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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Afternoons like this hit Angelica the hardest. She came home from school to an empty house, her Tía Laura and little brother Ramón still gone. The failing light outside cast the walls in a lonely blue pallor. She opened the living room blinds, letting in the remnants of light, then turned on the TV. Most days, Tía Laura would be back with Ramón, and Angelica would make him a peanut butter sandwich like she used to when they lived with their Mami. Today was his tee ball practice, though, so that meant if she didn’t stay out skating after school with her friends, she’d come back to a house haunted by stale memories. Angelica collapsed into the overstuffed sofa in the living room. Streaks of pink laced through her dyed black hair, tied in a ponytail. Her sharp eyebrows always seemed to be glaring, partly from the eyeliner she used and partly from the demeanor she’d adopted. One of Laura’s recurring complaints was her monochromatic color scheme, always wearing black. With the darkness creeping into the living room, Angelica clicked on the lamp. They tried to keep the use of lights and electricity to a minimum. Car doors clapped shut outside in the street. Laura entered with Ramón, in his yellow Astros jersey and clutching a McDonald’s bag. Laura held her phone to her ear with her shoulder, purse in one hand and keys unlocking the door in the other. Ramón ran in to give Angelica a hug. Laura shut the door with her foot, phone still pressed to her ear, and mouthed, “money?” Angelica pointed to the kitchen counter where forty dollars sat; her contribution to the power bill that month. Laura snatched the money off the counter, still speaking in rapid Spanish into the phone as she walked into her bedroom.
Angelica had night terrors before her brother was born. She lived with her Mami, Elaine, on Reddick Street in Melbourne. She went to sleep at night to the sound of her father yelling, Mami crying and the thumping bass from cars going by in the night. Sometimes the shouts were further away, outside the house. Sirens occasionally followed those shouts. A Formosa palm sat outside her window, with two fronds that reached out like arms. When the sun set, it would cast a crawling shadow across her bed, like a man reaching through the window toward her. A streetlight held it in place throughout the night and she’d hide beneath her covers, afraid to leave until morning. She liked it when the train came with its constant, lulling rumble, masking the other noises like distant thunder. She’d forget the frightening sounds outside long enough to drift into sleep. Yet some nights, her nightmares waited for her, and she’d jolt awake trembling and sweating, just to be met by the hulking black shape of the palm outside her curtains.
When she was eight, during her parents’ divorce, Angelica walked outside and ripped the fronds off the palm. She came back inside with cuts on her hands from the sharp edges. Seeing her hands, her mom swatted her a few times after washing them and applying Neosporin. That night Angelica slept soundly, with no scary shadows creeping across her bed.
On Tuesday Carla, Angelica’s shift manager, called her into the head housekeeper’s office when she arrived Friday night at Brevard Community College. The gray light from the overcast afternoon sky streamed in through the half opened blinds behind the desk where Bill, the head housekeeper sat. His forehead was ribbed like a washboard, silver hair swept across his scalp like cirrus clouds. Carla stood to the left of the desk. Angelica wondered if she’d been seen selling weed on the premises.
“Angelica, you’ve done great work here,” said Bill, “but the college has cut the housekeeping budget and to make ends meet, we’re afraid we have to let you go for now.” Angelica looked at Carla, who averted her eyes.
“I don’t understand,” Angelica said, “did I do something wrong?”
“Absolutely not,” he said, “you’ve done great here and I will provide you the best of references at your next job. It’s just that given the budget cuts this fiscal year, we had a decision to make. We could end our hiring program with the Children’s Home Society – the same program I’m sure you recall is what placed you with us, or we could let some of our current employees go.”
“But I need this,” Angelica said, “I have bills to pay, I’m not just doing this for beer money.” The manager closed his eyes and nodded his head,
“I understand that, Angie, but these were the options and the college has decided to give other girls the same opportunity we gave you. You will do just fine wherever you end up.” Angelica shook her head, her skull and crossbones earrings dangling against her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Angie,” Carla said. Drops of rain tapped against the window and palm fronds flitted in the top right corner like slender green fingers. Angelica was given the option to finish out the week, which she took. As she exited the manager’s office, Carla followed and pulled her to the side.
“This had nothing to do with you. You’ve come a long way since the group home. You and I both know you’ll be fine.” Carla met her eyes, outlined in mascara and blue eye shadow.
Angelica sighed and said, “Mad respect to you Carla, but your confidence ain’t gonna get my bills paid.”
“Your tía will understand. Times are tough,” said Carla.
Angelica rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
Carla touched her shoulder, “She’ll have to understand, Angie. She’s gotta know how bad the economy is.”
“The economy? I’m getting laid off so someone else can come take my job. That ain’t saving anyone money.” Angelica said.
