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What Never Dies
© 2003 by Ann Regentin



On my windowsill is a potted cilantro plant.  It was Diego's.  He was always cooking.  He never quite adjusted to American spices and preferred his native Mexican, especially cilantro, which must be used absolutely fresh if it's to taste right.

The first time he invited me over for dinner, I had no idea what was on my plate.  It seemed to be mostly green, involving meat that might have been chicken.  I took a bite and grabbed for my water glass, tears welling up in my eyes.  Jesus, that was hot! Diego chuckled. "Sorry," he said, handing me a cup of Aztec cocoa to ease the burn. "I tried to tone it down for you."

I gulped the cocoa, desperate for anything that would cool the fire in my mouth, and miraculously, it did. "No," I gasped. "It's good.  I just have to get used to it." And by the end of the meal, I had.  The meat was indeed chicken and some of the vegetables were cactus, which was new to me but good.  Real Mexican food, Diego told me, as opposed to the Tex-Mex you get in restaurants.

Dinner at his place.  It was a seduction and we both knew it, and I came dressed in something soft and my sexiest shoes, the sort that turn the female leg into a work of art.  We took the last of the cocoa to the living room where we sat on his big, comfortable couch, his arm around my shoulder, watching a movie neither of us cared about, the heat in my belly spreading down into my groin and upward, too, hardening my nipples.  Diego.  I buried my face in his neck, inhaling a mix of cinnamon, chocolate and cilantro with a bottom note of warm, aroused male.

"Hmm," he murmured speculatively and he turned, tilted my face to his and kissed me.

All business, that kiss, delightful business. I brought you here like this because I want to fuck you tonight, he said with his lips and tongue as he leaned back, pulling me on top of him.  I spread my legs around his hips, pressing my pubic bone to his growing erection: I would have done it sooner, but I've so enjoyed being seduced by you. Lazy man, he lay there stroking me from shoulders to ass and back up, his tongue tickling the roof of my mouth.  The ancient Aztecs had triangular depressions in the backs of their front teeth.  I found out that night that Diego had them, too.

His hands reached for the hem of my skirt, pulled it slowly up over my ass, exposing black stockings, garters, and my lack of panties.  He purred softly as he caressed my rear. "This is nice," he said.

"I thought you might like it," I said softly.

"Did you dress for me?" His voice was low and steamy.

God, his hands were so warm! "Yes."

"Let me see."

So I sat up, making a wet mark on his trousers, and he pulled my dress off over my head.  No, I was not a young woman, I had taken the precaution of something supportive under the dress but had chosen a black corset rather than something more utilitarian and his hands followed every curve of waist, hip and breast, his eyes darkening nearly to black. "You are so beautiful," he whispered, and he pushed two fingers into me, taking the edge off the swollen ache between my legs.

Under his shirt, his chest was hairless except for a fine wreath around each nipple, and the furry trail that started at his belly-button was silky-soft.  Muscles rippled when I kissed him just above his hipbone and his cock surged in his pants.  I fumbled with the zipper, released it, helped him wriggle out of the rest of his clothing.  He was long, heavy, and I pulled his foreskin back and licked the delicate purple head.  He groaned and gave up a drop of fluid that tasted faintly of cilantro.  I dug my tongue in for more and he gasped and held my head, murmuring in Spanish, forgetting that I couldn't understand him.

I didn't stay there long, though.  I wanted him, wanted him inside, and still dressed in the clothes I'd put on for him, I straddled him and sank down on that lovely cock.  Sweet relief, ah, nothing like blissfully requited lust! His face flushed as I took him in and he held me there, savoring it, then he slipped his finger between our bodies and found my clit, made me come on him, made me come with that glorious shaft buried deep inside me, patient Diego, beloved Diego, then he helped me take off the corset so he could kiss my breasts as we writhed together until he moaned, his face twisted in delicious agony, and filled my belly with more of his spice.

