by Rojo Robles, translated by Jacqui Cornetta
ONE. Josephine knew that the guard at the second gate, the one leading into the visiting room, liked to touch her boobs. It wasn’t necessary to spend that much time checking for knives on her chest. She couldn’t even fit a die there. Always that thorough search before he let her go through. By the time she entered the hallway, Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, arrived without fail and told her about a fanzine she had printed with Paliedemes and a group of inmates interested in writing poetry. She also asked about Manrique. To keep the conversation going, she told her that the inner life of coma patients is very active. When they wake up, some of them remember many of the things that happened while they were in the hospital.
“Good morning,” interrupted Cepeda, the next guard, and opened the final gate. Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, stayed on the other side wishing they could keep talking. Cepeda took her to the usual table. Three minutes later Paliedemes came in accompanied by Sepúlveda. He sat him down and removed the handcuffs. He had a black-eye. Josephine swallowed audibly.
“You got in a fight?”
Paliedemes laughed, his face hurt.
“They kicked your ass.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it…”
“…Go ahead,” Josephine said, and started memorizing, repeating the words as Paliedemes spoke:
“Manrique: Wednesday Mom visited me in a dream. She said she was making paper decorations with some friends. Someone up there has a birthday, I guess. She asked about you and I told her you were moving your fingers. She thinks you’re going to be a comedian and be in movies. She asked me to write you a screenplay. I’m not good at writing jokes but we can come up with something together. What do you think? A comedy with a romantic twist so you can kiss the actresses. Brother, sleepyhead, I love you and I’m thinking of you.”
Josephine repeated the last line like a mantra. Sepúlveda returned, unhurriedly put on the handcuffs and sent Paliedemes back. Cepeda came and escorted her out. At the gate, after searching her, Moreno said, “Adiós, gorgeous!”
TWO. Paliedemes got famous in jail. His two books, Ecstasy and M., became the must-have loot of the publishing houses across the country with some of the highest sales the Island has ever seen. Without a doubt the phenomenon had the day they live broadcast the kidnapping of Señor Galíndez to thank. All the channels cancelled their programming to air the breaking news. The crime drama had fascinated the Island. The story even got to Univision. Latin America was on the edge of its seat, too. It was too good to be true, the closest thing to having a Latino O.J. Simpson. The whole thing had seemed like an action movie. The necessary elements were there: the grief-stricken girlfriend who discovered the whereabouts of the victim, the helicopters flying over the house, the mass deployment of police, the shootout, the car chase, the accomplice that got away and the violent arrest of Paliedemes. The trial happened pretty quickly, but it ended up with one of the highest ratings of that year, second only to the kidnapping itself. They gave him four years since there was no extortion and the hostage was in perfect condition when they found him ass-naked at the house. The hostage’s testimony in court helped get Paliedemes a short sentence, too. He went as far as to say he was the one who had planned everything. The prosecutors claimed post-traumatic dementia.
Señor Galíndez, the victim everyone wanted to love, didn’t have the same fate as Paliedemes in terms of popularity. When they interviewed him, Galíndez sat quietly, spoke nonsense or defended the actions of his persecutors. The psychologists explained his behavior as Stockholm syndrome: he had fallen in love with his abductor, Marcia Potente, now missing. Señor Galíndez didn’t capitalize on his sudden celebrity and the public lost interest. To top it all off, he offered Paliedemes a sizeable sum to write for his publishing house, The Column. Señora Marta, his then-girlfriend, put him in a psychiatric hospital, and everyone forgot about him.
Paliedemes’ survival technique in jail was to put on a stone face, just as writer, Piri Thomas—a man well-versed in literature and the streets—exemplified on the page. Paliedemes developed a disinterested and serious persona. He spoke only when necessary, moved around among the other inmates carefully but confidently and kept his fears guarded. His reputation preceded him, so he gained a cautionary respect. Everyone sensed what Paliedemes was capable of. After all, he had the leading role in one of the longest police chases in the history of the Island. The fact that Paliedemes helped the inmates write letters helped make them leave him alone. His only problem was Jason Cienfuegos. Jason, who was also a writer, couldn’t stand Paliedemes, that is, couldn’t stand his success in and outside of jail. Before Paliedemes arrived, Jason was the one who wrote the poetry everyone sent to their girlfriends and mothers. Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, thought they might even be friends, but quite the opposite occurred. Jason saw him as a usurper. Almost all the inmates preferred Paliedemes’ style and stopped asking for help from Cienfuegos. His worth came into question because of that crazy flaco.
One night, Jason shived Paliedemes in the shower. Paliedemes defended himself the best he could with the open wound, he kicked him in the balls and head-butted him a la Van Damme. War between them was declared.
THREE. Señor Galíndez looks at his fingernails as if he has just become aware of their existence and filthiness for the first time. He is dressed in black with a thick beard and his hair wet. He has just taken a shower. They let him out of the psychiatric asylum two days ago. I introduce myself and stand there looking at him with my hand outstretched. He doesn’t return the greeting and I sit down. I ask if he wants something to eat, I tell him I hear they have great ceviche. Galíndez doesn’t answer. When the server arrives he asks for a Bloody Mary and ceviche for the gentleman (me). I lose my appetite but don’t cancel the order. I ask him if it’s okay if I record our conversation and he says he doesn’t care.
Are you happy with the judicial proceedings? Many people criticized your testimony.
“Nobody is ever happy with a trial. Everyone has something to lament. For example, I wanted to see Marcia Potente, but she never appeared.”
What would you tell her?
“I would have so much to tell her: all my stories. I would make an effort to connect. We wouldn’t sleep… For years now I don’t sleep well. I’m not going to blame the kidnapping for that. Some nights I don’t sleep a wink. It used to be horrible and, confused, I thought being awake was the real nightmare. Now it’s better. Now I know how to deal with insomnia. I read something or look out the window meditatively. Sometimes I listen to José Feliciano CDs on my headphones. That calms me down. I bet Marcia can’t sleep either.”
What do you remember about the kidnapping?
“There’s a conversation I had with Paliedemes that I remember well…He told me about his brother, a kid in a coma. He told me comatose people aren’t disconnected from reality, they just perceive it as if it were a damaged film. The outside world is glitch-y. I don’t want to compare myself to a vegetable but there is something of that in the way I perceive the world.”
Did you talk a lot?
“Not always. In general, I stayed quiet and watched them argue. They were amateurs. They didn’t know what to do with me. I recommended that they ask for a ransom but they didn’t want money.”
What did they want?
“No fucking clue. I think Marcia was upset about something I said at the office. She couldn’t take a compliment. She wanted revenge.”
“Marcia is a sensitive woman. She didn’t like my sense of humor. She found it vulgar. I wanted to be her friend. I would tell her anecdotes, spin a yarn.
“No one ever knows where a relationship is going. All of a sudden we feel close to people or become obsessed with them. Then that feeling fades and we replace them. Everybody wants to have someone. We’re unhappy when we don’t even have the prospect of intimacy.”
The inner life of desire?
“Some people dream about going skydiving, they save up and then they jump out of a plane. They fulfill their desire. There are people that want to buy a house. They get the itch, make plans and do it. We could look at kidnapping in the same way, an underexplored strategy of attaining intimacy.
The problem with kidnapping is that someone’s freedom has been restricted.
“What difference is there between a kidnapping and moving your entire family, children included, to the United States. I’m sure parents rarely ask their kids if they want to move to Connecticut or Ann Arbor.
I think the difference has to do with violence.
Moving is violent, too.
Were you sexually harassed during the kidnapping?
Marcia wasn’t interested in sex.
Neither was he.
Why did you offer to publish Paliedemes, your abductor?
Galíndez stands up, opens his wallet and throws down three twenties. He walks out. My ceviche arrives.
FOUR. Several events followed the stabbing in the shower. The next week, Cienfuegos came into the dining room, grabbed a plate of spaghetti, went over to Paliedemes’ table and threw it at him. Paliedemes dodged it as best he could. He stood up and grabbed Cienfuegos by the collar and slammed him against the mess of a table, wiping up the surface. A shouting match broke out. The guards arrived and separated them. Paliedemes realized how violent this man made him. Cienfuegos wasn’t muscular or threatening. Neither was he. They were equal in weakness and eagerness to start shit. Instead of forming gangs to protect one or the other, the inmates left them alone in their quarrel. The guards thought it was fun. They separated them and didn’t tell their supervisors about the situation.
The following day, Paliedemes counterattacked by dumping tempera paint on the books Cienfuegos was reading, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez, The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Cienfuegos reacted by going over to Paliedemes’ bunk with the books and a rag, “Asshole, clean them. My mom gave them to me.” Then he left. Paliedemes felt like shit. He had crossed the line. It was one thing to fight with a man and another to fuck with his books. You don’t burn or damage books, he’d known that since he was a kid. Especially not in jail, books were one of the few windows to the outside world. With great effort, Paliedemes was able to get the paint stains out, and he returned them, including The Secret Weapons by Julio Cortázar and Murdering Whores by Roberto Bolaño in the stack of books as a sign of remorse. Cienfuegos skimmed through them one-by-one to make sure they were readable again.
“You know how to box?”
FIVE. “Would you care for some dessert? Coffee?” Marcia asked, clearing the plates away from the bespectacled man.
“Do you remember me?”
Marcia didn’t like the question and looked behind her to locate the restaurant’s exits. There were three.
