This is a short story written from the perspective of a minor character, Max, in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Though Max only makes a brief appearance in the novel, he represents the potential for love and hope for a main character, Lola. I attempted to convey the possibilities and dreams he carries through this first-person account.
When Lola called it quits, I felt like a bullet had travelled between my ribs, like there was a gaping hole in my chest. But she’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I’ve been dreaming of her and Nueba Yol every night since she’s left. The months we spent together keep playing on repeat, spooling out in my mind like some sad film reel. Usually I can kick some of the memories, find some peace, but there’s this one day that keeps coming back to me.
I remember that I picked her up a couple of streets down from where her school is, the one full of los ricos. She never said anything, but I’m sure that the girls at her school would have given her shit if they saw her with someone like me, so I kept my distance. Lola walked up with a serious face, her forehead a knot of worry lines, but she cracked a smile when she saw the reels under my arm. She settled onto the motorcycle behind me. I felt the warmth of her breath against my neck.
Two reels. Come with me?
She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.
We wove through the traffic, dust flying up from the road. Lola liked my job; she enjoyed the thrill of zigzagging between bumpers, the high of defying the sluggish lines of traffic. There were a couple close calls-- some idiota with a beer bottle almost rammed his car right into us-- but each time, Lola just laughed, a deep, rich sound. I could feel the way her laughter made her chest vibrate, could feel the curve of her body against my back. The drive to the theater felt too short. I wish I could have held onto that feeling longer, of our bodies snug against one another, of us being one.
We walked inside and I handed one of the reels to the girl at the counter. For the four o’ clock showing, I told her. I held up the second reel. Señor said I could have one screening room.
The girl shrugged and went off with the first reel. Lola took my hand and we walked down the poorly lit main hallway.
You got us a room?
I nodded. The viejo who runs this place likes me. I always bring him his reels on time.
That’s a surprise.
We entered the theater, and Lola settled into one of the seats in the far back while I gave the reel to the kid handling the projector. I sank into the seat beside Lola and stared at the blank screen as the lights dimmed and the room was cast in shadows. I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath until the movie flickered to life and ran through the title scene. Lola grabbed my arm and looked at me with shining eyes.
The Incredible Journey. You remembered it was one of my favorites! Her eyes were still wide with disbelief. Where did you find this?
One of my tia’s friends has a husband in the film industry.
Lola leaned over and planted a kiss on my cheek. The warmth of her lips lingered on my skin for a few minutes afterwards.
The movie was some children’s story, something about a group of animals that escaped or fled back home. I lost interest in it. I spent most of the time watching her. In the gauzy light of the projector, she was transformed. Her features shifted like clouds on her midnight skin; at parts, she looked thoughtful, her brow wrinkled, but then her lips would quirk up in a strange, half-smile, as if she was laughing at some joke that only she knew about. She was luminous, emitting light and life.
I leaned over and whispered, Tu eres guapa.
She rested her head against my shoulder. I felt it again-- the thing I felt rising when we were together on the motorcycle-- that feeling of wholeness, of warmth. I didn’t think too much about it, just enjoyed being with Lola, until the movie ended. The lights sputtered back on and we stood. The space between us grew. But the whole way out of the theater, Lola was smiling.
Did you like it?
She kissed me in a way that made my heart pound. It was wonderful. Thank you.
We decided to walk along the Malecón as the sun set. I listened to Lola talk about Oscar over the sounds of the waves and the rustling palms-- she missed him like crazy, worried about him all the time. She even began to talk about her mom. I miss her, she said, in spite of her insanity.
As dusk fell, I told her about my plans to move to the US, about how I was going to make it big, earn enough money to buy cars and build my own house from the ground up. Lola’s eyes were fixed on the ocean as she began to stretch her legs.
I don’t care about all that, Max, she said gently. It’s really not so bad here.
I didn’t understand how she could say the DR wasn’t so bad after she had lived in America, but I stayed quiet about it. We talked for a few more minutes, and then it got dark. Lola wasn’t supposed to be out too late, so we walked back to my motorcycle and began to drive home. Lola was quiet during the ride. The night breeze whipped strands of her wild hair into my face.
Her abuela was standing in the doorway when we got home. Lola thanked me again, hopped off the bike, and began to sprint-- fly, really-- toward her abuela. I watched her, a shadow lined in moonlight, as the distance between us multiplied. It was then that I understood the feeling that had been mounting all day, defined it with absolute certainty. The day, the moment when I realized that I loved Lola loops infinitely in my dreams; each night, I call out to her as she runs farther away, as she disappears.