On the phone, he was loud.
“You know,” he blared, “I knew Sandra Cisneros when she was just starting out! I actually gave her manuscript to my editor, but she’s never given me any credit for that...” After a pause, his voice shrank, turning coy, “Just between us, I think she had a bit of a crush on me, but I wasn’t interested.” I rolled my eyes. “But uh, I mention that because your voice reminds me of hers. I think your work sample is…promising. You’re a strong writer. You just need a good mentor. Someone who can be honest. Why don’t you come to LA so we can spend some time together, and I can really take a good look at your packet?”
I shuffled my feet. My gut was telling me that the conversation had taken an overly familiar tone, one I knew all too well. It wasn’t just Billy. I grew up in a Texas city where men were constantly trying to manipulate me out of my pussy.
“I don’t know…I really have to plan trips out, finding a sitter and all. I have a three-year-old, and then there’s gas, the hotel. It’s a major effort for me. I’m fine with a phone call, honestly. I don’t want to take too much of your time. I know you’re very busy.” I tend to do this, side-step a man’s coercive desires in ways that are polite, practical. It’s a survival mechanism. As obnoxious as he was, he was considered one of the Chicano ‘greats’, so I hadn’t told him to fuck off. Even after the last time.
“Just get here! Just get here! I have a spare room. Don’t even worry about a hotel. Have you been to LA?”
“Yes, many times.”
“Of course. Well, have you ever had lobster? Do you like lobster? Wait, do they even have lobster over there?” Laughter erupted. Then, he composed himself. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can be an asshole. I love El Paso, I do. Real people over there. Salt of the earth, good working people. I’ll tell you what, you come visit for, oh, three days or so and we can spend time on your manuscript, and I’ll treat you to a lobster dinner at the best seafood place in town. You’ve never had anything like it.”
Contrary to popular belief, lobsters do not scream when boiled.
They have no vocal chords. They are also immune to pain.
I found “The Spider and the Fly” in a dingy, dog-eared paperback that sat on my elderly third-grade teacher’s bookshelf. The poem was in the sort of book that most children would have ignored, a Victorian children’s anthology with a wilted cover. Written in 1829, the poem, which appeared in small, faded lettering, offered a warning:
“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
“‘Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”
I returned to the poem constantly and hid the book when reading time was over, as if it was the most exciting item in the room. My third grade poet’s heart raced when I read it, fluttering at the revelation of unmovable truth.
The fly’s life was at stake.
And I’ve eaten lobster before.
I’ve served it, too, when I was a waitress at Pelican’s in my twenties. I still remember how to plate it; the ladle of melted butter that filled the ramekin, the sides. I kept matches in my apron for the tea light that kept it warm.
The ‘fanciest’ was that time on the beach in La Jolla with a man I was dating. We flew there on a private jet. The weekend before, we had flown to New Orleans for the day. We enjoyed Bananas Foster at the restaurant where it was invented, at Brennan’s in the French quarter.
This was all before I became a mother.
“He’s going to propose to you,” a co-worker bellowed when I mentioned the second trip.
“He is not. We’re not even official or anything.”
“Well, he must be planning on it. Why would a man go through all that trouble?”
Part of me believed her.
I was falling in love. I was dizzy with champagne and strawberries. I remember staring teary-eyed down at the glittering coast during lift off and thinking that I was the first soul in my bloodline to experience such a sight.
I was feeling grateful, alive, radiant. Filled with the wonder of possibility.
He noticed me crying, pulled me close and whispered, “You drank about eight-hundred dollars of champagne tonight. I hope you’re feeling grateful.”
He groped me, his voice taking a tone I’d never heard from him.
I felt as small as I felt foolish.
Here was that feeling again, so familiar I could laugh.
I wondered, what satisfies these men? Having so much, why do they feel the need to consume and discard?
I didn’t tell Billy any of that. I just hung up the phone.
Gris Muñoz is a frontera poet and storyteller. She is the author of the bilingual poetry and short-story collection, Coatlicue Girl, most recently named a finalist for the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry by the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has been highlighted by The Rumpus, Bitch Media and The Smithsonian Latino Center among others and she has been featured by The Texas Book Festival, The Tamarindo Podcast, and the Latino Collection & Resource Center at San Antonio Public Library in collaboration with Texas Public Radio. She is also the co-founder of the digital map and storytelling project, GeoTestimonios Transfronterizxs, which aims to record the experiences of women living on the El Paso/Juarez border. Gris is currently commissioned to write the biography of acclaimed LA artist Fabian Debora. She is Xicana of Apache descent.