Greta Garbo

– So what will you order?

– I don’t know yet, said Lily, taking another look at the menu. The room was dark and very smoky, and there was a big Ajax banner hanging behind the bar. The music was not as loud as in other places, which was part of the reason they were here.

– Do you want tobacco, or no tobacco?

– I don’t know… tobacco and hash is a nice combination, but I’m afraid if I start with that, I’ll be smoking Marlboro Lights tomorrow… it’s a slippery slope…

– I agree with you. Let’s have a straight joint, and some OJ… Skunk, please. Thanks.

– Tea for me…

The young waitress walked away. She was a light cafe-au-lait color, and wore her hair in dreads. The place wasn’t too busy at that time of day. It was early afternoon in October, and while the Dam is always swarming with tourists, it being mid-week and with the exchange rates what they were and the crisis and all, the crowds were much smaller than usual.

– So there’s this guy Bibiblin in Guadalajara, right…

– Bibiblin? What kind of name is that?

– The name of a 50 something gay clothes designer, of course… that lives in a rundown mansion with a hundred year old mango tree in the central patio…

– And is very keen on going to bed with you…. I think you told me the story….

– Certainly, certainly… but I was going to say, the cannabis dealer would show up, and he’d summon me downstairs, “Ruloooo…. ven a rolarte un Greta Garbo, que pongo el café!”… the Greta Garbo would be you, because you were the one that taught me how to lick together a couple skins, mix some tobacco and weed, put a filter in it and roll something big that lasted for hours… I even remember you had a really good explanation for it, you said it encouraged relaxed conversation in a group of people, not smoking the straight fast joints that are the custom in America and South America….

– No fucking kidding… I don’t remember that at all…

– It doesn’t end there… Greta Garbo, of course you know who she was right, the Swedish actress and probably first Hollywood sex symbol…

– Yeah, I know… I don’t think I’ve seen any of her movies though…

– Few people have, in this day and age… hold on, let me show you…

Raúl pulled out his iPhone from his jeans pocket, and after a few seconds of searching, showed Lily a black and white picture.

– Here she is as Anna Karenina. The great Tolstoi novel about an unhappy wife, her love affair and her losing everything she has for it, starting with her sanity and ending with her son and her life.

– Stop.

Lily’s eyes were wet, and her jaw had squared, showing that she was probably biting hard and trying to keep her cool. She looked away for a few seconds, and Raúl looked away too, to give her a little imaginary breathing space. He was sorry the conversation had taken this turn.

Luckily, the waitress showed up with a small bag of bud, some matches and their drinks. That gave them something to do for a while, without talking. Lily stared straight into her cup of tea, Raúl rolled a smoke taking a lot of time doing it. Lily broke the silence,

– Go on. What’s the story with Greta Garbo?

– Oh, nothing really… just that this guy had named you that, AND the style of spliff you showed me and I would roll for him… both were Greta Garbos.

– What do you mean, he’d named me that? How did he know about me?

– Well, sometimes we’d sit in his kitchen and drink coffee and smoke, and I’d talk to him about you, said Raúl, lighting up, taking a drag and passing the thing to Lily.

– Really? When was this?

– Oh, there’s several times, you know, we kept in touch over the years. Shortly after the Middle East, and then other times….

– And you’d talk about me? What would you say?

– Oh shit L, you know, stuff. That I loved you and all that, stuff. About how you were and all, the stories. I’d show him pictures.

– Pictures? You’re freaking me out… what pictures?

– Well, I had a few, you saw some on the internet when we got in touch again… I always traveled with two, though. The same two, always. One is a kind of passport or ID pic, in black and white, that you gave me. I’m not sure I still have it, at some point I had to kind of let it go, you know. But that thing, that pic, had a way of turning up again and again, at the most unexpected and inconvenient times…

– How so?

– Oh hell, I’d put it away inside a book right? Then out of all my books, some girlfriend would pick up that one to borrow, you know, that particular Lord Jim or Borges or Burroughs or whatever… conversation follows, girlfriend’s gone…

– I get it…

– Or, say I’m sad about something, just down maybe, so I decide to read something to cheer me up, Bukowski or whatever…

– You read Bukowski to cheer yourself up?