“Actually,” Carla ran glanced downward, “no one is filling your position.”
“So all that stuff about ‘giving other girls an opportunity’…?” Carla looked to Angelica’s eyes and shook her head.
Angelica finished her shift. The mundane periods wiping down desks and vacuuming offices made her mind wander, how and if she would explain this to Tía Laura. When she’d agreed to allow her and Ramón to live with her, it’d been on the conditions that she help pay the utilities and groceries, and that Angelica would one day talk to her mother again. She clocked out from the college where she’d spent the past eight months working nights, then walked out into the muggy night.
Angelica and Ramón sat on the overstuffed blue couch after school the next day. Ramón ate a peanut butter sandwich that Angelica made for him and SpongeBob flickered from the TV. A wooden coffee table sat before them with a half full ashtray and a few tabloids and magazines. Angelica threaded the chain of her stainless steel heartagram necklace around her forefinger. She hadn’t told Laura she’d lost her job yet. Maybe she could hold off – she could talk to Tucker, her ex with whom she’d remained friends, and get more weed to distribute until she found another part-time job. That meant being out more, so she’d lose sleep and probably wouldn’t keep up with her homework. If she couldn’t make up the lost income in time, the insurance on her Intrepid would be the first to go. Or she could tell Laura, who’d yell at her for about ten minutes then afterward they could work on a solution. She hoped that solution wouldn’t involve her moving back into Hacienda Girls Home. During her stepdad’s molestation trial when she was fifteen, she moved in at the Girls Home to escape Mami’s accusations against her, claiming Angelica made up the story of her stepfather raping her to get him out of the house. Angelica shuddered at the memory of that confrontation – she denounced any affection she ever had for her mother, standing at the front door holding Ramón’s hand, the phone in the other. She called Laura and told her they were moving in. Laura told her,
“You can stay for a week or two until things smooth over, but I can’t have you two living here. I can’t afford two more mouths to feed.” Angelica threw the phone at her mother, and walked out of the house. She walked to the end of Reddick Street, then lit a cigarette and sat on the curb. She was dating Tucker at the time and his neighborhood bordered Hacienda Girls Home – she knew a few of her friends that went there because they wanted out of their parents’ house. It beat sleeping under an overpass. That week, she and Mami walked into Hacienda Girls Home to begin the residency paperwork. She stayed up all night thinking about Ramón, hoping he would be safe until she could figure out how to get him away.
Angelica wanted to light up a cigarette, but she wouldn’t smoke around her brother. Not that it mattered – Mami used to all the time. Ramón sat a few inches from her and stared at the TV.
“Are you ready for the game Saturday?” she asked. He nodded his head, eyes remained fixed on the TV screen. A car rushed by outside on Montgomery Avenue and Angelica shifted a little closer.
“Are you excited?” she asked. Ramón nodded again, taking a bite of his sandwich and maintaining his gaze on the TV.
“I might be able to come to this one,” she said. Ramón gave Angelica a brief smile, then looked away.
“What’s going on, Ramón?” she asked. Angelica moved even closer. She placed a hand on his shoulder and stared, her eyebrows furrowed.
“I wanna see Mami again.”
Angelica sighed and looked away. She bit her lip, which was veiled in purple lip gloss. A nauseous sensation coiled below her sternum.
“Why can’t she be around us anymore?”
She closed her eyes then looked back at Ramón, “I wish I knew,” she said. She wished she could just tell the seven-year-old that their mother valued a man in her life more than her own children. How she kept jumping from boyfriend to boyfriend, almost all of them abusive. She wished she could explain what their stepfather did to her when she was fifteen. She put her arm around Ramón and pulled him in. He rested his head on her shoulder. They watched TV in the amber light of the living room until Tía Laura came out to tell them it was bedtime.
“I wanna stay up with Angie,” Ramón said.
“You have school in the morning, so does Angie,” said Laura. “Come on now.” Hanging his head, he slid off the couch and wandered to the bathroom to take a bath and brush his teeth. Angelica crossed her arms and looked back at the TV.
“Did you go to school today?” Laura asked. She stood with one hand on her hip.
“Yes, Tía,” Angelica fixed her gaze on the TV.
“You better have, you know how close you are to getting kicked out.”
“They would’ve called you if I didn’t, wouldn’t they?” Angelica narrowed her eyes, thick with mascara. Laura shifted on her feet. She walked closer to the couch and touched the armrest lightly.
“I need to tell you something, Angie,” said Laura, “Easter is the Sunday after this one,”
“Yeah?” Angelica turned her head toward her tía, “and?”
“I want to have dinner here, like we used to. I’m going to invite the whole family. The whole family,” Laura walked around the arm of the couch, standing between the coffee table and the sofa.
