Friday, January 30, 2009

A Touch of Flesh

The little street was old now, so much older than it was when it used to be a daily occurrence and it was old even then, lined with twisted cracks and thick brown leaves and plastic bottles and crushed cans. There were large trees that lined the sides, covering half the stretch of asphalt in cool shade, and there were little lanes of grass, and bushes that overflowed with purple and green over old black and white verandas, and all the houses had the touch of old family history, even if the families were long gone, some of the marks of their previous memories remained, the steps of their old ghosts still paced slowly up the deserted paths. Some of the houses were not houses anymore at all, from mansions they had been turned into offices and schools and stores and so their opulence was fading fast and it was being replaced by glass counters, dark blue uniforms and false smiles. There were more cars passing through the little street now, even though they now only moved in one direction, and it all seemed more crowded, not as bright and fresh as it once had been. The street connected the main street that led to my grandmother Antonia’s house to the big plaza where the patron saint of El Salvador still stood among the smog and the broken fences and the overgrown grass, the big plaza surrounded by little strip malls that seemed like fading flames of vanishing hope amidst the deep dark clouds of black smoke that were expelled every few minutes from another bus passing by, another bus so heavy with old thick women and young men in T-shirts and little boys in dirty pants that they all overflowed from its narrow confines, out the doors, out the windows, out the roof, and a skinny boy was always hanging from the edge of the bus using only one hand to keep himself from falling, and he would call out "Besa! Besa! Besa! Plaza Arce! Plaza Merliot!" and he called for more passengers to come to him and they answered his call and they surrounded the bus like a cloud of thick dark ants and he pushed them inside while screaming at the ones already in there to "Make room! Make room! Let the new ones in!" and there was no room already, but somehow the new crowd managed to squeeze in and more limbs overflowed out the windows and the young men pressed tightly into the women and the women held on to their purses, pressing them against their full chests, and the little boys almost drowned in between thick buttocks and plastic bags, and the bus then pushed forward, vomiting more black smoke into the afternoon air, trembling under the weight of so much tired flesh.
I saw it all from the passenger window of my Uncle’s car, just like I had seen it so many times, maybe the buses were more crowded now, maybe there were more people at the bus stops, maybe the people were just a bit harsher, less friendly, but it seemed like a scene I had already seen so many times, like a dream that just wouldn’t stop recurring. It was tempting to look away but I didn’t. I opened my eyes wide and took it all in as if this was the very first time I ever saw it and I let the smoke and the noise and the smells invade me like whispers from a land of black dust. And I saw that the Pizza Hut had replaced the McDonalds but there were still men with shotguns at all the doors and I saw the old bakery where my grandmother used to buy the little rolls for my breakfast and there was graffiti on its once white walls, and I saw that the old gymnasium had now been turned into an office, but the blue letters of the old name could still be discerned through the thin layer of paint on the long white ledge. Then some of the black smoke got into my throat and I had to cough hard for a moment but I just kept on looking, and through all of it, my Uncle was talking, giving me explanations that I hadn’t requested, clarifications for confusions that I didn’t have. He was tired, and the tiredness was there in every detail of his body, in his trembling old thick hands covered in deep crevasses, in his sunken chest covered in white hair, except for the big scar that had been left from a heart operation, in his droopy eyes, in his wrinkled forehead, in his black and white hair that had once been pure deep black, and, most of all, it was in his voice, which, for all the things that it wanted to say, really only said one thing, over and over: "I’m tired. I’m old. Life is not good," and that is all I could hear when he spoke. Even when he tried to smile and laugh, the smile and the laughter themselves carried the same message, a message that polluted the insides of the car like black smoke from an overcrowded bus, a message that pressed up against me like sweaty old T-shirts and a crumpled old dress. I tried to take him into me, like the noisy streets and the crowded buses, but he was even harder to swallow, for his flesh had lost all hope and the sky in his eyes was completely covered in the poisonous black vomit.
We were there on our way to my grandmother Antonia’s house, the house that she left behind when she finally transcended the body about two years before, when she finally broke through the barrier that had kept here for so many years, when she finally accomplished what she had told me so many times that she wanted ("Juan Carlos, this is it… I can’t be here much longer… the pain is too much… I have given enough… now I want to die…") and now she was gone and I felt that this was a success for her, she had what she wanted, but my Uncle would think of her and then say "poor mother…pobrecita…" when he thought of her and I didn’t understand why was she poor, unless he thought that death was all a mistake and she had stumbled and fallen away when she didn’t to, and that if we all moved just right, if we were very careful and very lucky, then we would manage to avoid it somehow, and maybe he really did think that, without realizing what he thought. Most people do.
