Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
print version

Eulogy for Rosa Garsevanian

Somehow they found out who he was, tracked down where he lived and invited him to the funeral. He accepted and brought along his wife.

Across the church pew from Alicia, the wife is sitting cross-legged and still. She’s wearing a cheap black dress, no panty hose, and expensive shoes—their soles, a deep velvet red. The shoes make Alicia reconsider the dress. Must be haute couture. The fabric is airy, not flimsy as she originally thought, the thin straps across the shoulders sensible. There’s no AC in the church and Alicia is mildly impressed with the wife’s foresight.       

Alicia imagines the wife in their kitchen. The counter is made of marble, and an array of wooden spoons and ladles hang above the stove in a charming clutter. She works ambitious hours so they own an espresso maker, and it’s in reaching-distance of their bistro set. The wife doesn’t believe in having clocks around the house, least of all the kitchen, so there aren’t any; they don’t even own a microwave. A fan blows. There are strawberry jellies in six small jars lined on her windowsill and outside, August is yellow with butterflies.

Harry touches Alicia’s knee with his. Stop looking, this means. Harry doesn’t waste words; it’s why she married him. She doesn’t either. Alicia raises an eyebrow, moves away her leg. This means, watch yourself.

Alicia has always known that she’s cold. When she was sixteen and returned to Yerevan with her mother after a nine-year absence, Alicia’s relatives said this to her face. At the dinner table, her uncle Raffi reached over the huge plate of kyofta, tapped her chest with a mean smile, and asked, “Where is your heart?” Everyone laughed and compared her to her sister. Rosa was very affectionate, they said, always kissing her aunts, fluttering around from family to family, house to house, just kissing everybody. Last time they saw Rosa she was nine, Alicia wanted to point out. Makes a difference.

But there wasn’t any excuse for Alicia to be called an ice-queen during high school, a bitch in college, snob at work. There wasn’t any reason for her to not want children with the man who desired this more than anything else in the world, the exception being her. She was just that: a little cold, one or two degrees less loveable than she should’ve been, than Rosa was. But it is Rosa who is now in that casket at the front of the church and it is Alicia who can do whatever she wants—it is Alicia with the beating heart. And what she wants to do now most is go over there to the woman with the expensive shoes and ask her if she knows why she is here. If the man sitting beside that woman has told her just exactly why they’ve come. But Harry is touching his knee to hers again, reminding her, your sister is dead, dear, can you please focus.

Alicia brings her eyes towards the back of her mother’s head. Her hair is a shock-white, cropped close to her ears, but it’s covered now by a black scarf. Her mother has always tried to hide the fact that she has very little hair by cutting it very short. Frankly it suits her face, her high-cheekbones seemingly higher now in old age, skin desperately clinging to bone.

Her mother is a graceful mourner, and she weeps quietly, shoulders shaking, head bent. She’s done this before, buried a husband, two brothers; she knows how it’s done, what will happen next. She will walk to the cemetery, collapse on her knees, and claw at the earth. She will rip the grass from its roots.

It was Rosa who had cleaned the dirt underneath their mother’s nails after their father’s funeral. She who had held their mother’s hands under the running water of the garden hose before they went inside, returned their mother to the home she was now to manage alone. The water prickled, but Rosa was gentle, undeniably, thumbing the dirt away.

Rosa, the one with the touch. Rosa, the one who touches. Alicia held the garden hose.

Alicia returns her gaze to the wife now and the husband across from her. For a second, she doesn’t recall her name, but Rosa must’ve told her—she didn’t spare any details. What the husband had asked Rosa the morning after their first night together, waking before her. “Say right away, how you are doing. I can’t stand it.” The strength of his lovemaking: his tongue everywhere. The promise he made when they were just children, holding backpacks, popsicles, each other’s hands: “I will follow you until the very end.” And where they had run into each other in Los Angeles, twenty years later: Jon’s Supermarket, cereal aisle, he looking at family-sized brands on sale, she fixing the strap of her dress.       

