Foundation, by Jesse Tamayo
They sat on opposite ends of the room. Jorge against the grate covered radiator, which happened to be off for once, and Cherry on her vanity stool. Salty sweat beads frosted their hairlines, and one or two streaked the sides of their face. Joyous shrieks and the sound of a dog walker trying to break up a fight between their customers floated through the window.
Jorge’s head rolled forward, his curls getting snagged in the grates, and he let his eyes fall on Cherry. Her hair was up in an old thrifted t-shirt, and her face was half done.
“The change is permanent,” Cherry said, dabbing at her face.
“Then don’t go,” Jorge said. “I’m not understanding why this time is different than all the rest.”
“Do you want dinner tonight?”
“I can cook dinner.”
“Ha! What? Rice and beans again? Besides, we’ll have to buy those, too. Have you seen the fridge? There’s nothing in there.”
“That didn’t stop you before.”
“Before you had a job.”
Jorge watched her reach for the glossy lipstick. He turned and looked out the window. “Is the show at least satirical?”
“I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”
“Are their others?”
“You know what I mean.”
Cherry laughed and undid the shirt around her head, letting her sopping wet curls fall on her shoulders.
“Well?” Jorge asked.
“I don’t know.”
Jorge sighed. He looked around the room. The bed was unmade, clothes and mismatched socks were on the floor, and water bottles half-filled or empty sat along the edges of dressers, nightstands, and the desk that covered the window in the center of the room. The plates they’d eaten their fried broccoli and chicken nuggets on had honey mustard and ketchup puddles.
He remembered back to that gym scene where they had first met. They went to put their plates away, and the music and the slamming of weights and jump ropes twirling so fast that sounded like a heard of locust fell out of focus. He’d never fallen in love with someone by looking at them, but Cherry’s brown eyes filled him with the warmth found in a cup of coffee on a cool and rainy early spring morning, so he had no doubt that it was the real thing.
“Great job today,” Jorge said.
“Thanks! You too!” Cherry said, walking into the weight cage. It was like a scene from an MFA students manuscript.
“You good?” Jorge asked, laughing.
Through snorts and giggles, she said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m good.”
He helped her up, but their hands were sickly wet from the workout, and she fell on her ass. They laughed again, and she waved off his next help offer, standing on her own, swiping her palms against her legs to rid them of the bits of flooring that stuck to her skin.
“I’m going to need a drink after that,” Cherry said, her laugh fading. “Do you wanna join?”
“Yeah,” he said, without hesitation.
“There’s this margherita bar right down the street. I don’t remember the name but they have half price margs today, and tacos.”
Jorge nodded along.
They packed their shoes into their bags, wiped their faces, blew their noses with paper towels, and met outside. Wind, lukewarm, smacked against them, percolating through their damp clothes, lifting Cherry’s rope thick braided black hair. That night they shared childhood stories, laughs, TV show recommendations, past relationships, and how far they’ve strayed from what they were doing and where they thought they’d be. They had both agreed that they weren’t at the status of pregnant teacher with the cop husband living in Indiana, so they hadn’t been doing too bad.
As Jorge reverted his attention back to Cherry, who was now putting on clothes, he wondered if he still felt that cup of coffee in him, and if she was thinking the same thing. He guessed these things happened four years down the line.
Cherry inspected her makeup and clothing in the mirror, wondering, aloud, “Do you think I need to fix anything?”
“You can take it all off. The makeup.”
Her head tilted to one side, a blank expression on her face. “For real?”
Jorge pulled himself up. “I’m not sure that I’m okay with you being in this play.”
She marched her five foot stature out of the room. “Come here,” she said.
“I know, I—”
“Get in here now!”
Jorge came into the kitchen. He leaned against the doorway, arms folded across his chest.
“Don’t make this,” Cherry said, “any more like some fucking mom and child lecture moment then it already is.” She whipped open the fridge door, revealing condiments and marination sauces on murky shelving units. All the food inside were her roommates. “What do you think we’re gonna eat tonight, hm? Oh, and,” she moved up to the freezer. “Don’t say ice cream. We don’t have of that either.”
“I’m the child?”
“Jorge, that’s not—”
“It’s exactly what you meant, so don’t break it down for me like I can’t understand something.” Cherry walked passed him to the bedroom.
“You’re walking away now?” He asked, following her. “You’re going to say that and—"
“I don’t know if my roommates are home,” she said, shutting the door behind him. “I’m not doing this out there.”
“Right, right, right. When I defend how I feel it turns into a lecture about why I shouldn’t feel the way that I feel.”
Cherry walked over and sat on the bed. “That’s not it, Jorge,” she said, reaching for her shoes. “This isn’t about ignoring how—”
“It sure seems like it to me.”
“Why do you think that I’m gaslighting you,” she asked, synching the laces to her boots. “Because I’m telling you that I’m not gonna turn down this job?”
