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from the October 2014 issue

Paranoid City

“Did you hear that noise?” the woman whispered, leaning on one elbow in bed, and opening her eyes wide.

“What noise?” her husband asked sleepily.

“It sounds like it’s coming from the yard. There’s someone on the roof, or in the kitchen,” she said fearfully.

“Get up. Go check on the kids, while I get my pistol,” he ordered in a hushed voice and woke up entirely.

While the woman quickly tiptoed to the children’s room the man got the pistol out of the closet, checked to make sure it was loaded and ready to fire. He put on his slippers, and then heard more clearly: there was someone in the back part of the house, probably in the kitchen. Neither of them had turned on a light and both moved with utmost silence. From the door of their bedroom the husband signaled to his wife to stay hidden. He waited and then, when he thought the moment was right, crept softly toward the kitchen, where he made out a man with his back to him about four meters away, opening drawers and stuffing whatever he found into a sack. The husband thought in a flash that if he spoke the man might attack him, so without another thought, he took aim and shot him twice in the back. The woman heard only two sharp blasts, like two firecrackers somewhere in the darkness, and ran to find her husband.

“What happened?” she said, and heard her own voice on the edge of tears. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. Don’t worry, but I think I killed this scumbag,” the man said, walking over to the body lying on the floor and giving him a kick.

“So what should we do? Call the police?”

“Are you crazy? You want me to go to prison for this piece of garbage? Get dressed and we’ll go dump him at Las Guacamayas.”

The woman stared at her husband and, stifling a sigh, went to their room and pulled on an old pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, and the running shoes she used for aerobics. Her mind was numb. Her husband, after making sure that none of the servants or any of the neighbors had woken up, came into the room and got dressed.

“We’re going to wrap him in garbage bags and then put him in the car,” he said to his wife who stared at him like an automaton.

“Right,” she said, and felt a slight shiver.

Back in the kitchen, and without making any noise, the man lifted the body up off the floor, while his wife walked ahead of him, opening doors, until they finally reached the garage. She opened the trunk of the BMW and heard, and felt, the lifeless body thump onto the mat.

“Do you want me to go with you?” she asked, pleading inside that the answer would be no.

“There’s no way I’m going on my own. Open the gate and after I pull out, lock it and get in,” the man said.

The woman obeyed. She was impelled by a voice that wasn’t hers and wouldn’t allow her to see beyond her actions. After locking the gate, she put the keys in the front pocket of her jeans and saw that all was calm on the street. She got into the car carefully and quickly and her husband drove down to the corner. Two streets away he turned on the headlights. Neither of them said a word until they got to the edge of the ravine.

“Are you sure there’s no one around?”

“Don’t worry, not even flies hang around out here.”

“Did you take a good look? Are there any other cars?”

“No, look, there’s nothing, nobody, I told you.”

“I’m just really nervous.”

“Me too, but we have to do this. We have no choice.”

“It’s all your fault. If you weren’t so . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. If I weren’t so violent, perhaps now, at this very moment, somebody would be doing this to us, or to the kids.”

“You’re right, sorry. But I’m still really nervous. I’m on the verge of hysteria.” The woman wrung her cold, clammy hands and smoothed her hair with a mechanical gesture.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Ten past two. I’m cold. My teeth are chattering.”

“Try to calm down,” said the man. “You’re gonna make me more nervous.”

“What if someone finds out?”

“Nobody, you hear me, nobody heard or saw anything,” the man’s voice sounded threatening. “Now please be quiet.”

“I don’t remember if I locked the door. What if the kids wake up and start to cry?”

“Will you shut up! I told you, nothing’s going to happen.”

The woman looked straight at him and saw the furious expression that always left her petrified. She looked out the car window instead and watched carefully to see what was happening around them. Everything was silent.

“We’re here,” said the man, his voice sounding hollow to him. He looked at the woman out of the corner of his eye and, giving her a gentle pat on the shoulder, as if to see if she’d react, ordered: “Out we get.”