“No. I’m sorry. Coffee?”
“You can walk now. That splint was a fright. You looked like Robocop.”
Marcia shook her leg as if to make sure the boot with screws wasn’t digging into it again.
“We met at a party. You were with Paliedemes. A fight broke out. Paliedemes was defending you from a guy with tattoos. I had never seen him fight.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Marcia said nothing and carried the plates to the kitchen. She came back with the check.
“We can’t talk here. Let’s meet at Bojangles in two hours.”
Batista left the money. He put on his coat, scarf, hat, gloves and walked out the door. Montreal’s bitter fucking cold froze his balls once again.
SIX. Mr. Bojangles was a conversation-lovers bar. It was decorated with nautical murals. They sold imported beers at the bar. Mr. Bojangles was advertised as a port for the eternal traveler. The menu was ten pages long with detailed information about each beer: intoxicating mini-stories. The music was a kind of hypnotic buzz similar to a didgeridoo. The people who came in to Bojangles got trapped drinking, sedated by the sounds. Marcia ordered a Harbor Dawn and sat down in front of Batista.
“When I was eighteen, I got a little group going with Mani Astier and Paliedemes Garcia,” Batista started to say without any introduction. “We were interested in writing poetry like a zillion other young people our age. I was writing verbose poems inspired by newspaper headlines. Mani Astier had a hermetic style. His poems could go on about the light falling on the armchair in his room in the afternoon or about the position of the clouds on a day in November. Honestly, I didn’t really understand them. Paliedemes wrote prose poems influenced by Jack Kerouac. He introduced us to the beat poets, or really to the mythology surrounding them. It was only natural that this gang of writers captivated our imaginary. Who doesn’t want to ride around at top-speed, smoking, drinking and fucking? We wanted to cultivate that hedonism in our lives. Back then, we didn’t know that Kerouac mostly just made a fool of himself after 1957. He would go on TV, the radio, out to jazz bars, completely loaded, talking nonsense, sweating like a pig. People stopped treating his work with respect, even though that was all the brute wanted. Nor did we know that Ginsberg was a clown chanting mantras to get attention and cock, nor that Burroughs had killed his wife and escaped to Mexico to avoid incarceration. We were a bunch of innocent beats attracted to a vicarious notion of amorality.”
Marcia couldn’t remember the last time someone had spoken to her for so long. Since she arrived in Montreal, she had hidden away in a pay-by-the-week apartment. She listened to the radio and watched television in French for three weeks without going out except to a corner store. She read the papers and searched for news to find out about the chain of post-kidnapping events. Paliedemes fucked up, but it seemed like nobody knew her whereabouts. She had pulled it off. Three months passed. When she felt safe enough, she looked for work. The restaurant took her in since she spoke perfect Spanish and English and had rudimentary French. Apart from the necessary interactions with the clients and staff, she didn’t talk to anyone. Her shift would end, and she’d go home. She was a woman shrouded in mystery.
“Once we decided to participate in a writers’ group run by Mr. Marín, a public speaking instructor,” Batista went on. “The group met in one of the rooms of the public library. It was a small group of young people. The first one to read that day was a kid, blind as a bat, Godínez. He wrote confessional autobiography, said he felt he wasn’t fit for this planet. He wanted to understand his depression, and spoke a lot about the turns of his heart. His texts were the saddest things I’ve ever heard in my life. The second guy to read was named Héctor. He was working on a collection in which the characters, three percussionists, traveled in time. The same one could have an adventure in the Californian West in 1886 while being pursued by the Gestapo in 1942 or witnessing the Charles Manson murders in 1969. In the end the travelers always found some musician to play with and would forget about what they had seen. The third one to read that night was named Violeta, though everyone called her Violenta. Violenta had dreads and wore shorts, laughed at any joke—even Godínez’ dark ones—and wrote about her experiences in the city: a prose marked by architectural images. I got hard when she read. From our crew, Mani Astier decided to break the ice. He read a poem that seemed like a ticket with no return to the world of the painter, Tanguy. Mani Astier’s poem was easily forgotten; it didn’t stick. This detail was pointed out in the middle of the session by Godínez and seconded by Violenta. She added that he lacked flesh and reality as a writer, basically that he had his head up his ass. “Pretending to be Dalí is a mistake in any camp. Pretending to be Breton is even worse,” she told him. Mani Astier felt attacked and looked to us to back him up. I said that I sensed there was something new in his poetic style, nice gestures, but that I didn’t understand a shred of what he was writing. I admitted mine probably wasn’t the most fitting opinion, since I was generally oblivious to minor provocations. Mani Astier was furious and, in wounded poet fashion, threw chairs, pulled Godínez’ hair and told everyone to go to hell, including a bawling Mr. Marín.
Mani Astier went out into the street followed by Paliedemes. I stayed behind apologizing for a while, especially to Violenta, who I wanted to screw and whose number I got before I left. I found the boys sitting in the parking lot of a gas station, two blocks down. Mani Astier said poetry was shit, and that he wasn’t going to write anymore. Paliedemes responded that perseverance and practice are the only means to perfecting the literary arts and told him not to listen to those amateurs for a second. ‘Nobody understood the beats at first. They went years before they got published.’ When I got closer, Mani Astier got up and without saying anything knocked me to the ground with one punch. He slammed me against the asphalt. I pissed myself. Paliedemes grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled the fiend off me. Mani Astier ran off and we never spoke again. Paliedemes stayed friends with both of us, but we saw each other separately. He played the neutral card.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m not going to ask you how it’s going or if you’re getting used to the city, if the cold makes you depressed, if you like your job…I know you came to escape. Me too. That unites us. Paliedemes is my hook.”
“Ok, so what happened?”
“Finish the story.”
“It doesn’t end anywhere in particular. We stopped thinking we were beats and moved on to other things. Mani Astier plays in a band. I started studying sociology, and Paliedemes did whatever he wanted: prose, journalism, translations, weird performance art inspired by Film Noir. But you know that part.”
SEVEN. The floor below the line of showers was slippery. They only fought one round, the grand round. The final bell would be when the guards arrived. The prisoners didn’t want a riot to break out, not that night at least. There was a group waiting for them: the beneficiaries of the letters, postcards and poems. They wanted to know who would win the right to keep on writing them, the privilege to understand their souls better than they did themselves. When Paliedemes arrived, Cienfuegos was ready to go, shirtless and en garde, boiling over with the urge to clobber him to the ground. There wasn’t time for much ceremony, so Paliedemes took off his shirt, too. In comparison, he was scrawnier than Cienfuegos. It would be a flyweight fight. Tiny fly. Larva. Bombo, a big black guy, reminded the boxers that there would be no kicks, head-butts, biting or punches in the balls. Other than those four rules, the rest was up to them. They turned on the showers one by one, and the steam started to rise.
Cienfuegos jumped around. Paliedemes raised his arms, observing his movements as he let Cienfuegos circle around him. Cienfuegos threw a right hook that made his jaw ring. A wave of pain ran through Paliedemes’ face. He recoiled and jumped around, too, to protect himself. Cienfuegos hurled a dead-on left jab to the ribs and another right hook to the left eye. The formality of boxing had Paliedemes confused. He didn’t know how to react to the attacks or how to fight back. “I’ve lost so much time in this life,” he thought. Paliedemes let out a grunt and threw a one-two combo that whipped Jason Cienfuegos around. The guy got dizzy—the punches caught him by surprise—and he lowered his arms. Paliedemes followed through with a right hook to the chin. Cienfuegos clinched him trying to buy time. Paliedemes was able to shake him off and pushed him to gain some distance. Cienfuegos pulled it together—the pause was good for him. He straightened up and threw a left hook to the torso. Paliedemes got the wind knocked out of him and stumbled. Jason took the advantage and threw a right jab to the nose. Boom. Paliedemes started to bleed.
The taste of blood on his lips reminded him of Marcia. It had been a while since he’d thought of her. It was strange to reminisce about his erotic life in the middle of a fight, but that’s how it happened. It wasn’t until he met Marcia that Paliedemes started to associate pain with sex. With Marcia everything was ferocious. On top of fucking while battling with her complicated orthopedic device, they would scratch and hit each other in the ribs and the ass, bite hard, and choke and slap each other. All those acts seemed natural to them, and the intention was always clear: to create acute pleasures in the other. They would leave each other raw. In his free time, Paliedemes researched sadomasochistic practices like bondage, in order to understand what he was experiencing with Marcia, but he realized their thing didn’t have anything to do with knots in ropes, leather, whips or the master-slave role play so popular on the Internet. It was about stimulating an extreme contact. Participating in a grotesque encounter. Being a couple of crazy hyenas. The pain he felt in his face comforted him and his fear dissipated. Paliedemes began to laugh uncontrollably. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha and Cienfuegos didn’t know what to do with that. He had thrown his best punches, he knew it. The blood proved it, the pain in his knuckles proved it, but Paliedemes seemed to be having fun. Jason started up again: left, right, left, left; an effective combo; more and more laughs. “You fucked up, papi,” Paliedemes shouted. The crazy flaco spontaneously combusted and threw himself at Cienfuegos like a torch. Jason screamed in terror. Bombo screamed, too, even though he wasn’t in the fight. Right, left, right by Paliedemes to the ribs, crack, crack crack. The luminous fighter enveloped Cienfuegos—who kept shouting, not knowing what to do—in a cloud of white light. Fist to face, straight to the septum. AHHHHHH! The guards arrived and threw Paliedemes against the showers. They doled out bludgeonings to everyone there. Cienfuegos was screaming for a good while. Bombo, too, though he wasn’t in any pain. Like the son-of-a-bitch Wolverine, Paliedemes had pulled himself together without a single burn.
