Authors: Daniel Orozco
We didn’t talk anymore after that. I sat at the bar and waited for her to finish her game so we could get out of there. I watched TV. The baseball game was over. I don’t remember what was on after that. But I remember watching something, and drinking my orange juice, and eating the ice.
* * *
It was raining outside. The streetlights had just come on, and you could see the drizzle swirling down around them. The weather was strange that summer. There’d been a funnel cloud a few weeks before. I remember reading about it bouncing around the downtown area, blowing out windows and tipping over newspaper racks, trying to touch ground, they said, trying to become a tornado.
April was drunk, and walking wobbly. My car was a block or so up the street, and by this time it was the only one there. A chain-link fence separated it from an airfield. All the cargo companies were up here, and some of their planes were out, roaring around the tarmac, their lights flashing through the mist.
When we got in the car, I asked her where she lived. She looked at me from her side of the front seat, all woozy, but giving me that look she gave me that day on the dock. She slid over toward me, and it seemed to take a while. The seats in an Olds are bench seats, and long, like sofas. And when she finally got to me, she said my name and kissed me on the mouth. I admit that I let her. I let her because I’ve never heard my name said the way she was saying it, and because it’s been a long time since anybody’s touched me. Her mouth just slipped onto mine, and it was nothing like I’d imagined, and I let myself get all caught up in it, in this feeling that you’re part of a world with other people in it, and that you matter because somebody else seems to think you do. Her mouth was soft and warm. But it reeked of cigarettes and fruity lipstick, and when I opened my eyes, there she was—April from work, with her face up against mine, telling me how we were two of a kind and how we needed to do something about that, her and me. She put her hand on my neck. I felt it hover there, small and light. I smacked it away and I gave her a shove. She ended up on her side of the seat, holding her hand like I’d hurt it. Who was she to say we were alike? There’s
of her in me. So I did something about it, about her and me. I pushed the seat back and got her down on it. She may have been yelling, but I’m not sure anymore, because it got really loud with the rain coming down hard and the planes outside roaring around like they were coming right on top of us. I kept one hand on her mouth and I started working down there with the other one until she stopped struggling, and she just lay there and let me finish. When I was done, she eased out from under me and slid back to her side of the seat. She sat there for a minute with her head against the passenger window, like she was listening for something in the rain outside. It was really coming down now. And when she started putting herself back together, I told her to tell me where she lived.
She sat smoking her cigarettes the whole way. When we got to her apartment building, I waited until she got inside okay. Then I cracked all the windows to air out the car for the drive home. Then I drove home.
* * *
She was late the next morning. She came in with her wrist taped up. She told the guys she sprained it falling out of bed. They loved that. She’s still friendly with them, but doesn’t talk to me anymore. For a while Dave was coming up, putting his arm around me, and asking if the honeymoon was over, if the bloom was off the rose.
She doesn’t talk to me anymore. But she doesn’t avoid me, either. At lunchtime she still comes in and out through the back lot and up the dock. I’m at my usual spot, and she’ll go up the steps, then stop and light a cigarette before going inside. She looks right at me the whole time.
So I eat my lunch in my car. It’s at the far end of the lot, back where the busted pallets are piled. From where I’m parked I can see her come in. I can see her walk past where I used to sit. My not being there doesn’t faze her at all. She just gets on with her life. When she’s gone, I get out and grab a few minutes on the dock before going back to work, a few minutes of sun at least, before it moves over the building, and then only until the fall. By early winter the sun’s too low and doesn’t hit the dock at all.
* * *
I’ve started a new routine. On the weekends I go up into the mountains for a long run. I’ve got water bottles stashed in hiding places up there. I drive up and replenish them once a month. Above the tree line the roads end in cul-de-sacs, and from then on it’s nothing but fire trails that switchback through scrub and grass and rock. I take it easy getting up there, but once I hit the trailheads, I pour it on. I pound up that grade and I don’t ease up until I reach the plateau.
I go all day in those mountains. I’ve gotten lost up there. Sometimes I don’t get back until after nightfall, so depleted, so close to the brink, that it takes everything I’ve got to just hang on and make it home. I’m weaving and staggering along, and I’m laughing. People have pulled over and gotten out of their cars to ask if I’m okay. They think there’s something wrong because sometimes I can’t stop laughing. But there’s nothing wrong. Sometimes that’s just how good I feel.
