Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties


By Felicia Luna Lemus

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 26, 2004. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

“Buckle up, doll,” urges the narrator of Trace Elements, “I promise I’ll try not to tangle your quinceañera dress.”
So begins the adventure of Leticia Marisol Estrella Torez, who moves north to Los Angeles in an attempt to break from her past: from starched dresses and sleek, tight braids; from Nana, the traditional grandmother who raised her; and also from the seductive Weeping Woman—the siren of Mexican folklore said to fly through the skies at night to steal troublesome children and who embodies, in many ways, Leti’s first love. As Leti immerses herself in the post-queer hipster scene in Los Angeles, navigating the twisting road of her own shifting gender and falling deep into “papaya lush blush” love, she rediscovers the strength and meaning of la familia. A striking debut novel in the tradition of Michelle Tea and Sarah Schulman, Trace Elements spins a crazy-beautiful narrative that turns tradition on its head while laying flowers at its feet.


Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties
I tripped over a seam in the trailer's chrome floor. Real quick, before I could do any serious damage, I introduced myself, sat down in the kitchen nook, and did my best to mumble out socially appropriate words between no-blink stares. Fireworks, I watched her lick maple frosting off her fork, all flat-tongue sticking out the way Nana used to slap me upside the head for doing. I was beyond smitten. Story's name was Edith and she got to Amy's trailer half an hour after Nolan and I showed up for the Fourth of July tea party.
I might as well tell you right now that this is really about my girl Weeping Woman, Nana, and me. My best boy, Nolan, she says listening to me is like letting a drunk drive you to a gala event--no indicators given at turns and the windshield wipers are always on. Buckle up, doll. I promise I'll try not to tangle your quinceañera dress. We'll get to the ballroom soon enough.
My girl Edith: smarty-pants Mission District glamour homegrrrl moved down to Los Angeles on her leopardprint motorcycle. Edith and her amazing sex-radical dancerthighs, she had a homemade guitar string tattoo on her bony wrist and there was usually a healthy touch of orange-red lipstick near the gap between her top front teeth. When she entered a room, sweet thick crisp green lilac perfume sharpened the air.
That Independence Day, only a few weeks after I'd moved to Los Angeles, Edith dug into my chest, took my sucker heart in her teeth, dared me to trust her, and promised to walk away. Two days later I got up the nerve to ask Amy for Edith's phone number. I called Edith. We made a coffee date. And when I showed up at the café, she laughed a rather icy laugh and pulled a cigarette from her monogrammed silver case. Taking time like starlight in slow motion, she placed her cigarette in this crazy sleek sterling holder and stared at me, demanding I take her lighter from the table. I wondered if she had one of those cigarette finger rings that Gloria Swanson used to perch to her lips, all talon hands. Sitting across from me was one of the few women in the world who could look fabulous perfect with such an insane gadget. My stalling, my thinking, it was annoying Edie. Once my fumbling finally brought her flame to life, she tilted her head back slightly, still inspecting me, and took a drag. Exhaling blue smoke in my direction, she announced that over the phone she had thought I was the other girl.
"Do remind me her name ..."
I stuttered, "Oh, Nolan. She's out of town with her boyfriend." A total and complete lie, but I wasn't about to play nice and share my newfound bliss. "I can have her call you when she gets back if you want."
She bit down on the holder's dark brown Bakelite mouthpiece and smiled toothy sly.
"That won't be necessary."
And so began an affair as confused as its first date.
By our third date, I knew what made my girl Edithpleased. Saran Wrap. She loved the stuff. Edith would bind my entire body in Saran Wrap before even licking my elbow. Let me tell you, clear microwaveable stretch 'n' cling wrap is not sexy. Especially not when it's the generic purple kind she'd watertight me in. But for Edith I gladly let myself be polyurethane girl from chin to toe. Still, I felt like a desperate and misguided mamasita, all gussied up in kitchen paraphernalia to greet her hunka-hunka at the door and try to cook up some loving. I've read about stuff like that in Good Housekeeping at the dentist's. You know, the path to your sexual happiness is through his digestive tract, that sort of thing. It's strange for two chicana dykes to live Good Housekeeping lust, but the way Edith's eyes shimmered when she'd airtight me with the Saran, I was willing to do anything to see that wild glow.
After bouts of all-night hygienic sex and pints of the dairy-free sherbet Edie seemed to have with her at all times, we'd break up and get back together again and then break up but still meet to go to a movie and get our sex on again and then get back together again but be exclusive sexually but not monogamous dating-wise. The entire time my tiny twin mattress was smack-dab next to my apartment's front door. See, Edith was always cold and I got scared by how lemon-lime Otter Pop her toes could get, so I dragged my bed to the wall furnace right next to the triple bolts and doorknob and it stayed there the whole messy six months we tortured each other.
Every time when we were near pass-out exhausted, Edith began to talk. My pupils tired, trying to make contact in the pitch-black dark, my body twitching with a need for sleep, she told me her existentialist rationale of why the "we" of she and me could not be. Each night my response was the same, "Yes, Bird." Edith had eyes as endless brown as an orchard oriole's. "Yes, Bird."
She was right. It was nearly impossible to "be" when we were just this side of falling asleep. The brink of dreams was the only time she ever talked and she didn't really want answers, so all I had to do was give her my one easy-toremember-even-when-about-to-fall-asleep line and let her continue to get the tension out of her mouth. Soon we'd sleep all tangled up in each other's limbs on my bed barely wide enough for one of us.
That girl, she was dreamy. A dreamsicle. Creamy. Dreamy.
We only talked when I was asleep. Our relationship existed as I slept beside her. My eyes closed. Calm breathing. She'd talk. We'd wake.
