Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sanctuary of Desire

"Perhaps he found it in some old books,
perhaps he inherited it,
perhaps he bought it,
perhaps he stole it from someone.
It makes no difference."

As spoken by G. in
"In Search of the Miraculous"

"…because foreplay never begins in the bed.
It begins in the head."

From "Super Sex"
by Xaviera Hollander

Because in such and in where, I would lack understanding.
Because in the vast desert of greenness, I would find you absent.
Because in the realm of metal and wood, I would find you alone.
Because in the name of playing with you, I would surrender,
I would give what I had and what I didn’t,
And I would turn back on what was mine,
And what should have been,
And what never truly was.
It all began here,
Where I sit now, where I sat then,
Where I lie in the dark core of my being,
Where the stories multiply and subdivide,
Where they spread like bubbles over boiling water
Where they turn from one tale to many,
So many that I am no longer able to see them all,
Not in a single eye opening moment,
And then, lost in their multiplicity,
They come back to one,
A single story,
A simple case of what and when and how,
In such and in where,
And it all happens
With blinding speed
With a reckless strength that leaves me breathless,
With a precision that resembles carelessness
In its infinitely careful intent.
Here it begins,
Here at the core,
The core that is not the head
but it would appear to be covered by it,
engulfed and trapped by my cranium,
pressed down tight by the soft mucus that lies within,
It does not begin at the heart
for the heart comes later
And not in any bed
Or any flat surface,
for it would take so long to arrive,
There would be so much time,
Months of waiting
Empty months that followed
Years of waiting,
Tears of painful solitude
And colorful wishfulness,
Years of dreaming of one such as you
And then dreaming that you had shown up
And then letting myself believe it.
For there is always a moment
Of purposeful falling,
A moment when I can see,
Yes, a moment
A single ephemeral moment,
When I can see
When I see what is and what isn’t,
When I see the such and the where,
When I can see it all and even more,
And then I choose to look away
For the moment is gone
And it is better that it remain hidden.
Better for me when I am blinded,
Better for me when I am dreaming,
And the visions multiply
Like weeds or flowers
And the single vision that is true,
That one is lost among all the others.
That moment is always there,
That tiny window of clear sight,
That vanishes all too quickly,
Submerged in the haze of what could be,
What should be,
What might be.
And as I allowed myself,
As I chose to allow,
As I gave in to desire,
then you were here
In the vast desert of greenness,
In the realm of metal and wood,
In a space too small to last
More than a couple of moments
And a couple more where the echoes would still linger,
A space too small and crowded
To dark to see clearly
Too easy to forget,
Too comfortable to try.

* * *

"What is a master key?" I asked, in the most innocent voice I could muster, and back then my voice was very soft and innocent, like the sound a tiny bird makes when it sings outside your window, flying to and fro in quick little motions, vibrating so rapidly that it almost phases right out of sight, so my words sounded truly innocent without much effort, and I must have sounded specially innocent that afternoon, as I sat on the metal chair by the old glass table, across from my mother, and I just dropped the question into the calm air of the afternoon, as if it was just one more question among the many questions I had always asked, and the many questions I would still ask in the future.
"It’s a key that opens many locks…" she answered absentmindedly.
"So it’s a single key that opens more than one door?"
"Yes, exactly… why do you ask?"
I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.
"No reason. No reason at all…I was just curious."
Earlier, I had seen the maid, in her simple uniform always neatly pressed and ready to be stained by another long day of house work. I had seen her opening the side door in the front of the building, the one that went up to the two upper apartments. I had noticed that she had only one key. It was a small golden key that I had seen before in her hands, and yet I knew that she had to clean not only the stairway that was just behind the side door, but also both apartments upstairs. I asked her then where she had the other keys that she clearly needed, and she responded:
"I don’t need any other keys. This is the master key."
I nodded once again and looked away towards the San Jacinto hill, framed by the vast blue sky and the long gray carpet of houses and buildings that stretched away from my little corner of the city. After enough time had passed, I looked at the key in the maid’s hand, hanging from a little piece of string and dangling from her wrist. The key was very thing, very small and the color of gold covered in black smudges. For all intents and purposes, it looked like any other key I had ever seen, but now I knew that there was something different about it.
Not long before that day, my mom had mentioned something about the man that rented the small apartment on the second floor, apartment number three. She had said that he didn’t really live there, that he was hardly ever there at all, that he only used it to bring women over and have adventures. I knew I liked adventures, so I wondered immediately what kind of adventures this man might be having in little apartment three, so close to me and yet so far, far enough to seem like alien territory hiding behind long half open windows. From the dark garden of my dream world, I would look up at the closed dark curtains and the windows, trying to find a figure among the nothingness, some kind of movement, a clue as to what went on back there in the dark, but I never saw more than a shadow of movement, trailing so faintly against the sunlight that it might as well have been my imagination. Maybe I did see a dark tanned hand, long and soft and female, reaching out to close the curtains tighter, and then maybe a different hand later, rougher and thicker and male, reaching to open the windows with the little metal handle, making the distinct sound of creaky old rusty metal rubbing against the same, all to allow some breeze to blow into the darkness beyond. It was almost at my fingertips, this strange world of this man and his adventures and his dark skinned women, but it was far enough that I couldn’t reach it and so it remained closed and sealed and contained. And I would not ever be able to reach it. Not without a key, a master key.
The maid’s name was Cruz and she was as brown as all the other maids we ever had, and like all the other maids, she lived in a little narrow room which was built for just that purpose, to hold a single woman in place, to hold her stable and safe during the years of sentence that she would suffer, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning the windows, cleaning the house, washing the bathrooms, making sure the little boy didn’t hurt himself, taking care of the dogs, going to the supermarket to get groceries. The little room where she lived was so narrow that it barely fit a little narrow cot, covered in the white manta that was the cloth of the peasants. Next to the cot, there was just enough room for one person to stand, and room for a small table that held her few possessions and her clothing and maybe a single little cross and a portrait of the Virgin Mary and a little calendar hanging from the wall. The little room had no windows, but this didn’t seem to be a problem because it was only there for the maid to sleep in, since only in sleep could she truly be away from us, and sleep came late, and sleep ended early. From the first sign of light, Cruz would be running up and down the house, arranging things, cooking breakfast, preparing whatever needed to be prepared for the day to go as planned. In the few times I visited her room, it always smelled the same. It was the same smell I recognized from the maids I had known before, all the way back to my first moments of clear consciousness, a smell that tasted of sweat and brown skin and some dirt and some coffee and things that had been left on the oven too long and were starting to burn. It was a smell that made me think of flesh and of hair and of all the things that I would usually avoid, the marks of the animal on the surface of the human, the remains of that which I wanted to forget, but couldn’t bring myself to erase completely, like a half made picture that I would never finish but I could never throw away.
The next day, the day after I realized the nature of the key that was tied to her wrist, I followed Cruz to her room, and the smell was there, as potent as ever and as strangely intoxicating. She was dressed in her light blue uniform, and, as always, she was very loving to me, like a second mother, like the only mother I would have in the long afternoons when I was out of school and my real mother was at work. I followed her to her room and asked her a few questions, noticing the sweat on her forehead, on her underarms, on her thin brown arms. And I also noticed the little nail by the patio where she hung the little golden key, the master key, the key that I needed to explore the world of adventure that had so far lain just beyond my reach. I talked a bit with her right then, about school, about her duties in the building, about a movie, about some song I had heard, and my hand moved quickly when she looked towards the clothing she was hanging, and then I just talked some more. When it seemed that I had talked enough, I left, once again acting as normal as I could, as if nothing had ever happened, as if this was just another afternoon for a little skinny kid that lived in the midst of a garden. But my skin was shivering with electrical impulses, and my heart was already beating with the strange unfamiliar rhythms of the wilderness.
The key was now like a tiny burning star in my pocket, a tiny star full of dangerous black gold, a promise of discoveries and of a moment of trepidation, a silent moment when things have gone past the barrier of normality and, all of a sudden, you realize that nothing is where it was supposed to be, everything has changed, and maybe then you are no longer an eleven year old boy with a little golden key in your pocket but an adult wondering around a garden taking pictures while his uncle looks from the sides and simply doesn’t understand what his nephew is doing or why he is doing it. ("Who could possibly want a picture of that? What could it be used for? What good would it do?") All that sense of transgression was glowing hot in my pocket and glowing so hot that I had to share it with someone, because it was just a bit too much for me to bear all alone. Soon enough, Avelar had come over, as he usually did in the afternoons. Using quick talk and little signs that he readily understood, I took him to the cool shade of the dark garden and we sat under the chipilin tree, on the mildly wet ground that surrounded the thick brown roots where many of my little plastic men had, at one point or another, met their death. I looked at him intently and I said:
"I have the key, the master key…"
He rubbed his forehead and then he rubbed his eyes in exaggerated wonder, and then he said:
"What do you mean? What is a master key?"
And I said, with my eyes opening wide, full of pride and eager anticipation:
"It’s a key that opens all doors, it’s a key that lets us go where we couldn’t go before…"
"You mean…?"
"Yes, the guy’s apartment… apartment number three…"
Up to this point, it had all been drenched in the colors of a fantasy, the colors of waking dreams to be constructed while walking in circles around the terrace or drawing great battles on a piece of scratch paper, a thing to think about, but something that would probably not ever happen. But, as I said it to Avelar, sitting under the shadow of the chipilin tree, I knew we had to do it, there was no way around it, and knowing that we had to do it, my heart started beating even more intensely, because I then realized that we couldn’t just do it another day, we couldn’t wait for the right time when we would be specially brave or specially strong. It had to be today, right then and there. Because today I had the master key in my pocket and who knew when I would have it again, and it was burning hot, and I had to return it sooner than later, so we had to do it now. I stood up and pointed the way towards the humid dark garage, but Avelar hesitated and said:
"Are you sure? We could get in a lot of trouble…"
"No, nobody will ever know… besides, you won’t get in any trouble at all… I’ll just say that it was my idea and it was all my fault and it’s my mom’s building so…"
"But still…what if he’s there… what if he’s in there right now and we can’t hear him… and…"
"He’s not there… he’s usually not there at all... and he’s certainly not there during the day…"
"But what if this is the day when he does come home in the day? Or what if he slept late from last night? Or what if…?"
"I’m telling you… he’s not there… let’s go…"
And then I just started walking, because if I kept on listening to him, then something he could say might dissuade me from what I already knew that we had to do. There was no way out now, and the sooner we got around to it the better, and if I listened anymore then I might get too scared and then I could end up paralyzed and frozen, like in one of the many dreams I had when shadows would come rushing towards me from the darkness and I would want to run but I couldn’t make myself run at all and I was just fixed in place like a strange dreaming statue and I wanted to wake up but, even if my eyes opened, I could still see the shadows coming towards me, growing in size as they approached me, and I wished so much that I could move but my legs just wouldn’t shift or budge or do anything and I didn’t like that feeling at all. Soon, if I kept on listening to my friend and his hesitations, I would have been just as frozen, standing on the edge of the garage, with a burning golden key in my pocket and a heart that was crashing into my ribs like a giant bell about to crack into a thousand pieces. So I just moved, quickly and decisively, and Avelar followed me. We walked over the large stone steps that curved around the bamboo wall that separated our garden from the apartment of Doctor Escalante, and we walked into the dark humid garage and then we walked out the door, which we closed behind us with a big clang that echoed against the walls of the dark garage, and that was when we had to stop once again, not because we wanted to, but because it happened, and because now we both knew that something was about to change.
Up to this point we had been safe. We had done nothing wrong. We were simply in my garden, in my garage, in my driveway, we were exactly where we were supposed to be. Nothing was out of the ordinary, nothing was strange or perverse or twisted. But once we opened the side door that led to the upper apartments , once we went up the steps, once we looked at the closed door with its single silver number three at eye level, then we would be in unexplored regions, we would be in severe and real risk, and once the door opened, there would be no turning back. So we had to stop, because we both sensed that we were about to cross a threshold and we had to open our eyes wide and breathe in deeply before we went any further.
"What if he is there?" Avelar said once again, because the question could not be fully answered.
"He won’t be there…"
"What if the people from apartment 2 see us… what if Amaya sees us?"
"They won’t… they’re not there… she’s not there…" there was no way for me to be certain of that, but I had to communicate certainty to my doubtful friend or we would simply run home, or he would simply stay standing, right there at the threshold, and as long as he remained standing, I would be standing too, for I was now half of a larger body, and I needed him to pull on me as much as he needed me to push.
I moved quickly and opened the side door, pushing it in and letting the coolness of the inside wash me of the Salvadorean afternoon heat. We walked into the dark narrow stairway that led up to the two upper apartments and then I closed the side door, which always closed with a big loud bang, just like the one that opened the garage, and we both looked at each other, wondering if anyone had been alerted by the noise, which was still echoing in the cool enclosed space. Now we had to move quickly. We had no business being here and people could walk up and down these shiny gray steps at any time and then they would find us here, staring at each other, unsure of our purpose, unsure of our next step. So I started walking up the steps and Avelar followed me, his brown face burrowed with worry, his dark left hand grasping the thin metal banister that ran all the way up to the second floor.
When we reached that objective, we were faced with the need for even faster movement. We were now standing in between two doors: apartment 2 and apartment 3. We could both feel the imminent opening of either door, and then the face of surprise and then the questions that had no satisfactory answers, for there was no answer that could explain two boys standing here, where there was nothing to do, where there were only closed doors and a dark stairwell. We should not have been there at all, we should have been playing in the dark garden, with its vast pits of shade and its long pathways of dirt and mud, or on the terrace, swinging softly on the white hammock, or playing with little metal soldiers on the piles of sand and bricks that formed giant mountains by the edge of the garage, or jumping off the gray walls, trying to land on our feet and whooping with the sound of victory when we did. Instead, we were standing in between two dark wooden doors and we had to move fast, faster than our worries would allow, faster than our own speeding thoughts, heavy with the burden of visions of all the terrible possibilities that opened up before us. I took out the golden little key and placed it carefully in the lock. I did it slowly, fearing the sudden turn of the knob, the sudden discovery, the wide eyes of surprise turning into anger that would greet us behind the brown door with the silver number three. Avelar could see me now, moving so slowly, there was no way to hide it. Maybe my hand was shaking, maybe the key shook against the lock as I pushed it in.
"You think he is there?"
"No, he can’t be… " I responded, "he can’t be… he’s hardly ever here…"
"But what if…"
I turned the lock and pushed the door in and it moved easily, as if it had been waiting for us all along. We were both very quiet, our conversation had been reduced to the whisper of our breaths. The smell of wood and sun baked vinyl came out to greet us. I looked inside, at the expanse of green carpet, at the closed tall and narrow windows to my right, at the long flat green sofa. I saw it all for the first time right then, but it was all so familiar, as if I was coming back home after a long day of work, as if my woman and me were coming back from the supermarket or the Chinese food restaurant or the movies, and here was our place, our own private corner where nobody could ever disturb us, where we could simply fall into each other’s arms and meld into a shapeless blob. But just then, it was a dark, shaded little apartment full of danger, and as long as the door stayed open, we could still be discovered by the people from apartment number two. I whispered savagely under my breath:
"Let’s go…"
We slipped into the cool darkness of the apartment, onto the green carpet, and I closed the door behind us. Now we were way past any threshold that we had ever known, and we had entered the dark chaotic world of the brave who manage to find themselves in deeper trouble than they can handle, in forbidden regions beyond the clear structure of the law, of custom, of courtesy, of etiquette, of acceptable behavior. Here we were. And it was quiet, and it was dark, and we were together. And we were both breathing hard and our hearts were beating so loud as to sound like deep leather drums and our faces were red and flushed. I turned towards the far end of the apartment, and, for the first time, I saw the window from the inside out and I saw the bed, and I started to move towards it.
The apartment was a long rectangle that stretched from the tall narrow windows that faced the street to the wide windows that faced my dark garden. It was divided into two rooms by a partially open partition and an open door. In the room farthest from the street was a clean freshly made large bed. At the very farthest corner was a very small bathroom. I walked in carefully and Avelar followed. I still expected the strange man to come out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist or from behind the closet door with a mask of raw anger covering his eyes, so I looked all around me and Avelar did as well. I felt the impulse to run right back out and Avelar would have certainly followed me if I did. He was breathing very hard and so was I. But I didn’t run out and I didn’t even turn.
I walked straight towards the bed and looked around myself, making sure there was nobody else present. I knew there was something here for me to find, a treasure that was guarded by danger, for I knew even then that all danger guards some treasure, and all treasure must be paid. I could sense the shining rivulets of gold and jewels that were for me as true as the green carpet, as solid as the white walls, as reachable as the bed and the closet and the windows. We breathed in the air of strangeness and it tasted of sophistication, of adults that knew what they were doing, of men with hairy chests and heavy golden necklaces around their necks, a small pistol tucked in behind their belt, right at the base of their spine, a small pistol pointing downward as if the archetypal snake of hidden power had taken form in heavy black metal and was now waiting to be fired or at least to be shown in moments of anger or distress. It tasted of women in short dresses and high heels, of dark smooth thighs, of tiny hairs on the sides of their neck, of thin little golden necklaces that plunged deep into the caverns between their small breasts that bobbed like apples floating on soapy water, of voices that whispered with hoarseness, of calls of delight and eyes that pressed together to signify pleasure, and all of it slipped into me through my nostrils and Avelar must have felt it too for we were both so quiet and only the sound of our heavy breathing disrupted the sense of sacred intrusion, of boundaries broken and forbidden knowledge gained. We had penetrated into a hidden chamber and we could only be here for a short time before we were discovered, before we were punished, before we were thrown back into the world that we knew. I knew that our time was very limited, and I knew that treasure did indeed wait, somewhere in the shade of the dark brown bed covers, in the half empty closet, in the clean counter of the kitchen, in the wide sofas by the windows, or even in the windows themselves, the windows that faced into the open driveway I knew so well, with its wide gray bricks curved around a single thick tree. From up here, it all looked so different, the houses, the tree, the street, the San Jacinto hill itself far in the distance, it had all changed shape by the disturbance of our unwelcome presence.
I sat on the edge of the bed and Avelar looked at me with wide eyes and we just looked at each other for a moment, and then he whispered:
"What do we do now?"
"We look… we look all over… there are things here for us to find… we have to look for them…"
And he looked in the closet, which only held very few clothes, further proof that no one really lived here, not in the way that I lived in the apartment in the back, or in the way that Amaya lived next door. Instead, someone just came here every so often, and he used this space, in a way that was only barely understandable to me, a way that I wanted to understand further. I pulled open the drawer of the nightstand and there I found a string of little golden packages made of aluminum foil, and inside each package was a gooey balloon that was unlike any balloon I had ever seen. Neither of us knew what these things could be or what they could be for. We ripped one open and tried to inflate it but we were not too successful. They remained a mystery which we examined with only a bare hint of comprehension. I knew they were part of the secret of this chamber, and soon my suspicions would be confirmed. For I looked under the packages, in the little open drawer, and there I found the book.

