That Sunday, over breakfast at the Bar Británico, Rulo told Lily that her birthday present would be having that old bastard Paez paint a portrait of her. They were supposed to be at his studio around 10 that sunny morning. The guy was finally getting some recognition, late in life. All the decades toiling and churning out beautiful work where ochres and dirty yellows prevailed had, at long last, convinced a couple of key art critics and gallery owners that Paez had some genius after all. The recognition had come too late, though, and had probably done the old drunkard as much harm as good.
Rulo had always known his work and been an admirer, so he had taken a gamble and approached Paez just before Lily arrived. He knew the fellow was a little mad, but as always, welcomed a bit of uncertainty and unease. It didn’t seem like such a good idea now, as he climbed the stairs towards an old flat in a derelict building in Montserrat, holding hands with Lily, who looked stunning in black boots, tight denims and a white shirt with a couple buttons too many left provocatively unfastened. They could hear a heated argument as they approached the door, and just as Rulo was about to knock, the door opened and a dishevelled woman stormed out, shoes in her hands and makeup a mess, yelling abuse and not even looking at them as she ran out of the building.
– FUCK YOU TOO, YOU NO GOOD WHORE!, Paez yelled back, and he stopped to stare at L and R, who just stood by the door. He was a heavily built man in his 60’s, shirtless, with wild white hair and in need of a bath and a shave. ‘And who the fuck are you?’
– Portrait job, remember?, Rulo said, as he surveyed the room behind the old man – a mess of easels and unfinished canvases, a broken table propped on some bricks and loaded with empty bottles and random debris, a rusty bicycle and stacks of boxes against a wall.
– Oh hell, I’m not in the mood… come some other time…
– There will be no other time, we’re leaving tomorrow. That’s fine, though. Give me back the advance money I paid you, and we’ll leave.
– Oh, that money, Paez said, and nodded towards a coffee table with a broken mirror and some white lines on it, and more bottles. It’s paid the rent already, there’s a bit left there. You’re welcome to some of it, there’s a bit left. You can have one of my old shirts, too. And I’ll sign you an autograph.
There was not a trace of mockery in the old man’s voice. It was all in the eyes.
– Nah, fuck that. It seems you’ll have to freshen up and do the job, then. C’mon, dude, I have the other half of your dough here, go wash your face. I’ll make some coffee. Do you have any coffee here? A kitchen?
– Get the fuck out! Who the fuck are you anyway? Scram!
– Oh, scram? OK, I will, but first let me settle my account, you old asshole, Rulo said, and pushing the man aside, walked to the coffee table and kicked it over.
– Don’t do that! Why did you do that?, Paez yelled, as Rulo picked a dirty butter knife from the floor, or maybe it was a spatula of some kind, and walked towards some finished works hanging on a wall.
– R, let’s get out of here, Lily said in English.
– Which one do you want me to slash first, you old fool?
– DON’T!, Paez yelled, as he grabbed an easel and, brandishing it, walked towards Rulo.
– Oh, you’re going to hit me with that?, Rulo said, in turn grabbing one of the hanging paintings and playfully putting it between the old man and himself, bullfighter style. Go on, hit me then!
– Rulo, let him be… let’s go… It’s fine, I don’t want my portrait done like this, he’s a spent old man… come on, dude, let’s get outta here.
Paez stopped and put the easel down, looking at the redheaded woman with curiosity and scratching his beer gut.
– Is that English? Why does she speak English?, he asked Rulo, the raging madness suddenly gone.
– She’s English, man.
– Is she the portrait job?
– Yes she is.
– Hmmmmm… she has an interesting face.
– Yes she does.
– And you say you still have to pay me money if I do it?
– Right. I paid you half, told you I’d pay the other half after the job was done, remember?, Rulo said, as he hung the picture on the wall again.
– She doesn’t speak Spanish…
– Just a little.
– And you’ll be quiet
– I won’t say a word. You do your thing, it will only be a couple hours and we’re out.
– It will be more than a couple hours. And that was all the fucking blow I had left, on the coffee table. Is it going to be a nude portrait?
– I don’t think so. Let me ask her, Rulo said, and translated the question.
