It was just the kind of thing Aura and I made fun of: a folkloric Mexican altar in a grad student's apartment as a manifestation of corny identity politics. But it felt like the right thing to do now, and throughout that first year of Aura's death and after, the wedding dress remained. I regularly bought flowers to put in the vase on the floor, and lit candles, and bought new candles to replace the burned-out ones.
The wedding dress was made for Aura by a Mexican fashion designer who owned a boutique on Smith Street. We'd become friendly with the owner, Zoila, who was originally from Mexicali. In her store we'd talk about the authentic taco stand we were going to open someday to make money off the drunk, hungry, young people pouring out of the Smith Street bars at night, all three of us pretending that we were really serious about joining in this promising business venture. Then Aura discovered that Zoila's custom-tailored bridal dresses were recommended on the web site Daily Candy as a thrifty alternative to the likes of Vera Wang. Aura went to Zoila's studio, in a loft in downtown Brooklyn, for three or four fittings, and she came home from each feeling more anxious than before. She was, at first, after she went to pick up the finished dress, disappointed in it, finding it more simple than she'd imagined it was going to be, and not much different from some of the ordinary dresses Zoila sold in her store for a quarter of the price. It was an almost minimalist version of a Mexican country girl's dress, made of fine white cotton, with simple embellishments of silk and lace embroidery, and it widened into ruffles at the bottom.
But in the end, Aura decided that she liked the dress. Maybe it just needed to be in its rightful habitat, the near-desert setting of the Catholic shrine village of Atotonilco, amid an old mission church and cactus and scrub and the green oasis grounds of the restored hacienda that we'd rented for the wedding, beneath the vivid blue and then yellow-gray immensity of the Mexican sky and the turbulent cloud herds coming and going across it. Maybe that was the genius of Zoila's design for Aura's dress. A sort of freezedried dress, seemingly plain as tissue paper, that shimmered to life in the charged thin air of the high plains of central Mexico. A perfect dress for a Mexican country wedding in August, a girlhood dream of a wedding dress after all. Now the dress was slightly yellowed, the shoulder straps darkened by salty perspiration, and one of the bands of lace running around the dress lower down, above where it widened out, was partly ripped from the fabric, a tear like a bullet hole, and the hem was discolored and torn from having been dragged through mud and danced on and stepped on during the long night into dawn of our wedding party, when Aura had taken off her wedding shoes and slipped into the dancing shoes we'd bought at a bridal shop in Mexico City, which were like a cross between white nurse shoes and seventies disco platform sneakers. A delicate relic, that wedding dress. At night, backed by the mirror's illusion of depth and the refl ected glow of candles and lamps, the baroque frame like a golden corona around it, the dress looks like it's floating.
* * *
Despite the altar, or maybe partly because of it, our cleaning lady quit. Flor, from Oaxaca, now raising three children in Spanish Harlem, who came to clean once every two weeks, said it made her too sad to be in our apartment. The one time Flor did come, I watched her kneel to pray at the altar, watched her pick up photographs of Aura and press them to her lips, smudging them with her emphatic kisses and tears. She imitated Aura's reliable words of praise for her work, the happy pitch of her voice: Oh Flor, it's as if you work miracles! Ay, señor, said Flor. She was always so happy, so full of life, so young, so good, she always asked after my children. How could she do her job now, in that way that had always so pleased Aura, Flor pleadingly asked me, if she couldn't stop crying? Then she'd taken her sadness and tears home with her, home to her children, she explained later when she phoned, and that wasn't right, no señor, she couldn't do it anymore, she was sorry but she had to quit. I didn't bother to look for a new cleaning lady. I suppose I thought she would feel sorry for me and come back. I tried phoning, finally, to beg her to come back, and got a recorded message that the number was no longer in service. Then, months after she'd quit, incredibly, she repented and did phone and leave her new telephone number - apparently, she'd moved - on the answering machine. But when I phoned back, it was the wrong number. Probably I'd written it down wrong, I'm a touch dyslexic anyway.
Excerpted from Say Her Name
by Francisco Goldman. Copyright © 2011 by Francisco Goldman.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.