Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Club of the Night

After my parents had separated, and after my mom and me tumbled around various apartments, and lived with my aunt for a while and lived in a little house where the little street boys flowed like pebbles through our doorway and pulled me out to play, and we lived in a long dry apartment where the maid first told me that my parents were getting divorced and I worried for the first time that they might never come together again, after all that and so much more, we came to live in a little one bedroom apartment in the back of our apartment building, in the middle of an unruly garden that offered a thousand promises of discovery and construction. Next to us there was a hotel, where people swam all day and sometimes mariachis played at night and next to that, on the other side, there was a night club, right behind the wall that formed the final boundary to my garden..
My fascination with this place started with its description. A night club. A club of the night. A place where the denizens of the night got together and played. Life there started long after I was in bed and away from the street and safe from any sign of commotion or crowds. Life there started with loud thumping music, a loud bass drum that never ended, the driving disco beat that anticipated the electronic music that I would someday come to embrace. Here the beat was loud and dark and it made the night tremble and, through its power, I could hear violin strings and thick bass and women singing in long melismas and over all that, I could sometimes hear people laughing, and these people were both men and women and I could hear that their laughter was tinged with alcohol and that gave it a sense of insanity, of danger and of lust.
Once I saw a group of women walking towards the club, one night when my Dad was bringing me back home from playing pinball at the arcade. The mysterious women were stumbling slightly through the broken sidewalks in very tall high heels. They had on very short dresses that barely covered the top of their thighs and revealed large expanses of their breasts and their backs. Their hair was shiny and curly and big, like a big black globe covered in silvery strands. They walked with a certain kind of determination and I saw them then as adults and, in knowing that these women were adults, I also knew that they wanted sex. I came to see that, somewhere in the club of the night, men and women met each other, and they laughed drunkenly and they flirted and they danced and as they danced, they touched each other lightly and sometimes they went home with each other and, like a puzzle that is on the verge of being solved but isn’t completely clear yet, I could vaguely postulate that most of the laughing drunken people that I heard at night were there to find another adult to touch and possess, even if only for a single night or even a few hours. This possibility filled me with anxiety and rushes of energy engulfed me from my crotch up into my stomach, and it was all so strong that it made my chest hurt. Sometimes I would sit on the terrace in the middle of the night, watching the bats twirl against the yellow light of the single light bulb and I would listen for the laughter and a loud man’s voice that might call for something and the female response that was more laughter and the music never stopped and I came to hear the loud thump as a raw call to nakedness and lust and I would hear it in my heart and in my stomach and I could almost see the bats dancing to it as they flashed like black lightning before my eyes and my chest was hurting so much that I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t stop listening.
One night, I was woken up from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire and my mom ran towards me (she slept in the living room and I slept in the single bedroom at that time) and sat with me, running her hand through my hair, and then we heard more gunfire and the music in the club of the night had stopped and there were screams and shouts and then there was one more shot and more screams. I looked at my mom and wondered and she said that something was going on in the "night club" and I asked what it was but she didn’t know. In my imagination I could see the women in their miniskirts running in the dark, away from the guns and the angry men, and I could see the men running after them and maybe there were some men to protect them, but there was no music and no laughter and I was sorry for the little club of the night and I wondered if it would ever come back and serenade me with its strange sounds. To me, this had to mean the end. How could the music and the laughter come back to a place after gunfire and screams and terror had broken its magic apart?
As soon as the sun started to come up I could hear people outside, the distinct chaotic rumbling of a crowd and young men calling out and whistling loudly to each other, which has always been the way for young men to communicate in El Salvador. I ran to my mother and asked her if we could go and see. She didn’t want to but I begged and begged and told her that there were other people there and it should be ok and we would only get to the corner and if it seemed dangerous we would be right back and she still didn’t want to but she had to go out anyway because she needed to walk the dog and I kept on insisting and finally she agreed. So we walked out in the early morning and the air was very thin and cold and the sun had not come out all the way and I was wearing a thin blue jacket but I was still very cold and I didn’t care. I rushed ahead towards the corner while my mom called out for me to slow down and the little mutt that was our pet at that time barked at me to slow down and I said yes but kept on running and I made it to the top of the corner and saw the crowd of people around the stairway that lead down into the club of the night and there were several skinny young men pulling something up and having a lot of trouble. They all had their shirts off, tied around their waists, and they were whistling and the people were muttering among themselves, maids and rich women and a few men and the young men below whistled again and three of them together pulled up harder and then I saw what they were pulling.
It was a big frozen bundle of death, a shirtless man covered in blood that seemed to be as solid as a tree trunk and as dark and as heavy. The man was facing down so I could only see his back, and I wondered why it had no shirt on, and I wondered if it was cold, and then I knew that it was very cold, colder than any skin I had ever felt, cold like a big block of ice in the shape of a brown skinned man, and the young men without shirts pulled the heavy man up, the heavy man that was no longer a man, not the way he had been before that night, and one of the young men laughed and I could see the blood more clearly and it was already drying on his back and some of the women talked louder and my mom said that we should go back, that we shouldn’t be looking at this. I was too startled and confused to argue so I looked once more at the heavy cold body with its blood stained back and the three boys that were struggling to lift it and then we walked back to our apartment in silence.
By the next night, the loud thumping had returned, and again there was laughter and jokes and I wondered if some of these same people had known this man the night before, and maybe they had even laughed at his jokes, and maybe one of these very jokes had lead to his destruction. And the thumping still meant the women in their short dresses and the men with evil eyes and now I knew that the adults got together to drink and laugh and sometimes they got together for a night and sometimes some of them never came back but the music would still go on, loud, powerful, eternal. The pain in my chest was as strong as ever and the drunken laughter was a flashing doorway into the cold adult heart which someday I hoped to touch with my curious little hands, a heart as cold as a huge block of ice in the shape of a dark skinned man being carried up a stairway of dead gray stone.

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