Argentinos: Se me hace cuento [excerpt]

Books > Argentinos: Se me hace cuento

“Where do you go when you don’t even know what it is you desire?” Night Song – Nina Simone

Amparo Buenaventura ran away from the hotel as if it were on fire. She needed to leave David behind, leave him right there were he was, naked; she could no longer have it both ways. She did not want to. She was not supposed to. It went against her standards. She could not turn back. She ran.

Upon reaching the corner of Guido and Montevideo she slowed down and began to walk at a calmer pace. Not that she had feared that he would come running after her; oh no, it wasn’t that. On the contrary, he would never have given into her “chiquilinadas” (as he called them). Rather, her fear was that she would turn back and return to continue what had been interrupted. And she could not do that. For her own sake, she should not.

She wiped the sweat from her forehead and tidied up her suit in front of a shop window. There were still three blocks to go until her house. Three blocks to let go and forget the last couple of hours. Three blocks to make sure nobody found out, for the memories to tone down and fade into the damp bristling of time and space.

It was warm in Buenos Aires. It was warm, yet it was winter. It was usually still cold in Buenos Aires at the end of August, but not that day. That noon the heat had hit ninety, and the sun hadn’t even come out. It had been cloudy all day, cloudy and heavy; even now, that nighttime had fallen. The storm was approaching from the south. No stars could be seen; they were all hidden, concealed under a glistening copper-toned curtain of smog. The moon, on the other hand, squeezed out in between the openings of a few buildings as a blurry, saggy and luminous warning of unexpected things to come.

Due to its garnet and fluorescent coloration, the entire sky seemed to be in flames. Yet this was not unusual: after all, the air looked this way every time the sky was overcast, but for Amparo Buenaventura it was a bad sign; she feared that it was a reflection of the ardor that minutes before had scurried across the walls and floors of a dark hotel room in an incriminating corner of Guido and Callao.

It was past eight o’ clock. Walkers tapped the sidewalk hurriedly but with no vigor. Enwrapped in their own dealings and worries, they dragged their coats and sweaters in their exhausted Thursday arms with faces parallel to the ground; their eyes following the asymmetric and miscellaneous lines of the city’s sidewalk tiles.

No one looked at each other. After all, there was nothing much to look at. Only people. People like everyone else. People marching like automatons towards their homes; people furtively inspecting the trash. People who had needed their chalecos and jackets to confront the chilly early morning breeze, and people in short sleeves with enough time in their hands to take note of the temperature changes of the later hours of the day.

Most of these were ‘cartoneros’ (or “recyclers,” as they were referred to with irony in some places). They arrived with the night and took over the corridors of the richest quarters of Buenos Aires as silent little rats; they searched the trash for glass, paper, cardboard, metal, plastic; anything that would grant them a bite of food.

Sometimes the entire family went together. Armed with a dilapidated supermarket cart or a gigantic yute bag, they landed from nowhere and made their rounds together. Most times they followed a fixed route (they did not want to get in their colleagues’ way; even though it did not seem so, the trails were all carefully distributed), and each member picked up whatever he or she could find, whatever they supposed they could sell or barter or make some use of for themselves: the five year-old, a soda bottle; the ten year-old, a cracked yellow rattle in the shape of hugging bells. Discarded objects no longer needed by their previous owners. The cartoneros made them useful once again; they gave life to others’ remains. They exchanged leftovers for food; garbage for scraps. Ten empty tuna cans for a full one. Twenty milk containers for one full gallon. And so on.

Amparo Buenaventura was not a cartonera. She was a journalist and a tap dancer. Her day job was at a magazine, where she covered entertainment news, specifically related to dance (and when there was nothing to write about on that front she wrote about musicians, plays, films or opera, whatever was needed), while at night she danced on any stage willing to hire her. Unlike the garbage collectors surrounding her, she was not wandering the Parisian streets of Recoleta in search of food for that night. She lived there, in one of the apartments that faced the flowery and rich Plaza Vicente Lopez, with Gonzalo, her smart and handsome banker husband.

Qué mierda hice, what the hell have I done, she was thinking as she approached the park near her house, blind to the glaring moon that all of a sudden burst into her face as an imprudent flashlight. Wasn’t this what she had been hoping for in the last three years? I don’t know what will happen with my life now…

Her rhythmic pacing banged the sidewalk repeating the question over and over. She could still feel his bittersweet scent in her skin, his unmistakable fragrance, a strange mixture of guayaba and bergamota. She could hear his soft salteño accent in her ears. She felt as if she were carrying a sign tied to her neck with neon lights that read: “Yes, you are right: I was in bed with David Kessler.” Her cheeks were the same color as her lips, scraped faintly by the persistent brushing of a reddened ardent beard. She could not say it was from the cold; she would have to think of something better.

She squeezed the black overcoat she was carrying in her arms, and let her purse drag along behind. All of a sudden she longed for the dark wool of the coat to become skin, hands, fingers clasping hers, grasping her with the withheld yearning of three years, if only for a few minutes. After that she wouldn’t ask for it again. Ever. She promised. She felt like leaning against a building to pause and relive once more what had happened minutes before, but she continued to walk. She needed to forget. She needed to understand once and for all the meaning of the word basta.

Basta Amparo. If you go on like this you’re going to go crazy, te vas a volver loca. Stop it. Cortala de una vez.

She tried to fix her gaze on the tired faces around her, on the resigned and runny-nosed expressions of the porteros standing in front of their buildings. But in all of them she could only see the leafy, condensed and red face of David. In all of them she saw his smile, that mischievous smile that he rarely used but that each time it showed up managed to light up even the sleepy volumes of his unending bookcases.

