Destined. Was I destined to have come into Aura's life when I did, or did I intrude where I didn't belong and disrupt its predestined path? Was Aura supposed to have married someone else, maybe some other Columbia student, that guy studying a few seats away from her in Butler Library or the one in the Hungarian Pastry Shop who couldn't stop shyly peeking at her? How can anything other than what happened be accurately described as destined? What about her own free will, her own responsibility for her choices? When the light changed and I crossed Smith Street, did that old lady notice my face as we passed? I don't know. My blurred gaze was fixed on the pavement and I wanted to be back inside our apartment. Aura was more present there than she was anywhere else.
The apartment, which I'd been renting for eight years by then, was the parlor floor of a four-story brownstone. Back when the Rizzitanos, the Italian family that still owned the building, used to live there, occupying all four floors, the parlor would have been their living room. But it was our bedroom. It had such tall ceilings that to change a lightbulb in the hanging lamp I'd climb a five-foot stepladder, stand on tiptoes atop its rickety pinnacle and reach up as high as I could, though still end up bent over, arms flapping, fighting for balance - Aura, watching from her desk in the corner, said, You look like an amateur bird. Around the tops of the walls ran a plaster cornice, whitewashed like the walls, a neoclassical row of repeating rosettes atop a wider one of curled fronds. Two long windows, with deep sills and curtains, faced the street, and between the windows, rising from floor to ceiling like a chimney, was the apartment's gaudiest feature: an immense mirror in a baroque, goldpainted wooden frame. Now Aura's wedding dress partly covered the mirror, hung from a clothes hanger and butcher twine that I'd tied around gilded curlicues on opposite sides at the top. And on the marble shelf at the foot of the mirror was an altar made up of some of Aura's belongings.
When I came back from Mexico that first time, six weeks after Aura's death, Valentina, who studied with Aura at Columbia, and their friend Adele Ramírez, who was visiting from Mexico and staying with Valentina, came to pick me up at Newark Airport in Valentina's investment-banker husband's BMW station wagon. I had five suitcases: two of my own and three filled with Aura's things, not just her clothes - I'd refused to throw or give away almost anything of hers - but also some of her books and photos, and a short lifetime's worth of her diaries, notebooks, and loose papers. I'm sure that if that day some of my guy friends had come for me at the airport instead, and we'd walked into our apartment, it would have been much different, probably we would have taken a disbelieving look around and said, Let's go to a bar. But I'd hardly finished bringing in the suitcases before Valentina and Adele went to work building the altar. They dashed around the apartment as if they knew where everything was better than I did, choosing and carrying treasures back, occasionally asking for my opinion or suggestion. Adele, a visual artist, crouched over the marble shelf at the foot of the mirror, arranging: the denim hat with a cloth flower stitched onto it that Aura bought during our trip to Hong Kong; the green canvas satchel she brought to the beach that last day, with everything inside it just as she'd left it, her wallet, her sunglasses, and the two slender books she was reading (Bruno Schulz and Silvina Ocampo); her hairbrush, long strands of black hair snagged in the bristles; the cardboard tube of Chinese pick-up sticks she bought in the mall near our apartment in Mexico City and took into the T.G.I. Fridays there, where we sat drinking tequila and playing pick-up sticks two weeks before she died; a copy of the Boston Review, where her last published essay in English had appeared early that last summer; her favorite (and only) pair of Marc Jacobs shoes; her little turquoise drinking flask; a few other trinkets, souvenirs, adornments; photographs; candles; and standing empty on the floor at the foot of the altar, her shiny mod black-and-white-striped rubber rain boots with the hot pink soles. Valentina, standing before the towering mirror, announced: I know! Where's Aura's wedding dress? I went and got the wedding dress out of the closet and the stepladder.
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.