Estrella del rock por Tomás Sánchez Hidalgo

Estrella del rock

Una entrevista a una estrella del rock, paradigma mediático. Expresión facial traviesa y tímida de quien, con el aspecto del tipo divertido que más bien desconfía del extraño, de lo demás, del ager publicus, vivía parapetado en su mundo personal de referentes y relaciones, clichés propios. Acudió a la cita televisiva en pijama, un extracto de lo que escuché:

— ¿De qué vas disfrazado hoy?

— Voy disfrazado de mí mismo —llevaba un revólver, al lado del micrófono. Apuntaba de hecho hacia éste.

— ¿Un hobby?

— Logomaquia —además, estaba descalzo.

— ¿Otro hobby?

— Puterío selecto.

— ¿Un color?

— Cian.

— ¿Una comida?

— Sushi.

— ¿Una bebida?

— Absenta.

— ¿Un número?

— El final.

— ¿Un taco?

— Hostia.

— ¿Practicas algún deporte?

— Yo soy más de coger.

— ¿Un objetivo a corto plazo?

— Salir de aquí.

— ¿Un paraíso perdido?

—  Verano del 88, en algún lugar de Irlanda, irrepetible, con dieciséis años recién cumplidos: pecado cúbico.

— ¿Algo que detestes?

— Alabama, los palíndromos… Eso  es, sí, sin dudarlo… Los palíndromos…  Alabama y los palíndromos… Además, también detesto la cárcel catódica…   Bueno, y los casinos, las monarquías y los actos de fe.

— ¿Algo que temas?

— Temo al ostracismo a plazos. Temo poder llegar a ningunear en algún momento de mi vida mis propios objetivos vitales, mis principios. Temo llegar a esperar tiempos pasados, sudando años. Temo al embrutecimiento exponencial de la masa. Temo al petardo del fin del mundo.

— ¿Una palabra que te ponga nervioso?

— Matiz.

— ¿Te consideras un revolucionario?

— No, para nada, no soy revolucionario.

— ¿De veras? En ti suena raro.

— No, no lo soy, y es cosa lógica: en una revolución, las mujeres están todo el día cansadas, y además no hay buenos restaurantes.

— ¿Unas palabras para tus fans?

— Cadalso para todos.

— ¿Cuál es tu sueño inconfesado?

— Hacerlo, esposado, frente a un televisor en blanco y negro en el que pasan películas a cámara lenta, con imágenes muy cortantes. Hacerlo esposado, sí. También conocer a Bob Dylan.

— ¿No lo has conocido personalmente?

— No, personalmente no, lo cual resulta, cuanto menos, digamos que curioso.

·         — ¿Te gustaría conocerlo?

— Sí.

— ¿De qué hablaríais si os presentaran?

— Ah, pues, ni idea. ¿De muebles, quizás?

Silencio. Ahora de nuevo otra llamada, por el local en venta, que tampoco cogí.

— ¿Cuáles han sido tus principales influencias?

— Estoy hecho de muchas personas.

— ¿Un sinónimo de tu obra?

— Amalgama, o campo ecléctico.

— ¿Un poeta?

— Kavafis.

— ¿Un lema vital?

— Best is just to come.

— ¿Una marca de ropa?

— Paul Smith.

— ¿Qué fue de tu carrera taurina?

— Me sobraba valor, pero me faltaba talento… Yo no me quitaba de delante del toro, pero me quitaba el toro mismo.

— ¿Hay algo más transgresor que tu música?

— La Bauhaus.

— La vida te ha enseñado que…

— La letra, con teta entra.

— ¿Cuánto aspiras a ganar?

— Lo suficiente para gastármelo todo.

— ¿Te has sentido alguna vez un traidor?

— Enseguida se hace de noche.

— ¿Qué piensas de la copla?, hoy muchos intelectuales la reivindican.

— Pues que la reivindiquen, a mí me la suda.

— ¿Cuál es el último libro que has leído?

— Pues, ahora que lo preguntas… Precisamente éste, el que nos otorga efímera y circunstancial existencia a ambos.

— ¿Capital de Malí?

— Bamako.

— ¿Sabes pilotar un desierto?

— Puedo intentarlo.

— ¿Un psicotrópico?

— Pastillas para la fe.

— ¿Qué vas a hacer con tus Grammys?

— No lo sé.

— ¿Qué queda hoy del punk?

·         — Del punk no quedará nada.

Silencio.

— ¿Quién es tu ídolo?

— Aspiro a ser mi propio ídolo.

— ¿Quién es tu ídolo?

— Aspiro a ser mi propio ídolo.

— ¿Quién es tu ídolo?

— Aspiro a ser mi propio ídolo.

 

 

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TS Hidalgo (45) holds a BBA (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), a MBA (IE Business School), a MA in Creative Writing (Hotel Kafka) and a Certificate in Management and the Arts (New York University). His works have been published in magazines in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Germany, UK, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, India, Singapore and Australia, and he has been the winner of prizes like the Criaturas feroces (Editorial Destino) in short story and a finalist at Festival Eñe in the novel category. He has currently developed his career in finance and stock-market.

Her Silent Man by Nadeem Zaman

Such a quiet boy could not be good. Zulekha saw him the first morning he was on duty, waiting for the girl that was to be his charge. She asked his name, and he ignored her. A snide remark about his being deaf and dumb didn’t make a difference. He went on cleaning the dashboard and only left her steaming even more. That first time Zulekha thought, there it was! Her mother’s warning in motion, that anyone that refused eye contact when speaking or spoken to was hiding something. They were not to be trusted. But even before trust came into play what should come to mind was to run, away, as far from them as possible. As she, Zulekha’s mother, hadn’t done; and Zulekha was not going to do.

On her tea and paan breaks, when the paranoid old widow she worked for allowed them, Zulekha maximized her time. She checked in with Rabiul, the older of the three night guards. He was the only one that didn’t fondle her with his eyes, and who, Zulekha was certain, preferred the plump rumps of young boys anyway. The new driver, however, had left everyone of the same mind as her with his deathly silence.

“He sits in the drivers’ room hour after hour not even once clearing his throat,” Rabiul told her. “The little girl, Miss Ruksana, she talks to him all the time. Nothing. He just says salaam to her once in the morning, once in the afternoon.”

“What is he hiding, Uncle?” Zulekha said.

“Probably from the likes of you, you sneaky husband hunter,” Rabiul teased. “Miss Ruksana calls him Dulal bhai. So, there, his name is Dulal.”

Zulekha rolled the name around inside her mouth. She let it spin and tumble in her head. The line of drivers and other male employees of the building that she had at her disposal at any time had the other maids of the building spitting curses at God for the injustice. They would titter with glee if they knew Zulekha had had the decency to choose the least desirable one of the lot. They’d think her a certifiable idiot. A waste of God-given beauty.

Unpopularity Zulekha couldn’t care less about. She was used to it. Being born in a slum with her looks life had already condemned her to an existence given more to antipathy than acceptance. Even the mistresses she’d worked for over the years eventually let their mental pustules of insecurity break open and run toward her to relieve her of her duties before their husbands left them for her.  Zulekha was not only young, well proportioned of body with that extra heft in her hips that no Bengali man would deride or reject, she was also fair-skinned – that Everest of complexion every woman in Bangladesh wanted to climb and achieve; and she was a virgin. Had she been born into a “good” household, one of the renowned Dhaka families with money and social standing, her parents’ doors would be knocked down day and night with proposals of marriage. She wouldn’t even need to be a virgin. Her looks and family name would be enough to start feuds for her hand.

At six-thirty in the morning, while the widow was still asleep, Zulekha went downstairs for tea. It was a ruse to watch Dulal prepare the car and wait for his little mistress. The amount of attention he paid that car was enough to make Zulekha dizzy with sweet turmoil. That brand new car didn’t need those lovely, long-fingered hands caressing it. She didn’t either, not as easily as the car, just there for the taking. And before any touching, she would absolutely have to know what lay underneath that silence.

“Girl, keep those eyes of yours in more control,” said Buri Bua, the widow’s long-time caretaker. Zulekha enjoyed listening to her morsels of wisdom from another era more for entertainment than practical application. “You think no one sees them roving and roaming. Others have eyes, too.”

And what about the hundred men every few feet whose eyes roved and roamed on her? They were accountable to no one. No old father figure would ever tell them to control their eyes.

Zulekha spent hours during her day, well into the night, wondering what Dulal said to himself in his own head. Among the storylines she imagined was the one where Dulal was married. The one Zulekha crushed with all her will when it cropped up. She told herself that he was too young to be married, that since he never said anything it could mean he had nothing major about his life to share. A wife and family would inevitably be the first thing a man talked about. If he didn’t mention them, Zulekha decided, they did not exist. Since he never talked at all, a world of possibility existed for her to help him make one.

One morning at the beginning of the December winter season, the widow finally announced her annual trip to her daughter’s place in Chittagong. Zulekha used to count the seconds leading to this moment that released her for two weeks to be with her family. This year she had different plans. She was not going home. Buri Amma, too, would be gone to be with her relatives in her village. Zulekha would be alone, with time and freedom to devote to the new driver.

She was confident that he would not get a holiday when his little mistress was on vacation from school because her parents maintained a busy social calendar. Zulekha felt sorry for the girl. She had no friends that Zulekha had seen, and on the slightest of excuses was packed into the car and sent off to the home of some relative or other. Building gossip about the activities of her parents made her hot with guilt and shame, and she kept her ears clear of them.

Rabiul was dozing in the tiny guard’s quarter one evening, shivering lightly. Zulekha brought him an old blanket from the widow’s enormous stash stowed away in the storage room next to the roof. She also bought him a cup of tea and a couple of buns from across the street.

“Daughter, I have no new information for you,” he chuckled. “You can bribe me all you want.” He draped the blanket tightly around his shoulders. “God bless you, child.”

Zulekha drank her tea.

“I’m just a foolish girl, kaka,” she said.

“Better than being a foolish old man,” said Rabiul. “At least I have a bright side to look ahead to. Death. You have only life for many more years.” He touched her head and muttered a prayer. “So, go find what you need to find. Those years won’t be kind, I’ll tell you. They’ll be selfish and demanding.”

The elevator doors opened and Dulal’s little mistress’ parents walked out. Rabiul jumped to his feet. The blanket slid off his shoulders. Zulekha went behind a parked car. As Rabiul opened the gate, the car that was devoted to the little girl’s use rolled out of its parking spot. Dulal stepped out of the driver’s seat held the door open for the girl’s parents. Zulekha had had no inkling he’d been there, the whole time, sitting in the darkness of the car.

“Hassan is a crook, and a lecher,” the wife was saying. “At least Habib has had the decency to be a good husband and father in public.” She disappeared into the back seat. The husband took a moment before entering. He looked around, as if seeking a friendly face, and found Zulekha’s peering out from behind the car she was using as a shield. He shook his head and got in. Dulal shut the door, climbed back into the driver’s seat, and put the car in gear. In her mind Zulekha dashed in front of the car, blocking its path, forcing Dulal to shout at her to move.

Zulekha stood outside their apartment with her finger poised to press the bell. She touched her ear to the door. There were no sounds, but she could tell the apartment was not empty. She knew the cook, another old soul like the night guard, and had brought Eid offerings from the widow in the past, so it wouldn’t be unusual to pay a visit. She rang.

The door opened. The young mistress, covered in a beautiful shawl a few sizes too big for her, stood looking older than her age.

“Apu, you know me, no?” said Zulekha. “From upstairs?”

The girl, keeping her eyes steady on Zulekha, rummaged through her memory banks.

“Is baburchi kaka here?” Zulekha asked.

The girl shook her head.

“He went out,” she said.

 “That is a gorgeous shawl,” said Zulekha. “Where did you get it? From your mother?”

“No,” said the girl. “What do you want?”

Zulekha was potentially asking for trouble if the girl reported her to her parents.

“I want a shawl just like that,” she said. “I’ve seen you in it before, and I wanted to ask where you got it.”

The girl’s face twisted in confusion.

“It was a gift, and you couldn’t have seen it because I’ve never worn it outside the apartment.”

“Is it from a boy?” Zulekha asked playfully.

“What if it is?” the girl said.

“My goodness, apu, you’re a feisty one.”

This made the girl smile. She touched the shawl proudly, almost flauntingly.

“He’s the quietest boy in the world,” she said. “Do you know how I can get him to say more.”

Zulekha said, “I know someone like that, too. But, apu, you are too young to have a boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just a boy. A grown man. But I call him a boy. They’re all boys.”

“Well, my pretty little apu, when you see him again tell him he should say more. Otherwise us poor girls will never know their minds. Will you keep a request of mine?”

The girl waited, once again, absentmindedly this time, giving the shawl a tender caress.

“Don’t tell your mother and father I was here,” said Zulekha. “I wanted to tell you hello. I always see you. And now we have a secret in common, too, no?”

“I don’t have secrets from my parents,” said the girl.

“Do they know where that shawl came from?”

The girl bit her lower lip.

“Then you do have one secret,” said Zulekha. “One more won’t hurt. It will be between friends, me and you.”

The girl stared long and hard at Zulekha.

“Is that your real skin color?” she asked.

“Yes, apu.”

“You’re the fairest girl I’ve ever seen. My mother talks about having skin like yours, as does every one of her friends, and everyone else. I find makeup disgusting.”

“You’re a very pretty girl,” said Zulekha.

“I’m me. Okay, go now. I have to finish homework.”

Zulekha stood a few moments longer after the door was shut, listening to the silence inside.

It was a weekday, and in the morning Dulal didn’t bring out the car for the girl. The girl’s father had left for work in his car. The mother got picked up by a friend around lunchtime, and the girl went with her. Zulekha followed their cook up to the apartment when he returned from the market.

“What do you want?” the cook asked.

“You need some help?” Zulekha offered.

“You work for another home. Now, what do you want?”

Zulekha said she hadn’t seen the new driver and the girl hadn’t gone to school that morning. She tried sounding nonchalant.

“They want to send the little one to a different school,” the cook told her. “The Umrican one, I think. In Baridhara.”

 “Maybe she will be happier…” she said, trying for disinterest.

“Too much money on too many drivers,” the cook said. “New school will send a bus and drop her off in one. Shahib is in bad place with money.”

 “What about the new one?” she asked, as cautiously as possible.

“Last day was yesterday,” said the cook. He added, “He was a good boy. Didn’t talk, didn’t mix with others, didn’t have bad habits, just did his work.”

 “Where will he go?” she wondered aloud.

The cook poured her tea. “Drivers find work in minutes around here. He’ll be fine. Drink it. It has ginger. Your throat sounds a little raw.” He sat on a stool with half a dozen potatoes and a basket between his feet. “What is it, child? What has your eye swimming with sadness?” The smirk on his face smoothed its wrinkles in a way that seemed to Zulekha a snapshot of the man as a young boy. A mischievous boy whose heart had just broken at the sight of the longing in the eyes of the girl he liked for someone else.

“I’m not sad,” said Zulekha.

The cook’s rheumy laugh gurgled in his throat.

“He was a very likable boy,” he said. Coils of potato skin formed and twirled with finesse onto the basket, like beauty rejected. “A young girl liking him isn’t out of this world. Even our little mistress. Heartbroken, poor little thing. She cried all day yesterday. She doesn’t like anyone, not even her parents, but that boy, her face lit like a hundred light bulbs just at the thought of seeing him every day.” He dropped the peeled potatoes in the basket on top of their skin and set water to boil. “He even gave her that shawl. Shahib and mamshahib are so clueless about their child that anyone could hand her anything and they wouldn’t know.”

Zulekha found it so warming that the shawl was a gift from Dulal that she nearly blurted her feelings for him. And the little girl, cleverer than Zulekha could ever guess!

“So…where did he go?” she asked.

“How should I know,” said the cook, as though he’d been accused of something. He sunk the potatoes in the boiling water.

“No, I mean, where does he live?”

The cook fixed a stare on her for a few seconds too long. Zulekha set down her cup and made to leave.

“Hatirjheel,” said the cook. He sounded begrudging as a reluctant father at relenting on his daughter’s stubborn wish.

****

A young unmarried woman seeking out a young unmarried man in his place of residence would stoke gossip. Zulekha was bound by this taboo, and it was exactly the sort of nonsense she was tired of. Nothing could be done about anything. Everything worth doing was seen by society as moral turpitude or, God forbid, a sin. Haram, as the mullahs and their acolytes and their venomous coterie of apprentices liked to brand what didn’t adhere to their hypocritical view of the world – a world that they decried for its wrongs and called on to emulate them if it wanted eternal paradise in the afterlife. It was this life that Zulekha desired to live fully. And if she was going to spend it with someone then she was going to be the one to seek that someone out.

Over the next several days she chatted with the other drivers, to their delight that she was finally giving them the time of day, and found that many of them also lived in Hatirjheel. One of them mentioned having Dulal as a neighbor.

“Dulal?” Zulekha said, pretending to not know.

“Worked here for a short while. Drove around the little miss in C-2.”

“Oh. Where is he now?”

“Where he works I don’t know. But he lives in my building. He’s right next door to me. I think he’s a fruitcake, you know what I mean,” He grinned. “Do you want to see where I live?”