– Hell no, Lily said.
– OK, tell her this. You guys get comfy and I’ll be right back. I haven’t slept in 2 days, there’s no way I can do this without a few lines. I’ll go downstairs and see El Chino for some more. Get some coffee going, if you find any. And put some music on. Let her sit there, by the window. You sure she’s not going to take her top off, at least?
– No, she won’t. Come on, we want her face only.
– I like her face. Her eyes. That’s the only reason I’m doing it, not for you, you rotten… you yankee asshole… what are you, anyway? Yankee? Puerto Rican? You have an accent.
– I’m from San Telmo.
– Bullshit, San Telmo. I don’t believe you. One more thing…
– I need some money for El Chino.
All those weeks of happiness since arriving to the Young Pioneers built the foundation for an out-and-out state of bliss after meeting Lily. Rulo didn’t put it into words back then, but his world was perfect. In a strange land, no plans, more than enough fun and sun to last a lifetime, kicking that ball around with a new, perfect friend, and then this new, perfect woman he wanted so badly, and who, oh wonders, seemed to want him back.
Plaza de Mayo, the presidential building, Casa Rosada, walking slowly and digging every detail, Rulo carrying her freshly painted portrait in a cardboard box -tourists snapping pictures, older people and children feeding the pigeons- until they got to an empty park bench and sat down without a word. They kept the silence for some time, feeling the warm sun on their faces. March 21 is the official start of the fall in the Southern Hemisphere, there would still be a few months of nice weather. Rulo took the framed canvas out of the box and they both looked at it again.
– I love it, Lily said. It’s not flattering at all. Look at that. He made me look like a hard woman.
– That’s how I see you, too. Hard, and beautiful.
– You should have been an artist of some kind, did I ever tell you that?
– Yes, you did.
– You never wrote the story of our time together at the Young Pioneers.
– Right. Couldn’t tackle it.
– I’m not good enough. It’s so many things rolled into one, darkness and innocence. It’s all these many disparate feelings and situations, completely opposite in some cases, how to include them all in one narrative?
Starting early, the mornings are for picking avocados. The volunteers work the rows and sometimes cross paths with the paid Thai workers or with Israeli technicians repairing the irrigation pumps. The fog disperses as the strong spring sun rises, and the young men strip to their waist, the women work in shorts and bikini tops. Xavier and Rulo exchange a quick glance and walk away from their group. They sit under a tree with heavy foliage, that hasn’t been pruned in a while, to have have some cannabis before rejoining the others.
-A story is something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, maybe even a moral. There’s other, more experimental approaches, of which authors like Faulkner and Burroughs made use. Let’s call them the cut and paste method, where you’re concentrating as much of the experience you want to tell into seemingly random paragraphs, and then intersecting them with some other narrative – maybe you can use points of contact between the two stories, maybe you do it in a flow-or-consciousness kind of way, just randomly combining parts of both and seeing how they lock together. Do you want garrapiñada?
An old woman with a cart was passing by, the cart loaded with neatly stacked bags of the candied peanuts.
– No, thanks. So you’re saying there’s a straightforward way to tell a story, and then there’s more complex ones, not as easy to understand?
Afternoons are long and slow. Volunteers read, lazy around in the sun, play ball. There’s trips to the beach, a few hundred meters away. As the evening approaches, sometimes there’s chipping in for bottles of vodka and six packs of Gold Star beer. There’s a TV room, usually with MTV on. Rulo and Xavier like to sit on the porch of the shack they share and read, or play long, intricate games of chess, as the sun goes down.
– Let’s try something. Say you bring a story, and I bring a story, and we both give it a go, trying to work out what elements to deploy and include, to make it clear to the other. Let’s say you tell me a story of your times with this fellow Shaun in Manchester, and of course we’d be sitting here 3 days if you were to tell me the whole thing, every little detail. So what you do is take a moment of all that, a sensation, an insight, and present it in such a way that I, who have zero knowledge about all this, get at least a partial view, an adequate idea of how the story went, what happened or didn’t happen, how you and the other characters are feeling, what’s being done and said, all those elements that make the story. You decide where to focus, what to highlight. And I’ll try to do the same with something that is alien to you.
