She grappled heavily with the notion of going to a pawn shop, of bringing them a minuscule emerald her ex-husband had taken great pains to bring to her from Colombia, a country that, previously unbeknownst to her, was the largest producer of the precious gem. Ironically enough, his journey to Medellín with a fellow tenured professor in Latin American Studies at UCLA to give a lecture on HIV/AIDS and Culture in South America is what ultimately resulted in the dissolution of Leo Glen and Alejandra “Al” Ramiro’s marriage.
For, you see, Al was wide-eyed enough to believe that her husband, whom she had married in a small, but lavish ceremony off the coast of San Diego eight months ago (after roughly a year and a half of monogamy that appeared blissful to Al), was trustworthy. Because that’s how Leo wanted it to seem at the time, when he cared more about the concept of putting on airs. Even after the wedding, Al felt that their relationship was still strong, impenetrable. She made him his favorite Spanish dishes each night, as though he was a white Ricky Ricardo and she a more docile, black-haired Lucy Ricardo, spoon-feeding him arroz con pollo. She also kept her aesthetic objectively irresistible by using a large bulk of her personal income, inherited years ago from her father’s banana farm before it was bought by Chiquita, on personal maintenance, spending upwards of $400 a week on blowouts, clothing, vaginal upkeep and lingerie.
Still, Leo’s gradual segues into bandying that cliche excuse, “I have to work late again,” never so much as prompted Al to bat an eyelash. She believed he was a good, decent man. And this notion was further spurred on when, after he returned from his one-week trip to Medellín, he presented her with what she later saw as the extent of what he could shit out in love: a tiny, loose emerald on par with the size of the opening to a ketchup bottle (the plastic squeezable kind–not the glass kind with the much larger orifice at the top).
She took it with gratitude, thankful that he would even think to bring her back anything at all. That’s how she thought of herself in that era, one supposes: not worth remembering while out of sight. Leo pat her on the head and said, “Take it to the Jewelry District and get them to put it in a setting for you.”
Thinking back to this as Al stood in front of the pawnbroker in a generically named shop Downtown called Pawn-4-U, her blood boiled. Leo couldn’t even be bothered to take the time to bequeath her with a proper piece of jewelry, already placed in a setting. She was such an afterthought to him that it was almost more insulting to be given this fleck of a stone than nothing at all. To intensify her emotions–her prostration before the rotund, hairy-chested pawnbroker–she recalled how this emerald is what led her to discover Leo cheated on her in a whorehouse while in Colombia.
As she was going through the proverbial junk box on the shelf of his closet to look for a gold-tone ring he said she might be able to use for her stone, she noticed a folded up piece of scrap paper. Curious, Al opened it up to find the following written in Spanish: “You were the sweetest client I’ve ever had in my pussy. Come back soon. xx -Manuela.” Beneath that was a phone number. So he could dial direct, Al imagined. It was a horrifying discovery, the kind she only dreamed could happen in a movie like Waiting to Exhale. But lo and behold, here she was experiencing it in real life, in the supposedly uneventful confines of Westwood. She crumpled the piece of paper in her hand, letting the sweat from the clamminess of her palm soak it after a time.
How was she to approach Leo about this? When faced with the immediate need for a divorce, taking the steps to do so can become muddled in between the waves of rage, shock and sadness washing over you. Maybe this is why, instead of calmly confronting Leo, she decided to lace his Spanish dinner with chloroform. After approximately five bites, Leo was out cold. Now, what to do with him, wondered Al. She wasn’t one for violence or the spillage of hemoglobin, but, in that moment, with Leo rendered so helpless, she wanted to wound him with the same level of impact that he had done to her. She was propelled by the thought of how many times they had sex since he’d been back (seven), each one infusing her with a new strain of HPV. So she picked up a knife out of the chopping block and started to lightly drag it across his neck, just enough to make the skin open up. It was exhilarating. But then she realized what she was doing.
The police weren’t sympathetic to her explanation, or the offering that, “At least I didn’t cause him any real bodily harm.”
It didn’t matter, it was off to the clink for eighteen months for her on charges of assault and malicious intent. When she got out, the divorce–annulment, really–was complete, and the only thing of value she had to her name that didn’t need to go toward paying her legal bills was that lilliputian emerald.
So there Al was, ready and waiting. Expecting at least–at the bare minimum–something like a hundred dollars for the token of Leo’s infidelity, a token she believed, once, was a symbol of love. But in a moment befitting a Guy de Maupassant character–specifically M. Lantin from “The Jewelry” (sometimes called “The False Gems” or “The Jewels”) in reverse–Al was informed, “This is worthless. It’s glass.” And then the pawnbroker chuckled as he smashed the nonentity with a hammer to prove it.