Any other time Zulekha would shut him down. She’d seen him hound the other maids of the building, and on the street. He was fat and had breath as foul as a gutter. He had a wife and children in his village, and Zulekha had overheard him speaking in the vilest terms about them to anyone willing to listen.

“Sometime, yes,” she said. “When?”

He had not expected her to say yes so easily, or at all. His eyes enlarged and he was momentarily speechless. The other drivers were watching from the drivers’ room behind the guard’s quarter. Whether she liked it or not the gossip would spark. Nothing in life came without a price.

“Day after tomorrow,” said the driver, almost frothy with excitement. “You can go with me when I’m done with duty.”

“No. Tomorrow,” Zulekha countered. “On one condition.”

The driver’s excitement paused.

“You give me the address and I will meet you there,” said Zulekha.

The next evening she stood outside the driver’s door. He’d given her his name. She couldn’t recall it. She was paying him less than half a mind when he was rattling through a thousand details about his life. His aspirations held little interest for Zulekha, more so because she knew he was baring all the details as a preface to even more mundane details. Zulekha gave her memory another knock and pull. It was Al-Amin.

She knocked.

Al-Amin was dressed in a starched white kurta and white pyjama, his hair slicked with coconut oil that Zulekha could smell from three feet away. He asked her to come in but she stood outside absentmindedly because she was wondering if Dulal was behind the door to her left or to her right.

“Girl, are you still asleep?” Al-Amin laughed. “Come inside and have a cup of tea.” He moved in closer. “Don’t worry about anything. You’re not the first young girl to visit a man here. No one cares. No one looks.” His breath choked Zulekha.

“Which one is the other driver’s home?” she asked.

“Other driver?” Al-Amin’s face contorted. “What other driver?”

“You know, the one that used to work for the little girl,” said Zulekha.

“Oh, that one. Why do you care about him? Don’t tell me. I’ve heard enough about that dumb lout.”

Suspicion clouded Al-Amin’s expression.

“Is that why you’re really here? To see that tongue-less halfwit? He’s a pansy, didn’t I tell you?”

“No…” Zulekha started.

“No what?” Al-Amin fumed, spewing blasts of hot fetid breath.

“I was just wondering…” said Zulekha.

“Talk to me, you bitch! I’ll smack the silence out of you in two minutes!”

“Why would I come to see him when I’m here with you?” said Zulekha. Men of unpredictable temperament like that got away with everything, always blaming their temper flares on the women after beating them.

 Al-Amin eyed her suspiciously.

“You’re not lying to me, are you?” he said.

“No,” Zulekha replied.

“Then say so,” said Al-Amin. “Inside, come.”

 “It’s such a nice day, let’s go for a walk by the water.”

Al-Amin frowned. He grew impatient. His fingers closed into a fist and opened repeatedly.

“Walk? I don’t like walking,” he said. “Don’t fool around with me, girl. I can see right through. You led me on and now you’re here outside my door, and you want me to believe you want to go for a walk by the water?”

“Brother – ”

“Don’t brother me! I’m not your brother!”

“Then I will go.”

He was trying to be intimidating, but all he was was a doddering drunk dissatisfied with his life, with only himself to blame for it. Zulekha even had the flicker of a desire to help him. But he was a rabid hound. Nothing she could do would make him react other than with defensive rage.

“Try and go, see what happens,” said Al-Amin. “I’ve had enough of sluts like you. All the same, every last one of you.” There was scant wind behind his words.

 “Go inside and get some sleep,” she told him. “You’re unwell.”

Al-Amin laughed.

Zulekha didn’t want to leave without knowing, maybe seeing, Dulal one more time. One more time was enough to let him know her feelings, even if he kept silent as a statue, or, if he did speak, he said something to break her heart.

“And I’ve seen enough tramps like you!” Al-Amin suddenly shouted. “Whores, manipulative bitches! All! You show one face to the world and carry around another!” He lunged at her. Zulekha made a quick move. Al-Amin stumbled past her and crashed against the railing. He caught the end of her dupatta and pulled her back. People saw what was happening, but paid it no mind. Zulekha saw faces taking note and then continuing with their business.

“You came here to see me and see me you will,” Al-Amin growled into Zulekha’s face. He shoved her toward his door by her neck. Zulekha braced herself against the doorframe, but his strength was impossible. He pushed her shoulders, jammed his elbow into her spine, and shoved his foot into her lower back.

She heard a choking gasp, and the weight of his vehemence lifted off her. She was free. Before she turned around she caught a glimpse of the inside of Al-Amin’s room. A dingy light bulb hung from a wire, barely illuminating a cramped space littered with old boxes of food, greasy clothes, and tattered posters of semi-nude white women on the scabby walls. Flies buzzed about. The whole place smelled like it was rotting from deep within.

Al-Amin was against the railing, gasping and sputtering. Between him and Zulekha stood Dulal, with his back to her, at the ready to take the other driver again if he charged.

“You dumb son of a cunt,” Al-Amin stammered. “You tried to strangle me. For that? That putty whore?”

Zulekha moved out of the doorway, and away from the two men. Al-Amin was bigger than Dulal. Next to him Dulal was laughably built, with extreme knock-kneed legs, spindly arms, and smooth glowing skin that would be the envy of any woman. He didn’t even have proper facial hair growth. Curly coils sprouted up and down the sides of his face and bloomed on his chin.

Dulal’s stood aside, opening the route to Al-Amin’s room. It was an option and a silent command in one. Al-Amin glared at Zulekha. A small crowd had gathered. He made no eye contact with them. He brushed past Dulal also without looking up at him. The disappointed crowd dispersed in seconds.

Dulal headed toward his room.

“Can I come in?” Zulekha tried to get between him and the door. “Please. One minute.”

Dulal moved her out of the way, gently. He led her to the stairs. At the top of the stairs he stopped. It was as far as he was going to escort her.

“Normal people talk, even once in a while, no matter how quiet they are. Otherwise they’re hiding something,” she said. She added when she saw that Dulal’s silence was bent upon being resilient as a fortress, “My mother told me.”

Zulekha thought she saw his chin twitch a few times, on the verge of saying something, and she too stayed where she was.

 “Just once,” she said. “Anything.”

She spied the beginning of a smile. Maybe it was her imagination, and if it was, she was fine with it, because imagination existed to make reality bearable.

This boy – this man – could not be bad. Her mother didn’t know everything. In recent years Zulekha had had growing doubts about the woman’s entire system of belief. They were little more than a collection of recriminations and regrets. She had no friends. No one in the village liked her. People went out of their way to avoid her. Zulekha had grown up influenced by the notion that every man and woman within spitting distance of her mother had it out for her, that her mother was forever the victim of others’ scorn. The truth was people had better things to do than connive against a woman whose war was with herself.

Zulekha’s mother, like Zulekha, was once a head-turning beauty that no one believed was full-blooded Bengali. With skin as fair as Zulekha’s – many would argue fairer – and eyes the grey of a cloudy dawn, she had to be of mixed breed. Rumors floated when she was a child that her mother, Zulekha’s grandmother, had seduced the Brit in whose house she worked as a maid, in the absence of the man’s wife.

Truth was, neither Zulekha’s grandmother or her mother knew the secrets or the answers or the final word on any one matter; they made them up, and when they could no longer bear their own fabrications they grew hostile. The hostility got passed down from one generation to the next. It now weighed down on Zulekha, and she knew she had to crack it open to expose its empty innards and throw it to the winds. If Dulal was bad, he was bad. That was how he was created. Just as Zulekha was created with the blood mixture of her foremothers.

Zulekha had been staring at Dulal so long that he waved a hand in front of her face to break her out of her reverie. She was thinking, and she had also been staring at the mark on his forehead of regular prayer. She didn’t pray. She never would. That much had to be clear, if she and Dulal were ever going to amount to something. Prayer was a good thing, but it didn’t automatically make people good.

“Okay then,” she said. “I will go now.”

Dulal touched her shoulder as she turned.

“It’s very nice to walk over there,” he spoke. His voice was rich as a milky-sweet cup of fresh-brewed tea. Early morning wood-smoke lingered beneath the words. His Bengali was not the crude Bengali of the Dhaka streets. There was finesse in it, even better than the movies, because it was real. No one was telling him to speak that way.

It wasn’t a direct invitation or a question. His hand remained on her shoulder. Zulekha felt eyes on her, on them. They could be imaginary, they could be real. It didn’t take long for people in this city to go from minding their affairs to investing in the business of others with more opinions and conviction than they ever gave their own. Swarms of them were out there to pounce hungrily on the spectacle of someone else’s troubles.

 “You should talk more with that voice of yours,” she said. “Also, you have a very good eye for a man. The young mistress, she loves your gift. I would, too.”

Dulal gently pushed her on, down the stairs. Zulekha saw familiar faces. Three other maids from her building, bosom-friends with imaginations as nefarious as their wagging tongues. They saw her, too. And they saw Dulal, starting with his hand on her shoulder.

If people were going to talk, they were going to talk. Given the opportunity they would malign God.

Zulekha took Dulal’s hand in hers and walked into the crowd.

Nadeem Zaman was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and grew up there and in Chicago. His work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, WinningWriters.com, Open Road Review, The Milo Review, The East Bay Review, The Coppefield Review, China Grove, Eastlit, 94 Creations, Dhaka Tribune, and Salon.com. His novel ‘In the Time of the Others’ will be published by Picador/Pan Macmillan in July 2018, and his short story collection ‘Days and Nights in the City’ by Bengal Lights Books in November 2018.

 

One accord by Bill Carr

I should go to a hospital. Maybe I would go if I knew where one was—and I knew how I got here. Right now I’m relying on these images I experience to poke holes in the black curtain that’s blocking my memory.

Here’s my latest image: I see a guy who’s lost his short-term memory running through a parking lot. Another guy keeps popping up from behind parked cars. The first guy isn’t sure whether he’s the chaser or the chasee. A bullet ricochets off the side door of a car he’s running past. Now he’s pretty sure he’s the one being chased.

My memory loss is far worse than short-term. But the environment I find myself in is positively idyllic. There’s a string of bungalows forming a horseshoe around the grassy field in which I’m standing. To my right is a wooded area with other bungalows, set more closely together, and a larger building, which I believe the owner said was the dining hall. To my left is a wide-open field. In the distance, at the end of the field, there’s a bunch of kids playing punch ball.

There is a parking lot here, but it’s not at all threatening. It’s got a bunch of old cars in surprisingly good condition. The bad news is that my car isn’t there. Not that I can remember what kind of car I have. But I’ve got my car keys and my wallet, so whatever happened to me was not the result of a robbery. The keys are for a Volkswagen. There’s not a single VW in the lot.

The bright side is that I seem to be in good health, I can read, and my powers of reasoning appear to be intact. My best guess as to what happened is that I had a car accident that left me with this hopefully temporary amnesia. Looking for help, I stumbled down the road and came upon this rustic retreat for antique car owners.

It seems like a good place for self-healing, but not without problems. For one, the proprietor is not that hospitable. He’s short and pudgy, goes around in an undershirt and shorts, and wears horn-rimmed glasses. I spoke to him in that tiny combination rental office and general store just off the dirt road as you enter. The name of this place is One Accord. According to my driver’s license and badge ID, I live and work in Marietta, Georgia. The cars in the parking lot all have New York license plates.

The rates are dirt-cheap. I tried to pay with a credit card. He looked at me as if I were crazy.

“Cash only,” he said brusquely. “One week in advance.”

Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of cash.

He took the twenty I handed him and held it up to the light. What was wrong with this guy?

“It’s good, it’s good,” I said.

“Kind of narrow.”

I looked at him as if he were crazy.

He practically threw a key at me. “Take bungalow eight,” he said, and then muttered, “I don’t know why I always fall for things like this.”

For the next week, at least I’ve got a roof over my head—barely. The cabins are primitive. No air conditioner, television, or dishwasher. There’s an ancient refrigerator and gas stove. I can’t say the appliances are in the kitchen, because there is no kitchen. There are two small bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, and a combination living room, dining room, and kitchen. Aside from the stove and refrigerator against the left wall, this combination room has just a couch, easy chair, and kitchen table with four chairs.

The surroundings, however, are beautiful. Look, if the weather holds up, I’ll spend most of my time outdoors.

There’s a punch ball game going on in a field to the right of the cabins. Behind the right fielder of the punch ball game, there’s a skinny little kid batting around a white tennis ball with a wooden, junior-size tennis racquet. The kid looks like he’s around six years old.

Almost like I’ve fallen into a trance, I get another image. It’s an image of someone who looks like this kid.

He’s a little older, but just as skinny. He’s in a bedroom, talking to a woman. The woman is short and stocky. She has dark hair. Her face has very fine features. She speaks to him in a gentle voice.

It’s like I’m in the room observing them. There are two windows to my right, overlooking a back yard. Another two windows are on the far wall, facing the second floor of another house very close by. Like my cabin, there’s not a lot of furniture in this room—a single bed to my right, a child’s desk and chair straight ahead, and another single bed and chest of drawers to my left. There are some boxes in bright wrapping paper on the chest.

“Can I open my presents now?” the kid pleads.

The setup in the apartment is strange. There are two bedrooms in back. A hallway leads to a good-sized kitchen. But there’s a formal dining room, with doors on either end, that these people are using as a bedroom. I guess it’s not that bad an idea. A hallway goes around this bedroom to the living room.

The woman smiles. “Do you think that’s right? Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow.”

“Just one,” the kid bargains. “The one from Uncle Steve.”

“Well, Uncle Steve won’t be here tomorrow for your party, so I guess it’s all right. But remember—just one.”

The kid obviously adores her, and now does so even more than before. He reaches up and takes the smallest box from the chest. He rips into the wrapping paper, tears open the box, and extracts the contents. It’s a kid’s baseball glove. He looks puzzled.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a glove,” she says.

“Where’s the other one?”

She smiles. “It’s a baseball glove.” The smile relaxes. “Uncle Steve thinks you’re a ballplayer.”

She walks out of the room. The kid still looks puzzled. He looks like he might start to cry, but holds back the tears. He’s done something to displease her, but doesn’t know what. He just wants some time to figure it out.

* * *

The kid in the field picks up the tennis ball and decides to investigate the punch ball game. I follow behind him.

The punch ball players look like they’re between nine and eleven years old. There are two women on the sidelines. They both are wearing sundresses. One is coaching at third base. The other is by the first base line trying to keep three and four-year-olds from running on the field.

The kid with the tennis racquet studies what’s going on. “Hey,” the shortstop yells, “you guys need an extra guy. Let the little kid play.” He starts laughing and then covers his mouth with his hand.

The woman by the first base line leans over and talks to the kid with the racquet. “Do you want to play?” she asks.

The kid shakes his head no. “Come on,” she cajoles, handing him a pink Spaldeen. “It’s fun. You just go up to the plate there and punch the ball as hard as you can.”

Reluctantly, the kid takes the Spaldeen and walks toward home plate. The shortstop waves all the outfielders in.

The outfielders are now almost even with the infielders.

“How about letting him use that tennis racquet?” the woman shouts.

“All right,” the first baseman says. “Why not?”

The kid steps up to the plate and gives the Spaldeen a whack with the racquet. The ball soars over the left fielder’s head. The kid stands there, watching the flight of the ball.

Pandemonium breaks loose. “Run to first! Run to first!” his teammates shout. He starts running toward third. The left fielder is chasing the ball. The woman by the first base line grabs the kid and pushes him in the direction of first. He barely beats the relay throw from the shortstop.

The next batter lines what should be a double to left, but the little kid stops at second. The following batter punches the ball in the gap in right center. The third base coach pleads with the kid to run to third, and then sends him home, “where you started.” The kid jumps on home plate, closely followed by two of his teammates.

After the game, I decide to go back and see how bad my cabin really is. The kid is running behind me. There’s a man, about forty years old, walking toward me. He’s wearing a polo shirt with orange and blue vertical stripes, and gray shorts. He’s a good-looking man with a thin moustache. He’s smoking a pipe. Even though he’s heavy around the midsection, he has an athletic gait and that suggests he might have once been quite slender.

The kid runs right past me. “Daddy,” he shouts, “I hit a home run.”

The man stops right near me. “Did he really?” he asks, looking at me.

He’s about 5’5″, about six inches shorter than I am. “Well,” I say, “he really gave that ball a whack and scored a run. It might have been a home run if his teammates had told him how to run the bases.”

The man chuckles. “Look,” he says, “the kid’s only seven years old.”

“I’m going to tell Mom,” the kid says, and runs off toward the cabins.

“You new here?” the man asks.

“Just stumbled in this morning.”

“Name’s Abe,” he says, extending his hand.

“My name’s Jon. J-O-N.”

“Hah,” he says. “Big Jon, Little Jon.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“Where are you from, Jon?”

“I live in Marietta, Georgia.” At least that’s what it says on my driver’s license.

“Wow. You’re a long way from home.”

This pretty much confirms what I thought.

“And what kind of work do you do?” Abe asks.

The badge ID that I keep in my wallet helps me out here. “I work for a computer company.”

He looks puzzled. “You mean calculators?”

“No, computers.”

Abe studies me. “Wait a minute,” he says. “I saw that term in an article I just read. There’s a guy at the University of Pennsylvania who’s building this huge calculator. Might be good for the war effort. It calculates the trajectories of artillery shells. Same first name as you. Your last name isn’t Mauchly, is it?”