– So with those stories, yours and mine, we’ll try to focus. But with the Young Pioneers, I can’t do that, I only have random moments, not the whole thing.
– Well, my Manchester story, I think, is in pretty good shape, I can tell you what happened with some clarity. Is it a matter of how much time has passed since the particular event you want to describe? Like, memories fading away and all that?
– I don’t think so. There’s stories and stories, L. I remember stories that happened way before our time together in Christiansands with a lot more detail. But that particular one is a bitch. It really resists being put in a catalog. It’s like it has a life of its own, and will only let me catch glimpses and nuggets, but not the whole picture. I remember cops on horseback charging towards me in this very plaza, decades ago, and it’s a crystal-clear memory: the women in white headscarves, the Mothers of the Disappeared, scattering and yelling, the thuds of the tear gas canisters exploding, looking at my friend and he’s wearing the same school uniform, short trousers too, but we’ve put hankerchiefs over our mouths and noses and are throwing stones towards the mounted police, like everybody else. It’s so clear. But I try to remember the first time we kissed, much later, and it’s a blur.
X has fallen asleep and Rulo can’t because he’s high on Lily, so he looks at the ceiling and ponders: ‘I travel to figure out what life is all about, and I’ve found it out. This is life. Work in an orchard, laugh with friends, eat as much bread and olives and cheese as I need, not have or need any money, look at Lily’s red hair while I try to understand what she’s saying, smile at her, love her. Yeah…’.
-OK, yeah, I can tell this story, like you said, a partial view of it, a moment in time… I’ll try for it to make sense. Well, I would write something like this: I lived with a heroin addict for 6 months, his name was Shaun W. R. and he was the singer in a band. A pretty big band in parts of the world, probably not the parts you were in though.
– I know them, they were pretty big everywhere. Are you kidding me? You couldn’t get away from ‘Kinky Afro’ at one point…
– Yeah, that’s them. We shared a bed because he only had one and we had a platonic relationship of sorts. I felt like his carer, his friend, not his girlfriend, but I was very naive, he just wanted to ‘get into my knickers’ – he told me years later. I told him then that I was a virgin and if I’d held out that long for the right guy it was never in a million years going to be him. Anyway, in 6 months you learn a lot about heroin and its addicts, you try it too a couple of times and you put yourself in very very stupid situations, you could have got arrested a good many times but maybe having so many people who have passed on to the other side watching over you helped, nudged you the right way. I left Shaun’s house the night he brought a girl home and I heard him talking and fucking downstairs, he said some things I didn’t care for, packed my bag and left.
– Quite a heavy situation for a girl that young. And I would have never thought you were the kind to try H -too smart, I mean-, but go on.
– He came to my house the next morning, begging me to return, a strange situation seeing as we really were not together and so it felt very odd to see this man be so in need. I did return, but not for long and then he threatened or rather his security guy threatened to kill me as Shaun was suicidal, the band was splitting up, tax man was after him and worse I would imagine, and according to them he needed me to keep him together…..I don’t think I believe that so much but the threat was very powerful, if Shaun killed himself this man would come and find me and kill me – his words not mine. We were in a familiar haunt, an empty bar we came to a lot. I looked at Shaun and said ‘are you seriously going to let him talk to me like that’.
‘He’s very protective of me’
‘Right, well then, I told him, FUCK YOU, HOW DARE YOU TRY TO SCARE ME! WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!’
I went to the ladies toilet, sat on the loo shaking and cried, a lot. Got out, washed my face and someone knocked on the door. Telephone call for you Lily. I went to the phone , picked it up, ‘Hello’ – who knew I was here anyway?
‘Hi Lily, it’s Nathan’. Nathan was the band’s manager, my boss.
‘Hi, um, Nathan, I’ve got to tell you something’
‘I know, I’m just phoning to tell you get yourself together and come to work, don’t make a scene, it’s not cool’
‘Not COOL, do you know what that prick said to me?’