He grew up a boy in a houseful of girls.  His father was a long-haul trucker, home only a few times a month, so he was raised by his mother, a big woman, with a big, soft body, a big, soft presence and a no-nonsense attitude.  Diego learned to cook, learned to clean up after himself, learned to put the toilet seat down.  Even so, there was nothing effeminate about him.  He was noisily, cheerfully masculine, the kind of guy who lives in jeans and whatever T-shirt is at the top of the pile, and communicates with his body at least as much as his mouth.  He had a tune of some kind playing constantly in his head, his black hair bobbing to a beat no one else could hear while he dismantled various car parts, cleaned and reassembled them, and put them back into his 1937 Cord he spent every spare moment and dollar on.  It was one of the things I loved about him.

I even loved the car.  Like a child, he shared his best beloved with everyone, especially with his other best beloved: me.  I wasn't a restoration project, it was a labor of love and it showed.  The chrome shone and the paint was spotless, the closest to the original Diego could manage.  And the ancient engine purred when he started it.  He talked to it as he worked, in soft, sweet Spanish, and sometimes I swore the car talked back.  It certainly gave its best for him, running sometimes when it shouldn't have and running exceptionally well when all was in working order.  Diego hadn't so much restored the car as resurrected it.

Had I been younger, I might have resented it, but as it was, I had come to Diego with a full life and I did not expect him to give up his for me.  Instead, I let his interest infect me, and on Saturday mornings, I got the cleaning stuff together while Diego went for the hose, and we washed and polished the Cord together, playing like children in the sudsy water, then working together to get a perfect sheen.  When we were done, Diego would kiss me and then lean down and kiss the car.  If it could have, I think it would have kissed him back.  Who wouldn't? As I had reason to know, nobody loved like Diego.

We went for long drives in it, always with the top down, showing off.  We both enjoyed the looks we got from other drivers, especially when the old beast snuck up behind them and passed them.  I sucked him behind the wheel more than once, until he pulled over in desperation, looking for somewhere isolated to park so he could come without risking life and limb.  One day instead of letting me finish the blow job, he got out, yanked me out after him, bent me over the still-warm hood of the car and drove in from behind.  I cried out, pressed my face against the metal, and let him take me as hard as he liked, both of us coming suddenly and sharply.

I stood up sooner than I wanted to, but my cheek felt scorched.  Diego pulled me around and hugged me hard, his trousers still at half-mast, his hips instinctively grinding against me, our pubic hair meshed and mated. "I've been wanting to do that for months," he said when he got his breath back.  Then he looked at my face. "What happened here?"

"Where?"

He touched my cheek gently. "It's all red." Then he grinned. "Car hood burn.  A bit of a change from rug burn, eh?" He kissed me, passionate and playful. "Let's go home!"

Diego died at work of a heart attack at the age of fifty-three.  His last physical had been six months before.  There were no warning signs.

I put the phone down in shock.  I would have to go to the hospital to identify the body, but at that moment, it seemed impossible.  Diego.  It's such a cliché, but the sun went black and I held into the table for dear life.  Not Diego.  No.

We had only two cars between us, the Toyota and the Cord.  He drove the Toyota to work, which left me with the antique.  My hands were shaking as I got the keys out of the drawer; no, I can't drive Diego's baby in this condition, he'll kill me; fuck, he can't, he's dead, oh God, he's dead! I clutched the keys in my fist and collapsed on the floor, crying so hard I retched.  No! Oh, God, please, let this be a dream, a nightmare, the mother of all nightmares.  Let me wake up now.  I don't want to live through this.  Five years.  Dammit, five years with him was not enough.  Fifty years would not have been enough.

The torrent stopped as suddenly as it began, and I got up and went to the garage.  The Cord waited, crouched motionless, sleek and black in the dim light.  For a horrible moment, I thought the car was alive and it hated me, then the feeling passed and I opened the door and got into the driver's seat, a seat I had taken only once before.  I tried to start it, but nothing happened.  Had I done something wrong? I tried again, but didn't even hear the engine turn over.  Fuck! Only Diego could diagnose that balky beast.  I went back inside and called a cab.

