I come downstairs to see both tables set—the special occasion pink-orange-blue tablecloths—and now I understand the shopping list I saw on the table earlier.
“Who’s coming?” I ask Marisol, who is pulling empanadas out of the oven. She offers me a cheese one and I quickly accept. I am no fool– everything Felisa makes is delicious, especially when it comes to special occasions.
“Twenty friends from high school,” she says. Normally Marisol wears a tank top and a ponytail when she comes to clean the house, but today she wears a pretty blouse and dangling black earrings. She fusses with her hair between empanada tasks. “They’ll be here from 6-8. I’m waiting to greet them.” I have never seen Marisol here on a Friday evening.
“How long will you stay?” I ask.
“Until she tells me I can go,” she replies.
Since the occasion clearly calls for beer, I go to the chino and buy a bottle of Stella and a bag of mini pizza crusts at the bakery along the way. I pour Marisol a glass; she and I have talked many times about our shared love for beer.
“You’re serving me?” she asks, surprised. She shakes her head. “I can’t drink this early.”
I tilt my head toward the glass on the counter. “Bueno, I guess I’ll drink it, then…”
She grins and picks up the glass. “Well.” We hold the glasses up to toast.
“To the old ladies,” I say.
“To you, that everything goes well,” she responds. We clink glasses. This is probably the last time I will see Marisol—I am leaving the house for good.
We spend the next 20 minutes talking about the house cats and the ridiculous amount of money that Felisa—Marisol’s 60-something boss and my overbearing landlord/housemate—charges to the foreign university students who live in her other house next door. Turns out it’s $20,000 Argentine pesos a month for five students; in contrast, Marisol makes about 100 pesos a day cleaning three houses for Felisa’s family. “She understands how to make money,” Marisol says, shrugging.
I ask her how long she’s been working for Felisa and she tells me eight years; the pay’s not good but she would never be able to find such a flexible schedule with anyone else. We keep chatting as Marisol puts more empanadas in the oven and tells me about the other foreign girls who have lived here, like the divine girl from Mexico she once visited Uruguay with, and how Felisa and she used to cook together in the mornings when Felisa was 20 kilos heavier.
I eventually go upstairs with a new glass of beer and hear the first visitor ring the bell. The earliest guests are early per Argentine standards: it’s 6:40. Felisa has not arrived yet .
Over the next couple of hours, I work on my laptop with my bedroom door open, listening to the women come in and talk. Part of me pretends to be annoyed that such a large amount of people are over, but I’m secretly happy to hear the biddy voices growing below.
In the beginning, when there are fewer women, I can hear each woman’s personality in action—who is dominant, who is genuinely friends with who. Their voices are assured and confident in a room without men.
The women fill the room with their voices, punctuating the conversation with calls to Marisol:
“Cerra la puerta!”
After a bit I go downstairs and take in the wonderful long tables full of women, each chair occupied. I smile and greet them individually with a kiss, call them lindas, and feel a little shy at their attention. One woman asks me if I’m the roommate and for some reason I say no. When I search for Felisa, our eyes briefly meet before hers continue on as if I am a moth that has entered the room.
I approach her and ask if she wants me to take a photo of the event. She looks at me like I’ve asked for permission to shave my head with the lawnmower; she’s drunk. “No, no, no,” she says, shaking her head. I can feel the women watching her, so I ask her if she’s sure, thinking one of the women will pipe up and say yes. But Felisa says no and so I put the camera back into my pocket and pour myself another beer, my excuse for coming downstairs.
I text my boyfriend and he suggests going out to dinner—he is kind enough to rescue me from the evening. When he comes to the door, I walk down the stairs, smile at the biddies, and slip out the door, a moth escaping back into the night.