He is scuttling through the dark. His bare foot steps into something cold and slick. His leg shoots forward. He skids. The ground beneath him is suddenly gone. Synapses fire, nerve bundles twitch, and he is falling. Muscles spasm in myoclonic response. His legs jitter under the sheets. Dinorah, lying next to him, crabs away. Then an alarm, sharp and jangly. He stirs, and his tumble ceases. He reaches for the clock, kills it. Through eye slits, a vast room takes shape in the chocolate dark. Drapes as thick as hides cover ceiling-high windows. Morning light bleeds in. He snorts, hawks, swallows. He awakes, knows now where he is. His room. This world. Today: Wednesday, September 17, 1980.
The Presidente-in-Exile rises.
In the bathroom, post-shower, post-shave. He steps on the spring scale. The needle flutters shyly below one seventy-five. Not bad. He gives his belly a small-caliber-gunshot slap. “Not bad at all,” he says.
In the dressing room, his fingers glide through a kelp of neckties, fondling the Zegnas, stroking a yellow jacquard. He snaps it out, runs it through his collar. He speed-dials Bettinger, puts him on speakerphone, confirms their appointment while finishing up the knot—nine sharp, Van Damm’s office at the Banco Alemán. “The fix is in, Tacho,” Bettinger says. He pads to the shoe closet, selects a pair of burgundy loafers, Russia calf Henleys. “The bitch is prone,” Bettinger purrs. “Knees up and ready for fucking.” He drops the shoes to the carpet, kicks them parallel, steps daintily into them. He slips the heels with an ivory-handled shoehorn. Bettinger is prattling on. The Presidente-in-Exile secures his cuff links. He moves to the dressing-room window, looks down into the courtyard two stories below, dingy and penumbral in pre-morning light. He can make out the white Mercedes parked under the eaves of a tree, a palsy of branches like crone’s hands poised above the vehicle. His eyes adjust, and he can now see the pink turds of sticky blossoms splattered on the roof and windshield. Bettinger is detailing financial arrangements—float risks and laundry fees and yield guarantees. He smarms and panders on speakerphone like an obscene caller. The Presidente-in-Exile cuts him off and speed-dials Gallardo. He can hear the phone ringing below, in the quarters over the carriage house. He slips a titanium clip over the tie’s face, secures a matching tie bar under the knot. When Gallardo picks up, he tells his driver to stop parking under that fucking tree and to get that shit cleaned off the car now.
In the bedroom, he gives his suit coat a dervish whirl and slips into it. He approaches the bed, leans down. He kisses Dinorah goodbye, reminds her about lunch. She burrows away, deep into the bedding. Body heat purls off her. She sleeps like a dead man. It is a thing about her he admires.
In the kitchen, the Presidente-in-Exile’s egg is boiling. It ticks in a pot of water on the range. Cook cuts a small grapefruit in two. She Saran-wraps one half for the fridge, washes the other, and pats it dry. A timer goes
. She reaches into the boiling water with her fingers, plucks out the egg, holds it under the cold tap for five seconds, then seats it in its special cup. Cook is a tiny woman, a Guaraní Indian of indeterminate age with jet-black hair, the hard palms of a tenant farmer, and skin as dark and smooth as burnished jatoba wood. She lays out breakfast on a tray—soft-boiled egg, grapefruit, two pink packets of Sweet’N Low, two tablespoons of cottage cheese on a Ry-Krisp, six ounces of orange juice. Also, the London
. Also, three aspirin; he was out and about late last night. An egg spoon, a grapefruit knife, a cloth napkin. Almost ready. Cook positions a single locust-wood toothpick on a tiny copper salver. She then leans over the grapefruit, purses her lips, and releases a modest pearl of spit onto its glistening surface. Breakfast is served.
On the west patio, the Presidente-in-Exile prowls through the newspaper. The sun has just broken the ridge high above the villa. It is light and already warm.
“Buen desayuno, patrón,”
Cook murmurs as she places the tray before him. He rattles his paper. He does not speak to Cook, who came with the villa. She retreats, returns to the kitchen to prepare luncheon. Guests are expected today—that Italian, Bettinger, and some others from the bank. No breakfast for the mistress. A late sleeper, Dinorah has yet to see the sun rise in Paraguay.
The Presidente-in-Exile repasts. He snaps a page of
. There’s been nothing about him lately, thank Christ. Since his arrival fourteen months ago, the Asunción dailies have cut him no slack. Every indiscretion is rooted out and blown out of proportion—shopping sprees, drunken romps, shoving matches with cops and maître d’s, public squabbles with Dinorah. The trivia of his life as a private citizen is made public, laid out to be probed and pawed at. They went through his garbage once, and the guards caught them red-handed, knocked them around a bit, and
was reported—brutal suppression of the press or some such bullshit. Last year the service main in the street burst, leaving him without water for days. He called Stroessner in a fury to complain, to simply get it taken care of. The papers reported that he called the president of Paraguay to fix his plumbing. They hate him here. They think him arrogant and crass. They think he “sullies the dignity of the Republic.” Sullies! That’s what the papers have said! And Stroessner is no fan, either; otherwise he wouldn’t let them write that shit. But Stroessner has extended his protection. And Stroessner has been well paid. But they do hate him here.