That night, that Thursday, she had seen him smile as never before. David, David, if you knew how I longed for this…and yet now…

Now she could embrace the moment with her slender woman arms. It was hers to keep. And yet.. and yet what? It’s that…she felt as if she had just finished the last tap show of her life; as if from now on all she had left was to sit and watch the progressive atrophy of her legs; as if she knew that from then on she could only go downhill. She had reached the top. Now all that was left was a somber descent into nothingness.

——- * ——-

David Kessler was Amparo Buenaventura’s boss in Asombro, the weekly they both worked for. Married and with two children, David had been the magazine’s editor-in-chief for the past six years (Amparo had worked there for three). Due to the country’s rickety situation the business was not exactly thriving, but with a little luck they believed it might be able to hold on a while longer.

What took place in the hotel the night of August 22 had not been at all unexpected. More likely, it had been like the slow and sluggish arrival of a big vessel which, in spite of the innumerable storms and stops it had been forced to sort out along the way, had never hesitated or strayed from its course, and most of all, had never doubted its strength and will to arrive to port safely.

They both knew well the sea into which they were plunging. They knew its tides, the crispy elevation of its waves, its crystal colored waters, its deepest and hidden personality traits as well as its fauna’s hunger and the ruggedness of its bed.

They began their submarine journey the same day they met. He interviewed her. He introduced her to the water. He hired her. He gave her an oxygen tank and a neoprene suit. He placed her under his charge. He taught her how to dive, and followed her in her underwater explorations.

What about her?

She concurred avidly. To everything. She put on the suit, the tank and the rubber fins and nose-dived into the wild and indissoluble ocean before he even had to say a thing. She went further than was safe, challenging her instructor a million times; she carried him to chaste and unexplored terrain, she forced him to go deeper, and even deeper, until they reached the base, until they hit bottom. There it became hard to breathe, but they did not care. He expressed his joy with his unmistakable, dry clean laugh; and all the while she observed him, mesmerized, as if she had just found the biggest, wisest and most beautiful fish on earth; a fish of many colors, with soft skin and sensual fins, dancing to the rhythm of the salty and spicy currents of undersea.

Then he asked her to return with him back up; there was little oxygen remaining in his tank. But she preferred to stay, only a short while longer; she needed to stroke a last alga, an alga with a purple stem and bright pink leaves that tried to embrace her each time she went near them. They dressed her as if for a party. They worshipped her. She did not bother to check if she had enough air in her tank. She did not care. She would stay there forever, among the algae and the fishes, no matter what. He begged her. She did not pay attention. Finally he gave up and returned to her side, but a short time later they had to rise immediately. They had run out of air. They needed to breathe. Their bodies were demanding it. Air. At last…

The gestation lasted three years. In appearance and in symbol—although not in duration—the process could have been compared to the stages the little egg undergoes to germinate into a fish; or to the steps a kid needs to perform to learn how to swim.

It was their own bodies that ended up surprising them. Without ever having to say it, they had promised each other never to meet alone beyond the four walls of their office. But fate played a tough one on them: it united them in a space where alcohol was not amiss nor beds lacking. It defied them to death by forcing them to drink; it deceived them as a brilliant strategist does with his enemy: it gave them time. And opportunity. It did it on purpose: to shut their mouths up. To show them that they were not their own masters, no matter how hard they forced themselves to believe it, no matter if it seemed that way most of the time (because in that, as in many other things, they were alike).

——- * ——-

Amparo had known her husband, Gonzalo Itcheburren, ever since she remembered. He was her best friend Patricia’s brother. Three years older than they were, Gonzalo used to go with them to the parties organized by Champagnat and Argentina Modelo in their high school years. And then, when the girls turned sixteen, their parents authorized him to take them to La City, the nightclub he used to go to with his friends.

Love emerged very timidly between them, thanks to the languid and inscrutable pacing of time. It did not erupt as a refulgent and spectacular burst, but softly, gradually, calmly and predictably. It was a tender love from the start.

Of all his sister’s friends, Gonzalo had always preferred Amparo. Not only because she was a potra, a gorgeous mare (his weakness were tall slim morochas like her), but because they shared a deep love of music. Gonzalo played bass with his school band, and he could spend hours chatting away with her about Ellington, Zeppelin, Coltrane or Bowie. It amazed him that she could follow; this was not only due to a life dedicated to dance, but to her upbringing, since both of her parents were tango dancers and experts in all sorts of music.

Gonzalo loved the fact that he could talk to a woman about music. Usually he never knew what to talk about with the girls he dated; he felt they had nothing in common with him. He had gone out with someone for two years, but left her upon realizing that they shared no interests and that he ended up thinking about Amparo instead. After that he saw a few other women, until one day, unable to withhold himself any longer, he confessed to Patricia. She told him that if he was so sure about his feelings to just go and tell her. Amparo was seeing someone in those days, but according to Patricia it was not serious. He was grateful that his sister was not jealous, he had expected it to a certain degree, and that she even encouraged him. He would always thank her for that. The girls were twenty. He was twenty three.

Amparo listened to Gonzalo’s confession without surprise. She asked him for a little time to resolve her ‘issues.’ Three years and three months later they were married. Their parents, celebrating the fact that they had managed to place their kids within their circle, bought them an apartment in Plaza Vicente Lopez, over Montevideo. They had been living there for two years when Amparo graduated from the conservatory and met David Kessler in Asombro. Five years when she was unfaithful to him for the first time. The night before they had spoken about having children.

——- * ——-

Gonzalo usually returned home ahead of Amparo because the bank closed before the weekly. He would wait for her with a drink in one hand and the base in the other. He played without making noise; he was tired of the neighbors’ complaints. Other times he would stay behind after work and meet a few friends in one of the Irish pubs nearby. Those days he returned later.

Amparo wished that were the case on that humid night of August twenty-second. She was not ready to confront yet the sweet and innocent face of her husband. Just in case she decided to walk around the park before going up. She needed to understand how she had ended up in bed with her boss.