* * *

We rode into the city, all the way from the airport, in the back of Fanci’s blue pickup truck. Her hair was all big and highlighted and her smile was even bigger than her face and it was shining with six months of eager expectation and her whole body vibrated with it and her hand clung to mine, her warm sweaty palm pressing tightly onto my flesh. She had worn a short dress that barely covered the very top of her smooth coffee colored thighs and the dress was a rainbow of colors that outlined her small curved body, but its main purpose was to reveal her legs and her desire which poured through her wide open eyes like fire, and it made my heart ache and it made my penis harden. Here I was, finally, back with her, after so many months of communicating through carefully constructed letters and whispered phone calls full of promises and amplified memories. How many memories emerged from only a few weeks of experience, and how much she had to set aside and hide within herself, when everyone around her was a doubter (none of her sisters or her friends truly believed that I was ever coming back) and she had to stay a believer against all expressions of doubt. I fed her belief with my phone calls, every day, on the button, and she fed my belief with her letters, each unique, each a construct of unbridled imagination. And now, here I was, in the back of the pickup truck, and her hand was real on mine, and sweaty and clinging, and her smile was bigger than her little sweet face and, every once in a while, I would reach over and kiss her lips lightly and every once in a while she would turn towards me, and I would get a glimpse of the little bit of her thighs that was still covered by her short dress, and it was clear then that she wanted me to look but she couldn’t say it, and it was clear then, as it had been all along, but always in greater and deeper circles of clarity, that she wanted me to take her, against all previous inclinations, against all previously stated dogmas and rules of conduct. She wanted to be ravished without restrictions or subtle signs of caution, and we were on our way to a place where such things could happen, and her father was driving and her mother was next to him, and there could be no problem, because they loved her and because they loved me, or at least they said they did, and because they were the kind of people that did not surrender to dogmas or ideas corrupted by the wind and sand of a thousand years. So she was mine as much as I wanted, and she had no barriers and she had no limits and she only had a big broad smile that was bigger than her smooth little face and it was growing even bigger.
The road flashed behind her in a blur, the road that had always been a mystery to me in all its shifting curves and turns. It would remain a mystery for at least a few more years, for there was always something else to look at, something else to focus on that wasn’t the road itself. This time, it was a small little brown girl in a rainbow little dress with smooth thighs made of coffee and a bubbling desire that leaked through her hands and traveled up my arms like a current and it coalesced into a whirlwind in my chest and my eyes could only barely focus on hers. Behind her, the road turned from bush to cardboard houses to little old pharmacies with shotgun carrying guards standing at the front, to bridges that said "Welcome distant brother!" and maybe they were talking about me even though nobody here, or maybe only a very few people, had ever seen me as a brother or had ever noticed I was gone. The road then turned into high walls made of raw stone, and wire fence, and men with bigger shotguns atop little towers and large buses that spilled dark black smoke above the heads of their own passengers and of the crowds that pushed into each other in the back of shaking pickup trucks and taxis that skidded around the buses and trucks and pickups as if they wanted to end it all, in one final orgasm of twisted metal and ripped flesh. Over all of it was the smell of the city, which I could never quite place but I had always recognized. It was a smell of old food and new sweat and decaying dreams fading upon flowering nightmares. Soon the road became El Salvador del Mundo, which was now fenced in and protected from the careless masses, and soon it was El Paseo, and the traffic was ever thicker, as we passed by the old catholic school for girls with its pink walls, and the young white girls in short checkered skirts, and the old supermarket with a new name but the same old cracked driveway.
Soon the pickup truck was turning to the left and then to the left again, in a maneuver I knew so well, a maneuver that almost made me see the world as a little boy again. As we turned, there was the Ramada Inn and there was the Hotel Terraza, and there, just around the corner, was the old wide driveway of my mother’s building, with its thick gray bricks and its overgrown tree and its garage door made of translucent yellow and the baroque metal bars and the little hole that I made so long ago when I lost another little friend. On this particular morning, it could all be forgotten, at least momentarily, for it was all background and in the foreground there was only her, and she was still shining, and she was still clinging, and she was still sweating and she was still as eager as ever and even more so. The pickup truck came to a stop and we were home, in more ways than I could even begin to understand, not then, maybe not even now.
I jumped off from the back of the truck and I helped her down carefully. As I did, my hands went around her little waist and her dress rode up on her thighs even further, and then she was down and I put my arms around her and she pressed her cheek against my chest with such intensity that it felt as if my chest could have caved in under the pressure. Fanci and Leti, her father and her stepmother, stepped out from the truck cabin, and they both hugged me once again, just as they had done at the airport, and they said "welcome" over and over, as if maybe they themselves were surprised that I really had returned for their daughter, against all reasonable expectations. We waited for a bit, there in the old driveway which was resonating all around me, the old driveway which crawled with the ghosts of other times. But right then and there, I had no eyes or ears for them, for all my senses were consumed by the glory of pure brown flesh wrapped in rainbow cloth that stood only inches away from me, a living gift ready to be unwrapped.
Soon my Uncle came with the keys to the apartment and he handed them to me. There was a hint of happiness in my Uncle’s face, a vague sign of pleasure in seeing me, and there was also more than a hint of annoyance. But I didn’t know what it was that he was upset about and I couldn’t bring myself to care, for he had always been upset for as long as I had known him and I could have grown old trying to figure out the many causes for his pain. We opened the side door, and I couldn’t help but see Avelar walking up the stairway with me as Fanci helped me with one of my bags and my beautiful brown girl walked up beside me, unwilling to let go of my arm even for a single moment. Then we stood before the old dark brown door, and there was a single number three in silver metal, just inches away from my eyes. I turned the lock and I stepped in. Now there could no strange man waiting inside, for the strange man was me, and there could be no brown girl shocked by our presence because the brown girl was clinging to my arm.
I knew that soon we would be alone, here in the old sanctuary, here in the forbidden chamber that had tempted me through clouded windows and quickly shifting shadows behind thick curtains, the chamber I had managed to explore once in an afternoon of reckless abandon, the chamber which was now mine in its full manifestation, further than I could have dreamed possible. Soon her rainbow colored little dress would be pressing against the wide sofa, and soon her coffee colored thighs would be pressed against each other and maybe against mine. Soon there would be no other voices, there would be no interruptions, there would be no hesitations. Soon we would be alone, and then time itself would come to a full and breathtaking stop.

* * *

"An ejaculation can occur anytime,
with little or no advance warning…"

From "Super Sex"
by Xaviera Hollander

The fuel may have accumulated
For so long
That you may have forgotten,
That as the mountains passed us by
And the dark clouds came over us
And the days fell upon each other,
One little bubble of time slipping into the next,
With only the slightest warning,
With only the smallest hint
That there was only a certain number for us to have,
Our bubbles of time were limited
Our glory days were running out
As quickly as our stories.
We could only vaguely guess
That the mountains only seemed to go forever,
That there were borders to be crossed
There were papers to be shown,
There were efforts to be made,
And once you crossed from one side to the other,
The empty black turned to crowded red,
And the eyes were wide open and hungry
And the little Mexican men asked for money
And the little Mexican women shook their asses
Back and forth
In polyrhythmic ecstasy
Before our hungry eyes,
That longed to possess them,
Any of them
All of them,
Even if only for a moment,
As if there was any other choice.
Then you may have forgotten,
As much as I could forget,
And I was indeed capable of much forgetting,
Even though I tried to write it all down,
Little by little,
But there was only so much writing I could do,
And there were only so many words,
And soon we would have to turn in the key to the room,
And step outside and back into the old car,
And get on the road again,
The road crowded with large rocks
That would warn us when there were obstacles ahead
Obstacles smaller than the rocks themselves.
But, amidst the clouds of our forgetfulness,
The hazy shapes of our half seen dreams,
We knew
We had always known,
As much as we wished to think otherwise,
As much as we hoped that it wasn’t true,
We knew,
the fuel was the reason
And the desire was the symptom,
And death was the only cure.
There was no other truth beyond that,
As much as we might seek it
As much as we might want it,
As much as we might have preferred it to be otherwise.
You had said as much,
In the depths of a paved dark gray tunnel,
I asked you what you saw
And you said it without looking,
You said it without pause:
This is a voyage of death,
A voyage of orgasm,
A voyage wrapped in finality,
And at the end of such a voyage,
A terrible explosion is waiting,
Like great gusts of fire
In the smoky haze
Of a warm Texas night,
When the road seems to go on forever,
And the factories and the little ghost towns,
Are as strange as the pits of hell,
And somewhere ahead of us
Death lies waiting,
Like a naked woman
Standing up to her waist in thick green water
Surrounded by the sound of mosquitoes
And frogs and crickets,
Unfazed by the night and the solitude,
For there is none that could be more lonely than her
None that she could find threatening,
None that would even dare to make a move,
And yet she stands proud
Her long dangling breasts covered in mud,
Her long nails thick with dirt,
Her black eyes shining with the moonlight,
Her crotch shifting back and forth,
Taking the mud into herself
And turning it to burning light.
We have invoked her,
With only half formed knowledge,
And trembling hands,
And she will tempt us with her many forms,
She will appear in the daylight,
Thin and pretty and smiling,
And in a lost bar,
Thick and dark and voluptuous,
She will be half blind when
She gives us the dark green leaves of her garden
She will be two when she is a gift,
She will be one when she is a burden.
And finally,
I will have to surrender,
I will watch myself doing it,
I will see myself unable to stop.
For such an ejaculation
Is a wrenching bursting of the heart
That leaves no traces of memory behind it,
And so I can only remember what I wrote,
What I saw and what I felt,
But the heart of it is lost,
Burst open and ripped to pieces,
Spread in tiny bits of red and black,
All over my teacher’s rug.
Such an explosion can occur
To anyone
At anytime,
And so I was anywhere
And I was anyone
And I was in the anytime,
The any time that lasted
For more than the two weeks that it took to travel
The anytime that gave me a subtle warning
In the form of eyes that twinkled in the daylight,
In a thin man leaning against a little round table,
All covered in plastic and cheap tablecloth,
And as his chair leans back,
And his moustache gets pressed against his nose
By the appearance of a smile,
He says:
"You can have anything you want,
just let me know
what it is you want,
and then you can have it."
And so a woman that said almost the same
But I couldn’t hear it
And a friend who opened her legs
And pressed herself upon me,
And I almost did but I didn’t
And she almost became her,
The one who was waiting at the end,
But she stepped back
Back from the edge of finality.
And finally you,
You who I had seen when the voyage started,
Running in the old patio,
With your face half covered in dirt,
You who had been waiting,
You who were the fire
You who were the end,
You who were the final explosion
You came
With just a little warning,
And another,
And yet another,
And one more.
And after it was over,
I would forget
That such explosions
Can come with little or no warning
And they leave
No survivors behind.