Well, fuck them. He hates them, too.
He works on his grapefruit, browses the paper. There is a full-page ad with the banner headline
DO YOU RECOGNIZE THIS MAN?
It offers a reward for information on the whereabouts of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele. The Presidente-in-Exile snorts, flips the page. Sully my balls! Dignity of the Republic, my ass! Hideout for Nazis, haven for cocaine kings. There is an opinion piece by an undersecretary of the Ministry of the Interior railing against the feral dog population and concluding with an appreciation of the dictator Francia, who in 1840 ordered every dog in Paraguay killed. And there is an item buried in Business Briefs, a report on unanticipated delays with a hydroelectric project down on the Argentine border, involving work stoppages and a cement embargo. Bettinger’s little venture—some kind of deal with the unions that will work to his financial advantage. Leave it to Bettinger:
The bitch is prone.
The Presidente-in-Exile lets
’s pages spill to the ground. He looks at his watch. He spoons the guts of his egg onto the cottage cheese, picks up the Ry-Krisp, and pushes it all into his mouth. He licks his fingers and wipes them with the napkin. He tosses back the orange juice and smacks his lips. “Ahhh!” He stands up, tucks the
under his arm; it is air-expressed from São Paolo every morning and delivered to the villa from the airport by taxicab.
He strolls across the patio, then stops short. Something flits into the edge of his vision, and he turns. He spots it, hovering, then alighting upon the ground. He approaches. It is some kind of insect, a big one. Thin, translucent wings spanning half a foot shimmer and iridesce in morning light. Perpendicular to these, a thorax over seven inches long inscribes in the air a slender and delicate arc of the deepest red—the red of arterial blood, of crème de cassis and rubies and the juice of roasted meat. It is a helicopter damselfly, the rarest of the order Odonata in all the world, and far from its range in southwest Brazil. The Presidente-in-Exile would not know this. He bends down, eyes narrowed. “What the fuck,” he mutters, for he has never in his life seen anything like it. He peers intently, seemingly making a study of this rare and exquisite creature—a trembling scarlet wound against the gray slate tiles. He pivots his left foot and moves the thin leather sole of his bespoke shoe centimeters above it. He taps. There is a sound like a burst of static, and the insect is squashed like a bug. The Presidente-in-Exile proceeds across the patio, dragging his foot once to scrape off the gore. He cuts through the west garden, along a flagstone pathway that circles toward the front of the villa. Behind him, the discarded pages of his newspaper trip and tumble across the grounds in a zephyr that has come from nowhere on this still and windless day.
In the courtyard, Gallardo has moved the Mercedes out from under the tree. The Mercedes is an armored vehicle custom-equipped with hardened steel body panels, 1.5-inch-thick windows of polycarbonate ballistic glass, and Kevlar-lined gas tanks. Gallardo has just finished the washing, and the car glistens all dewy in the light. He is struggling with the water hose, trying to coil it without getting his dress shirt dirty. Ten yards away, outside the gate, on Avenida España, a red Datsun blocks the driveway to the villa. Three men loll on the car, smoking cigarettes. They call to Gallardo:
“Maricón, chuparosa, marica chingada.”
They blow him kisses. They tell him they have hoses for him to handle, if he wishes. These men are the Paraguayan bodyguards assigned by Stroessner to protect the Nation’s Esteemed Guest. Gallardo snaps his wrist, flicks his finger, fires his cigarette butt. It traces an arc through the bars of the gate and lands in a burst of embers on the chest of the biggest guard. Direct hit. Beautiful. The guard leaps off the Datsun, curses, rushes the gate. But what can he do? Gallardo smiles, turns around, and waggles his ass. The guard reaches down and grabs his crotch. A piercing high-pitched whistle disrupts their pas de deux. From the pathway into the gardens, the Presidente-in-Exile is waving his folded paper impatiently: Let’s go. The driver kicks the hose into the bushes, slips into his coat, gets in the Mercedes and starts it up. The bodyguards squeeze into the Datsun and back the car out of the way. The gates glide open. The Mercedes exits. The Datsun follows. The gates close. Overhead, security cameras mounted atop thirty-foot poles turn slowly, taking in the perimeter with a ho-hum weariness.