Andalusia smells like saffron, stones, rosemary, and dirt.
The gypsies reckon the devil lives in me and move to the
other side of the square when I walk past. They make their
living telling palm-carved fortunes. One binds your wrists,
smiles square in your eyes, tell you that you will be loved
beyond your wildest dreams, and another robs you from behind.
They never dare try to read my fortune. My fortune has been known
to me since before my mother gave birth in a tiny apartment on
Fountain Avenue. Also, gypsies know better than to rob
I hide behind a Moroccan scarf — red and green and gold paisley.
Stride an obscured, diasporatic European to the Albayzín. I sit on
a four-legged, wooden chair pulled up to a four-legged, wooden
table and wait for my chicken shawarma. A four-legged, feral dog
stares at me through the doorway. He knows better than to enter
where he isn’t welcome. Ribs ripple across his surface, and I feel
compassion for his emptiness. He vomits on the threshold,
never breaking eye contact.
“This is what is coming,” he says lowly so only we can hear.
He turns and trots down the alley.
I wake with my head in a filthy dormitory toilet – ancient green tiles
cool against my shins and relentlessly predictable summer. I wretch
up the weight I had gained from refusing anorexia and my agent. Irony
laughs me down the fifteenth century hallway polished by millions
of feet, and I go back to bed.
The neighborhood is too rich for gypsies. I push a shaky line up the stairs.
Bleached, forward, and white. Couches, walls, nurses’ teeth. I flip through
a wrinkled magazine and marvel that here brunettes with soft curves are
simply women, not Latinas. Everything is relative.
I wear a paper gown. Sit on a metal platform. Cold drips into me. I vibrate.
They play me the heartbeat. My heartbeat. It is not theirs to give. Damn them
their charity. To this day I can still hear that fucking heartbeat and their
felicidades. Scalpels every last one of them. I long for the day that
machines cut me so people can return to being people. I curse in
Spanish and tell them to stop — to turn the fucking thing off and
leave me alone. La doctura clears the room. At least she is a woman.
Underwear, bra, blouse, jeans, sandals, Moroccan scarf — my armor
back in place, I catch my reflection.
I hate what I see.
I hate my tears.
I hate my two X chromosomes.
I hate my softness.
I hate my struggle to be hard and angular.
I hate all the things I had agreed to do so that others would think me well behaved.
I hate all the sickness and grabbing and frenzy to be whole again.
I am not a Catholic.
I am not a Spaniard.
I am not a gypsy.
I am not a fortuneteller.
I am not a wanderer.
My tongue is home in English and I hail from Fountain Avenue.
It is at this exact moment that I am a goddamn mess.
It is at this exact moment that I grow up.
The Duende saws off the bailaora’s hands and sews in place a
pair of castanets. He erases their fate so they can freely
percuss. He eats their hearts so their heels can pound blood through
arteries, veins, capillaries. I sit on a four-legged, wooden chair
beneath the full-moon courtyard and beat two hearts to replace
the putrid holes in their chests. The cantaores scream complicated
keys that ride magic carpet metal strings. I wish the full moon would
swallow me whole and spit me back to my precious California. But,
Flamenco doesn’t save us. It is just a glass terrarium for resurrected
empty vessels to swell and entertain.
We never talk about the pain, but we are all default female. We all grow
in women. We all come from women. We are all just ropes of blood and
cells and orgasms and Jacob’s ladders reaching toward heaven and
smashing back down to earth. If sex is a sin, then we are all evil, and
if women are the devil, then we are still man’s better half. We never
talk about women’s pain except in jest and judgment. The Old Testament
says it is our punishment for wanting more. That never made sense to me.
The Sunday School teacher sent me back to my grandma after I proclaimed
loudly that whoever wrote the story about Eve bringing suffering and pain
in childbirth to the world because she wanted knowledge, of all things,
was an absolute moron and clearly anti-feminist. I was probably six or
seven. She definitely didn’t like me very much. My grandma assured me that
Jesus loves everyone — including intelligent females.
But, we never talk about the pain when strangers avert their eyes out
of shame. When men hide behind work and contractual obligations.
When the Duende throws you on your back and rips open your belly with
rabid fingernails and scrapes and claws and slowly sucks the soul right
out from the backs of your ankles. My mother was there with me, holding
my hand. I felt it appropriate. It was just the two of us when she gave birth
to me in that tiny apartment on Fountain Avenue. I like to think God was
there, but then again, he is a father, so he most likely was too busy with
work and other contractual obligations.
You came to my room before I left Spain.
You sent the storm and the arco de iris.
On my burning flesh the cold wind was your breath.
I stare out the window at the cathedral towers, realizing
that heaven is so much more beautiful than crucifixes.
I am a native Californian – born in Hollywood of all places. Writing is one of my great loves, and I have written and published many pieces over the course of my life – mostly academic. Here is proof that I am addicted to education: I have my B.A. in Anthropology from UCLA; studied Spanish language, culture, and history a la Universidad de Granada; studied finance at Emory University, and have my M.S. in Human Factors and Systems Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. You can read more about my engineering and design work at www.ashleykarr.com. You can also read more about my children’s books at www.lollylulu.com and peruse my blog at XOAsh.com.
Here are a few other tidbits about me. I graduated high school early and moved to Manhattan to model. I was with Wilhelmina NY and LA. I have taught statistics at the university level and Yoga and Pilates since my late teens. My favorite drink is Paris Tea by Harney and Sons. I am claustrophobic and have a very hard time spending extended periods of time indoors, especially when I cannot even open a window. I hate advice.
Editor’s Note: Ashley attended and read one of her original poems at the Whisky & Poetry Salonorganized in part by Hometown Pasadena contributor Kim Ohanneson. Ashley’s parents grew up in Pasadena and she works here periodically in her professional capacity.