The first time Carmen sees Micaela, she has just fought with Don José and it is dark outside. Carmen feels dark, too: her heart feels heavy and bitter, weighing down her chest.
She looks at Don José now and doesn’t see the man she once found intriguing, stimulating even, anymore. Doesn’t see the man she was willing to wait two months for. Instead, she sees someone overly jealous, overbearing, someone who blames her for his own decisions and shortcomings, and it infuriates her.
She is fuming, truly so, when someone says, “Halt! There is someone here, trying to hide,” and then a figure steps out of the dark, or rather, gets ripped out of the dark, and in front of Carmen stands the most beautiful woman she has ever seen.
Her hair is long and golden, shining almost white, illuminated by the moonlight. There is something about her that Carmen cannot place, and is not sure she wants to place; something almost angelic. It may be the moonlight, or it may be the woman herself. Whatever it is, Carmen feels a spark inside her light up, one she has not felt in a long time.
(The last time she felt like this, she was young, still, young enough not to worry about life and its miseries, and her cousin’s girlfriend, a few years older than Carmen, had looked at Carmen and smiled. Carmen had felt a spark, then, and she feels a spark now. For all that men intrigue her, sometimes, for all that she knows men are where her future lays, she has never felt this spark around them. She is not sure what this means – but it does not matter, for she has never taken the time to analyse it. Life has kept her busy, after all.)
The woman sings at Don José, then: of his mother, and his duties. And Carmen looks at her and thinks, take him, keep him; does, indeed, want Don José to go away.
But more than that she wants to ask the woman who she is; wants to ask her who she is when she is not delivering messages to and for Don José, wants to ask her who she is outside of societal bounds.
She watches her, and wants to ask, and tells her instead to take José; but Don José says that he wants to stay, with Carmen, and Carmen does not want that.
She does not.
She has spent the last days suffering over José’s ever growing jealousy, over his shifting every bit of blame onto her; has spent the last days missing a spark long gone, and wondering what love is, for in the absence of passion, she has nothing left, nothing but dismay and anger for a man who thinks he owns her, when all he owns are the clothes on his miserable body.
So when he grabs her, and tells her that she is his, and he will stay with her, even if it kills him, she loses her composure.
Carmen has never been a woman who has let a man tell her what to do. She has also never been a woman to senselessly incite violence. Yet, when a situation desires violence, she gives it.
And so she gives it now: with a well-formed punch to Don José’s face, with a well-aimed kick at his nether regions, and he can do nothing more but to let her go and crouch in pain.
She looks at him, then, feels disgust come over her features.
“A man who has to physically restrain a woman to call her ‘his’ will never truly know what it is to have a woman, as long as he lives,” she tells him. She almost feels the need to spit on him, but she restrains herself.
She has more dignity than him, she knows.
“Take this weasel to his mother, or don’t,” she tells the woman, the beautiful woman on which the moonlight is gleaming, “I do not care.”
Then, she turns to leave.
It is a good while later. Carmen is in the city. It is Escamillo’s bull fight today, and he has invited her to come, and she will, in all probability. She has been sharing a bed with him, on some nights.
On others, she leaves him to himself.
It is better to keep a man yearning than to promise yourself.
She has promised herself before; it has never ended well.
She does not want him to think she is his, when she is not. And she is not. For all that she likes him and the company he provides, for all that he is interesting, for all that he keeps her occupied, she does not yearn for him when they are parted, and she does not wish to.
(She does not yearn for men. Sometimes she likes the company they provide, and sometimes she yearns for their bodies, but she does not yearn for men.)
She is flaunting herself, attracting attention, the way she likes to do; she knows that she is beautiful, and that men ache for her. It is a man’s world, and so this is what she can take from them: be the one thing they can never have, the way they have so many things she will never know.
Make them ache, and yearn, and then leave them to their misery.
She is smiling, just so, the way she knows drives men insane, when she sees her: the blonde woman. Don José’s childhood friend.
She remembers her well.
(Remembers her so well, indeed, that she could recount her face from memory; that she has seen her in her dreams every night since.)
She is clad in blue. It looks good on her. Carmen thought it impossible for the woman to be as, if not more, beautiful than she was when illuminated by moonlight, but she is a different beautiful here: the sun paints her golden, and she looks almost ethereal. Once more, the comparison to an angel comes unbidden to Carmen’s mind.