* * *

It was noisy and crowded, and it smelled vaguely rotten. The aisles were packed with people that pushed into each other because there was nowhere else to go. Half of them were in uniforms, and that meant that they worked for the supermarket or that they worked for a company that sold their products in the supermarket, and their uniforms were light blue, and white, and black and white, and sometimes dark blue, and each had their own mission, and hardly any of their missions had anything to do with helping the confused shoppers. It was as if the whole supermarket was a complex organism that ate people and threw them back out, now with a little skinny boy trailing behind them, carrying plastic bags full of food and bottles and cans, and, while they were inside, these people would have to fend for themselves, amongst the crowd that was already within, all in their different uniforms, calling to each other with little whistling sounds and laughing at dirty jokes, told very loudly because it was so noisy in there that loud was the only audible volume, mostly because there were so many other people laughing and whistling and pushing little half broken carts full of products, all packed in tight, cans over vegetables over milk over diapers, so tight that they seemed to almost spill over, and the little metal wheels of the carts seemed like they were about to bend sideways and send all the cargo spilling over the aisles, which would be no problem because the women in light blue uniforms (or was it the ones in dark blue uniforms?) would then rush to grab them and pull all things back in their place, or as close to a place as they had to begin with, for the shelves were all disheveled, and most of the time the label and the price that went with it, half stuck to the edge of the shelf, would refer to something that wasn’t there, so, when we went shopping, we had to be very careful to not get the wrong thing. because, more than once, we got to the register and, seeing the actual price on the checking machine, we said "but this was…?" and the woman, in a tight white shirt that made both her breasts and her belly spill over like extra groceries spilling from a little metal cart, she would look at us like we had no clue, and with a quick shift of her brown head, she would turn to the skinny boys who were always running around the cash registers and she would call out one of their names in a very loud voice: "Chepe! Can you check on this for me?" and the boy would come running and he would grab it from her hand and run away and then he would disappear among all the different colored uniforms and the shoppers with their tightly packed carts trying to make their way among so many workers and so many carts and so many things spilled all over the floor, and soon the skinny boy would come back running with a price that was twice as expensive as we thought it should be and maybe I would try to say something but the woman would only nod, as if she knew already anything I could possibly say, and then she would say, in a voice that was only a little softer than the one she used to call Chepe: "Do you still want it or not?" and then I would sometimes say: "Sure, what the hell…" since it was all going into the credit card anyway, and I had already spent way more than I ever should have spent by coming here, to this little brown country I had thought that I would never visit again, and, at this point, I might as well spend some more, and maybe my little brown girl really wanted it, or maybe I really wanted it, or maybe I just didn’t want to return it, and then the checker woman would just shrug her shoulders and continue going through all our stuff; but if I didn’t want it, she would hand it back to Chepe and he would run off to put it back, and then she would shrug her shoulders, in exactly the same way, as if letting us know that nothing mattered, nothing ever mattered, not here and not anywhere, and even if we thought that something did matter, we were wrong, just plain wrong, and we were specially wrong in here, in this crowded smelly supermarket, because here things had definitely come to a dynamic standstill and it was clear that here there was only thick brown flesh covered in sweat, spilling out from a tight white shirt, and hair pulled back and tied in a bun, and shoulders that shrugged and a mouth that had nothing to say, and, if we thought she was wrong, that didn’t matter either, because it had been a long, long time since she had truly cared what anyone thought at all, so Chepe or another skinny boy that looked just like him, would grab all our things and put them in plastic bags and we would be expelled from this whole complex organism, ready to make our way back to our little sanctuary of green carpet and tall narrow windows, which was only a few blocks away, and there the air would be fresher, and there it would be quiet, and there some things would matter again.
It was strange to know that this was the same supermarket that I had once seen as a source of wonder, as a place where new things could be discovered, where shiny new boxes arrived from faraway places, all covered in bright photographs and drawings, all pregnant with the promise of endless fun that would never stop being fresh and new, they beckoned to me back then from the furthest reaches of the top most shelves and I could only wish and hope and imagine. Now I saw the little toy section, and the boxes were not shiny and the toys were all cheap copies of the real thing I had touched in the lands of the north, and they all seemed badly made, without care, without attention. The place itself seemed smaller, as if someone had taken the old supermarket between thick transparent fingers and they had squeezed it tight, making it into this smelly copy of what it once was, then full of strange older boys who knew everything, now full of young skinny boys who didn’t know anything at all, then full of older women who looked down on me from the rarefied atmosphere of their sideways glances, now full of young women in uniform whose sweat smelled of sex and forbidden pleasure and whose eyes called attention to their ever forthcoming sweat. It was indeed the same place but maybe it had decayed as the years went by, much as the rest of the city, or maybe it was simply the same and my eyes now perceived dirt where they once had perceived a wide shining floor, and now my eyes perceived a slow descent into nothingness where they once had perceived the presence of fullness and the promise of even more.
It was particularly strange on this day, the very same day I had stepped off the plane, the very same day when I had traveled in the back of a pickup truck with the little brown girl at my side, with her rainbow dress and her eyes full of naked loving lust, and her brown curly hair dancing in the wind, and the dark clouds of smog behind her, which just made her seem that much more beautiful. Now I was standing in this crowded supermarket, full of pungent smells and faded colors, and there was a faint echo of music behind the noise of the carts and the checker women calling for help and the uniformed people calling to each other, like pinball balls maneuvering around the obstacles that were the actual shoppers like ourselves. I found myself here with Fanci, my future father in law, the legendary magician of El Salvador who had escaped a thousand narrow deaths, the magician who was stopped in the street by skinny men in sweaty buttoned up shirts, ripped at the side, and ripped up shoes, and ripped up pants. These skinny men would shake his hand with exaggerated motions of their thin wrists, and they would feel all proud and happy that they had been next to this legendary man at all, even if only for a moment, and he had allowed them to touch his hand, and now they could go home happy with a new glorious story to tell. Here he was, with me, just with me, and we were standing by the checkers, waiting for his wife and my own future wife (although none of us quite knew it yet) to return from their shopping.
He was a very small man, in tight pants that he pulled up all the way to the edge of his chest, and a tight short sleeve shirt which made his chest stick out like a little pigeon, and a mostly bald crown surrounded by long hair. He had the ability of smiling with his whole body, and the smile itself poured from his eyes, in a way that was more solid than his daughter, but also not as naked, not quite so vulnerable, not quite so intense. He was looking through the magazines, in the same way that I would have looked at them, flipping from one to another, without apparent rhyme or reason. I could recognize the method and it rang true in my bones. He would smile to himself when he came upon a particular article, and I could see him taking mental notes, notes almost visible to me as they flashed across his shiny wide forehead. I could almost hear him already explaining to his followers during his next Sunday morning talk, in the loud clear voice of a trained actor: "Can you imagine? This they are saying to our children… in colorful letters with a half naked woman on the cover! We have to wake up!" Back then I simply surrendered to his greater status and nodded to whatever he said, and, although that time would soon be coming to an end, it was good, right then, to have no answer, no qualification, no questioning glance. It was good to simply let his words slip into my open mind without any obstacle, without any hint of reserve.
Here he was, the man that so many Salvadoreans wanted to greet and love and hear, and he was looking at some colorful magazines and, every once in a while, he was smiling at me. (It was even possible that this whole process of magazine exploration was in fact a little show intended only for me.) Just like the supermarket itself, he seemed to have been compressed with the years, and he seemed to be a little less wise, a little less otherworldly, maybe a bit naïve. His smile was just as true as it ever was but it came with the added flavor of pride that tainted it, a pride that I had never noticed before, or had never wanted to notice. Then again, I was proud as well, as proud to be with him as he was proud to be himself, and our mutual pride enveloped us in a transparent globe that would temporarily protect us from the inevitable breakdown (the breakdown that seems to eventually come, no matter how numerous the precautions we take.) That day, standing by the checkers, next to the magazines and the candy and the plastic toys, there was still a clear channel between us, a single live wire that would let me flow into his thoughts and, by travelling through this narrow aisle, I could sense that his thoughts were still gentle, they were then as kind as I had ever imagined, and he was still the same strong open man I saw one early morning in the open ranches by the beach, after a long night of thunder and lightning and tall waves that painted the night in white. He was still there. I still believed in him. And I still believed that he knew me. And I still believed that I knew him. He was still a source of wonder, he hadn’t yet faded into oblivion like the plastic toys or the old supermarket floor.
He was a small man, a small man in a land where every man was small, where every man was like a small brown replica of a real man, which was to say an American man or a European man, and they were real in so far as when a book or a magazine wanted to show a real man, this man would be tall and white and built like a mountain with eyes, and there were very few such men in this land. Yet, very early on, I had learned to recognize that there was something else that hid behind these small brown replicas that passed for men in this land of sweat and black smoke. This hidden something was not a quality I could easily describe or explain, even to myself, even in the private chambers of my inner thoughts. It was in the swift movement of taut brown arms, it was in the compressed eyes of a little brown boy about to fight, it was in the free laughter in the midst of wet green jungle, it was in the hairy chests and the little black guns, it was in the extended fingers reaching for a branch, it was in the silent glances among people draped in masks, it was in the smile that was covered in dry lips and formed by half broken teeth, it was in the smallness itself, which seemed to energize the dirt that trailed beneath it, the small thin arms that seemed more dangerous than any bodybuilder’s, more dangerous than the tall white men in camouflage suits that walked in the city’s only shopping center, more dangerous that machine guns, more dangerous than silver planes sliding across the vast blue sky.
Fanci had some of that, in his own smallness, in his compact nature that hinted at the solid foundations of a mountain but fell short of its majesty. His eyes were long and slanted, like an Asian man’s, and it was no surprise then that in my journeys through the other side, the dark world of dreams and death and myths and ritual, I would often confuse him with a wise man from the East, for that is what he looked like, a wise man from the Himalayas that had come to visit this little hot land of dirty rivers and even dirtier minds. This visitor had chosen to dress as one of us, and he had chosen his little tight pants and pulled them way up past his waistline, and he had chosen his tight short sleeve shirts, and his hair had started to fall out, and he talked in a Spanish that seemed both archaic and foreign, much the way a foreigner would talk if he had learned the language well but hadn’t quite adapted to the local habits and customs.
Just then, he was standing up on his toes, reaching to grab another magazine. He smiled knowingly to himself as he flipped through the pages and made yet another discovery, another little mental note that would come in handy during his next talk. He nodded his head and pressed his slanted eyes together, and maybe he was still up on his toes, or maybe it just seemed like it to me, as I observed him carefully, while the women in uniform called to each other and to the skinny boys in the loose white shirts. Maybe his smallness was his power, maybe it was the engine that moved him, an engine I would never know, for I was tall, very tall in a land of short people, just tall enough in the land of the north. So I would never know what it meant to be small, or what it meant to be born poor and have no easy way out of it, or what it meant to be loved by a great mass of people, all wanting to touch my hand or ask me a few questions, while I leaned back and answered quickly, with just that hint of pride, just that hint of nonchalance. And since I would never know these things, I could only reach them by looking at this little man flipping through magazines, this little man that was also the father of my little brown girl, who right now couldn’t wait to be alone with me. This couldn’t happen unless I mentioned it to the little man that I so admired and there could be no further waiting so I moved closer and then I spoke.
"Fanci, is it alright with you if Dilcia stays with me for the afternoon? We haven’t seen each other in so long…"
He looked at me straight in the eyes, as he always did, and I looked back at him in the same way, and there was a slight hint of nervous tension that crossed between us, a crackling that was very quiet and yet somehow audible in this very loud place. Then he nodded and smiled as he always did.
"I don’t see any problem, as I know that you are both very careful and mature…"
That was vague enough for me to misunderstand it and specific enough for my face to ripple outwards into a broad smile and for me to say thank you a few times and then be proud once again that I was with him, him who was a teacher, a free thinker, a magician and a friend. Then he turned towards the magazines and, as loud as the supermarket was, and as much as the aroma of thick sweat washed over my face and nostrils, I could think of nothing other than the rainbow dress of my lovely brown girl, which would soon be pulled up over her thighs, to reveal all that she was dying to give to me. I could already taste her lips, and I could already feel the breeze through the tall narrow windows even as I still stood by the checkers, close to the plastic toys and the little wrapped candy. I thought then of the little gooey balloons I had discovered so long ago in the forbidden apartment, the mysterious objects that had then escaped my comprehension, the ones that I now fully understood and that I half hoped were still waiting in the bedside table, on top of the book that I had stolen. I knew then that my thinking of the balloons proved that I was indeed careful and mature, for I would make sure to use them. I didn’t want to know any more, and I didn’t want to ask any further, so that it would be clear to me that I was loyal to Fanci’s statement, even if he didn’t imagine the little balloons when he said it, even if his meaning was altogether different. By the time we left the supermarket, our conversation was a solid memory, and as a memory, it was fixed in time and unmovable, like a balloon filled with cement and failing to dance in the wind, fixed forever and carefully set aside as clear and true.

* * *

As quiet as the little street was, and as safe as the little sanctuary was, or as safe as it appeared to be, it really was only a block away from El Paseo, which was the long main street which began up in the heights of Escalon, where there was a giant flag announcing the settlement of the country and the city and the democracy, and it slid in its smog covered way down to the Salvador del Mundo plaza and then turned into Roosevelt avenue and, in this new form, it went even further down into the entrails of downtown San Salvador, where the streets were even more cracked open, and the smog clouds were even darker and the radios were louder and the crowds were sweatier and the hours were longer. Down there, there could be hardly any safety at all.
It was easy to forget that we were in fact part of that same world of poisonous clouds and burning hot asphalt, specially on an afternoon when the breeze quietly made its way through the long rectangle of the apartment, circling around the pole that divided the bedroom from the living room and flying through the open windows at the back, an afternoon when the sun was held in check by the walls and the roof, so that there was only breeze and shade and no loud radios playing outside and no old buses groaning with the effort of another rid, and only the ephemeral sound of the branches of the big tree in the driveway that rustled with the soft wind and sometimes a leaf or two would fly against the window with a sound so tiny that it might as well have been silence, and there were birds that sang outside, but the birds themselves seemed to know that this street was for careful music and not for loud shrieks, so they sang softly and sparingly and they flew away from the windows so that their songs carried towards us in the waves of the wind and, by the time they arrived, they had almost disappeared in the invisible consistency of the rushing air. In here, in apartment number three, there was only shade and breeze and the kind of silence that tickles at your skin and cools down your feverish worries, the kind of silence that states clearly that nothing can ever truly happen, as long as we stay still and we don’t breathe too hard and our eyes remain locked on each other.
In this space, it was easy to look away from our past and our future, both seemed more like evasive dreams that were already fading into nothingness as we mulled over them slowly. We had no rush to arrive at any conclusion, for there was no conclusion possible. The conclusion was us, sitting here in each other’s arms while time passed by so slowly that it seemed to not pass by at all. Maybe a little boy sometimes cried in the apartment in the back, maybe he had fallen face first onto the stone steps that led to the garage, and maybe the little boy sometimes looked up at the half open windows of apartment number three and wondered what those people were doing up there, maybe he wondered what people did when the doors were closed and the breeze was soft and cool and there were no distractions, and maybe the little boy wished that he could peek through the windows or even step through the door. But he had no master key so he would remain an onlooker and only invade our sanctuary through his crying and his screams. These distant sounds could not disturb us for long, because our eyes were continuously locked on each other and there was no goal to reach for the goal had been reached already, and there was no obstacle between us for all obstacles had been conquered, and the only things left were simple and repetitive and beautiful in the way that only eternal things can be.