They were both in solitary that week. Once he was out, they made Paliedemes regularly see Sofia Gutiérrez, the psychologist. For her, the clash didn’t make any sense. She was under the impression that Paliedemes and Jason were comrades, ideal companions on a mission to educate their prisoner peers and, in some cases, to teach them to read and write. It pained her that she was wrong. In her mind, true social rehabilitation had to come from inside. No free person or stranger to what went on in jail could bring notions of community responsibility and compromise into the social fabric. Without actually asserting it, she had assigned that function to the two most learned prisoners at her disposal. Their fight over territories and emotional services was completely destroying any hopes of her plan’s success. Something else was worrying her, too: for the common good her plan aspired to, they had to maintain good mental health. Apparently, the blows had made Paliedemes lose his gourd: the story about going up in flames was clearly a delusion, a hallucination that disguised his rage or attempted to make the inherent frustrations of being in jail tolerable. Paliedemes seemed unable to acknowledge his violence and his ability to exteriorize it, wrote Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, in her reports. It was possible that Paliedemes was verging on the schizophrenic spectrum. He admitted his surprise at his flammable abilities and explained them using an argument made by nineteenth century British author, Charles Dickens, whose novel, Bleak House, evidences such a case. Though the use of material culture to justify acts and beliefs was indeed common in schizophrenics, at least his reference fit within the confines of the letter, she sighed.
EIGHT. “Manrique: I think you’ll be glad to know that you have a brother with super powers. You’ll probably remember – will you remember? – when I caught fire at the zoo. Those mandrills made me nervous with their frantic sexual activity and Boom! Spontaneous combustion. It hadn’t happened to me again until a week and a half ago in the middle of a gloveless boxing match…Don’t freak out, I feel fantastic. My head bursts into flame and works like a fuse. I feel an intense heat, but I don’t get burned. They put me out quickly. I don’t know if I could sustain the flame indefinitely. I’m like the torch guy from The Fantastic Four. I can’t fly like him, but oh well, nobody is that lucky. Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, is trying to get me to forget about what happened. Poor thing, I get her. Fires are not advisable in jail. I’m making her think that bit by bit I’m coming around and that I’ll renounce my supposed fantasies…pendeja. I wonder if I could go up in flames at will. To master one’s powers is a life-long project. I have a lot to tell you. Come back to the world.”
Josephine whispered this message to Manrique. Her voice tickled his spine and the top of his head. Manrique relaxed. This letter was a little nonsensical, Josephine thought, as if Paliedemes had lost his wits and regressed to a delusional adolescence. She had promised to recite the messages to Manrique without judging or editing and that’s what she did. She didn’t intervene with his dictated words.
Walking back to the car after the visit, she remembered the first time she and Paliedemes did it in the forest in the Northeast. They had really been tripping. The electrical storm lightning seemed to surround them like a magnetic field buzzing. When he penetrated her she felt like she was burning in an open fire. In that moment, she thought the source of her visions had been the psychotropic elements in her own saliva, perhaps exacerbated by the material Z they had smoked, but now she doubted it. Paliedemes had powers, too. She felt ashamed she’d never considered it before.
NINE. The hours flew by. Marcia and Batista talked until Bojangles closed at four. Batista told her many stories. He and Paliedemes were inseparable, sidekicks in a lengthy saga with episodes dedicated to all kinds of things, from drugs and parties; to readings, camping adventures and peaceful sailing trips. Talking about his youth was the same as talking about Paliedemes. Marcia listened attentively and enjoyed the anecdotes. Sometimes she drew parallels in her mind between the things she herself had done at such an age. Batista hadn’t realized how nostalgic he was feeling until that moment. Montreal had treated him pretty well. He found a job at a magazine as assistant editor two weeks after arriving. He had lied on his resume. He listed job experiences in New York, San Francisco and Madrid. He added published books of poetry and prose that never existed. An alleged PhD received from a university in Toronto was listed as the crowning achievement of his life. The people at the magazine were trusting and let him start without verifying a single piece of information. Batista carried out all his responsibilities, so there was no reason to doubt anything. He made friends among his peers at work. They would go out for drinks on Fridays and he often got invited to watch NBA games with them on Sundays. Nevertheless, these colleagues weren’t real friends, he knew that. They would talk about anything at all to keep the conversation going. Small talk reigned in their interactions. Batista peacefully accepted this fact. After recounting those adolescent episodes to Marcia, the old life on the Island seemed indulgent and sacred. As the stories went on, Paliedemes appeared less and less. In the last reminiscences, Batista only spoke about himself.
After leaving Bojangles, Batista walked Marcia to her house. They froze when the time came to say goodnight. There was tension in their mouths, their desire to kiss suspended. Batista asked for her number. She told him she didn’t mess with cell phones, lived an austere life. She did invite him to come by the next Wednesday though. They could get food or something.
Batista was happy walking back to his apartment, knowing he had omitted any reference to his past lover, Josephine. He had become a king rearranging his life history, leaving out bits of information and adding supplementary events. He was an editor and felt he had every right to do so.
TEN. The phrase, “to master one’s powers is a life-long project,” returned to her mind over and over again. Josephine realized she was taking her powers for granted. She played them down or treated them with the same importance she might attribute to a beauty mark above her lip. Since she was a teenager she had made guys and girls hallucinate with her kiss. It was fun. She felt in control making others lose control. Some people called her “the witch” and others, more prone to listening to electronic music, “acid girl.” Her saliva contained a hallucinogenic substance. The trip lasted between three and ten minutes depending on the intensity of the kiss. The hallucinations varied from person to person and effects of horror or pleasure depended on the emotional states of the person kissing her. If somebody had a bad trip, it was because of whatever mental struggles they were having at the moment. This gave her trouble, especially in high school when she was experimenting with anyone and everyone. Many were repulsed by her and blamed her for horrible nightmares and all sorts of mental fuckery. Josephine had to hold herself accountable. She learned very early on that every physical act has consequences, that getting close to someone, often and perhaps most of the time, meant—as a corollary—to distance herself from them. The solution: to ration her kiss, to make sure the other person was forewarned insofar as that was possible and, most importantly, consenting. This resolution allowed her to have healthier relationships, though in fewer quantity. The playful phase of going out with everybody and nobody ended quickly. If she ended up getting with someone, it was because her admirer had kept wooing her come hell or high water, had been well-informed, and had very eagerly decided to enjoy the experience. At nineteen, she had a girlfriend, Estelle, an older experimental modern dancer who she had met at the university. They lasted a year and a half, for eighteen beautiful months she was comfortable and thriving. Sadly—since everything was going so well between them—Estelle left for New York when she got accepted to Juilliard, and the romance ended. At twenty-two, Josephine got together with Larraín, a painter who adored her. Larraín prolifically depicted all the mental trips he experienced with her. The guy started to gain success in the art market. At a certain point, Josephine felt like he was using her, that their love had been corrupted. She left him. They went on almost three years getting back together and breaking up—months alone, weeks together—in the end, a vicious cycle that wore them out. Between twenty-six and twenty-eight she was peaceful and single, recovering. She might have slept with someone—usually a woman—every now and then, but she kept things casual and in the realm of friendship. Then came Batista, the sociologist-poet with his contrarian ideas, the longest conversations she had ever had and his willingness to hallucinate and stick it in anywhere. They moved in together pretty quickly. They fucked, talked and made a life together. Josephine became a part of Batista’s circle of friends. Paliedemes, the crazy writer, was a member of that little group of freaks. From the beginning they connected, so falling into a half-serious make-out threesome felt natural. She had never considered him a potential sexual partner or partner of any kind until she came back after her Canadian fuck-up: a terrible exploit which cost her Batista, a deportation, and a nasty criminal record. It had made her feel like a dog returning with her tail between her legs. Equally lost and trapped, Paliedemes took her in with unforeseen intensity, a delirious and boundless intensity, which, as she had just begun to understand, stemmed from the explosive powers they both possessed. Immediately after this realization, the kidnapping took place.
When they arrested him, Josephine kept living at Paliedemes’ house. Though at first she had just decided to take care of the apartment or what was left of it—the police had confiscated most of his things—their relationship evolved. As a good friend, she visited him every once in a while. Every time they were together, without even touching, they created an energetic field you could cut with a knife. Feeling that force was amazing. Paliedemes wrote her long letters. With each one that arrived, he could tell he loved her more and more, or he was falling more in love with his idea of her. He spoke about a gratifying feeling of intimacy that made itself known for minutes on end during each visit. Josephine liked responding to his letters. It was like a therapeutic ritual for her. “So this is how people felt in the past,” she thought, “what a pleasure, writing to someone.” She had never sent letters to anyone. Writing ideas down was something knew for her. Without defining things too much, or making false expectations, they became a couple. Though it pained her that Paliedemes had ended up in jail, it allowed her to continue healing on her own without having to explain anything to anyone or share her body. Maintaining his affections was comfortable, and it didn’t take much. Toronto had driven her crazy. Her stint in jail had fried her brains. The time had come to try to understand her reality, and she accepted that. Paliedemes was her partner in the inner journey. At the end of the day, they didn’t have anyone else they could count on. The others had disappeared. They accepted each other—both wounded—paying for their mistakes and bad decisions. They decided on a peaceful union with very little interaction.