Where to start. Was it an unfinished story from another life? Did she lead him on unknowingly? Because at the end of the day, men were men: they were always ready to go wherever you wanted to take them, with almost anyone. Women are the ones who make the final decision. They get to choose.

Shaking, she sat on one of the park benches and lit a cigarette. Gonzalo did not like her to smoke; he said he hated to kiss someone who puffed out ashes from her mouth, so Amparo smoked whenever she was not with him, taking advantage of his absence.

The park was deserted, except for a couple of dark-suited men who were crossing the park diagonally and a few homeless who ambled along the patches of grass and the wire-mesh trash cans. Under any other circumstance Amparo would have felt dread to be with such company, but that sweaty and leady night she did not even notice.

Why couldn’t she control herself, for Heaven’s sake? She felt libidinous, dirty, primitive, an animal in heat. What was it about this wrinkled and tired man—a man that in age could perfectly be her father—that fascinated her so much? What was it?

It had to be God’s punishment; because of her stupid prejudices. Until she met David she used to say that women who went out with older men did it either to get a promotion at work or for money. She could not conceive how a young and energetic person could possibly feel attracted -and even less, fall in love- with a stale, middle-aged, worn-down man. And now all of a sudden she had joined their ranks. Or not: because at the end of the day, what did she really feel for David? And for Gonzalo? What did she feel for Gonzalo?

——- * ——-

 Amparo did not want to leave Gonzalo. She loved him. She needed him. She did not imagine life without him. She wanted to have children, raise a family, grow old beside her husband. Her friends loved him, not to mention her parents. She did not even want to think of separating; it would be a disaster for everyone. So then what? What was she doing with David? Who knows… And then even if she did leave Gonzalo she would probably end up alone: David would never leave his family to start one with her. She knew that. He had even implied it a couple of instances. He had said to her, both times in passing, that he had no intention of leaving his wife; he said he would never do that to his family.

So in this manner Amparo had not only become an adulteress, but also a confused and frustrated one. How would she confront Gonzalo now? No longer could she claim that she and David shared a paternal relationship. She could not use that excuse anymore, neither with herself nor with anybody else.

——- * ——-

Gonzalo knew about her close relationship to David. How couldn’t he, if among other things he was her boss? They had even crossed paths on several occasions. Those times he had been able to take note of his loose walk, the manner in which his legs went back and forth in a contagious stride whose tempo seemed to emerge from underground, and to which only he seemed to have access; he had been taken by his saffron hair illuminating his shoulders, his beard and his succinct and rubicund demeanor; he had confronted the out-front coolness of his sharp eyes, hidden beneath dropping locks of hair and coarse skin; he had listened to his warm oboe voice expound on Borges and French cinema of the eighties with a subtle Northwestern accent; he had absorbed his citric essence, a deep and rich spice that for an unexplained reason seemed a little too familiar.

And yet in spite of all this Gonzalo did not feel jealous of him. After all, he was just a viejo, an old person. And as far as he knew, Amparo did not care for viejos. That is why he did not mind the extended phone calls, her arrivals at two in the morning, and the fact that she talked of little else but him when they were together. He took it all. Moreover, he had even encouraged the relationship a few times with phrases such as: “I’m glad you have someone at work that guides you and takes care of you. It’s not common, so take advantage of it…”

Take advantage of it…How innocent, she would think in those instances. How stupid, he thought months later, when he started to notice behaviors that were harder and harder to make sense of. For starters, he did not like it one bit when David called her home one Saturday afternoon from New York claiming he was bored. If he’s bored, can’t he call his wife or a friend for Christ’s sake? Why doesn’t he go for a walk along Fifth Avenue? Or watch a movie?! Why does he have to call Amparo on a Saturday! That day they spoke for almost an hour, and he did not say a thing. Then, another time, Amparo arrived home with a huge pile of books.

“What are those?” he asked when he saw her come in. He reached over to kiss her lips and read the first title.

“They’re from David,” she stated, cool as an artichoke. “They are books signed by Cortázar. He gave them to me because he didn’t have space in his bookshelves.” She tried to sound casual, but it was impossible.

Gonzalo could not resist. “David gave you books signed by Cortázar?”

Amparo shrugged and smiled shyly.

“But those are worth a fortune!”

It did not help that all she did was stand there and look at him with a dumb smile that she was trying unsuccessfully to cover.

“I don’t know what you think,” he continued, crossing the living room from wall to wall. “But that guy is clearly in love with you…”

Amparo laughed and said: “You’re nuts!” But her eyes were shining.

“I know it when I see it. Just be careful. This is not the first time it has crossed my mind.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gon, please!” she exclaimed, getting excited all of a sudden. “He could be my father…”

“That’s exactly what I think, but for some reason I don’t like what’s going on. Anyway, I suppose time will tell…”

“You’re out of your mind!” she said, as she entered their room.

They did not talk about it again. In the following days, however, Amparo took good care not to mention her boss in front of her husband.

The truce did not last long. About a month later, it must have been sometime in May or June, Gonzalo happened to be looking for the key to their basement in his wife’s nightstand, when he came upon a written paper titled “David”.

I do and do not want to write this moment
which, more than a
moment is a
sensation, an uncomfortable
tickling that
at any moment
will become a fierce
eruption.

I need to live
through this
moment.
I need to experience
it alone
away from whom
made possible
this intense
and undeniable
vibration.

I feel a body
that grows
inside me;
in me, a soul
blooms;
I cannot control it;
not even wanting to.

After that it was all crossed out, but what he read was enough. It was not the poem itself what hurt him the most—he knew Amparo liked to write every once in a while-, but the dedication and the emotion she had clearly felt upon writing it was too much for him to bear.

That same night, a breezy Friday with foggy skies, he waited up for her; supposedly she had gone to the movies with a girl friend.

“Where were you?” flared a ghostly voice as soon as the door closed, burning out the silence that until then had kept him company amid the darkness of their one bedroom. It was about 3 am.

