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from the November 2018 issue

Remains of a Party in Condesa

In Ariel Urquiza's short story, a young man is forced to deliver drugs on his mother's behalf, but after arriving at his clients' party, he finds little motive for celebration.

“What do you want?” Gabriel asked when he opened the door.

“I’m Jonathan,” he said. “Renata’s son.”

“Wow, I didn’t recognize you. You’ve gotten so big, you’re almost as tall as me. Come on in. It took you a while, I was just about to call you again.”

Jonathan took a package wrapped in brown paper out of his backpack and handed it to Gabriel. The entry hall featured a gold-framed mirror and a number of marble sculptures. Through a rectangular arch, Jonathan could see part of the living room and hear voices.

“Let’s see how good this shit is.” Gabriel opened the package, dipped a finger in the powder and put it in his mouth once, and then again. “Did you have trouble finding the house?”

“No, it was easy.”      

“It took you so long I was starting to think the cops had stopped you.”

“You live here now?”

“I wish. A house in Condesa like this? No, it’s my friends’ house. They were having a party and ran out of blow. When they called I didn’t have a single gram on me, can you believe it? There’s a lot of demand for product these days. I’m sorry if I yelled at you, I was a little high-strung when you called. It’s just that I told your mom she should call me as soon as she arrived from Peru. Hey, is she feeling better?”

“My mom?” Jonathan asked, distracted.

“Didn’t she have the flu?”

“Yeah, so she stayed at the hotel.”

“Knowing Renata, she must feel pretty rough not to come herself. Tell her hi for me and that I’ll call her soon to settle up. Well, come in. Unless you have to go take care of your mom.”

“It’s fine, I should let her rest.”

“Then come on in and have a drink. You look awful, kid.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, our hero with the vitamins has arrived,” someone said as Jonathan entered the room. He couldn't see who, he was a little overwhelmed—the house, the strangers, the Rivotril. He even received applause.

But what he saw was not his idea of a party. There were no more than six or seven people in a room so big that his house in Arequipa would fit inside it several times over. Three sofas formed a U in the center of the room, surrounding a pile of pillows. Each sofa was different, as if each guest had brought their own from home. Jonathan sat on the only one that was unoccupied.

“What are you drinking?” Gabriel asked.

He sat staring at him.

“Beer OK with you?”

“Yeah, sure, a beer, thanks.”

Gabriel passed him a Dos Equis and went to the kitchen or wherever he was weighing and cutting the coke he was about to sell to these people. Electronic music played faintly, as if it were coming from somewhere else. He felt like he was in a museum despite the fact he had never been to one, but something told him they were just as opulent and sad.

“What’s up, Gabriel!” a blond kid yelled. “What’s taking you so long with the refreshments? Or are you snorting it all yourself?”

“Bring it on, Gabriel! What else are we paying you a fuckload of money for,” another guy said. He looked like a clown. Hair à la Christopher Columbus, red pants, tight yellow shirt, gesticulating wildly with a glass of whisky in hand. Going on and on, occasionally caressing a pretty girl with uneven bangs, and the whole time the blond kid, who is dressed in all white, laughs at every stupid thing this clown says.

It’s not that Jonathan cares what these people do or don’t do. The truth is that he doesn’t care about anything anymore. He came to deliver the goddamn blow and that’s all. From here on out he has no plans. He has nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to do it with. He’s alone in the world and the world is a dream, on fire. He’ll need lots of beer to put this dream out.

Everyone seems to have forgotten he’s there. The excitement of his arrival has worn off. So he watches them all as if through a window. Strange people, really strange people. A slightly chubby guy, for example. With brown curly hair. Lying on one of the pillows on the floor like an Arab sheikh, explaining reincarnation in great detail to an anorexic girl. She’s all hunched up, her vertebrae showing through her blouse, mesmerized by what the guy says. The girl with the shaved head sitting on the rug next to the wall is even stranger. Staring sideways at a tapestry on the wall next to her, rocking back and forth. And on the sofa to the right of where he’s sitting, a dude sleeping totally naked, his ass in the air, face down on the pillow.