For Josephine, understanding her powers meant looking back on her romantic past. What good did it do her to have hallucinogenic saliva? Until now, nothing, other than facilitating entelechy in her lovers. There comes a point when it becomes uncomfortable to keep all the benefits for oneself, she thought. Nothing’s free in this world, and ones’ duty in life is to give back, to keep life force in motion. Sure, she had given pleasure to a few people, but thinking about those gifts also meant thinking about her own enjoyment. She wanted to give of herself some other way, to use her psychedelia for the greater good. Then she realized just who she could help.
ELEVEN. It was 2:13 a.m. when Señor Galíndez called. I had spent the past hour reading some J.G. Ballard’s stories. My wife had been sleeping since ten, exhausted with her seven-month belly. Though I refuse to answer calls after nine o’clock in the evening, I had to make an exception for Galíndez. The earlier interview had been disappointing. I knew he had more to say. I decided to record the conversation. This is the transcription.
“Did I wake you up?”
“No. I was reading J.G. Ballard.”
“Why? Are you afraid of the future?”
“Afraid as such, no, maybe skeptical, Galíndez.”
He was quiet.
“You still there?”
“What do you want?”
“To tell you something. I was running at the gym and remembered some things.”
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a normal name.”
“I don’t think…”
He was quiet.
“You still there, Galíndez?”
“Aljamiado, that kidnapping was poorly planned. Paliedemes arrived at midnight. Marcia was nervous. He had left her alone a long time. ‘Where were you?’ she yelled. ‘With your lover?’ Paliedemes spoke to her quietly to calm her down, but she kept raising her voice. She repeated the same questions like a parrot. I think she started to cry but I’m not sure. I still felt the effects of the tranquilizer they had injected me with and the voices sounded strange, like they were being altered through a control panel. Paliedemes told her that he had damaged the car. ‘He’s lying,’ I thought. They kept arguing for a good while. ‘Get out, you’re not doing anything for me here,’ was the last thing Marcia said to him before she left the room. Paliedemes sat there staring at me like he was making sure it was all happening. He sat down on the floor and started talking to himself. I was falling asleep. Marcia came back and said she was going to bring us tea.
TWELVE. There is nothing to ground this retelling. Josephine kissed Manrique, that she recalls. The idea was to pass him a dose of her psychotropic saliva. If it had been a painting, what happened would have been describable as a flirtation with abstract art. Josephine saw tones of colors, arbitrary lines and decomposed geometry. She had the impression she was moving in a dark, energetic current that culminated in what could have been a bird. The bird, or the faint outline of the bird, took her to a white garden or the faint sketch of a white garden. She left her body for an indeterminable amount of time and remained with the sensation of having gone to a far-off and fleeting place.
In the plane of verifiable facts, that is, in the sphere of the devices connected to Manrique’s body, it can be confirmed that there was a drastic change in his vital signs. Nurses arrived, they asked Josephine to please leave. All working together, they began to handle Manrique as if he were a spaceship, while the beep beep bop went back to normal.
THIRTEEN. I didn’t drink the tea. My eyelids fell closed. I think I dreamt about Charles Baudelaire. We went to a salon to drink. Charles complained about everything, from the quality of the absinthe to the crystal glasses, from the women attending us to how the place was decorated. He said he would have liked to have lived during the eighteenth century. I was irritated. He seemed like an incredibly boring guy. He insisted that I discuss his poems. I didn’t have any desire to, I wanted to enjoy myself. Luckily, a woman from Algeria approached me to tell me about her village and to ask me for money in exchange for her company. We exited out the back door and abandoned the tedious guy.
When I woke up, it was already daytime and I was content. It was a wet dream. Marcia threw water on my head. “Wake up, pendejo,” she said, “I’m going to the supermarket, do you want anything?” I asked for Cocoa Puffs for breakfast, carbonated water, white rice, Goya garbanzo beans and Italian sausage for lunch.
“Who the fuck is going to cook all that for you?”
“You don’t know how to cook?”
“What kind of woman are you?”
“I’m going to make sándwiches de mezcla.”
“I don’t want Spam and Cheez Whiz.”
“Well you’re fucked then.”
Paliedemes came out of the bathroom after taking a shit—it reeked—and said he could cook for the three of us. If she had had darts, Marcia would have aimed them at my knees. She slammed the door.
“You go looking for it, cabrón,” Paliedemes told me.
“Yeah, right?” I concurred.
FOURTEEN. The next Wednesday, Batista picked Marcia up at work. She wasn’t sure what they might do or why she had agreed to meet up with him. He took her to a bowling alley where they played be-bop as if it was still the latest musical trend. They played two games. She won both. Batista talked to her about the film, The Big Lebowski, in which the existential game of three friends who desire nothing more than to bowl and drink in peace is interrupted by eccentric characters who say they owe them money, just like in every story. He also told her about Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, the narcotic life of the superstar saxophonist. Parker believed jazz had the ability to tell a thousand stories and move elastically through time. Similarly, Batista insisted any fact—no matter how insignificant it seemed—could be made into all kinds of stories. He traveled in time through his storytelling and references. From the ball hitting the pins, from the machine registering the points, from the speakers blaring that be-bop trot, Batista made up stories. Marcia let him talk and settled in to his conversation as best she could, sometimes interested in the meaning and sometimes just the pure rhythm of the words and images running through his mind. The distrust began to recede, the vigilance eased up, the defenses fell, and Batista was there with his hands outstretched.
FIFTEEN. She went down two flights on the elevator. The doors opened, she walked down the hallway and the nurses with their doll uniforms seemed to be spinning around her like in a children’s round: San Serenín, de la buena, buena vida. Josephine leaned against the wall to keep from falling. One of the nurses approached and waved a liquid under her nose, which made her come to. The nurse sat her down, asked for her name and the reason for her presence in the hospital. Josephine looked into her third eye and said, “I came to see the bird. It is a colorless bird or maybe a bird of every color, not like a rainbow, more like a hologram.” “Who is your doctor?” “García is my doctor, Manrique García.” She got up and left the nurse hanging.
SIXTEEN. “I think it’s fun, Paliedemes. What you’ve staged here is incredible. You—especially Marcia—have taken such great care. If it were my birthday, I’d exclaim that no one had ever thrown me a party like this one,” I told him.
“I don’t know if you’ll be thinking that later.”
“That I don’t know, you’re right. Maybe I’ll get claustrophobic, get tired of the game and want to go out to eat. When I was a child that happened to me a lot. The kids from the neighborhood and I would meet up for hours and set up bases. We would designate who would play with which action figure, decide what storyline would guide us, sign—in a matter of words—a war agreement, an affront to resolve and wham, when it finally came time to rumble, to slam the damn toys against each other, that’s when we’d be struck by a sluggishness, a call of nature, an urge to be at mommy’s side. There was never a real game; plans—yes— a structure of the game—yes—a mutual logic of violence—yes—but combat as such—no…that’s why I like what’s happening here. We are overriding theory; we’re in the action. This is a kidnapping, right?”
“And you are the offended lover?”
“…A reductionist explanation, but yes, that’s probably my role.”
SEVENTEEN. It never would have occurred to Señora Marta that Señor Galíndez had been kidnapped. Yet, the kidnapping was cut short and became the media spectacle that it was because of her concern. When Galíndez didn’t show up, didn’t visit her, didn’t call, didn’t answer emails or texts, didn’t go to the publishing house, she realized she had to be proactive and initiate a search, though it was painful. The picture in Marta’s head didn’t have to do with a kidnapping, it was another kind of flick. On a classic Hollywood set, Galíndez dressed like Bogart from The Maltese Falcon receives a visit from Marcia Potente. Dressed like Mary Astor, she is trying to extort him. Galíndez says, “I give up, come and get the package.” She goes around the desk and says, “that’s what I wanted to hear.” She gets down on her knees and opens his pants. “Everything’s here?” “There’s more if you wait a bit,”—she puts the Bogartian dick in her mouth and savors sucking him off. After a while, the fantasy becomes mechanical and unbearable—dick going in, dick going out all slobbered on. Then Galíndez picks up Marcia Mary Astor like a policeman on a raid and places her arms on the table. He breaks her dress open and, moving her panties aside, sticks his Bogartian dick in, which is now huge and wet from the saliva and lubricating secretions. That’s the kind of material Señora Marta’s jealous, black-and-white dream was made up of. After suffering from this vision, she felt absolutely sure that the place she needed to look was Potente’s apartment. Resolute, she went to the publishing house, looked for the secretary’s old contract, wrote down the address, spit on it and called a detective, alluding to the fact that there, in Marcia’s house, something horrible had happened. “Please, hurry, bring me information!”
