“Telenovelas teach important life lessons,” Sofia had once told me. “For example, if you’re in a love triangle with two handsome men who never wear shirts, remember that the one you reject will become a villain and plot to destroy you. And if you’re beautiful but poor and mistreated, you were probably switched at birth with another baby who has taken your rightful place in a powerful family.”
I entertained myself by reading the English subtitles to Coco, infusing high emotion in the dialogue: “I swear you will pay dearly for this outrage!” and “Now you must fight for your love!” While misting Coco’s tongue with Evian spray during the commercial, I said, “Wait a minute, you don’t need translation. You’re a Chihuahua. You already speak Spanish.”
Hearing the front door open and close, I glanced over the back of the sofa. Sofia came in, looking demoralized.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Remember the guy in spin class?”
“Uh-huh. We went out for drinks.” She heaved a sigh. “It was awful. The conversation kept stalling. It was more boring than watching bananas ripen. All he does is exercise. He doesn’t like to travel because it interferes with his workout schedule. He doesn’t read books or keep up with the news. But the worst thing was that he kept looking at his phone for an entire hour. What kind of guy reads his phone and texts during a date? Finally I put a twenty-dollar bill on the table to pay for my share of the drinks, and said, ‘I don’t want to interfere with your phone time,’ and I left.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Now I can’t even enjoy watching his glutes during spin class.” Sofia plugged her phone into a charger on the counter. “How did your lunch go?”
“What about Joe? Did you have a good time? Was he charming?”
“It was fun,” I said. “But I have something to confess.”
She gave me an expectant glance. “Yes?”
“After lunch, we went shopping.”
“A bed and a dog collar.”
Her brows lifted. “That’s a little kinky for a first date.”
“The bed and dog collar are for an actual dog,” I said.
Sofia’s face went blank. “Whose?”
My sister walked around the sofa. Her incredulous gaze dropped to the Chihuahua in my lap. Coco shrank back against me, trembling.
“This is Coco,” I said.
“Where’s the dog? All I see is a mole rat with bulging eyes. And I can smell her from here.”
“Don’t listen to her,” I told Coco. “You just need a better stylist.”
“I asked you once if I could get a dog and you said it was a terrible idea!”
“I was right. It’s a terrible idea if we’re talking about a regular-sized dog. But this one is perfect.”
“I hate Chihuahuas. Three of my aunts have them. They need special food and special collars and special stairs to get on the couch, and they pee five hundred times a day. If we get a dog, I want one that can go running with me.”
“You don’t run.”
“Because I don’t have a dog.”
“Now we do.”
“I can’t run with a Chihuahua! She would drop dead after a half mile.”
“So would you. I’ve seen you run.”
Sofia looked infuriated. “I’m going to go out and buy a dog too. A real dog.”
“Fine, go get one. Bring home a half dozen.”
“Maybe I will.” She scowled. “Why is her tongue hanging out like that?”
“She has no teeth.”
Our gazes clashed in the charged silence.
“She can’t keep her tongue in,” I continued, “so it’s chronically dry. But a lady at the pet store suggested massaging it with some organic coconut oil every night, and misting it with water throughout the day – Why is that funny?”
Sofia had started to choke with laughter. In fact, she could barely talk, she was snorting and wheezing so hard. “You have such high standards. You love beautiful, tasteful things. And this dog is so ugly and scraggly, and… Dios mío, she’s a lemon.” Sitting beside me, she reached out to let Coco smell her hand. Coco sniffed daintily and let Sofia pet her.
“She’s not a lemon,” I said, “she’s jolie laide.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a term for a woman who’s not conventionally beautiful, but she’s beautiful in a unique way. Like Cate Blanchett or Meryl Streep.”
“Did Joe talk you into this? Are you doing it to make him think you’re compassionate?”
I gave her a haughty glance. “You know that I’ve never wanted anyone to think of me as compassionate.”
Sofia shook her head in resignation. “Come here, Meryl Streep,” she said to Coco, trying to coax her out of my lap. “Ven aquí, niña.”
Coco shrank back, panting anxiously.
“An asthmatic lemon,” Sofia said, settling back in the corner of the couch with a sigh. “My mother’s coming to visit tomorrow,” she said after a moment.
“God, is it that time again?” I made a face. “Already?”
Every two or three months, Sofia’s mother, Alameda, drove from San Antonio to visit for a night. These occasions always consisted of hours of relentless interrogation about Sofia’s friends, her health, her work, and her sexual activities. Alameda had never forgiven her daughter for moving so far away from the family and for ending a relationship with a young man named Luis Orizaga.
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