The only person who seems to realize he’s there is a woman leaning against the doorframe where Gabriel disappeared. She appears to be above it all, fifty years old, hair pulled back in a chignon, dressed for a party. This was a party, of course, he’d forgotten that for a moment, but she was the only one dressed elegantly. And she was looking at him. He felt self-conscious so he downed his beer. The woman wasn’t paying any attention to the clown in the yellow shirt. She didn’t care that the police had pulled him over and that his Rottweiler had jumped the cop and been impounded. The dog. And that he had to pay its bail. In Las Vegas, the day after marrying a girl whose name he couldn't remember and who left the hotel with all his cash. The fact was, none of this was of interest to anyone since it happened to a guy wearing a tight yellow shirt, cowboy boots, and red trousers.

As soon as Jonathan finished his beer, his head was in a different place, he couldn’t shake his negative thoughts, one image after another, so awful that his stomach churned.

The woman with the chignon approached him and sat down.

“Why are you crying?” she asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m not crying, it’s allergies.”

She looked at him the way a kindly aunt might.

“I was thinking of my family in Peru,” he lied. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.”

“Are you new to Mexico?”

“No, I’ve been here a few years already, though I go back to Lima once in a while.”

“You like it here?”

“Yeah, but I haven’t gotten to see much.”

“Come, I’ll show you the house.”

The woman led him up a staircase to the second floor. They walked down a hall lined with doors on both sides.

“My son and I live alone now, but once upon a time my in-laws and all their children lived here. All six of them, my husband was the youngest. And other relatives and friends were always visiting, back then it made sense to have such a big house.”

The woman stopped in front of a door.

“Trotsky spent the night here,” she said, and stepped aside so he could take a look. The wallpaper was peeling and the carpet was worn, as if no one had set foot in there for years. “You don’t know who Trotsky is, do you?”

He shook his head.

“I told Margarita to air all the rooms,” she said to herself, entering the room opposite. “Come in. This was my husband’s study. He died five years ago, but I’ve kept it just as it was when he was alive.”

The walls were lined with shelves full of books.

“What did your husband do?”

“He was a doctor. And a historian, an amateur one. He wanted our son to be a doctor, or an engineer like his uncle. But Ignacio’s calling is art. He’s a wonderful graffiti artist, his work’s all over the city.”

“Your son is downstairs?”

“Yes, the blond dressed in white. My husband would have been displeased to see Ignacio wasting so much time having fun, disregarding his future. But then I think, what good did it do my husband to spend so much time learning? He was never happy, he was always worrying. So I let Ignacio have all the parties he wants. I’d rather he has fun at home than go out who knows where.” She paused to brush a wisp of hair out of his eyes. The old lady was a coquette. “You look sad. Do you miss your family? Or is it something else?”

He didn’t answer. He was on the verge of crying again.

“You remind me of a boyfriend I had in college. He was two or three years older than you when he was hit by a bus. I was one of the passengers. Or the coach. I don’t know what you call them in Peru. He was waiting for me at the bus stop. Well, let’s go downstairs, I’ll get you another beer.”

On the stairs Jonathan heard some reggaeton and started to feel a little better.

“Did a lot of people go home? Gabriel told me there were a lot of people here.”

“Yes, most of the guests left. The party was really the night before last. More than fifty people. A lot of them were still here last night.”

Downstairs the mood had picked up. They had been filling their nostrils with the blow he had delivered. Everyone was totally high. Everyone except the naked dude, who was still passed out on the sofa. Even the girl who had been rocking herself in the corner was chatting animatedly.

Gabriel had been looking for him. He pulled him aside and handed him a wad of bills. He’d give him the rest in a few days, he’d call his mother on Wednesday.