EIGHTEEN. “Manrique, I haven’t had catch fire. Everybody looks at me suspiciously. Some keep their distance or quickly whisper things about me to each other. They let me work in peace in the electrical workshop, let me read at my leisure; they don’t invite me to play baseball or lift weights. I still write letters for them from time to time, but almost everybody went with Cienfuegos. He seems safer, less volatile. They laugh with him, gift him cigarettes, coke and phone calls from their clandestine cell phones. They’re afraid. There’s a tense peace. They write on the walls, ‘Paliedemes is a monster hijo ’e puta.’ I decided not to talk to Sofia Gutiérrez, the psychologist, about this stuff. She interprets everything as invented defense mechanisms. The less I say about the subject, the better. She’s happy, what I tell her about our childhood is enough. She loves it when I analyze the repercussions that dad’s post-traumatic stress disorder after Vietnam have had in my life. As far as everything else goes, what has to happen happens: the beatings by the guards, the long-distance drug dealing, the vendettas, the knifings, the assfuckings and the tough romances with the usual demands of exclusivity. I hope you only ever have to read Genet. Bombo chose me, says he’s my bodyguard. ‘You won the respect, papi.’ He spends hours with me. Tells me things. They gave the man thirteen years for possession and sale of marijuana. He used to deal at the university. Small amounts, he claims. He regrets not having gone to class, but the money he made allowed him to have fun, drink beer, smoke blunts, fill up on gas and take chicks out on the town. He misses Yesenia, the mother of his daughter, Eva. They still write to each other. She is ambivalent about whether they’ll get back together once he’s out. Bombo thinks she has a boyfriend. If that’s how it is, he’ll look for someone else. When he gets out, Eva will be the same age he was when he got locked up. He’s missing all of her adolescence. Eva is the light of Bombo’s life. She writes to him and tells him she loves him. Manrique, they lose men in here. They get turned into animals pitted against each other, drugged up with each other, fucked by each other—sometimes with passion and sometimes with an atrocious contempt for the body. These prison sentences aren’t commensurate to offences, they equal the perennial neutralization and obfuscation of the poor.”
“Will you remember all that?”
“Yes,” Josephine said.
The silence lingered.
“…Manrique’s voice has already changed.”
“It’s a joke.”
NINETEEN. “Your name rings a bell, really rings a bell. Why’s it so familiar?” I said.
“It should ring a bell.”
“Why? Do I owe you money? Do you work with Manolo? It’s not my fault if the cock dies in the first minute, I guess…I mean, what do I know...they’re animals, there’s no way to plan ahead…”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I don’t know anything about cockfights.”
“You don’t work with Manolo?”
“No. What do Manolo and Marcia have to do with each other?”
“Nothing, that I know of, but this island is so tiny, everyone knows each other.”
“The publishing house.”
“The Column, I sent my manuscript to the publishing house.”
“Yeah, yeah, remind me which one…”
“Oh, that one! The mystical short stories! We didn’t publish them.”
“And you’re upset? It wasn’t erotic, papá. The Column only publishes pornography: sticking it in, fucking, sucking…The transcendence of the body isn’t our thing.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t? Then why do you have me here?”
“Because of what happened with Marcia…”
“Dear god, so serious….so little sense of humor. I’m not a saint of a man, so what.”
“You’re a bastard.”
“No. You’re mistaken. My mother and father were wed before my conception. And even if they hadn’t been, I am the only one responsible for my actions.” —That’s a good line, right, Aljamiado?
Sartre would be proud, Galíndez.
I always walk and speak from the roads to freedom…
Ha, ha, ha. Galíndez, the comedian…What did Paliedemes say?
“He was quiet for a while. That always happened to him, like he wasn’t convinced he was really there. It seemed like he was watching a movie in an incomprehensible language with traditions he wasn’t familiar with. I said to him, ok, Paliedemes García, emerging writer, want me to tell you a story?
Sgt. Popper would get all turned on, jump up and down, get under the covers. He wouldn’t leave us alone. Always the same thing, as soon as we’d start to screw, the little shit would want to smell us and participate. He was addicted to our pheromones. It would piss me off, but Erina thought it was adorable. When she was riding me, she would stop to make cute little faces at Sgt. Popper, the son of a bitch. It made me want to grab the little dog and throw him out the window. Find your own broad, dick-sniffer. Erina didn’t understand my Spanish, but she loved when I got annoyed. All that coitus interruptus made her horny.
I met Erina at a Christmas party while I was living in London. My friend, Vansy, the bartender, set us up. When I entered the bar, Vansy jumped up and said, ‘There’s someone I want you to meet.’ He had already arranged everything. He took pity on Erina the day she broke out into tears because of how lonely she was. She had been about to be married, but her ex-fiancé disappeared for six months and when he came back—from Morocco apparently—he left her, giving only hollow excuses. He preferred trafficking hashish. She was vulnerable. Ready and able. The whole matter was simple for me. The DJ was playing R&B. I grinded up on her on the dancefloor and whispered into her ear that I liked her tattoos, especially the one of a cat with a skull in its mouth. That did it. We kept dancing, drinking, I moved my hips, we kissed, she invited me to her studio a little later. In the morning we said goodbye, she gave me her number, I promised to call her and I pet Sgt. Popper—her venerated dog-boyfriend, a substitute for love—behind the ears.
The holidays went by before we saw each other. We met up again at a bar in late January. Since it had been awhile, the flirtation took a minute to get going, but the cocktails, the memory of the first night and a few jokes gave her the necessary nudge. Rum, rum, chitchat. Back to her studio. Sgt. Popper was happy to see me. Erina told me that the ugly little Sargent didn’t like men. He usually got jealous, but with me he was on his best behavior. I must have had something good going. Latin flavor I guess. As soon as I penetrated the chick, Sgt. Popper spun around in circles and howled for a place between our bodies.
Saturday night became our hookup night. The date always went down the same way. Out to eat, have a drink, go to her place, put on music, smoke, fuck next to the dog, with the dog right there, sleep, wake up and see you next Saturday, Sgt. Popper, next Saturday, girl. Erina went out with her spandex pants and sneakers to run around Hyde Park, and I took the subway to my miniscule apartment to sleep a little more.
Sometimes I started to think that the whole thing with Erina should have just been a one-night stand. I should have made a run for it, everything would have been less awkward, but that’s not how it happened. I was lonely.
While I was crashing her weekends, her room started to give me little indications about who she was. The postcards from the seventies, the thimble collection, the unfinished little art projects, the collages on the walls, the roughed-up Game of Thrones paperback, the wine-colored sheets. Everything was telling me a little, cozy story. The objects told me more about her than Erina herself. Our conversations hovered around who each of us was, but—this started to become apparent—weren’t able to penetrate into the blissful marrow where two people fuse and become addicted to each other. The sexual chemistry was out-of-step. It wasn’t in line with the chemistry that comes through conversation, that is, two minds moving and playing together. The little dog was more connected to me than she was.”
“Galíndez, why are you telling me this?” Paliedemes said to me.
“Because sometimes we let the dog in bed with us and that’s a mistake, Paliedemes, a waste of time, you understand?”
“It’s nothing new, pendejo, that sex can be repetitive and empty, and it shouldn’t have to be. We accept the dog as a concession so we can keep apathetically sticking it in. There are other metaphors: glass instead of porcelain, service charges at the ATM, the fee for the 3D glasses you return at the end of the flick…Deep down what I’m trying to say is that it seems like this cheap thrills and sex combo is going to cost you more than you think.”
Marcia arrived with the bags from the supermarket soaking wet, the rain kept coming down. Paliedemes and I looked at each other and didn’t return to the matter, in fact, nobody spoke for a couple of hours. Paliedemes went to the kitchen to cook, what I had said to him got stuck in his brain like a worm in a dog’s heart.
TWENTY. Salivating as much as she could, she glued her kisser onto Manrique’s, spitting towards the back of his mouth. A thick darkness, like tar or millions of melted vinyl records, began to cover her. A slow wave of plasma stuck to her body, from the ankles up. The caramelly-textured darkness protected her. It wasn’t all-encompassing, a little bit of light crept in from an unidentifiable yet undeniably present source. That’s how she was able to recognize shapes and movements in the blob. She was completely enveloped. She was inside of something like a chrysalis, or maybe the best sleeping bag in the world. There was no pain or hunger inside it. Well-nourished and provided for she let herself be and time passed through her without imposing itself. The sensations were delicious, like an orgasm; not an orgasm brought about by petting, by tongue strokes or by penetration, but by a subtle force that entered her primary central nervous system and, after setting her on edge, released her tensed muscles and left her vibrating.
She drew away from him and sat staring at the dark television screen. What would happen when Manrique woke up? Would he remember the accident at the fair? What memories would he have of the event? Would the days in the hospital be included? What he was experiencing with her? Would he try to keep living his life right where he had left off? His friends would already be older, had probably lost their virginities. They’d have boyfriends or girlfriends. They’d be smoking material Z and drinking vodka irresponsibly. They’d be into music that he wouldn’t understand. Would they make him repeat eighth grade? She would have to explain the whole Paliedemes shit show. How would she tell him that she had been kissing him to wake him up like a sleeping beauty? Maybe she would have to keep it a secret. The afternoon light softened. Manrique—she was convinced of it—squeezed her hand.