Come morning, she'd still be cold but it was usually me doing the sniffling, my left knee bruised though no physical mark was visible. See, I was down on my knee, begging for my Edie. Me, a young gent without a ring to offer her because she already wore it. Edith took the ring but never said yes, so there I knelt, with only myself to offer and what I had to offer was not enough.
Night again. My hand cupped the curve of her waist as she once again articulately delineated the impossibility of us, her right side in the thick cushion of my feather bed. "Yes, Bird." Quills jabbing at my shoulder through the pink sheets, I shifted to reach for her.
Body in my hands. Inside. Nipple hard against my lips.
May I eat you alive?
I was spinning pleasant dizzy and then Edith broke up with me "for real this time," she said. She started leaving home-baked goods, muffins and sweet bread and stuff that tended to be undercooked in its middle at my front door, once with instructions written on a schmaltzy Hallmark card to meet her at the dressing rooms at Macy's for a slice of heaven. A week after Macy's, I found a "secret admirer"note drenched in flowery tobacco perfume on my doorstep inviting me to meet at Crystal's bar. An hour after closing time, three in the morning, an entire roll of Saran Wrap and some wax paper too, Edith explained yet again why we couldn't ever be together.
I woke the next morning with my Bird by my side and she asked me how I slept. Maybe it was the way the wall heater turned up to high made the air sandy, but for whatever reason, right then my nose started to bleed. No, I take that back, my nose was gushing as furiously as a fire hydrant does when kids break it open with a wrench. I was a sudden mess. I bled onto Edith's wrist as she reached out to touch me. My blood was on her wrist and the Saran Girl, she didn't even flinch. I answered her question.
"I slept wonderfully. Thank you very much. And you?" I ran to the bathroom.
Returning with a bundle of toilet paper at my left nostril, I smiled under the rough wad turning crimson. She stared at the blood on her right forearm and smiled slow. She slept well also, thanks for asking.
I went back to the bathroom and tilted my head over the sink. The marbled cream counter splashed bright red. Letting blood. Purification rite. Drip. Splash. Drip. Splash. Bubbles of oxygen surrounded the drops as they joined the expanding dark puddle. Blood thickening in the sink but fluidly leaving my left nostril. My face lacking its glow, all pasty olive green pale. Drip. Splash. Drip. Splash.
I returned to bed and my Bird Edith had flown away. She was like that, Edith was. A wisp of wind would blow in through the window, Edith would disappear, leaving the scent of lilacs to haunt in her wake.
Tiring of our game, there came a point when I threatened to move far far away and bail on Edith for good. My Betty Crocker Bird started crying real cruel like people do whenthey want you to take all their pain and then some. She said quietly and between her teeth, "You simply do not up and move without discussing your plans with your girlfriend first."
Her eyes glittered mean like I'd seen them do once when she was dancing in her majorette getup and a guy sitting at the catwalk licked his palm and reached out to touch her. The only thing he made contact with was the baton when Edith knocked him out clean cold. I knew to proceed with caution. The plain truth seemed safe enough.
"Ex-girlfriend, Edith. Ex-girlfriend. You broke up with me last week, remember?"
She stared at me and clenched her jaw until her ears turned chalk white.
Lord, I knew to watch my back with that woman then. The topper was how she wanted to hug me and then handed me a fresh loaf of prune nut bread when we said goodbye. Now, look, I know about the poison apple. It isn't just Disney Snow White or Adam and Eve with the little snake in the garden. Forget for a moment that it's probably more historically accurate to say it was a pomegranate, not a Red Delicious, staining Eve's hands a mess. Keep things simple, we're talking Poison Apples. No doubt in my mind that food can be tainted with intent. This is old-school simple truth. I'd learned it from Nana and she learned it from Mamá Estrella, who probably learned it from her mamá. Scared for what poison it might leak onto me, I took the loaf of bread from Edith because I figured if I didn't she'd throw it at me, hard. That and because, though I hate to admit it, I still wanted to get back together with her again, just a little bit. I mean, that gap between her teeth and those sharp minxy eyes and the way we tangled up so sweet when we slept. But I didn't let myself eat the bread. That would have signed the pact in blood. On my kitchen's faux wood counter is wherethe bread sat until I lost enough fear to throw it moldy and uneaten in the trash.
That Tuesday trash day I found Edith in the street going through my apartment's garbage bin. Crumpled-up foil balls were piled at her side. She was looking for the bread. Seeing her with her orange lipstick and her obsessed hunt, I forgot that I'd promised myself never to talk to her again.
"Hello, my sweet chocolate pie."
Edith dropped the torn-open black garbage bag held in her yellow dish-glove hands and leaned against the bin poised and scolding as if I'd interrupted the rising sun.
"Chocolate pie, Leticia? Why pie? And chocolate pie at that? Tell me, just what the hell is chocolate pie supposed to signify, Leticia Marisol Estrella Torrez?"
Nobody but family scolding when I was a kid ever pulled such a sneaky trick as throwing down my full name. The game was in motion.
"You rather lemon meringue or minced meat? Eh, Ms. Inmaculada Edith Contreras? Maybe key lime, or caramelo? Not apple, I can tell you that much. No, I couldn't call you apple pie even if you begged like a good little pie should."
Edith tore off her rubber duck yellow gloves and threw them to the ground. She wiped angry tears from her high Dolores del Rio cheekbones, smoothed spit curls at her temples into place, and stomped her vinyl go-go boots self up to the apartment I had rented in what I was beginning to realize was a futile attempt to outrun my Weeping Woman and Nana.
Copyright 2003 by Felicia Luna Lemus


On Sale
Aug 26, 2004
Page Count
256 pages
Seal Press

Felicia Luna Lemus

About the Author

Felicia Luna Lemus graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, Irvine, and received an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts. She lives in Los Angeles.

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