Angelica raised her eyebrows, “You don’t mean –”
“Ramón wants to see his mother. It’s been six months, Angie. You remember what our agreement was,”
“Yeah, you said when I was ready.” Angelica stood up, bumping the coffee table.
“My exact words were ‘when some time has passed.’ Time has passed. She’s still your mother and you can’t spend your life hating her. It’s not fair to Ramón to keep him away either.”
“Is this why Ramón was asking about Mom? You tell him this first?”
“He asks about her a lot. I’m tired of dancing around explanations.” Laura picked up a lighter from the coffee table and lit a cigarette. Angelica glared and pursed her lips.
“You have a choice, mi vida,” said Laura, “You can come to dinner or you can not come. One way or another, she will be there,” Laura exhaled smoke and turned to leave the living room. Angelica scowled at her aunt, then exhaled and fell into the couch. She glowered into the TV, the noise like static against her whirlpool of thoughts.
“Tía?” Angelica said. Laura stopped and looked back at her,
“Nevermind, forget it. It’s nothing,” Angelica shook her head.
“Buenas noches, Angie, don’t stay up too late,” Laura said, turning again to leave.
“Goodnight.” Angelica clicked off the lamp beside the couch. The flickering blue light from the TV danced across her face. When it seemed Laura and Ramón were asleep, she slipped out the front door and into the night.
When Angelica was nine, a stratum of gray clouds marauded the skies from the approach of Hurricane Erin. The streets were still; no cars rushing by, no one hollering into a neighbor’s window. A crumpled Doritos bag sat near the sidewalk, undisturbed by the still air, the dirt on either side covered in small patches of grass like the back of a mangy dog. A solitary police car rolled down the street from US 1, its lights on, but no siren. She stepped back from the window as it coasted by the house.
The storm came in the night. The entire house shook from winds that wailed like her Mami crying. Water crawled down the off-white walls from cracks in the ceiling. Thunder immediately followed blasts of lightning, and baby Ramón cried from their bedroom. Angelica knocked on her Mami’s door, but she didn’t answer. The man she was in the room with was not Ramón’s father. He disappeared as soon as Mami told him she was pregnant. Mami had been with this new guy for a month. They would inhale smoke in the living room that looked like puffy clouds, then disappear into the bedroom. They had done this before the storm hit. Angelica knocked on the door again, but no reply. The infant’s cries rose above the storm and she passed through the living room, around a coffee table covered in dirty dishes and charred aluminum squares, then into her room where her brother lay in his crib. She pulled him out of the crib, took him into the closet and held him while the house shook. The last thing she remembered was a film of water creeping in under the closet door.
Angelica stood in the shadows of two pepper tree bushes outside the weather station on Croton road. The Doppler radar at the station towered above the slash pines, encased in a massive white golf ball. Toward the south, a jet rose above the woods from the nearby Melbourne International Airport. She used to hide her cigarettes in a Ziploc bag here when she lived at the Hacienda Girls Home across the street past the Bridle Path neighborhood. She would sneak out in the night to smoke and talk to Tucker. The neighborhood was too quiet for her to sleep in those days. A car rolled up on Croton road, parked outside the gate and flickered its lights. She stubbed out her cigarette and climbed in the backseat with Tucker and his cousin Jamie.
“What happened, Angelica?” Jamie asked. Tucker drove with one hand on the gear shift.
“Where to fucking start?” She lit a cigarette and hung the cherry out the cracked window. “Lost the job today, my aunt wants my fucking mom to come to some party we’re having.”
“Shit, what are you going to do?”
“Jamie,” Tucker said, “feel the room, Cuz.”
“You mean, the car?”
“Yeah, in other words, feel the mood. She probably doesn’t want to get into it.”
“It’s cool, Tucker,” Angelica said, “I just needed to get outta my house.”
“So what are you gonna do? Isn’t she making you pay rent or something?” Jamie’s hair was pulled away from her face in a tight ponytail. She wore a black tank top and a ball chain necklace.
“Ain’t exactly had time to figure that out.” Streetlights from Sarno road strobed across Angelica’s face. Metalcore issued from the rear speakers, barely audible. A spiked wristband gripped Tucker’s wrist.
“You’ll figure something out. It isn’t the end of the world,” Tucker said. He turned onto US 1 from Sarno. A chain link gate enclosed a crumbling quadrangle of cement and a dilapidated building. A weathered yellow sign read Ray’s Marina, the paint peeling from five years of neglect. The three of them arrived at Tasty Freez where US 1 curved toward the Indian River. Tasty Freez had been in place since 1956. Teens and young adults still meandered in the fluorescent light from behind the counter, waiting to order soft serve, hot dogs, or chocolate coated ice cream cones. Tucker always said, “Melbourne isn’t dead as long as this place is in business.” Jamie’s rebuttal was always “when” this place went out of business, the town would be dead. They sat at one of the many red picnic tables beneath the tin roof adjacent to the building. Splotches of black dirt fused to the blue concrete floor by decades of rain water. Foam insulation coated pipes in an open janitor closet like orange tumors. Tucker and Jamie stared at each other for about three seconds, as if talking but their lips didn’t move.