“No,” I say, smiling. But I’ve heard that name before.

We approach the cabin area. “You play softball?” Abe asks. “We have a men’s softball game this afternoon.”

“I can’t remember the last time I played softball.”

“Good,” Abe says, smiling. “We’ve got some guys in that same category.”

He stops in front of Cabin 18. “This is my bungalow,” he says. “You having lunch in the dining hall?”

“I think I paid for that.”

“You’ll sit at our table,” Abe says. “I’ll save a seat for you.”

* * *

As I walk toward the dining hall, I suddenly find myself in a tunnel. It looks more like the catacombs. It’s an enclosed archway, completely lined, walls and ceiling, with glassy black vacuum tubes. The inside of this machine does not have the cramped feeling I expected. The floor is about four feet wide, and the apex of the ceiling is a good foot-and-a-half from my head. Univac I. I knew there could be a little man in these things—maybe several little men—feverishly doing the calculations.

My first job. I worked for a company that publishes a news report on business automation. There are so many new announcements that some companies in the trade press claim the free lunches as a job benefit. I never met John Mauchly. I did meet his partner, Pres Eckert—J. Presper Eckert makes the Univac III press announcement. After the luncheon, after the stroll through Univac I, I ask him a question. He’s short, balding, and wears a brown suit. It’s a basic, straightforward question, but he seems nervous. Maybe he knows the game is really over. IBM says virtually nothing, but the word is that they’re building and selling computers like mad. Remington Rand Univac has blown its huge lead. Somehow it all went wrong.

As soon as I enter the dining hall, it’s obvious that Abe is running the show. In fact, Abe is the show. The room is not that large. There’s a string of tables placed end-to-end, in banquet fashion, in the center of the room. At the far end, Abe sits at the head of the table. Like box seats, there are single tables along each of the sidewalls. The guests seated opposite the walls at these tables have turned their chairs toward the center to watch Abe perform.

His humor is a combination of gentle bantering, jokes, and reminisces of the immigrant past. It’s an inclusive type of humor. He draws in not only those at the banquet table, but those at the single tables as well.

“Here he is,” he announces as I walk toward his table. He’s saved a seat for me immediately to his left. “Our newest arrival. Folks, say hello to Jon. Just stumbled in here this morning. His own words.”

“Was he drunk?” someone calls out.

“Well, if he was,” Abe says, “he’s sobered up. He’s kind of mysterious about how he got here and what kind of work he does. He might work for the OSS or be on some other secret mission… ”

I both wave to everyone and shake my head no.

“Anyway,” Abe goes on, “don’t ply him with a lot of questions. Remember: ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships.’”

I sit down at the table. Abe goes on to another routine, but I don’t hear him. Opposite me is the same woman I saw in my vision of the apartment.

I try not to stare, but I’m sure it’s the same person. She seems shy, thoughtful, perhaps a little aloof from the others the table. She laughs heartily at all of Abe’s jokes.

To her right is a slender, balding, softspoken man about the same age as Abe. The adults here appear to be between thirty-five and fifty, with either young kids or preteens. The kid next to the slender man is a freckle-faced blond, about nine years old. To my left is a plump, blonde, serene-looking woman. Next to her are two little girls, maybe seven and six. The younger one has the blondest hair I’ve ever seen.

Abe is on to softball now. “As you know,” he says, “the men’s softball game is at two o’clock this afternoon. For most of us, the only time we play is when we’re right here. But we all played as kids. The house I grew up in was right near a sandlot. After school, of course, we were all playing ball. But after school you had to have Torah instruction. Right?”

The men at the table chime their assent.

“You didn’t have a Hebrew school like you have today,” Abe continues. “You were taught by a melamed who came to your house. What’s the English word for melamed?”

“Teacher,” someone shouts.

“Tutor,” someone else suggests.

“Right. Tutor,” Abe says. “He came to your house to teach. But at that time, I didn’t want to be taught. I wanted to play ball.

“‘Abie!’ the melamed calls from our front porch. ‘Come inside now. It’s time for your lesson.’

“It just so happens I’m at bat. ‘Just a minute,’ I call back.

“Well, the melamed knows that a minute can turn into an hour, so he comes out to get me. I line a base hit to right center. You know, as a kid I was a fast runner. I didn’t have this corporation then.” He pats himself on the stomach. “So I tried to stretch that single into a double. When I approached second base, guess who’s waiting to tag me out?”

“The shortstop!” the nine-year-old calls out.

“You’re right, Ronnie. It was the shortstop. But there was someone else there.”

“The second baseman!” the little blonde girl shouts.

“That’s a good guess, Carol,” Abe says. “But the second baseman was in right center to make the relay throw. It was the melamed!”

A wave of laughter sweeps across the room. “The shortstop was waiting with the ball,” Abe goes on, “and the melamed was waiting with the prayer book. I slide into second and they both fall on top of me.”

Abe waits for the laughter to subside. “‘Abie,’ the melamed says, opening the book, ‘I want you to read this passage for me.’”

Some guests along the side get up and start to leave. “Hey, folks, don’t forget the baseball game today.” He looks toward the slender man to his right. “Jon, this is my friend Dave, and this is his wife, Edie.”

Dave stands up and shakes my hand, and the woman to my left smiles a hello.

“Dave,” Abe says, “against my better judgment, I’m going to let Jon be on your team. After all, we beat you guys pretty badly last week.”

* * *

The ball field looks quite different from this morning. Some of the men are taking batting practice. Others, in the field, are shagging flies and fielding grounders. There are plenty of women and kids behind the first and third baselines and behind the backstop. The men look out of shape, but that can be misleading. Dave is in center field shagging flies. He does not look out of shape. A pitcher’s best friend: a center fielder who runs down everything.

Dave sees me by the first baseline and comes running toward the infield. “Glad you could make it,” he says. “What position do you play?”

The words come tumbling out almost automatically. “Well, I can’t judge fly balls, and my throws from the infield have a curve that drive first basemen nuts. So if you need a pitcher, I’ll give it a try.”

“You’ve got it,” Dave says, handing me a glove. The glove seems incredibly small. “Don’t take this too seriously,” he adds. “It’s just a fun game.”

The pitching mound feels surprisingly comfortable. Left toe at the back of the rubber, right heel in front. Rotate the hips and fire. I like to throw my fastball low at the knees. It’s hard to get a softball to curve, but mine breaks a little. My favorite pitch is a change-up that I grip like an old-fashioned knuckleball. I try to float it in letter-high. It doesn’t dance at all, but it doesn’t rotate either. The batters who are transfixed by a pitch that has absolutely no rotation usually pop it up. For those who are not impressed, it’s bye-bye baseball.

The comfort of the mound is offset by antagonism toward the batter. The batter is the enemy. The batter must be defeated. He must be overwhelmed or tricked.

Abe comes to the plate. He’s playing first base for the other team. As I face him and he studies me, there’s nothing comedic about him. And I realize that somehow I’ve got the book on him. He thrives on knee-high fastballs. I try a belt-high fastball, but it goes inside. A curve doesn’t break and stays inside. I try the change-up, but it sails high. There is no way I’m going to walk this guy. I throw a knee-high fastball and he lines a rope into right center for a double.

After the game the two teams shake hands by the pitcher’s mound and walk off the field. “Hey,” Abe says, putting his arm around my shoulder, “where’d you learn to pitch like that?” Before I can answer, he says, “I know. You have no idea.”

As we walk off the field, I begin to think that I could really get to like this life. But I have to leave sometime, and I have this dilemma. Where in hell is my car?

I turn toward Abe. “I wonder if you could do me a favor.”

“Sure,” he says.

“Could you drive me down 209 for a bit? I think I left my car by the side of the road.”

“Did the car break down?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I just ran out of gas.”

“If that’s all it is,” Abe says, “we can take care of that. Dave keeps a gallon of gas in his Chevy. That will get you into town so you can get your tank filled up.”

“I’d really appreciate that.”

“Just as long as you have your ration stamps,” Abe says.

Ration stamps? What kind of rationing? I seem to remember long gas lines, but no rationing.

“What kind of car is it?” Abe asks.

“A VW.”

“What’s that?”

I suspect I didn’t speak clearly. “A Volkswagen,” I say, a little louder.

Abe looks puzzled. “Isn’t that a German car?”

“Sure,” I say. This place is remote, but not that remote.

“Dave,” Abe calls out, “we’ve got a problem.”

Dave is on his way back to the cabins. He turns around and joins us.

“Dave,” Abe says, “Jon’s car either broke down last night or ran out of gas. He left it by the side of the road on 209.”

“Not a problem,” Dave says. “I keep a gallon— ”

“He’s driving a German car. A Volkswagen”

“That’s a problem,” Dave says. “Is it an old car—like an antique?”

“I don’t think so,” I reply. I like efficiency in cars. I can’t understand what the difficulty is.

Dave puts his hand to his chin. “If the owner of this place finds out, he’ll toss him right out of here.” He turns toward me. “Where did you get this car—this Volkswagen?”

“They sell them all over the U.S.”

Dave laughs. “I don’t think so.”

“I feel sorry for guys who have German cars,” Abe says. “Like Mercedes-Benzes. They’re good cars.”

“They’re for rich people,” Dave says. “Look, here’s an idea. Abe and I are leaving tomorrow afternoon. Why don’t you two take a drive down 209 now and see exactly where the car is? Tomorrow I can go with Jon and take a look at it. If it’s just a minor repair, or if it ran out of gas, we can take care of that. Afterward, Jon, I suggest that you drive that car home and keep it in your garage until the war is over.”

“He’s right,” Abe says. “Look, you seem like a good kid. Just don’t go around driving a German car.”

* * *

Abe and I are driving down Route 209 in his black 1936 Dodge. This is one cool car. It’s in amazing shape for a ’36. It’s even got running boards.

“Nice car,” I say.

“Well, it’s going to have to last us for a long time.”

I’ve decided to stop referring to these cars as antique cars. Everyone either looks offended or thinks I’m making a joke.

“What do you think of the newer models?” I ask.

Abe laughs. “Right now there are no newer models,” he says. “All manufacturers stopped making new cars for the public this year.”

Now this car situation is leaving me more confused than ever. I decide to concentrate on finding my own. So far there is no VW by the side of the road. Only countryside. This area is really rural. There’s an occasional farmhouse and lots of cornfields.

“How far are we from the town?” I ask.

“Only about a mile.”

“Let’s go back,” I say. “I wouldn’t have walked this far.”

At the next dirt-road intersection, Abe makes a U-turn. “Did I tell you that back home we just moved to new neighborhood?” he says, as we start back. It’s kind of weird. Abe talks to me like we’ve known each other all our lives. “New college, new high school, real good public schools,” he goes on. “Everything within walking distance. We live on the second floor of a three-family house. The only problem is the rent is higher than what we’ve been paying.”

“And the kids? How do they like the new neighborhood?”

Abe smiles. “Mixed,” he says. “I don’t know if you’ve met my daughter. She’s nine now. Very smart. And very social. She was devastated by the move. Forced to say goodbye to all her friends. But the little guy didn’t care at all. He doesn’t seem to have any friends. To him, the move was a big adventure.”

“Just out of curiosity,” I say, “in your apartment, is the dining room used as a third bedroom?”

He looks at me, astounded. “You’ve been there?”

“Maybe.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t see how you knew that. We set it up that way because Miriam thought each of the kids should have his own room.”

“And your friend Dave? Does he live nearby?”

“Dave lives in an area that’s not quite as upscale, but he’s in the good school district.”

“Sounds like you made a good move.”

“Maybe we did,” Abe says, smiling. “But how about you? Are you living within your means? Down there in the Deep South?”

“Well, I’ll tell you, I suspect the cost of living is a lot cheaper where I am than in the city.”

“We’ll never leave the city,” Abe says. “The problem is where in the city we should live. We can make it where we are now. We’ve cut down on our vacation expense. I’m slowly building up my practice. The problem is the future. Miriam wants to buy.”

“The house you’re living in now?”

“No. That’s a three-family, each floor with its own kitchen and bathroom. She wants a one-family. There’s a gray, foreboding house on the next block that’s been vacant for two years. Two years! The neighbors there call it the haunted house. We can get it at a very good price. Dave has looked at it and says the house is structurally sound. Miriam says a complete coat of white paint on the outside will do wonders for that house. She figures out that our monthly payments will be only a few dollars more than what we’re paying in rent now. And part of that payment, she says, will be to ourselves.”

“That’s true. You build up equity by owning. It’s even better if the house appreciates in value.”

“The problem,” Abe says, “is that I’ve never owned a house. We’ve always rented. And I’m not handy with repairs like Dave is. I’m a lawyer. And besides, I worry that if the new coat of paint magically makes the house look great, the city will reassesses it, and the taxes go sky-high. Property taxes are already high in our area.”

“Owning is always a risk. But if you can get a good deal… ”

“I agree with you,” Abe says. “If buying that house were the only problem, I’d go ahead and do it.”

Abe pauses. “Tell me,” he says, “Am I bombarding you with too many problems?”

“Not at all. I’m very interested.”

“The big problem,” Abe says, “the problem Miriam and I argue about most these days, is summer camp for the kids.”

“Are there camps around here? I mean, it seems like just farms. And a few bungalow colonies.”

“There are a few closer to the city. But they’re very expensive. Miriam claims she’s found one in Connecticut that’s quite reasonable.”

“But what’s wrong with the bungalow colony? This is so cheap. And there are plenty of kids here.”

“I’m going to invite you to attend our next argument,” Abe says. “That’s exactly what I told Miriam. But she’s worried about the little guy. Unlike his sister, my son has no friends. Miriam feels that if he’s in a structured environment, with an emphasis on sports, his teammates will be his friends. I mean, it’s not a bad theory. But how are we going to afford that?”

“What does Miriam say?”

“She says she’ll go to work.”

“And is that such a bad idea?”

“It’s a terrible idea,” Abe says. “I don’t want my wife working. Her job is to run the house and bring up the kids. She wants to work during the summer. She says with the kids away, there’s no need for her to be at home. She is a very proficient legal secretary. But working in those hot, sweaty offices in July and August? I don’t like it one bit.”

Ahead is the sign for One Accord. Abe makes a left onto the dirt road.

“Did you say you’re here only for the weekend?” I ask.

“Yes. Dave and I go back late tomorrow afternoon.”

“Do you ever stay on? Take some vacation?”

“Not these days,” Abe says. “Dave and I have to be at work tomorrow night at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

“Didn’t you say you were a lawyer?”

Abe pulls into the parking lot. He turns toward me and holds up two fingers.

“Two jobs,” he says, smiling. “Days in the office, nights in a defense plant. Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”

* * *

In the darkness of my cabin I’m a little nervous about going to sleep. The combination of mystery and serenity surrounding this place makes me uneasy. Then again, the freshness of the air here should be very conducive to sleep.

Tennis is on the schedule for tomorrow morning. Abe and Miriam have a regularly-scheduled game at 9:00 a.m. against Dave and Edie. Abe said Miriam loves tennis. Edie, however, usually tires after one set, and they have to look for someone to take her place. If I’m interested, Abe said, come by the courts around ten.

Although I’m having a good time during this sojourn, I suspect I may be making a mistake trying to figure out by myself what’s going on. The date on my driver’s license is November 1973, so it’s at least that date. My birthdate is November, 1935. This is the summer, so I’m at least thirty-seven years old. There’s a war going on, which is probably the Vietnam War. There’s a gasoline shortage, which must be the result of an oil embargo. I remember gasoline lines, but not gasoline rationing. Of course, I don’t remember too much of anything.

I suppose I should find out exactly what year it is. Actually, it’s not that easy to ask what year it is. “By the way, do you know what the current year is?” For some reason, I’m under enough suspicion for the type of car I own. I know tomorrow is Sunday. Abe, Dave, and all the other men go back to the city on Sunday. Since it’s the summer, it’s probably July or August. Judging by the afternoon heat, it feels like August. The speculation tires me and I fall into a deep sleep.

I awake in the morning feeling quite refreshed. Too refreshed. It’s ten minutes to ten and I said I’d meet Abe at the tennis courts at ten. I quickly get dressed, have some orange juice and a bowl of cold cereal, and set out for the courts.

The two courts are red clay, with an eight-foot cyclone fence behind the baselines. Dressed completely in white, Dave and Edie are at a bench on the sidelines, placing their racquets in wooden presses. No one else is at the courts.

Dave looks up as I approach. “Abe and Miriam couldn’t make it this morning,” he says. “But I can hit with you for a while. Edie’s a little tired. You can use her racquet.”

“Is everyone feeling okay?”

“Oh, yes,” Dave says. “No one’s sick or anything. Abe just has to get back to the city a little early. He’s going to leave before lunch.”

“I think I’ll pass on the tennis,” I say. “Thanks anyway. I want to say goodbye to Abe before he leaves.”

The door to Abe’s cabin is open. Inside, I see Abe sitting in the easy chair. His son sits on the floor, facing him. The kid looks stoical, but there are tears running down his cheeks. Abe is holding the kid’s hand.

To my amazement, I find that when I close my eyes I see the same image.

“Look,” Abe is saying. “I’ll be back next Friday night. It’s only five days. Grownups have fights with each other. They don’t throw any punches at each other—at least not yet. But they do get mad, and say things they wish they hadn’t. But after a few days, it’s all forgotten. Everything is back to normal. You’ll see.”

