An anxious woman awaits her lover in Panamanian writer Carlos Oriel Wynter Melo’s exploration of jealousy and doubt
If you look at the park head on, stare straight at it, look with more than your eyes, imagining it or linking it to a memory, you’ll see a tunnel of trees that ends in a hole of light. If your gaze is colored by some melancholy thought, that spot of light might suggest several interpretations. One possibility is that everything comes to an end.
On the corner of the park you might see men in snow-white hats, children in their Sunday best, and maybe a woman looking off into the distance.
To the right, just beyond the park, peering down at the park is a hotel. It’s wedged in between other buildings as if they were a group of friends, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders, looking down from high above. At street level, smaller friends, little grocery stores and general stores, look on, their doors flung wide open. In the background, a ways away, the sun stretches out for a rest behind the park and the town.
Streetcar tracks, like parallel lines in a drawing, make a turn at the park and continue along one of its sides. The people are standing right at that corner, waiting. They have no choice. At least they think they’re waiting. They’re not really waiting for anything.
She’s waiting, and yet she isn’t, she doesn’t believe she’s waiting, she’s sure that she’s waiting in vain. He’s supposed to show up on the next streetcar, but she doesn’t believe he will. Love has been a tightrope lately.
That’s why she’s not waiting: she’s pretending to wait. She lets the inertia of the days carry her along and bring her to the day, to the hour, to that corner of the park, to the meeting she doesn’t believe will actually take place.
She looks at the hotel and almost crosses over to it. She looks at the grocery stores and general stores. She looks at the people lined up next to her: children, men in white hats, and a couple of overdressed women. She looks at the tunnel of trees and at the gradually disappearing light at the end of it. She looks at the curved lines and parallel lines that the streetcar has to travel along.
But in fact, she isn’t looking at anything; her memories distract her.
For a moment she wishes she were wrong, that she’d misjudged. She wishes he’d show up at the time they’d agree on and that the streetcar would continue along its intrepid tracks and that they could go on with their day, not suspecting that anything had changed.
But no, she argues with herself, she’s wary. She betrays so she won’t be betrayed; forgets so she won’t be forgotten. And her next thought is nostalgic, prophetic, it fills her to overflowing with an inevitable death.
She imagines that years later, many years later, the spotlight no longer shines on the corner where she now waits, on its curbs and benches, and they’re covered by the mold-ridden shadow of disuse. She imagines that the streetcar has disappeared or looks different: made of metal and painted bright colors. Cars drive over its iron footprints and no one waits on the corner where there once were white hats (no one wears white hats anymore), children, and women in elaborate outfits.
She imagines that someone is indeed waiting, a lady, a woman who looks like her more or less, a spinster who agreed to meet someone at a specific time but doesn’t think that meeting will take place. And she imagines that the woman’s clothes are different from hers: She pictures baggy pants, sandals, a linen shirt.
She imagines that the woman is waiting, wondering if she should stick to the plan.
And that vision, that certainty that nothing will be left—just nostalgia—makes her feel alone, alone even with herself.
And with all her might she starts to long for him to come today, to keep his promise today, to show up, climb down off the streetcar, embrace her knowing how little time they have left before the future steps in and ends it between them just as they’re getting to know each other.
But she doesn’t know if he’ll come and that’s the worst part. She doesn’t know if he can justify coming, the way she has, if he’s seen what she saw in that park, in its tunnel of trees and the light at the far end. She doesn’t know if they ever agreed, or if it was just the illusion of agreeing.
She imagines the lady in the baggy pants, sandals, and linen shirt waiting, in good spirits, looking forward to the meeting with high hopes; waiting as if she could will everything to go the way she wanted; waiting as if she were praying.
And she waits, but something frightens her, something chills her blood as if her patience has stretched over the years, dying little by little, resigned to dying without realizing it.
Then she imagines that the hours have caught up with the woman and that church bells chime the time she’s to meet—that church is still standing in the distance, the same church that now tolls the hour—and one last hope lights up those invented eyes, but as the bells chime one, that hope starts to die away, utters death rattles after two, lies down and breathes its last at three.
Again she’s filled with nostalgia because, in her vision, she can clearly make out an inevitable death, an early death, an omnipresent death, a timeless death that will lay waste to that park, the tunnel of trees, the buildings, that hotel, those stores, the distracted pedestrians.
Then the streetcar stops and her stomach contracts like a fist clenched tight, like a newborn curled up like a snail.
And the passengers get off one by one, one after another, until the streetcar is almost empty. And she braces herself for the imagined woman’s pain, the future pain of a future woman that’s reproduced in her since time can’t change what’s really important, can’t change the axis it keeps spinning around.
But one last passenger gets off the streetcar, he gets off the streetcar, the last breath of the weary streetcar. In the end, the moment passes and she survives.
And she kisses him eagerly and he doesn’t understand why she’s so eager; he doesn’t understand her explosive happiness: Love has been a tightrope lately. But she kisses him, certain that by kissing him she protects the park, that park that will never be the same.
“Un Agujero De Luz Al Final De Un Túnel De Árboles” © Carlos Oriel Wynter Melo. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Pamela Carmell. All rights reserved.