They buried my Diego in a mahogany box with the full Catholic funeral he would have loathed, but it was for his mother and sisters, not for him.  They cried, hugged me, hugged each other, hugged everyone, it seemed like half the village he grew up in had flown up for the funeral.  I went home in a daze where a hundred covered dishes waited in the fridge, all full of the same things Diego had fed me, the real Mexican food he was so proud of, and the house smelled faintly of cilantro.  I was his sole beneficiary.  He had not married me, but he had changed his will and I got everything.  I didn't want it.  I wanted him.  I couldn't sleep in our bed that night, nor on the couch, either.  There wasn't a soft place in the house where we hadn't made love.  I ended up back on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator with a cushion from one of the old chairs nobody ever sat in for a pillow.

I woke to an unholy racket.  It took me a minute to realize that it was the Cord's horn.  What the fuck? Some idiot must have broken into the garage and was messing around.  Furious as only the grieving and sleep-deprived can be, I threw open the door and found...nothing.  Nobody was there, only the damned car, but in that enclosed space, the horn was deafening.

I got in, messed with the button, no luck.  I opened the hood, bracing myself for the blast, and tried to track the noise to its source.  Luckily, I had spent some time out there with Diego so I knew where to look.  Nothing out of place.  I disconnected a few things and was rewarded by instant, blessed peace.  I went back into the house and this time crawled into bed out of sheer instinct, too tired to think about where I was sleeping.

I woke the next morning with my mouth dry and my eyes glued shut.  Diego had been dead for four days.  What was I supposed to do now? I went through the kitchen in search of something to eat and was faced with a refrigerator full of Mexican food.  Oh, God! The tears started all over again as I fished something out at random and ate it cold, but it was not something that was really cold, it involved a lot of jalapenos, and it warmed me in spite of myself.  Then I went out to look at the car.

In daylight, even in the dim light of the garage, it looked perfectly harmless.  I turned the lights on, pulled up the hood again and looked at the wiring.  Nothing amiss that I could see, except what I had done.  Had I dreamed it? Even still, I left my handiwork intact.  It might have been a short somewhere and I was not interested in a repeat performance.

When I went back in, the house was filled with the scent of cilantro, as if Diego were cooking, and for a moment, I forgot that he was dead.  Then I remembered and sat down next to the window and the potted plant he always kept there, a particularly lush specimen.  I buried my nose in it and breathed deeply.  If I closed my eyes hard enough, it became Diego's skin, warm, brown skin, I caught a leaf in my lips and bit the end off, rubbing it against my tongue, tasting his semen again.  Diego. Oh, baby, why did you have to go? I miss you so much. When I went to bed, I took the plant into the bedroom with me and fell asleep with the smell teasing my nostrils.

That night, I heard another sound, a low rumble I knew all too well.  This time, my panic was different.  Some moron was trying to steal Diego's car! What were they thinking starting it while they still had it in the garage? The damned thing was almost seventy years old and had a monster engine.  I dashed through the house and wrenched the door open, not even stopping to think about a weapon.

I didn't need one.  The car was running, all right, but there was nobody behind the wheel.  The key wasn't even in the ignition.  I was shaking with fear as I opened the hood to disconnect a few critical wires, but nothing terrible happened, the engine just stopped.  I went back to bed, stunned.  What the fuck was going on?

When I woke the next morning, glorious smells filled the room.  It made me smile, even though I knew he was dead and this was not Diego doing something Mexican to eggs that, if I waited, he'd bring into the bedroom for me.  It was the cilantro plant, its leaves warm in the morning sunlight.  No matter.  It comforted me.  I kissed his pillow, then, with a silly grin on my face, kissed the plant.  The delicate leaves caressed my lips.

After breakfast, I went out to the garage.  The Cord sat still and silent but faintly menacing, waiting.

"Look," I said to it, "I'm not your enemy."

It said nothing, but that didn't deter me. "I didn't take Diego away from you.  His heart gave out.  Nobody knows why, these things just happen, but it's not my fault he's gone.  I want him back, too."

Silence.

"I'm not going to reconnect your wires.  I'm tired of being woken up in the middle of the night.  I know it's hard but if you'll let me, I'll take you to see his grave tomorrow." Tears filled my eyes for the umpteenth time that week. "It will be good for both of us." Yes, like lancing an abscess. "We'll be all right.  We'll get through this." I turned to go, then turned again. "You're looking at it wrong, you know," I added. "We could still have each other."