Then Jamie got up, “I’m gonna smoke real quick.”
“You can smoke here, ain’t no one gonna say anything to you,” Angelica said.
“Don’t wanna be rude to anyone around us,” she said and walked behind the building. A pickup truck peeled out in the parking lot, belching black dust against the streetlights.
“Tell you what, Angelica,” said Tucker, “I’m cashing out of the weed selling game, so I’ll give you my product. Give me back 50% of what I normally charge so I can pay Mark off. That should get you through till you find another gig.”
“What the fuck, Tucker? That means after that money’s spent I’m out of that job too!”
“I can put you in touch with Mark. He deals for West Side in our neighborhood and I can vouch for you, but honestly, there’s more heat on now. And with us so far into high school, it’s time for me to get out. I don’t need the money that bad.”
“I swear the universe picked this week to just shit on me,” Angelica said.
“I’m sorry, Angelica. Mark and I got stopped by a cop last week at Andretti’s, right after he and I’d made a transaction in the laser tag arena, asking us what we were doing, where we were going. Then he just sort of stared at us and drove on. That night, I saw a cop across Fatzler. Not on Mark’s street, but I knew he was observing.”
“That could be anything, there’s cops all over this bitch, ain’t no reason to cash out, just be more careful,” Angelica said. Melting ice cream dribbled across her hand and wrist.
“The writing’s on the wall, girl. I’ll give you what I’ve got, but I say sell that shit fast. And watch your surroundings.” Angelica sighed and looked toward US 1 despondently. Lights glimmered from Indialantic miles away across the river.
“It’s not the end of the world, Angelica,” Tucker said.
She met his ice blue eyes. “No disrespect, but how the fuck would you know? Last I checked, you’re living comfortable with your parents paying all the bills. You weren’t doing this cuz you needed to.” Tucker held the remnants of his cone away from him, letting the vanilla drip onto the concrete.
“I know because you’re you. You’ll do what it takes to survive and you’ll rise above. You got your brother out of that house, didn’t you?”
Angelica peeled at a strip of paint on the picnic table. Voices murmured from a group standing in the fluorescent light of the Tasty Freez sign.
“Your mind’s made up, huh?” she said, shaking her head, “I know what that means.” She watched the intermittent cars pass by on US 1. Tucker took a bite out of the candy shell on his cone. Jamie returned to the table and they changed the subject.
Tucker and Jamie laughed about stories from shows and parties. Tucker told the same story about a mysterious scar from a Warped Tour mosh pit Angelica had heard at least three times. She tried to participate but her mind kept wandering.
They piled back into Tucker’s Camaro and drove out to Ballard Park where they smoked a bowl beneath a darkened pavilion. Boats rocked gently in the black waters of the Indian River lagoon. Angelica recalled her and Ramón’s birthday parties here when they lived with Mami. Every party had no less than fifty cousins, tíos, y tías and it seemed Mami had a new boyfriend at each one. The last time she had a birthday here, Tucker had come with her. They watched her older cousins play basketball and walked along the lagoon’s rocky banks.
Tucker pulled a basketball out of his trunk and tossed it to Jamie. She and Angelica engaged in a heated one on one. They played full court and Tucker kept up with the two girls for a little while, then faded to the sidelines as Jamie blocked, Angelica swiveled around her, and they wrestled for layups and fades. Angelica elbow checked Jamie hard in the ribs. The girls locked eyes and Jamie smiled at her. She knew she needed this.
After skipping the last half of school to apply for jobs at the mall, Angelica drove aimlessly through Melbourne. Laura was with Ramón at tee ball practice and she didn’t want to go back to the empty house. She turned onto Babcock from Apollo and drove by Melbourne High, a sea of glistening cars in its parking lot. She thought about going in and seeing if Amanda Shilling, her old guidance counselor was in. She’d probably like to hear that Angelica was doing okay and that she and Ramón had gotten out of the house on Reddick Street. She drove past instead and turned up her music.