She approached the bed to kiss him. “I told you, gordi, I was at the movies. Clara and I went to see Brad Pitt’s new film. It’s ok, although I don’t think you’ll like it that much…”

“Do you expect me to believe you?” he spouted. As he said this, he rejected his wife’s tinted lips and turned around.

“What’s the matter, Gon, what’s got into you, che? What’s all this paranoia?” She went to the other side of the bed, to the one where her husband’s face was pointing at, but this time not to kiss him; she started to undress.

“Don’t I have enough reason?” he mumbled in a tired voice, buried inside their feathered comforter.

“What are you talking about?” she asked a little angry, but then she stood still, her long-sleeved grey t-shirt amassed in her elbows.

“You know what I’m talking about…”

“No, I don’t. I have no idea. You’ll have to explain it to me,” she said, her tone a little higher than usual. She put on her light broderie nightgown and got into bed. She made a last attempt with Gonzalo to go near him, but he pushed her away and faced the other side.

“Don’t pretend. You know I won’t buy it.”

“Can you please tell me what the fuck is wrong with you?” Amparo sat up.

“You even have a face to insult me and play at being offended. ¡Lo único que falta!” With forceful pulls, Gonzalo unfurled the sheets, got up and went towards the couch, his pillow hanging from one hand. From there he rebuked: “I’m referring to the one to whom you write your versitos.”

Amparo was stunned. Gonzalo was not capable of going through her stuff. He would never do that.

Gonzalo, in the meantime, took advantage of his wife’s silence to excuse himself; he did not want her to think he was the typical tortured and suspicious husband. “Earlier today I was looking for the basement key because Víctor asked me for the notes I took in ‘Financial Planning’. That’s when I found it.”

“Found what?”

“You really want me to tell you?”

“Go ahead.”

“The poem you dedicated to David. I couldn’t resist and I read it.”

“…”

“You cannot say you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Bu-but Gon, tha-that po-poem is fo-for…Da-david Cár-denas. Remember him?! He’s the one I was going out with before I met you. The one with freckles and the Puma collection…”

Gonzalo listened but did not believe her. He tried though. He really wanted to. He knew it was in his best interests. But he could not.

——- * ——-

Amparo knew her husband had not believed her. She had been foolish to leave her writings there, so visible and easy to reach. Stupid. Yet how could she imagine that Gonzalo was going to need to go to the basement when she wasn’t there? As far as she knew, it had never happened before. Anyhow, she should know better.

They did not mention the matter again, but from then on something had altered between them. They struggled to show that they were fine, that everything was as it had always been, and yet David’s shadow had filtered in through the tiny crack in their balcony’s window without clemency or forgiveness, as a chiflete that circled around them and made them cold during the night. Their relationship darkened together with the skies of the approaching winter.

The moments when David’s presence was most palpable were during their after-meal conversations. The forced omission of his name produced the opposite effect to the one they strove for. By shutting it up they granted him, paradoxically, even more meaning and protagonism in their lives.

Amparo started to comply with Gonzalo in everything: she cooked for him (in spite of the fact that she hated the kitchen and kept burning herself); did not contradict his opinions (a huge effort for her); and wore his favorite underwear, the lace one with flowers embroidered in red and black (in spite of itching her and being extremely uncomfortable); anything to make him happy and help him forget the unlucky poem.

Unfortunately none of this relieved their marriage. She kept dreaming of David day and night (mostly nights), and Gonzalo could not help but notice it. This is how one day Gonzalo reached the odd and desperate conclusion that perhaps the solution was to have a baby. He thought it might stimulate the relationship. Energize it. Strengthen it. Enlighten it with love.

Gonzalo brought up the subject on the night of August 21. The sky was overcast. It was hot. An unnatural and upsetting heat surrounded Buenos Aires.

——- * ——-

Amparo turned out her cigarette against the wrought iron of the green park bench. It had been more or less three months since the incident of the poem. The sweat accumulated during her walk was now trickling in thick and wide drops along her forehead and lips. A street lamp lit up her long and undulated azabache hair; it strengthened its purple streaks and created an effect similar to the one of an illuminated nocturnal lagoon.

What could be going through David’s mind right now? At this time he had probably returned home, just in time to have dinner with his family. Had it been hard for him to go through the door, as hard as it was for her? Probably not. Most likely he managed these situations better. He might even have experienced it all before. David had sworn he had never before been unfaithful to his wife, but why should she believe him? On the other hand, who cares what David feels? It was enough dealing with her own feelings.

Amparo shook away the images and ruminations that were burning her. If she could only rewind the clock a few hours, to that fateful moment when their eyes had met, that one time they met, knowing, at the Hotel Callao. She could have pretended she did not notice. She could have told him she couldn’t, that she had a commitment she could not miss. Or she could have simply said no, no thank you, that it was crazy.

But she had not had a better idea than to let go and follow her instinct. Once again, knowing the risks involved, knowing exactly how it would all end. And the worst part is that she had enjoyed it. She had loved it. Every minute of it. It had been better than all the times she had dreamt of it; it had overwhelmed her expectations (mostly considering that the man was not young anymore). He was the best. It had been even better than the best times with Gonzalo. Gonzalo, the future father of her children. Better not even think of that now.

They had barely spoken. They did not promise each other anything; no use telling each other what they both knew. Tomorrow at some point he would summon her into his office. He would lock the door after her and would start kissing her all over again. He would tell her that the previous night had been the best of his life and that he had told his wife he was leaving her that same morning. Or perhaps he wouldn’t do that. Perhaps he would offhandedly kiss her cheek and, with pitiable eyes, tell her that what had happened the day before had been a desliz, that it would not happen again, I promise, he would say, I just don’t know what came over me, I’m so sorry, I don’t usually behave this way, I hope you can forgive me.

Easier said once done.

