Donte and the Senora were engrossed in watching NASCAR. The lights were off, the Senora always watched TV with the lights off, and the television screen glowed in the center of the room. Donte sat with his hands in his lap, as if he were praying. He kept his back straight out of habit, and never sunk into the cushions. The Senora perched on the edge of the couch, hunched over an ash tray that was gradually accumulating a small tower of ash. Her night robe hung loosely off her shoulders as she poised a cigarette between her two fingers, hovering close to her mouth. When her cigarette was finished, she lit another one.
It was a tense race. Donte never cared much for car racing, but watching it with the Senora seemed to change his opinion. He enjoyed her enthusiasm for the sport, she was the last person he would expect to be a NASCAR fan, and the whole thing was now mildly entertaining to him. The longer he watched the cars go in circles around the track, the more he began to appreciate the sport. It seemed like such a masculine activity, cars, engines, men driving, but the crashes were unexpected and exhilarating. The Senora said she looked forward to a “good crash.”
And then, suddenly, the Senora asked, “Where’s Lethe?”
Donte checked his wrist watch, an old Timex. “I think he’s in his bedroom.”
“Tell him to come in here and watch the races with us.” Her attention went back to the TV screen.
Donte didn’t exactly like to meddle in Lethe’s business, but he could see that the Senora wanted him to do her this favor so he stood up abruptly, with purpose.
“I’m worried about him. He hides himself in his room too much. We need to keep an eye on him.”
Donte walked to the end of the hallway. His footsteps were audible throughout the entire apartment. It was an old, creaky floor.
Before knocking, he heard some sounds coming from inside of Lethe’s room. It sounded like furniture was being pushed against the walls. Donte tried to regain his composure by straitening his back and shoulders, then he waited a moment longer, and knocked.
“BUSY,” Lethe said.
“Maria Angeles wants you to watch TV with us.”
Whatever noise had been coming from the other side of the door, stopped.
“I don’t know why she watches that ridiculous sport. It’s like an obsession with her.”
“Maybe she just wants you to sit with us.”
“NOT FEELING UP TO IT!”
The shouting startled Donte and he stood by the door uncertain what to do next. Then the sounds began again, except louder. There was thump and a bang which caused Donte to jump and let go of the door knob he’d been holding.
Finally he said, “What’s going on in there?”
“JUST HAD TO MOVE SOME THINGS AROUND. I’M FINE NOW. THANK YOU.”
“But what about the Senora? Does she know about this?”
“NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS DONTE.”
Donte sighed heavily, leaning his weight against the door. “The Senora’s coming to see what’s wrong. She heard the noises. Are you okay in there?”
What followed was a long silence and no immediate answer from Lethe. The Senora’s presence was approaching in the hallway, but then she turned and went into the kitchen.
Lethe said: “I’M FINE. JUST TOOK A LITTLE SPILL ON THE BEDROOM FLOOR.”
Then the door opened slightly and Lethe’s figure appeared toward the back of the room. “I tried to hang myself tonight.”
“What?” Donte looked up in astonishment and saw a bedsheet tied around a fan. The fan was turning wildly and the sheet was flapping against the ceiling.
Donte's shoulders sagged forward, and his mouth hung out. “The Senora can’t know about this Lethe. She’s on the phone with her daughter right now. If she finds out, you might have to leave.” And he shut the door behind him, as if that would seal things, as if that would keep it a secret.
They stood face to face in Lethe’s bedroom. Donte’s forehead showed a line of sweat dripping down the edge of his cheek. He was clearly shaken up by Lethe’s antics, and there was a sort of self-pity in his eyes. But Lethe hardly noticed, he looked like he had no emotions. He was pure steel.
“I’m not going to tell the Senora.” Donte said, reassuringly.
“Why are you trying to protect me?” Lethe shouted.
“I’m not trying to protect you. I just can’t believe you tried to kill yourself tonight. She’s an old woman, Lethe! You’ll give her a heart attack.”
Lethe was so out of touch with reality at this moment that all he could do was turn around and walk out to his balcony. He stood overlooking his balcony for about five minutes, without a word or a sign that he was even there. Donte collected the debris on the floor, which had fallen from the ceiling.
The balcony doors were pushed open by the gentle night breeze. Lethe lingered in the open air, smoking. "I’m worthless,” he said. “I can’t even kill myself properly.”