Criticism

Realism: Gustave Courbet to Jerry Springer

The Narrative Dress

Ridiculum Vitae

Maruch Santiz Gómez

Dinh Q. Le

Steven Brower

Karin Sander

Journalistic Criticism

Stories

Slow down

Sunny

When she left

A love affair, part I

All things i couldnt say

The case of the young lovers

The nickname

The silence of Najmalabad

En Español

El kitsch y el cuerpo/2

La muerte de los Señores

La Giaconda y la guardia

Giovanni Tornatore

Martín Ramírez

La escatología de la pintura

Sunny

After Jesse, I could never look at pictures of my grandparents in the same way again. It may not have been just Jesse, it could have been everything, but Jesse was the one that made it hard to look at any of those pictures of Grandpa Leon and Grandma Gerty from the sixties. They were always healthy and doing something on the beach or a boat. The one that made it so hard was the picture of my grandparents in Miami Beach. It was before my mom was born so it must be 1967 or so. Grandma is turned away and Grandpa is lying on his chez-lounge smiling, his eyes closed, with zinc oxide on his nose and tri-fold reflector on his chest. His skin glistens like a turkey on TV fresh out of the oven and the tanning oil is just out of focus next to him. Just sitting in the sun like that, baking. Looking at it now makes me think of Jesse and I feel pretty weird. By the time I really knew my grandfather he had gotten a lot thinner and lost most of his face due to the cancer that came from the rash he first got. Just looking at the picture makes anybody who sees it wince. Sunning. As if we would ever do that.

            Grandpa and grandma weren’t the last generation of sun worshippers but they were the real thing, when people actually did whatever they could to look like they had just come back form Brazil or Acapulco. In all the photos of them from the 70’s you can see it. He must have been on the beach all the time you would have to think. But if you look a little more closely you can tell that the color was a bit off sometimes. In some of the pictures he is a little yellowish, like he has jaundice or something, and other times it looks a bit greener. Then there are times when it is just plain spotty, like the sun didn’t get everywhere. That was the first clue that he was using those products that were like suntan in a bottle. Braggi and whatever else. But even with the products and then the sun booths, grandpa ran out to tan whenever he could. Since he was not much of a laborer or sports enthusiast, he always had to figure out a way to get some color, as he used to say it, so that he could have that athlete’s sheen.

            Going out to get a tan? Sunning? Ever since the first wave of the rashes, nobody would do that. I mean, the farmers, in the poor countries, they still go out everyday I guess. The ones I saw on TV wore a kind of white suit so they wouldn’t get the rash, which looked kind of weird: a rice patty worker with a white toxic suit and a straw hat. But it seems inevitable now. I mean, who would go out without something to protect them?

            The first time we heard about it, it seemed like just another scare tactic, another thing for the news to freak out about so really none of us cared. The weather was always good or bad: sunny was good, not sunny was bad. Simple. And then, when some people started getting the rash, there were all the theories and of course it was a marginal idea at first, but everybody kind of felt like, Yeah, that does seem right. But no one wanted to say it because, you know, it was the sun.

            I made the easy mistake of falling in love with Jesse almost as soon as I met her. She was everything I would never be and would never be with, but I couldn’t help it. She was athletic, smart and genuinely nice, even to kids like me, which in high school was saying a lot because I think that almost everyone was in love with her.

I was in the theater club and we were putting on the play “No Exit.” After a few weeks of pretty intense rehearsal, the theater coach, Mr. Malewski, told us we should go outside and take a break, enjoy the sun, especially since we were doing such a dark play. “The only way to walk securely in the darkness, is to take in a lot of light. So out damn spots! To the field! Back in twenty minutes!” And he rushed us out the backdoor of the theater to the sports field that was right there. Mr. Malewski always spoke like that, as if it was some kind of tryout for a dumb sitcom you can’t help but like cause he was so stupid and sweet. But he loved theater and we loved him just the same.

On the sports fields the football team was practicing, pounding their bodies into the big round weight bags with loud screams of “ugh!” and “yea-uhh!” It was a hundred yards away but I could feel how much weaker I was than any of them. It made me wince just hearing them hit those things, like they were hitting me. I was staring at them as we all walked out aimlessly, mostly in happy silence, because we liked each other and felt like we were doing a play that was ‘important.’ And then a soccer ball came rolling to me and behind it about ten yards came Jesse. She had brown hair in a ponytail and shin guards and shorts. The girls’ soccer team was practicing on the other field and as she ran over she let out a slightly embarrassed smile and I kicked the ball to her and she said, “Thanks!” in a soft, out of breath voice. I watched her run away, her strong legs making me feel as weak as the footballers poundings but affecting me in a completely different way.

The next time we walked out the back door at Mr. Malewski’s insistence the soccer team was finishing practice and Jesse was walking alone toward the back door to the gym, which was right next to the theater. The rest of the theater club kept walking but I just stopped and stood there. She walked near me and said, “Hey.” I looked over at her and said, “Hey.”

By the time we graduated a year and a half later we had become best friends in the way that you can in high school when the girl knows your in love with her but pretends you’re just really good friends. We both knew it and it was kind of sad but we really were best friends and just being around her made me happy. I was always in some dark room reading or writing or memorizing lines to a play, and always grey-skinned to the point that my mom was worried I was anemic. I told her it was just my genetic make up but she was my mom so she didn’t buy that and said I should get outside more. Jesse was always outside and tan, because if she wasn’t playing soccer or softball, she road her bike and went to the beach a lot. It’s funny because even as we became best friends, we never did any of the stuff together that we liked to do alone. Most of my friends only met her at plays that she would come to and I only met her friends at some of the home games.