* * *

"Of course there are certain minor operations
that you shouldn’t perform on yourself
when other people are around."
From "Super Sex"
by Xaviera Hollander

In times such as these,
When the monkeys scream at the top of their lungs,
And their messages come tainted
With their tears, their envy and their shit,
Then it would be best to remain hidden,
To show only the faintest glimpse
Of what you are truly doing,
Knowing that others will say
"yes I know"
"I understand"
"that is clear"
"good enough"
and you will have to refrain
from saying anything
anything beyond
what you have already said.
It is in these times
When we would join
In the great expanse of the green desert,
Carpet flowing into white wall,
White wall holding narrow windows,
Windows holding the world back,
When we would run up our private hills
And find sanctuary in the abodes
Of brown and white and yellow
And green
Of course
Always green
And there we would perform
Our minor operations
Our secret invocations
Our spells of light and shadow
Sliding on the ice of your
Long repressed needs,
Pushed along by the fire
Of my newly found attention,
Would you then keep close to me
Don’t look away
Even for a moment,
As long as the noise of the TV
Keeps on coming
From across the hall,
As long as the cars
Keep on driving past us,
As long as the storm
Fades into the lazy afternoon
Fades into the glory of the easy morning,
Would you then keep close to me
And find a way to touch me
Only with your eyes
Only with your memory
Only with your dreams
While the people are all around us
And they talk
Of the future
And they talk
Of the past
And they look right past
Our simple offering
Without meaning,
Without sound.

* * *

I leaned back on the disheveled bed, among the wrinkled bed sheets, my sweat slowly drying on my skin, with the help of the cool faint breeze that always made its way through our all too temporary home. She was wearing one of my long sleeved shirts, the one with the thin gray and white stripes, and it trailed all the way to her thighs, like a short dress, but it looked so much better than any dress because it was my shirt, and that allowed me to imagine that I still enveloped her completely, and that my material presence was now pressed against every shaded curve of her brown body. She was making sandwiches for both of us, while I observed her body moving in the darkness of the little narrow kitchen, and I looked at her and remembered the first time she had ever kissed me, the first time I had kissed her, and I remembered feeling the intense desire that had been awakened in her that night not so long ago, and I remembered sensing that such a strong desire had been held back, constrained within her little brown body, through long, long stretches of time filled with innocent angst. Holding her in my arms for the first time, I could feel years of fantasies pouring through her mouth into mine, a rainbow of erotic stories that intertwined with her tongue and my saliva, sliding down my throat to form new tales that would emerge transformed by my perverse imagination. Right then, without words or explanations, I knew what she was and what she wasn’t, and I knew that what she was, was true and simple, and that what she was had been hidden for too long and now it was all pouring into me, fresh and hot and full of color, and once it started to pour, there could be no way to stop it, no way to hold it back. Of course, I didn’t want to stop it, but I did wonder at all those years when so much love, so much lust, so much desire, had all been packed within her, lacking any relief, lacking any escape. I pictured, in a flash of recognition that didn’t last more than the blinking of an eye, all the many lonely moments, all the many sighs meant for no one, all the ecstatic explosions that went nowhere and all the visions that remained behind the curtains of her eyes. I looked at her, her hair trailing behind her narrow shoulders, and I spoke up, my voice breaking the silence like a big iron ball slamming into the side of an old vacant house:
"Have you ever masturbated?"
As I asked the simple question, I already knew the simple answer, so I didn’t really want to know it. Instead, I wanted to know how she would color it, I wanted to know what she would reveal and what she would hide. I wanted to know how much she trusted me and how much of her private world she was still intent on keeping pressed tight within the little frame of her vibrant heart. I saw her shoulders hunch up and down, and I saw her swallow deeply, and I saw her shiver slightly, and I saw her swallow once again, and then she giggled slightly and she was then at a loss for words but I could see her blushing, and that could have been all the answer I needed, but in fact, I wanted more, I wanted to hear her words, I wanted to taste the sliding of her consonants against her vocals as she attempted to answer without lying and yet not really telling me the truth. It was a very risky balance, almost impossible to maintain. And she was just a little brown girl, mostly innocent, mostly naïve, a little brown girl that was now shivering slightly with embarrassment and trying to calculate her options, which were few and growing more scarce as the time between question and answer increased and she had to say something, now. Her hands had stopped making the sandwiches and she simply held a little silver butter knife in her right hand, the knife dripping with mayonnaise, and in her left hand she held a slice of wheat bread, which was eagerly waiting for the mayonnaise to complete it, much as I was waiting for her answer, which was still in the shivering and swallowing stage, and I could see her looking sideways at me, maybe trying to calculate my reaction to different responses, maybe just trying to figure out how much I already knew, how much I could tell just from her silence. Maybe she was hoping I couldn’t tell much, but that was really just empty hope, and she knew it, and that knowledge made her blush even more. I smiled at her, in the sweetest way I knew how and then I said,
"It’s ok… you can tell me… have you ever masturbated?"
Right then she was probably sliding back to the days when her father had said that Ricardo and me were the best students he ever had, and that the days when we were around were the days of gold, the precious golden days that had vanished with our departure, and that those days were gone because he had no more students like that anymore. Maybe he knew the implications of what he said to her, and maybe he didn’t, at least not clearly, not as clear as pages on a book in his library or an esoteric sign on a white wall right next to the poster that showed an open door in the middle of empty space over a caption that read "gateway to infinity." But to my little brown girl, it was as clear as that and even clearer. If her father said that such students were no longer around, that meant that she was not up to that measuring standard, that she was not and could never be such a student, and that meant she was not worthy and that meant she could never live up to those golden days that were so far in the past, in a past when she was just a little girl with mud and sweat all over her face, running back and forth over a long driveway covered in dead leaves and pebbles while she looked up at a half open window and saw me looking down at her, me as I was when I was fourteen, me with my oversized glasses and my dirty uncombed long hair. Then she knew, looking at me through the half open window, and maybe I even knew a little (but then knowledge has a way of shifting and morphing according to the situation.) Little and dirty and tired as she was, she trembled with the knowledge, and at the same time she knew that she could never rise to the level of the boy in the window, because she was down on the driveway and her face was covered in mud and sweat and she was just a tiny little girl that knew nothing and could not understand what it was that her father spoke about, weekend after weekend, in front of a large crowd of attentive people. Now this boy, seen once upon a time through a half open window in her father’s house, this boy was now a man, and this man was now her man, the face in the window that had come down to the driveway to get her, and he was laying on the disheveled bed, looking up at her with a playful smile crossing his bearded face, and this man was asking her to reveal the mud she had worked so hard to hide from everyone. On the one hand, she was his and so she must reveal herself and, on the other hand, she was not worthy, because her father had said so, and so she must hide.
"Not really… I mean… kind of… but not really…"
And from where I was I could see the nervous smile trickling down the side of her face, and I could see her right cheek tremble, and I could see her shoulders hunch up, and I could see that the slice of bread was still waiting for the mayonnaise and her hands were not moving. I smiled because I could see the battle going on within her, and I was firmly on one side but I had sympathy for the other. I smiled because in her nervousness she was even more beautiful. I smiled because there was so much road to travel and there would be time to travel it together. I sat up and said in a softer voice:
"It’s truly ok… you can tell me…"
She was still not moving, not in any obvious way, and I could see the images flashing through her inner vision as if some of the light from the movie frames were flashing across her cranium and making shadow plays over her ruffled brown hair. In these shadow plays I could see her half naked in her bed, with the lights out, with a hand between her legs and her fingers moving rapidly in the darkness and her eyes shut tightly, dreaming up stories that spoke of love but smelled of sweaty sex, anonymous, animalistic and savage. I could see her groaning and grunting as softly as possible, trying to make sure that her sisters wouldn’t hear, hoping that nobody would ever discover what she was doing, that nobody would ever know, for the pain would be too much and there would be nothing left of her, if she were to be discovered. Yet the pleasure was too great to set aside, too overwhelming to forget or hide away like a magazine under dirty clothes or a book of stories in the dark caverns behind the textbooks. In the strange shadow plays of her hair, I could once again see what I had seen that night when I first kissed her. I could see the years of hiding and years of misgivings, and they were all attempting to come to the surface here, today, with a piece of bread on one hand and a butter knife on the other hand, a butter knife that dripped with mayonnaise. But the bread was still waiting and so was I, still sitting up on the disheveled bed, my eyes fixed on her shoulders and her hair and her shivering smile, while she tried to rearrange her thoughts, while she tried to make quick bargains within her subconscious, diplomatic secret deals that would determine what could be said, what shouldn’t be said, what would be said, and what would forever remain hidden. The shadow plays just grew stronger, and wilder, and more forceful, and she was still fixed in place and I was still smiling, and I was still waiting, and I would sit there and wait for as long as we had to be there. And we had both determined that we had forever. As long as we had our sanctuary, time would not move or change or push us into chambers where we would find ourselves apart.
"I did… a little… a long time ago…"
I could see the words flashing through her skin as they moved from her ankles up to her knees and up her brown soft thighs, and then they disappeared under my shirt, which was still wrapped around her, following the same trail I had followed to the deep moist darkness between her legs and then flashing up and forward, to her stomach which trembled with invisible butterflies at the moment and then to her chest, making a wide curve right in between her little breasts, and then up to her throat which was all squeezed into a tight ball because it didn’t want to do the wrong move and spit out the wrong words, not before the right ones arrived, and then up through her face, which I could see only from the side, and into the realm of the shadow plays that still flashed through her hair and, from there, deep into her cranium, where the diplomatic deals were almost finished, and where there was about to be a big announcement, cameras flashing all around the big dignitaries as they made their way down to the little mouth that had dried with anticipation, and the lips opened once more and I held my breath, because any wrong move could dissolve the moment, and seal forever the words that had made such a long journey to be finally liberated. Her lips trembled and opened, and the cameras flashed, and my eyes were as still as I could make them and I concentrated on her lips that were opening even further, and the words flashed through her cheeks and spilled out, ever so slowly.
"Once… a long time ago… when I was in school…"
The air in the apartment had changed and my skin was reacting to the flashing of her words which had fallen out of her mouth with so much effort and now circled the room in slow gentle spirals. She was still holding the slice of bread in one hand and the butter knife in the other. I slowly stood up from the disheveled bed and went to her. I moved up behind her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. She exhaled loudly and visibly and she closed her eyes. I pressed my cheek against hers and I whispered:
"It’s ok. Everyone does it. You can tell me more later. You can finish making the sandwich now…"
And the butter knife finally slapped against the slice of bread and her chest started to move up and down in its regular rhythm and I kissed her cheek a few more times, letting her know that I was still with her, that she hadn’t crossed the borderline (little did she know how far from the borderline she truly was.) She smiled with red cheeks and bubbly eyes and I smiled behind her as I felt her little body through the shirt and the flashing words were still circling all around us, like a crown of jeweled light.

* * *

I left the gooey balloons behind but I took the book with me. It was impossible to leave it, impossible to forget about it, impossible to just remember it lying silent and alone up in dark apartment number three, up there behind the half open windows that faced my garden, as I clung to the chain link fence above the gray walls or ran in the green and brown grass behind the terrace or sat in the wide white hammock under the trellis covered in ivy and green flowers. I couldn’t just think of it up there, all alone and me all alone down here, and try to imagine once again what I had briefly seen in those shocking moments when I opened the drawer and, after a few minutes of trying to figure out the balloons, both Avelar and me turned our attention to the book. That was all there was in the little drawer: the balloons and the book. We both understood that the balloons were a complete mystery, and yet we also knew that they were somehow related to naked brown women in the darkness and women in small miniskirts running towards a night club in high heels, thin heels that got stuck in the cracks of the sidewalk as they ran, and men whistling at women in the crowded smoke filled streets of downtown. And they were related to the simple pleasure of pressing myself against a pillow and feeling the heat within me rise and rise until it couldn’t rise any more.
Sensing that the balloons were indeed related to all that and more, our confirmation came when we opened the book and saw the pictures inside, all in dark brown lines against light brown pages, all precise enough to leave no room for error, all fluid and explicit and direct. Here there was no hint of the coyness that I would find in my comic books, were a woman would be naked but a branch was placed just so that her nipples were hidden and her leg was turned just so that her crotch was left out of sight. These pictures were indeed like those other pictures in their construction, as detailed as the vampires and the demons and the werewolves and the killers of my comic books, and as detailed as their many victims who would often end up naked and helpless and vulnerable, or simply disheveled or simply afraid and hysterical, which was another way of being naked, or simply strong and clear and courageous, which was yet another way of being naked. I liked all these naked figures back then, but I didn’t know that they were all the same, not in words that I could write or say or think to myself.
But in this book, there were no vampires or werewolves or killers or demons. There were only men and women, completely naked, and there were no branches to hide the women’s nipples, and their legs were wide open and their crotches were finely drawn and the men were aroused and their penises were hard and strong and prominent and the women had triangles of pubic hair that didn’t quite cover the outer lips of their vaginas. Beyond being simply naked, they were together, and they were kissing each other, and their lips traveled every inch of each other’s bodies and they penetrated each other while their faces turned into a mask of painful pleasure that I almost recognized as my own. Because as soon as I opened the book and saw the pictures, a painful heat traveled up from my crotch and all through my stomach and into my chest and deep into my head. This searing heat set aside all other considerations within me. It put away all fears I could have of being discovered, of being revealed before the world as a little strange kid who had burglarized the neighbor’s apartment. I knew then that the book had to come with me, and there was a voice inside me that said, in soft but firm words: "But the man will see that it’s missing and he will complain and the complaints will eventually land on you! There won’t be anyone else to blame!", but that voice I set aside with a dismissal that came from the deepest abyss of my animal body. I turned to Avelar and said, out loud so that it would be clear once again what our course of action would be and there would be no turning back: "We are taking this book…" Avelar seemed to sense that it was no good arguing and he simply nodded. I pulled my shirt out and I slid the thick oversized book under it. Then I tucked the shirt under my belt and I placed the gooey balloons back in the drawer of the bedside table, except for the two which we had opened and those two we brought with us so we could throw them away. We slid back the way we had come, trying to make sure that everything was just as we had found it and everything truly was just the same, except for the book, which was now safely hidden under my shirt.
Once I was back in the safe embrace of my endless afternoons of pregnant loneliness, the book became my secret companion in my eager journeys into strange new pleasures. The intricate drawings became my windows into a world I had only barely suspected, a world of women who undressed willingly and asked to be touched and prodded and explored beyond the boundaries of my understanding, beyond the brittle edges of my limited experience; women who laid back and opened themselves to be impaled by men who dripped with viscous desire, women who even sought each other to find deeper lustful realization in another much like themselves, and, when they were unable to find anyone at all, they simply laid back and found pleasure in their own hands, their fingers rubbing up and down between their open legs, deep into the wound that pulsated out from their naked crotch, women who were white and black and small and tall and thin and thick, women who were all drawn in fine agile brown lines over soft brown paper, women who seemed to move over the light brown surface with a life that surged up from my own loins, surrounded by words that spoke of technical skill and years of sweaty research. I explored myself with them. I explored the outer reaches of the vast realm within my own cranium with the help of the burning fuel between my legs, and I pushed myself to find release in sudden blinding explosions that came without warning. I learned to pull back from the edge as well, to wait until the right moment, for the book had so much to offer that it would always seem to be a crime to let it go to waste. I hid it well, among my magazines and comic books, and, over the months and years that followed, I sought it out only in special occasions, only when the fire inside me was so intense that I couldn’t contain it any longer, and I had to find comfort in the strange world of light brown drawings that were held within the pages of the forbidden book, the stolen book that nobody ever came looking for, the stolen book that came to be my treasure, the treasure I had taken from apartment number three, from the land of mystery I had dared to invade in a single afternoon of reckless courage.