——- * ——-

Amparo sweated, unguarded against the suffocating waves spilling from her body. Her bones crumbled like a sand sculpture. She was hot. She was cold. She was more than cold: she jittered and shook as if she were afflicted with a very high fever.

She did not want to go to her apartment and see Gonzalo. He’ll know. He’ll realize immediately. And if she went to her Mom’s? But she would also notice that something was going on and Amparo would end up telling her everything. No, she couldn’t do that. Her mother would go nuts. She adored Gonzalo…

Not even her closest and most daring friends approved of David. They said it was a sick relationship; that they seemed like two childish and immature teenagers; that he was probably using her; that he was a vivo who only wanted to take her to bed. (Not to mention what they would say if they knew the latest news!).

But she needed to tell someone. Someone who would not judge her. She could not keep it all to herself, it was too much. She needed to share it with someone and savor her victory a little longer. She couldn’t count on Patricia. She didn’t know anything. No matter how close friends they were, Gonzalo was above all else her brother. Besides, Patricia was a saint, she would never understand.

She considered Clara. Had she returned from work? Clara was part of her tap-dancing circle. An inveterate user of pot and men, she disapproved of Amparo’s relationship to David not out of principle but because she thought that sooner or later things would turn bad, and worst of all, Amparo heartbroken. Yet at least she was not reminding Amparo of it each time they met, as the rest did.

She checked her watch: eight-thirty. She should have returned by now. She turned on her cell phone. No messages. Strange, where the hell was Gonzalo? She dialed her friend’s number. Doesn’t he care where she is anymore? And if he’s also seeing someone? Amparo smiled while she heard the phone ring on the other side. It would be an interesting coincidence, surely one worth analyzing, but she discarded it immediately: Gonzalo would never do it. And yet, wouldn’t he have sworn the same about her until a few months ago?

Come over, said Clara, as she continued to mess up her kitchen with depilatory wax. They could talk as much as they wanted because Andy, her boyfriend, was at a friend’s party.

Amparo covered the ten blocks separating her from Clara’s home as if she were racing on horseback. She zigzagged to arrive there sooner: she knew well the angles of the streets in that area.

The cartoneros, in the meantime, persisted in their duty; they carefully inspected the big black residue bags gathered on the sidewalks beside buildings tarnished with weariness. Amparo galloped along Avenida Arenales under a sky condensed by low clouds overloaded with spray. She cut the fog with her nose, dodging it with her long and malleable body. She turned left in Pueyrredón and rang the portero half a block later.

She kissed her friend’s cheek when she came down to unlock the door for her and, unable to wait until they had reached the privacy of her friend’s apartment, she spilled out the news in the elevator.

“I knew it would happen. Era obvio,” the other responded, while she opened the door of the 6A.

“¿Obvio? Not for me.”

They closed the door. Clara went to the kitchen and brought back two cans of Coca-light. She placed them on the coffee table and started to pick up thrown-about clothes. She had just finished waxing, although the rubbery and burnt scent was still around them. Amparo sat on one of the couches.

“How much longer did you think you could put it off?” Clara asked abruptly.

Did she note anger in her friend’s voice? If so Amparo ignored it. “I have no idea. It wasn’t what I was after. Lo juro.”

“Are you sure about that? Be honest with yourself, Ampi. You don’t have to tell me or Gonzalo, but at least don’t lie to yourself, that would be too much.”

Clara lit up a cigarette and passed the package over to Amparo, who grabbed one and returned the rest to her friend.

“You don’t believe me, do you.”

“To say the truth: no, I don’t.” She crossed her legs Buddha-style on a wine colored coach directly across from Amparo. Surrounding them in the small room were proud and raised ficus and other indoor plants. The apartment looked like a winter garden (or a fantasy jungle). “I think you both wanted this, even if now you’re regretting it…” She exhaled smoke. “You had been fooling around for quite some time, it was bound to happen, it couldn’t last much longer…”

“I feel as if I were under some sort of spell or something.”

“He’s over twenty years older…”

“So?”

“He knows how to get his way…he knows how to treat women…”

“You think that what he has with me he has with anybody? Don’t be mistaken…”

“What will you do with Gonzalo? Will you tell him?”

Amparo lowered her head and grabbed it with her hands. She puffed on her cigarette so as to fill the air and disappear into the cloud of smoke.

“No idea. The only thing I know is that I don’t want to go back home right now to find out. Gonzalo will notice. He’s no idiot, and these last months he’s been a little paranoid about this thing. I feel I show just by walking…”

“I didn’t realize until you told me.”

“You had no time!”

They giggled and glanced at each other with a little embarrassment.

“Although now that I’m looking at you, yeah, perhaps I do notice your cheeks a little scratched and a certain smell…” said Clara, still laughing.

Amparo became serious and brought her hands instinctively to her face. She rushed to the bathroom door where the mirror was.

“Smell of what?”

“I don’t know, who cares, sex, I guess, I was just making it up…”

“How is it? Describe it.” Amparo pulled away from the mirror and gazed at her friend.

Clara stopped smiling. “I don’t know, Ampi, just joking. You don’t smell of anything, dejate de hinchar. Don’t start getting paranoica because that’s when Gonzalo will notice…”

“Sure I don’t smell of anything?”

“Let’s see…” Clara approached her lazily and smelled her neck.

“You smell of perfume, but it’s not the first time I’ve noticed this scent on you. I’ve been meaning to ask you, what brand is it?”

“What do I smell like?”

“I don’t know…I’m so bad at these things. I’m a dancer, not a poet.”

“I need you to tell me.”

“Don’t know…like tangerines, a mix of tangerine and cinnamon, or tangerine and black pepper, I don’t know, don’t make me think at this time of the day…”

“I need to borrow your shower.”

“But…”

“Please.”

“Ok, but give me a few seconds because the bathroom is a mess. Ya te lo dejo.”