Before she knows what she is doing, she is stepping closer, and then she is offering the woman a smile. Her flirtatious one, the one she uses on men, but a softer version of it, as to not spook this gentle creature.
“I’m Carmencita. You should call me Carmen. We have met before,” she tells her, and the woman does spook, then: her head whipping up, her eyes opening wide. Her eyes are beautiful and remind Carmen of a riverbed; she wants to lose herself in them, like she has never wanted to lose herself in a pair of eyes before.
“I’m Micaela,” the woman introduces herself, and now Carmen finally has a name to go with the face.
“Micaela,” she says, just to try it out. She likes how the name feels in her mouth.
Micaela flushes a pretty shade of pink. Carmen almost wants to devour her, then, in a way she has never wanted to devour a woman before –
(– in a way she has very much wanted to devour a woman before. She remembers being fifteen, and watching her cousin’s girlfriend, the way she painted her lips pink, the way her eyes would go half-lidded, sometimes. She remembers watching her cousin’s girlfriend braid her hair, her hands small and delicate, and wanting, for the first time in her life.)
“How has life been treating you?” she asks Micaela.
Micaela looks confused, almost, why Carmen would be talking to her. Keep talking to her. Carmen wants to wipe that look of confusion from her face.
For the first time in her life, she wants someone to feel like they deserve her. Wants this woman in front of her, specifically, to feel like she deserves Carmen’s attention on her.
“Don José is back with his mother,” Micaela starts.
Carmen interrupts her, softly, although she immediately feels bad about interrupting her.
“You, darling,” she says, “we’re talking about you.”
“Oh,” Micaela says, soft and shy, and Carmen thinks that quite possibly, this is the first time someone has ever wanted to know about Micaela, someone has ever seen her for her, treated her as a person, not just a commodity.
Carmen, with a burning passion, suddenly, hates everyone who was ever made Micaela doubt that she, herself, is of interest.
“Come on, darling,” she says, and puts her hand on Micaela’s arm. “I know a place we can talk.”
For the first time, when she says ‘talk’, she means ‘talk’. She does want to hear this woman talk. She wants to know everything about her.
It is an absurd wish, about someone she is seeing for the second time in her life, but there is something deep inside her, telling her that she cannot let Micaela go.
Escamillo and his bull fight are long forgotten by Carmen already, and indeed they stay forgotten after.
She and Micaela talk, for hours, that day.
And then every following day, for months.
Carmen learns about Micaela: about the family she grew up in, and the families next door, one of which is Don José’s. About Micaela’s favourite street cat growing up, a small tabby she named Alice and secretly kept feeding. That Micaela’s favourite flowers are daisies – “they’re small, and dainty, and nobody pays them much attention because they’re so common, but I think they have a subtle grace and a joyfulness about them” – and that she sometimes sits for hours outside the opera house, trying to hear some of the singing, enjoying what she cannot afford to see up close.
That her life was laid out for her the day she was born.
That her mother wants her to marry Don José.
Carmen does not ask Micaela to run away with her. For the first time in her life, she doesn’t feel this need to prove something to herself, the way she did before. (To have a man there: someone who shares his body with her, who gives her what she has always been taught she needed.)
Instead she watches Micaela, and listens to her, and touches her arm.
When she asks Micaela if she would like to go see Carmen and her sisters sing, outside the city, at nightfall, the way they like to, she asks it for one reason only: because she knows Micaela likes music.
It is Micaela, then, who softly touches Carmen’s hair, and arm, and smiles up at her, not shy, but certain. (Carmen has made her certain. It is the accomplishment she takes the most pride in.)
“I would love to,” she says. “I would love to get to know your life, Carmen.” Her hand softly, slowly, comes to rest on Carmen’s cheek. “I would love if there were a place in it, for me.”
For the first time, Carmen feels like she is truly in control of a situation: Micaela is nothing like the overbearing men Carmen has known. Micaela would never force Carmen into anything.
And yet, simultaneously, she feels truly out of control, because there is only one answer she is capable of giving.
“Yes,” she says, against Micaela’s lips, and when Micaela closes the gap between them, it is like no kiss Carmen has ever felt before.
She is, for the first time in her life, certain that she never wants to feel another’s kiss again.
(She looks back, at years of looking and never allowing herself, at years of waking up on a man’s chest and feeling sated yet empty, and understands.)