She kept her phone pressed between her thighs in case it vibrated with the call from a prospective employer. She couldn’t go into that school because she was not okay. She still hadn’t told Laura she’d lost her job. She definitely wasn’t going to tell her that the income from weed sales would be gone soon. If Laura caught her selling weed, she’d surely be back at Hacienda. Maybe she’d keep Ramón, though. Laura had grown more attached to him since they began living there. She didn’t want to think of Ramón having any more turmoil in his life. He still didn’t understand why it was dangerous for him and her to live with Mami. Angelica kept driving straight down Babcock, following a route embedded in her muscle memory. She turned down University Blvd, past nondescript gray projects, windows shielded by iron bars, an Indian cuisine restaurant, and a Dollar General. She idled outside the disheveled pink house where her mom still lived. The vacant lot next door, which the nearby church used for overflow parking on Sunday mornings was still there. A Sunfire with a faded black paint job sat in the driveway. Angelica gripped the steering wheel. She didn’t know what would happen if her mom walked outside.
Angelica was fifteen when the night tremors returned. A shadow crept across her bed, but the Formosa palm had long since died. This one came from her door, not her window. She pretended to be asleep, and the weight of another body pushed her bed down. The springs creaked, his hand slid over her mouth and he whispered in her ear, “This is just a dream, Angie, your favorite dream.” His other hand pressed her wrists into the bed. A police car rushed by outside, red and blue shadows whirling through the room. It kept going, past her window and disappearing into the dark. Angelica clenched her eyes against the sweaty heat of his body, the creaking of bedsprings, the heavy breathing drowning out the sounds of the night. She was too scared to make a sound, no matter how much what he did hurt.
She drove away from her old house without getting out of the car. Even being near the potential presence of her mother ignited rage in her chest. Memories from the days of her stepdad’s trial tore at her brain.
Hurtful things her mother said:
“You made this up to drive us apart,” when the police first arrived.
“He swore he wouldn’t do it again. He loves me,” when his bond was set for $15,000. “Why don’t you want me to be happy? What kind of daughter hates her own mother?”
Tía wasn’t there for that – she wasn’t there every night that Angelica had put her headphones on Ramón so he didn’t have to hear men in the other room screaming at their mother. She wasn’t there when Angelica prayed that it didn’t escalate into a sharp smack again. Tía wasn’t too scared to leave the house because of strange men and gunshots outside, or the guys who’d cat-call her as she walked from the bus stop. Tía didn’t have to sit at breakfast with the man who pressed her down into her own bed and violated her in the night. Yet she wanted to just invite her mother to dinner on Easter, the woman who had put her and Ramón under the same roof as these cabrónes, as if she and her mother had only had an argument over her curfew or something. Tía couldn’t possibly imagine what a betrayal that was. Angelica pressed her foot into the gas pedal. She couldn’t stay in this neighborhood a second longer. She rolled up her window before two guys strutting down the street could holler at her. One might have been her old friend Zack, but she didn’t slow down to make sure. The afternoon sky was the color of sand. Her car rumbled across the railroad tracks and she drove north on US 1 until the broken buildings, dingy auto body shops, and liquor stores became Melbourne Yacht Club and Strawberry Mansion.
Angelica sat in her car two houses down from Laura’s house on Westminster. Tía Laura’s car was already in the driveway. If Angelica walked in now, Laura would ask her why she wasn’t at work. She probably already knew she skipped the last half of school today. Angelica wanted to walk inside only a little more than she wanted to walk into her mami’s house on Reddick street that afternoon. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and compulsively checked her phone for texts. Some old Social Distortion played from the speakers. She thought about texting Tucker or Jamie, going skating with them or something until her shift would normally have ended. She was going to have to see him later to get his weed, though, and the idea of human contact made her nauseous. She could drive somewhere and smoke a bowl by herself, but she lacked the energy to drive her car much further. All she wanted to do was go inside and lay down. She coasted up closer to her house and walked up the front steps, bracing herself for Laura’s sermon.
One Easter, when Angelica was thirteen, she wore a violet dress with flower imprints to Tía Laura’s house. She was in the backyard, back when her Uncle Jimmy was still alive. He laughed and played dominoes at a table with some other relatives she didn’t recognize while the little kids looked for Easter eggs. Angelica walked with Ramón through the yard, pointing to the eggs as she spotted them. Ramón was at least three eggs ahead of the other kids before some older cousin scolded her for helping. He took six eggs out of Ramón’s basket and handed two apiece to his three kids, then told Angelica that her brother needed to learn to be fair. Ramón looked up at Angelica as if he’d done something wrong.
Mami was dating a white guy at the time. She didn’t know his name, he was some military guy, but he seemed nice. He hung quietly behind Mami, holding a beer and nodding his head a lot. Angelica approached both of them and pointed to the cousin that took the eggs out of Ramón’s basket to give to his kids.
“That’s kinda fucked up,” her boyfriend said.