“It’s more than that, Cherry.” He squatted down next to her on the bed. “What about all that stuff we talked about before?”
“What was that?”
“The chair at the table or some shit like that.”
Cherry shot up. “You’re going to bring that up now?”
“That’s what this is about, isn’t? Did you forget about that, Cherry?”
“Don’t give me none of that horse shit. This is more than that.”
“This is exactly what it’s about.”
“I’ve been with the company for…three years. They know me. They’re not asking me to do this specifically because I’m—”
“That’s all they ever do!” Jorge stood. “When’s the last time they called you to just be in a performance?”
“Back in March.”
“They called you at the last minute for that one too. It was the same request, and—”
“That was for a background character. This role is better than that one.”
“Are you more up front? Is that why they asked,” reaching for her foundation and holding it up to her, “for more of this? Or maybe it’s because they didn’t tick all the boxes and realized right before curtain that they needed to, otherwise there would be terrible reviews.”
“You don’t know what happened. And are you saying that I have no talent? Is that it? Is that what you’re saying?”
“It isn’t what I’m saying. I’m—”
“It sure feels like what you’re saying to me. That I’m only getting work because of all this.”
“Clearly it isn’t if you keep using that makeup.”
“Fuck off, Jorge. Just fuck right off. I have talent. I—”
“I never said that you didn’t have talent!”
“You’re saying it doesn’t matter!”
“I’m saying it doesn’t matter to them.”
“So they just let my audition monologue tickle their ears? Their eyes looked pass my facial choices? They decided: ‘yes, she’ll be the one we keep on call?’”
As Jorge exhaled, he said, “It all goes back—”
“Say it, Jorge. Say it one more time.”
He put his hands up. “The table thing.”
Cherry picked up a dirty piece of clothing and tossed it at his face. “You can fuck right off,” she said.
“Me?” He questioned, whipping the shirt to the ground. “You’re the one who criticized that analogy first! What was that guys name? The one who said that without an education then you just have a person that looks like you keeping you down?”
“I know what I said, and I know what he said! Are you calling me stupid now?”
“I’m not calling you stupid.”
“Sure sounds like it to me. Especially when you think I don’t understand what that man said.”
“But you’re doing what he said not to do!’
“I know what I’m doing! I’m not trying to take more more more. This is about being able to get food back in the fridge for us.”
“Can’t you do that with a different job?”
“What job, Jorge? What jobs am getting? What jobs are you getting? I don’t see you trying to do anything to help me.”
“I’m trying, but what am I supposed to do? You see how they block out everything when I tell them who I am. I have to choose one or the other.”
“Well, keep trying.”
“Me? I should keep trying? How many auditions have you been on?”
“I’ll let you know how many real ones,” she said, “when I feel I have abilities.”
“I never said that you didn’t have abilities! I’m saying that they don’t see you for them.”
“You think I don’t know that? You think that I don’t struggle with the fact that who I am shapes everything that I perceive or how people react to me? Is that what you think, Jorge?”
“Then stop behaving like that’s what I’m doing!” She went back to the mirror. “I’ve been me for a long time. I know that they don’t see me as nothing more than a face, and I would love to be able to create something where I don’t have to talk about this stuff, but that time isn’t now. So, for now, if it’s okay with you, honey, I’m going to take this role and do it so that we can have dinner tonight.”
“Is that okay with you, Jorge?”
Cherry turned around, her hands on her hips. Jorge bit his lower lip, squinting.
Everybody on set sighed.
Peter Butler, the director, said, “Second time today, Jorge.” Flipped pages filled the space of waiting people. “You’re next line is, ‘I’d rather you not act than do this play.’ Remember: escalate. Take it from, ‘I’ve been me for a long time.’ Sound good, Cherry?” She nodded. “Good, and…action!”
Jesse Tamayo's short story “Scavenging” appeared in the December ’20 issue of The Bangalore Review. Contact him at www.jessetamayo.net.
Jason R. Montgomery, or JRM, is a Chicano/Indigenous Californian writer, painter, community artist and engagement artist from El Centro, California. In 2016, along with Poet Alexandra Woolner, and illustrator Jen Wagner, JRM founded Attack Bear Press in Easthampton, MA. Jason’s work engages the cross-section of Chicano/Indigenous identity, cultural hybridization, post-colonial reconstruction, and political agency. His writing and visual art bridges the aesthetics and feel from the early cubist collage movement and the Russian abstract movement of the 1920s with living and historical Native/Indigenous Californian and Chicano art traditions to explore the Post-colonial narrative through active synthesis and guided (re)construction. JRM’s work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Storm Cellar, Ilanot Review, Cosmonauts Avenue and other publications. Jason is one of 2021 Newell Flather Awards for Leadership in Public Art outstanding nominees and 2021-2023 Easthampton Poets Laureate. Jason is also the co-founder of the police abolition group “A Knee is Not Enough” (AKINE) in Easthampton, MA.