The car just sat there, inanimate, but I felt better.  I went back inside, went through the motions of living.

I had forgotten about the plant in the bedroom.  By the time I went to bed, the room was filled with the scent of cilantro and I could have sworn I could also smell that musk that was Diego's alone, like burying my nose in his pubic hair.  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Diego! Jesus, I miss you! I stripped and went to bed, pulling the blankets over my head.  Tonight, I was going to wallow in grief and longing, no more pretending that I could live through this.  Too much of me was buried in a mahogany box.

This time what woke me wasn't noise, it was sensation, the touch of warm lips against the back of my neck. "Diego?" I whispered, unable to imagine who else it could be.  If it was a rapist, it was a particularly considerate example of the breed, brushing my hair away from my face as he worked his way up toward my mouth.  Oh, the taste was unmistakable, it was Diego, it could be no other.  Diego! I rolled to my back, felt him shift, felt his arms wrap around me.  Yes, Diego.

He was just as lazy and luxurious as ever, his hands wandering all over my naked body.  I kept my eyes clamped tight shut, afraid to break the spell, trying not to realize that it had to be a dream.  Diego.  His fingers toyed with my nipples, hardening them before he dipped his head down and took them into his mouth.  I was dying for him, running my hands all over him, over his belly, his ass, down the backs of his thighs, felt his legs shift and part in response, his cock hard against my leg.  Diego.  I buried my face in his armpit, tasted his sweat, pulled the hair a bit with my teeth and heard his sensual chuckle.  We stayed face to face, locked together with arms and legs and mouths, a gigantic, prolonged embrace, and I hunted for the strange depressions in his teeth and found them.  He had not left me, it had all been a bad dream.  When it seemed best, he rolled me onto my back and entered, still taking his time, nobody makes love like a man with the urgency and ignorance of youth behind him.  Diego.  I wrapped my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck, twisting up to meet him as he thrust into me, my cunt on fire, dying for him, and he whispered to me in Spanish: my heart, he said, oh my heart, mi corazón, like a slow dance.  Diego.  Orgasm rocked me almost too hard and I called out his name in the dark.

I woke alone, but I didn't care.  The room was heavy with cilantro and I kissed the plant, smiling. "Good morning," I said.  I could have sworn I heard Diego's laughter.

The car had been silent all night.  When I opened the garage door that morning, it was sitting there, immobile.

"Are we friends then?" I asked.

It didn't answer.

"I hope so," I said. "I would hate more than anything to have to give you up.  He loved you very much, but you know that, or at least you should.  Would you like a bath and a wax?" It didn't need one, but it never did.  Diego had taken meticulous care of the Cord and I realized that I had come out to the garage partly out of habit.  It was Saturday.

I grinned.  Why not? I got the cleaning stuff together, the special detergent and cloths, the polish, all of it.  Then I opened the garage door and went around to get the hose.

I didn't hear a thing, but I had disconnected every system that might have warned me.  I was in the driveway, untangling the hose, when something hit me hard on my left side.  I fell, cursing, rolling over the hard asphalt, and lay there, stunned, as the front tires of the Cord passed a scant six inches from my nose.

Shit! I scrambled to my feet and ran after it, although what I would have done if I had caught up to it I have no idea.  Even if I could have caught it, I couldn't have stopped it physically and God only knows if the brakes would have worked.  But I still tried, tried to save it as if Diego were still alive to care, following it down the driveway and into the street, across the street, and then I watched, holding my breath, as it burst through the railing and went over the edge of the ravine.

I was a bit scraped and bruised, but otherwise fine.  The Cord was totaled, which was just as well, since I couldn't imagine selling it.  I didn't even try to salvage the parts, although there were people who would have killed to get their hands on them.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was trying to kill me and there was no way of knowing what it would do to a new owner.  As I have good reason to know, nobody loves like Diego.  Although the car was right.  In the end, forced to chose, he chose me.

The cilantro plant still thrives on my windowsill.  I swear it gets bushier every day.

© 2003 Ann Regentin.  All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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