“I’m heading out. You are, too, right?” he asked, but he said no, if he didn’t mind he’d stay a little longer. Gabriel didn’t think it was a good idea.

“Don’t listen to him,” the woman said. She was eavesdropping. “You can stay as long as you want.” So Gabriel waved good-bye to everyone and the woman walked him to the door. Jonathan sat down on the same sofa. He couldn't be bothered to get himself another beer.

He tried to pay attention to what was happening in the room to prevent himself from thinking about anything else. Anything else was his mother, the hotel, the worst day of his life. Worse than all the times his stepfather had beat him as a child, even worse than the time he found the sonofabitch kicking his mother on the floor, and, blinded by hate, sunk a knife into his belly. He wondered if everything that had just happened in the hotel was some kind of poetic justice; he couldn’t get the image of his mother out of his mind, her skin gray against the white sheets of the hotel, and he tried everything in his power to get these thoughts out of his head, even listening to the idiocies the clown was spouting without the glass of whisky in his hand, now he was holding a platter full of blow. He was even more of an imbecile than before, the coke had gone to his head.

“At the end of the day, this is shit,” the moron was saying. “Good shit, I won’t deny it, but all it does is make us feel like we’re invincible, like we can change the world, when the truth is that we can’t change a thing.”

The clown had put the platter of coke on his head, like a waiter carrying a tray, and the mere sight made his heart race.

“We should be smoking opium by now,” the clown said. “If we keep going we won’t sleep for a month. Plus, coke is so over. Opium makes you wise, it opens your third eye.”

Stop talking shit, he thought, nothing could make you wise, and I’ll open your third eye for you if you don’t put that platter down on the table.

“What do you think about calling an end to this White Age, a symbol of Western decadence?”

They were all listening enraptured as if he were some kind of genius. Right then the clown threw the platter into the air, spilling all the cocaine on the floor, and started laughing.

Once again he felt like crying, this time out of anger. He looked around the room for the woman, who knows why, perhaps because she was the only sane person in the place, but he didn’t see her. So he stood up, snatched a beer bottle off the floor and struck it against the side of a table. He grabbed the clown from behind, holding his head in one hand and pushing the broken glass into his neck with the other.

“Don’t waste it, you motherfucker,” he said. “You have no idea what my mother had to go through to get you your coke. Shut up and listen! My mother brought this coke into Mexico in her bowels, you understand? One hundred and thirty capsules. And because one fucking capsule burst, my mother is dead, and she can see this all from heaven and she sure as hell doesn’t like what she’s seeing, you faggot. So you better snort it all. Snort it up along with these girls’ pubic hairs, that’s how you’re gonna snort it. Because my mother died for this shit and I can’t even afford to have a funeral and give her the burial she deserves. No! Shut the fuck up!” The naked guy had woken up and was asking what was going on. But no one answered him. No one even blinked. “I had to get drunk and cut my mother open with a knife, you understand what I’m saying? I cut her open to get all this blow that you’re tossing around in the air like it’s flour. And then I had to leave her body in the hotel room because I knew that if I didn’t deliver this fucking shit they’d come find me and kill me.”

Now the clown was on his knees, begging for forgiveness, the edge of the bottle against his carotid, pretending to cry for mercy, while the pretty girl with the bangs and the anorexic one vomited on the carpet.

“All so you and your stupid friends could have this fucking party. You heard me, get this blow off the floor and start snorting it now. And the rest of you snort everything that fell on the table. Let’s go! I want to see you all snorting!”

The woman appeared and asked him to let the clown go. He did, but first he put a foot on his shoulder and shoved his head into the carpet. Then he grabbed his backpack and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

Night had fallen and it was cold as he wandered out into the dark.

"Resabios de una fiesta en la Condesa" © Ariel Urquiza. By arrangement with Literarische Agentur Mertin Inh. Nicole Witt e. K., Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Translation © 2018 Samantha Schnee. All rights reserved.

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