Clara left the main room and Amparo remained, smelling her clothes, her arms, her hair…

——- * ——-

“Ready?” Clara was spilling spaghetti into a pan when Amparo appeared in the living room curled up in a white towel. “That was quick!”

“Can you lend me some clothes?”

“But Ampi, I must be three sizes above yours…”

“Never mind, just give me one of your Indian skirts and a t-shirt, or a loose dress, whatever, yo me arreglo.”

Bueno, let me check, a ver…”

Clara went in search of clothes. She returned with a one-size wide black skirt and a batik t-shirt in different tones of blue. They looked good on her, although it was a bit strange to see Amparo dressed in formless clothes. She usually wore tight garments to accentuate her figure.

Upon returning to the living room, the host did not offer her guest food or anything to drink. Not even cigarettes. Amparo got the message and searched for her purse.

“Did you reach any agreement with David?” she asked, as she stirred eggs in a plastic bowl. Clara loved to cook, and was quite good at it. The strands of dyed hair that usually adorned her forehead and sides of her face were now pulled back with a green plastic headband.

“Any agreement about what?”

“I don’t know, about what’ll happen to the two of you from now on…”

“No.”

“Will you speak to him?”

“No. I’ll wait for him to do it.”

“You might be disappointed.”

“Why is that? If I don’t want anything with him either, I can’t be disappointed about something I don’t want…”

“I’m just saying. I don’t want you to get hurt, that’s all.”

“We both want to continue with our lives. At least I want to…”

Clara glanced at her and murmured in a barely audible voice: “I wish it were true.”

“Did you say something?”

No, todo bien.

They came down the elevator in silence, and said goodbye downstairs with a frozen kiss.

——- * ——-

Amparo strode along Pueyrredón, letting her feet drag her across the pavement. An old man with a cane would have been faster than her, but there weren’t that many now. It was past ten-thirty and there were very few people in the streets. Could it be because it was mid-week? Or for fear of being mugged? The cartoneros, having already divided up the crumbs of the day, returned tamed and trampled to their shacks and monoblocks in trucks, buses or the special train assigned to carry them (to make sure they did not remain too long in the “elevated” neighborhoods, or that they dare travel in wagons designed for “normal” passengers).

She lit the third cigarette of the last hour and a half. Mierda, wasn’t there anybody she could talk to? And if she called David? No, better not.

Most stores were closed by now. The only lights came from bars, restaurants and kioskos. Although Amparo did not notice it, it had cooled down a bit. A light breeze preannounced the rainstorm that would raze the city in a few hours. Sweaters, chalecos, kept until now in purses or hanging from shoulders, gained prominence once more and returned to fulfill their essential task. A pale and wrapped up passer-by here and there moving around Buenos Aires at that hour with glazed eyes may have coincided with Amparo Buenaventura’s mislaid body, but they would never know it.

Perhaps some of them would never return home, she thought with distress. Perhaps one will be run over by a bus, another held up by a thief, or another kidnapped by the love of his life. Amparo stopped to contemplate this possibility. And what if she never returned home? What would happen? What would happen if all of a sudden she decided to radically change her lifestyle and become a homeless, or a cartonera? What would happen if the love of her life decided to kidnap her from out of nowhere? She hated herself because she knew she was incapable of doing it. She also knew that it was time to confront Gonzalo.

——- * ——-

Ten minutes later she was in the elevator of her building. Upon passing the sixth floor she distinguished the distant whirring of an electric guitar and drums between the chipping iron bars of the lift. When she stopped on the seventh she knew where it came from. It was David Bowie. Gonzalo’s favorite musician. David Bowie playing “Ziggy Stardust.” David. David…That meant Gonzalo was home.

Hola, mi amor…” he received her with earsplitting music in the background, the apartment dark except for a lamp with a red light bulb switched on in a corner of the living room. He was holding a half-full glass of wine. “How are you? ¿Cómo fue tu día?” He leaned forward to land a peck in his wife’s mouth. She brushed his with a plastic smile: she feared her lips were blander and warmer than usual.

Hola,” she said. She unfurled from her husband’s bearish embrace and quickly went to the bedroom to leave her things.

She had the sensation of being in the wrong apartment. Sitting in bed, she looked around her as for the first time: she saw the round beechtree table with straight aluminum legs a few feet away from her in the living room; the chairs in white cuerina; the splendid view of the park across the balcony; she imagined the bookcases covering the other side of the wall she was facing; the copper pots hanging French-style in the kitchen; Gonzalo cooking. Everything was as she had left it that morning. And yet, she did not feel comfortable in the space she had furnished, her own space. She felt it no longer belonged to her.

She put on her nightgown and washed her face in the bathroom (although she had been lucky that Gonzalo had not taken notice of her attire or the marks in her face, she did not want to run unnecessary risks). After that she moved to the kitchen, where Gonzalo was preparing roasted chicken and baked potatoes, one of his specialties. A glass of wine awaited her in the counter.

“Taste it. It’s the Cabernet my folks brought me last weekend.”

Amparo tasted. She liked it. The aroma of fermented fruit helped her clear up her demons for a short while. She could hear Bowie’s “Changes” in the backdrop. David Bowie’s. DAVID Bowie. David. How appropriate.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strain, ch-ch-changes…”

“The food will be ready in just a few minutes. Did you shower yet?”

“Uh, look out, you Rock-and-Rollers…”

Amparo realized all of a sudden that she had to explain her wet hair.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strain, ch-ch-changes…”

“I just wet my hair a bit. I was so hot. Today’s dampness made my hair a mess.”

“Pretty soon now, you’re going to get older…”

Gonzalo smiled. “Ok, then, so set the table.”

“Time may change me, but I can’t change time…”

——- * ——-

While they ate they talked about the usual: developments and troubles at work; a new robbery, kidnapping or asalto they had been told about; the country’s economic crisis; the war in Iraq; whatever was new in film and theatre…normal stuff. For a moment Amparo felt certain that time alone would be enough to calm her current vertigo and shakiness, and that there would be no need for Gonzalo to be told anything.