* * *

"She’ll naturally raise her leg and drape it over her man’s hip.
When she does this, he just as naturally falls between her thighs."

From "Super Sex"
by Xaviera Hollander

She turned when she didn’t mean to
And she laughed
In her tiny explosions of merry
And she blushed
And the redness of her blood
Mixed with the brown of her skin
Mixed with the shining gold of her eyes
And then it was just
A matter of time
(but isn’t it always?)
And once alone,
And once her eyes had closed
And once her heart had shivered
And once the night had come
She would only naturally,
Give herself to me,
As naturally as the lightning outside
As naturally as the pebbles that flew on the wind
The wind that came from elsewhere
To land on the corrugated walls
Of this tiny apartment building,
As naturally as that
And even more so,
For our walls had broken open
And her blood pulsed into mine
And her dreams had become my stories
And my stories had become
The true tales
Of a little girl that finds her prince
And then lives on to discover
That not all tales end happily,
And just as naturally
As she would one day leave,
Just as naturally, today
On this very afternoon
That you now try to penetrate
With the sight of your wisdom
With the membranes of your madness,
On this very afternoon
She would fall back
She would surrender and open
And then her leg
Would rise
And it would rise up to me
And come to rest
On my trembling hip.
So naturally that there was no return
There could be no thought
And there could be no question
And, me,
That had lived with them forever,
With questions without answers,
With thoughts without end,
I was now without them,
And I would simply fall forward
And find a restless home between her thighs.
If there was a window,
If there was a gap in the
Systematic sequence
That led to this conclusion,
I never saw it
And if I had seen it,
I would have looked away,
Blinded by its light.
It was so,
It was always so,
And so it had been
From the days of running,
From the days of shadows,
From the days of curious shame.

* * *

My friend had told me once, maybe sitting under a drying little tree while birds sang up in the thin little branches, or walking among hills of brown grass while a black truck moves back and forth in the distance, or maybe looking over a cliff bathed in white ocean waves while the strong wind pulls involuntary tears from my eyes, he told me about his wife and their secret life behind closed doors. He told me how she was a virgin for thirty years and how she was a true Mexican in the way that she cooked hot dishes drenched in red spicy sauce and listened to Tambora and Banda all day long and said that she sometimes also liked to listen to instrumental music but she couldn’t tell any real difference between Ray Conniff and Beethoven. She was so catholic that she dreamt of the Virgin and of Jesus both awake and asleep. For thirty years she had remained a virgin and her legs hadn’t opened to any man(and I wasn’t her friend or I would have asked her if she masturbated, but the opportunity never came up.) When I would come to visit, I would hear the streams of music coming from the other room in their little shed in the back of his parent’s house and I would taste the hot red food that she offered to me and I would try to remain calm even though sweat was pouring down my face from the strong spices she had mixed in there, and my tongue felt like it would never be able to taste anything again. She would say things about the Virgin Mother and about Jesus and I would nod, even though in that time I would have usually argued, but I didn’t say anything because I figured that this was my friend’s territory and he would deal with it as he saw fit and I couldn’t really say anything to him or to her that hadn’t been said before, so I might as well be quiet.
When they first got married, I didn’t think that they should, I really didn’t think that my friend should marry anyone. Pedro and me drove all the way down to Los Angeles for the wedding, and on the way there, we planned a whole mad rescue operation that ended in the middle of the desert with all of us smoking pot beneath the moon and laughing at what nearly had happened, laughing at the great mistake that our dear friend had very nearly made, and laughing about how we had managed to pull him back from the edge, right when he was about to jump, and laughing about how now he could clearly see it, now that he was safe among us, high and happy, and he would be so grateful and so loving, because he would be able to see that what we had done, we had done for him. Among the loud laughter, there would also be some crying, and the night would last forever as we told and retold our stories of good labor well done. But all that was, of course, easy to plan when it was someone else that was madly in love, or whatever we called it then, and it would have been much more difficult to think or talk about if it had been us that were about to plunge into a little shed in the back of our parent’s house, a shed full of hot food with red sauce all over it and pictures of the Virgin Mother. If it had been us, probably we would have been just as grateful for the silence that we gave my friend, for the silence that surrounded all that related to his wife and his life with her, a silence which I only punctured in rare situations and even then, with extreme care. Most of all, what I didn’t want to do was hurt him, my friend, and I didn’t want to bother him, or make him mad, or sad, or anything at all other than happy. So, in order to avoid any further uncomfortable situations, I would refrain from mentioning that it seemed strange to hear this music or eat this food or listen to references to Jesus or the Virgin here, in his house, here in the heart of his world. We simply left it alone, I left it alone and my friend complied in grateful complicity.
Once, before they were married, she had mentioned to him that she was jealous and that she wouldn’t like it if he went off with his friends and left her alone. He said to her that, if she was jealous, then that would be "too bad" and he didn’t explain his words any further. She understood that it meant that he would stop doing these things, so it would be "too bad" for him. But he understood that he would do them anyway and if she didn’t like it, then it would be "too bad" for her. When he told me the story I noticed that he knew that there had been a misunderstanding and yet he left it alone, and I thought that that could be only partially on purpose, much like my own purposeful misunderstanding with Fanci, where "careful" meant one thing to me, and it was crowned with a shower of little gooey balloons, and to him it meant total restraint, and only through total restraint would "care" be truly taken. I half suspected that he meant that and I half suspected that he didn’t. But I didn’t pursue it any further, once again, in fear of creating a conflict, or even worse, of making it difficult for my little brown girl to be in my arms, as soon as possible, all by ourselves in a desert of green carpet, and without any interference at all, not from the world, not from our thoughts, our taboos, our misguided morals, and not from Fanci or his wife. So misunderstandings were left hanging in the name of peace, the kind of peace that reigns over third world countries, where some don’t speak out of fear, and some don’t speak out of contentment since the injustice tips their way. I could only wonder then, as I wonder now, how many such misunderstandings populated all our conversations, and how much purpose there was behind them, and how much we fooled ourselves into believing that we knew each other well when we really didn’t know each other at all.
Our collective silence then was like an invisible blanket that allowed our lukewarm friendship to flourish, waiting for the day when it could finally come back into full life (or die a death of small talk, punctuated by hellos, good-byes and how are you’s). But with life would come new questions, and with life there would be no answers, and maybe the only way to remain friends forever was to remain forever apart and forever in silence. Otherwise, sooner or later somebody might say something wrong, somebody might do something unforgivable, and somebody, somehow, might end up crying or feeling hurt. And that was the point, because the one time that he did talk to me of his wife, we talked about her virginity and the way that it came to an end.
The problem, as he explained it and as he saw it, had been that he loved her, he loved her too much, he loved her so much, that lying in their little bedroom in the shed behind his parent’s house, with her body all uncovered, white and pale from so many years of being hidden, and his body uncovered as well, still showing signs of the muscular perfection he had nearly attained in earlier incarnations (through his disciplined work with muscular dynamic tension, all explained in a little photocopied pamphlet he had purchased through the mail for a few colones) but also showing signs of the flabbiness that would come with the years and the discussions and the computers and the phone calls and the many nights of laying back on the couch to enjoy an evening with David Lynch or The Simpsons, he loved her so much, that he couldn’t bring himself to do it, he couldn’t bring himself to make her cry.
She was then as wet as she could be, because in those days even the slightest touch of his hand would make her so wet that her juices would pour right down her thighs, all the way to her knees, and she would tremble with pure lust, lust as she had never felt before (and she would never feel again), lust that took over her mind and blew apart all concepts of shyness or restraint, lust that was like a laser beam and it was all centered on him because he was the focus of the light, its subject and its object, its destination and its source, and she was merely the channel through which his light traveled, and as it traveled through her, it made her come alive, and life meant lust, and lust meant abandon, and abandon was a wet hole that poured juices down white soft thighs, and legs that opened invitingly, and kisses that lasted forever.
He was over her and he was hard and ready, but her wet hole had an obstacle in it, and whenever he pushed against that obstacle, that thin yet stubborn membrane that maintained the safety of her inner sanctum, she would wince in pain, and she would even cry, and she would pull back. The only way for him to get inside her right then was to rip through that obstacle, but the problem was that the obstacle was a part of her, it was an extension of her, the same her that wanted him, the same her that opened up for him and desired him, that same her would not let him in and it would place an obstacle right at the threshold. As he tried to push his way in, she would wince again, and she would pull back, and she would even scream in pain. The problem was that he loved her, he loved her so much, he loved her too much, and so his hardness would turn into softness at the sound of her grunts of pain and then the obstacle would be insurmountable and they would have to try again some other day, some other afternoon when everything was quiet and they were both ready and willing, and the trees were rustling just right outside the window, and the birds were singing softly, celebrating the ancient act that was about to occur. Then maybe, maybe that other day in the future, she wouldn’t wince so much, she wouldn’t hurt so much, he wouldn’t care so much, and he would be able to break through.
Finally, one day it came to pass, and her virginity was gone and there was no further obstacle and he had passed through the threshold of pain and emerged victorious, but it had taken so much out of him and out of her that it would leave a mark that would last for years, a mark that could never fully go away. When my mind would drift back to this story my friend had told me, I felt worry. I worried because my little brown girl had just such an obstacle within her, and if my friend, who was all powerful and all knowing, who never hesitated and never doubted his own will, if he had trouble breaking through this obstacle, then I would surely fail, and my hardness would turn into softness at the sound of her pain, and then she would look at me and wonder why I didn’t want her and I would be at a loss to explain what I really felt, and then there would only be the waiting, the waiting for another chance, another peaceful afternoon, another quiet night, and the waiting would be more painful than any obstacle, so I feared the waiting above all.
One gentle afternoon, we were finally alone, in the vast desert of green and brown that was little apartment number 3, just above the garage and next to the bigger apartment number two that used to be where Amaya lived. But Amaya had been gone for so long, that there was only the faintest whisper of her presence still remaining, maybe a few threads of her hair, maybe her shadow against the walls of the stairway, some quick movement that could only be spotted out of the corner of a distended eye, maybe her presence within me, subtle in its true nature but overt in its manifestation, her presence urging me to open as I once had, as I did with her for the first time. I listened with complete attention, with a solemn fury that I couldn’t fully acknowledge, a vibrant rapture that I couldn’t fully understand.
When we were finally alone, my brown girl and me, we simply vanished into each other, because her heart was as open as mine once was, and my heart in turn opened the same way, and it hurt in a place that I had forgotten, and electrical impulses vibrated through us like electronic music shifting frequencies with every beat of the drum. I ran my tongue over her lips and she ran her tongue over mine, and her little rainbow dress could barely cover her as I pushed her down onto the wide green sofa, and she didn’t resist at all, she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, but I was also cautious, in the way that I had promised (even if not in the way I had been understood.) I took my time and I kissed her cheeks and I kissed her neck and I kissed her shoulders and I slid down to my knees and I kissed her thighs, which had naturally fallen open, and I licked up the inside of her thighs. She was panting and grunting, in her soft little voice that spread over the emptiness of apartment number three like a violet cloud of need, and she looked down at me, wishing for me to be more violent, for me to be more impatient. But now I had all the patience in the world, for she had surrendered her share to me, and, between us, we had held all that patience like a transparent globe of silver light, and now it rested within me, solid and immune to any rush. I smiled and pushed myself up on her and her legs wrapped around my torso and I kissed her mouth once again, feeling our tongues intertwine so that I couldn’t tell where mine started and hers ended. She rose up towards me and I pushed her down with my weight, and my hands roamed over her rainbow dress, feeling the eager flesh within, as warm as freshly baked bread, brown wheat bread, ready to be eaten. She was ready, but afraid, and I was not afraid, but I was not ready, and I kissed her some more, and I thought of the world outside, of the city so far away where my people waited, the people that were my circle of life, the people who waited for me to return so our work could continue. But now my work was here, in this vast desert of green and brown, in the small receptacle that had waited already so many years, and now that I was here, and now that it had me, I could hold on for ages, and it could hold onto me as well. It was hard to tell then if the brown girl was a guest here or if she was a permanent inhabitant, a ghost like I would become one day, a ghost of brown naked flesh that had waited since the days of the man and his book and his balloons, a ghost in the darkness waiting for the heart that would come to release it, a ghost that had emerged fully formed from the insides of a brown book full of pictures. To release such ghosts, all other considerations had to be set aside and all worries had to be left for later. My attention was here completely, here with the ghost of a brown girl from days when brown girls barely existed, here with the eager creature that needed me more than she had ever needed anything or anyone, here in the vast desert of green and brown that was now ready to swallow us whole.
As the days passed in a silence full of laughter and grunts of pleasure and the slippery sounds of tongue over skin and the tingling song of the branches outside against the windows while the breeze slipped endlessly from one end of the apartment to the other, sending tiny chills up my spine that were so welcome in a land of deadening heat and thick heavy air, as these days passed, what had been almost too much became not enough, and what was once a daring exploration of the limits became a knowing documentation of known territory, a catalog of landmarks we had already visited. So we wanted more, and the wanting grew with each day and each night that we spent apart (for at the beginning she would leave every night, and then come back every morning, or almost every morning. At least some semblance of appearances had to be kept.) In the mornings, I would wake up alone, tenderly nudged into wakefulness by the soft light that came in through the half opened windows that overlooked the dark garden of my memories. When I would look through them, the garden didn’t seem so dark or green anymore. It didn’t seem much like a garden at all. The grass was gone and the flowers were gone, and I was gone. I was up here in the forbidden apartment, in the land that had been beyond my reach. Having spent the night without her, the desire would just grow deeper, and it reached into realms that so far had been kept hidden, at least in each others’ presence. She would walk in and fall straight into my arms and the night was erased in a single moment of tenderness. As we were open, so wide open, and our eyes stretched further than they had any right to do, and they bulged like the eyes of insects and they seemed to stretch right in front of our faces so as to caress each other with our sight, so it became clear that steps had to be taken, and they had to be taken soon.
The first sign that something was about to break came from her and not from me. I had consciously followed a policy of allowing her to set the pace and trace the direction, in this if not in anything else, because I saw her as so fragile, so innocent, so clear and pristine, that almost any move on my part could hurt her, and to hurt her was the last thing I would possibly want to do. At least I thought so then. So I waited for her to push or to pull, I waited for her to trail further, into the lands that I wished to explore but I could hold in the distance like a vague promise, waiting for the day when she would look into the distance with eyes of curiosity and say "over there, over there is where we should go, over there it waits for us…" I had looked there before she had, in fact, with other companions I had already been there and I had come back. I had even gone much further. But I wanted her to find all of it on her own, with me at her side, without making it too obvious that I knew the way and I could take her there if I wanted to. (Of course, she knew this all along, and maybe it was this that partially made her so curious, maybe it was my knowledge of lands unknown to her that made me a temptation that could not be set aside.)
One day, I stood with her and held her little brown body in my arms and squeezed her against me like a tiny soft tropical fruit that could explode into sweet juices with the lightest touch. She pressed against me as tightly as I held her, and I grew hard as her little body rubbed against me. She felt me growing hard, as she had felt me many times before, but this time, she had the audacity to call attention to it and say:
"I can feel you…"
I nodded and smiled and pressed myself against her even harder, remembering what Ricardo had taught me in the days of Sandra and La Satelite and a dark night of music and laughter. She looked up at me with wide open eyes. I kissed her lustfully and once again she said:
"I can feel you…" and she followed it with "I like to feel you against me…"
I leaned towards her and kissed the side of her face and breathed into her ear and said:
"I’m glad you can feel me… I want you to feel me…"
That could have been all, because time was endless and things had no end, so there was no rush to find a climax or a final resolution, but she insisted on going further, having gained that sense of trust, settling into the evolving knowledge that I would not reject her easily, that, in fact, I might not reject her at all. Standing on that solid foundation, she said:
"Can I touch you?"
I nodded and said, as softly as I could say it while still remaining audible:
"Yes, you can…"
And she did, and that was the first time she ever touched me in that intimate way, and it was the first time she touched anyone at all, and her hand felt as if it was electrified metal, crackling with the life that is desire and the animal lust of the raw flesh. A moment like that asked for no justification. A moment like that stood above and beyond any thought of promises or morals or limits or appearances, above any question or answer. She did as she wanted, as she had wanted for so long, and I let her do it, without asking for anything in return, because there was nothing for me to ask for. We were all alone in our sanctuary, and, when she was done, we kissed some more, and we rolled around and over each other like woodland creatures. It became clear, to both of us, that the final wall would soon come tumbling down in a rain of broken bricks and stone.
We lived within a bubble, a bubble where time stood still even as it kept flowing all around us, and we felt as if we had been submerged in a current but had remained safe within the confines of our little sphere. We were just faintly touched by the world outside as the breeze made its way around us, from tall narrow windows to half open windows in the back, and as the sound of the birds barely reached us in our private endless darkness. There was only one event that could signify the passing of time for us, here in our world where only two existed, where everyone else had faded into dreams and these dreams had faded into distant memories. The one and only event was the forceful removal of the obstacle that she still held between her legs, beneath her little pubic triangle, in between her pink moist lips. In our world, we could measure time as the Christians do, before the sacrifice and after the sacrifice. This time that I speak of now was the time that lead to the sacrifice. It was a time of subtle changes, of opaque clouds that seemed to swallow us in their fluffy heaviness, and the dark green of the carpet and the deep brown of the windows, they all shifted into thick blue and purple and then back again, and her flesh became at times as dark as the finishing on the windows and at times as clear as the light that made its way to us from the blue sky outside, and the sound of her voice grew high sometimes, so high that it was almost impossible to tell what she was saying, but in those days there was nothing much to say so it didn’t matter, and no matter what words came out of our mouths it all meant the same thing, it all carried the same weight, it all amounted to the silence that was all around us, the silence which kept on shifting colors and becoming thicker and lighter as we moved from the sofa to the bedroom, from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the sofa, and then back again. She would grunt every day more savagely, and she would whisper every night more softly. She touched me and I touched her. Our bodies had become so inseparable that the obstacle now seemed just like an oversight, like a forgotten remnant of the world that had came before, the world before the vast desert of green and brown, a world which was quickly being left behind and which would soon be little more than a mirage. The last step was right in front of us, as clear as the moon, as open as her eyes.
Suddenly, one night which was like any other night except it wasn’t, she said to me:
"I want to be yours, all yours, completely yours…"
I understood what she meant but I still asked her:
"Are you sure?"
She kissed me and she said:
"Yes… I am sure… I want to be yours in every way that I can be. Yours and yours alone," and then she kissed me again and I kissed her as well and I asked her one more time:
"Are you sure?"
And she said:
"Yes, I am very sure, I am completely sure…"
I nodded and I didn’t ask any more questions. I took my time, as I always did, in touching her, and kissing her, and making her so wet that it seemed that her whole lower body was melting over the bed sheets, and I kissed her some more and I prepared myself for the sacrifice we had both been expecting. I pulled her legs up around me and opened her to me, and she smiled and groaned with desire, as if this moment had just emerged from one of her forbidden fantasies and she couldn’t believe it was actually happening, to her, with me.
When I finally felt the obstacle right up against me, it was like a tender membrane of restraint, an extension of the purely human need to return to the past where everything was understood and predictable, a dream that we all share yet none of us have ever lived. When I heard her grunting in a kind of delicious pain that was mixed with intense desire, a desire that came from so deep within her that I could feel it against the head of my penis, like a glove of fire caressing me with fingers made of pure heat, it was then, as I pushed and pushed and made her tremble, that I remembered the words of my friend. I remembered how he said that he loved her so much that he couldn’t do it, because the pain would be too much and he couldn’t bear to cause it. It was then, in the darkness of a quiet evening without shades of yellow or orange, it was then that I realized that my friend and I were not the same. For as much as we had thought that we were, we truly weren’t. I loved my little brown girl as much as I had ever loved anyone, more than I could have imagined it was possible to love at all, but still I didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment, when I felt her squirming. Instead of growing softer, I grew harder when I felt her pain. As she squirmed and tried to move away, I held her tightly in place and pushed inside of her again and again, deeper and deeper. I could feel all her liquids all around me, hot and piercing and painful in themselves, the white and the pale and the red, and it all bathed me in abandon and a deep blue drone that surrounded us and drowned out all other sound. I pushed even harder and kissed her so deeply that her cries of pain became lustful demands and I felt her surrender completely underneath me and her soft brown thighs were all around me and they were covered in warm sweat, and I was covered in her warm blood and there were tears in her eyes that dripped down the sides of her face like long living tendrils. My body moved up and down, now more slowly and softly than before, for now she was truly mine, completely, and I could step across her open gates at my own leisure. I had used the key and now the door was open. The obstacle was soon forgotten, and we found that we now lived in the time after the sacrifice, and that meant that our last link to the current of time had been set aside and we could bathe ourselves in warm eternal moist darkness.

