Rosa Blanca

This story originally appeared in Film Comment, May-June, 2003.

Not long ago I was on an airplane flying from Los Angeles to London. Seated next to me in first class was a honey-complexioned man who looked to be in his early thirties. We introduced ourselves to one another and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I wrote screenplays for films. That was why I was sitting in the first class section, I explained; the studio for which I was working had paid the fare.

“I don’t know much about movies,” he said. “I like to watch them, of course.”

I asked him what business he was in.

“Art, mostly. Buying and selling. Tell me, where do you get your stories?”

“From everywhere,” I said. “The news, books-sometimes I just make them up.”

“I’ve got a story,” he said.

“Most people do.”

“Do you mind if I tell it to you? I think it would make a great movie.”

“Go ahead,” I told him. “It’s a long flight.”

“A young man, early 20’s, is shopping in a supermarket in LA. He is dressed slovenly, and takes items off the shelves then replaces them in the wrong categories. He loses his wallet from a back pocket. The wallet falls to the floor. He is oblivious to this and turns a corner into another aisle. A young Latina comes along and picks up the wallet. She has seen it drop out of the boy’s pocket. She’s very pretty, no more than 18 years old. She hesitates for a moment, holding the wallet, then pursues the young man and gives it to him. He’s a bit out of it-lack of sleep, drugs, something-but thanks her, and as she turns away he tells her to wait. He sees how pretty she is. They talk. She’s from Mexico, near the border. She seems a little lost, no real destination. The boy invites her to come with him to his house. She agrees, with some prodding. Her English is fairly good. He has a slick car, a drop top. He speeds to a mansion in Beverly Hills.

 

 

 

     The girl’s name is Rosa Blanca and she’s in the United States illegally, looking for work. The boy’s name is Ricky, he’s a rich kid who is not working ‘at the moment.’ They enter a luxurious kitchen. Ricky offers Rosa Blanca a cold drink. They sit and talk. A woman’s voice calls out for Ricky. It’s his mother, who is bedridden. She’s very ill, Ricky tells the girl, and needs almost constant care. The boy goes to her. Rosa Blanca looks around. It’s obvious she has never been in a house like this before.

“Ricky administers medication to his mother, returns to Rosa Blanca. After a little while Ricky’s father, Mort, comes in. Mort eyes the pretty girl. Ricky tells his father that Rosa Blanca is new in town and looking for a job. He relates the story of her finding his wallet to give evidence of her honesty. Ricky clearly has designs on this girl. Ricky suggests to his father that they hire her as a housekeeper. They already have a housekeeper, Mort answers. We can always use another, counters Ricky, especially if she doesn’t cost too much. It’s a big property. Mort also eyes Rosa Blanca hungrily. He agrees to give her a chance, tells her she can have a room in a vacant cottage out back. Mort goes in to see his wife, Martha. Ricky tells Rosa Blanca she can move her things in today. She says she doesn’t have anything to move. She’s all she’s got.

“Am I boring you?” the man asked me.

“Not yet,” I answered.

“Good. So Rosa Blanca moves in and is under the supervision of Katy, a middle-aged housekeeper, also from Mexico-a legal resident. Katy says as long as she does the work everything will be fine. Ricky and Rosa Blanca begin a romance. He’s something of a doper ne’er-do-well but he has some humor and is good looking. Rosa Blanca is not very forthcoming to Ricky about her life in Mexico; she says only that her family is very poor, she has a brother in prison and an older sister who disappeared, probably to the Boystown brothel in Nuevo Laredo. Unbeknownst to Ricky, Mort preys upon Rosa Blanca, too. She listens to his complaint that his wife cannot take care of him any more, she’s too ill. So Rosa Blanca carries on simultaneously with father and son, earning more money than she ever had before.