Mami looked at the man, wearing a white shirt with a criss-cross pattern, then back to Angelica, “Tell Ramón I’ll give him ten when we get home.” Angelica walked inside, past relatives who stopped to kiss her cheeks and tell her how beautiful she was, past Tía Laura talking to another arcane relative, and approached the candy dish on Tía’s coffee table. She extracted a handful of bite-sized Three Musketeers. Laura stopped her as she passed through the kitchen,
“Where are you going with those?”
“That guy outside just took eggs out of my little brother’s basket because I was helping him find them, then gave them to his kids. I was gonna give these to Ramón instead.” Laura looked out the window and asked who. Angelica pointed at the man, sitting at the dominoes table with a beer.
“You put those back, I’ll go talk to him.” Tía Laura breezed right through the kitchen and outside. The cousin she was talking to smiled down at Angelica and topped off her glass of wine. Tía approached the man at the table and placed both hands on her hips. After the party, when Mami’s boyfriend drove them all home, Ramón had six more Easter eggs than he would have had before. Mami kicked her sandals off when they arrived in the house, turned on the TV, and never mentioned the ten eggs she promised Ramón. No matter, Angelica thought.
Angelica had been at the group home for four months. One afternoon as she was leaving her quarters for her shift at BCC, Amanda Shilling from Mel High stopped her in the parking lot and handed her a cell phone. Laura was on the other line.
“I’ve spoken with your mami already. You and Ramón can come live with me for some time. She will have to come check you out, then you can come here. There will be conditions though. I’ll talk to you about it when you get here.” Shocked, Angelica thanked her and handed the phone back to Amanda.
“I went out on a limb here, Angelica.”
“What did you tell her?” she asked. Amanda looked over her shoulders.
“You’d listed her as an emergency contact, so I used that to call and tell her in more words or less that if she didn’t take you and your brother, given what your stepdad did, DCF would.”
“I don’t know what to say, Ms. Shilling. Thank you, thank you so much.”
“Try not to talk about it with anyone too much – what I said technically isn’t true. I could lose my job for this.”
“Yes. I won’t say anything.” Angelica stepped forward and hugged Amanda.
“Make it count, Angelica. Woman to woman.” Amanda walked away. That night, Angelica met up with Tucker at the weather station to tell him.
Angelica made it to Ramón’s game Saturday morning. His team, the Astros, played against the Tigers. Ramón had a powerful swing for a seven year old, sending more than one ball into outfield. The second string kids on his team didn’t keep up, though and the Tigers beat them twelve to eight. Ramón emerged from the dugout hanging his head, smears of red dirt across his black shorts. Angelica and Laura descended the bleachers and told him he did a great job. They took him to the nearby McDonald’s Playplace on Hibiscus to cheer him up. Laura and Angelica sat at a high round table while Ramón disappeared into the two story knot of multicolored tunnels.
“Glad you could make it,” Laura said. The cacophony of children’s voices echoed off the high walls.
“For real?” Angelica said. Her head still felt groggy from the party last night. The afternoon sun streaming through the wall of windows didn’t help.
“Yes Angie. It means a lot to Ramón to see his sister in the bleachers cheering him on. You know he thinks the world of you.” Laura took a sip of her sweet tea.
“Glad somebody does,” said Angelica.
“What’s that mean?” Laura asked. Ramón tumbled out of a tube slide and waved at them before running back to the playground.
“If I tell you, you gonna flip out on me again?”
“Cuéntame, Angelica. What’s going on?” Angelica sighed and looked at her aunt.
“You ride my ass every day about school and the bills. I know I have to help you with them and I’m trying, but you act like I’m just slacking all the time. Then on top of that, you’re inviting my mom to dinner, forcing me to see her again. You don’t know what it was like having to grow up always scared because she couldn’t find a man that wasn’t a psycho. You don’t know what it was like to, you know…” Angelica rubbed her forehead.
Laura rested her right arm on the table and leaned forward.
Angelica continued, “I know it’s been a minute, but it ain’t like you just get over something like that.” Laura glanced down at the table. Her fingernails were painted bright pink, but chipped in places.
“You have to face her one day. Family is all you have in the end. Elaine didn’t mean to put you in danger, and that man is in prison for what he did to you. There’s not much more she can do.”
“She blames me for him being in prison. Why you think I wanted out of there so bad?”
“I know you’re angry, Angie, but you two staying away from her has affected the whole family. I want to see us all back together.”
“Tía, if family is so important to you, why didn’t you take us in at first? Why did I have to go to the Girls Home just to get out of the house with a fucking rapist?” Laura jolted as if bitten by an insect. Angelica stared at her, waiting for a response.
She shook her head, “You two are my sister’s children. What was I supposed to do? Tell my sister that I was taking her kids and she couldn’t see them? I had enough trouble making ends meet on my own too.”