‘Right then, well I’ll see you in a bit’
I was very much out of my depth. I left the bar, Shaun apologised later, said it was nothing, he didn’t mean it but it was just how he felt about the situation……no mention of retracting it then. I stopped working for that band within weeks, everything was crumbling around them and moved on. Stayed in Manchester a while longer and crossed the singer again with the next band I worked with but that’s a different story. It wasn’t me who was threatened with having my fingers chopped off…..I wasn’t in the firing line the next time.
That whole scene, the psychedelic revival and all that, was hyped as happy and positive, but once you scratch the surface, things were pretty dark underneath, sometimes. Or maybe excess always leads to darkness, I don’t know. Fuck knows there was enough excess going on at the time. And I don’t mean me, I guess I tried a few things here and there, but at the end of the day, I was just a very young girl loving the excitement of it all, but slowly waking up to the dangers of ‘too much fun’, d’you know what I mean?
Anyway, the security guy ended up in jail a couple of years later for moving dead bodies with his brother. He was from one of the oldest gangster families in Manchester, that is how naive I was…..I knew this but didn’t think it was that big a deal in reality. Even the threat that I had didn’t seem such a big deal after a couple of days….is that weird? The band did split towards ’93, they’ve been back a few times since then, and amazingly enough, my friend is still around, although I haven’t seen him in ages. I had pretty much forgotten about that story…
“I’m out of things to talk to her about. She thinks I’m a bore. What am I doing wrong here? She’s annoyed, definitely. So maybe I’ll stay with my books and my notes and my friends here and let her have her fun. She’s irritated at me for some reason. I hate my fucking accent, it must be the accent. And the poor English, I should have paid more attention at Mrs Bayley’s classes. I don’t understand this woman. She seems to want to be around me, but she doesn’t like me, doesn’t like who I am… she keeps telling me I need to focus, she thinks I’m a flake… maybe I am… I need a smoke”
– It’s a good story, L. Gives one an insight into several things, how that scene was working at a particular moment, your personality at the time, some nasty clashes, and gives hints of what happened later in the lives of the protagonists… there’s even a moral of sorts, when you say “I wasn’t in the firing line next time”, it frames the story in a “live and learn” kind of light, right, there were consequences, you lost your naiveté, realized how hard ball the whole game was, we get a glimpse of the guy that made the threats being a real gangster and eventually getting caught and doing time. I’m also thinking of a different point here, and it’s how dangerous and destructive you are to certain men. You brought up some crazy stuff in Shaun, and I know you’ll say well, he was crazy allright but nothing to do with me, he was a rock star and a junkie too. But then your friend from a few years earlier in Cardiff, Mr H, was neither, and he wasn’t too happy to see you go either, was he? All for a woman that thinks of herself as sunny and positive, kind of like that whole Manchester scene you were talking about. I won’t even mention my own case here, as it would be too obvious, but I know that sunny and carefree is just one side of you, and that there’s quite an undercurrent there, a dark river that I like to think of as Styx of mythology, the frontier between Earth and Hades, the underworld. You have the cruel streak, no doubt about it… I love it and all, but then I look at you the next morning, and you’re all smiles and I have to wonder, is she even aware of it? Is she even aware of the kinds of reactions she can cause by sleeping with a man but keeping herself off limits? Wanting and rejecting? Teasing one day, withdrawing the next? And acting injured and surprised when all hell breaks loose?
Rulo stopped talking, and looked at her portrait again in the fading light. Lily didn’t say anything for a while, staring into the distance, the tall buildings behind the Casa Rosada, the granaderos marching towards a change of the guard. He shot a side glance in her direction and realized she wouldn’t talk about it. Finally she rested her head against his shoulder and sighed deeply.
– R, that’s not it at all. Look, it’s my birthday. And we talked about all this a million times, and in the end you always agree with me. That was my story, man… what about yours?
– Let’s make it about this square we’re at, this Plaza de Mayo and all the buildings around it.
– OK, let me tell you about this place real quick. 200 years ago, this was one of the more remote Spanish viceroyalties. The River Plate was much closer back then, and the place where the current seat of the president is, this ugly pink house, was occupied by a fort. The seat of government was right across the plaza, and you can still see part of it, it was called the Cabildo, and it’s now a museum. That’s where a bunch of enlightened criollos got together back in 1810 and decided they had had enough of the Spanish crown, especially in view of Spain being occupied by Napoleon.