We were driving past the Pizza Hut, past the old mansions, down the little street lined with thick dark trees, and that’s when I saw them. At first they were only a hint of color and light that barely flutters over the white death of the dirty white wall of the dirty driveway that reached into the guts of another dirty old house, another mansion that was now an office, now a store, now a place for them, who I could barely see for a moment. But then I could see clearly, as my Uncle continued to talk and drive and as he kept on expelling his message of death and decay into the crowded air of his little green car, but I wasn’t listening, because I was looking at them. They were not dead and maybe they were so alive that my Uncle could not even see them at all, maybe they resided in a whole other level of existence where my Uncle’s wrinkled fingers simply couldn’t reach. They were sitting on a ledge next to each other: a thin beautiful girl with blond hair, olive skin, blue jeans and a flowery shirt and a boy about her age, around sixteen or seventeen, with a T-shirt and light colored pants, with slightly darker skin and curly hair. They sat next to each other with their eyes interlocked like invisible tentacles that bathed them in a faint blue light. The boy’s shoulders slouched backwards and the girl was leaning forward. She had some notebooks in her lap. He had a big smile on his face. The boy was raising his shirt slowly and proudly and he was looking at the girl, with the weight of a silent dare, and, just as we drove by, with my Uncle still explaining and convincing and justifying and equivocating about things unknown to me, just then, she reached over towards the smiling boy and her skinny little hand hesitantly trailed a snake-like path over his smooth flat stomach. Her fingers extended like delicate precision instruments and these soft instruments lightly touched at the base of his stomach, just under his belly button, inches over the waist of his pants, and then they trailed upwards, in a slow exploration that spoke of scientific curiosity and midnight desire, of an eager encounter with the infinite unknown that lies just under a thin layer of cloth. As she moved up slowly, he was looking down at her hand and then back at her face and she was only looking down at his smooth skin, at the hint of muscle over his abdomen, at the lack of hair, feeling the flesh of his body that now offered itself to her, with a raised shirt and a smile and the pride of being wanted, and his eyes kept on touching her almost as tangibly as her finger touched him, his torso, his diaphragm, his belly button, back down to the edge of his pants, touching so softly with her tentative fingertips, knowing that they would soon have to retreat but not wanting to retreat just yet, not just yet. Even from the car, even from the enclosed cabin in which I found myself trapped with a diseased carrier of slow painful death, I could feel the electricity between them, I could feel it stretching over empty space, radiating outwards from them, and finding me through the open window, invading me through my eyes and sinking deep into my own inner network of saline connections, and my eyes then were glued upon them and right then I saw it all: the flirtatious look of mischief in her eyes, eyes that screamed out with need to explore further just as they clearly expressed that they would not, and the ravenous lust in her body, those subtle shiny waves that radiated out through her jeans and her flowery shirt and her skinny tanned arms and her long delicate fingers, and made the purple flowers shiver just a little more as they stretched over the verandas and made the branches of the thick trees flutter in the wind just a little more than they would have otherwise, and maybe even made my Uncle smile with just a hint of real pleasure, even though he didn’t notice them and he would never see them at all. They were about to be gone and he had never turned around to look. They were outside of his sphere of perception, as much as he was outside of theirs.
The gentle encounter between one enclosed Universe and another, the subtle invasion that could come unannounced or could be the final victory after months or years of eager maneuvers, that moment when the limits broke down and lips parted and forgotten corners became accessible and the burning flow began, it was that first spark when a terrible abundance encroached upon a desperate lack and the currents of need and life and attention came crashing through gateways that had remained closed for far too long.
It was a warm night in Luis El Negro’s living room, when it was only a few of us hanging out and we all knew each other and everyone was calm and cool and there simply was no rush, and on this particular night there was nothing to celebrate but there was music and dancing, and their parents were gone and the doors were open, both to the backyard and to the front porch, so that the night breeze would flow right through us and it made our skins tingle with a sense of purpose and urgency, a sensation that our brains couldn’t place but our bodies could understand, and Sandra was there in tight black pants and a flowery white top that left her shoulders naked, so naked and smooth and white and made of curves and more curves, and her hair was long and dark and it fell like a dark waterfall towards the back of her neck and I was there just looking at the others dancing, sitting and wondering what it would be like to dance but unable to ask any girl to dance with me, and then Sandra was left without a partner, and I stood up, dressed as I usually was, a simple gray jacket, blue jeans and T-shirt, and I went to her and said: "You want to dance?" and she said yes and we started to move around each other while a fast song played, and that much was a discovery for me because I could watch and feel the rhythmic shifting of her hips and the outline