I turn away. I feel like I’m spying on a very private family conversation. I’ll catch Abe later before he leaves.

As I walk toward my cabin, I can’t stop thinking about the scene I just saw. Abe and Miriam had a fight. Because of that, Abe is leaving early.

I feel terrible. Abe was said the main thing he and Miriam argue about is money-related. I remember weighing in with some suggestions. I shouldn’t have done that. One really should avoid getting involved in married folks’ disputes.

I walk toward the ballfield, trying to clear my mind. Look, Abe is leaving this morning, Dave this afternoon. What’s the purpose of my staying here? I really should be getting back home. Maybe I can get a lift to the city with Abe, and take a train home.

When I get to Abe’s cabin, no one is there.

* * *

Without Abe, the dining hall at lunchtime seems somber, almost funereal. I try to make a few jokes, but my sense of humor is quite different from Abe’s. People laugh, sometimes out of politeness, and then seem to have a flash of doubt, as if wondering, “Was that really funny?” Some of the other men also try some jokes with the same lack of success. Everyone, it seems, comes up to Miriam to ask where Abe is. She tells them politely but succinctly that Abe had return to the city early. One woman presses onward, wanting to know why he had to go back. “Don’t worry,” Miriam says, a bit coolly, “he’ll be back Friday night to liven things up again.”

* * *

Miriam stands by the railing of the porch of her cabin, looking out toward the mountains. The way she wears her dark hair, tied back in a bun, seems to accentuate the fineness of her features. She waves to me as I approach.

“I’m really glad you came by,” she says. “Abe told me to be sure to tell you he said goodbye.”

“I came back here about a half hour before lunch,” I reply. “I must have just missed him.”

“He really likes you, you know.”

“Yeah. He said I was a good kid.”

She laughs. “Good kid? I mean, you’re probably only a few years younger than he is.”

“I guess so.”

She looks straight ahead. “He left early because we had a fight.”

“I know.”

This upsets her. “You know? Do you think everyone in this place knows?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I reply hastily. “When I came to the cabin earlier, I saw Abe telling your son why he was leaving. I didn’t want to intrude, so I just took a walk to the ballfield.”

“I hope you’re the only one who knows,” Miriam says. “It’s none of anyone else’s business. That busybody Ethel tried to find out at lunchtime why Abe left early.”

“I saw that. I thought you handled that very diplomatically.”

“Most of the men leave in the afternoon anyway,” Miriam says. “But Abe mentioned you were planning to stay the week.”

“I was. But this morning I decided maybe I should be getting back home. I was going to ask Abe if he could give me a lift to the city.”

“Well, it’s too bad you missed him,” Miriam says. “See if you can catch Dave before he leaves. I’m sure he’ll give you a lift.”

“That’s a good idea. By the way, I’d like to keep in contact with Abe. How do you spell your last name?” I’d never even found out their last name.

“Danielson,” Miriam says. “D-A-N-I-E-L-S-O-N. Just the way it sounds.”

“Same as mine.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You know, I thought I might even be related to your family.”

Miriam seems curious. “Did Abe ever tell you what we always fight about?”

“Over money?”

“It goes deeper than that. Most married couples, when they start having a family, when their income starts increasing, move to better neighborhoods, better school districts. We’ve moved three times since our first apartment. Abe has resisted every move we’ve made.”

“But he’s gone along with each one of them.”

“Reluctantly,” Miriam says. “I know what the problem is. Abe needs to be a big fish in a small puddle. He wants to be the trusted neighborhood lawyer: the person who not only can handle your legal problems, but make you laugh along the way so they don’t seem that serious. And do you know something?” she says earnestly. “I could go along with that. The problem is we have two children.”

“I hear they’re smart kids—especially your daughter.”

“They need to be in an educational environment that challenges them. And my son has some additional problems.”

“I saw him playing in a punch ball game.”

“Well,” Miriam says, “you must be a good influence on him. He’s never played in a game like that before. He has no friends and no confidence in himself. He just goes around with that little tennis racquet we gave him, batting that ball around.”

“Kids can change, you know.”

“I want to make sure he does,” Miriam says. “You know, the argument Abe and I had this morning was ridiculous. It was about summer camp for the kids, not so much for my daughter, but for my son. But it’s an issue that’s not going to happen for a couple of years at least, and we’re arguing about it now.”

* * *

Wearing his dark brown overcoat, Abe sits crying noiselessly on the third step from the bottom of a staircase. His wine-colored cane is on the stairs beside him. The stairs end in a landing; five more steps lead down to the kitchen.

It’s a large, one-family house. The staircase goes up to a bedroom floor. There’s another staircase that leads to a three-room attic apartment.

I remove the cane and sit down beside him on the step. He stops crying and looks at me as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

“You know,” I tell him, “it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if you didn’t go into the office for one day.”

He doesn’t even consider the suggestion. “Don’t you have a press conference today?” he asks.

“That’s not until one o’clock. Look, why don’t you just spend the day relaxing? Maybe this morning we could take a drive on the Belt, like we used to.”

He tenses both hands on the edge of the step. “I’ve got to get into work,” he says. “Help me up.”

I’ve done this many times before, so I know just how to do it. I put my right arm around his back, well beneath his bad shoulder.

“Hoist,” he says, smiling at me.

As I help him down the stairs, his spirits seem to revive. “Did I tell you,” he says, “I’m thinking of spending a few weeks in Arizona? A guy I know at work went there and said he felt much better. They say it’s the dry air.”

* * *

Recalling the morning’s argument seems to sadden Miriam. “Don’t you already live in a very good school district?” I ask.

“We do. But we’re renting now. It makes no sense to go on renting. When the war is over, rentals are going to skyrocket, as will the buying prices. We’ve really got to buy now.”

“That sounds smart,” I say. “I know you can get a good buy on that house on the next block. But don’t you think you might be able to get a better deal in another neighborhood—maybe like the one where Dave and Edie live? I believe you’d still be in that good school district.”

She ponders this. “I’d have to think about that,” she says.

“And this summer camp idea. Couldn’t you get almost the same benefit by sending the kids to a day camp? I mean, being able to sleep at home would be a lot less traumatic for them.”

She studies me. “You may have something there,” she says.

* * *

Dave and I are driving south on Route 209 toward the city. It’s a sunny afternoon. We have the highway to ourselves; there are no other cars in either direction.

Dave graciously offered to give me a lift to a subway station in northern Manhattan. I’ll take the subway to Grand Central, and from there, catch a train back home.

Earlier, we said our goodbyes to Miriam, Edie, and all the kids, and started out in Dave’s black Chevrolet. The car is a couple of years older than Abe’s, but in immaculate condition, inside and out. It’s about four o’clock in the afternoon. As I gaze out at the countryside, I feel more relaxed than at any time since I found myself in this area. Dave always seems relaxed.

“By the way,” Dave asks, “should we still be on the lookout for your car?”

“I’ve decided there’s a good chance I might find the car parked right in my driveway when I get home.”

“The odds definitely favor your being right.”

We pass by a huge stretch of cornfields. “What kind of work do you do, Dave?” I ask. My guess is a high-school guidance counselor. If he’s a friend of Abe’s, however, he may be a lawyer. Corporate lawyer, I would say.

“I’m a bookmaker,” he responds.

“An accountant?” I realize I’ve reacted too automatically—and too naively.

Dave smiles. “I accept wagers from people who want to place bets with me. It’s an honorable profession in England. The problem is, you don’t want to be in England at this time.”

So. Abe’s best friend is a bookie.

“If you’re wondering if Abe fritters away his money placing bets with me, forget it,” Dave says. “Abe and his brother-in-law lost their shirts in the stock-market crash of 1929. That cured him of any serious gambling tendencies. Sometimes, on a hunch, he’ll bet a couple of dollars with me on a horse. He’s actually been pretty lucky.”

I’m glad to hear this, but “Does Not Compute” alarm bells go off in my head. Abe can’t be more than four or five years older than me. According to my driver’s license, I was born in 1935. That means Abe was doing some prenatal wheeling and dealing.

“Don’t you mean that Abe’s father was the one who lost the money?”

This time Dave laughs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Abe’s father died young. He did not have a good life when he came to the U.S. He had trouble putting food on the table for his family. I’m sure the furthest thing from his mind was investing in the stock market.”

I begin to feel uneasy again. “Do you think they’ll be okay?” I ask.

“Who?”

“Abe and Miriam. They had a fight, you know. That’s the reason Abe left early.”

“I know that,” Dave says. “Of course they’ll be okay. Married couples have these spats all the time. It doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. They work things out. Edie is constantly after me to find a better profession. My feeling is this is what I do, I’m honest at it, and I’m good at it. Deep down, she understands.”

“It may be okay for you. But I’m worried about Abe.”

“There is no need to worry,” Dave says. “Abe will lead a good life. He will outlive his father by at least twenty years. And his children will outlive him by at least twenty years.”

“I’m not talking life expectancy. I’m talking psychological stress.”

“Look,” Dave says consolingly, “what are the measures of a good life? The first is to be a moral person. Second is to provide a good environment for your family—better than the one you had. Third is to achieve some success in your chosen profession. And a distant fourth, perhaps, is to attain some material comforts. Abe will achieve all those things.”

“But at what cost?” I reply. “I mean, to accomplish those things, no one has to be sacrificed.”

Dave’s face tenses, but he quickly regains his composure. “No one is being sacrificed,” he says quietly.

Silence. We continue down the highway.

“I had a talk with Miriam before we left,” I say quietly.

“About what?”

“About the need to go slowly on these expensive life-style changes they’re planning.”

“Like what?” Dave asks. There’s a tinge of confrontation in his tone.

“Well, for one thing, about this house they’re planning to buy in the upscale neighborhood. I mean, it’s a good idea to buy rather than rent, but not to overextend yourself much. I suggested that they instead look at something in your neighborhood. It’s still in that good school district. And day camp for the kids would be a lot less expensive than the sleepaway camp she’s considering. I think I pretty much had her convinced.”

Dave suddenly pulls over onto a stretch of grass by the side of the road. “Why are you stopping?” I ask.

He faces me directly. “You’ve given very foolish advice,” he says angrily. “Miriam will not like my neighborhood. The crime rate is higher there than in the one she’s looking at. And my neighborhood is right on the boundary of the good school district. School boards have a habit of manipulating those boundaries.”

Dave’s vehemence unnerves me. “Well, I mean, it was just a suggestion.”

“This is very important,” Dave says earnestly. “Important enough that I don’t mind getting home late. You’re going to go back to One Accord and un-convince her.”

“What?”

“I’m going to turn around and we’re going back.”

“This is crazy!” I shout. “I’m not going back there.”

Dave calmly grasps the floor stick shift, puts the car in first, and eases back onto the highway.

This stretch of Route 209 is very flat and very straight. About a mile ahead, toward the center of the road, I see two blinking blue lights. There’s a long line of cars in front of the lights.

“Roadblock ahead,” Dave says, slowing down and shifting into second. “Could you reach into the glove compartment and hand me the registration?”

I easily find the registration, but I have to laugh. It’s an old one—really old. Single font, typewriter style. Expiration date: December 31, 1943.

“Is there another one in here?” I ask.

“No, that’s the one.”

I laugh again. “Dave, you can’t show them that. It’s an antique registration—for an antique car.”

“What are you talking about?” Dave says. “It’s completely up-to-date.”

“All right. What’s today’s date?”

“It’s August 15, 1943.”

1943, I remember. That was the year my family vacationed in this area.

I start to panic. There’s a sea of old cars lined up around us now—in front, in back, on the other side of the roadblock—Chevies, Buicks, Dodges, Fords, De Sotos. Even some Hudsons. And old-style pickup trucks.

I try to calm down. There are several possible explanations. One is I’ve gone completely nuts. Or it’s a scam—a scam by a small-time bookmaker. Or it’s a dream. If it’s a dream, I’d be waking up, bolting up in my bed, sweating profusely. Only I’m sweating profusely and not waking up. If it’s a scam, it’s an elaborate one. For what purpose? And I don’t feel like I’m crazy, but that could quickly change.

Or I’m a time traveler. Time travel is like a dream, but without the luxury of waking up when things get out of hand. I’ve always believed that time travel could occur, but if it did happen to me, I’d search for some way to disprove it. Right now it’s the only explanation that makes sense: the antique cars, war talk, gasoline rationing, anti-German sentiment, the completely rural nature of this area. There are also certain rules of the road for time travel: You can’t say or do anything that will alter the cause and effect continuum. It’s like being in a museum: You can look, but not touch.

As we inch forward, I see the source of the delay. It’s a goldenrod-colored van parked on a grassy shoulder of the road. I am totally familiar with that car. It symbolizes the transition in aspiration from luxury car to functionality and enjoyment. Volkswagen Microbus. Conversion for camping by Westphalia. The description races through my mind like a commercial. Bench seat folds down to sleep two. Table extends from the side. Roof pops up to create a bed. Canvas cot stretches across the front seat to form a child’s bed. Sixty-six horsepower pancake engine that somehow manages to push that car up mountains on two continents.

As we inch closer, my heart sinks. A towtruck with a winch comes into view. The van looks like it’s been dredged up from a lake. There’s water still dripping down the sides. The top and sides are covered with mud. There’s a bunch of stones on the roof.

Dave suddenly makes a right turn onto a dirt road. He drives about a hundred yards, stops, and turns toward me.

“At these roadblocks,” he says, “they check the identification of both the driver and all passengers.”

“And… ”

“You’ve run out of viable options. Believe me, when they find you’re the owner of a strange German car with an obviously phony registration, they’ll throw you in jail and ask questions later.”

“You don’t understand,” I say, my voice cracking. “He went to Arizona and he felt better. He wrote and said he was walking without a cane. But he ran out of money and had to come back. I did nothing. I just watched and did nothing.”

“Look,” he says, “I know how you feel. The end is difficult for everyone, no matter how good a life one’s led. I know you tried to give Miriam good advice, but sometimes doing what seems to be right can have terrible consequences.”

I stare straight ahead.

“We can’t go back to the highway now and go the other way,” Dave says. “It will look too suspicious. This dirt road, however, does lead to a back way to One Accord. You have to go back there.”

“There is no way I’m going back,” I say adamantly.

“You’re a damn fool,” Dave says grimly, making a U-turn and heading back toward the highway. “You turned out to be a damn fool.”

 

Bill Carr’s short story “Exquisite Hoax” was published in the Scholars And Rogues online literary journal. His short story “Execute Eric Smith” was published in the East Bay Review. His work has also appeared in Menda City Review and The Penmen Review. He has had several articles published relative to online education and the computer industry. He has taken various courses with internationally known Shakespeare scholar Professor Bernard Grebanier, as well as Professors Marion Starling and Seymour Reiter.

Many of his stories, including “Transcendental Tours”, published in Menda City Review, and “Exquisite Hoax,” are satiric; others contain athletic themes. He has been ranked statewide (North Carolina) and sectionally (Southern) in senior divisions of the United States Tennis Association. He played industrial-league basketball for thirty years, including three overseas.

Carr received his master’s degree in English from Brooklyn College, and he currently serves as chairperson of the North Carolina B’nai B’rith Institute of Judaism.

Anthem by J. Paul Ross

The screams come and go in this place. They drift from every shadowed corner and every tomb-sized cell, and they bounce and deform through metal bars and hallways of concrete and stone. They mingle with the echo of patrolling boots and the clash of tapping batons and they dance amid each imprisoned groan whispered in fractured anguish and muted panic. There is no escape from their guilt-ridden chorus and here behind these walls, I have listened to them erupt from the mouths of sleeping men and I have heard them drown in fading gurgles. I have waited for them to collapse in the disjointed span of a final gasp and I have seen them go on and on at the turn of a knob and the crack of a spark. I have become an expert of their wailing pitch, their shrieking volume and their howling length, and when I am at home in bed, they linger in my ears, blurred and indistinct, and they serenade my dreams in a melody, distant and elusive.

But as the climax of our himno nacional soars throughout the prison, the yelps and cries have all stopped. The extremists and subversives and terrorists are motionless and silent, and like me, every guard is at attention, chins lifted, arms frozen in a proud salute. It is the morning ritual here and while the recorded trumpets blaze from high speakers, I must stand and ignore the throb in my knee and the tremble of my leg. I must clench my jaw and make sure I do not shift, do not give in because this pain is a memento of my service to our gran república. It is how I show the animals and monsters around me that I will fall before I quit, will die before I quit. I will wait until the last note has vanished and I am still at attention when the anthem ends and a whimper makes me turn to the naked ricachón being dragged past the guardhouse door, his limbs twitching, his fat lips mewling, “¡Por favor-por favor-por favor!”

I sneer because from the moment he arrived, I knew he was pampered and soft, and my stomach turned at the mere sight of him. His begging sounded across the exercise yard even before they removed his hood and I could tell instantly he had lived ambivalent and unaffected while patriots have bled and sacrificed for this country. That alone made him guilty and sighing amid the blubbering refrain of his tears, I move to my seat and resume my watch. I trace the catcalls of his fellow prisoners, the greetings of his fellow traitors and I take a deep breath at the clank of shutting doors and the unsettling return of the empty quiet.