“The man molested me. And who knows what could’ve happened to Ramón.”
“I’m sorry. She just kept finding these guys, and everyone could see how bad they were except her. I just got so sick of telling her what to do and her not listening.”
“Why don’t you just say it, Tía? You didn’t believe me.” Angelica’s eyeliner intensified her stare, and Laura broke eye contact with her. She stifled a tear threatening to freefall.
“I was wrong. We all were.” Angelica nodded her head and pursed her lips. Tía Laura glanced down at her feet. Kids milled around the playground like ants. Angelica started to thumb through her flip phone, but closed it and set it on the table.
“I’m sorry, Angie.” Laura glanced down at her heels, her legs crossed. Angelica watched the playground. She tried to imagine what reconciling with her mother would look like, tried to imagine a conversation that wouldn’t explode into violent accusations. But it had been six months. Angelica knew she couldn’t keep Ramón away from her forever. If Tía Laura could admit she was wrong after all this time, maybe Mami could too.
“I’ll come to the party, Tía,” Angelica said, “if you think it’ll do any good. I’ll come and I’ll try to talk to her. But I don’t think I can do it unless you’re sitting there with us.” Tía smiled and touched Angelica’s hand.
“I can do that,” said Laura.
The Cinema World parking lot was a black sea of asphalt illuminated by intense white area lights. A coolness resided in the 3 a.m. air, a half degree below the sweat inducing humidity of a Florida October. Angelica waited in her car listening to the Used and staring at the emptiness of the lot. It seemed infinite, disappearing into a wooded lot in either direction except New Haven Avenue and the monolith of the theater. Headlights slowed and turned off the deserted street and coasted into the parking lot. Tucker’s Camaro pulled into the spot next to Angelica’s Intrepid. He exited the vehicle with a briefcase. She stepped out of her car.
“A fucking briefcase? You look like a lawyer or something,” she said.
“Twenty bucks from Wal-Mart and no one questions it. Wanna pop the trunk?” Tucker handed her the briefcase.
“I ain’t carrying this around, everyone who knows me knows I don’t roll with a fucking briefcase.” She placed it in her trunk. The clap of the lid reverberated throughout the lot and she turned to face Tucker. He looked like he wanted to reach for her hand, but he always looked that way.
“Just give me 15% of whatever you make this time so I can cash Mark out. The rest is yours. Just do it quick, girl.”
“Thanks Tucker, this will get me through at least next month.” She felt a swelling in her chest, an archaic remnant of the affection she once had for him. Still had for him.
“Do you want to hang out? Just for a little while?” she asked him.
“Sure.” They hopped onto the back of her intrepid and laid against the rear window, staring into the perfect black blanket of night. Tucker lit two cigarettes and handed her one.
“Have you told your aunt yet?” A cloud of smoke faded into the darkness.
“No,” Angelica exhaled, “the job thing’s for me to worry about. Her and I talked today and I’m going to face my mom next Sunday. The three of us are gonna talk.” She looked at Tucker.
“That’s good. What are you gonna talk about?”
“Honestly, I don’t know.” A motorcycle rumbled by on New Haven. “All I know is that for me to do this, they have to think I’m whole. That I’m handling my business.” They stared into the darkness, watching the smoke trail away. A cool wind touched their faces.
“What happens after this for you, Angelica?” Tucker never abbreviated her name.
“What do you mean?”
“So you come to some kind of solace with your mom, find a job, and life goes back to normal. Then what?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I’m just so close to my past, I haven’t thought about the future. Why?”
“I’ve been thinking about what comes next for me. If I’m honest, that’s really why I quit selling. The future’s gonna come hard and fast.”
“I got laid off from the college cuz of budget cuts. I’m definitely not going to college myself, my grades ain’t good enough. It’s kinda hard for me to even look at the future cuz there ain’t much hope in it.” Angelica leaned over and squeezed the embers out of her cigarette.
“There’s always hope, Angelica,” Tucker said.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she said, “society’s built to help people like you.” Tucker exhaled. They laid in silence for a few minutes. A helicopter crawled across the sky. Cars rushed by on New Haven every few minutes between the ornamental palms and oak trees.
“I miss this,” Tucker said. His hand inched toward hers. They faced each other and smiled.
The Friday night of Easter weekend, Angelica was parked outside a vacant section of a Palm Bay strip mall. One of her customers tonight worked at the McDonald’s there and asked her to meet at the opposite end of the parking lot. She had gone to the Good Friday service with Laura and Ramón earlier. The entire service that night, scenarios and potential conversations with her mother intruded into her imagination. After she returned from church, she changed back into her denim shorts and a black muscle shirt, grabbed a few seven gram baggies, then drove out to Palm Bay. She cranked her music and lit a cigarette, the coming encounter with her mother on Sunday looming in her mind like an approaching hurricane. She would certainly bring another guy to the party, and she wondered if she’d see makeup covering bruises and cuts. Anxiety rolled in her gut like a trapped python.
