Who cries over something like that? I remember thinking. I kissed the tears, breathing in that briny Aura warmth. Whatever it was that so got to Aura about the axolotls not being there seemed part of the same mystery that the axolotl at the end of Cortázar's story hopes the man will reveal by writing a story. I always wished that I could know what it was like to be Aura.
Où sont les axolotls? she wrote in her notebook. Where are they?
Aura moved in with me in Brooklyn about six weeks after she'd arrived in New York from Mexico City with her multiple scholarships, including a Fulbright and another from the Mexican government, to begin studying for a PhD in Spanish-language literature at Columbia. We lived together almost four years. At Columbia she shared her university housing with another foreign student, a Korean girl, a botanist of some highly specialized kind. I saw that apartment only two or three times before I moved Aura's things to my place. It was a railroad flat, with a long narrow hallway, two bedrooms, a living room at the front. A student apartment, filled with student things: her Ikea bookcase, a set of charcoal-hued nonstick pots and pans and utensils, a red beanbag chair, a stereo unit, a small toolbox, from Ikea too, still sealed in its clear plastic wrapper. Her mattress on the floor, clothing heaped all over it. That apartment made me feel nostalgic as hell - for college days, youth. I was dying to make love to her then and there, in the sumptuous mess of that bed, but she was nervous about her roommate coming in, so we didn't.
I took her away from that apartment, leaving her roommate, whom Aura got along with fine, on her own. But a month or so later, once she felt sure that she was going to stay with me, Aura found another student to take her share, a Russian girl who seemed like someone the Korean girl would like.
Up there, on Amsterdam Avenue and 119th Street, Aura lived at the edge of campus. In Brooklyn, she had to ride the subway at least one hour each way to get to Columbia, usually during rush hour, and she went almost every day. She could take the F train, transfer at Fourteenth Street and make her way through a maze of stairways and long tunnels, grim and freezing in winter, to the 2 and 3 express trains, and switch to the local at Ninety-sixth Street. Or she could walk twenty-five minutes from our apartment to Borough Hall and catch the 2 or 3 there. Eventually she decided she preferred the second option, and that was what she did almost every day. In winter the trek could be brutally cold, especially in the thin wool coats she wore, until finally I convinced her to let me buy her one of those hooded North Face down coats, swaddling her from the top of the head to below the knees in goose downpuffed blue nylon. No, mi amor, it doesn't make you look fat, not you in particular, everybody looks like a walking sleeping bag in one of those, and who cares anyway? Isn't it better to be snug and warm? When she wore the coat with the hood up, collar closed under her chin, with her gleaming black eyes, she looked like a little Iroquois girl walking around inside her own papoose, and she hardly ever went out into the cold without it.
Another complication of the long commute was that she regularly got lost. She'd absentmindedly miss her stop or else take the train in the wrong direction and, engrossed in her book, her thoughts, her iPod, wouldn't notice until she was deep into Brooklyn. Then she'd call from a pay phone in some subway station I'd never heard of, Hola, mi amor, well, here I am in the Beverly Road Station, I went the wrong way again - her voice determinedly matter-of-fact, no big deal, just another overscheduled New Yorker coping with a routine dilemma of city life, but sounding a touch defeated anyhow. She didn't like being teased about going the wrong way on the subway, or getting lost even when she was walking in our own neighborhood, but sometimes I couldn't help it.
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.