She must speak to the wife. Alicia almost rises, grabs the underside of the bench, almost stands, but her mother lets out a terrible noise in front of her and she swallows the desire. Baless, baless, her mother sways, my little darling, my little darling.

The only thing more tragic for a parent than the loss of a child is the loss of the favorite one.


There are many ways she can do this. Her sister is buried now.

People are in line to pat her back and squeeze her shoulder, then do it all over again, for longer, with more meaning, to her mother next to her. Alicia can say something to the wife, something vague and titillating, something simple. But maybe the wife is dense, slow and sad—Rosa slept with her husband for how many years? What woman doesn’t know her husband’s in love with another, has been in love with another, in fact, for all of his life?

The woman and her husband are nearing now. Alicia takes in Robert’s soft face, his kind eyes and curly hair. He has dimples. A man like that doesn’t cheat, but Rosa could make a man crazy.

Alicia remembers lying down in bed, watching her sister comb through her hair with her fingers, remembers listening to her stories, the dirty ones, the censored ones, the ones where she couldn’t tell the difference.

“Turn him on his stomach, straddle his ass, and lick the length of his spine, bottom to top, then blow.”

“Then what?” Alicia prompts. They’re thirteen, fifteen, in their shared bedroom. They’ve just come from school and they’re alone.

“Then blow!”

“No, I mean, then what?”

“Then nothing. Lesson one: Stay classy, darling. You keep them wanting.”

Alicia feels a surge of something powerful rise inside her and Rosa laughs, falling back into her bed and kicking up her feet.

“That’s it, that’s it right there. Even you can tell, sister, that I’m very dangerous.”

Alicia blinks away the memory. A hand grazes her arm and she jolts, realizes where she is, that her heel is sinking slowly into the wet soil. The wife gives her a sad little smile and Alicia returns it.

“My condolences,” she says and Alicia is surprised, slightly, by her lack of accent.

“Thanks,” she replies, wincing at its casualness. “Thank you.”

The wife keeps smiling as she moves closer. Alicia resists the urge to stiffen, but the wife only whispers something in her ear. “I know how you feel.” Alicia turns her head, raises an eyebrow. The wife’s smile becomes sadder now, commiserating, but she moves on to Alicia’s mother and embraces her without a word. Alicia watches as the woman continues walking across the cemetery. In the sun, the wife’s body becomes a silhouette, blurry and fantastical, impossible to capture. Robert clears his throat.

“Thank you for getting in touch. I would’ve never forgiven myself.”

Alicia shrugs. She remembers him faintly as a child, chubby, the white shirt of his uniform always unbuttoned at the bottom. Rosa had kept a poem he had written her on lined paper, the back of which was scribbled with multiplication problems; she had carried it with her across the ocean. Rosa, Rosa, my pretty flower. Rosa, Rosa, your face prettier than the prettiest garden. She had laughed, showing it off to Alicia. Silly boy, she said. Aren’t boys so silly, sister? And Alicia had nodded, meaning it, and hating her.

“It wasn’t me. I think Cousin Suzy went through Rosa’s address book, invited everyone.” She laughs suddenly, first at the word “invited,” like this was a party, and then at “everyone,” as if he was just anybody. Robert shuffles his feet and Alicia wants to ask him if he loves her, if he ever did, but settles on “I’ll see you at the house.” He nods. From the corner of her eye, she watches as he bends to kiss her mother, who doesn’t recognize him, doesn’t care. Alicia cares. Alicia cares about this man who meant so much to Rosa and still, somehow, never enough. And she cares too about his wife who must’ve said and done all the right things but was still, still, the wrong one.