of her ass and the jiggling of her little breasts as she danced so close to me and when she saw me looking at her, she smiled at me and I smiled back at her and the song soon came to an end and we stopped and looked at each other, and then a new song came on and it was a very slow song and I hesitated for an instant and looked at her with questioning eyes and she shrugged her shoulders and nodded and I pressed myself against her and my hands came to rest on the sides of her smooth torso, just above her hips and her breasts were then pressed up against my chest and we barely moved with the slow rhythm that had invaded the dark living room, and there was only that slow music and Sandra’s small body pressed against me and I immediately began to feel the electrical impulses rush all over me, like waves of decision that could not be stopped and, even as I felt her pressing close to me, so close that her breath tickled my neck and her little breasts started to rub against my chest, even as it all started, my penis began to rise, and I realized that I had no way to stop it, I realized that I had no control over it and that her flesh had called it forth from me, the touch of her flesh had invoked a movement in mine that had nothing to do with thoughts or reason, and the more we danced, the harder I became, and I could feel her stomach through my pants and through her soft silky shirt and I tried to pull away slightly but we were so close that any move seemed like a terrible upheaval, and so we continued to dance and I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, wondering if she could feel how hard I was for her, how every move of her soft small body just sent more shivers of pleasure up and down my spine, but she just leaned her neck and pressed her cheek against my shoulder and I hoped that she didn’t know because she would surely hate me if she did and it felt so good to have her cheek against my shoulder and her body against mine that I didn’t want it to end. This continued for ages and ages, a storm of pleasure trapped in a chamber of doubt, until the three minute song came to an end and then we stepped away from each other and I went to the sofa, where Rodney was temporarily resting, and I sat down next to him in a corner where there was little light and there, in the darkness, I calmed down. Later, during our short walk back to his house, I told Ricardo what had happened and I told him that I was worried that she may have noticed, and maybe I had insulted her in some subtle animal way or offended her moral principles or her inner sense of right and wrong, and he shook his head with confidence and then he said: "No, not at all. When you get hard like that, while dancing with a girl, you should press yourself against them, tightly. They like it. They like it a lot. They like to know that you want them. They like to know that they are wanted, that they inspire so much desire in you. Even if they don’t intend to give you anything, they still like it. Next time, when you feel hard like that, just push it up right against the girl. Let her know what you are feeling right then for her. Don’t try to hide it at all. She won’t say anything. She will act as if nothing is happening but she will know that something has, and she will like you more for it." I listened carefully and intently as we walked up the darkness of Gemini where streetlights hadn’t yet arrived and wouldn’t arrive for many years, and I thought of Sandra and of her soft cheek on my shoulder and her thin arms around my neck and I could still feel the touch of her flesh upon mine.
The subtle encounter of worlds was a heavy afternoon in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, the kind of afternoon when the light seems yellow and brown as it pours through the half open windows, and the trails and spirals of dust become visible in the midst of the yellow rays and the air itself seems too heavy to stay afloat and the sounds are all compressed as if the whole house were underwater and the movements are slow and difficult and it seems like nothing much can happen at all and all you can do is wait for it to end, a space of constant and eternal balance that could also be described as death, endless and final death, the final objective of entropy, the sacred place where movement stops, or simply as a lazy afternoon in my grandmother’s kitchen when it is warm outside and there is no wind coming from the north. But on this particular afternoon, the maid was there, in her black and white uniform that came down to her knees, and she was not death but life, and she was life in dark brown skin and thick hips and full ass and lustful eyes and as soon as I was close to her I could feel the surge of quantums that tunneled their way through the heavy air and made their way towards me and they made my skin tickle and they made my muscles vibrate and sing and I shivered with it and it all came back to her through my own eyes and she stepped towards me, so close that I could taste her breath, and she was making some joke and I was laughing with her even though I wasn’t listening, and we laughed some more just because neither of us had anything to say, and by then she was even closer, and the air was no longer so heavy, as if our own radiations had dispersed the massive particles that had been weighing it down and now there was a crispness, a sense of urgency and immediate danger, and she extended her hand toward me, towards my stomach, and the air crackled around her fingers and the crackling was visible in the middle of the lazy afternoon like little bolts of lightning coming through her fingers and travelling to my own belly button, deep into me, and they spread through my skin like a tiny radiant storm, and she said "oh! Look at that!" and I laughed because my whole body was shaking with the surge that was now tunneling through my own heaviness and I reached back towards her and