At three months of age, Maria Lopez Ruiz’s eyes turned blue. Not just any ordinary blue, but turquoise, the color of the sea near Porto San Sebastian, where Sophia Lopez Vargas, Maria’s maternal grandmother, lived. She, too, had turquoise eyes.
It was a sign; Maria’s brown-eyed mother told the rest of the family that her child, the fifth daughter of a fifth daughter, would be a woman of great importance.
Maria’s father worked at a grand resort in Las Almandas, which was over three hundred miles from Porto San Sebastian. Because of the distance, he only came home twice a year: the month of August and the week of his birthday.
It was in January of Maria’s sixth year that her mother died with the fever, leaving the family adrift. Maria moved in with her grandmother, Sophia, in the small house that overlooked the sea.
“Being successful, Maria,” her grandmother always began her stories, “requires being in the right place at the right time.” As she continued to braid her granddaughter’s hair, she repeated the adventures that led her to Porto San Sebastian.
“My first marriage was arranged, or that is what my husband believed. He was from Madrid and I was from Las Rozas. He had seen me…” Her grandmother went on to describe how, at the age of fifteen, she had used her turquoise eyes for the first time. “I have not always lived in this quiet village,” she said, ending the story the way, she ended all of her stories. “And you will not, either,” she added.
“When you are fourteen, you will leave here. You will go and live with your oldest sister in a faraway place. You will become independent and a woman of great importance.”
Maria leaned against a pillar on the platform of the Christopher Street Subway station and rubbed her belly. She was in her fifth month with her first child and the heat was the one thing that felt familiar. Taking a deep breath, she considered how far in ten years she had come to be in this place so removed from San Sebastian.
That evening she told her husband: “If I close my eyes for a moment, I am transported home: the thick air covers me, and I can almost hear the sound of the waves.”
“Why is that funny?” she said.
“That’s not why I laughed it’s just…”
Maria sighed as he kneaded his fingers deep into the arch of her right foot.
“I’m proud of you. Remember when I introduced you to my aunt? We agreed to make her think I was seeking her approval,” he said.
Maria smiled and looked toward a window where the air conditioner hummed relentlessly. A sound so familiar and yet so far away, a steady summer wind rattling her grandmother’s house in Porto San Sebastian before a storm.
“Your aunt took me into her lavender bedroom, she pulled the shades and read my cards by candlelight. I know she whispered the readings to you, mi amor. It was a good thing that you had already proposed marriage, or you might have changed your mind.”
He furrowed his brow.
“You are a beautiful woman,” he said. “When we walk down the street, people stare at you. I don’t think you even notice.”
It was at the age of twelve that her grandmother told Maria about men who were only interested in the superficial.
“We are like this,” she gestured toward the sea with one hand, as they sat in old wicker chairs on the stone patio sipping cold tea. “Men see what they want to. It is useful.”
Maria’s boss, Xavier Batista, was one such man, expecting to get his way with anything and everyone he touched. Xavier moved in all the right circles at Telemundo.
“Brilliant!” He clapped his hands. “But, why just New York, Maria? Think bigger. This country is changing. You have a story to tell, use your biography. Remember my mantra: demographics. Women are our audience; this show will speak to them.
“You have been so generous to me, Xavier.” She turned her eyes toward him and could see the heat rising into his face. “If the network buys my show, how will I repay you for your advice?”
He looked at her, smiled and reached out to touch her arm. “Tell your husband who the father is.” When he began to repeat his dream of how they would move to the city of angels together, Maria moved away. “We are meant to be together—a team.”
“It is too soon to talk of these things. My husband thinks…”
He pulled her toward him. “We will work this out.” His face was now flush with color.
For several months Maria let Xavier think what she needed him to.
A scent of bitter fruit infused the air as Maria felt the rumble of the Number 1 train before its lights turned from the tunnel and flooded the tracks ahead. When she entered the crowded subway car, Maria stood in front of a young woman.
“Oh! Sorry,” the woman said jumping up, offering her seat. Maria sat, closed her eyes, and started to review the presentation of her show Háblame: Talk to Me.
Thirty minutes later, when she walked off the elevator onto the twenty-first floor of an office building in mid-town Manhattan, she spotted her secretary, Julia, leave her cubicle and run toward her.
“The presentation has been postponed; something happened this morning.”
Maria let Julia take her briefcase and watched as the woman put her finger to her lips.
“I’ll explain in your office.” Julia twitched like a small sand bird, weaving her way through the maze of gray cubicles.
As she followed Julia, the young employees, heads focused on screens, sat quietly typing. They didn’t look up. It was not their usual morning buzz over prefabricated walls where they stopped to welcome her.
“Xavier has resigned,” Julia said breathlessly as she closed the office door. “I mean he has been fired—resigned is what his memo to the company said.”
Maria took out her phone and saw for the first time the messages, starting twenty minutes earlier from her staff, multiply with every second.
Julia went over to a table where a carafe of coffee waited to be poured. She turned and looked at her boss.
“Are you surprised?” Maria said looking up from her phone. They had never discussed the rumors about Xavier.
“Some of the interns had problems with him,” Julia said. The cup rattled on the saucer as she walked across the office.
Maria flinched. A few years earlier one of the production assistants told her something suggestive Xavier said to her. She remembered laughing. Now the child inside of her rolled and pulled tight against her.
“Talk to me, while I get up to speed.” Maria sat adjusting a pillow on her back and logged into her computer.
“There’s an executive committee meeting in fifteen minutes.” Julia handed Maria a printout of Xavier’s letter to the company. “I told them you would be there,” she said.
“How are you feeling?” her secretary asked.
“About this…or just in general?”
“You work…worked really closely with Xavier. Did he ever…?” Julia’s voice was trembling.
“Of course not, a total professional since the first day I met him. I’m shocked.” She rested her hand over the kicking inside of her. “Give me a few moments.”
“Can we meet?” read the text from Xavier.
Maria waited and when a second text appeared on her phone she read: “Are you there?”
“Can’t. It’s crazy here,” she responded. She was walking toward the Board Room.
“I need to talk to you,” he wrote.
They all will have stories, Maria thought. Even now, on the other side of the building, the President of Telemundo was finishing telling his to the media.
“None of it is true,” Xavier added.
Maria knew he couldn’t possibly know everything everyone was going to say.
This story was published in Adelaide February 2020