At the house, Alicia stands in the kitchen, smoking a cigarette. People are talking, eating, their voices low and bites small. Harry has gone to get more khorovatz from the marketplace and he’s taking his time. Alicia stares at Robert and his wife on the loveseat with their paper plates balanced on their laps. They’re speaking to each other in murmurs from the corner of their mouths. Alicia wishes she could read lips but she can only read coffee-cups, only the destinies of loved ones, not the reality of strangers. There isn’t much food on the wife’s plate. Alicia tries to remember how many children she has, wonders how big she got with each pregnancy.

Rosa never had children. Too busy for that, she’d say, smiling. Too good looking. But with hips like that, and those genes? Her relatives couldn’t understand how Rosa could not want any children. Her mother pleaded, Rosa, get married, give us a child, let us be young again, but Rosa had no desire to do so, no desires, really, except those which would give her the most certain of pleasures, immediate and real. In that way, Alicia knew, her sister was not special. Many women loved food and drink, spent nights hard at pleasure, mornings refusing to leave their beds. What made Rosa special was the way she loved those around her and how those people felt themselves to be at the center of her world and on the very outskirts of it. It was a talent Alicia admired but never tried to emulate, knowing her limits. No one in the world but her sister could love so cruelly.

Three, three children, Alicia recalls, watching the wife tear a small piece of pita on her plate. Two boys and a girl. Alicia faintly remembers Rosa telling her, in a rare and exciting moment filled with the tiniest of hesitation, the girl’s name, Vartanush. Oh Rosa, Alicia had said, shaking her head. How could you? But Rosa wasn’t too bothered that her lover named his child in honor of her. It’s a common name, she said, shrugging, don’t read too much into it. I bet a million names are a variation of rose, so don’t you get all high and mighty on me, sister. That was it too about Rosa. You always felt terrible chastising her, as if you’d take on her guilts, her sins, just by naming them.

But that impenetrable force that was always around Rosa wasn’t really at all impenetrable; it wasn’t strong enough to keep out the cancer. At the end, Alicia was there to bring her fresh flowers because she could not do much else. Rosa had especially liked the cold of violets, their tinged blues, their tinged whites. She had an obsession with dying beautifully. And she did, surrounded by family and friends, her lipstick on, the little hair left on her head curled behind her ears.

Alicia puts out the cigarette on the sink faucet, rubs down the little ashes from the stainless steel, and then rubs her thumb and index finger together. She feels the ashes seep into her skin, the air, and vanish. Her mother has disappeared into the bedroom and Alicia is the only Garsevanian left awake in this house and in all of the world. This knowledge emboldens her. She unties her ponytail, brushes her hair back, then ties it back up again, this time tighter and higher. She looks very stern, almost untouchable. She walks to the man and his wife, asks if the wife can help her cut the fruit, because she just doesn’t trust her hands anymore. Alicia raises them in front of her as if proof. They are shaking. Alicia laughs a bitter laugh but is irritated by her actual helplessness, something that she only tried to feign. It’s like her mother telling her as a child, if you keep making that face, Alicia, it’s going to stay that way. The wife passes her plate to Robert and follows Alicia into the kitchen.

She feels the wife behind her. If Alicia stops walking, the wife will bump into her back, might giggle uncomfortably, will certainly apologize. She is one of those women, Alicia now realizes. She can tell from her brown eyes, unlined but mascaraed, the lashes clumped and flecks pattering the skin below. The wife had done her best. She had hurried, she had trembled—she’s not used to putting on makeup. Alicia thinks back to the wife’s clothes. Maybe she was right after all about the cost of the dress. And maybe the soles of her shoes are not red, but merely dirty. Maybe both are only imitations of something better.

Liyanna wonders what it would be like to be her. Not Rosa underneath her husband’s body, breathing in and into his neck. Not Rosa sipping a glass of rosé for lunch as she flips through her legal files, waits for the server to bring her seared salmon. Not Rosa turning and turning at the weddings of her many friends, holding her skirt in bunches near her knees, laughing and singing and laughing. Not Rosa alive. Never Rosa alive.

Liyanna imagines what it would be like to be dead and for the world to struggle to remember you not as you were, but you at your best, in positives, in whites, and never-wrongs. How terrible it must be for the soul or spirit, whatever it is that stays long after the bodies go. Does it fight it? she wonders. Like a gypsy woman with singing hands, does it carry its sins with her in a bag wherever she goes? Or does it relish this newly imagined life where it has achieved perfection only in death?

When they reach the kitchen, Liyanna stands to the side, in the hallway, while Alicia opens the refrigerator and then drops to her knees. One by one, Alicia takes out grapefruits, oranges and pomegranates, and doesn’t raise her head to look as she lines them up on the counter near the sink.

Liyanna glances back at her husband. He’s sitting uncomfortably still, hands on his knees. He’s trying not to make eye contact. Liyanna wonders if anyone knows who he is.

When he was around, Robert was a good father. She could say this and believe it. He had enjoyed burping Davit, patting his son’s back gently as he rested his head on his shoulder, enjoyed hearing the breathless, funny sounds leave his purple-pink lips. But he loved most, she knew, stopping their children from crying. He would lightly tap the back of his fingers across their howling mouths to create an echoing effect that stunned the children into silence. He was pleased by this instinctive paternal skill, confidently waving his fingers in a “give-me” motion whenever one of the children began to squirm in Liyanna’s arms. It would be a lie to say she didn’t feel jealous of her husband, that she—she who was made to be a mother—wasn’t the first to think of something as simple as that. She never tried the tactic herself, not even when he wasn’t around, thinking Robert would find out somehow and tease her about it. She never wanted to have a reason to dislike him.

Alicia shuts the refrigerator door and with a grunt, rises from her knees. She grabs a knife from the drawer, throws it in a large bowl and balances a plate over it; she hands it all to Liyanna.

“The pomegranates give me the most trouble,” Alicia says. “Would you mind?”

“Of course not. I’m a bit of an expert, actually. My little one can’t get enough of them.”

And it’s true, Vartanush loves it, the crackling burst of berries in her mouth, the juices staining her lips an adult-red. She’s at that age now where she thinks everything in the world belongs to her, or will, if she cries loud enough. And Liyanna can’t help it. She does her best to meet the needs of her five-year-old, her only baby girl.

There was a time when she thought that would change, that she and Robert would have another child, if only to make the house an even number, if only to make it fair. She had imagined boys versus girls games of volleyball at the beach, all six dining room chairs filled up. But that was before.

Alicia tilts her head slightly and asks Liyanna if she’d like to work on the fruits outside on the balcony with her.

“It’ll be a lot more roomy there, and we could sit. I don’t know about you, but I hate standing.”

“I’d like that.”

Outside, there are two black plastic chairs folded in the corner, leaning against the railing. Alicia puts down the bowl of fruits on the ground and dusts the pleather back of the chairs with her hand. She opens the chairs and dusts the pleather seats, too, smiling sheepishly in offering. The seats have tears in them with brown foamy material poking through. Liyanna grew up sitting on worse, but as she takes a seat, she is surprised by how comfortable it is. She wonders if the old chairs in her family’s house back in Gyumri—before Robert came, married her, and took her away—were just as pleasant.

They sit working in silence. Liyanna cuts around the top of the pomegranates to remove their lids and throws the caps in the plastic bag Alicia gives her for the hollowed pith and that she wears now around her ankles like underwear. Liyanna slices deeply into the tough skins of the pomegranates, prying them open into five sections so that in her hands they resemble starfish.

At her wedding, Liyanna had thrown a pomegranate onto the ground and watched it break into a thousand little pieces, as was the tradition in their gyugh. The seeds scattered and scuttled towards all the corners of her husband’s home—her home now, too, she had to accept—so that for weeks afterward, Liyanna would find them hidden underneath their bed, underneath the rugs, on the soles of her slippers. By the time the last seed was uncovered, she had learned that she was pregnant with Davit, and they had left the country shortly after. His child would grow up an American, Robert had said. Enough of their devastated little town and their backwards people. And back then, Liyanna had agreed with him about everything.

“My parents used to spend a lot of time here, you know,” Alicia says. “Just sitting. I doubt Ma comes out anymore.”

Liyanna gazes up at the sister of her husband’s dead lover, then looks out onto the street below them. The afternoon heat rises from the pavement, painting the neighborhood in surreal, sparkling colors. Cars are tucked away safely inside garages and lawns appear an immaculate green. Flowered curtains decorate open windows. The houses seem small, probably with one or two bedrooms each, the kind of place couples move into after their children move out, the kind of place she had imagined for them, one day.

But now all Liyanna does is turn her head back and look. There’s her country behind the mountain, her mother waving her tired hand, the neighbor’s son who wanted her so much he’d touch her knees while she lay sleeping in the grapevines; there are grandmothers dusting dirt roads in mourning dresses, men sipping coffee from dainty cups, leaning against the walls of homes they have built themselves.

She knows nothing has changed in her meaningless city, only her, but that is more than enough, it is everything. She wants to tell her husband this, that her country is full of people and places he has taken from her. But he wouldn’t understand.

When the sun shone on him, Liyanna had believed the sun shone everywhere.


“My sister loved everyone she met.”

Liyanna glances at Alicia. “Yes,” she says, clearing her throat. “Of course.”

“Yes, yes. That’s true. She had a big heart, fucking huge,” Alicia laughs.

Liyanna cringes, but nods anyway, considering her options, her words. She settles on, “I am sorry for your loss,” because it is not a special thing to say. She puts down the bowl beside her feet and removes the bag from around her ankles, ties it, and puts it aside.

“Guess that’s why people liked her so much, you know? Rule of reciprocity or whatnot.”

Liyanna nods again, decides there is nothing she can tell this woman that Alicia doesn’t know herself. She crosses her legs, pulling down her dress, and then crosses her arms over them. If she wants to talk, let her talk.

“She gave and she took and she was good at both.”

“Yes.” Liyanna tries not to narrow her eyes.

Alicia leans forward and rests both hands on her knees. “You said you know how I feel.”

Liyanna’s almost amused. “I sympathize, of course. Or empathize? What’s the difference? Some of us are good people.”

“I had hoped—”

You don’t know how I feel. I haven’t seen my family in years. I’ve lost my home. Who has walked in my shoes?”

Alicia opens her mouth, but Liyanna raises a hand in warning. “No one.”

The first time he had left, Robert left for a weekend. Liyanna can’t remember what she did those two days, what Davit and Gevork ate, how she managed to wake up in the morning, turn over in her bed, find no one there to lick the skin of her pillow-wrinkled and pretty face. How did she breathe that night, all alone, hands over her growing belly, with no one to take in what she put out? Did she drink her coffee black in the morning, forgetting the cream and sugar? Where did she hide the spoons?

He came home, happy, and Liyanna was too with him there, beside her. There was no need to push, to worry, she knew. She wasn’t stupid. She understood man’s desire, the urge to sleep with a woman, any woman, really, other than their own. And frankly, she was glad he had lasted this long. Proud, too, of herself, and her beauty, that which kept him safely home, in her arms, for six years. She could forgive this, a woman now and then. Her father had been the same way and what were her parents if not happy? She had had a great childhood. Her children would have a great childhood.

Liyanna wonders about her, not the woman buried in the ground now, but her sister, this pathetic creature in front of her.

“You don’t have any children?” she asks, surprising herself and blushing. It’s not in her nature to be rude, but human nature is only a series of disappointments anyway.

Alicia raises an eyebrow and leans back in her seat. “No, no, I don’t.”

“Do you think you ever will?”

Liyanna doesn’t know why she’s asking this, why she cares, because she really doesn’t, but there is a need to press on and to dig, to return the favor, so she does.

“Just never saw myself as a mother, that’s all.”

“And neither did your sister?”

It’s quiet now and Liyanna turns away to look up at the sky and the clouds above her. They take on funny shapes and she squints to see farm animals, flowers, the faces of loved ones. She closes her eyes when her head hurts and the work gets too exhausting.

“I’m going to go inside. Can I help you with anything else?” Liyanna asks, bending to pick up the bowl of pomegranate seeds from the ground. Alicia’s smile is wide, but closed-lipped, her eyes sinking into her cheeks like a caricature.       

“No, no, thank you for the trouble.”

“Not a problem.”

“Sorry to steal you away from your husband.”


The car ride back home is pleasant and quiet, but no more than usual. Liyanna is concerned about Robert driving at night. She suspects he needs glasses but she knows him well enough to know that he’d disagree, so now and then she’ll say “next exit” or “almost home, good,” and “woah there, cowboy.” And she knows that he won’t get mad, won’t get frustrated, because she has just gone to his lover’s funeral and he has no damn right.

The freeway is dazzling. She had forgotten that not all streets in the world do this, blind her this way. Cars move so fast they appear not to move at all and she’d believe that, too, that the whole city had gone still, if the hum of a thousand spinning wheels didn’t drown out her own beating heart. Things are real only when there is no evidence to the contrary. She will teach this to her children when she gets home. She will rouse them from bed and she will say, my babies, listen: you are loved, you are loved.

They’ve been on the road for thirty minutes when she feels the urge to grab the wheel from his hands, swerve severely to the right and kill them both. She doesn’t because that’s what she does—she doesn’t. She does not.

She has never heard Rosa’s voice and now she never will, it’s almost a pity. She imagines it is not breathy, or husky, that it does not slither, that words don’t slip from her mouth, wet and easy. But now she hears a sound in her ear, low and distant, and she knows, without a doubt, that it’s her.

Those who can do, do, the voice whispers. Those who can’t, teach.

Liyanna had learned in community college what a cliché is. Truths, her ESL teacher had said long ago, clichés are truths and nobody ever wants to hear the damn truth. Liyanna had rolled her eyes then and she will roll them now. Those who teach, Rosa, she thinks very hard, tries to send out it into the universe, those who teach are those who matter and those who touch other women’s husbands die young and beautiful, but they still die, Rosa.

But that is who her husband had wanted, a woman as hurtful as a man, whose ovaries punished her for her neglecting. An American, he had said. My son would grow up to be an American. So this is why they had come. This is why she had left everything and everyone.

“She looked nice. They didn’t put too much on her. She looked—” She glances at him and of course, his hold on the wheel tightens, his jaw clenches. She hates him for being a cliché. No, there is no truth here, not in all of their years. Is he imagining her right now, she wonders. That the seams running across the leather of the steering wheel are the seams that ran down the sides of one of her dresses? Did he hold onto her waist as he undid her zipper? Did they fuck in her house?      

Liyanna had always loved it when Robert undressed her. Her wedding night, he took off her slip, her panties, and it was he who had trembled. It had been months since he did so last. Had it been months? It had been years.

“Nice. She looked nice.”

“Liyanna,” he says, closing his eyes, but leaving his mouth parted, slightly, as if filling his mouth with her, or letting all of her go.

It had been days since he had called her name. That terrible phone call had ripped it from his mouth a week ago and he had no taste to speak it ever again. But Liyanna needs him to scream her name once more because she can’t, won’t, do it herself. Though that’s all she wants now, to cry her own name, Liyanna. This is me, this is me, Liyanna. You did this to me.

But she is not the victim in this because she is not the one who is dead. There is comfort in that, if nothing else, and Liyanna will take it and she will give it and she too will be good at both, if not better.

“Watch the road, Robert,” she says, sitting up in her passenger seat. “Want to kill us, too?”

He dreams her face a million times. He wants her to stay in his head, flickering always behind his lids, forever, because she will be dead for that long and so will he.

