Another excerpt from the exquisite novel Ebba and the Green Dresses of Olivia Gomez in a Time of Conflict and War by Joan Tewkesbury.
Juanita Visits the Commander
Juanita stood in the General’s Commander’s living room. He was watching the Miss Central Committee Beauty Pageant on TV. As the master of ceremonies read off the names of the five finalists, the Commander picked up a bottle of purple liquid and dropped twenty-five drops of whatever it was into a glass of purified water, stirred it with his thumb and offered it to Juanita. When she declined, he shrugged and drank it himself, shuddering as it slid down his throat.
“Best thing to ward off smallpox,” he said.
He plopped the glass down on the marble-topped table edged in gold leaf and patted the cushion next to him on the sofa. Juanita waited a moment then took a deep breath and sat down beside him even though she didn’t want to.
“Look at those dogs!” the Commander shouted. He was referring to the final five Beauty Pageant contestants.
“Where’s that soap opera actress or that blonde who sells toothpaste in the ads? These are dogs. Peasant dogs. How can you give a prize to ugly women like that?”
He turned and gave Juanita his full attention, looked into her eyes, then down to her lovely full lips then back up to the feathery mustache of delicate fur she had ceased to wax since her husband, the Sergeant, had burned up and died. It was something her mother had insisted she do when it started to flourish at puberty. Her brother had hated her because he hardly had any mustache at all.
The Commander couldn’t take his eyes off Juanita’s upper lip.
“You see,” he boasted, “it is one of my duties to wine and dine whoever wins. She will come to this house for an evening with me and none of those dogs are worthy…”
“Commander…” Juanita interrupted, but he just kept talking.
“… Unlike you, Mrs. Chavez.” The General’s Commander stretched, lifted his arms and moved toward Juanita on the couch. He was totally transfixed by her furry mustache. Juanita moved to the very edge of the cushion as the bathing suit competition continued to blare on TV.
“Commander, I have come to ask…”
“Anything,” the Commander interrupted in a whisper. He began leaning forward, tilting his head closer to hers, completely captivated by the dense, dark growth spreading a hairy frame for her mouth.
“Do you know, Mrs. Chavez, that I have fathered one hundred and eighteen children?” Juanita ignored the remark and continued in a firm voice.
“About my dead husband…”
“How can I be of help?” The Commander interrupted again and smiled.
“I would like to see…” Unable to restrain himself any longer he lifted his hand.
“Excuse me,” he interrupted,” but there is something right there…” The Commander leaning forward further moved his finger toward her mouth, but Juanita didn’t stop talking.
“I would like to see that my husband receives a hero’s…” At that exact moment the Commander’s fingers reached their destination.
“Oh my…” he said, feeling the fuzz.
“Memorial!” Juanita blurted, simultaneously with the touch.
Recoiling reflexively, she said very loudly,”What the hell are you doing?!” This took the Commander by surprise. He wasn’t used to being questioned about anything he wanted to do, but he managed to recover and save face by delicately feathering his fingers, as if he was removing something unseemly from under her nose. He made it seem as if he had saved her a great embarrassment. He even went so far as to drop the imaginary thing into an overflowing beanbag ashtray clinging to the arm of the couch, as he looked Juanita straight in the eye and clucked condescendingly.
“A little something caught in the hair.” Then he leaned back and waited for her to be embarrassed, but he’d miscalculated. Juanita didn’t give a shit. She only cared about getting what she came for, so she stood.
“I want to give my dead husband, Sergeant Alberto Chavez, a military memorial for dying in the line of duty.”
The Commander blinked and tried to recall Chavez. Finally, when he did, the Commander spread his short pudgy arms across the back of the white leather couch. Sergeant Chavez had been a total fuck-up, taken off regular duty because he fell asleep and deserted his men, which was why he’d been relegated to Orphan Patrol, the children’s army and family redistribution. The Commander smiled.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” he said.
All of a sudden his tone was official and he turned back to the contest on TV, taking note of the third finalist’s bathing suit as it crept up her haunch revealing a lot of backside that should have stayed covered.
“What do you mean, not possible?” Juanita wanted to know.
“No real rank,” he replied and kept his focus on the television set.
“What do you mean ‘no real rank?’ He fought for you…”
Her eyes were filling with angry tears as the Commander smiled unkindly. “Maybe that’s what he told you to feel important, but I can verify whatever war stories he boasted were not true.”
“Liar!” Juanita shouted and stamped her foot.
The Commander sighed. This was growing tedious. Then he remembered. “I hear you sent the boy we gave you away.”
“Of course I sent him away. It was all his fault. If I hadn’t been so busy day and night… too busy for my husband…”
“My dear, it wasn’t as if you gave birth to him or nursed him day and night. He was only with you a short time…”
“So what?” Juanita interrupted.
“So, you will be moving out of the casita,” the General’s Commander announced.
Stunned, Juanita stopped her fury and stared at the Commander.
“What?” was all she could manage to say.
“We have to make room for his replacement. Besides, we don’t have casitas for widows. Casitas are for military personnel in the General’s service. We’ve let you stay on a bit longer out of consideration for the circumstances of his death… a terrible shock. But since you don’t have any children and you gave the one you had away… One person to a casita is extravagant… unless of course you’d like to think about some sort of arrangement…”
Before the Commander could continue with the rest of proposition, Juanita turned and stormed out of his living room to the front door which she slammed so hard the General’s portrait fell off the wall and knocked over the flag.
In the living room, the Commander lit another cigarette and waited to see which one of the unfortunate, ‘peasant dogs’ would be crowned Miss Central Committee.
Get your own copy of Ebba and the Green Dresses of Olivia Gomez in a Time of Conflict and War by Joan Tewkesbury HERE.