Diego Báez is a CantoMundo fellow who graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Newark, and he writes regularly for Booklist. His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Luna Luna, Hobart, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He teaches Latin American Studies at the City Colleges of Chicago.
Read by Sarah Hecht
The story, as she tells it, over an enormous aquamarine margarita at Fernando’s Cantina, involves two of her friends, lesbians, a fresa from Jalisco and a tattooed guanaca from El Salvador, who wanted very different things: the fresa to settle down, buy property, build a life; and while the guanaca wanted much of the same, she also confessed to desiring riches beyond her most extravagant imaginings. It should be mentioned that neither carried papers, but both secured passable forgeries before crossing over. Also, though maybe it’s obvious, she says, both women, here in the States, consider themselves working class. Perhaps as a case in point, the women had bought a dilapidated two-flat across the street from their apartment in Pilsen, the key to securing happiness for both characters: the settled life desired by the fresa, wild riches by the Salvadoran. They decided to transform the two-flat, vacated when police discovered the body of the previous owner, an enterprising puertorriqueña who’d suffered a falling out with her lover, decomposing in the basement. She runs the manicured tip of one index finger around the fishbowl’s huge rim and sucks salt crystals from it. They’d repair the property with their wits and hard work and whatever money they could muster, since, despite practically stealing the deserted two-flat for a fraction of its asking price, the two had basically emptied their entire life savings to cover the initial cost of purchase, plus assessments and taxes. Because la fresa had studied architectural history and municipal administration at the UNAM in D.F. and Guanaca knew toolboxes and hardware like the back of her tatted-up hand, the two of them cooked up a plan to como se dice “flip” the house and sell it to white people. Didn’t matter who, so long as they were rich and white. Never mind the neighborhood had belonged historically to our people, she says with a taste of disdain she then swallows with another sip of that blue-green margarita. At this point, she flicks out her hand and gives my forearm the faintest brush. But the couple had first to figure out how exactly to entice rich white people into buying a building in the heart of Little Latin America on Chicago’s near-southwest side.
One night in bed, la fresa sketching site plans with repeating rectangular patterns, the kind you often see in latticework of Japanese gardens and roof tiles of Oriental pagodas, Guanaca tracing nails along an invisible line down la fresa’s silky calf when suddenly the fresa shot up in bed, brushing aside the affections, and shouted, I’ve got it! But in Spanish, por su puesto. An image of Midwestern America’s most popular architect had popped into her mind, and she recalled an early lecture from her grad school days in which the lector had addressed the discovery of a Frank Lloyd Wright home believed lost for decades, all the while rotting in a cellar in Usonia, New York, that belonged to a former apprentice. Guanaca said she didn’t quite follow. And then I’m certain that two-bit fresa, she says, squeezing the rest of her lime and plunking the rind in the glass, said it was simple: they’d rehab the two-flat in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, and then forge the necessary paperwork. La fresa popped open her computer and a quick Google query returned nearly a dozen Wright homes on the market, asking prices way more than what either woman would have guessed. Surely the two embraced, she says, adding, and then fucked, I imagine.
For months, she says, flashing those bright acrylic nails, gold bangles jangling in a dismissive flourish, the two of them attended every Frank Lloyd Wright open house in the area, taking notes, asking questions, going so far on a couple occasions to photograph interiors and measure garden walls, requesting original floor plans and blueprints. During what was to become their final open house, before la fresa started crafting false records and Guanaca began peeling lead paint and knocking plaster from the walls, the owners of this last home in Oak Park happened to stick around: husband and wife, two kids, and a dog, greeting guests, shaking hands, putting a warm face to the home. It should be mentioned that neither woman has family in the States; the first seldom made it back to Jalisco, and the second intended never to return to El Salvador under any circumstances, whatsoever. But the straight couple welcomed the women, and they just seemed so nice and inviting, the small kids with blonde hair and matching overalls, the retriever so obedient and still. Here la fresa had sort of a breakdown or crisis and expressed second thoughts about the con they’d been planning. Guanaca shook her head and took her by the arm, and they walked off by themselves to talk behind the intricate wooden slats of a retractable privacy shade, one of the home’s many notable features. It’s not clear what they said, since she never told me exactly, she says, emptying the last dribbles of blue tequila down her throat and all but slamming the glass back on the bar ledge. But the gist of it was, Well, what do they care? Whoever buys the rehabbed two-flat wants only to sell it for more, went Guanaca’s argument. That rich white people don’t care about anything other than staying filthy rich and white. But that’s not true, I can tell you, she says, futzing with the stem of her empty glass. Besides, none of that matters, now. INS got a call with an anonymous tip about two illegal lesbians, at which she smiles and winks. Of course, they both got deported.
A real shame, she says, signaling to our server and requesting the check, because while the first returned to Jalisco and has made a life for herself there, settling down, probably wedding a local doctor or abogado, it’s not clear what happened to the second. El Salvador’s been in shambles for just about ever now, and I can’t imagine women have it easy, she says, inspecting the check and drawing a card from her wallet. Especially one in her shoes. So anyway, what that means for you is that both lots are for sale, if you’re interested.