(Translated from Spanish by M.J. Fievre)
In the apartment next door, the hammering wouldn’t stop: I wanted to scream, or at least hold on to someone for comfort. I was naked under the blankets, attentive to the strikes, when the phone rang. I let it chime three times on the side table.
“Yes. Aló,” I said, dragging the o, my head under the blanket.
It was Roger. I imagined him standing in the street, smiling. “I’m in town,” he said.
“I’m in this hell I call home,” I said.
Roger laughed a deep laugh that made me melt. We played with the idea of a meet. I imagined us in a motel room, lying in bed, our bodies reflected in the ceiling mirror.
After we hung up, the hammering stopped and the room fell silent. I went to the mirror; looked at myself, then at my profile. I flushed the toilet and remembered the news from last night: 46°F: the coldest week of the year in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I chose to wear an alpaca coat, although I knew it meant leaving fur everywhere.
I thought about Victor, and how he purred like a cat. We’d been together six months now. I had met him at work, and I suspected he’d been fired from the firm because someone must have caught us fucking in the office after hours: on the jefe’s leather sofa, surrounded by files, law textbooks, and codes.
Outside, in the street, the cold air felt refreshing against my exposed parts: my cheeks, my hands—a sharp contrast with the warmth of the heavy fur coat that sheltered my torso and arms.
A couple of taxis went by, the drivers clinging to the steering wheels, until eventually a cacharro stopped. In the back seat, I realized I was bothered by the seam of my pantyhose: it caused my underpants to slide and give me a wedgie. I watched the driver’s face in the rear-view mirror: his beard was sparse and he had the eyes of a sick dog. When he attempted conversation, I responded in monosyllables. I wouldn’t have climbed in this cab after dark; in the daylight, however, the man with the Real Madrid shirt looked less like a rapist, I imagined, than he would have at midnight.
I dialed Victor’s number on my cell, to let him know I’d be waiting at the gate. His apartment was located in the secundo anillo—the second ring—in an area besieged by Brazilian college students: dudes and chicks who almost always spoke in shouting voices.
When the taxi stopped, two Brazilians came out of the building: a mulatto, and a chick with milky white skin. They stared at me for a moment, recognized me (we’d met on occasion) and then let me through the gate.
I found Victor in the shadows of his apartment, which smelled of sweat and mold. He was on the computer, his face gaunt, like someone who’d just awaken. I wrapped my arms around him, put my cheek against his, and he kissed me. His breath stank.
“Wash your mouth,” I said.
He scratched his face, declining my request. He didn’t budge from the front of the screen. I stood by the curtains; I wanted to get out, leave him be. Why was I even here? I could see the day ahead: he’d remain glued to the monitor, while I cleaned the apartment and later prepared something to eat in the kitchen.
“Che,” I said, “we should go out today.”
He simply cleared his throat.
“Do you hear me?”
“You know I’m broke.”
I kept silent for a while and then, in a measured tone, said, “My treat.”
“If you’re too lazy,” he said, “I’ll cook something.”
Ingrate, I thought.
“I’m leaving,” I said. But I didn’t. I sat on the sofa, watching his neck, his back. I hated the mole above his upper lip, and focused on that flaw, although I couldn’t see it right then. I imagined the tiny hairs curbing whenever he sucked in air through his nose. I remained seated for a while, and then stood up, a bit calmer. I thought about Roger then, and what would have happened if I’d asked him to come over my place. I thought about the furniture in my apartment. I wanted to move them around, create a new kind of haven.
Victor was frying meat in the kitchen. I turned on the TV and stumbled upon Divinas y Famosas. A sexy chick was on the screen, the camera focused on her ass.
Victor brought two plates to the living room table.
“Come here, Chiquita,” he said, pulling me closer. “Cut the crap.”
I sliced the meat and the bread, added mayonnaise and ketchup.
“You treat me like crap,” I told him. I held the fork in front of my face and pouted like a diva.
“I come to spend some time with you—” I paused, took a mouthful, and then continued. “But all you care about is fixing stuff—” and fucking, I was about to add, but I knew too well that it would come to that anyway. He put down the fork on the plate and hugged me. He cupped one of my breasts and leaned into me for a kiss.
“Sometimes I feel… How many times have we talked this week?” I spoke against his ear. He began to pant, and I noticed his lips were warm. Was he coming down with something? I pushed him away.
“You need a bath,” I said.
“You’re right,” he said.
On TV, the commentators raved about a Chanel dress worn by the President’s daughter. The girl looked like one of my classmates, from years ago, in college.
I ate. I lounged on the couch. This time I did not clean the apartment. I didn’t even take the dirty plates to the kitchen. When Victor came out of the shower, I followed him into the bedroom. I watched him move: he put on jeans and a sweatshirt.
“Oye, I’ll take you for a ride,” he said, shutting down the computer. His voice had a harshness I didn’t understand. Why did I always end up with men with shitty personalities?
“Take me home,” I said. “I have things to do,” I lied.
The streets and avenues were quiet on that Sunday. Cars ambled by, taking their sweet time, just like we were, just for the fuck of it. Victor was at the wheel and I was looking out the window.
I decided that I would call Roger.
We made a right and followed the fourth ring avenue, along the canal and its greenish—viscous, water. At least I think it was water. I wanted to ask Victor about the beggars who continued to sleep in the street when winter came. What about the hobos? What do they do?
We reached my street. We parked the car behind a moving truck: two guys struggled under the weight of a fridge.
Victor turned off the car. “Who’s leaving?” he asked.
“Don’t know. The people next door, maybe?” I said, recalling the hammering.
The guys got off the truck. They entered the building.
“Let’s go for that ride,” I told Victor.
He turned the key and the car chirped. He’s mine, I thought. The palms of my hands ran down my coat, and I looked at the small strings of fur stuck between my fingers.
Saúl Montaño (1985) was born in Camiri, Bolivia. In 2012, he was awarded the sixth annual National Writing Award with the short story collection, Una bandada de pollos en el firmamento, by Santa Cruz’s Bureau of the Book. In 2014, he integrated the anthologies Voces -30 Nueva narrativa latinoamericana, edited by Ebooks Patagonia, and Domingos por la tarde: cuentos bolivianos de fútbol in El Cuervo editorial. He has been published in the magazines: Letras Libres, Suelta y 88 Grados. Montaño currently lives in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and is at work on a short story collection.