TWENTY-ONE. The inmates played ball. They ran around insulting each other, having a great time, like Care Bears. A bubble would form around the field, outside of time or inside another more distant and independent time. The game distanced them from the building with its miles of barbed wire, the showers, the iron bars and the courts. Thank the gods for sports and their power to create compressed universes, easy-to-follow narratives, repetitive motor patterns. As he had done since childhood, Paliedemes observed the others playing, he didn’t take part. That morning, more than following along visually, he was concentrating on the sounds: the buzz of the ball, the whacks of the bat, the feet scraping the ground, the random words and guttural sounds that his fellow inmates made. The whole sequence of events that brought him to that place, leaning against the wall, listening closely to a prisoner’s ball game, started to feel unbearable. His head was ringing like it hadn’t in ages. He was paying for his sloppy actions. All for what. Those three days weren’t worth it, his mind wasn’t reaching new levels of lucidity, his body wasn’t getting stronger. They had neutralized him, taken him out of circulation. Everyone else involved was free. He sacrificed himself for a few degenerates and for his own desire for marginality. He gave Marcia a green light to escape. He left the role of victim to Galíndez. For a moment, he felt sorry for himself, but dismissed the feeling. What was there to pity?
He was to blame for believing himself a vengeful caballero. For believing in ennui and the ability to overcome it. For wanting more evocative anecdotes than supermarket visits, readings of Roberto Arlt, traffic jams, or having survived being struck by lightning. To distract himself from this train of thought, he decided to imagine Manrique’s face now almost three years older than the last time he saw him. He thought about Manrique’s curly hair all the way down to his shoulders, his tanned, dark skin just like his own, his broad nose and little ears, like a baby koala. He gave him a little beard, a scraggly goatee, and an expression like a Buddhist monk painting with colored sand. The branch-like scar that crossed his chest and reached down to his thigh started to itch. For a while now, the nervous effects caused by the lightning bolt had become like telegram conversations with his brother. Paliedemes was convinced that man didn’t communicate only through uttered, gestured or written words. The distance between beings was quantifiable. The nagging itch was more than welcome, and he concentrated on it. Manrique, Manrique, Manrique. Ball thrown, sssssssssssss, whack, homerun.
TWENTY-TWO. Batista, the competent seducer, had convinced Marcia to sleep with him. He wooed her with conversations, stories and memories, whether real or invented in the moment. He picked her up at the restaurant and they would go for long walks, putting up with the cold for as long as they could. When the low temperatures made their bones hurt and their fingers seem like they would fall off even with gloves on, they went into the first café and drank hot tea to warm themselves. They talked incessantly.
Sometimes Batista thought about the lies and told himself that what was important in human relationships wasn’t the content of what was said, or its true constitution in reality, but the vibration of the voice and the way certain concepts could conjure up something like a tickle in others’ brains. The sex was attainable due to their candid conversations, the cold and the loneliness the fugitive harbored. He liked to fuck, no reason to deny it. It was the part of the job that came easiest to him and that felt the most natural—there were no regrets in that respect, besides, Marcia fucked him real well in her desperation—but he was aware that above all, the fucking served to increasingly lower her defenses, to get closer to her like the good predator he was.
TWENTY-THREE. Paliedemes cooked arroz con pollo y amarillos, Aljamiado. Chicken and rice with fried sweet plantains is the strangest dish any hostage has ever been given. It was delicious. It made me feel better, I hadn’t eaten anything in more than twenty hours. Marcia barely touched her plate, but the boy was hungry so he cleaned his just like I had. No one said barely anything, only what was necessary. Pass me the pique, a glass of water, please. Everybody stayed in their corner.
“So, what? Are you going to ask for money?” I asked Marcia. “I’m getting bored.”
“Shut up, Galíndez,” Marcia said and karate chopped me on my Adam’s apple. Then she asked if we wanted to watch a film while we were waiting.
“While we’re waiting for what?”
“While we digest and cut off one of your fingers.”
Marcia put on Sans Soleil, one of those art films that juxtaposes images so the audience has to organize them as best they can. I asked if we could watch something lighter, by Spielberg, but no one paid attention to me. At least the title went with the shit weather of those days. In the film, a woman talks about some letters someone sent her from Japan and from some country in Africa. These letters analyze the social customs of each place and consider possible plans of action for a weakened Left, or that’s how I understood it. The sender really wasn’t having any fun. He was one of those unfortunate men who gets nothing but anxiety from what surrounds him. These kinds of opinionated subjects think suffering is the most dignified response to the state of the world. Pleasure seems like a trap to them. They enjoy suffering. In any case, though it was boring, the film made me think about my time living in London and Madrid, in the solitude and cold of my tiny European rooms, about how I would try to make conversation with anyone in the street to feel seen for a while. About how I would pick up women. Several times I ended up in strange people’s houses, looking at their posters, drinking their wines, snorting their drugs, listening to their favorite records. That gave me a lot to write about. My bestsellers came out of those states of being. I thought about Marta, about her puffy lips, and wanted to be with her instead of those imbeciles. I felt bad for the vindictive fortitude they lacked and the confusion they exuded. I fell asleep at some point in the film. When I woke up, I heard them arguing again. They made me want to punish them for their lazy performance over those ill-spent hours.
TWENTY-FOUR. Josephine spent several sittings alongside Manrique reliving the hallucinatory experience of the abstract world. In one of the visits, they found her necking with him, licking his lips thirstily, slobbering all over every inch of his face. A male nurse with plucked eyebrows screamed, “Security!” Josephine wasn’t fazed, her eyes still closed. In her mind, she was kayaking through a substance that seemed like onion cells seen from under a microscope. Sometimes she would run aground on the membranes, get out of the kayak, climb on top of them, dive onto the other side, swim, jump into another boat and keep gliding between the cells. The nurse with the tweezed eyebrows ordered her to stop. Manrique’s penis was erect and his vitals spiked on the machine. The nurse with the tweezed eyebrows pulled her away and a frightened Josephine opened her eyes as she came out of the trance. Like a vampire, she licked the spit running from her lips, from the corners of her mouth. Manrique—sploosh—came. Ay ay ay. The nurse with the tweezed eyebrows pushed Josephine against the wall and screamed again, “Security!” “He’s going to wake up,” Josephine yelled at the same time. “You can’t kiss a coma patient.”
Josephine head-butted the nurse with the tweezed eyebrows, then again, and again. He seemed to withstand the blows, but ended up passing out. Boom! Security arrived. Josephine told them that the nurse with the tweezed eyebrows was talking to her and all of a sudden got dizzy, lost strength in his legs and stumbled. While she tried to keep him from falling to the ground, they accidently banged heads. The guards asked her to leave and wait in the hall while they pieced together what had happened. They had heard him scream. Other nurses arrived. While they moved the fallen body, Josephine walked out, got into the elevator, went down eight flights, left out the main entrance, got into her car and hit the gas.
A month later, Josephine sent a postcard of a crystal clear beach to Paliedemes with a Martiniquean stamp on it. She told him she had needed to urgently flee the country. They had caught her again: a necessary crime, but possibly more legally severe than the shoplifting in Canada. She wouldn’t let herself land in jail again. She didn’t have the strength to endure it. She assured him that she had done everything possible for Manrique and that she was convinced he would wake up sooner or later. She insisted he know that his brother had a rich internal life and that his messages from jail had not been in vain. Manrique had been taking them in, and they infused him with energy. She asked him not to go looking for her and not to try to maintain the intimacy they had shared. She regretted not getting to see his bruised face, as fine as an ancient liberator’s, a mulato king’s. She finished the note saying she would always think of him fondly as her ideal partner in logic-defying powers. P.S. She would keep paying the rent. She had automated the bank payments. P.P.S. The keys were in the Flame of the Woods flowerpot.
TWENTY-FIVE. After months of picking her up from work, taking her to the movies or out dancing, fucking her, Batista convinced Marcia to go to the US side of Niagara Falls, supposedly the more fun one. They would have a short getaway of three days and two nights in the capital of honeymoons. There they could eat seafood in the revolving restaurant, gamble on slot machines, hear the story about the man who threw himself off the falls in a barrel, go to the spas where they would get massages with the latest techniques and body oils, take night walks through the illuminated water and, without a doubt, put on a fuckfest in the hotel. Marcia agreed to go. She finally felt like she was in a healthy relationship, or a simple one at least, without perversions or corrupt plans. Her desire to be with Batista had to do with enjoying someone else’s body, listening to the storyteller’s tales, choosing what to eat together, and avoiding loneliness. Beginning to forget, that is. With his wooing, Batista increased both of their oxytocin levels, the neuromodulator hormone involved in social behaviors, sexual patterns, and parental conduct. Oxytocin opens the vagina, lubricates, allows for the production of milk, and gives feelings of security—everything Marcia needed.
When they arrived, they stood staring at the water and listening to the continuous sound of it falling. It was breathtaking. Tourists talked around them, ate hot dogs, took pictures of the hot dogs, took selfies of themselves eating the hot dogs, sent them to their friends who—always at the ready—clicked like and fed their electronic accounts with redundant comments. The tourists were baffled by the new apps that let them superimpose rainbows, gnomes, and Pikachus onto the photos of themselves eating hot dogs. In their state of great stimulation, they wrote poorly-written statuses and phrases of one hundred and forty characters. Marcia and Batista, with their limited imagination and desire to connect with the world, just watched the water fall. When they got to the hotel, they fucked as planned, guzzled milk, and licked all each other’s orifices in the shower. The rest of the trip they ate lots of seafood to keep their phosphorus levels high and continued the fuckathon with renewed energy. They got their massages, slept long naps, watched basic cable shows about food, and over and over again got lost staring into the falls.