“¡A la gran puchica!” Arcelio says, entering the guardhouse. “The rich pisado started crying like a niñita the second we took his clothes and made him stand there with his arms out. We never had to touch him. Can you believe it?”

“So he talked?”

Arcelio fingers his polished leather belt. “Well . . . no. Not yet. For the first hour, he just whined about how we’d made a mistake: how he was a businessman and not a comunista — the usual bullshit. After another hour or two though, he claimed to have no idea where his daughter was. He says he hasn’t spoken to her in months but I could tell he was lying. And if they’d let us take him downstairs we could—”

“We have our orders.”

“Well, those orders are a waste of time if you ask me. I mean, who cares if he has friends in high places or if he knew the last presidente? A traitor is a traitor, v’a’? I say we take his fat ass to the basement and strap him to the chair. One look at our little machine and—”

“Orders,” I repeat. “And believe me, I’m not happy about it either but they were very specific: no extreme measures. We’re to use an informant — namely, the indio from Sayaxché.”

“You’re kidding. Didn’t he confess to . . . What was it? Sabotage?”

“Sedition.”

“Same thing. Why would—”

“The file says the ricachón’s family had property in Petén,” I interrupt. “Maybe they’ll share a fond memory or two of walking in the mud for hours and sweating their asses off — that’s what I did up there. Personally, I agree with you; it’s a waste of time because you can’t trust indios. All they know is lies and the only thing worse than trusting one is turning your back on one. Mierda, if I learned anything in the army, it was—”

“Ah, but you’re not in the army anymore, vos. Remember? Besides, they gave us twenty-four days so maybe it’ll work out.”

“It won’t. Trust me.”

“You’d know better than I would,” he states, nodding and stroking his moustache. “I just wish I could’ve been there when you turned this indio. How’d you do it, by the way? Was it a threat of castration or did you use the one about violating him with a Coca-Cola bottle?”

“Neither,” I reply. “I merely gave him a choice: help us or lose the bottoms of his feet.”

“¡Madre de Dios, vos! You didn’t really tell him that, did you?”

At my shrug, Arcelio chuckles.

“How these zoquetes can keep fighting with so many gullible fools on their side is beyond me,” he proclaims. “I still remember the look on that one campesino’s face when you said you’d break the bottle in his ass after you finished raping him with it. I swear I’ve never seen anyone so eager to sign a confession . . . But I don’t know about this. An informant will take months, v’a’?”

“If not longer.”

“So what do we do in twenty-four days when he doesn’t talk?”

Again, I shrug.

“Well,” he says, “if we don’t have to put in too many late nights, I suppose I don’t really care — I have a new caspiana, see, and she gets upset when I’m . . .”

I stop listening because he can babble for hours about his romantic conquests, never realizing how annoying it is, never realizing how much it makes me question his commitment. He has only been here a few months and I do not fully trust him yet; he seems ignorant and shallow and more interested in drinking and parties than his job. And yes, I try to remember he is young and those are the things young people do. I try to forgive him for those things, those faults but when I start, I find that I cannot remember what it was like to be young. I cannot remember flirting with girls or bragging over cervezas. I cannot remember going to movies or dancing in cantinas or what it was like to live without the sounds of trumpets and screams.

I can only remember all these years of war, of La Violencia and of this struggle we cannot, must not, lose.

***

The room smells of fear sweat and urine, and as the indio goes on, I scowl at his ruddy face and try to forget the guerrillero in the Selva Petén who ruined my leg so long ago. He too was dirty, conniving and disloyal, and he too stared at me with dark, inscrutable eyes. He begged for his life with the same puling, illiterate accent and, unable to stand it anymore, I hit the table with my palm and growl, “What makes you think I care about the ricachón’s granddaughter, you shumo aguambado?”

“Nothing, señor,” sputters the indio. “It’s just . . . when he mentioned she was starting primary school, I thought—”

“Did I ask what you thought?”

“No, señor, I—”

“Then why are you doing this? You’ve been with him for almost two weeks. Do you really expect us to believe he hasn’t said anything of value?”

“I’m sorry, señor. I’m doing everything you told me to. He just won’t—”

“Bullshit,” I mutter. “You’re lying. We both know it. And one of these days . . . Ah, enough of this. Arcelio! ¡Vonós! Help me take this pedazo de mierda back to his cell.”

My fellow guard steps from the corner and hauls the traitor to his feet and once again, I mumble how none of these indios can be trusted. Eventually, we will have to find another tactic to get what we want and as I follow them out, I squeeze the handle of my baton and pray we have not wasted too much time on this scheme. I pray my superiors will not regret using this criminal because in the end, it will be the innocent who suffer. It will be their bodies strewn across the calles, their blood drenching the avenidas. I know this because I was there on the fifth of September and I have seen firsthand the pain these terrorists cause and the disorder in which they thrive. I saw the car bombs detonate outside the Palacio Nacional and I watched the smoke plumes of oil and gasoline pour into the sky. I smelled the burning flesh and heard the wails of misery and for hour after endless hour, I stood helpless and impotent.

For most of my life, my nation had been fighting but to me, those years of conflict were nothing but images on a television screen. I was a student and a civilian then and I too was ignorant and ambivalent. My thoughts were the selfish ones of a child but amid the wreckage of that day, amid the blare of sirens and the stench of death, I saw our flag standing above the Plaza de la Constitución. It was covered in soot, its edges were tattered but under the flap of its soiled colors, I saw the truth and understood what had to be done, what sacrifices had to be made.

We advance past checkpoints and down corridors and I find an uneasy sense of disquiet growing within me. The air is thick, the light is dim and, confined by mute echoes, I feel the shadows pacing just beyond the edges of my vision like they once did in the jungle. Within the cells, bodies shamble in the darkness, conversations are mouthed unheard and I move up behind the indio as he attempts to make himself crumpled and small. He is trying to seem injured, to seem harmless. He thinks he is fooling us, thinks we are all naive and when we stop in front of his cell, he turns and looks at me. He nods and tries to smile and I picture him cheering before his television on that day in September. I imagine him dancing and laughing at the remains of shredded women and babies, and I squeeze the baton even tighter.

***

A winter storm has crossed the low mountains to the south and it pries into my bones and assaults my knee in dull, throbbing pulses. It came in with charcoal clouds and raking thunder and hammering torrents of rain, and here in the interrogation room, the monotonous dripping of water falls to the rhythm of a ticking clock. It splashes unseen and pervasive over mold-slicked corners and along with the pain, it resurrects memories of patrols and battles and times when we did not play games with our enemies, times when we solved problems with machetes and hammers, a match to a roof or an emptied ammunition clip. The stink of mildew and rot is everywhere and at any moment, I expect to hear the grunts of howler monkeys and the crack of falling branches. I can almost feel the crush of leaves under my boots and relive the dread of stepping in the wrong place or missing the sniper in the trees.

Up in the guardhouse, the thunder vibrated the coffee on my desk but in the basement where I am, a gnawing stillness lingers. It coils around the flesh and it maneuvers and constricts across my aching limbs. The room stinks of cigarettes and nervous perspiration, and Arcelio has been ranting about tying the ricachón’s hands behind his back, lifting him off his feet by the wrists and leaving him there until his shoulders tear from the sockets.

He does not know what he is talking about but things can turn dangerous when the silence becomes heavy and I am thankful we have been told to separate the indio and the ricachón for it gives us something to do. The command is another useless ploy for our nation could be attacked again at any moment and we do not have time to coddle irrelevancies or contemplate lies from traitors. But I cannot disobey. After all, our informant has had three weeks to accomplish his mission and he has failed — as I always knew he would — and at precisely nine o’clock, I gather the other guards to do what our superiors have ordered.

We mount stairs and pass empty rooms and it is difficult to hear anything besides the storm’s distant turmoil. We continue to march though and soon the walls resonate with the tap-tap-tapping of our batons and a frantic hush consumes everything before us. The murmurs that once bounced like ricocheting bullets stall and I picture the inmates scrambling to hide, their bodies trembling, their hearts roaring in panic. This too is a ritual and we want them to cower at the slightest reverberant noise, to pray to the fissure of soiled light streaming beneath their doors and we want them to experience the same terror they relish, the same fear they have caused.

The entire section must pay for the indio’s failure and at the creak of unlocking gates and the thud of our boots, appeals for mercy fill the air. We open their cells one by one and at every turn of a key, the forlorn supplications climb and seep into one another. The inmates squint into the hard glare of the light and attempt to cover their faces. They shrink and huddle under their bunks. They grovel in corners and they howl when they are dragged into the open. Within seconds, I am unable to separate the curt shrieks from the labored wails as they implore and promise in ever-rising desperation. They declare both their innocence and their guilt. They denounce each other and attempt to scamper away like frightened dogs. It does not matter, for none of them will escape and the batons swing until the impact of wood against flesh and the smack of tissue slammed into concrete devour the calls for mercy. It continues from one end of the hall to the other and once there is no one left conscious, no one left to sob, I tap on the indio’s door and whisper his name.

***

For eight hours, a crescendo of shrieks and groans has sung throughout the prison; and for eight hours, the ricachón has seen and wept and tried to turn away. Bruises cover the indio’s swollen face. His teeth litter the floor and cigarette burns in the pattern of our flag dot his back. I have lost count of the fist strikes and the choking gasps of water vomited from straining lungs but for eight hours, the rich man has stood and witnessed and told us nothing.

The ricachón watched us put the indio in the iron chair and attach wires to his camarada’s ears, his nipples and finally to his cojones. He uttered a soft “No” when our little machine came to life with a hard click. He flinched at the surge and the hiss of the clamps searing into flesh. He winced when his friend’s muscles and tendons contorted, and he gagged on the reek of singeing hair floating from the indio’s lap. With each symphonic click and pulse and screeching roar of anguish, I asked a single question but the ricachón has refused to answer. For eight hours, the only sounds he made were the mewling of his tears and his wasted pleas for us to stop.

***

The ricachón cringes in the late afternoon sun and squirms in Arcelio’s hands. The sky is cloudless and the day is bright and before he collapsed, the indio has managed to stagger three entire meters without the soles of his feet. He twists, he screams and he tries to halt the spurts of blood from his limbs but every time his broken fingers caress the bare muscles, his body jerks and another scream churns from his throat.

Meandering trails of crimson stain the gravel and sand, and I throw the knife into the ground and slowly walk toward our informant. This squealing cockroach has cost me fifty quetzales and, gazing at his capering form, I think about how this is the way we should deal with all of our enemies. Instead of wasted effort on clever plots, we should have started with this. We should have shown the rich man what happens to traitors and anyone helping them. We should have shown him our mettle the first day, the first hour, the first second he arrived. We should have proven to him that we will never allow these animals to be victorious, will never again let car bombs obliterate innocent children or stand idly by as our country is humiliated.

The ricachón clenches his jaw but does not say anything. He does however, turn to me and glare. The look is almost a fearless one and I am preparing to snap his nose with the barrel of my pistol when a car pulls into the yard. Its license plates have been removed, its windows are dirty and opaque, and when a member of the judiciales opens the back door and nods to me, I chamber a round in my pistol and shoot the worthless, unneeded indio.

First in the legs . . .

Then in the head.

***

“Did you get that?” I ask.

Arcelio glances up from the floor. “What?”

“Did you get that?”

He hesitates, grimacing and nibbling his lip. “Yes, señor,” he finally sputters. “The Vargas plantation outside Champerico. She’s been there for at least seven weeks.”

I can barely hear him over the sobs and I wave to the body on the bloodstained concrete.

“We’re done,” I say. “Take him to the guardhouse so he can sign the confession.”

Arcelio continues to stand there. He is pale and I sigh and pat his shoulder.

“Don’t let this bother you,” I tell him. “This was his choice. He could’ve talked earlier but he didn’t. How long have we been at this and how many different answers has he given? A dozen? Two dozen? No. This was the only way and you heard him; he admitted his daughter’s a terrorist and he’s a traitor. This had to be done and because of it, we’ve probably saved lives. These animals are relentless and merciless and they are absolutely committed to killing us. Me. You. Your parents. Your caspianas. Trust me; I know them. And up in Champerico, his daughter could be doing anything: planning a kidnaping or another attack, building a bomb or perhaps something worse.”

He nods slowly and, fumbling with the handcuffs, he begins to drag the old man from the room. The ricachón begs to stay however; he shouts and weeps and he tries to crawl to me with useless promises flowing from his lips. It is pathetic and Arcelio curses and strikes the fat, pampered body. He repeatedly swings his baton and he turns the pleas to groans and mingles the blubbering tears with dripping blood. He then hauls the criminal down the corridor and soon the only things left are the scrapes of dragging feet and the occasional grunt of a distant kick.

The noises are almost pleasant ones to me for they mean our young Arcelio is learning. He is learning how every terrorist and subversive must be punished. He is learning that treason and indifference are the same thing and he is learning that every citizen must be a patriot in order for our gran república to survive. There are no half-measures in this war and that is why I stand every day and wait for our himno nacional to ring throughout these halls of concrete and stone. I will always take a deep breath and clench my jaw, and I will always maintain my stance until the very last verse has ended, the very last note has faded into the air. The throbbing in my knee, the tremble of my leg, these are things that must be endured because our nation deserves — indeed, it requires — nothing less. And so I lift my chin and level my shoulders. I ignore the stench of burnt flesh and the blood and tears on my boots. I ignore the monotonous drip of water oozing from the shadowed corners and as our anthem’s proud call swallows her unconscious whimpers, I ignore the ricachón’s granddaughter in the iron chair and raise my hand in a crisp salute.

 

J. Paul Ross is a Phi Alpha Theta graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver and a Pushcart Prize nominee. His fiction has appeared in Border Crossing, The MacGuffin and Serving House Journal. Currently, he is working on a novel set along the Pan-American Highway.

El contemplador por Iván Medina Castro

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Photo by Jury S. Judge

A Pamela Martínez Olvera

Lo que se hace por amor

se hace siempre más allá

del bien y del mal.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Después de unos años me atreví a regresar al jardincillo donde era su cuartel, su casa, su universo. Pero no estuvo allí. Lo hice así cada mañana de la siguiente semana, al igual que los posteriores siete días y nada; empero en ese último intento, me aproximé como nunca antes a la banca en donde lo observé por última vez para holgar un rato. No obstante, en el fondo, deseaba tener la oportunidad de sentirme pleno, de ser él. Ya ahí, miré alrededor. Todo era suciedad, la base de la banca parecía estar cimentada sobre torrentes de basura y se respiraba un hedor acumulado, magro y picante, como el percibido en el verano en la terminal Berri-UQAM a la hora pico, mezcla entre sudor de sobaco y perfum, aliento fétido y pasta dental, a pesticida. Me dio náuseas, pero sobre toda esa porquería, el vidrio de la ventana del único emplazamiento a través de donde él imaginaba contemplar la pintura anhelada con una serenidad inviolable, cual esfinge milenaria sintiendo en sus desgastados tabiques el paso de la vida, había sido cubierto con propaganda de una compañía telefónica. La cosa más kitsch; un perro faldero vestido con una playera del equipo menor de la liga de hockey, que mordisqueaba un teléfono móvil de color amarillo canario simulando una conversación. ¡Vaya mierda!

¿Qué habrá sido de Pitú? Quizá vino la muerte sin despertar sospecha alguna, o tal vez, abrumado por la desgracia, la locura de su descabellado amor lo envolvió con lentitud abriéndose paso por la piel, los huesos, el corazón hasta extraviarlo por completo. Ignoro qué haya sido de él, pero he de constatar que gracias a Pitú comprendí la existencia del amor por más extraño que éste simule ser.

Apoderado por una densa oscuridad que adherida a las paredes del cerebro hacía improductiva mi creatividad pictórica, llené el atelier de mediocres bocetos y acuarelas que de sólo verlas de reojo sentía pena de mí mismo. Por tanto, obsesionado erré por los más distantes barrios de la ciudad frecuentando cafés, casas de citas e incluso sinagogas con la finalidad de generar una explosión creativa capaz de despejar la niebla. Así vagué hasta que un soleado domingo di con quien la disipó. Pitú, migrante de piel morisca y suave fisonomía cual ser andrógino, que cambió mi destino al representar involuntariamente el motivo de mi cuadro titulado El contemplador. El hallazgo fue circunstancial, pues exhausto de andar por las calles del Quartier Latin, decidí descansar en un jardincillo situado de frente al Musée des Beaux-Arts, tan cómodo y agradable como parecía serlo, desierto de homeless pidiendo monedas por el simple hecho de hacer sonar un pandero. Al buscar un espacio adonde sentarme, me encontré con una persona desgarbada que no dejaba de mirar dirección a la ventana del museo. Me intrigó su entrega y hundido porte, así que decidí examinarlo por largo tiempo y desde diferentes ángulos. Era una escena increíble, su posición nunca varió, siempre reclinado, con la cabeza ladeada, en una postura ensimismada capaz de transmitir congoja. Regresé al día siguiente y allí estaba él, posaba idénticamente que al mediodía anterior como si representara el papel de una escultura humana. Intrigado en saber lo que inquirían aquellos avivados ojos de un extraño resplandor magenta, entré al museo y me dirigí directamente a donde daba la ventana observada. ¿Cuál sería mi sorpresa? La sugerente luz que transponía el ventanal, se posaba con increíble exactitud en el retrato de la disoluta Anita Berber. Nada adquiría sentido, así que, tratando de dar coherencia a toda esta farsa, me paré de bajo de la ventana en diferentes puntos, y en todos ellos el haz posado en el cuadro avivaba el fondo de tonalidades rojizas simulando un fuego perenne, condenando los excesos en vida de aquella libertina, influencia indudable de los drag queen que salieran a mi encuentro de sus lúgubres madrigueras en mi deambular a las dos de la tarde de regreso a casa, obsequiando a los transeúntes kits con gelée lubrifiante et un condom extralubricado, o esas perversas meretrices de culo espléndido para sacudir y extremidades amplias para que el semen resbale a placer halladas en los tugurios de la rue Sainte-Catherine, hechizado por la trepidante luz grana y añil de cientos de bujías de los espectaculares que arrastran hasta su cloaca al más católico; si aún queda alguno en esta provincia -Dios quiera que no tenga una enfermedad.