“Ricky hates his mother, and one day Rosa Blanca witnesses Ricky withhold Martha’s medication. He’s unaware that Rosa Blanca is watching. Ricky lets his mother die. Rosa Blanca is terribly upset, she doesn’t know what to do. Ricky tells her now that his mother is gone, he wants to kill his father in order to inherit their fortune. He’s an only child. Ricky asks Rosa Blanca to help him murder Mort. She is too shaken to respond. The police come and Ricky tells them, with his father present, that he found his mother dead. He tried to administer the medication-an injection-but it was too late. The cops seem to accept Ricky’s story, given the history of Martha’s illness, Mort’s corroboration, etc. The medical examiner pronounces Martha dead from natural causes.

 

 

 

     “After his wife’s death, Mort is more open about his lust for Rosa Blanca. Ricky discovers his father with her and goes crazy. Now he really wants Mort dead. Later, Rosa Blanca tells Ricky that she did not want to submit to his father but was afraid she would be deported if she refused. She agrees to help Ricky kill him. Ricky takes Rosa Blanca to Las Vegas and they get married. Now she can stay in the country. Mort is furious and attacks his son. Rosa Blanca stabs Mort and he dies. Rosa Blanca tells the police that Mort tried to rape her as he had done before. There is a trial and she is found not guilty, that the homicide was justifiable, in self-defense. Ricky and Rosa Blanca are now man and wife. Ricky inherits his parents’ fortune, and they continue to live in the house.

“Do you like it so far?” he asked.

“I do,” I said. “Go on.”

“Okay. Katy, the housekeeper, smells a rat. The rat arrives in the form of Rosa Blanca’s fugitive brother, Carlos, who has broken out of jail in Mexico. Ricky asks Carlos how he found Rosa Blanca, and Carlos says he heard about the murder trial-it was well publicized. Of course he needs a place to stay and Rosa Blanca, thrilled to see her brother again, persuades Ricky to let Carlos stay. It turns out that Carlos has not been in jail in Mexico, he’s been in LA-and he is not Rosa Blanca’s brother, he’s her husband. They were married in Mexico, then together crossed the border illegally. Ricky is their mark, their ticket to ride. Carlos brings some bad boys around and Ricky gets beaten up when he tries to throw them out of his house. Ricky refuses to give Rosa Blanca any more money. Carlos says it doesn’t matter: she can divorce Ricky and get her share. Ricky shoots Carlos dead in front of Rosa Blanca, and tells her to get out. He’ll tell the cops that Carlos was trying to rob the house. Rosa Blanca refuses to leave, telling Ricky that she’ll spill everything to the cops and Ricky will go to prison for murder. Of whom? says Ricky. His mother died of natural causes; Rosa Blanca is the one who stabbed his father to death; and Carlos was an intruder, armed with a pistol. Rosa Blanca picks up Carlos’s gun and shoots Ricky. Katy arrives and sees Rosa Blanca sitting alone on the couch with the gun in her hand, the bodies of Ricky and Carlos on the floor. Katy takes the gun from Rosa Blanca’s hand, wipes it clean, then places it in the hand of Carlos.

 

 

 

     “Katy goes to Rosa Blanca and holds her in her arms, comforting the girl. In Spanish, she says to Rosa Blanca: ‘You and I were out shopping together. We found them like this when we got back.’ Katy picks up the telephone to call the police.

“As the widow, Rosa Blanca will inherit the money now, and Katy knows Rosa Blanca will take care of her for the rest of her life.”

The man stopped talking for a few moments, then looked at me and asked, “What do you think? Is that a movie?”

“It certainly could be,” I said. “Where did you hear this story?”

“From my mother.”

“Who told it to her?”

“Nobody. My mother is Rosa Blanca. She was pregnant when my father died.”

“Your mother killed your father?”

“No, Ricky killed him. My father was Carlos.”

I hesitated before asking the next question.

“Did Rosa Blanca tell you that Carlos, not Ricky, was your father?”

“I grew up thinking that I was Ricky’s son, but Katy told me the truth just before she died.”

“Does Rosa Blanca know that you know who your real father was?”

“No, Katy made me promise not to tell her.”

Rosa Blanca’s son looked out a porthole window at the clouds.

“If you make it into a movie,” he said, “you can leave that part out, end it where Katy picks up the telephone to call the cops. That’s a better ending, anyway, don’t you think?”

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