The morning of the third day, before checking out, Batista woke up early and told Marcia he was going out for a walk. He promised to buy coffee and some cheesy souvenir that would remind them of the trip. Marcia stayed sleeping in bed, warm and blissful, in pajama shorts with black birds on them. Batista didn’t go buy the souvenir, though he did get the coffee. He wanted to be very awake. He went to the police station. He told them about the fugitive, referred them to the federal kidnapping case— still partially unresolved—and reminded them of the $25,000 reward for whoever captured the woman. He took the police to the room and watched as they kicked the door in, pointed machine guns at her, handcuffed her and took her away. Marcia didn’t resist the arrest. While they took her out of the room, still wearing her black birds, she looked into Batista’s face one last time, trying to retain every detail. She didn’t want to forget anything about his betrayal.
Batista returned to Montreal. He went on with his routine and advanced in his career as an editor. After a lot of bureaucracy, he got the money. One of the first things he did with that money was tattoo a picture of Josephine on his left shoulder.
TWENTY-SIX. The blue light came in through the windows before the sirens, Aljamiado. It must have been early in the morning. Paliedemes had fallen asleep and Marcia was pacing around the house. Every once in a while she would make sure I was still tied up. When she noticed the blue light, she crouched down. She crawled over to Paliedemes and whispered, “The police.” The blue lights got brighter. Paliedemes looked out the window, there were about five cars. There were agents from the federal agencies, too. “I’m going to get the revolver,” he told us. Marcia peeked out. Señora Marta was coming out of one of the cars. She spoke with the agents and pointed to the apartment.
“How did they find us?” Marcia said to herself.
“Let them know you have me hostage but that I’m alive.”
Pissed as all hell, she grabbed my cell phone and called Marta.
“We have Galíndez. He’s right as rain…how’d you find out?”
Señora Marta explained that when I disappeared she had hired a detective. From day one she had lurked around the area and put out an alert. It wasn’t a mere case of infidelity as she suspected in the beginning. The detective had taken photos where I appeared tied up. Marta asked the obvious.
“We don’t want money. This is a lesson in workplace ethics.”
She immediately hung up. Aljamiado, you can’t imagine how much fun that moment was, how much adrenaline was coursing through my body. I felt happy that I was the reason for that whole film. Do you remember Dog Day Afternoon with Pacino? The same thing was happening. When the sun came up, the media circus was already set up. They cordoned off the area, and the neighbors gathered, delighted that something was happening in their barrio. The kids didn’t go to school, the adults called out from work and took videos of every second of the kidnapping. The news trucks started to arrive. Nothing happened for a while.
Marcia and Paliedemes held long meetings during which they weighed the improbable likelihood of escaping and the cleanest possible way to get out of the mess. The tone fluctuated. Sometimes they screamed at each other and sometimes, after making peace, they whispered and drew up plans and maps in little notebooks. With the tension of the kidnapping, their romance was deteriorating at great speed. The authorities kept calling my cell but they didn’t answer, they kept making inconsequential plans. Señora Marta got them to let her speak through a megaphone. She asked for a sign that I was alive. Marcia took my photo, a close-up of me smiling. I was happy. As soon as she saw the photo, she asked to hear my voice. She wanted me to sing our song.
“Sing, Galíndez!” Marcia said, while recording me.
“You dance for me like gelatin, light like a feather around the room. A black crow nests in our heart. God doesn’t pull the strings that move us. It’s been a long time since you were a girl. Cain’s mark is on our forehead. We are our motherland, now there’s nowhere to flee. Pour another drink and trust me. Unrooted heart, don’t suffer anymore. It’s been a long time since you were a girl. You say that you love me, I don’t doubt it, no. Open the nightstand, second drawer. Everything’s been studied, stop thinking. We decided not to grovel, not to fall for it. It’s been a long time since you were a girl.”
“You wrote that song, Galíndez? Marcia said.
“No, it’s ‘La marca en nuestra frente es la de Caín’ by Columpio Asesino.”
“A Spanish band.”
She sent the video. Señora Marta’s voice cracked. She said she loved me with a heart of steel and that she would get me out of there. Some neighbors went over to console her, and she told them that what she needed wasn’t consolation, but a metal pipe. A police officer snatched the loudspeaker from her. Pointing it towards the kidnappers, he recommended that they end this charade—that’s what he called it. Someone would end up hurt. Aljamiado, it was funny, the police officer used all the stereotypical phrases from the movies. The more he said them, the more convincing they sounded. The neighbors applauded with each mediation. They got out beach chairs, beers, cooked hamburgers and chicken thighs on little BBQs. The portable radios competed with each other. The neighbors were trying to listen to a narration of what they were already seeing. It was like a holiday. If my abductors had let me go in that moment, the neighbors would have angrily objected. The DJs asked the radio listeners to call in and express their opinions. What beautiful nonsense. I could hear their voices. So inventive. So deranged.
Apparently, some teenagers got out their arsenal of smoke bombs and firecrackers and started to light them off for fun from the roof of one of the neighbors. They thought it would be funny, without weighing or reflecting on the consequences of such an action. The explosions confused everyone. The police pointed their guns. Revolver in hand, Paliedemes looked out all the windows trying to locate the attackers. He ran from one corner to another like a cockroach. Marcia started moving furniture around and putting one on top of the other to form a barricade at the front door. Out of nervousness, Paliedemes slipped and the revolver fired: slapstick. The bullet shot out the window. Though the projectile didn’t hit anyone, it justified a counterattack. Now there would be no negotiation. Our Die Hard had begun. They let off tear gas. A cloud of smoke covered the house.
I have no recollection of what happened after the shots, while the house got lost in the smoke. I passed out. I know that when I came to I saw Paliedemes knocking down the furniture barricade, making a path, wearing sunglasses and a checkered scarf that covered most of his face. He looked like one of the insurgents from the Arab Spring. The black beret Marcia had been wearing was thrown on the ground next to other pieces of clothing. I looked around for blood. There wasn’t any.
“Where is she?” I asked Paliedemes.
“I’m right here, Galíndez, give me your clothes.”
“I heard gunshots.”
“I shot two bullets. The police fired, too.” Paliedemes replied.
“Did you kill anyone?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Why didn’t you escape with the smoke?”
“We’re going to escape now.”
Paliedemes looked for a knife in the kitchen, cut my ropes with it and held it up to my ribs. Marcia, who had already put on my pants, took off my shirt button by button. She put it on along with a canvas bag over her head. Since I wasn’t wearing underwear, they left me in my socks with my dick out. Paliedemes put his arm around Marcia’s neck and the revolver at her temple. Before leaving, he said to me, “If you follow us, I’ll shoot you. If you jump, I’ll shoot you. If you scream, I’ll shoot you. If you cry, I’ll shoot you. If you make a false move, I’ll shoot you. If you touch yourself, I’ll shoot you.” In all that time, I had never seen him so furious. His eyes were blazing. They left. I squatted down next to the half-open door, in case the police opened fire. I could see pretty well. She was his shield. A contingent of police and agents had their guns pointed. The neighbors turned off their radios. The two of them cautiously walked to the car. They got in on the driver’s side, him first. He gave her the keys and asked her to turn on the car and to put it in reverse. “No one follow us…or I’ll shoot.” With his right hand he pointed the gun at me (her). Everyone had their eyes on us (them). Marcia clutched the steering wheel and they slowly backed up, straightened the car out and accelerated until they had left the block. They turned to the right. Afraid of a televised tragedy, the police contained themselves and didn’t follow them. I waited a while and then let out a warning cry. The cops had been fooled. The stupidest trick had worked. They had gotten a five-minute advantage. In that interim, Marcia got out of the car and ran off into a field. The helicopters caught her on film. Paliedemes was the bait while she escaped. Juano Aljamiado, the rest, you can watch on YouTube.
Galíndez was silent for twelve seconds and hung up. It must have been around four in the morning. The next day, I called him to verify some of the details of his story. I reached an automated message that said the number had been disconnected.
TWENTY-SEVEN. Juano Aljamiado’s article was published on a Monday with Señor Galíndez’s new statement. It revived the general public’s interest in the case, though it changed nothing at the judicial level. Paliedemes’ books started selling like hot arepas again. The news stations, especially Univisión, tried to interview the inmate, hunting for juicy details. But Paliedemes refused, despite the far from insignificant sum they offered him. The hubbub about the case fizzled out quickly. Other news surpassed it. In Europe, extremist groups were throwing bombs while people ate in restaurants, drew comic strips, went to concerts, or reveled in their sheltered lives. In the U.S., the right to bear arms was upheld time and again by the Senate, and a racist sonofabitch, who entertained the masses with his tweets, became president. Everywhere from the Caribbean, South America, Central America, Africa, the Middle East, to Asia, there was talk of putting spotlights on the corruption, debt and overspending of their governments. But the commentary was nevertheless from an alarmist and distorted lens, ultimately revealing its egocentrism and Western—which is to say, ultradeveloped Euro-American—self- aggrandizement. In jail, the new details of the kidnapping and escape ruse were applauded. Aside from his monstrosity, Paliedemes had street cred, he was a badass. Jealous of the attention, three guys tried to rape him one night, but Paliedemes went up in flames again and took them on. It hadn’t happened again until that moment. The guys backed off. Bombo was right, respect was earned. When he found out about what had happened, one of the head honchos offered to protect Paliedemes if he would help him pass his GED and translate his appeals documents into layman’s terms. He agreed to be his tutor and helped the man graduate. Protected and admired in his strangeness, the flow of his fourth and final year in jail continued along those lines. Paliedemes kept a low profile with little interaction with anyone on the outside—at that point no one visited him. He worked out in the gym, tutored—the prized dream of Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, had come true—worked in the workshops, and shared the letter writing effort with Cienfuegos whenever he was a little overwhelmed and asked for help. In his mind, Paliedemes planned a free life beside Manrique, who he knew thanks to a notification from the hospital had woken up.