Semejante ridículo debí estar haciendo que el vigilante se acercó a mí y en tono burlón dijo con una mezcla entre inglés y francés: “No será usted otro lunático enamorado de la fea esa, verdad”. Seguí sin entender. Me quedé un momento en suspenso, e inmediatamente después le pedí al tipo aquel, con apariencia de arponero polinesio del Queequeg una explicación. El tipejo, sin emitir palabra alguna, sacó de la bolsa interior de su uniforme un periódico de esos carentes de información que se reparten de manera gratuita en el metro, lo abrió hasta dar con un artículo que indicó con su mugrosa y larga uña, dio media vuelta y desapareció de allí. Fue así como la incógnita se solucionó. Resulta, según se leía en el diario, que un residente del barrio de Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, esclavizado a sus costumbres, siempre visitaba el museo desde la apertura hasta el cierre para embelesarse con un cuadro del pintor Otto Dix, y en un ataque irracional, el joven de nombre Pitú, se deshizo de sus pantalones y presentando una prominente erección al contemplar a la modelo, se empezó a jalar el incircuncidado cuero de allá para acá y patín patatán…. -¿Habrá logrado eyacular?- fue lo único que pensé al terminar de leer la nota.

La tarde siguiente regresé al jardincillo y allí estaba él, como lo estaría los demás días al ir a pintarlo, congelado, incólume ante el viento, el sol, la lluvia y el polvo. Siempre mirando al Este, hacia su hurí, como un fiel dirigiendo sus plegarias a la Meca.

El primer intento en abordar a Pitú fue en vano y en momentos aterrador, cada línea plasmada en el lienzo parecía retener el aliento que él expelía. Su presencia melancólica, sus motivos incomprensibles, su estado petrificado me inhabilitaba pero aun así continué ensayando en bocetos con la desesperación de un minero por hallar la veta. De pronto, los sutiles trazos nacían hasta que el pincel adquirió vida propia. Al final, mis horas de esfuerzo se compensaron anteponiéndome a la tragedia de Pitú, si bien capté la mirada dulce, celestial en verdad, con un dejo de tristeza, su apariencia plegada, pensativa y sobre cualquier otra cosa esa ilusión de una juventud eterna e inquebrantable entregada a sus ideales de pleno amor, la verdadera persona, la parte humana, se achicaba de una manera continua y lenta. Ser testigo de su empequeñecimiento me cortó el resuello más de una ocasión, sin embargo, persistí ante el embate, y decidí sumergirme dentro del vértigo y el frenesí de semejante reto, pues al retratarlo al óleo, no sólo creí redimirlo, sino sentí liberar a la humanidad de su tragedia saturada de frustración, desastre, futilidad, vacío y mal humor. Todos muertos o a punto de morir.

El resultado del contemplador, con el tiempo, pasó a formar parte de la colección de obras permanentes del Museo de Bellas Artes. Y será cosa de la justicia divina, de Cupido o del más puro azar, pero la pintura se colocó justamente en el muro frontal en donde el cuadro de Dix descansa, de bajo de la ventana, para que así, Pitú siga contemplando a su único amor.


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Iván Medina Castro, nació en la Ciudad de México. Es Licenciatura en Relaciones Internacionales. Fue becario del Programa de Residencias Artísticas FONCA-CONACYT, fue Convocado por el Departamento de Literatura de la Universidad de Caldas, Colombia para participar en una ponencia sobre el proceso creativo en la literatura y en marzo del año 2013, fue Convocado por The Department of World Languages and Cultures de la Universidad Northeastern de Illinois para la lectura de su libro de cuentos “En cualquier lugar fuera de este mundo” Ed. Conaculta, colección El Guardagujas. Cursó la especialización en Literatura Mexicana del Siglo XX en la UAM.

Islandia por Dante Herrera

Photo by Danny Zawodny
Photo by Danny Zawodny

Aquella tarde, sentado en el café de la estación, la vi llegar cubierta por el lento sol del hemisferio. Entró agitada, libró su cabello de las trenzas de lana y ordenó una bebida caliente. Afuera nevaba. El vapor de las tazas adormecía la percepción de los objetos y provocaba la contemplación. Incitado por esa neblina y por el crujir de la madera, estuve a punto de resolver el enigma de un sueño antiguo y cerré los ojos, tratando de alcanzar con mi pensamiento el extremo de un  hilo que alguien parecía tirar más lejos de mí.

El frío era profundo, pero la nieve arrojaba a la vista una textura láctea que producía placer. La gente bajaba de los trenes y rápidamente buscaba refugio en el interior del establecimiento. Ella bebía. Sola en su mesa, su chaqueta roja recibía un manojo de su cabello escandinavo, que acariciaba suavemente. Puse a un lado el libro que traía conmigo, busqué en mis bolsillos una libreta y decidí escribir algo que también hubiese escrito veinte años atrás en la misma circunstancia. La miré una vez más; luego, mentalmente la sostuve en mi palma, como si posara para la mano de un artista. Escribí:

Unos días después, andando por la calle, se acercó. Tímidamente me preguntó por una dirección. Yo respondí que podía acompañarla pues iba al mismo lugar. Hablamos un poco; su voz era trémula, sus ojos, inciertos. Mi edad me sugirió que le agradaba. Entonces, luego de unos minutos,  arriesgué un movimiento que jamás había ejecutado con una mujer desconocida. Caminando juntos tomé su mano. Ella no se resistió, y en una fracción de segundo, se abrió un paisaje ante mis ojos: su cuerpo fragante, noches de ternura, promesas al pie de una ventana, flores intensas y flores frías.

Pasó poco tiempo desde aquella tarde en el café, cuando, asfixiado por el insomnio y la ansiedad, salí una mañana a comprar cigarrillos. Me dirigí por primera vez a una tienda a dos cuadras de mi casa, la cual había desdeñado siempre por su color estridente y ventanas escarlata. Aún entumecido por el frío polar me acerqué a caja para pagar por mis compras y ella me atendió. La reconocí sin dificultad. Desde una habitación menor una voz gruesa la llamó por su nombre, Liska, y respondió cariñosamente. Supe entonces cómo se llamaba y también que su corazón no era un astro inhabitado.

Un poco decepcionado me senté a contemplar la nieve detrás de mi ventana. Un niño caminaba solo por la calle golpeando con un palo los postes de luz. Recordé las anotaciones de mi libreta la tarde en que descubrí a Liska en la estación del tren. Leí la primera oración: “Unos días después, andando por la calle, se acercó”. Proseguí con el resto y al terminar, pensé en lo terrible de persistir, a mis casi cincuenta años, en las fantasías de la juventud.

Agotado por el frío y las extensas jornadas, una noche ausculté mis ahorros y descubrí que podía darle a mi rutina un pequeño descanso. Hablé por teléfono con un viejo amigo que vivía en Viena y le propuse visitarlo. Armando accedió de inmediato pues, según me contó, su madre había muerto hace poco y estaba muy deprimido.

Una semana más tarde llegué de madrugada luego de un vuelo corrompido por un sueño violento. Sin embargo, ya instalado en el apartamento de mi amigo, me sentí optimista otra vez. Ese mismo día salimos a caminar por las plazas donde, años atrás, siendo estudiantes, habíamos pasado horas considerando las semejanzas entre nuestros países, observando mujeres e improvisando poemas cuando alguna nos parecía excepcionalmente hermosa.

La ciudad no me era extraña, de modo que los días en que él tenía alguna obligación en la oficina, yo andaba a mi aire por las calles, entraba a los cafés, a las librerías, o asistía a algún concierto. El haber sido un solitario por tantos años me daba la dignidad de hacer aquello sin sentirme ridículo.

Una mañana en que Armando tuvo que ausentarse por dos días, desayuné tarde y salí después de las diez. Al cabo de una hora caminando por el centro una voz me preguntó por una dirección. Volteé para responder. Era Liska. Contuve mi sorpresa y asentí serenamente. Le dije que iba al mismo lugar y que podía acompañarla. Me pregunté qué haría ella en Viena, pero consideré averiguarlo más adelante.

Me miró con algo de intensidad pero también con tristeza. Su rostro parecía un paisaje nocturno en busca de luz. Inicié una conversación trivial mientras pensaba que aquellas líneas que había escrito en el café semanas atrás empezaban a materializarse. Ella se me había acercado, era cierto, y por qué no pensar que lo había hecho porque le agradaba.

Pocos minutos después sacó una mano de su abrigo para ajustarse las gafas y noté que tenía unos cortes. Le pregunté delicadamente si no querría pasar por una farmacia. Me dijo que ya los había curado, que estaban sanando. Pero al cabo de un segundo de responderme su rostro cambió; luego, se quebró. La sostuve del brazo y la llevé a sentarse en una banca. Tras un silencio profuso en lágrimas, me contó que eran rastros de una pelea conyugal, que se había defendido tenazmente y que su cuerpo tenía otras marcas, más íntimas, más vergonzantes.

Mi corazón palpitaba con fuerza y ella trataba de sosegar su propia agitación. Noté en sus ojos ya no tristeza sino rencor, y un color indescifrable que se abría paso en sus pupilas. Temblando un poco aún, alcancé a comprender que la realidad me cercaba para consumar la ficción. Entonces, con la seguridad de quien cumple una profecía, la tomé de la mano y la conduje por un pasaje hacia una fuente. Ya sereno, acaricié su cabello, hundí mis ojos en los suyos,  y  pensé que un beso era aquello que el universo me pedía.

Lo que pasó después no puedo explicarlo, ni menos comprenderlo. El horror y la vergüenza me amordazan. Pero dejo a la vista la nota que mi amigo -atónito ante la escena- leyó de regreso en su apartamento, aquella que no pude haber escrito, pero existe:

Probé sus labios a la sombra de un manzano. Luego decidimos estar a solas y caminamos al apartamento. Anochecía. Un ave fatal cantó tres veces mientras subíamos las escaleras. Cerré la puerta detrás de mí, y sentí que una fragancia oscura se esparcía por el aire. De pronto tuve miedo, pero ya era tarde cuando quise reaccionar: Liska había hundido una daga en mi abdomen.

Caí vencido por el dolor y el absurdo. Me arrastré hasta la habitación donde había dejado mis cuadernos mientras oía unos pasos alejarse. Hallé la página correcta y leí las primeras palabras que escribí sobre ella, cuando aún desconocía su nombre. La herida apretó su puño y no me dejó continuar. Tendido en el suelo, sangrante, pensé en la muerte, y mi pensamiento logró alcanzar el extremo de un hilo que conduce a la última respuesta.


Dante Herrera es un escritor y educador radicado en el Perú. Ha publicado dos libros de poemas y actualmente se encuentra escribiendo un libro de relatos.
Dante Herrera es un escritor y educador radicado en el Perú. Ha publicado dos libros de poemas y actualmente se encuentra escribiendo un libro de relatos.

El Maestro Liador por Christian Ekvall

Photo by Bernardo García
Photo by Bernardo García

Malmö, Suecia, 2006

Era solamente bueno para hacer dos cosas, decía. Liar porros y jugar al pinball. Cuando liaba, incluso los fumadores con más experiencia se sentaban con la boca abierta, haciendo un círculo alrededor de él. Ellos habían liado durante veinte años y nunca habían logrado una cosa parecida. No comprendían cómo era posible. Los porros de este hombre eran demasiado bellos par ser fumados. La gente se atrevía apenas a tenerlos en la mano. Tan bien formados, tan bien sellados. Pensaban que deberían más bien ser expuestos en una galería o algo por el estilo.

La técnica de los dedos era en sí algo inaudito. Te preguntabas si él habría sido marionetista en otra vida. Si alguien fumaba chocolate en una película, a él lo contrataban como doble para las manos. Es decir que él debía liar pero se filmaban solamente sus manos. A continuación se subía a la escena para hacer creer que se trataba de las manos del actor. Pero todos los que lo conocían habrían reconocido esas manos, incluso en la película independiente más granulada. Esas manos, las habíais observado atentamente tantas veces.

Si era el cumpleaños de alguien o si alguien obtuvo un nuevo puesto de trabajo, él sacaba sus hojas de lujo. Eran hojas largas, sólidas, color castaña, aquéllas que se utilizan para los puros, pero que tenían un delicioso perfume a chocolate. Si se sentía ese olor al entrar en el apartamento, se sabía que él estaba de buen humor. Lo mismo si se veía un paquete de zumo de mango alemán sobre la mesa.

Tenía una actitud extraña frente al dinero. Podía tener cuatro meses de retraso de alquiler, recibir un cheque de cuatro cientas coronas de la Oficina de los compositores suecos, e ir directamente a comprarse una escopeta de aire comprimido que había visto en una vitrina. Podía guardar sus últimas dos cientas coronas esperando febrilmente la más fina cosecha de té que venía de la China. Cuando él decía té, la gente primero pensaba que hablaba de hierba. Pero realmente hablaba de té.

Cuando llegaba a una fiesta, siempre era muy tarde. La mayoría de los invitados ya se habían ido. Él tenía la costumbre de traer una compilación de música en la que había trabajado toda la tarde y que contenía todo desde bandas de chicas desconocidas, a Howlin’ Wolf y Hawkwind. Cuando hablaba de algo que le gustaba, lo hacía rápidamente, sus ojos brillando intensamente y era imposible detenerlo. Una vez, lo viste hablar de este modo durante mucho tiempo sin darse cuenta de que la persona a quien le hablaba se había quedado dormida.

Antes, decía, tenía la costumbre de pelearse a puñetazos. Ahora se había calmado. Sobre su frigorífico, había un artículo de un periódico de Glasgow sobre “dos ladrones de terreno de golf” que habían robado un coche de golf dañando el terreno con las ruedas, para finalmente lanzar el coche por un precipicio. Nadie tuvo la necesidad de preguntarle por qué había recortado ese artículo.

Pero todavía se excedía de vez en cuando. Podía acusar violentamente a un desconocido de mirar pornografía o, lo peor, según él, de depositar dinero en fondos. Podía lanzar los discos “detestables” por la ventana, y no siempre eran los discos de otros. Podía “tomar prestada” una palmera de dos metros después de una fiesta, sólo para ver si el anfitrión se atrevería a acusarlo de ladrón cuando viera, más tarde, la misma palmera en su casa. También podía ponerse a llorar. En medio de una fiesta.

A veces pasaban cosas extrañas, por ejemplo que viniera a una fiesta con la chaqueta cubierta de excrementos, y seriamente enfadado con algún incidente que él nunca lograba contar de manera satisfactoria.

Vosotros, a quienes os gustaba fiestear con él, todos habéis escuchado de la boca de un asistente social que érais “cómplices”. Cuando más tarde estaba sobrio, intentábais reflexionar sobre eso, tomando una Coca-Cola igual que él para no parecer insensibles. Él pensaba que eso era ridículo de vuestra parte.

Se decía que trabajaba como asistente de ancianos. Que era muy querido por los viejos. Que había una viuda en alguna parte cuyo marido había sido un coleccionista de jazz, y que ellos solían escuchar sus discos cuando él venía a ayudarla con sus medicamentos y las gotas oftálmicas para la catarata. Según el rumor, se quedaba allí cada vez hasta más tarde. Ellos escuchaban a Coltrane y él tenía cada vez menos tiempo para los otros ancianos. Al final, se decía que él ya no se molestaba de verla más que ella, y que sigió yendo mucho después de haber sido despedido.

Lo que se decía de que sólo tenía dos talentos no era del todo cierto. Según algunas fuentes, habría sido bastante buen cocinero. Según otros él habría tocado en varios grupos de rock cuyos nombres conocías y que eran famosos internacionalmente, cuando aún era joven y vivía en Norrland. Todo el mundo estaba impresionado por su cocina. Algunos decían que era buen nadador. Quizás, como por casualidad, él pertenecía a la categoría de la gente que no sabe realizar sus talentos.

Tenía grandes complejos debido a su ortografía. Por esa razón, todavía llamaba por teléfono a pesar del hecho de que todos los demás habían pasado a los mensajes de texto. Las únicas veces que escribía mensajes de texto, era cuando alguien no respondía al móvil, generalmente porque la persona dormía mientras él estaba todavía en la ciudad, a las cinco de la mañana. En esos momentos, podía escribir cosas largas e incoherentes y de repente, ya no parecía preocuparse por las faltas de ortografía o por su gramática. Pero a todo el mundo le daba igual su ortografía. La gente lo quería. En realidad, no había nadie que no lo quisiera.