– So Spain was at war with France at the time…
– Not just at war, had lost the war and been occupied. So you have those famous, lovely paintings by Goya depicting mass shootings and other atrocities, that’s how hard that war was. Spain was at the end of a long imperial run that had started in the 15th century with Columbus, then the conquests of Mexico and Peru and all of Spanish America, the Philippines, and so on. By the 19th, Spain was and felt old and tired, and everybody was her enemy: Portugal, France, Holland, and of course Britain.
– Oh, the cannonballs you showed me when we were walking here…
– Right. The English tried a little colonial adventure of their own a few years before independence, sent a fleet here and there was a battle at that church, Santo Domingo, you can see the English cannonballs still encrusted in the bell tower. Of course everybody and their grandmother came out of the woodwork to resist them, as owing allegiance to the Spanish king was bad enough, kissing the English king’s ass… forget it. Now, talking about that church…
– What about it
– Well, it’s where my mom and dad got married. And I grew up in a flat across the street from it. Which was pretty rare at the time. It’s still not a very residential area. You see, this area of town, it’s called the City, and as you can see, it’s mostly banks, offices, government, tourist sites and so on. To the South, towards my old flat and Santo Domingo and San Francisco and all those old churches, is San Telmo, the original site of the Spanish settlement, very rundown, almost derelict when I was growing up. The view at the time was that it would be better to raze it to the ground and build skyscrapers there. Of course, now it’s a trendy area and all, but back then, it was Siberia or the Bronx. As I remember, all the gay bars and clubs were there, a very seedy fleamarket, illegal immigrants and assorted lowlifes in conventillos, the avant-garde, the broke and the dirty all rolled into one….
– Right, that’s the word. So growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, first in that flat I told you about, then after the fire in the one I still have, the one above the Bar Britanico…
– After the fire?
– Yeah, my mom took us to English lessons one afternoon and left the stove on or something When we came back, she went to put the key into the keyhole and felt the heat. That place burned down. Completely, 100%. We were left with the clothes on our backs. And the English books! ‘Tim and Lizzy play with the dog. The dog’s name is Spot. Spot, fetch, Tim says’, etcetera…
– How old were you at the time?
– About 9, 10.
– You know, it’s only now that I understand something about you a bit better. The disregard for material things, let’s call it. Even back then, when we first met, I noticed that you’d wear any found clothes as you didn’t seem to have any yourself, borrow books to read, didn’t seem to have much that was your own, you were quite broke too, after months on the road and whatnot, but surprisingly, at least to me, were not even worried about it, you had like this blind faith that something would always come up and save you from starvation…
– Ja! And something always did, as you can see…
– So OK, losing everything you have in the world at such a young age must have been at least part of the reason for that, I reckon…
– You reckon correctly. Anyway, you said the word “Bohemian”, which is a great word, in fact there’s a little story-within-a-story about that word, if you don’t mind…
– Go ahead
– Back when I first met Pilar in Florida, she already worked at a bank, and one of our first dates was to this silly restaurant with a bunch of her co-workers, all very button-down, mainstream, you know…
– I know. Bankers. Go on.
– So we’re sitting there over drinks, I’m not really connecting of course, and Fat Darren, her good friend at the time, mentions he’s heard that word somewhere, and wonders what it means. Nobody has a clue, and of course, old smart aleck here can’t help himself and treats them to a complete explanation: the old kingdom of Bohemia in Czechoslovakia, how the impoverished Gypsies coming to live in Paris and Vienna were known as Bohemians, how in turn the term translated to penniless, unconventional writers and artists, how later on Hitler occupied the Sudetenland and established the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and so on and so forth…
– Oh, Rulo…
– And I swear, I was not trying to call attention upon myself or anything, I just got a little carried away like I do sometimes, and when I came back to reality, the whole lot of them were staring at me openmouthed… Pilar included. Soooooo, anyhoo, this remained quite the story for these guys for a long time, and in her circle of friends I was forever known as the Bohemian. There’s a conversation there that I’d like to save for some other time, too, about how this otherwise very brilliant woman, Pilar, who really shouldn’t have been insecure around me as she was a graduate of one of the best American universities, a specialist in high finance no less and always in high demand, always felt she was less than me for things like that, for not having read all these books, and not having traveled like I used to, and never having met anyone interesting like I had, and blah blah blah… which was really a curse during our time together, and ended up poisoning the well as they say, through no fault of my own, I think. I just found it more and more difficult to be who I am around her, as I had to leave many areas untouched in case she’d take it the wrong way, and finally there was nothing left to talk about… shit, I strayed quite a ways here…
– I could say a thing or two about that, but I won’t right now. Tell me more about this place.