ran my own fingers over her arm and as soon as my fingers were close, the same crackling came and the same little lightning bolts, and she said "look at you! You’re all electrified!" but it was both of us and I could look around and see that there was still a kitchen and the air outside was still heavy with the dead hot afternoon of San Salvador, but here there was life that was flashing, from flesh to flesh, from world to world, from Universe to Universe, and it flashed in sparks and hungry bolts of desire, and I looked at her and she looked at me, waiting for me to do something, and I walked away from her, back to the living room, or the terrace, or the dark inner room, and she went back to work as if nothing had ever happened, because really nothing had, but the air around me was vibrating now, a simple light touch of flesh had ripped anxious life out of heavy warm death, as simple as a curious hand, a pair of wide open eyes and a wide expanse of deep dark skin covered in a thin layer of sweat.
I thought again of the bus and of all that dark skin crowding upon each other, big old dangling breasts pressing tight against leather purses against old ripped jackets against sweaty forearms against wet foreheads against wide open eyes against legs encased in hose against old dirty jeans against big old dangling breasts and I could almost feel the thick heavy air of so much skin and sweat and breath and worry, all pressed together so tightly that the air would become black in the middle of the afternoon and Dilcia would have been pressing her own purse tightly against her body, trying to protect the purse with her body, trying to protect her body with the purse, because what my Dad’s friend had said once had to be at least partly true, as looking at all these people pressed together, he said: "You Salvadoreans just like to rub against each other, you find any excuse to press in all tightly and rub away!" and my Dad had laughed when he heard it and I laughed when I heard it from my Dad, but here it was, true enough, in that bus that had already left the corner where I saw it, and in the bus that was still to come, crowds of people, the same people as always, and always pressed so tight and sweaty and men would try to rub up against young women and young women would try to protect themselves, just like Dilcia had done, or at least had tried to, because just then she didn’t want that sparkling touch of flesh, the same touch that she would so desire when we pressed tightly (yet again) into her father’s pickup truck, and she sat on her mother’s lap but her hand ended up close to mine and my finger reached out to hers, and one Universe met another Universe, and our sweaty fingertips conducted our desire and our contact in silent greetings that neither Fanci nor Leti could fully recognize, at least not then, and maybe for once she had not protected herself and maybe for once I had not walked away, and in the middle of the bus, Dilcia would forever be retreating, knowing that the flesh can bring trouble and tears and dark endless sadness, and I would now learn to advance, knowing that in the midst of danger and fright, in the electrified space of a kitchen, in the enclosed cabin of a pickup truck, in the ledge of a little forgotten street a block down from the Pizza Hut, there was open possibility and fire and crisp new air and life, for it was in that single first touch of flesh, so elusive and so hard to recover once it had been accomplished, that the secret could be found, and this secret had no name and it had no structure, for it was only pure flesh against flesh and between expanses of flesh there could be no language, no legal structures, no predetermined codes.
The car turned the corner, and my Uncle was still talking, and the drone of his terrible message was still pouring out of him, through every hole in his old body, like a crowd of black ants that couldn’t quite fit in their old decrepit bus so they were forced out through every orifice , and I looked back at them, at the two that were truly alive on the dirty long ledge, but they had disappeared from my view, lost behind the bushes and the purple flowers and the white walls. But I could still feel them within me and I was happy for them and I hoped that the boy would be able to transcend the sense of success that came with simple victories, and go further, and touch at the edges of sincere delight where the ego starts to vanish and there is only pure ecstasy and surrender, and I hoped that the girl would transcend the tight ropes of her upbringing and find the dark room where there would be no jeans, no shirt, no boy, no girl, and only raw pure love, that kind that had no past or future, the kind that could only happen once because it was always the same and it could never change, a love that broke all contracts, and it banished all promises, and it rippled forward recklessly, without hesitation or fear or a single care in the whole heavy world, jumping from Universe to Universe, sliding on invisible bridges of light and a single subtle touch of sweaty living flesh.

Together, close and tight,
with barely a hint of rhythm to guide our steps,
with life rushing out
through the thin walls of our bodies
that yours is the flesh that makes me eager,
and mine is the spark that makes you shine.

My Uncle,
who once was strong and proud
and ready to press forward into adventure,
and now has lost all true hope,
and his own slow death,
is the only gift he has left to offer.

All the buses in El Salvador
say the same thing on the back:
"Maintain Your Distance"
A command, of course,
that true Salvadoreans
can never obey.

She reached out,
ready to caress, and feel, and sense, and discover,
but most of all,
to know that there was truly something out there
and to accept its reckless gift of life,
as it poured out
through its thin hairless hide.

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