They climbed into bed together. Amparo still carried with her the living weight of David’s body; it felt as if she were two people at once: with him there, as part of her, protecting her, possessing her, and pulling her further and further away from her partner.

She closed her eyes; she prayed for Gonzalo not to ask for anything that night.

——- * ——-

It seemed that he had also been busy. He fell into sleep like a panda as soon as he felt the sheets under him. But not for long. A short while later he was awakened by panting. Amparo panting. A panting that seemed to express joy and pain at the same time. As if she were making love. Amparo gasped when she made love, perhaps even more frequently and intensely than the average woman (although how could he tell: after all, he hadn’t been with that many!).

Amparo gasped once more. Then she murmured. Incomprehensible mumblings. Amparo never talked in dreams. She sighed. Strange. What a smell. A cítrico. A orégano. Oranges. Mandarinas. Bergamotas.

He sat up, and remained still. He did not want to wake her up. He watched her. A haughty smile enclosed her, a smile clearly directed inwards, to the images rumbling through her soul.

——- * ——-

The following morning Gonzalo could not notice any change in her: as usual she appeared joyful and full of energy, ready to face the new day. Perhaps she looked a tad nervous, but Amparo always seemed a little anxious and excited. Staring out from the balcony he could tell the weather hadn’t changed much since the day before: there were still very low clouds, saturation and heaviness in the air and gray all over (although this time the gray was one or two shades darker). The storm was closer. Seated across from each other sharing breakfast, Gonzalo felt the urge to tell his wife about the past night, but did not dare. He feared her good mood would burn out and become gray like the clouds around them.

Instead, he decided to go for another method:

“¿Cómo dormiste, Vida?” How did you sleep, Vida?

“Bien, ¿y vos?”

Bien. I got up a few times at night, must have been a dream or something, but aside from that I slept well. At least I could watch you while you slept. Sos lindísima cuando dormís.” You are beautiful when you sleep, he said.

Amparo did not falter. “Pobre, gordo,” she said, while she stood up to hug him from behind.

Gonzalo went along with her. Then he said: “I think at one point of the dream you were unfaithful to me, that’s probably what woke me.” Amparo’s muscles tensed. He saw them. “It was a great relief to wake up and find you there beside me…¿Y vos? ¿Qué soñaste, Vida?” His face was as cool as hers had been a while before.

Amparo let go of him as she would a burnt up match, wishing her husband had not noticed the sudden rise in her body temperature. Then, thinking it over, she placed again her arms on his shoulders; she did not want him to become aware of the real impact of his comment.

And yes, she too had dreamt, as Gonzalo had well imagined. Predictably, she had dreamt with David. Kessler, not Bowie. Yet it had not been the pleasant dream he supposed. Though it had begun with the same ardor and longing she had lived through the night before, it turned awry afterwards: David suddenly confessed to her that he was pregnant, and that he wanted to give birth to his child right then and there, in her arms. But when Amparo reached under his dripping legs to help him deliver the baby, he started making desperate signs to warn her that the kid was coming out from his mouth. Then, draped in a rusty jelly-like substance, emerged a boy of more or less two years, dressed and combed as if for a party. Upon awakening Amparo realized that the person she had thought during the dream was David, was really not him physically but the tailor to whom she sent her and Gonzalo’s clothes to mend.

“No soñé nada,” she said, I did not dream, and with that she returned to her chair.

Pause.

“Did you have a chance to think about what we talked the other day?”

“What did we talk about the other day?”

“What do you mean by what did we talk about the other day? About having kids, Silly…”

“Oh, yeah…”

“Did you decide what you want to do?”

“No.”

“How come?”

“Perhaps I’m a little scared.”

“What about?”

“Don’t know. Perhaps I’m just scared of becoming the typical fat, mediocre Coca-cola drinking middle-class couple who lives exclusively through their children, who gets horrified when someone around them swears or when there is no more of their brand of rice at the supermarket…”

“Why do you feel that way? You’re only twenty-eight…it’s up to you to become that or not. And let me tell you something else: with the energy you have to spare, I’m sure you’ll be able to further your career and be a wonderful inspiring mother at the same time…Come, dame la mano, give me your hand. Is it only that what bothers you?”

No lo sé.”

“Do you want more time to think?”

“No lo sé.”

Bueno, decidite. Make up your mind. It isn’t nice to be in my shoes either.” Silence. “David has nothing to do with your hesitation, has he?”

The open reference to the unmentionable resounded in the house with more strength than the first chords of Beethoven’s ninth, than the explosion of a crystal glass in the wooden floor. It was the first time in months that either uttered his name out loud.

“¿Por qué decís eso?” Why do you say that?

“Just asking. Can’t I?”

“Yes, of course.” Amparo lowered her head. Her brunette hair suddenly turned scarlet; the opalescent tinges vermillion. Her face became pallid, anguished; her eyelids swelled. She felt faint. Fortunately she was sitting down, otherwise she would not have been able to control the shaking of her arms and legs. She took a deep breath. Then another. From now on she would have to mind every single word, every pause, every gesture, the slightest thing could sink her down. She had stepped into a swamp.

Gonzalo, in the meantime, inspected his wife closely. “What’s the matter? Don’t get so agitated about it…It was only a damn question!”

“I’m not agitated,” she whispered, and took another long breath of fresh air. “I just can’t stand the fact that you are always circling around the same subject.” She voiced each word slowly and cautiously, as if she were teaching the language to a beginner (only with a little bit more stress).

¿Acaso no tengo motivos?” Don’t I have enough reason?

Amparo knew he would ask that, and had her answer ready. “You have a reason to be jealous about anybody you want, if you want to put it in those terms. The same with me: I can be jealous of any woman you met or will meet in the future. You just can’t live in such paranoia. Do you see me go crazy when you mention Dora, or Mari…?”