From the Volunteer Village in Young Pioneers, there’s a path, a difficult path sometimes, that goes to the Pub. The Pub is nothing more than a shack, an audio system and a few kegs. There’s dancing and plenty of fun. Mysteriously for Rulo, the fun disappears one night. He’s told he’s done bad things, he remembers the redhead crying and it kills him, but little else. He’s threatened with expulsion, demoted to a shitty job in a plastics factory and away from his beloved groves, and worst of all, Lily won’t talk to him anymore. Everybody kind of avoids him, too. All except his good friend X.
– Argentina is like a huge body controlled by this tiny brain, Buenos Aires, tiny in relative terms of course. It’s a huge city, and this house painted pink is the brain within the brain, and whoever controlled it, controlled this big country as well. And at times it was wiser men or women who were here at the helm, at many others, disgraceful dictators and thieves. Like Peron. This Peron guy, along with his first wife Evita of great fame, and a second – or third, I’m not sure- wife who was also his vicepresident in his comeback in the early 70’s and became president when he died, briefly. The violence escalated out of control and a coup d’etat happened in ’76 that was to be the bloodiest ever and last until right after the disastrous Falklands adventure of ’82.
– I remember that…
– Anyway, many families were defined, for decades, in relation to their support or opposition to Peron and his policies. That’s key to understand 20th century Argentina. In my case, all of them, all of my relatives as far as the eye could see, where anti-peronists. My folks valued education above all else, and despised his populism and corruption. They were very old-school in that sense.
– I see.
– So there’s a million details related to that fact, the politics and how they evolved to take us to military dictatorship in overreaction to the Peron disaster, then the indiscriminate murdering and plundering of anyone identified as left wing or Peron supporter. The first coup against Peron, La Revolución Libertadora, happened way back in ’55, and my Spanish grandparents lived in the same building I lived as a kid, not 4 blocks from here, which had a massive concentration of people supporting Peron when this happened. My mom always told me the story of climbing to chairs by the windows and cheering the bombers the Navy sent. They bombed the place, they dropped bombs on civilians as my mom cheered, the number of casualties will never be known, but it was a massacre and Peron had to go into exile for decades after that. There’s two Peron periods, and they both end up in slaughter, that one in the 50’s, then the late one, in the 70’s, when he comes back from exile in Spain and the whole country is fucked up, there’s all these different terrorist and guerrilla groups causing mayhem, and a US trained military eager to go there and do some cleansing… and some raping and pillaging too, by the by… and oh, host a World Cup in ’78, and then get us into a war with the Royal Navy, as a parting shot… hey, but Queen was here on tour, and that was grand…
The volunteers stretch and look into the desert, still littered with rusty skeletons of tanks and trucks from the Six Day War. They are in Egypt, the heat is intense, and they are visiting the ancient biblical sites of Sinai, and the beaches. Sweat trickling down his face, Rulo looks at Lily laughing with the others, during a stop. He walks to the back of the truck and finds his pack, half buried under scuba and camping gear, jerry cans of water and boxes of canned food. He reaches inside it, and pulls a crumpled, filterless Cleopatra cigarette out. Seeking a bit of shade on one side of the vehicle, he leans against it, lights up and inhales deeply, looking at Lily again and spitting out a strand of tobacco. She’s not aware of him as his eyes, behind old Ray Bans that used to be his Gramps’ back in WW2, go up and down her body, stopping at her sunburnt legs, her small breasts and erect nipples under the sweat-drenched tank top, and her red hair catching rays as she shakes her head and sings with the others, making silly faces: ‘it’s always tease, tease, tease… you’re happy when I’m on my knees… one day is fine and next is black… so if you want me off your back…’ ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck’, he thinks, in Spanish: ‘Carajo, carajo, carajo’.