* * *

Our time outside of time was spent mostly in the breezy warm solitude of the vast desert of green and brown that was apartment number three. Mostly, but not completely, because we soon discovered that even as we left apartment three, the bubble of green and brown would come with us, surrounding us in its warm embrace of safety and stasis no matter where we went. Since we didn’t have a car in those days, we hardly ever went too far, unless it was absolutely necessary. But we came to discover that there were many places to go to within a few blocks of our sanctuary, just far enough for us to feel that we had been somewhere, but close enough that we could return in a hurry when we needed to return. We did need to return often because, when nobody was looking, I would sneak my hand under her usually short skirt and I would check to see how she was doing, and if she wasn’t wet before I moved my hand under her skirt, she surely was wet after I examined her, and at that point it would be clear in her eyes that we needed to return to the darkness soon, and we would make our way back, kissing every few steps, leaving behind traces of our passing like glowing gossamer lights vanishing in the cool wind of a Salvadorean October.
We discovered first the trip to the supermarket, the same one that I had visited with Fanci, her magician father, on the very first day when I arrived, the same one I used to visit in the days of Avelar and Amaya and Quetglas and all the others, but it didn’t seem like the same one to me, because it had changed in ways I couldn’t pinpoint. So it became just the market that I had visited with Fanci on that fateful day of my arrival, and, every time I was there, our little misunderstanding rang in my ears again, and I would see him once again reaching up to look at a magazine and make a mental note for himself, and I wondered once again what he meant, what he could possibly have imagined with the word "cautious" and then I wondered if I should have asked further, if I should have pushed for a clearer communication that would bring out the colors in sharp relief. But then my little brown girl was at my side, looking for vegetables or pasta or milk or cheese, while I pushed on a little rickety shopping cart that seemed like it was about to fall over at any moment, and when I saw that she was next to me, in her little striped pink and white dress, then I set aside all concerns of misunderstandings and I knew that there could be no misunderstanding at all, for having her next to me smiling and pointing out details in the store made everything so crystalline clear that I could believe I had understood everything I had ever wondered about, right here in this little supermarket on the side of El Paseo Escalon.
As much as we observed the store and the people that lived within it, the store and the people were observing us. Because my little brown girl, being brown and being little, could pass herself off as one of them easily, and maybe she in fact was one of them, and I had just pulled her up from her place in the world and I had tried to make her into something that she wasn’t, but that would be a question that I wouldn’t ask openly to myself for many years to come. But I could not pass myself off as one of them at all, even if I had tried, which I didn’t. I was much taller than most of them, and much whiter, and I had a beard and long hair, and to finish things off, as if they needed finishing, I would usually be dressed completely in black, and that was probably what sent the whole thing over the edge and made all eyes in the store follow us up and down and down and up. By the third or fourth time that we went back there, to replenish our supply of food for the long isolated journey we were in the midst of, people talked to us as if they knew us. I got the distinct impression that they had been talking about us when we weren’t there, and that wasn’t only paranoia because more than once I saw eyes shift to the left or to the right, to point us out to someone who hadn’t seen us, and each time, when we had paid for everything and we were ready to leave, there were more little skinny kids there, ready to help us carry our bags all the way home. They pointed out to me where we had left off in our last conversation and we would start from there… "so the sun is in the middle, but this one is not the only planet…" and they would ask questions and their questions sometimes were related to what I was explaining, and sometimes they weren’t related at all but I didn’t mind. I would answer any question that they had for which I knew the answer, and the sun was blaring on all of us as we made our way up the three sunlit blocks, a tall strange man with a little brown girl at his arm, and a little parade of little skinny dirty boys carrying heavy bags of groceries and asking questions about the true meaning of life.
We discovered the Chinese Restaurant that was just up the road on El Paseo. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know, if that restaurant had been there in the days of running around stealing nameplates off of random cars, but it felt as if it had always been there, as if nothing else could be there, just below the strip mall and just above the parking lot of the Biggest hamburger joint. The place was called something like the Golden Immortals, or the Golden Snake, or the Seven Immortal Snakes of Gold. Inside, it was always dark and gloomy, and there never seemed to be more than 2 or 3 clients sitting at the carefully made tables, and there were at least twice as many waiters and waitresses as there were clients. Usually the ratio was much higher. They were all dressed in fine black and white waiter uniforms, and they came to you with a menu and a smile on their face as soon as you started to walk up the red brick stairs that lead up to the little terrace where you could sit and enjoy the view of the cars rolling up and down El Paseo. Once there, you could lean back and watch the people walking up and down the street, old fat wrinkled women with huge cargoes of fruit, vegetables and tortillas, precariously balanced on their heads, and little kids with mysterious plastic bags, and one or two men in formal shirts and dress pants, who were talking on their cell phones and laughing with only one side of their face, and kids in uniform coming back from their half day of school, with leather backpacks hanging off their shoulders, singing little songs and pointing at mysterious things that only they could see across the street.
That’s where we liked to sit, on the red brick terrace, enjoying the parade and the breeze, and the sweet loneliness of being the only clients outside, and feeling the hint of the air conditioned cold air that came out in waves towards us from inside the darkness of the restaurant; and observing a security guard in full gray and black uniform that leaned against the wooden corner of the balcony with a large black shotgun balanced between his knee and his shoulder, pointing at the clouds. He joked around with one of the female orderlies who was all dressed in white, and when she walked back inside, her round ass shifting back and forth as she walked in exaggerated motions, we could hear her laughter echoing back to us through the mist of the inner chamber. One of the waiters came over to us, with a broad smile on his closely shaved brown face, and he said:
"Are you ready to order sir?"
I nodded and I smiled at my little brown girl, who bowed her head towards me and said, in a very soft voice:
"You order for me, I don’t recognize any of this…"
I would order the Chow Mien and the Wan Tan Soup, and maybe some fried rice and a lemonade and a Coke, always the safest possible dishes, because here in El Salvador, I had come to understand, nothing was truly safe, and what they called Chow Mien had only the vaguest relationship to what I had come to understand as Chow Mien in San Francisco, but that vague relationship was better than nothing. In some ways, ordering it here, was like a little message that I was sending to myself, letting me know that the world still existed, that the known universe was still out there, and it would still be there when we finally popped out of our time bubble and fell into the hands of the endless clock. If I was sending such messages, and receiving them, that meant that in some way I did miss it, at least as much as I could. I would then close the menu, say "thank you", and lean back on the chair, looking at a woman in a light blue maid uniform slowly making her way up the cracked sidewalk of El Paseo, and then looking back at my own little brown girl, and knowing that there was some connection between the two, some connection that was just under the surface of my thoughts, but right then I was far too busy to explore it. I was too busy looking into my beautiful girl’s eyes, remembering that not too long ago we had been lost within each other’s bodies, and that soon we would be lost again. This was just a little break to replenish the fuel we had lost, a moment to breathe in the breeze and take in the parade of El Paseo, a tiny reminder before we slid back into our pure sanctuary and allowed the world to fade away once again.
We discovered the movie theater, which wasn’t truly a discovery at all, since I had been there many times throughout the years. But here, in this bubble where we lived, everything was a discovery because it was the first time that we experienced it together, as this new being formed of two heads and four arms and four legs, this being that walked around open mouthed staring at the pure beauty of creation, realizing that it was here, now, before us for the first time, and the streets themselves were new, and the sidewalks, and the palm trees, and even the movie theaters which my father had helped to build so long ago. I had then known them as shiny new constructions, full of gray and white sparkles, and the loud sounds of explosions and music coming from inside, and watery sweet Pepsi bubbling up from a rectangular machine, which tasted delicious with a tiny bag of salted popcorn. Now, in the days of the bubble and the little brown girl, the Pepsi had been watered too far, and it had no sweetness to it anymore, and the popcorn was only vaguely salted, and the movies all seemed like reruns of movies I had seen before and the moustache of the man at the door had grown white and his arms had grown thin and sickly.
I was seeing all this and feeling it wash through me like a turbulent sign of time advancing, but, within our bubble, it was still all new and fresh and full of promise. When we would walk into the theater, and feel the cool air conditioning and look at all the rows after rows of empty hard red seats, we would feel that this was the one movie we were meant to see, and that this movie had something special to tell us. As we felt it, so it was. For the movie, no matter which movie it was, always did indeed say something to us, something that meant for our ears alone. As we watched the bright lights streaming across the screen, our hands would remain intertwined, and, every once in a while we would look at each other with knowing eyes. I knew what she was thinking, and I knew how it all fit together, and she stared back at me, maybe unable to fathom what it was that had made me turn around, but still happy that I had, and her eyes opened wide in the darkness, and our hand wrapped around each other tighter, and she reached over sometimes and kissed my lips and I would kiss her back. Later, when the lights came up and we walked out, we would go over the details of the movie, and she always wondered at the things I had seen in it, and I would always relish saying them to her, as far flung as they were, all unlikely interpretations that added up to one simple conclusion, which was her body covered in sweat, deep in the gentle darkness of apartment number three, and her eyes burning with fire, and my mind feverish with thoughts that mingled with raw sound and image, all of it now touched by the latest movie, by the latest words that came later, by the latest questions, by the temporary answers, all of it now ready to dissolve yet again into another fevered dream that would flow between us like saliva.

