Pocha Portrait in a Shrunken Mirror
By Carolina Hernandez |
The deodorant they chose for Issy at Ernesto’s corner store had been the same as her sister’s, a blue plastic bar with flowers plastered on the front and a sticker of a clock claiming that the scent would last over 12 hours. She remembered going into the store like they had been sent on a secret mission, that the two sisters could have been wearing sunglasses and a trench coat to the store and it would have felt the same. The trip to the store was an answer to the whispers her mother passed to Cece, whispers that had been formed by a message from their father who could not, for some reason or another, state himself.
“It would be too embarrassing for him to say,” their mother told Cece. “Your father can’t stand how Isidora smells anymore; it was okay when she was eleven, but now that she is a woman, she ought to smell like one.”
When it was time to pass the whispers to Issy, Cece fashioned a long story about how “you don’t want to go around smelling in the eighth grade” and that “you want to show you smell so nice but that you didn’t try at all—like you naturally smell so so good.”
She went on about the body’s secrets and that the bras kept the nipples secret the same way pads turned the bleeding into rumors, and how those were all good things because women were the quietest whispers in the world. So, the two decided to walk to Ernesto’s corner store and pick out a scent before their father and younger brother came back from the construction site.
“I don’t want that one,” Issy said to a row of Secret deodorants that she recognized from home. The thought of smelling like Cece made no sense, why would she want to smell like somebody else? Issy felt nothing wrong in smelling like sweat from playing a game of soccer, but neither Cece nor their mother took baths as a single remedy for her turning thirteen. She had been told her body would become something of its own and that it needed to be guided by those who knew better like Mama and Cece, not Papa nor Carlitos. In fact, neither Papa nor Carlitos were not allowed to know; this body secret was a slow secret they’d soon discover, and regretfully so. The thought enraged Issy. Why couldn’t she stay the same? Changing like this would mean that Carlitos would have to start treating her like a mujercita, the old boring and protective way he was told to treat Cece.
Issy even tried to hide the most noticeable and expected changes by dressing in oversized t-shirts, dark ones that would conceal the vibrancy of the new hot pink bra her mother nagged her to wear. Even though it was all meant to be hidden in the first place, there was a strange fascination that came with the secret, that allured and cooed little “peak-
a-boo” sensations among the whispers and made others wonder about the mysteries of the world. This sensation made Issy sick. What happened after cooing? It was not in her control, and it made her feel like a dog performing tricks. The deodorant would only be a layer to that lure, a call to come see.
Covering up the changes with oversized t-shirts and refusing deodorant, Issy knew, could not forever conceal the hints that the process was happening right before their eyes. She wanted the secret to skip her instead because she wasn’t very good at tidying it up like Cece, her sister who had worn long skirts and stayed by their mother’s side in the kitchen. She wanted to be Carlitos and follow her father into the construction sites to place grout into the crevices between tiles. The deodorants flashed at her, reminding her that no matter what, the changes and secrets would happen; the only thing left to do was prepare.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m getting you the same one I have,” Cece reached over 0Issy’s head and picked up a stick of Secret deodorant, her own scent leaning itself onto her sister. She was seventeen and had mastered the art of feminine scent with a gossamer layer of Jennifer Lopez perfume against her dark chest along with a flux of fruity hair products that held down the frizz and made her look like the young ladies who owned the big houses in the telenovelas and had maids.
Issy wondered how no man had come by Cece, her soft dark skin and fruity smell made her want to steal one of Cece’s sweaters so that she could fall asleep to her scent like their dog had done. Her sister’s long dark hair and small framed body made her preferable to most men at the church, only somehow she was no woman to them. A single flash of teeth and one could see she was a girl, braces and gangly arms, a plain board at the top and toothpick legs, hips absent. She knew the rules of being a modest, respectful woman and followed them strictly, yet the men regarded her as part of a girls’ choir lined up for the convent kitchen.
“Okay. Can we go?” Issy pressed, avoiding Cece’s eyes. She could not stand her sister’s brilliant stare when it came to talks of this change. They were two glowing stones filled with some strange amusement, and Issy’s habit to reject discomfort with laughter did not work to dismay this unwanted amusement. To be the object of a big wow disgusted her; she did not understand how Cece and her cousins welcomed compliments with ease, especially those boasting how beautiful they were or how guapa they looked from uncles and aunts when they wore little telltale signs of their change like a spaghetti strap dress or rouge lipstick. When they got to the cashier, Ernesto sat in his usual stool next to his eldest daughter who had gotten married last year. The woman’s eyes hung heavy from the bags below that anchored them, dark undereye circles from what seemed like long work weeks followed by nights of making supper and washing dishes until falling asleep with worry of tomorrow morning’s next meal that needed cooking. Ernesto and the woman waved at the sisters, but something caused the father to get up from his stool directly behind the register and motion his daughter toward it. Issy wondered what it was, and she was answered when Cece gently placed a box of maxi pads onto the counter.
“That’ll be 10.98,” the daughter’s voice rang out. Cece handed her cash their mother had given them and took the change with a “gracias.”
Issy kept in mind how benevolent and silent that gracias sounded, how pliable Cece could be to anything, and how it made her mad. She did not want to bow her head in thanks to anyone, nor did she think it necessary for anybody to remain so silent that they become their own apologies; she resented the expectation of maturing this way.
As she applied the deodorant with a sloppy left hand in the small room she and Cece shared, Issy examined herself in the narrow, shrunken mirror their father had purchased years ago. It was meant to be a full- length mirror yet it stood four feet tall, and standing nearly at five feet at thirteen, Issy had to bend her knees and contort her body to see an almost full reflection.
The t-shirt around her neck divided the brown face she knew with the body that was unrecognizable to her—the large, flat face with its familiar deep-set under eye circles and their veiny enclaves, the sunkenness of her cheeks, and the slant of her large nose; the face felt monstrous, and yet all of it seemed to feel like her more than the body below it ever could. She tugged at the flesh of her breasts, begging that they would sink back in or at least stop growing, for they had been the reason her mother brought home the bright pink bra to Issy. The tales had gone around school in which girls hold secrets underneath their shirts and that the boys will discover them one day if the girls were bad, but she put this off and refused to wear the bra.
Issy looked around, peeked out of the door for her mother. She was not there. The two small hands combatted the bra’s clasps and clumsily unhooked them, dropping two sacs of flesh. The strange flesh stared back, gracefully mocking Issy in all its softness. They disgusted her; she did not want to ever catch herself staring at them for too long, but if she could reach into the mirror and touch them, touch their darkest centers, she would.
“Hey, where’s mom?” Carlitos called, his voice heard from the hallway, a boyish tone which rang discordant to the mirror, an alarm to Issy. She scrunched her body and hid behind the mirror.
“What the heck are you doing there?” Her brother stood in the doorway.
“But where’s mom? You never answered me!”
“Get the heck outta here!”
Boys couldn’t see, they could never see, Issy thought, but it had been her fault that Carlitos saw a glimpse of that secret, and ever since, Issy made efforts to cover it up so that no one else could see and that nothing would change.