– Oh, I find him very funny… I know it’s dark stuff about drunkeness and failure, but he’s funny as hell, he is… was… but anyway, you get it… you waiting for me there, after months or years of being away. Hello again, Lily, how have you been? I’m alright myself, dear, just a bit sad tonight. Glad to see you, thanks for reminding me of all the good times, and of the good times still ahead…

– Yes, I see… I would have never imagined… what was the other picture?

– That perfect shot of you by the red wall, on the phone with your ex, a bottle of Gold Star on the phone booth desk.

– Yes. Do you want any more of this?

– No, put it out. I’m stoned already. So anyway, to end the story. I think Bibiblin always pushed me to talk about you because he calculated that if he caught me sad and stoned and vulnerable enough, I’d let him blow me off, you know…

– Did you?

– Nah, no way. So there was this element of seduction or intimacy the times we lived together in this old derelict mansion in the posh part of Guadalajara, along with a million other things, very rich situations, very complex and layered… the best parties, let me tell you… many girlfriends, of course… many drugs….

– Mexico, right? Because there is a Guadalajara in Spain, I think…

– Yeah, the Mexican one. The city of mariachis and tequila… But enough of that, really… maybe you’d like to talk a bit more about what you were saying a little bit ago, about the sadness of loving someone but not being completely fulfilled after years of spending your nights together, which is kind of the other extreme of where I lived for a long time, not being fulfilled but in my case for NOT spending my nights with someone I loved…

– You mean with Sean, Lily said. But this was so long ago…

Raúl didn’t say anything, just half closed his eyes and looked at L. His lids felt very heavy.

Lily was wearing a mostly black outfit that looked very good on her. And heavy-rimmed glasses that made her look hip and intellectual. Her eyes were very red from the smoke.

She looked outside. This was not a good subject. Again, the conversation was going somewhere she didn’t like. And what’s the point of him bringing that stuff up anyway, right? This was so long ago. Distractedly, she started looking at cars driving by. She knew her cars, always had, had always been a good driver.

A 2010 Audi A4. An old early 2000’s VW Beetle. A 2009 Camry.

Fuck, they have old cars in this town, she thought. None of the familiar electric-cell vehicles so common in Britain after the troubles of the 20’s and 30’s, when Iran finally got nukes and attacked everything in sight, starting with Israel and the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, making gasoline supplies to the rest of the world very tight.

– They’ve got a lot of old-fashioned petrol-powered cars here, she said absentmindedly. Raúl didn’t say anything, again, and started rolling another joint. Lily looked at him. R. doesn’t look bad at all, she thought. For an old guy. Doesn’t look old, in fact. Looks late 30’s, looks like he’s on top of his game. She stared in the other direction and caught a glimpse of herself on a mirror. It wasn’t a clear glimpse, the place was too smoky and the mirror wasn’t real close.

But what she saw made her experience an acute panic attack. The room started spinning fast. She stared at her hands. Not a spot on them, not a wrinkle. The hands of a 30 something. The face of a 30 something. She turned to R., furious. He wasn’t saying anything, just staring. Just sitting there puffing on that thing and drinking OJ. He made as to pass the joint. She picked up the heavy ceramic ashtray and flung it at him viciously. She missed, the ashtray hit a mirror instead and pieces of broken glass and ceramic rained on several patrons, who stared screaming. A blonde guy in a turtleneck held a large gash above his eye while blood trickled down on his face. The music stopped, and a large bouncer appeared out of nowhere and put a heavy hand on Lily’s head, while he tried to grab her arm with the other.

– DON’T FUCKING TOUCH HER, Rulo said, and stood up. He wasn’t small himself. Not as beefy, but with a quick flick of the wrist, cracked the tall OJ glass against the table and stared at the big guys’ eyes coldly. WE ARE GETTING OUT OF HERE. OUT. WE DON’T WANT ANY TROUBLE, he said, SHE’S NOT USED TO SMOKING. WE’RE OUT. He grabbed Lily’s arm with his left hand, and started towards the door. They were lucky, there was a cab right outside, and they jumped inside while the people at the coffeehouse phoned the police. They were away long before the cops showed up. The cab was one of those new battery-cell models – fast.

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