* * *

"…we can do pretty much what we like
as long as we do it
in (relative) privacy
and with consenting adults.
But contrary human nature
doesn’t always like that much freedom;
hurdles, barriers, and difficulties
add spice to the soup."
From "Super Sex" by Xaviera Hollander

We can do pretty
And we can do ugly,
We can do such things
That it makes my skin crawl
To even think of them
To let the images flow through my mind
Like slow moving blue oil
On a plate of rain water,
And yet we can do them,
That and those
And all of it, too,
We can
And I am part of it
And I know because I’ve seen it
And I know because I’ve done it,
Enough to know it can go further
Enough to know it can go too far,
We can do it all
As long as we are behind thick curtains
And right then I may look at the open window
And the blank wall will stare at me from the other side
And the thin girl will look at me and say
"Are you paranoid?"and I will say
"I’m not paranoid. I just like to be safe…"
and she will say
"Then you are paranoid…"
But I know that yes,
In fact,
We can do anything
But it has to be done
Away from hungry eyes,
Away from the minds that prove and disprove
Away from the hands that grab and disentangle
Away from the fingers that wag and the brows that furrow
Away from all of them that seek to stop
That which we can do
And we can do that too,
Even that,
But I would rather not,
And yet I must,
Because we must,
And then maybe the door that is closed,
The red darkness of the midnight booth
The passive disapproval
Of the ones that walk by,
Maybe there I will find the spices,
Maybe there we will fulfill
The required ingredients
That will make what we do
Just like the song that goes:
"Poor singer,
who was never persecuted,
who was never hated,
whose songs were not reviled,
whose lyrics were not censured…"
and maybe then the singer
needs the hate,
for the songs to grow beautiful,
and maybe the absence of restraint
only breeds complacency
and as such, we must find new barriers,
new walls to climb over,
new obstacles to break down,
and only in the process of moving past such barriers,
would we be temporarily satisfied,
"Touch me here…
where you haven’t touched me,
where you yearn to touch me…
touch me here,
I want you to touch me."
We can do pretty
And we can do ugly
And we can do things
That escape our own judgement,
Things that our minds
Will try to censor,
And in such things,
Things of such subtlety
That no word can ever capture them
We may find a restriction
A difficulty
That will last
For as long as we need it
For as long as we want it
For as long we strive to do,
And when we strive no more,
Then we may find
That we were only hiding
From our own unblinking eyes,
For as long as we thought we were hiding,
For as long as we thought we were free.

* * *

We all have our limits, we all extend our reach for as far as the eye can see, and then, somewhere in the blue and white distance that spreads way out beyond our normal perception, we hit a hard gray wall. It might seem strange to begin with, it might seem like an illusion or even a trick of the eyes, a mirage that only appears to be there and will soon disappear, but then we try again and we slam our extended extremities into the hard wall once more, just like before, only now it hurts more and here is where we find out that there seems to be such a thing as reality, at least for now, at least at this stage of the game, and here, where we stand, you and me, reality is a gray wall that seems invisible from the distance, but hurts as much as any wall when you run headlong into it, just when we are thinking that there can be nothing there.
So it is my duty to tell you that the walls were there, yes, the white and brown walls of apartment number three were there, and we welcomed them, because they kept us warm at night and cool in the daytime, but other far more distant, far more dangerous walls were also there; and most of them were so far off from us, that we could just laugh at the vague hint of their shadows that would loom in the distance.
For what could they do for us? For the two of us who walked down El Paseo, fleshy bodies interlaced into one being, while the female side of us, here represented as a little brown Salvadorean girl with curly brown hair, sang:
"Whoever stands in our way, we shall knock down! Whoever stands in our way…"
I held her tight right then, not quite believing in the song but willing to act as if I did. For I, the male side of the being that was one at that moment, I was older and I had encountered the distant walls before, and more than once. So even if, on this particular evening, when she was covered in a soft white shirt and a short jeans skirt and she laughed like a wild hyena, without any reservation or shame at who might watch her or listen to her cackling laughter or what they might think of her, even if I could almost envision this world where the blue and the white went on forever, I knew that it didn’t. It is possible that I had always known, and that was why, when I was a little boy, I felt melancholic even for events that hadn’t happened yet, unknown future events that were as blurry as dispersed memories that fade after too many years have passed and all the people have vanished. But right then, on that warm evening, as we walked around the bend of the Beethoven fountains, and we moved towards the Paseo cinemas that my Dad built in a far off past, right then I could set aside my disbelief for a shining moment and give in, and say yes, in fact:
"Whoever stands in our way, we will knock down! Whoever stands in our way, we will knock down!"
I would sing the song with her as we shifted together from side to side of the broad sidewalks and I would hold the thought tightly, for it would come in handy in the near future. It would come even more handy in the far off future when the one who would stand in our way would be one of us, and we would have to set aside all remains of mercy or tenderness or nostalgia or love, set it all aside in order to knock them down and keep on moving. For now, we were together and nothing could pull us apart, and we dared the world to come up with something, something that would test our resolve, something that would show us, and them, and it, how strong we were and how committed, how totally drunk by the potion of raw lustful love that had fallen from the sky onto us and had bathed us in its unpredictable nectar. Of course, your get what you ask for and we were no exception.
It started so vague and subtle that I could make myself believe it wasn’t there. Things that are that subtle are even more invisible than things are not there, for the things that are not there, they are simply non-existent, and so we can make ourselves believe that we see them, and then feel proud of our sight, but those subtle and vague things, we can only wish that they weren’t there, and by wishing them into non-existence, they become as invisible as the air itself, as alien as a strange creature that stands by a window, the light of the moon pouring through its thin transparent body, and I look at him just as he is about to extend his arms… subtle movements can be as invisible as that and even more so. It began, in fact, so subtle that I could laugh it off when my little brown girl pointed out that something wasn’t right, that, back in her home, someone had said something that only barely escaped from their half closed mouth, that a younger sister had snorted derisively when she said she was coming to see me, that her stepmother had nodded at her with her lips pursed, as if what she had to say was too terrible to be spoken and so it could only be whistled in silent notes. But over all this subtleness, of sisters and stepsisters and stepmothers, there was her father, Fanci, who still brought her over when she asked to be brought over, which was almost every single day, and who came to pick her up even when he hadn’t brought her, and who always hugged me with his short stocky body full of love and tenderness and acceptance. Seeing him and feeling him close to me, and hearing him call me "son" in a voice drenched in sunlight, it was easy to set aside the subtle glances from the stepmother and from the younger sisters and from anyone else at all, it was easy to set aside my little brown girl’s growing foreboding, set it all aside as one more example of her fear and insecurity and self destructiveness. I knew already that there was plenty of that in her, I knew that I had not cured her of her vast reserves of self hatred in a single explosion of sweaty lust, as much as I wished that I could. So it was easy to base the entire construction of subtle dread on her fears and forget about them in our warm alcove away from the painful sunlight of a bright Salvadorean afternoon. When she saw me set it aside, she set it aside as well, and we continued as if nothing had happened, and nothing really had happened, other than subtle signs that we chose to ignore and so they meant nothing.
But eventually the movements were transformed from too subtle to just subtle enough, not subtle enough to ignore but subtle enough to deny them if it came to that, which, the calculation would be, it probably never would come to that, because that would mean that I would bring it up and I never would. But when I stepped out from the little side door of the apartment building with the little brown girl at my side, and the blue pickup truck was waiting outside, all of a sudden only Fanci would come out to greet me but not Leti, and when I approached her to say hello, walking around the truck in the darkness, she still smiled, but her smile seemed even more forced than usual, her tight brown face pulled tight into a painful grimace that squeezed her eyes and pulled on the skin of her forehead and pulled her lips apart just so, just enough to imagine that she could be smiling. Then I would kiss her cheek as I had always done, and the skin felt very tight and hard like leather against my lips, and she would ask, in a voice that was too high, as if to mimic happiness but failing in the attempt:
"Everything good?"
I would nod and say:
"Everything good!"
But right then I had realized that everything in fact was not good and that she was not happy. And, even though I wished it wasn’t so, much like I had wished for so many other things, if she wasn’t happy, then soon her husband would not be happy, because she would find one way or another to infiltrate his defenses and turn him from happy to worried to angry with just the use of a little whisper in the dark. Her husband was my teacher, my second father, my hero, and there was no way to change the course of events, for I certainly was not about to surrender my sanctuary and my little brown girl at the hands of a little stepmother with a squeezed face, so I simply smiled at her, as sweetly as I could. Then I walked around the pickup truck to hug Fanci, and he asked:
"Everything good?" in the same happy, enthusiastic voice that I had gotten so used to, and I nodded once again, and I smiled and I said:
"Everything good!"
He nodded firmly just once, in that military way that he had of moving his head. We hugged warmly, and the little brown girl, who was mine but was also theirs, she got into the pickup truck next to her stepmother, and they drove away. I walked back into the apartment building, wondering when the clouds would get so thick that the rain would start to fall.
In El Salvador, rain came down hard from the pregnant skies, like little pellets of water that could actually hurt your skin when they landed on you, and it could come suddenly, the sky could be wide open and bright blue one moment and then, without any warning, hard pellets would start to attack you and you would have to run for cover, maybe beneath a neighbor’s garage, or maybe under an awning. And if there was no cover available, you would put a purse or a newspaper over your head. And, if none of that was available at all, then you would simply endure it and be hurt by this painful gift from the skies, and take it and take it and take it until it didn’t hurt anymore, and by that time it might finally stop raining.
So, it was not too much of a surprise, when finally, one particular night, her father didn’t even walk out of the truck at all and, when I came over to greet him by the car window, his eyes were pressed together and his smile was not as warm as it once had been. I couldn’t even see his wife in the darkness behind him, because she didn’t reach over, because she draped herself in the shadows and stayed there, away from my sight, knowing that she would no longer be able to hide what she truly felt and thought, knowing that the time for masquerades was over. But I was only looking at him, at my teacher and second father, and his head nodded in greeting, but there was no hug, there was no "everything good?" and there was no smile. So the rain that fell on me then was the rain of coldness, of the empty gesture made even more empty on purpose, of the silence and the hiding behind shadows. But the rain that fell on my little brown girl was much harsher.
When I saw her the next day, she had so much to tell me and it included screams and rants and more screams and vicious threats and calls to reason in the midst of loud voices and then a lot of crying, mostly done by her, trembling with fury and fear while the rest of the household shook their heads in disapproval. When she told me all these things I wished to protect her, above all things, and I was angry and sad and disheartened. But, most of all, I was surprised, for this did not make any sense, no sense at all. I had believed, and I truly did believe it, that they understood what was happening and they didn’t let the codes of normal human behavior rule what it was that they did, or what their loved ones did or should do. I had felt, for so many weeks now, that everything was moving at the pace that it had always been meant to move, and that each time I saw them, they knew the pace and they followed it. Now I came to know that it was not so, I came to see that, once again, I had misconstrued what someone had said, I had misinterpreted the communication implied in their movements and their words. Now we, my little brown girl and me, we were deep in a confrontation with the man that I had wanted to help, the man who had shown me just enough to point me in the right direction, the man that at one point had become a legend in my mind, a step beyond the human, a step below a demigod, that same man now greeted me with squeezed eyebrows and a long thin mouth.
One day he asked me to go with him, just the two of us, and I said yes without hesitation. We went to a half empty restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, and we sat at a table beneath a straw roof, and we ate hot cheese pupusas and sipped horchata while looking into each other’s eyes. He started by saying what should have always been obvious:
"I understand. Believe me, son, I understand perfectly."
I nodded and smiled for that sentence seemed to be the start of a good conversation.
"I was a hippie once, I danced naked under the moon, I bathed naked in the cold water of the river, we smoked pot until we couldn’t tell where our bodies ended, we looked at the stars and we knew that we needed no other approval…"
And as I heard his words, I kept on nodding, for it all seemed so beautiful, and it added a side to him that I didn’t even know, a side that I had only barely suspected back when my friend and me tried to understand him from a distance, in the high reaches of a magic mountain, and we realized that, as high as we were, our old teacher had been here before us, and it was as it should have been, and now I knew that it all was true.
"I understand that papers mean nothing. Papers are just papers and they don’t ultimately change what is or what should be!"
I nodded once again, for the only reason I would even think of legal papers at all was to make sure that my little brown girl and me would stay together when we finally made our way back to San Francisco, and not be separated by the cold shoulder of a border or the angry eyes of an old security guard.
"But the problem is that not everyone sees things as we do…"
As he said it, his voice changed, and it almost seemed that he shrunk a little, as if he knew himself how his words would sound to me, and, in a way, that was the way they sounded to himself, but he was already on this path, the movement had begun and it was too late to stop it.
"People won’t understand what you’re doing. They will derive the wrong conclusions. They will talk and think things, and others, who don’t understand, like we do, they will act badly, and it will all be because they couldn’t understand. We have to take all of this into account."
I wasn’t nodding anymore and I was simply looking at him, trying to maintain my attention fixed on him and take in what he was saying without reacting too violently, for he was slowly digging a hole and it was my place to watch and call down from the edge when appropriate.
"Because we don’t live in a perfect world, in a world where everyone understands what we do, then we have to take their perception into account. Oh, how I wish we could be in a different place! You know I work towards that every day, in every way I can. Oh! If it was only so!"
When he said "oh!" his eyebrows would outline a dark triangle pointing to the top of his forehead and his eyes would shrink, and sometimes he would even raise his hands towards the straw roof and shake them, just to emphasize how painful it was for him to live in this world of hypocrites.
"So, because we are surrounded by the sleepers, we have to understand that their eyes are upon us, and they will always be upon us, and we have to behave accordingly, knowing that we can’t ever truly escape this world into which we have been born."
He looked at me with the same incisive little eyes that I knew so well and I looked back at him, as calmly as I could, trying to set aside, within my stormy mind, the stories that I had heard from his daughter, the stories I had heard from himself, trying to set aside all stories so that I could simply listen and listen and listen and take all his words in. He continued, taking my silence for encouragement, taking my wide eyes for the shock of understanding. There was in fact, within me, a kind of encouragement, there was in fact a kind of understanding. It was the understanding that would never again allow me to see him as a man above all men, an understanding that would never again allow me to listen to him without questions, without doubt. It was a real understanding, a clear understanding that came to me under a straw roof, with a half eaten plate of hot pupusas in front of me, with loud ranchera songs playing in the background and kids laughing and screaming just a few feet away from us, their mouths wide open and full of half eaten cheese and curtido. It was an understanding that had no words to enclose it, an understanding that was a vision, a sudden clear vision of a short stocky man talking to me across a wooden table, a short stocky man drawing circles in the air with his own extended hands, a short stocky man trying to make me hear what I couldn’t hear, what I wouldn’t hear for as long as he talked and gestured. Once I had seen it, once I had seen him, I could never again forget.
The attacks and the looks and the lectures continued for the remaining months that I was there. But now they didn’t bother me so much, now they didn’t hurt me. For now they were just her parents acting as parents would, as parents would act anywhere in El Salvador, almost anywhere in the world. Now, most of all, he was just her father, trying to protect her reputation, trying to protect appearances, trying to protect an image among the people that knew them, among the people that would talk. All of that I had seen before. It was a distant wall I had many times encountered and, like all walls, it did indeed hurt when I ran headlong onto it. But I wouldn’t run towards it anymore.
Apartment number three was a place to hide from such appearances, it was in fact a place where all clothes fell to the ground in a great pile of wild surrender, and dark women met with strange men in long afternoons of lustful abandon, a place where there were no eyes and no judgement and no calls to reason. As long as our forbidden communion stayed within the confines of apartment number three, the world outside would remain undisturbed. Inside our little alcove, when it rained outside, we simply shut the windows tightly, and, with the sound of the rattling all around us, we turned our eyes, once again, upon each other. And nothing at all could ever make us look away.