Back in high school I always seemed to be getting a cold or coming down with a cough, but Jesse was never sick. It was like she was immune to any disease. She told me once that she had never had a cold. Never. I don’t know if it’s true, but later her mom told me it was pretty much true, until she got the first rash.

It was right after college and by then my grandparents had both died of what it was agreed had to have been an extreme form of skin cancer because it didn’t just take them, it kind of ate them whole, like some mold taking over their skin. My grandfather went first and when he went it was pretty radical because he had always been so golden and healthy looking. He was old, sure, but it was pretty sudden anyway. It started with a little melanoma on his cheek and then when they got rid of that, it was really fast. Well, they got rid of it but it was pretty stubborn and came back, but like, the next week. And when it did it was too fast to stop. He lost his jaw in two weeks and by the time the chemo was done, he didn’t have practically any bone structure left, but the chemo didn’t seem to stop it. The doctors were pretty surprised because to them it looked like some science fiction thing. They told my mom that these things could move fast but not that fast. You could practically see it moving.

When he died one month after the first operation for the melanoma, the casket was closed since there was not really too much the mortician could do to reconstruct him. I was pretty glad about that. Grandma died only three weeks later from something similar but really it seemed like her system just gave out, that’s how sad she was. After 52 years married, I guess I could understand.

Grandma and Grandpa died when I was a junior in college and by the time I graduated the mystery of what had happened to them hadn’t really been figured out but it was less a mystery since it had started happening to a lot of people, and not just real old people like them. I think the thing that made it really pop to front-page news was when that gold medal runner got it. The picture on the cover of the paper that showed him with the rash made almost everyone sit up and get scared. I recognized it because that was what grandpa looked like near the end. All eaten up and fading away, a lost stare like a deer in the headlights but in slow motion because it happens over a few days or weeks and you can just stare at it as it does, helpless.

When they finally figured out that it was kind of like melanoma but a bit more extreme, it didn’t really comfort anyone because it was too late anyway. When Jesse got it, she knew what it was even before she got to the doctor. Anyone would have. Small red spots in the initially affected area, slight itching. And it didn’t matter if she went to the doctor either. Really hardly anyone did anymore. All they did is take you to the lab for testing, if there was any room left. And the rumor’s had it that the tests were inhumane and it was like being one of the guinea pigs or mice they used to test on, but now with real people, which actually made the animal rights people pretty happy. They thought this was just desserts for all the years and years of testing on poor little bunnies and kittens and monkeys and whatever. Now it was our turn. But most people didn’t go to the clinics the CDC set up because everyone knew they were really kind of internment camps for the sick to be studied and they would pick and poke at you and run you through extreme chemo and when you died, which was pretty soon, they would give your body back to your family in box that could hardly be called a coffin.

So it was pretty clear that someone as cool and smart as Jesse wasn’t going to fall for that. She called me up and as soon as I heard the silence I knew I should be worried. It was in the news almost everyday and I had gotten similar calls from my mom before, but about a cousin or a neighbor. “Do you remember Billy from the pool club? He just got it. So sad. His mother… “ And then she would drift off into silence as she realized that she could be the next mother with a kid who got the rash, or could be the next one to get the rash.

Me and Jesse spoke nearly everyday. After all those years we were still best friends and I was still in love with her and she still knew it. She had broken up with her last boyfriend a month or so before, but that didn’t mean it was finally my chance. In all that time there had been a lot of break ups and what could have been chances, but they were never chances for me. They were just break ups for her and she would move on.

“Hey.”

Silence.

My heart dropped for a second because it seemed like I knew. I don’t know how, because I have always been a hypochondriac and a paranoid, but this time I really knew. The silence continued.

“I’ll be right over.”

By the time I got there she had been researching all she could and knew enough to be sitting in her bathroom with the lights out and the front door unlocked. I walked in and called out to her, ending up in the bathroom next to her on the floor. We sat there in silence, both of us looking at the porcelain toilet.

“I guess I’m gonna die, huh?”

I’m generally a pretty honest person but that was a tough question to answer honestly. So I did my best.

“I don’t know.”

She reached over and put her hand on my knee.

I looked down at her hand and then up at her face. Her soft brown eyes looked distant as if it were a vast field and not a toilet she was staring at. The gentle lift of her cheek, which was always a sign of such healthy grace, was only slightly marred by the little red spots and somehow her left cheek, with the spots, seemed only slightly gaunter than the other. Her lips were still full and fresh, as if she had just come from a brisk walk in the woods. She looked over at me.

“You know…”

I waited for her to finish but instead she leaned over to me and touched my face as she kissed me gently on my lips for the first time ever. I felt her warm tongue go into my mouth with the same sense of vertigo I felt the first time I was on stage and could tell the audience was rapt. That time, on stage in the school production of “Death of Salesman,” I thought, “They love me.” Jesse’s lips on mine, her hand on my head and her tongue in my mouth, I could not stop myself from feeling the same rush of emotion, but adding to it the cruel surge of desire that swelled inside me. The real cruelty came as I realized that this dream was the prelude to the nightmare that would follow. She quickly pulled away and looked me in the eyes.

“You know… I do love you.”

It was like some joke played on me by history. As we lay in her bed I could not help but be surprised by the perfect strength and grace of her body. Her breasts seemed to stand on their own, as if airbrushed and her torso pressed against mine in a way that I suddenly felt fit and lithe, both of which I wasn’t.

By the time I gave her a last kiss and felt her body three weeks later, her face was a mask of what it once was, but a mask on November first, left tattered after Halloween’s festivities and depravities, like an orphan that no one has any use for.