THE WOMAN IN THE CLOSET • by Mike Dell’Aquila

Dear Jesus, there is a dead woman in my closet and she watches me as I sleep. Us. She watches us.

I blame my husband. He brought this curse upon us, Lord, this undead woman who’s seen more of the world as an embalmed corpse than I would if I were given ten lifetimes.

Even in death she is an enemy of the State. Not just a Peronista, but a Perón.

Eva.

Evita.

The word stings my tongue like a pickled pepper.

At night, I feel her eyes upon me, Lord. I do.

Never mind what my husband claims, what he confesses. That is, if he even bothers to talk to you anymore. I know he fancies himself an orator, an intellectual. Ha. You are all-knowing, so you must see through these silly vanities same as me.

What he is is a blood relative of Aramburu’s, lucky to be born into a prominent Córdoban family. He is an appointee with a gun and medals he doesn’t deserve and those striped epaulettes that make him look like a little boy sent off to military school.

He pretends. Always.

His politics can change with the seasons, with the wind.

You know how I know this, Lord? Because my clothes are lying in a pile in the corner of the room so that we might hide the undead corpse of Eva Perón in my closet.

Is this a prayer?

It’s not one that I learned, obviously, but I know you can hear me and I know that you can see all — even my fat and happy husband snoring away.

He calls me crazy, or haven’t you heard? He calls me all sorts of names when the staff is not around, and even sometimes when they are.

But he knows that I’m right. Why else would he keep the sidearm on the bed stand? It can’t be for me, that gun; I’ve learned better than to deny him when he rolls over, wanting.

That gun is for him. For us, maybe. For protection. Because she is not dead.

***

I must get up. I have to, Lord. She is no saint, no matter how holy the peasants from The Pampas like to claim in the dark, far away from big-eared men like my husband. But if she is not one of your saints, why then does she live?

Why and how does she watch me from inside that box, from beneath those heavy shrouds?

I rise, slowly. My husband rarely wakes, rarely does anything more than fart or snore or mutter the names of whores I pretend he has not met.

She must know how I feel. To be married to a man so convinced of his own greatness, so sensitive that he will feel rebuked by a world that turns and turns with everlasting indifference.

Right, left, guerillas, dictators — they can all go to hell in a single-file line with their chests puffed.

How small Juan, el presidente, must have felt to be overshadowed by a strong and beautiful woman, a creature so full of charisma and mystique that her corpse is treated like pieces of Your cross under Roman rule: hidden and unseen, yet venerated by multitudes.

I poke at the shrouds. Beneath it, the sturdy box that holds her body seems to push back.

O, Evita, I want to say. Queen of the streets, what have you done by giving hope to the forever hopeless? Why tempt beggars with thoughts of bread? Why let a woman dream that what fills our minds or our hearts matters more to men than this skin that is doomed to only sag and droop a little lower each day?

They settle for madonnas and whores because it is all they can get, but what they really want is ghosts. Apparitions. Astral projections that never give them lip or roll their eyes over the puny grievances that can so quickly become battles and wars and revolutions.

My husband is no generalissimo. He is a coward who would run from combat if it meant fighting as they do in the streets, with little more than fists and nails and grit.

He stirs, that mountain of a man who hides the frightened little boy inside like he was a living, breathing matryoshka doll.

— Who’s there? he calls out, his voice faltering.

I cannot believe the fear I hear in his voice. It shames me.

I step out from the closet and say his name.

— No, he shouts.

— Stop.

I laugh. I have warned him that Eva lives, and he teased me at every turn.

So why the quivering lip?

— Stop. Stay where you are and don’t come out.

I laugh again, saying his name softly and lurching toward the bed.

The blast lights up the room. For one second, our bedchamber is bright as day, and our eyes lock together just long enough for him to realize what he’s done.

It’s hot. Hot and sticky.

I never once imagined what it would feel like to be shot, but if I had, I know I would’ve gotten it wrong.

I’ve sometimes wondered what death would feel like, though; the exact moment when my spirit would finally exit this lumpy flesh that never felt like much more than a burden, a nagging chore and painful prison.

Did I want this? I wonder. Did I want to finally see my husband’s tears or hear his wailing for me?

I’m not sure I wanted to go first. Now that I know I will, though, the thought is almost delicious. Here he is in this palace, supporting the rule of an awful man, an absolute despot, and here he will remain twice haunted by the women who will watch him sleep and know exactly who and what he is when he takes off all of the ornaments and decorations and cries the names of women whose bodies he could rent but never own.


Mike Dell’Aquila’s work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications such as The Paterson Literary Review, Italian Americana, and the anthology Writing Our Way Home. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and Boston Terrier and is at work on his first novel.


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