– Oh, look at that. Snowed in, we’re snowed in…
– Oh yeah. And it looks like Vala and Oso are still inside the main house, too…
– Let me go to the computer and check.
Rulo got dressed, washed, rebuilt the fire and hung the old black kettle from the chain above the fireplace to make tea.
– Lily, what do you want to eat for breakfast?
– What is there?
– Let me see… day old bread, crackers, eggs, butter, jams, ham, cheese, canned stuff… peas, mushrooms… there’s some onions and potatoes… what else… gin, wine…
– Oh, please, she said as she walked into the kitchen, shivering. I just chatted with your aunt, they’ll stay inside until later, we can all go for a walk in the snow around noon if you want. Let me see here. What crackers do we have? Orange pack?
– That’s the Cerealitas… no, I think we only have the Criollitas…
– Yellow pack?
– Yeah, yellow pack.
– I hate yellow pack, they taste like cardboard.
– How do you know? Have you ever eaten cardboard? Because I have, and Criollitas don’t taste like it.
– What do you mean, you’ve eaten cardboard?
– Back in La Paz, I used to go downstairs from a job I had, and buy fried steak sandwiches from a street vendor. Then one day, this guy that worked there told me that he had seen the vendor preparing the sandwiches one morning, and that the steaks were in fact sheets of cardboard that he soaked in a container full of blood, then in batter and then fried them.
– Oh come on! And you never realized?
– No, they were OK, the sandwiches. I put so much hot sauce in them anyway, they could have been anything… I started packing my lunches from home after that, just in case…
– Ha ha ha! Listen, you take care of the tea, I’ll make you a nice breakfast. Omelette?
– I’d love that, sure.
– But stick around, tell me a story. Tell me about La Paz, we never talked much about that. I remember writing to you there. It’s where you ended up with this woman, after Chile, right?
– Right. We were talking about it the other day. My old friend that had been exiled in Paris and BA, with the Chilean mom and Bolivian father…
– What was her name? Something maritime, I think… shrimp?
– JAAAAAA… no, Perla… pearl… damn, I mention her name and automatically need to take a shit…
– Ha ha ha! Go, go… leave the door half open, and you can tell me your story from there…
– You must be kidding. You don’t want me to leave that door open, trust me.
– I said half open! Doesn’t the bathroom have a little window? Open it!
– I’ll freeze my ass blue!
– Oh, you’re a wussbag… go, go, leave me here alone and bored…
Lily started puttering about in the kitchen, with a smile that sometimes became a chuckle when she remembered something funny, like the cardboard steak story or the faces of Rulo and his relatives last night, waiting for her to explain what she had been talking about in Welsh, and how Valeria had said WELL? and broken the spell. Carter hadn’t sent a message, she’d checked while she was touching base with Rulo’s aunt to see what the plan was for the day. He was only ten, but wrote pretty good email messages, when the mood struck him. Oh, right, she thought, maybe he’s on that trip to Scotland with his dad already, they were going to go camping and fishing there this week, with Sean and his buddies… weather was so warm in Britain right now, they must be having a good time… she’d try to call later.
– How’s that going?
– Feel better now? Lighter?
– Lighter, mos def. Philosophers have been struggling with the question of human happiness for a long time now, Lily, but the answer is just one word: regularity.
– Ha ha ha!
– Well, among other things, maybe. But it’s a big one. I was gonna ask, did you hear from your kid?
– He didn’t write lately, I was thinking he might have taken a trip he was planning with his dad. I’ll call later.
At that moment, Lily’s phone started ringing, and she rushed to get it. “Speaking of…” she said, “watch that for me, will you?”, and she went to the couch to talk. Rulo finished the omelette and put it on a plate, with another plate on top to keep it warm. He put some bread in the toaster, and had time to wash the skillet and some bowls and glasses before Lily finished her conversation and came back.
– Well, he’s having the time of his life. 2 rainbow trout already, and they are letting him drink ale, too. Sean’s friend Pete has the best horror stories for the campfire, apparently. Hope they are not about his getting drunk and throwing up all over our bathroom every time he used to show up for dinner, the horrid beast. Having a great time with the boys – good for him, hope he still remembers me when I go back!
– Of course he will!
– Of course he will, I’m kidding. You removed that from the stove, good man. C’mon, let’s eat, I’m hungry. Pour some tea, I’ll set you up with food.
– Good deal.
– So, Lily said between mouthfuls, what’s La Paz like?
– It’s very high. The highest capital city in the world, at 3600 meters. You know what that means for someone not born and raised there and used to it?
– A permanent state of half asphyxiation. Made worse if you’re a heavy smoker, of course, which I was at the time. Gasping for oxygen all the time. Drinking coca tea and chewing the leaves all the time for relief. It’s also very very cold. Has a huge Indian population. In fact, Aymara is the prevalent language on the streets, more than Spanish.
– So you were there with Pearl, did you travel from Chile?
– No, I arrived there from the States, actually.
– Oh, right, I remember now… you went to California about some kind of job…
– Yep, one of Enzo’s very shady deals… Dude, I don’t even want to go into it right now, too complicated. But I got what I wanted out of it, so I had some computers and stuff, and money, when I arrived in La Paz, stepped out of the plane and my lungs started to burst right away…
– How could you keep smoking there? Sounds like the perfect place to quit.
– Well, I didn’t. Not only that, I was always looking for weed too, which is kind of hard to come by, cocaine being of course the drug of choice there, cheap and oh-so-pure…
– You weren’t doing coke then?
– No, no, I mean not while I was living with Pearl, all I would allow myself is a smoke now and then if I could find it, and a drink. After she dumped me I had a rough couple of months, went to live with this Mexican guy first, and then with someone who became a good friend, my Bolivian journalist soulmate. Living with her, yeah, we did a couple of crazy things, sure.
– Were you heartbroken? Sad?
– You’re the only one who ever broke my heart, but I was sad, yeah. Disappointed. 6 or 8 months, for nothing. I felt very used, could see her game clearly for the first time, felt like an idiot, really.
– But it was a good experience.
– Yeah, it was a good experience, and unusual, something that a lot of people have no idea about. I mean it’s such an alien city, in a way, alien is how I describe it, the very short people, the women in bowler hats carrying their babies on their back, the intense cold, the views… I mean smack down in the middle of the Andes, the snow-peaked Illimani there all the time, huge… I got a job working for a politician at first, so I had a chance to see stuff few outsiders see, see how politics was done there, go to the shantytowns and see how goodies are distributed to the poorest of the poor in exchange for votes, how the candidate would give a speech in Spanish and nobody would understand anything, but aides would show everybody where to put the X in the ballot, I mean… yeah, I look at it now, it was quite the experience, I’m glad I had it… what’s wrong with you?
– Happiness is calling, I think
– Huh? Oh! Right! Go, go!
– Do we have anything to read?
– You have the book you’ve been reading, it’s on your nightstand
– Are you kidding? Too deep! I can’t read Anna Karenina in the can!
– There’s some old magazines with the logs, to start fires with, next to the fireplace…
– OK, OK… here, what is this?
– Well, looks like an Argie celebrity rag, the kind Valeria must read in the crapper, too…
– This will do, I’ll look at the pictures… look at this babe on the cover, she’s beautiful!
– He. It’s a he. He’s a transvestite, a what you call it. He had an operation, clip clip. Well known around these parts.
– You guys are totally crazy. I have to go…
– Bye, bye… good luck! Love ya!
She ran to the bathroom, magazine in hand, and he started cleaning up the table and washing dishes with a big smile on his face. “That was a good omelette”, he thought…