry continued. “She deals with difficult issues, and she will be treated equal—”
“If she wants to be treated like an equal, she needs to start acting equally,” Ms. Horne said. “Let her have my job for three days. Hell! I wish I had her so called issues for three hours. I’d show you both that anyone could do better if they put some real effort into it.”
Laila’s smiled was sharp with happy teeth. She couldn’t see her expression, but knew her face had turned wicked golden with satisfaction. Grinning wider, Laila let her mother’s magic trickle out of her skin and make the Horne woman’s wish come true.
Henry had already crossed the street, muttering about impossible people, when Laila felt Ms. Horne’s pain shriek through the wall and crash into her ears. She ran towards the building, and collided with a wide-eyed Amparo.
“I thought you were—” Laila started to say.
“Did you hear that?” Amparo reached for the door handle. “I think Ms. Horne’s in trouble.”
Inside the building, Laila watched Amparo leap towards her neighbor’s side, at a speed she never imagined the elephantiasis of her friend’s foot could allow.
The sight of Ms. Horne, lying on her side whimpering and shaking with her left leg twisted under her body, touched Laila with something that felt almost like guilt.
“Are you listening to me?”
“What?” Laila hadn’t realized that Amparo had been talking to her.
“Call an ambulance. I think she’s going into shock.”
“But she’s just…”
The almost guilt festered and mutated into the real thing. Did the Horne woman’s wish call for some kind of terrible condition, which Laila’s magic didn’t know her friend was suffering from?
“The ambulance is on the way,” Laila said, squatting next to Amparo. “Did she break something?” When Amparo shook her head, Laila added, “Why is she sweating so much?”
“I’m dying,” Ms. Horne wailed. “My foot… feels like, like it’s going to explode. I’m going to vomit. My belly hurts. Did I get my period? It feels like I got my period, but I don’t get my period anymore. Jesus! I’m dying.”
“Breathe, Ms. Horne.” Amparo took deep breaths, in and out, as if teaching someone who knew nothing about the benefits of inhaling and exhaling. “Help’s almost here,” she said when the sirens got closer. “You keep on breathing. Nice and slow does it.”
The emergency technicians had to sedate Ms. Horne before transporting her to the hospital. The woman would not stop yelling that she was dying. And after a short while, she began to scratch her face and pull clumps of hair from her scalp.
Five days later, Laila was following Amparo into her building after accompanying her friend grocery shopping.
Amparo raised an index finger to her lips. “Tiptoe, all right? Don’t make a sound.”
Laila frowned at her. Still, she made sure the heels of her red boots didn’t touch the hardwood floor. But she forgot to keep the front door from slamming shut with a bang.
“Jesus, Amparo! Why didn’t you tell me you needed help shopping? You shouldn’t be carrying that heavy bag.” A fully recovered Ms. Horne shot towards Amparo, dragging Henry by an arm. “Carry Amparo’s bags upstairs,” she said to the man.
“There’s no need.” The defeat in Amparo’s tone made Laila want to burst into laughter. But her friend’s glare kept the amusement in check. “Really, Ms. Horne, I got this.”
“It’s Una, Amparo honey.” Ms. Horne rubbed Amparo’s arm with seemingly genuine affection. “We agreed you’d call me Una. Now let the man do his job. It’s the least he can do.” She took the bag from Amparo’s hand. “Henry!” she said, handing the bag. “Henry and I were going over the forms that detailed the different accommodations the building must provide for you. Would you like to come in and see what we have so far?” She glanced back and forth between the staircase and Amparo’s foot. “Or Henry and I can come up to your place. I made cookies!”
Amparo sighed. “I will… I need to say goodbye to my friend. We—”
“Oh hi,” Ms. Horne beamed at Laila. “Would you like some tea? I made—”
“Laila is allergic to cookies.”
Ms. Horne cocked her head to one side, in a gesture that made her look like an insanely happy bird. “Really? What kind of cookies?”
“All kinds. Cookies can kill her,” Amparo said, and steered Laila towards the door.
Laila waited until they reached the corner. “Spill it, Amparo honey. What was that?”
Amparo shrugged. “No idea. She started acting like that, a bit mad but really nice, after she came back from the emergency room.”
“I thought you said the doctors told her it was nothing.” Laila bit her lip. “Just a freakish charley horse. Isn’t that what you said?”
“They did say it was all in her head.” Amparo leaned into her cane to give her swollen foot some rest. “But… Laila, she told me what if felt like. She said it only lasted two hours, but what she described sounded like my pain—fever, shaking chills, sweating, headaches, vomiting. She even peed herself. It was as if she…” Amparo glanced at her foot and shook her head. “Never mind. It’s silly. I just hope her niceties ebb a bit and very soon. She’s driving me insane. I guess is better than the former banging of broom handles. I will stop complaining and embrace the honey peace while it lasts.”
“Feels fair to me,” Laila said, while thinking, And if the Horne woman ever forgets what being you feels like, I could always send her the last hour of her wish.
For Dee… Tell that treacherous fridge of yours that my hammer and screwdriver magic is always at the ready; even if you already know how to lift yourself up on your own. ♥♥♥
If you liked Laila, you can find her in: