“The flowers possess, typically, four stamens, and four free what?” Eduarda read out loud as Florencia lay on her stomach, enjoying the warmth of her eggshell comforter draped on her skin. She was curling her brown tresses of hair, looping them around her index finger. Hair as soft as a flower. “Are you even paying attention?”
“I’m listening, I’m listening,” Florencia replied, expelling a loud sigh, thrashing her milky-white hand, and untangling her finger from her hair violently. “I love flowers, I just hate reading about them.” She sat up on the bed, looking down at Eduarda. “I like getting into the earth, dip my hands in the mud, and release its bittersweetness into my nose.” Her lover put down the copy of “Water Plants: A Study of Aquatic Angiosperms” by Agnes Arber. It was required reading for one of her botany classes at the Universidad de Granada. “Who cares about potamogetonaceae or whether their spikes are stiff and erect, or thin and flexible.” Florencia kicked the book off the bed, and got up to a symphonic string section of bedspring shrieks cued in by a percussive thud on the floor.
The tremors crescendoing in Florencia’s natural fat deposits came as a result of solid bone making contact with solid wood. Her muscles rippled with grace as those of a prima ballerina; calves twitched up the hamstrings to the buttocks, danced for an instance in her back dimples, and slowly receded into her back. Eduarda’s obsession with the female form only intensified after she and her parents attended a performance of The Rite of Spring in London’s Royal Albert Hall a year prior. A performance attended by Stravinsky himself. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d see a body like those on stage, in the flesh, until she saw Florencia’s.
Florencia picked up a tall glass of warm water sitting on the table near the only window in the stuffy studio apartment her parents could barely afford. She took the glass and walked toward the column of light collapsing onto the dark oak floors. The light dressed her naked body ever so delicately as if made of butterflies and ladybugs, silhouetting every roundness, angle, and protrusion that decorated it.
She took a deep swig and exhaled through her nose as she continued to gulp. She looked over at Eduarda, and motioned her eyes toward the eighth of a cup of water left in the glass. Eduarda nodded side to side, and smirked. She found it endearing how Florencia could never finish a whole glass of water, regardless of the vessel’s capacity. Florencia could be drinking out of a shot glass, and still leave an eighth of liquid behind. I’m full, she’d say, making the face she made when she had a stomach ache, it won’t fit in my belly. One of the first quirks that Eduarda discovered of Florencia upon first visiting her tiny apartment on Avenida de Andalucía was the amount of nearly empty glasses placed on her nightstand, desk, small dinner table, and the kitchen sink like altar candles inside a church.
Florencia shrugged her shoulders, and poured just a few drops into each of the flower pots she was growing on the window sill; mostly bluebells that she transplanted from the garden outside her building. That was what attracted Eduarda about Florencia; the fact that she was so nurturing, and caring.
“You know,” Florencia said. “Most people don’t know that giving plants too much water is just as bad, if not worse, as not giving them enough.”
As Florencia stood there allowing the warm glow of the afterday to bathe her drawn eyelids, Eduarda reached over to her nightstand, and quietly lifted her sketchbook and pencil off of it as to not startle the moment unfolding before her; the delicateness glowing around Florencia was that of a small fawn sipping water from a pond’s brim.
“What are you drawing?” Florencia asked, laughing nervously. “It better not be of me again. You know how awkward it was explaining that nude you did to my mom after she saw it on my nightstand. She nearly killed me.”
Eduarda was silent. Her brow, in its furrowed state, didn’t allow Florencia to decipher what it really was that Eduarda was drawing. The subject could only see her lover’s eyes looking up at her and then down at her sketchbook, up and down, over and over, mimicking the metronomic gait of the clock that she had ignored all day; a day whose entirety she had spent in bed with Eduarda. In spite of Florencia’s befuddled look, she kept drawing.
After Eduarda’s eyes stop their back and forth dance between the whiteness of the paper and that of her skin, Florencia began to walk back toward the bed, flushed-pink glowing all over her naked body.
“Wait!” Eduarda yelped, not looking up. “Just stay there, mi amor. Don’t move.” Florencia stayed even though she had never felt this embarrassed in front of Eduarda. They had been together, in secret, for about four months, and they were the happiest she had experienced in her 18 years of being alive.
So, Florencia stood there a young, intelligent woman— some would say at a ripe age for marriage— feeling 8, biting the bottom-right corner of her lip— less out of nervousness, and more out of the fact that she liked the brusqueness with which Eduarda spoke to her. The empty glass of water weighed a ton; she dared not break the purity of the silence by setting it down. She thought about the day when she first saw Eduarda as she tangled her sweaty fingers into one another like the messy cable work behind her parents’ 21” RCA “Living Color” television, and a Philips Glidomatic radiogram that also played records. Both in matching fine wood veneers. How Eduarda kept looking at her in a way no other person had, not even a man. She felt something new blossoming within her, but she wasn’t quite sure where. Somewhere between my hair and my toes, she’d always tell Eduarda when the two reminisced.
Eduarda’s patient study of her creation made Florencia impatient, circling her eyes trying not to look at the artist hard at work as to not distract her. Even in her discomfort, Florencia was considerate; one of her greatest qualities and flaws.
“Okay, come over, mi amor,” Eduarda said, beckoning Florencia with a smile. Florencia poured a little bit more water into the glass, and walked toward the bed. As Florencia tiptoed in excitement, she expected to see another nude on the side of the sketchbook pressed against Eduarda’s breasts. She gently placed the rim of the glass between Eduarda’s lips, and tilted it holding her chin so that she could drink without spilling on her lover’s creation.
“You have to know how much water to give to what you love,” Florencia said with a smile.
“Okay. Ready?” Eduarda said, as Florencia sat on the bed. “Look!”
“Oh,” Florencia gasped. It was a drawing of a blooming dahlia.
The wounded look in Damian Rubio’s eyes felt as though he would never get over the disappointment he felt toward his daughter Florencia. The culprit of the crime was that of falling in love and writing about it in letters too honest and sincere for eyes other than those of Eduarda. Damian found them after looking in one of Florencia’s kitchen drawers of her small apartment. It was her 19th birthday and her parents had come down with a vanilla-sour-cherry cake to celebrate it with her.
The night before, Eduarda had treated Florencia to a nice home-cooked dinner, a bottle of young tempranillo wine she had been saving for by not buying art supplies for six months. She became so proficient in pencil drawings only because it was the only medium she could afford, earning her the nickname amongst her classmates as “the next Edgar Degas.” As she walked home from the market, she giggled just thinking about how Florencia’s nose would wrinkle, her eyelids shutter as butterfly wings, wincing at the taste of sour cherry, plum, spicy black pepper, and bay leaf playing with her cheeks and mandibles.
Eduarda and Florencia had decided to eat at home due to the reaction their public displays of affection had garnered from people and restaurant owners. Some went as far as labeling them “unservable.” After dinner, Eduarda gave her a short letter as hopeful about their love as it was fearful. It was as if she knew Florencia’s father would find it the very next day as he searched for matches to light the 19 candles; words chosen carefully as to create a wound in Florencia that would never heal, whether their love persevered or not.
“Florencia,” Damian said, waving the letter as a white flag, trying to find peace within himself through inquisition. “My daughter, my joy. You’re breaking my heart.” Damian began to hyperventilate, and Amanda, his wife, dragged a chair, its wooden legs screeching across the wood floors broke the foaming tension, and tapped his shoulder for him to sit down and relax.
“Calm down, dear,” Amanda whispered in his ear, looking at her daughter with a less severe stare than the one given by her husband, but still one that said, See what your sinful ways have done to your father, the saint?
“All we want…” Damian stopped himself to breathe. “All we want is for you to be a decent woman and a God-fearing wife.” That last statement hurt Florencia the most. The thought of being some man’s possession, and living under the stipulations prescribed by some god created in his image revolted her. She saw how her dad, Saint Damian, treated her mom, sometimes like a person and at worst like a good dog, but never as an intelligent, equal-minded adult. Even now she saw how her dad swatted away his wife’s hand as if her doting of love and concern were nothing but a nuisance. I’d rather die than be treated worse than a mere house plant, Florencia thought.
“Florencia,” Damian roared. “Who wrote this? Who’s Edi? Who is this hijo de puta?”
Florencia looked puzzled. Had he not read the whole letter? The part where Eduarda described without sparing a single detail how the taste of her honey lingered on her black lace panties, or how the way Florencia licked her body had made her feel more like a woman than her own Identification Card could ever prove. Does this idiot think Edi is a man? Florencia wondered.
“Florencia, tonta,” Amanda smacked her on the side of the head. “Your father asked you a question. Be a good girl, and pay attention when a man is talking to you.”
“Uh, what?” Florencia shook her head.
“I said, ‘Who for Christ’s sake is Edi?’”
“He’s a boy from one of my classes.” Lying never felt so good. An unbearable pressure in the hollows of her rib cage had been alleviated.
“Well, that’s it. You’re done with botany, and this whole den of whores.”
“No, papá. Please, no!” Florencia loved Eduarda, but more than anything, she loved flowers. Not just flowers, she loved plants of all types. Her dream was to learn more about them, and care for them as doctors and scientists did so for human bodies. She wanted to find their souls; their hearts. “I’ll stop seeing him, but please don’t take away my joy, my love.”
“Don’t argue with your father,” Amanda implored.
“My decision is final,” Damian said standing up from the blue wooden chair, decorated in Hungarian-style Magyar flowering; lavender, burgundy, and golden-yellow, painted by Eduarda herself. The night she painted them was the first time she had seen Eduarda topless, and soon after made love on the canvas tarp they lay on the floor to protect the wood from the linseed oil-based paint. Florencia’s eyes, her father’s eyes, watered in wounded reverie. Damian got up, paced back and forth, panting agitatedly. He let out a loud yell—more feminine in pitch than either she or her mother would have expected to come out of him— and kicked the blue chair with all of the repressed anger building up in him. Its four stubby legs, like those of a cherub, glided as if on ice across the room and against the window sill. It shattered into its factory-lathed parts upon contact, knocking her bluebells off the ledge and onto the sidewalk. The rupture of pottery releasing dirt on cement mirrored the phenomenon unravelling in her heart. If her love for Eduarda had lifted the blindfold all daddies wore to see their daughters in eternal innocence, then his love for her was breaking the perfect world that her and Eduarda had built together in this tiny, and for the first time, sad apartment.
Damian placed his grey bowler hat on his primly-combed side-part, draped his trench coat on his forearm, and dumped in the garbage bin the vanilla-frosted cake he had so enthusiastically woken up at 6:00 a.m. to special order for the daughter he was so proud of.
“Come on, Amanda,” Damian commanded. Amanda looked down the whole time, not wanting to make eye-contact with her daughter. She draggled after her husband.
Florencia wiped her tears, and ran toward the bin, rummaging past the cake for the crumpled letter. She straightened it on her chest, and folded it back into its natural creases. It was moist from the vanilla frosting, milky sponge, dark cherry blood, and her still trickling tears.
She knew that she would never set foot in the apartment again, and that her father would hire men to come in and purge the place of anything that pointed toward her shame. His shame, not mine, Florencia thought. She rose up from kneeling, and grabbed a flat tin-box where she kept important documents and knick-knacks. In it she found a picture of her and Eduarda in the Television and Media lab during the first class they took together. They were the only women in the class, and naturally, were forced to work together because none of the male students wanted to be paired with either of them. Because they were women, they weren’t allowed to be on camera; Florencia for being too pretty, and Eduarda for being too offputting. Besides, Florencia really wanted to get to know the mystery girl whose eyes made her feel like a flickering candle on a lily pad of wax, drowning, but never extinguishing.
When it happened, she didn’t even know that the picture was being taken; more as a joke than to document anything in particular.
“Here,” Florencia remembered her professor saying as he handed her the picture. “You two made a great team, as much as I hate to admit it.”
If he only knew how great of a team we really were, Florencia thought.
The warmth of Florencia’s breasts melting into Eduarda’s, ribcage to ribcage, felt as though gravity was finally forming them into the single being their love had already allowed them to be. Florencia loved the scent of French vanilla dousing her nose as she and Eduarda swanned their necks into one another. A hocket of heartbeats intensified with every inhale and exhale until it melded into a soothing oscillation, vibrating in their blood, echoing in their bones.
The two of them used to sneak out of their Television and Media class and run off to the greenhouse, located in the northernmost part of campus, which was usually deserted. The professor and male classmates wouldn’t even notice their absence, given that in 1964 Franco propaganda was still teaching young people how to be good citizens, and women were lucky if they were used as moving props to indoctrinate hundreds of women on how to be the perfect, domestic wife.
“What are you thinking about?” Eduarda asked. Florencia could hear the question from within herself, not through her ears. At first, she thought Florencia had dozed off, as she usually did after making love. But as she sunk her chin into her neck to confirm her suspicion, Florencia began to draw shapeless geometry on the ravines of her ribs.
“I don’t want this to ever end,” Florencia said.
“Don’t worry, muñeca. We’ll be back tomorrow.”
“No. I’m talking about us. This. What we have. I don’t want it to end.” Eduarda felt tears stalactite from Florencia onto her sternum, and stream down the valley between her breasts, reservoiring in her bellybutton. Eduarda kissed Florencia’s messy flipped bob, inhaling deeply as if she were diving into the depths of something she might not return from. She always smelled of flowers.
“My parents want me to marry my third cousin,” Eduarda said. The sound of the wind breaking on the loose glass panes was the only sound that clothed their cold silence. “He’s proposing next ye…”
“Shhh…” Florencia whispered, massaging her nose into Eduarda’s firm belly. The entirety of her spine shivered like a thick, vibrating guitar string. Florencia kissed her puckered flesh, and used her tongue to play with her belly dimple. She continued kissing her ribcage, her sternum, her breasts trying to ravage every bit of her. When she arrived at her clavicle, Eduarda ran her fingers on Florencia’s back, all the way down to her round buttocks, caressing her all the way up to her shoulders. They slid their hands into one another’s, fingers intertwined, and Florencia forced them over her head. She sucked on Eduarda’s chin, outlining her jaw with the tip of her tongue all the way to her tender earlobe’s peach fuzz. She was taking her body to a place Eduarda had never been to. Florencia moved slowly toward the center of Eduarda’s face, quieting her quavering lips with a kiss. “Let’s just enjoy this moment. I want my mind to drink up as much of you as it can. I’m your Florencia, and always will be.” Eduarda wove her bony fingers into Florencia’s dark curls, pushing her lips hard against hers. Florencia reciprocated.
Their troubled heartbeats slowly calmed into a lullaby, gently rocking them to sleep.
And then, as if they each meant to, for a slight second, their hearts beat as one.
Artwork by Cory Bilicko
2016. Hydrangea [Painting]. Watercolor, Long Beach, CA.