Yes, he wants to turn to his wife and say, yes.

But dead women don’t live for pain like those alive do, he knows that now driving home with Liyanna beside him, her window down, hair sticking to her lips. Rosa wouldn’t want him to suffer. Some women loved their men happy, not sad and broken. Rosa hated misery, the way it drained people of their color. What’s the point, she had asked him once over drinks, legs between his at the bar. Shit happens, you get over it. You’re going to get over it eventually, so why prolong it? There are better things to do, she said. And then she had winked in that over-the-top manner he fucking loved. God, those eyes sang, her whole body sang, and he’d move his hands over her, pulling at her strings, making sure she’d never stop.

But he failed, she died, and now he has nothing. Only his children, and they remind him not of their mother, but of the woman he wished actually was. And this is why he is a terrible person, because he had loved someone so much and wanted to make a gift to her of everything.

When they pull up to the driveway, his wife tells him to wash his hands before he walks inside the house and this he cannot bring himself to do. He does not want to bring death into his home, near his children, but if he washes his hands, he washes himself of her, the last of her. “You must,” Liyanna says, pulling out a water bottle from her bag and rinsing her hands. “Here,” she says, throwing it. “You must.” She slams the door behind her.

It is nighttime. The Evian glows strangely in Robert’s hand and he stands on the steps of his home, thinking. All his life he’s had one constant. His existence, he knew, was tied to Rosa’s and so he followed that rope to here, and now what does he know? That it’s one thing to lose the woman you love, another to leave the woman who loves you? His sons are old enough now to recognize unhappiness in their parents, and his daughter, little Vartanush, he knows he can never look at her face for fear the wrong name would arise from his lips.

Robert wishes the bottle in his hand was not a bottle but a gun and that his wife had given it to him with equal confidence that he’d do the right thing.

He takes a walk. This is the only thing afforded to a man who’s arrived at the end of the road and learned that all paths are wrong.

The suburban streets are wider than ever. He floats, no longer a man, but not a ghost either, not enough courage to be a ghost. He was careful all those years not to let Liyanna know and now she knows the worst thing of all: that his lover didn’t love him enough to stay.

The first time Rosa left him, she was nine, and because she was nine, it didn’t matter. They were just children. It was kisses on the nose, holding hands under tables. It was bad poems. It didn’t count. It was girls in bright dresses with hands on their hips, dirty boys on knees, pleading. It was just a game.

When Robert comes home crying after his last day in school with Rosa, his mother tells him this, that there will be others. It takes him years to believe her and he does when he sees Liyanna, a young teacher standing outside the school with her children, waiting for the parents to arrive and take them from her. A long purple skirt and a white blouse, black hair in a long braid over one breast. Of course he remembers. But when he saw Rosa at Jon’s Supermarket, he knew with the kind of instinct one only has as a child, that he never loved Liyanna the way he loved Rosa, the way he could love her still.

And in this, is he not a selfless man? Did he not gift to a woman all that he had and not demand anything in return? He wanted her, all of her, but she never gave him this, she never asked him to leave his wife, and he never asked her why.


He had known she was sick though she did her best to deceive him, but the body does not lie. The last time they had met, her hair was beginning to fall, and when he had placed his hands between her thighs, she pushed him away, embarrassed. I’m a fucking child, she laughed and pulled down her skirt, covering her thinning hips. I don’t want to talk about it, she said without looking at him when he opened his mouth. You can go.

They would meet in her apartment, sometimes he’d stay for a weekend, sometimes a week, whatever she wanted. Less at the end, then none at all, not again for months, not again forever. Most of the time they ordered in. When he teased her for having a conscience, for not wanting word to reach his wife, she pointed a finger at him and scoffed. You stupid boy, I’m doing this for you. I couldn’t care less. He always wondered about that, just how much Rosa could care, about him, or anybody else. He was attracted to it, too, immensely, this strong sense of indifference, out of a foolish desire to be the one who proved her wrong. That you do have a heart, Rosa, and that you do have mine.