– So that’s where you come in…
– Right. And we were talking about Bohemians before, my dad was the ultimate one back then. I mean we’re living in an area that nobody lives in, he’s an architect but really more interested in the arts and the underground scene, taking me, as a young boy, to see his friends at queer bars and counter-culture happenings and whatnot, this at a time when people are disappearing for the slightest cause, a very paranoid period, where police raid those places regularly… he also plays the organ at Jewish ceremonies, for fun I guess, he has a little musical side to him, and he takes me along, I love it, but of course mom is going crazy because she’s trying to raise me as a good Catholic and all… damn, as I grow older I see so much of him in me, and now in my son… he takes me to New York and instead of taking me to the posh places, or shopping or whatever, he rents a couple bicycles and we tour the great museums, the Metropolitan and MoMA and all that. In shorts. I was always embarrassed by his antics, he had a couple of really bad years and had to find odd jobs, one of them was driving a taxi, so he came to pick me up at school in the cab, and would let me sit in the back seat, but my rich classmates would figure it out anyway and laugh at me… that’s when I became really close with Enzo, who was a misfit just like me at that school… then the following year he gets rid of the cab and gets a moped, so he comes to pick me up in the Vespa, we wear matching helmets and are the ultimate Mods… then this other time, he finds the kilt from when he was younger and lived in Scotland for a while, and comes out wearing it and playing the bagpipes at one of my birthdays… my school mates are… how can I say… they’ve never seen anything like this before….
– Hah hah hah! An eccentric, an oddball…
– So anyway, all my folks were big supporters of the writer I talked to you about before, Borges, and his opposition to Peron, many anecdotes with him, many times they helped him cross the street to go to his job in the Biblioteca Nacional, as he was blind, anecdotes of neighborhood snitches sending my grandpa to jail for daring to speak against Evita, that kind of thing. I will end this at my friend Enzo and myself skipping school, playing the truant, right after the Falklands thing, as the junta was crumbling and activists stepped up the pressure for the military to leave and elections to happen, coming here to raise hell. Imagine, two young boys, continuing a tradition of mayhem and violence dating back generations. Full circle, grandfather in jail and bombings on crowds in ’55, the coup and the desaparecidos in the 70’s, and these kids helping rip up the pavement to throw rocks at the riot police back in ’82, ’83. One more thing to finish that story…
– Marbles are the best thing against charging horses.
– Yeah, marbles, ball bearings, that kind of thing. Horses don’t stand a chance, they trip and fall down every time. Very low tech, but effective.
– Fuckin’ ‘ell… at that age, other kids are playing with marbles, not using them in urban warfare…
– I think I went crazy with my story, didn’t make much sense, did it… couldn’t really focus after all, maybe you need to tell me that I need to focus again, all these years later…
– It wasn’t really a story, it was more like different elements of who you are, and I found it all very interesting, my friend.
– There was never anything more interesting than your eyes, to me. But I didn’t have much time to study them.
– Is that a little violin you’re playing?
– Oh, you heartless woman.
– It’s been a long day, with Paez, sitting there for hours, then the long walks, and the conversations sitting here in Plaza de Mayo… hungry… cab… favorite restaurant… the one near the Russian church that we like, around the corner from your place… bottle of wine… yeah? Hug? Birthday hug? Yeah… nice. Let’s go, I’m starving.
“Time will tell”, she says, and they kiss for the last time. He looks at her red hair and her beautiful round ass as she disappears from sight, walking towards her flight’s gate. The other man has won, of course, the man having the long conversations over the phone with her. How could he not? Rulo feels the weight of all his mistakes and shortcomings with Lily, feels the burn of having found his true love, only to blow his chance and let it slip away, as he walks out of the airport and into the strange lights of Tel Aviv at night. The burn never really heals, so many years later, he starts dreaming of himself and Lily as two fictional characters, Santiago and Estelle, and concocting crazy stories and alternate universes where they get a chance to be perfectly together, and away from their familiar haunts of Mexico City and Perth, Australia.