Tenía dos talentos, decía. Liaba los porros más bellos de Malmö. Pero si era bueno o no en el pinball, eso nadie lo sabía

Traducido por: Oskar Sévérac

 

Malmö, Sweden, 2006

He only had two talents, he said. Rolling joints and playing pinball. Whenever he was rolling, even the most experienced smokers would form a circle around him, staring. They had been rolling for twenty years and still had never seen anything like it. How was it possible? This guy’s joints were too beautiful to smoke. People barely dared to hold them. So well-crafted, so tight. Like they ought to be exhibited.

The finger work in itself was a sight to behold. It made you wonder if maybe he could have made it as a puppeteer. If someone was going to smoke weed in a film, he was hired as a hand-double. He was to roll the joint while they shot only his hands, and then the scene would be edited in a way so that it looked like his were the hands of the character. But anyone who knew him would recognize those hands even in the most granular indie flick. They had been stared at so many times.

If it was somebody’s birthday or if someone had just landed a new job, he would take out the “special” papers. They were those long, thick and brown ones also used for cigars – but flavoured with chocolate or something equally sweet. If you could smell that scent when you entered the apartment – or if you saw a half-full mango juice Tetra Pak standing around – you knew that he would be in a good mood.

With all the poor musicians and writers and artists you’ve known, you’ve seen many strange financial decisions being made. Like when the guitarist of your band received a royalty check of four hundred kronor and went straight to the op-shop to buy himself an air-gun. Now, this guy was stranger than that. He would save his last two hundred when he learned that the finest yield of tea was coming in from China. When he said tea, of course, people thought he was talking about weed. But he was really talking about tea.

He always arrived very late to parties. Most of the guests had already gone home. He would bring a mixed CD containing everything from obscure girl groups to Howlin’ Wolf and Hawkwind. When he talked about something he enjoyed, his eyes would sparkle intensely and he could not be silenced. Once, you saw him talk like this for some twenty minutes without ever noticing that the person next to him was asleep.

In the old days, he said, he would get into trouble. Now he had calmed down. On his refrigerator was a news item from a Glasgow paper telling the story about the two “golf course raiders” who had stolen a golf cart and run amok over the course, finally pushing it over the edge of a cliff. There was no need for anyone to ask why it sat on his fridge.

There were still moments when things would get out of hand. Sometimes he would violently start accusing a stranger of being obsessed with porn, or worse, holding an endowment assurance; both things, accidentally, having been said about the guy who had stolen his girlfriend. Sometimes he would start throwing “hideous” records out the window; often but not always his own records. Or he would “borrow” a two-meter palm tree when leaving a party, just to see if the host would dare to confront him the day he spotted the tree at his house. He would also sometimes start crying, suddenly and openly, in the middle of a party.

Even stranger things would happen. Once he arrived to a party with his jacket covered in feces, all pissed off over some incident on his way there that he never managed to recount in a satisfactory way.

You who enjoyed partying with him were occasionally told by some social worker that you were “enablers”. Later, when he got sober, you tried to keep this in mind and ordered a coke when he did in order to not be insensitive. He thought that was silly.

They said he worked in geriatric care. That the old people were very fond of him. That there was a widow somewhere whose husband had been a jazz collector and whose records they used to play when he came to help her with the medications and the eye drops for her cataract. Rumour had it that he kept staying longer and longer with her in the afternoons. They had been sitting there listening to Coltrane and his visits to the other old men and ladies had become less frequent every day. In the end, he couldn’t be bothered to visit anyone but her, and he kept doing that long after he got fired.

That thing about rolling joints and pinball being his only talents was not entirely true.  Some said he had once, as a young man up north, played in several groups that you knew by name and one of which had later become world known. Everyone was impressed with his cooking skills. Some said he was a fantastic swimmer.  Maybe he just happened to fall into that category of people who don’t know how to realise their talents.

He had a complex about his bad spelling. So he would always call when everybody else had moved on to text messages. The only time he texted was when someone didn’t answer the phone, normally because they were sleeping while he was out blind drunk at five in the morning. Then he would write something long and incoherent and suddenly didn’t seem to care at all about his bad spelling or grammar.  Who the hell cared if he could spell or not? People liked him. You can’t remember one person who said they didn’t like him.

He only had two talents, he said. His joints were the most beautiful in town. How good he was at pinball, no one knew.


Christian Ekvall (nacido en 1978) es un traductor, escritor y músico sueco que ha crecido en una pequeña isla del mar Báltico. En el año 1999, fundó el grupo de música psicodélica Octopus Ride, todavía activo. Seis años más tarde, concluyó sus estudios de maestría en Escritura Creativa en la Universidad de Lund, y luego se mudó temporalmente en la Argentina, donde comenzó a trabajar como traductor de ficción. Tradujo, entre otros, El gran Gatsby, de F. Scott Fitzgerald, obras de Djuna Barnes, Woody Allen, Lewis Carroll y la mayor parte de las novelas de Ernest Hemingway. Trabajos de su autoría fueron publicados en las prestigiosas revistas suecas Subaltern y Staden.
Christian Ekvall (nacido en 1978) es un traductor, escritor y músico sueco que ha crecido en una pequeña isla del mar Báltico. En el año 1999, fundó el grupo de música psicodélica Octopus Ride, todavía activo. Seis años más tarde, concluyó sus estudios de maestría en Escritura Creativa en la Universidad de Lund, y luego se mudó temporalmente en la Argentina, donde comenzó a trabajar como traductor de ficción. Tradujo, entre otros, El gran Gatsby, de F. Scott Fitzgerald, obras de Djuna Barnes, Woody Allen, Lewis Carroll y la mayor parte de las novelas de Ernest Hemingway. Trabajos de su autoría fueron publicados en las prestigiosas revistas suecas Subaltern y Staden.

Vera por Elisa C. Martínez Salazar

Photo by Bernardo García
Photo by Bernardo García

We went every day before sunrise. The lake had become our secret spot. We caught the first two rays of the sun holding our breath, not daring to think of the words we’d say when darkness disappeared. I didn’t know it then, but Vera was a different kind of soul. Unique, like those that come around once every thousand years. Our conversations traveled through time and space and, together, we could do anything we wanted.

I remember when we lived in an old man’s dream, a small hut in the middle of nowhere. We moved the stars in his night skies and ran away before he awoke. We promised to go back to rearrange his stars. The truth is that we ran because we were afraid of what we might have ended up feeling for each other. We were terrified to think in terms of love and eternity, so we sought comfort in our cynicism, only to throw it away and laugh like children when we realized, deep inside, that happiness was to be found in each others hands.
It was the summer when my father left. Mother didn’t say his name. If we acted like he had never existed, then she could cry herself to sleep and I could believe I didn’t wonder if he’d come back. After a while, I stopped wondering and she stopped crying. Vera was long gone when mother and I understood that we had to move on.

She never said much about herself. Whenever I asked about her past, she built a wall around her, as if she were holding on to a secret greater than the two of us.

If I showed you where I’ve been, you’d see how foolish the world is and you’d want to come with me. I wouldn’t forgive myself because I know how much beauty there is in your ignorance. 

She would then close her eyes for endless minutes and I would fall in love with her hands, guessing what each line meant or where she had come from, who her parents were and if she would ever say my name.
Vera held my hands when I opened wounds. She never forgot to hold them and I will always thank her for that. I got used to her voice, to the distance she put between us if I spoke about the future, to the way she looked at me when I saw nothing beyond the wrinkles around her eyes, to the mystery of time slowing down when she smiled at the blue butterfly floating over our heads.

It’s human nature to remember the day when you wake up unafraid to admit that you love someone. That day my heart was pounding like crazy. I was determined to tell her how I felt, but I kept going back to the same questions. Who was she? What would happen after that summer? Were we going to see each other again? I didn’t care about the answers. Not really. I only cared about what she’d say when I asked if she loved me back. That was it.

There are two types of silence. One is immense and it suffocates until you can’t hear anything but its vastness; the other, a cruel kind of silence, is impossible to foresee. It creeps up your soul like a shadow, cold and dangerous. It precedes change, unexpected goodbyes and the events that mark your life forever. It’s a lonely silence that doesn’t hide the truth. It’s the mirror your soul faces when there is no going back to whatever made you feel safe when you were younger. A dark shadow was cast over me when I stood in front of the lake that morning, watching the sunrise alone, no signs of Vera.

What if she had left? Maybe it was my fault. If I had not fallen in love with her, a strange girl with an unknown story, she would have been in the lake and we would have been on our way to a distant galaxy or diving into the sea in a child’s dream. But I was in love with Vera and I couldn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t sorry and had I been given the chance, I wouldn’t have let go of my feelings. The silence was driving me insane. My body was shaking. I was tired, angry, relieved. I crawled into a fetal position and stayed like that until I fell asleep. And then everything got confusing. I don’t know if I recall a dream, but Vera came to the lake. She woke me up and she looked sad.

“Where were you?!”

“I came to tell you that I’ll leave”.

The silence struck me again. What was I supposed to say?

“None of this was real”.

I hated her. I hated her when she said that. Who did she think she was, trying to convince me that the only real truth in my life wasn’t real? Vera was not who I thought.

“I will come with you”.

“You can’t”.

I knew then that life is an infinite circle of beginnings and ends, and one can only hope to enjoy the good times, make them last and struggle to remember them when bad times come. Vera would leave and I’d have to preserve our fragile and ephemeral love, filling the gaps around her mystery, embellishing my memories to keep her close. Her absence sunk in slowly.

I was lost in my thoughts long enough for Vera to vanish before my eyes. I looked around. The lake was different. Everything had changed. I changed. I walked back home to never return, but human existence is full of irony. A blue butterfly came out of nowhere to sit on my shoulder. I thought of killing it when Vera spoke loudly in my mind, breaking the silence for the first time:

I showed you more than I’ve ever showed anyone and nothing was perfect, but holding your hands came close to perfection every time. There should be exceptions for stories like ours. 

Many years have passed since that summer. Mother is gone. I can’t remember my father’s face. I’ve traveled around the world, seen faces, fallen in love, but I am afraid of night skies in old men’s dreams. I’ve never felt safe again. Every summer, the shadow of loneliness covers my hands and I feel lost, on the verge of falling apart. And I remember the smiling girl whose features have faded along with my youth. And I pretend to hear her voice. And I go to sleep thinking she’s holding my hands. And I repeat her name until a blue butterfly flies over our heads in a lake.

END

Íbamos cada día antes del amanecer. El lago se había convertido en nuestro lugar secreto. Atrapábamos los dos primeros rayos del Sol aguantando la respiración, sin atrevernos a pensar en las palabras que diríamos cuando desapareciera la oscuridad. No lo sabía entonces, pero Vera era un alma distinta. Única, como aquellas que aparecen una vez cada mil años. Nuestras conversaciones viajaban a través del tiempo y del espacio y, juntos, podíamos hacer lo que quisiéramos.

Recuerdo cuando vivimos en el sueño de un anciano, una choza minúscula en medio de la nada. Movimos las estrellas en sus cielos nocturnos y huimos antes de que despertara. Prometimos volver para arreglar sus estrellas, pero la verdad es que huimos porque tuvimos miedo de lo que pudimos terminar sintiendo el uno por el otro. Nos aterraba pensar en términos de amor y de eternidad, así que nos refugiamos en nuestro cinismo solo para despojarnos de él y reír como niños cuando nos percatábamos, en el interior de nuestro ser, de que encontraríamos la felicidad en las manos del otro.

Fue el verano en el que mi padre se fue. Mamá no decía su nombre. Si actuábamos como si nunca hubiera existido, entonces ella podía llorar hasta quedarse dormida y yo podía creer que no me preguntaba si regresaría. Tras un largo tiempo, dejé de preguntar y ella dejó de llorar. Vera se había ido cuando mamá y yo finalmente entendimos que debíamos dejarlo ir.

Nunca decía mucho de sí misma. Cuando preguntaba sobre su pasado, construía un muro a su alrededor, como si se aferrara a un secreto mayor que nosotros dos.

Si te mostrara donde he estado, verías cuán ingenuo es el mundo y querrías venir conmigo. No me perdonaría porque sé cuánta belleza hay en tu ignorancia.

Cerraba entonces los ojos por minutos interminables y yo me enamoraba de sus manos adivinando lo que cada línea significaba o de donde había venido, quiénes eran sus padres y si alguna vez diría mi nombre.

Vera me tomaba de las manos cuando yo abría mis heridas. Nunca olvidó tomarlas y se lo agradeceré siempre. Me acostumbré a su voz, a la distancia que ponía entre nosotros si hablaba del futuro, a la manera en que me miraba cuando yo no veía nada más allá de las arrugas alrededor de sus ojos, al misterio del tiempo desapareciendo cuando sonreía a la mariposa azul que flotaba encima de nuestras cabezas.

Es naturaleza humana recordar el día en que despiertas sin miedo de admitir que amas a alguien. Ese día mi corazón palpitaba con furia. Estaba determinado a decirle lo que sentía, pero seguía pensando en las mismas preguntas. ¿Quién era? ¿Qué sucedería después de ese verano? ¿Nos veríamos otra vez? No me importaban las respuestas. Realmente no. Solo me importaba lo que diría cuando le preguntara si me amaba. Eso era todo.

Existen dos tipos de silencio. Uno es inmenso y sofoca hasta que no puedes oír nada, excepto su inmensidad; el otro, un silencio cruel, es imposible de prever. Cala en tu alma como una sombra, es frío y peligroso. Precede a cambios, despedidas inesperadas y los acontecimientos que marcan tu vida por siempre. Es un silencio solitario que no esconde la verdad. Es el espejo al que se enfrenta tu alma cuando no hay regreso hacia aquello que te hacía sentir seguro cuando eras joven. Una sombra oscura se lanzó sobre mí cuando estuve de pie en el lago esa mañana, viendo el amanecer solo, sin señal de Vera.

¿Y si se había ido? Quizás fue mi culpa. Si no me hubiera enamorado de ella, una chica extraña con una historia desconocida, habría estado en el lago y habríamos estado rumbo a una galaxia lejana o sumergiéndonos en el mar en el sueño de un niño. Pero estaba enamorado de Vera y no podía hacer nada al respecto. No me arrepentía y si me hubieran dado la oportunidad, no habría abandonado mis sentimientos. El silencio me enloquecía. Mi cuerpo temblaba. Estaba cansado, enfadado, aliviado. Me arrastré hasta quedar en posición fetal y me quedé así hasta dormirme. Y luego todo se volvió confuso. No sé si recuerdo un sueño, pero Vera fue al lago. Me despertó y se veía triste.

“¡¿Dónde estabas?!”

“Vine a decirte que me iré”.

El silencio me golpeó otra vez. ¿Qué se suponía que dijera?

“Nada de este fue real”.

La odié. La odié cuando dijo eso. ¿Quién creía que era, tratando de convencerme de que la única verdad en mi vida no era real? Vera no era quien yo pensaba.

“Iré contigo”.

“No puedes”.

Supe entonces que la vida es un infinito círculo de comienzos y finales, y uno solo puede disfrutar los buenos momentos, hacerlos durar y luchar para recordarlos cuando lleguen los malos. Vera se iría y yo tendría que preservar nuestro amor frágil y efímero, llenando los huecos que envolvían su misterio, adornando mis recuerdos para mantenerla cerca. Me sumergí en su ausencia lentamente.

Estuve perdido en mis pensamientos tiempo suficiente para que Vera se esfumara frente a mis ojos. Miré alrededor. El lago era diferente. Todo había cambiado. Yo había cambiado. Regresé a casa para nunca volver, pero la existencia humana está llena de ironías. Una mariposa azul salió de la nada para posarse en mi hombro. Pensé en matarla cuando Vera habló en mi mente a todo volumen, rompiendo el silencio por primera vez:

Te mostré más de lo que he mostrado a cualquiera y nada fue perfecto, pero tomar tus manos se acercó a la perfección cada vez. Debería haber excepciones para historias como la nuestra. 

Muchos años han pasado desde ese verano. Mamá se ha ido. No puedo recordar el rostro de mi padre. He viajado por el mundo, visto rostros, me he enamorado, pero tengo miedo de los cielos nocturnos en sueños de ancianos. Nunca me he vuelto a sentir a salvo. Cada verano, la sombra de la soledad cubre mis manos y me siento solo, al punto de quebrarme. Y recuerdo a la chica sonriente cuyos rasgos se han desvanecido con mi juventud. Y finjo escuchar su voz. Y duermo pensando que me toma de las manos. Y repito su nombre hasta que una mariposa azul vuela encima de nuestras cabezas en un lago.