Gonzalo got up and threw his napkin into the leftover toast in his plate. “No voy a hablar más…” I won’t talk anymore. He put on his blazer lying over the couch. “I’m leaving. It’s getting late.”

Silence again.

Ya se te va a pasar…” said Amparo suddenly, without meaning to. You’ll get over it.

Gonzalo turned to face her, his expression a thousand tones of red. He looked like an out of control kaleidoscope. Amparo had never seen him like that.

Escuchame,” he screamed, this time he was screaming. Listen to me. “I will only ask you one question, and I want you to answer me with the truth, hear me?”

Amparo, afraid, nodded rapidly. Was he capable of hitting her?

“Quiero que me digas una cosa,” I want you to tell me one thing. He was still shouting. With that he lay down the briefcase that seconds before he had picked up from the floor. “Are you with me only because the other guy won’t leave his family…eh, is that it?”

Amparo saw that her husband’s eyes had filled with tears. He was choking in his words.

¿Pero qué ridiculeces estás diciendo?” That’s absurd! What are you talking about?

“You call them ‘ridiculeces,’ you accuse me of being paranoid, you tell me that I’ll get over it…¿Te creés acaso que soy boludo? You think I’m an idiot?! You think I’m blind?” He was crying openly now.

“I’ll better not speak because you won’t believe me anyway, no quiero embarrar más las cosas…” I don’t want to throw more dirt into this mess… Better shut up, Amparo, look what you’re doing, look at the pain you’re causing to the person who happens to be your husband and the future father of your children… At that moment she hated David with the same fervor she had loved and longed for him minutes before. He was the splinter that hurt and would not come out, the one stain that hampered and threatened her happy marriage. She blamed him for existing. I hope he dies, she thought.

No, mejor no hables más.” Better don’t speak. With that Gonzalo left, slamming the door behind him.

——- * ——-

By the time she arrived at the magazine it was noon, and Amparo was exhausted. The morning fog had dissipated somewhat, but Buenos Aires was still wet and faint. That night she was supposed to dance at a club in San Telmo. She did not know if she had body enough to do it. Her mind choo-chooed like a nineteenth-century steam locomotive about to collapse. She had put on a little color in her cheeks to hide her tiredness, but she had tried not to overdo it because otherwise her boss would think she had made-up her face for him (a belief that wouldn’t be entirely mistaken, if one thought about it). Not meaning to (or meaning to) she had put on her pair of tight low-rise black pants with flare; on top she wore a classic cut lavender shirt, also fitted, together with high-heeled moccasins. As a final touch she had sprayed herself lightly with jasmine essence (not bergamot, jasmine has a completely different smell compared to bergamot), and she had let her hair loose (usually she carried it in a ponytail so it would not bother her while she worked).

In spite of all these arrangements, she hoped she wouldn’t cross paths with David (though she knew that was impossible). Perhaps I’m lucky, she thought, if only for her wish not to come true. It has happened to all of us: we openly beg with desperation for something while in reality we are passionately wishing for the opposite… Yes, of course it’s happened to you sometime, think about it. In Amparo’s case at least, it had happened to her many times before. Blame it on this twisted human mind that sooner or later drives us all to madness…

——- * ——-

They arrived together. She in a taxi; he in his new model Audi 6.0. They climbed into the elevator at the same time. He was smiling mischievously. He wouldn’t look at her; his eyes were fixed to the front of the metal door. When he got down (he worked a floor below her) their eyes crossed and he winked at her. They did not speak. They did not even greet each other. Amparo continued towards her floor.

Less than an hour later—she was still responding to her voicemails and emails—her extension rang.

“I have something to show you,” he said, as soon as she picked up the phone.

“What?”

Vení y te lo muestro.” Come and I’ll show you.

It wasn’t the first time that he employed that strategy to lure her into his office.

Ahora voy,” she said, disturbed. Coming. She could not understand how or why, but the mere sound of his voice, even over the phone, managed to disconcert her as nothing else. “To tell you the truth, I’m quite busy,” she stated suddenly, surprising herself. Then, regaining confidence: “I have to finish editing the Cassano article, otherwise I won’t have anything for the reunión de cierre.”

“Since when do you care so much about the closing meeting and giving me things on time?” He chuckled. “Vamos, beba, come down here so we can chat a bit. Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves?”

Amparo was dying to go down. No debo. No debo. No debo. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. I’ll quit. I’ll starve but I’ll quit right now. I can’t go on like this.

But David’s lyrical and graceful tone was stronger. “Ok,” she said. “I’ll go as soon as I send the email I’m finishing.”

“Is that email for me by any chance?… Perhaps a poem?” Amparo could see David’s smile across the telephone line.

“No.”

“Uyuyuyuy…It seems we’re not in our best mood today, che!”

He hung up first. From then on she could not concentrate on what she was doing. She rested her head on top of the desk in search of answers. ¿Qué mierda hago? What the hell should I do? I would give anything to feel indifferent towards David, she thought, anything.

Again begging for the opposite?

——- * ——-

¿Cómo estás, nena?” How are you, doll? “I see that what happened last night did nothing but intensify your mermaid beauty even more.”

Amparo did not answer. She was too busy absorbing the spicy bergamot scent of her lover-boss, while registering the fact that for the first time since they had known each other David Kessler had not stood up to greet her and offer her a seat. She chose to remain standing. She was waiting for him to make the next move.

“Take a seat,” he told her amiably, pointing towards the run-down leather chair facing his desk.

Amparo obeyed his instruction, noting that for the first time in a long while he had not locked the door or turned on background music to enhance the pleasure of their encounter. She was shocked.

“They sent me this piece, I want to know your thoughts about it. It’s about a cartonera dancer, una bailarina cartonera…”