As children, she only kissed him on the cheek, little ones, fast and magical, and he’d never be too sure as to what happened. He only knew, even then, that he wanted more. When he married Liyanna, she gave all of herself to him, everything she was. And it was enough. With Liyanna, it was enough. But it shouldn’t have been. It shouldn’t ever be.

Robert loved his wife like he loved himself. He could look at her and see himself and, yes, he was happy with what he saw, proud too. They were good people, good for one another, sensitive and attractive, evenly matched. But he loved Rosa the way a man needs to love. He loved her more than she loved him. He loved her because it felt wrong not to, because it hurt to pretend otherwise. He loved her because someone had to and it had to be him. To explain it, for it to make sense, that was not love. A sensible man does not know love, only the fool, and that’s what his wife had called him when she found out. A fool.

But Liyanna didn’t ask him how long it was going on, so he didn’t have to tell her forever. She heard him cry on the phone, heard him call Rosa’s name, then her own, and she had understood. She went over and brought him tissues. Clean your face, she said. And lower your voice, the children. Robert was surprised by her reaction, confused, too. Was that it? Did he even have to say anything? He was angry at himself for his straying thoughts, but angrier at his wife for making this moment about her.

They slept in the same bed that night, and all the other nights. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as he feared. She couldn’t hate him because he was in mourning, and he could never hate her because he never loved her enough. The next day, it was Liyanna who brought it up over breakfast. The kids were there, or they might as well have been. Conversation was polite. She asked, When’s the funeral? He replied, A week. She asked, Should I come along? She answered, I should come along.

It would be a lie to say he started to see his wife in a new light, darker, perhaps more dangerous and exciting. She was still Liyanna. Liyanna was a woman hurt who wanted to share the burden. She was not Rosa who had cancer and didn’t want anyone to know.

Just to do something, Robert checks the time on his phone, then turns it off completely. He crosses the street without looking. He knows there’s a liquor store somewhere around here. He was drunk and happy last time he was there, with Rosa rolling her eyes and smiling, pushing him towards the water. Sober up before you get home, she scolded. He said, This isn’t the alcohol talking, I love you. I know, she replied and grabbed two bottles. We’ll just take these.

The day they ran into each other at the market, they made plans for dinner, to catch up. Tell me about your family, she said over cream soup. She sipped from the spoon daintily, no noise, no tiny splashes. He watched, as if mesmerized by the blue flame of her dress. Sitting in front of her, it was like he was a child, his legs not touching the floor, his legs swinging. And yourself, he had asked. You sure you have the time, she questioned him, pointing the spoon at him playfully. I’ve lived a whole lot of life, Robert jan.

Robert put down his fork and leaned forward. All the time in the world, he said and believed it.

After dinner, Rosa asked if he’d like to join her for a stroll. No one walks here, she said. I feel like it’s just me in the universe, and then she threw her head back and laughed, really laughed, deep and amazing. Sound awfully narcissistic, don’t I, Robert dear? God, I’ll never learn. And she walked on ahead of him, turning back once, as if to say, Well? He kept quiet. Are you coming, she asked, frowning.

Yes, yes, forever, yes.


Robert walks ten minutes, twenty, an hour, it does not matter. He will spend his whole life walking, trying to remember, each step heavy and purposeful. He will grow old, his children strong, but he will wander the streets of this neighborhood, he will turn all of its corners, and he will not be any closer to what he has lost. Like Rosa, his heart is buried here. Here, he gave up what was steady and true for a woman who was forever leaving him but never for good, never for long. He will roam the streets of Los Angeles, follow her footprints, the smell of perfume behind one ear, the dance of her skirt, he’ll be quickening his steps, reaching for her, his heart beating louder and louder, but Rosa Garsevanian will always be too fast, too clever, far too beautiful, too much, much too alive for him.    

return to top