FIN


Elisa C. Martínez Salazar nace en Santo Domingo (1989). Es autora del libro de poesía Desvelo, silencios y recuerdos (Granada, 2012). Su trabajo literario ha sido incluido en las antologías de poesía y narrativa Desde el corazón II (Madrid, 2013), Otoño e Invierno (Madrid, 2014) y Una poesia per Giulia (Roma, 2015). Escritos suyos han sido publicados en las revistas Resonancias Literarias (Francia), Almiar (España), Inverso (Italia), El Café Latino (Francia), Cronopio (Colombia), Mandrágora (Guatemala) y Visions International (E.E.U.U.). Es bloguera del Huffington Post.
Elisa C. Martínez Salazar nace en Santo Domingo (1989). Es autora del libro de poesía Desvelo, silencios y recuerdos (Granada, 2012). Su trabajo literario ha sido incluido en las antologías de poesía y narrativa Desde el corazón II (Madrid, 2013), Otoño e Invierno (Madrid, 2014) y Una poesia per Giulia (Roma, 2015). Escritos suyos han sido publicados en las revistas Resonancias Literarias (Francia), Almiar (España), Inverso (Italia), El Café Latino (Francia), Cronopio (Colombia), Mandrágora (Guatemala) y Visions International (E.E.U.U.). Es bloguera del Huffington Post.

Pasternak Conoce a Sol por Cristina Zabalaga

Photo by Danny Zawodny
Photo by Danny Zawodny

Pasternak quiere salir con Sol, pero no se atreve a decírselo.
Para Pasternak es más fácil enumerar lo que piensa y escribirlo.
Puede ser algo como: #Amor Hoy he descubierto que te amo.
O: quiero salir contigo, ¿me querés?

Todo empezó hace un par de semanas en la playa.
Unos perros enormes con la lengua afuera corriendo por la orilla, una tarde tirado al sol, el mar, las olas medianas, una cerveza fría con papas fritas, seguida de un helado de crema y medio paquete de galletas con chocolate.
Sol llega sonriendo. No es que le sonría a él en particular, Sol sonríe en general, a sus amigas, a Pasternak, al vendedor de helados.
Sol es feliz.
Pasternak no puede creer la suerte que tiene.
Sol llega tarde a la playa.
Pasternak había llegado temprano.
Sol llega envuelta en un pareo amarillo.
Pasternak llegó con una mochila de libros y una bolsa de comida en la mano.
Sol llega con una cámara de fotos.
Pasternak camina sobre la arena.
Sol corre.
Pasternak tarda en decidirse dónde poner su toalla.
Sol se saca el pareo y lo usa para envolver la cámara antes de meterse al mar.
Pasternak no entiende cómo Sol piensa secarse al salir y está preocupado por la cámara.
Antes de enamorarse de Sol, él ya se preocupa por las cosas de ella.
Pasternak decide vigilar la cámara.
A sus amigas parece no importarles la cámara, se ponen a hablar con el vendedor de helados de espaldas al pareo. Él se sienta, alerta, dispuesto a impedir el robo de la cámara. Pasternak cree que las amigas de Sol son unas desubicadas.
Sol tarda en volver.
Pasternak se pone nervioso y le reprocha en silencio la imprudencia de haber
dejado una cámara envuelta en un pareo tirada en una playa cualquiera.
Pasternak se distrae con sus pensamientos convertidos en oraciones.
Un joven atlético impide el robo de una cámara.
Pasternak no es precisamente un joven atlético, es joven, y punto.
Muchacha morena de cabellos largos besa a un joven en la playa.
Sol tiene el cabello lacio hasta la cintura y está bronceada, no es exactamente
morena.
Dos jóvenes se besan al atardecer.
Sol todavía no aparece.
Muchacha ahogada al mediodía.
Pasternak maldice a Sol y a sus amigas.
Grupo de amigas mordidas por un dóberman con rabia.
Sol sale del mar y se acerca corriendo.
Pasternak se hace el sorprendido.
Sol le sonríe y se sienta sobre la arena muy cerca a él.
Se seca las manos con una esquina del pareo y recoge la cámara.
Saca fotos del mar, de las olas, de la puesta de sol, de ella misma. Empieza con sus
pies, luego sus rodillas, su espalda, sus lunares diminutos, su cabello mojado, sus labios pequeños y delgados.
Sol llama a sus amigas. Ellas se acercan. El vendedor de helados deja su puesto y las sigue. Sol les saca fotos a sus amigas, ellas se aproximan a la cámara, se
arreglan el cabello. Todas se ponen gafas de sol, una se sujeta el pareo, otra
abraza al vendedor de helados.
El vértigo y los calambres preceden la insolación brutal de unas muchachas taradas.
Las amigas de Sol se sientan junto a ella y Sol le alcanza la cámara de fotos al
vendedor de helados.
Desaparece un vendedor de helados con una cámara de fotos.
Ellas posan riéndose, se paran, se abrazan, corren. El vendedor de helados las
sigue con la cámara.
Algunas se lanzan al mar, otras se quedan en la orilla sin atreverse a entrar.
Muchachas mutiladas por un ataque de tiburón.
¡Sol! ¡Sol! La llaman a los gritos.
Sol desaparece detrás de una ola.
Sol sale y se acerca corriendo.
Pasternak no se atreve a mirarla de frente. Sol le salpica los cachetes con sus
cabellos. Él se estremece de frío. Ella se ríe y le pregunta si puede sacar una foto del grupo. Él asiente, se para y camina detrás de ella como hipnotizado. El
vendedor de helados se acerca a él y lo saluda como si lo conociera de toda la
vida.
Joven atlético pierde la paciencia y pisotea una cámara de fotos.
Pasternak evita mirarlo a los ojos, tampoco le responde al saludo.
Un carrito de helados incendiado en una playa cualquiera.
El vendedor de helados palmea la espalda de Pasternak antes de meterse al mar.
Una sensación de vértigo, mareos y calambres preceden la deshidratación total de un vendedor de helados en verano.
Todos corren a meterse al agua.
Medusas eléctricas invaden la costa Atlántica.
Pasternak ve a Sol a través del objetivo. La sigue con la cámara, se olvida de
disparar, ellos están tan lejos que no se dan cuenta, saludan y sonríen hacia
donde está Pasternak, Sol incluida, ahora está sonriendo para él, de eso está
seguro.
Una morena se abalanza sobre un joven atlético.
Sol es la primera en salir del mar. Pasternak la ve acercarse a través del objetivo.
Pasternak se enamora de Sol.
Un joven tímido abraza y luego besa a una muchacha feliz.
Pasternak le devuelve la cámara a Sol, y ella lo abraza por los hombros, junta con decisión su cara a la de él y sonríe.
En la foto Sol mira a la cámara y Pasternak mira a Sol. Sol le da un beso mojado
en la mejilla y desaparece con la cámara. Pasternak ya no tiene nada más que
hacer en la playa, recoge sus cosas y se va sin mirar atrás.
Al día siguiente Pasternak vuelve a la playa y se queda hasta el anochecer, Sol no aparece. Él vuelve el día que sigue, y el que sigue, y el que sigue.
Pasternak espera a Sol con la tapa de la botella de agua que Sol utilizó para
lavarse la cara. Una tapa transparente con letras azules que Pasternak lleva
donde vaya, como un amuleto de la suerte y del amor que cree haber encontrado.
Y Pasternak aparece, sin querer, en una foto que Sol ha colgado en la cabecera de su cama. En la foto están las amigas de Sol, el vendedor de helados, y de fondo la mitad de la toalla y la espalda de Pasternak.
Pasternak vuelve a ver a Sol tres semanas más tarde. Ya no hace tanto calor. Esta vez Sol no trae la cámara de fotos y tampoco el pareo amarillo. Llega sola. Se sienta sobre la arena sin mirar a Pasternak.
Después de fumar varios cigarrillos, uno detrás de otro, Sol se para, sacude su
vestido y se va.
Pasternak no se lo puede creer.
Sol no lo ha reconocido.
Joven atlético muere ahogado en una playa cualquiera.
Todo indica suicidio por #Amor.

 

Pasternak wants to go out with Solana but doesn’t have the nerve to ask her.
For Pasternak it is easier to make lists of his thoughts and write them.
It could go like this: #Love, today I realized I love you.  Or #I want to go out with you, do you love me?
Everything started a few weeks ago at the beach.
Enormous dogs with their tongues hanging out running along the shore, Pasternak lying in the sun, the ocean, medium-sized waves, a cold beer with French fries, an ice cream and half a package of chocolate cookies. Solana arrives smiling. It’s not that she smiles at him in particular, Solana smiles in general, at her friends, at Pasternak, at the ice cream vendor.
Solana is happy.
Pasternak cannot believe his luck.
Solana gets to the beach late.
Pasternak got there early.
Solana arrives wrapped in her yellow pareo.
Pasternak arrives with a backpack full of books and his lunch bag.
Solana arrives with a camera.
Pasternak walks along the sand.
Solana runs.
Pasternak can’t make up his mind where to put his towel. Solana takes off her pareo and uses it to wrap up her camera before running into the water.
Pasternak wonders how Solana will dry herself off when she gets out, and he is worried about the camera.
Before falling in love with Solana, he’s already worried about her stuff.
Pasternak decides to keep his eye on the camera.
Her friends don’t seem worried about the camera.   They chat with the ice cream vendor, their backs to the pareo. He sits down alert, ready to impede the theft of the camera.
Pasternak believes that Solana’s friends are careless.
Solana is taking a long time coming back.
Pasternak gets nervous and mentally, he reproaches her for leaving a camera wrapped up in a pareo thrown on the beach.
Pasternak distracts himself with thoughts he converts into sentences.
Athletic young man prevents theft of camera.
Pasternak isn’t exactly athletic, just young, period.
Brunette with long hair kisses young man on the beach.
Solana’s straight hair goes down to her waist, and she is tan, she isn’t exactly a brunette.
Two young people kiss at sunset.
Solana still hasn’t reappeared.
Young woman drowns at noon. 
Pasternak curses Solana and her friends.
Group of friends bitten by rabid Doberman.
Solana gets out of the ocean and runs back.
Pasternak acts surprised.
Solana smiles at him and sits down in the sand near him. She dries her hands with a corner of the pareo and picks up the camera. She takes pictures of the sea, the waves, the sunset, herself. She begins with her feet, then her knees, her shoulder, her tiny moles, her wet hair, her delicate lips.
Solana calls her friends. They gather around. The ice cream vendor leaves his cart and follows them.  Solana takes pictures of her friends, they get close to the camera, they fix their hair.  They all put on sunglasses, one ties up her pareo, another hugs the ice cream vendor.
Silly girls have vertigo and muscle cramps that precede brutal sun poisoning. 
Solana’s friends sit by her and she passes the camera to the ice cream vendor.
Ice cream vendor runs off with camera.
They pose laughing, they stand up, they hug, they run. The vendor runs behind them taking pictures.
Some jump in the water, others stay at the water’s edge not daring to get wet.
Girls mutilated by shark attack. 
“Solana!  Solana!” They are shouting.
Solana disappears behind the waves.
Solana reappears and approaches him.
Pasternak doesn’t dare look into her eyes.
She splashes his cheeks with her hair.  He feels a chill. She laughs and asks if he can take a picture of the group. He says yes and stands up and walks behind her hypnotized.  The ice cream vendor comes up and says hello as if he had known him all his life.
Athletic young man loses patience and stomps on camera.    
Pasternak avoids his eyes and doesn’t answer his greeting.
Ice cream cart burns on unknown beach.
The ice cream vendor pats Pasternak on the back before getting in the water.
Sensation of vertigo, nausea and cramps precede total dehydration of ice cream vendor.  
Everyone runs into the water.
Attack of jellyfish on Atlantic Coast.
Pasternak sees Solana in the lens.  He follows her with the camera and forgets to shoot, they are so far away that they don’t realize. They wave and smile toward where Pasternak stands, even Solana, who is smiling right at him, he’s quite sure.
Brunette pounces on athletic young man.
Solana is the first to get out of the ocean. Pasternak sees her coming back through the lens.  Pasternak falls in love with Solana.
Timid young man hugs and kisses happy girl.
Pasternak gives the camera back to Solana and she hugs his shoulders puts her faceclose to his and smiles. In the photo Solana looks at the camera,and Pasternak looks at Solana. Solana gives him a wet kiss on the cheek and runs off with the camera.
Having no reason to stay at the beach, Pasternak gathers his things and leaves without looking back.
The next day Pasternak returns to the beach and stays until nightfall. Solana doesn’t appear.
He comes back the next day and the next and the next.
Pasternak waits for Solana with the cap from the bottle of water she used to wash her face.  A transparent cap with blue letters that Pasternak carries everywhere as his lucky charm, a symbol of the love he has found.  And Pasternak appears, by chance, in a photo Solana has hanging at the head of her bed. In the photo are Solana’s friends, the ice cream vendor and in the background half of Pasternak’s towel plus his shoulder.
Pasternak sees Solana three weeks later.  It’s not as hot. This time Solana doesn’t have the camera or the yellow pareo.  She’s alone.  She sits on the sand without looking at Pasternak.
After smoking several cigarettes, one after another, Solana stands up, shakes the sand out of her red dress and leaves.
Pasternak cannot believe it.
Solana did not recognize him.
Young athletic man drowns at unknown beach.
Everything indicates suicide for #Love.

Translation by Lois Baer Barr


Cristina Zabalaga is a Bolivian and Portuguese writer, photographer and journalist based in Washington D.C. She has written the short stories book “Nombres propios” (Proper Names, Sudaquia, New York, September 2016) and the novels "Pronuncio un nombre hueco" (Calling an Empty Name) and "Cuando Nanjing suspira" (Breathing a Small Breath: An Outsider’s Guide to Nanjing). She has lived and worked in Bolivia, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and the United States. cristinazabalaga.com / cristinart.com
Cristina Zabalaga is a Bolivian and Portuguese writer, photographer and journalist based in Washington D.C. She has written the short stories book “Nombres propios” (Proper Names, Sudaquia, New York, September 2016) and the novels “Pronuncio un nombre hueco” (Calling an Empty Name) and “Cuando Nanjing suspira” (Breathing a Small Breath: An Outsider’s Guide to Nanjing). She has lived and worked in Bolivia, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and the United States. cristinazabalaga.com / cristinart.com

Cerulean by J. Bradley

Art by W. Jack Savage
Art by W. Jack Savage

I grip some of my hair in my left hand, hold it taut. The scissor chews and chews and chews. I drop the severed strands, repeat. I look at the wilted, sun bleached eggplant stem in the mirror, then at the fallout scattered in and around the sink.

My mom was proud when I asked her to dye my hair; it was the first time I wanted to be anything like her. In the after photos, my hair is blue. I am shirtless, the Ankh from my necklace resting in the middle of my flightless bird chest.

I pick up clumps of hair out of the sink, from the bathroom vanity, and drop it all in the toilet. I run some hot water, first to send what’s left down the drain, then to sterilize my mother’s electric razor. The buzz becomes a churning grind as the wilted eggplant stem disappears piece by piece. I stop once my scalp looks like a tattered swatch of carpet before cutting away at it with the scissors.

Someone asked me during lunch what happened. I ran into the bathroom and into the handicapped stall. I finally saw the splotches of blue on my cheeks and forearms. I should have paid attention to how the color bled from my hair and onto my skin while I showered earlier that morning.

I squeeze some shaving cream into my palm, rub the dollop all over my scalp. I run the hot water, wash this month’s Bic razor. I wince as the razor rakes across my skin. I tap the Bic against the sink until enough hair and stubble fall out from the space between the razor and the guard. I use flecks of toilet paper to stop the bleeding. This is a fresh start, I think before I remember there are no fresh starts in high school.

Agarro un poco de mi pelo en la mano izquierda, la mantengo tensa. La tijera mastica y mastica y mastica. Dejo caer los hilos cortados, repito. Miro el tallo de la berenjena, marchitada y blanqueada por el sol en el espejo, y luego a los cortes dispersos en y alrededor del fregadero.

Mi madre estaba orgullosa cuando le pedí que me teñiera el pelo; era la primera vez en el que yo quería ser algo parecido a ella. En las fotos de después, mi pelo es de color azul. Estoy sin camisa, el Ankh de mi collar descansa en el medio de mi pecho de pájaro que no volara.

Recojo los mechones de pelo en el fregadero, desde el tocador del baño, y lo tiro todo en el inodoro. Corro un poco de agua caliente, primero para enviar lo que queda por el desagüe, y después para esterilizar la maquina de afeitar de mi madre. El zumbido se convierte en una quiebre agitado mientras los tallos marchitos de berenjena desaparece poco a poco. Me detengo una vez que mi cuero cabelludo se ve como una muestra de la alfombra andrajosa antes de cortarlo con las tijeras.

Alguien me preguntó durante el almuerzo que fue lo que pasó. Corrí al baño y al puesto de minusválidos. Finalmente vi las manchas de color azul en mis mejillas y en mis antebrazos. Debi de haber prestado atención a cómo el color sangraba por mi pelo y en mi piel mientras me duchaba anteriormente esta mañana.

Aprieto un poco de crema de afeitar en la palma de la mano, froto la porción por todo mi cuero cabelludo. Hago correr el agua caliente, lavo la maquinilla de afeitar Bic de este mes. Me estremezco a como la maquina de afeitar se rastrilla través de mi piel. Agito el Bic contra el fregadero hasta que el suficiente pelo y hojarasca caigan desde el espacio entre la cuchilla y el protector. Uso escamas de papel higiénico para detener el sangrado. Este es un nuevo comienzo pienso, antes de recordar de que no hay nuevos comienzos en la secundaria.

Traducido por: Gabriel Setright


J. Bradley is the author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016). He lives at jbradleywrites.com.
J. Bradley is the author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016). He lives at jbradleywrites.com.