End of Marriage
By Nina Vida
Published by Simon & Schuster
May 2002; 0-743-21302-5; 288 pages
It was pathetic. Teo ordered a café con leche, and the busboy dropped his tray of dirty dishes and scrambled out the back door.
"He can come back in," Teo said to the old woman behind the counter. "I'm not from Immigration."
If he were an INS agent he wouldn't bother with small fry like the busboy. He wouldn't even pay attention to the two young men at the table near the back door, faces seared black from a three- or four-day trek through the Arizona desert, who were sipping horchatas with their breakfast burritos, or the girl at the counter next to him eating chorizo and eggs, a string bag stuffed with clothes at her feet, who had just asked him in Guatemalan-accented Spanish if he would, por favor, pass the pimienta.
If he were an INS agent he'd go after the men he could see through the window, fifteen or twenty of them on the corner, wearing cheap shirts, work pants, and worn-down running shoes, some of them leaning against the chain-link fence, others squatting, elbows on knees, all of them looking as if they had been born in that spot and could wait forever for someone to stop and ask them if they were interested in a few hours' work.
The café was run-down, cement floor cracked, rickety tables with names gouged into the wood, strings of paper snowflakes, thick with dust, hanging from the ceiling. Café Tacuba. Teo used to come here on Saturday mornings with his dad for café con leche and buttered bolillos. The old woman was a young one then. She wore a flowered apron wrapped like a bandanna around her slender hips and called him m'hijo in the same way his mother did.
He went to grade school around the corner. Nuestra Seńora Sagrada Academy for Boys. Spanish archways, liquidambars ringing the playground, nuns in wimples, boys in navy pants, white shirt, striped tie, their black lace-up shoes shining as bright as their mothers' copper pans.
He should have been at work. It was almost eight o'clock. He usually was out of the barrio by five in the morning and by five-ten drinking black coffee in the Dunkin' Donuts on Bristol. He had called the station, said he'd be in around nine, that he had trouble with his car. A lie. There was nothing wrong with his car. He had had one of his bad nights. Fireworks at a church carnival a few blocks from his house that sounded like gunshots pinging off the roof, like bombs going off, like grenades tossing mangled and bloody bodies into his dreams. At four-thirty he was up and sitting in a chair, but the images lingered past daylight and left him so wound up, wired, and jumpy, so goddamn angry at himself and everyone and everything, he needed to get himself straightened out before he went to work.
Take some time off, the police shrink told him in December when he was brought up for the second time in six months for insubordination.
And do what? Teo asked.
The café con leche was sweet and thick and slid down his throat in a soft rush. He didn't have to swallow hard to get it down like he did with American coffee.
Café con leche smooths away worries, his mother always said.
He would sit here for another fifteen minutes and then get going. The traffic on Main would be lighter by then. He'd be in better shape.
He could see a vendor setting up his cart in the plaza across from the movie, unfurling a ratty plastic awning, trays of watermelon and pineapple glistening in the early sun. The notary across the street had his open sign hanging in the front window and a line of people at the door.
You need something to ease your anxiety, the shrink said and gave Teo some pills to take. He threw them away. Pills made him lose his concentration.
Lots of traffic. An older-model Buick with a dented rear fender and a dangling taillight entering the intersection. Woman driver. Brakes behind her squealing as she stopped dead in the middle of the intersection, opened the door, and got out. Young, but not too young. Light brown hair loose and swinging, a sweater half thrown around her shoulders. Probably from a business in Costa Mesa, cruising the barrio streets looking for cheap labor. Definitely not one of the rich Newport Beach matrons needing a few undocumented workers to clear the weeds from around the boat slip. Not dressed smart enough for that. Doesn't drive the right car. And she's in a hurry, has to be somewhere. A restaurant, most likely. The last undocumented got picked up and she needs someone to peel the potatoes. Gutsy, abandoning the car in the middle of the street and ignoring the horns, not giving a damn.
She was up on the curb, had picked out her man, a sun-wrinkled, sturdy one wearing a baseball cap, and was leading him back to her car. Taking her time now, looking around. Didn't want her prize to get run over. Opening the car door. Hesitating. Looking in the direction of the café. Staring at the grease-smudged window as if she could see inside. The sun was all wrong for that, but Teo turned around, anyway, removed himself from her line of sight, and didn't see her drive away.
© 2002 Nina Vida
love is found in the most unexpected places. Sometimes, two people find
each other across a crowded room. Sometimes, love conquers all.
Ellie Holmgren is no stranger to tragedy. Her only child, eight-year-old Jamie, died during a tonsillectomy, and while Ellie was trying to find a way to dig herself out of her profound grief, her husband divorced her. And now her sister, Alice, has called to tell her that Morty, Alice's husband, has killed himself. Ellie can only think, "What next?"
The question of "What next?" is answered when Ellie reaches Alice's home and learns that Morty didn't actually kill himself -- Alice pulled the trigger. She confesses to Ellie that after suffering years of abuse, she had finally had enough. Alice is considerably older than Ellie, and the two have never been particularly close, but the possibility that Alice could be tried for murder shocks Ellie into action. She arranges the body to look like a suicide and then calls the police.
One of the homicide detectives who shows up to investigate is Teo Domingos, an angry, battle-scarred Vietnam vet. He takes one look at Morty's body, observes the way Ellie and Alice cling to each other, and decides it couldn't have been a suicide, that Alice probably did it. His partner overrules him, whereupon Teo loses his famous temper one time too many and is placed on disability.
Restless, edgy, but sure of his instincts, Teo takes it upon himself to look into Morty's death on his own. As the pieces fall together, things become even more complicated, and the lives of Teo, Ellie, and Alice connect, intertwine, and unravel to reveal well-kept secrets and lies. As Teo digs deeper, his relationship with Ellie goes from professional to personal, and he finds himself falling in love. Love is something Teo hasn't bargained for. It opens up doors that have been closed for years. It forces him to deal with his own messed-up but genuinely loving family and to face his own deepest feelings and fears. Ellie, too, undergoes her own reawakening when Alice convinces Ellie to go with her to the family ranch, where she ultimately reveals not one, but two shocking secrets...
Weighing the ties of love that make and break a family, The End of Marriage is irresistibly touching, funny, and true.(back to top)
Nina Vida is the author of five previous novels. She began writing in 1975 while working on a degree in English. Her book arise out of a need to explore aspects of family life, particularly how people behave when place in difficult situations and how they overcome adversity. She lives with her husband Martin who is a lawyer in Huntington Beach, California.