* * *

Away from all interruptions, away from all sequence of events, away from all extraneous thought, away even from ourselves and our own stories, in our little alcove of deep brown and light green, with the tall narrow windows to the front and the half opened windows to the back, and the breeze blowing through as a sweet tender caress upon our sweaty bodies, we turned into something we had never been, a ship made of flesh and saliva and hair and transparent liquids that flowed at the slightest provocation, a ship made of flesh that traveled for months on end, through great stormy oceans made of bedclothes and sweat and carpet and vinyl, travelling under the lightning flashes of sudden intense pleasure, pleasure so deep as to seem like pain, pleasure so overwhelming as to leave us blinded, forgetting who we were and why we were, travelling under the constant storms of recurring orgasms, explosions that traveled up and down our fused bodies, making the surface of our ship shiver and rock with bone aching tremors, and also travelling through long moments of quiet tenderness, when there were only small waves as far as we could see, and the waves that there were, they were made of silence and whispers. In those long moments of quiet, our ship would travel softly, under the watchful eye of the moon, the moon which was within us, the moon which was ourselves.
We fused into each other so deeply that nothing else mattered, not the words of others, not the thoughts of others, not the threats of others, not the advise of others, nothing could matter at all because we were farther from ourselves than we had ever been, and yet we traveled over an ocean made of our own history, a history so remote as to seem alien to us, a history so strange as to seem completely new and undiscovered. Travelling through this bold new landscape, we let go of all that had held us tight, all that we ourselves had held onto. She pulled away from her beloved University, from her work with the intense teacher who would look at her with love one moment and then turn into a fierce demon that always demanded more the next, she demanded more from her because she could do it, more because she was capable, more because my little brown girl needed someone so demanding and the demon was there to fulfill her need, away from all her friends who battled together to finish their endless projects through sleepless nights of jokes and arguments and then more jokes. But she pulled away from all of it and never even looked back. And she pulled away from her family, which wasn’t as painful but it was still a change, for even what we dislike we keep close to us, maybe thinking that things will change, maybe simply thinking that this something that hurts us is always much better than the great Nothingness which lies outside, which won’t hurt us or pleasure us, the great Nothingness which will simply not do anything at all.
But now I was with her and she turned away from it all and gave herself to me, completely, without any sign of reservation. I turned away from my group, from my own project that had taken so long to build and perfect back in my home in San Francisco. I turned away with the blind thought that had always plagued me, the false perception that things will stay the same, that if you leave a room and come back later, you step into the same room that you left, and not a new one that is as strange as the world outside. Based on that false thought, I could feed my hopes that maybe the group would wait for me in a state of suspended animation, like astronauts travelling from star to star, dreaming of ice and eternity, and when it finally came time for me to be with them, they would wake up, alert and fresh, and ready to start again. It was as false as false can be and in some place within me, I must have known it. And yet I turned away, because I had to, because I saw no other option, because I didn’t want to see.
For all that my eyes wanted to caress with their delicate touch was the eyes of my beloved brown girl, and her eyes were just as fixed upon my own, and our bodies had formed a solid ship together, a greater body that made us both vibrate in unison, a greater body that gyrated around its own axis, away from our individual pasts, away from our paths and our plans, away from our known history, the one we could see, the one we could remember, the one we could vaguely understand, and without a clear or conscious intention, we both now traveled on this greater body, and we were being carried away to far off and unknown destinations. There was no fear in either of us then, for the journey itself was our only objective and as dark as the destination seemed even then, we knew that we would light it with our presence, for our hearts were glowing with such love that there could be no danger, there could be no pain, and there could be no end to our path.
* * *

I walked around the dark garden, which I could roughly recognize and yet it looked so different from what I remembered. The paths were gone, and the flowers were gone, and the grass was dry and brown, overgrown in some places and completely dead in others, and the walls were white and dirty, and the chain link fence that ran above them was overgrown with tall green bushes that peered ominously over the top like giant green monsters about to strike. It all felt so much smaller, so much more enclosed, so much more forgotten. Every so often, as I walked around under the bewildered gaze of my Uncle standing on the terrace, I would point the camera up towards the closed windows of apartment number three. I would feel then as if I was a young boy curious about the adventures of a strange man up there, taking one picture and then another, maybe hoping that the truth would make its way through the windows and the walls and penetrate into my camera, filling it with the light of clarity that I had once hoped existed in that small desert of green and brown. I asked my Uncle about the things that had remained, the little bits and pieces of memory that my little brown girl and me had left behind up there, the painting she made for me, the loose pieces of paper filled with quick drafts, the last dispersed remains of our golden moment away from time. He said that it was all gone, he said that he had looked before and there was nothing left, but he said it in such a way that I couldn’t believe it. His voice was too hesitant, his eyes were not focused. So I asked again, and this time he said it was gone, but he asked me what I was talking about, which made no sense, for how could he say that it wasn’t there if he didn’t know what I was looking for? So I told him the few things that I remembered and this time he said "maybe", and "I’m not sure" and "we would have to look…" That last statement made some ancient part of me shiver with excitement. A forgotten part of me was once again anxious to explore the forbidden territory of the green carpet, to once again climb the stairway knowing our intentions were no good.
I assumed this couldn’t happen. Apartment number three was rented, it was once again in the hands of a single man, probably once again serving its purpose as a true sanctuary of desire, not to be disturbed, not to be disrupted. Maybe that had always been and would always be its purpose. Whether consciously or unconsciously, my mother had designed a little apartment that would always be a hideaway for pleasure and little else. Maybe all buildings needed such a place and it was simply kind of my mother to include it in the original design.
My Uncle asked me if I wanted to see it and I looked at him with wonder in my eyes.
"Do you mean today? Right now?"
He nodded and said:
"He’s never there. I have the master key. We can go in and at least see if some of your old things are still there."
I hesitated and felt myself turning into the role of the straight man. I heard myself saying, within my mind, "What if he’s there? What if he realizes that we’ve been looking? What if…?" but I had enough awareness to see the role that I would be playing and I didn’t have enough confidence in my Uncle’s ability to fulfill the complimentary role, to do what I had done so many years ago and push ahead in the face of objections. He would probably surrender too quickly if I raised any doubts at all.
So I simply nodded and said:
"Yeah, let’s do it…" and tried my best to not think too loud, to not have any thoughts at all.
I took a few more pictures of the stone steps, of the old wall of the living room covered in green moss, of the broken walls of the patio and the maid’s quarters, the very place where I had once taken the master key from, where I had talked to Cruz and I had smelled her sweaty perfume. Then I took a few pictures of the giant green leaves that made their way over the chain link fence, and the dirty white walls that were once gray and a few pictures of the upper windows, which were so dark and closed as to seem abandoned. I felt then that we had entered into a forgotten place that was haunted, and we were now the wraiths that haunted it and maybe we had haunted it for so long that we had forgotten what we truly were. Maybe the clicks and flashes of my camera were the lights that neighbors saw at night and they would shiver at the thought of this old evil building full of ghosts.
My Uncle, showing an unusual amount of patience with a strange nephew that took pictures that made no sense, looked at me and said:
"Are you ready? Shall we go up?"
I smiled at him and shrugged my shoulders:
"Yes, let’s go up…"
Much like Avelar and me had done once, back when I wasn’t a ghost and the world itself was fresh and clear and pristine, we walked through the dark moist garage (even darker and more moist these days for some unexplainable reason) and we walked out the front door, letting it clang and echo behind us. Then my Uncle had some trouble opening the side door but he finally managed to get it open. It seemed that most of the locks and the keys were rusty, as if doors here remained mostly closed when there were no explorers to open them. We walked up the stairway, and my Uncle finally hesitated.
"Maybe he is there… we’ll have to knock first just in case…"
I just shrugged my shoulders, feeling that anything I could say right then would tip the scales in the wrong direction and he would then turn around and say "This makes no sense! Why would we want to disturb a client for no purpose at all?" so it was better for me to be quiet, as quiet as I could possible be, and it seemed that my silence pushed my Uncle on. Maybe for a moment he was caught up in the adventure of discovery, of finding a new place for me to take strange photographs, of stepping across doorsteps where we were not welcome, of crossing into chambers where we didn’t belong. He approached the door marked number three very carefully, and he reached out with his arm, bending his body over, as if the door itself would burn him if he stepped too closely. Then he knocked once and listened, his ear close to the wooden barrier. I was on the higher steps looking at him and I couldn’t help but smile at the picture of my old Uncle, with his white hair and his disheveled shirt, halfway out of his wrinkled pants, getting caught up in a game of naughty children who had left the building many decades ago.
He knocked once again and there was only silence. He turned to me and said "He’s not here… at least I don’t think he is!" and he shook his right hand up and down quickly, fingers wide open and outstretched, in the Salvadorean gesture that means danger or worry. Then he inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The lock turned slowly around but when he pushed the door in, it wouldn’t budge.
"He must have the safety lock inside… that means he must be here!" So he knocked again, and whispered an excuse to me about "checking on a leak from the roof…", that is what we would say to him if he suddenly appeared on the doorway, all angry and full of questioning eyes. But nobody answered the door at all. He tried the key once more, and, once again, the door would not budge.
"He must be in there!" he said and this time he knocked more forcefully. He even called out his name. But there was no answer. After trying the key one more time, we had to step away. We walked back down the stairway and made our way back to the car, walking over the cracked surface of the old driveway one last time.
The master key would not work this time. The vast desert of green and brown had closed its doors to me. It was now a sanctuary for the desire of others.

* * *
"The drawback to this position is the drawback.
You can thrust but you can’t pull back very easily."
From "Super Sex" by Xaviera Hollander

The drawback is evident
I have always seen it coming
But I have always tried to ignore it
I have tried to look away,
I have tried to act as if
it was just my thoughts,
High pitched whiny noises
Intervening in the true current of life,
Silent conversations
That were crowding the little echo chamber
within my limited mind
Crowding it
With fears of things that had not yet happened,
Events in the far flung future,
That could have nothing to do with me,
For I only exist here and now,
And in the true here and now
There is no forward
And there is no backward,
And there is no movement at all.
When I do manage to push in,
There is no going back,
And then time surrounds me
And swallows me like quicksand
And it may not be so different
From that which I saw
Back when I was here and now,
Back before such thoughts
Were only a thing of the past.
As I have said before,
All things are doable,
But it might not be so easy,
It might not be so quick
Not so easy to find my way out,
Not so quick to pull back.
And for a moment of surrender,
Of blind and vulnerable heart rending abandon
I will pay with years of hardship,
For a moment of surrender,
I will lose that precious moment,
The moment itself
The moment that is here and now
The moment which was
The moment which is
The only sanctuary
That would never
That could never
That can’t ever
be touched by time.

The stairway
walked three times,
Once for discovery,
Once for arrival,
Once for goodbye.
Open the doors
And push yourself in,
Wiggle and find your footing.
Inside you will find
Things better left unspoken,
Sights from alien lands,
And treasures that live
In blistering heat
And mind breaking darkness.

The murky shadows
behind half closed windows,
And the muttered implications,
Only partly understood,
They all made me look,
They all made me find a way
To open the door
And see what was hiding
Behind a veil of wood and metal,
Under the guise of everyday life,
under the mask of the ordinary.

My little brown girl
On the day of my return
From the land where men get lost,
And hearts grow colder
With every passing winter.
That day she became
A simple offering,
A living metaphor of surrender,
A gift carefully wrapped
In all the many colors
Of the radiant rainbow.

He was strong and compassionate,
Confused and secure,
Unbending and flexible,
Gentle and violent,
Worried and serene,
All of that and more,
Packaged tightly
And bound for a great voyage,
For a traveler who couldn’t see
That the journey was just starting,
And we had only barely left the ground.

My friend and me
In the house where I first met her,
In the place where cosmic consciousness
Could be described in a poster
And infinity was just around the corner
Right behind the plastic chairs
And the little old desk,
With a missing leg.

I kiss my beautiful brown girl
While I turn one half of my attention
And look out towards the dark future
The unknowable becoming
To our endless standstill,
I look without knowing
I look without hope or fear,
I look without shame or innocence,
Through the mirrored tunnel
Of the lens of my camera.

You will show me what you are
But there is no rush,
There is no anxious hurry,
I am here for you
And I will wait for your garments to open
one button at a time.

She was as proud to have me
As I was proud to have her,
And we were just like any other couple,
A man and a woman you would see
Walking hand in hand down El Paseo
Or through any shopping mall,
examining the latest sales
or some shiny imported treasures.
We were just like any couple,
But we held a secret legacy
In the silence of our single heart.

Offer yourself to me
And give me what you treasure
What you have hidden
Through all the years of shyness,
Through all the nights of secret lust.
Offer yourself to me,
And give me what you shouldn’t
The center of your shame
The source of your pride.

It all came down to energy,
Too little meant doing nothing,
Too much and you would explode,
And raising it slowly,
Meant a treacherous journey
Through dark caverns
Of ugly temptation
And nameless horrors.
Such a journey
Nearly guarantees failure,
But giving up without trying,
Would be the worst
Failure of all.

Dilcia looking away from the back windows
And looking into the bubble,
Into the sanctuary that she had so long awaited.
Little did she know
That such sanctuaries cannot last for long,
For their walls are built
from tendrils of time
As much as from bricks and concrete.

To know that such things were possible
To see them shown and carefully portrayed
Was like seeing ghosts in a stormy night,
Or vampires in the towers of old castles,
It was to find confirmed
That there was so much to discover,
And that, no matter how hard I looked,
There always would be more.

I give myself to you
Without reservations or further questions,
I give myself and yet I know
Your limitations,
I know what you understand,
And most of all,
I understand what you don’t.
I look into you
And I see innocence
Touched by pain and loneliness,
Ready to slide into cruel acid pettiness.
But not today,
Not tomorrow,
Not for as long as we are quiet.

Fanci, the Magician,
Looks towards the heavens,
While Leti, the Wife,
Makes sure that he doesn’t
Fly hopelessly away.

She celebrated a single moment,
A moment that was like any other,
In lacking uniqueness,
It glowed with the blinding radiance,
Of truth, endless truth,
Found yet one more time.

Explode for me in rocking motions,
Explode for me in tense eruptions
Of grunts and groans and sighs,
Explode for me in deep surrender,
Explode for me
And leave your past behind
where the wind may scatter it
to the infinite horizon.

The bathroom where I thought
That ugly old witches waited,
And now I know that they did,
Growing fat on discarded memories,
And hopes for moments,
That would never come to pass.
But they were only reflections,
Reflections upon reflections,
Stretching out to infinity,
Through the unmovable corridors of time.

The chamber was still there
But the door wouldn’t open,
And there would be no brown girl,
And no bubble away from time,
For time itself had broken our sanctuary
And had pulled us so far apart,
That we couldn’t even imagine each other,
Through the thick and blinding mist
that would forever separate us.

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