TWENTY-EIGHT. In absence of a legal guardian, Manrique was placed in a home for orphaned teens. After such a lengthy coma, Manrique seemed like a recently landed extraterrestrial ready to be scandalized by planet earth. It was clear he didn’t fit in from the moment he started talking to other teenagers. His slang no longer went with the vocabulary of the times, his understanding of technology wasn’t up to date, his music, film, television and drug references were for the most part obsolete, and even his own psychology didn’t reflect his age of sixteen. Manrique still acted like an immature thirteen-year-old whose mustache had just started to come in. By the time he woke up from the coma, Manrique had a beard, hair on his arms, chest and dick; a flaccid, dormant body; and a raspy voice that tried to adjust to make up for the years of inactivity. The other teenagers almost never understood what he said or his stupid private inside jokes. His attempts at being nice and winning the others over failed. Because of his clumsy body, they gave him the nickname, Gumbyman. Things weren’t going well for him at home. His housemates took advantage of his confusion and lack of strength. Sometimes they would hit him just for the fun of watching him try to defend himself without motor coordination. He was also the laughingstock of the girls who would test his manhood making sexual innuendos that he either didn’t get or reacted to too late. When they passed by, they would squeeze his butt and sometimes grab his nuts. During one of these pranks, he came and his cum soaked through his pants. It was a less than fortunate event that earned him a beating.
Just like Paliedemes in jail, Manrique had to wise up and develop a hard shell. To hell with his feelings. It was better if he kept his post-coma longings and insights about life to himself. He realized that instead of trying to make a space for himself with the popular fools or running after the shrewd girls, it was best if he associated himself with the hard asses, a select group that no one could figure out. Nobody messed with them; they lifted weights in silence every afternoon, smoked cigarettes on the corner, and seemed annoyed with all the social dynamics around them. The group interacted very little with each other, and he fit right in. His body toned up and the novelty of his maladjustment wore off with time. He regretted the lack of good conversation and the collateral celibacy of being one of the antisocial kids.
TWENTY-NINE. On November 7, 2017, Paliedemes was freed. Guevara, his friend who had never wanted to visit him in jail, picked him up. “The next time I see you, I want to see you free,” he said to him once over the phone. Guevara had shaved his beard and head. He was just as skinny as Paliedemes remembered him. Four years later, that weight didn’t look good on him. He seemed sickly. It was hard for Paliedemes to recognize him. He had never seen him without facial hair. They hugged each other and got in the car. Tríptico Uno by Silvio Rodríguez was playing on the radio.
The day was humid and hot as always. Paliedemes’ window wouldn’t go down. The two of them sweat like they were in a sauna.
“Can you put on the air?”
“It’s broken. Sorry.”
They were silent.
“You’re all grown-up…strong…well done.”
Paliedemes didn’t know how to respond. He couldn’t return the compliment. Guevara didn’t look better. Quite the opposite, he was scrawnier.
“You shaved your beard.”
“Yeah. I got lice.”
“In your beard?”
“On my whole body. Even my chest. Hahaha.”
There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the highway for that time of day.
“Have you picked up on it? There are less people on the Island.”
“Yeah, I read it in the newspapers.”
“I think it’s really great. Overpopulation isn’t good for us. The problem is creating self-sufficient and sustainable structures for those of us who are left, defining what is political through concrete practices that represent radical alternatives to what we know and what has failed us.”
“We’ll talk about that later.”
In parallel with their conversation, Paliedemes observed barren fields full of trash, weed crops at every turn and more abandoned buildings. It didn’t matter if they were old local businesses or multinationals like Burger King or AT&T. The plague of corrupters in power had reduced the population and the general activity of the metropolitan area.
“Wait till you see the amount of ghost towns. They need to be taken over again. We’re trying to encourage occupied encampments, one hundred by thirty-five feet,” Guevara said as if predicting his comrade Paliedemes’ observations.
They arrived at the home for teens where Manrique lived, their first stop. The bureaucratic process lasted close to an hour and a half. Paliedemes read and signed seventy-three documents. In the end they freed Manrique, the newly bearded. The brothers embraced for a long stretch of time. Neither of them cried though the urge to was nearly bursting their arteries. When they got in the car, Guevara exclaimed, “The García brothers, reunited at last. How does it feel?”
Manrique said, “Good.”
Paliedemes’ scars started to itch, and the silence was long and sweet.
THIRTY. The keys were where Josephine said they’d be. When they entered the apartment, it stank of must. They opened the windows. The space was practically empty except for a few pots and some silverware in the kitchen, yellowed newspapers, a still-made mattress on the floor, the photo of Manuel Abreu Adorno, and The Black Heralds by César Vallejo thrown in a corner. If the agents had seized most of Paliedemes’ belongings, Josephine had finished the job. As the saying goes, he would have to start from scratch. Paliedemes was happy considering that possibility. In that moment, having a marred record forever—the scarlet letter—didn’t matter much to him. Manrique picked up the copy of Vallejo from the floor and read:
There are blows in this life, so hard…I don’t know!
Blows like from the hatred of God; as if when facing them,
the hangover left from all that’s been suffered
wells up in the soul…I don’t know!
He stopped. He decided he would read it from beginning to end when he was alone.
THIRTY-ONE. They had to wait until Clotilde and Florinda, two employees, finished a conversation about the Southeastern wetlands on the Island. They were celebrating the fact that the government hadn’t sign a law to privatize—destroy—the area. Clotilde mentioned that she went there every summer when her children visited from New York. They would rent a house in town and spend a week in paradise. Her daughter, Mariela, was a photographer and always took photos of the aerial roots. A scientific journal, she couldn’t remember the name, had printed several of the photos. She was proud of her daughter and of the wetlands. As for Florinda, she said she loved to dance and drink Sangria Coño in town and that once her and some friends had rented a little motor boat and experienced a peace she had never known before on the wetlands’ canals. Her whole body breathed as one. That’s how she described the sensation. To include the young men, they told Paliedemes and Manrique that if they hadn’t been to the wetlands, they absolutely had to go. Paliedemes assured them they would. Then Florinda brought them to the building’s pool. Along the way she asked them to turn off all their electronic devices and to stand to the side, since the play had already begun.
Just as they got situated, Sabatar, in the role of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, told his son, the ambivalent heir, that his uncle, the monster, had killed and—the horror—seduced the virtuous Queen. It was a frank conversation between a father and son, noble figures of a distant Denmark. Manrique was surprised how comfortable his father, Sabatar, was in the role of the usurped ghost. He floated lightly through the water. His voice was firm, that of a true leader. He hadn’t been clued in about his father’s talent. He hadn’t been clued in about so many things. The world had been disrupted, but he was alive at last. He was grateful for the healing saliva. It had saved him from darkness. He felt a wave of heat in his esophagus and took a sip of bottled water.
Paliedemes loved the fact that the whole play was performed in the pool of a psychiatric complex. Not only did the actors communicate the centuries-old story—at times, due to a memory lapse, adding a few improvised lines—but the waves on the surface of the water that their movements produced told a parallel fable of forces, which spread frantically or ebbed in moments of calm. The actors were focused, faithful to greater or lesser degrees to the bard’s tale, content to show their bodies in that dance dedicated to power struggles. Like the roots of the mangrove, the actors emerged from the interstices between water and air. They allowed for—what’s more, they indulged and incarnated—a diversity of forms and thoughts. Paliedemes had read about Marquis de Sade’s libertine plays with his theatre of madmen. The patients would often diverge from the plot or dialogues, creating unexpected scenes. If viewed from the prerogatives of coherence and verisimilitude, the plays were deranged. The caretakers would often have to restore order, becoming characters themselves in turn. Sabatar and his peers were heirs of that poorly documented tradition. The actors in the water showed their power to conjure up alternate realities with movements and rhymes. They exorcised Hamlet for their own enjoyment and for whoever else wanted to observe.
The plot continued on its course. Hamlet searched for a company of actors to make it known to the Court that he knew about the crimes of the Crown. Paliedemes remained alert to the splashing and the halos and shadows the lights created in the pool, accompanying those virtuosic bodies. Suddenly, he recalled a conversation he had with Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, where she tried to explain the processes by which the mind, when overloaded, needs to create narratives to sublimate sensory stimuli and their corresponding emotions. Everyone does it, she argued, but some people lose sight of the healthy boundaries of these stories. They lack the ability to understand the bounds of self-control and become delirious. For Sofía Gutiérrez, the psychologist, it was important to know how to identify when we have gone too far with our fantasies, when our pores have become filterless holes. Was the play an example of a filter or not? And its power? Becoming a human torch was a little story as laudable as it was dangerous. Fire represents the beginning of civilization but also its annihilation, she explained. She asked Paliedemes to use this image, his mind’s projection, to understand himself, to regulate his impulses to create and destroy. Paliedemes always listened to her and pretended to be alert, but internally he repeated to himself, “Lies! You want my powers to waste away!”
He promised himself right then, watching Hamlet H2O, that he would keep searching and, fearlessly, take his scarred body to places unknown. It was imperative that he understand his fire.