Headlights at the McDonald’s occasionally crawled through her rearview mirror. She checked her phone for messages, the guy should have been here by now. She tried to think of some positive memory of her mother that could be the key to forgiving her. Maybe the times she took her and Ramón to the skating rink or the pool in summer time. Maybe the parties at Tía Laura’s or going shopping with their abuela when she was alive. It couldn’t have been all bad. After Ramón was born, Mami was single for almost a year and Angelica remembered being happy. She remembered being able to sleep at night. She and Mami cared for the new baby together, and Mami didn’t have time to parade abusive men through the house on Reddick Street.
A blue Nissan Sentra parked next to her and a gangly kid with messy hair got out of the vehicle. Angelica rolled her window down and withdrew two baggies from her center console. The kid greeted her with a nervous smile. Not one second after the exchange, a searchlight lit them up. Angelica had been so caught up in her thoughts she hadn’t noticed the police cruiser in the parking lot, watching her car and the entire transaction. Red and blue lights strobed across the darkened building. The kid took off running. One of the two hulking silhouettes pursued. Angelica trembled in her car. The approaching figure’s shadow crawled up her body and face as it got closer.
“Step out of the vehicle, please,” the officer said. Angelica contemplated starting the car and heaving it into reverse.
“Ma’am, please step out of the vehicle.” The officer’s hands fell to his sides, near his taser. She stepped out of the car, shaking, tears welling up in her eyes. How could she have been so stupid? She’d never made this mistake. The officer took her license and looked down toward her. He was an older white man with dark hair. His badge said, “Mindler.”
“Miss Robles, my partner and I were watching you for some time. There was not much ambiguity in what we just saw. I have probable cause to search your vehicle, or you can save both of us a little time –”
“Please,” she said, “it wasn’t what it looked like, he owed me some money, that’s all.”
“Lying isn’t going to help your case, Miss Robles.”
“Officer, please, just let me go. Please.” Angelica’s knees throbbed and she felt nauseous.
“Place both hands on the hood of your vehicle please,” said Mindler. He patted down her pockets, then moved to her vehicle where he found six more baggies of marijuana. Tears streaked mascara down her cheeks.
“You know what this is, Miss Robles,” said Mindler. The radio buzzed from his car, “This is intent to distribute.”
“Officer please, I just lost my job, and I have to help my family pay bills. I swear this is a one-time thing. I promise,” she pleaded with Mindler as he slid the handcuffs on.
“I’m sorry, Miss Robles, but you are under arrest.” Her body shook with sobbing. The spinning red and blue lights cut across her face. The backseat of the police car loomed before her and she started dry heaving.
“Please, I have to see my mom tomorrow. It’s Easter for God’s sake. I haven’t seen her in a year,” she clenched her fists in the handcuffs. The officer opened the door and guided her head in. The door slammed shut. Laura would get the call in the middle of the night and she would have to tell Ramón why she wasn’t there in the morning. Mami would learn her daughter was in custody. The reunion, the moment she might have made peace with everything, the fleeting sanctuary she’d created for herself and Ramón was snatched away before her eyes. The police car lights strobed across the asphalt outside, illuminating her car which would be impounded. She pressed her head against the window and wept.
Angelica spent the weekend in jail pacing and doing sit ups. Every night there were fights and she was stuck in a cell with a woman covered in sores who spent most of the time mumbling to herself in a corner. When Angelica was booked at 2 a.m. Saturday morning, Tía Laura had exploded upon her through the phone. Angelica bit her lip to keep from crying. When Laura calmed down, she told Angelica she could try to post bond for her on Monday. Maybe. Angelica hung up the phone and was escorted to her holding cell. Clanging bars and shouting pervaded through the nights, and she didn’t sleep for three days.
When Angelica entered the courtroom for her hearing Monday afternoon, she saw Tía Laura and her mami sitting in the second to front row of chairs. Dark circles under her eyes replaced her makeup. She was surprised at how she expected to see mami there, just like she expected Tía to be there sitting as she was, with her hair tied back and scowling through blue eyeshadow, reeking of disappointment. Yet Mami looked upon her with something else. Some sad sense of kindness. Her skin looked healthy, her makeup light and demure – not heavily caked over bruises. The two women shared a look from across the courtroom that lingered for several seconds. Angelica offered a small smile. She didn’t picture reuniting with her mother here, but it made some strange kind of sense. It became easier for her to imagine a conversation involving the possibility of forgiveness. Angelica turned to approach the judge.