The night was dark and not a sound could be heard. The moon wasn’t up and the place seemed deserted. The man parked the car between a couple of bushes that almost completely covered it. They only barely managed to make each other out by the excessive shininess of their eyes. Their voices became quiet whispers, like the tiny, almost imperceptible, rustling of leaves.

“Don’t jangle the keys,” the woman begged.

“Shut up,” said the man.

They tiptoed around the car to the trunk and, before deciding to open it, looked around in all directions. Nothing. They felt as if time had stopped and they were living through eternity.

“There’s no one around,” she murmured.

“No one,” he repeated between clenched teeth.

“Open it then.”

He opened the trunk and they both looked inside.

“Grab his feet. I’ll hold him by the shoulders. We’ll carry him a few steps and leave him in the bushes over there,” he said.

“No,” she said. “They’ll find him there straight away. We better take him down into the ravine. To the bottom.”

“We’re leaving him here, I’m telling you.” The man was exasperated.

“If we’re going to start this,” she murmured decidedly, “let’s finish it properly. If we don’t take him down the ravine, I’m leaving right now.”

“Don’t be an idiot. Calm down or I’ll leave you with him.” The man looked at her with outrageous hatred.

The woman closed her mouth. She knew her husband well enough to be able to tell when he meant something seriously.

“Have you got him?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Ready?”

“Yes I said.”

“OK. One, two, three.”

They both picked up the bundle and could tell that it was going to be a heavy load.

“It’s really heavy,” she said in a faltering groan.

“Get a good grip or we’ll drop him.”

“You go first,” said the woman. And then added fearfully: “What if there’s a snake?”

“Oh, will you shut the hell up and get a move on,” said the man. He turned around so he was facing the bushes. The ravine was deep and it took them about twenty minutes to get to the bottom of it. They walked slowly, trying not to trip over any stones. Each of them could hear nothing but the other’s agitated breathing. When they got to the bottom they dropped the bundle, brushed off their clothes, and looked at each other with relief. They were sure no one had seen them. He took her by the hand and they hurried up the slope until they got back to the bushes. The car was right where they’d left it. Then they noticed they’d left the trunk open. They were walking one behind the other and, when the man went to close the trunk, he pulled his wife back. Both stood still, as if hypnotized. Inside was another lifeless body, bigger and bulkier than the one they’d left at the bottom of the ravine. Devastated, they stared at each other, neither uttering a single word. Who had put it there? Had they been seen? The woman began to sob with a dry, tearless moan.

“Shut up and grab the feet,” ordered the man, forgetting to keep his voice down. His tone was an inescapable imperative.

“One, two, three, up,” he said as he lifted the body, taking it out of the car with the help of his wife and throwing it to one side. He closed the trunk; they picked up the body again and, without another word, began down the same path. This time they didn’t look as carefully as the first and got to the bottom faster. They dropped the second body a few meters from the first. They looked around and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, went back up almost at a run. They were careful not to leave footprints. They arrived back up by the bushes and took a last look around.

They checked and saw that everything was in order. They got in the car. The man started the car, backed up, and quickly drove away. He accelerated even more until the ravine became just a speck back in the distance.

They didn’t pass any other cars on the city streets. Before they reached their house, rain began to fall in a torrential downpour and both felt it was like a cleansing salvation. They turned the last corner and the woman got out in front of their house to open the gate. They went in and all was calm. In the morning they’d burn their clothes, wash the car, and get a bit more sleep.

They locked all the doors and in their room the woman undressed and put on her nightie. She took two tranquilizers. He appeared with an enormous glass of rum.

“Oh great,” the man said as he calmly undressed sitting on the bed. “I didn’t notice I’d put on my favorite shirt.”

“Don’t worry,” said the woman, already falling asleep, “tomorrow I’ll buy you a new one.”

“Paranoica City” © Mildred Hernández. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Anne McLean. All rights reserved.

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