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from the March 2012 issue

The Heart’s Secret Moves

It happened on a Wednesday, this tale of enlightenment. Tuesdays Pedro was The Heart, which meant cracking heads. He was a Lightweight, and a real brawler. Wore a red mask and had a red, triangular kaboom painted on that smooth chest of his. Got his opponent in a Boston Crab till the trainers threw in the towel and The Heart told the ref, count. It didn’t really matter if the ref didn’t count, or if he counted too fast, because it was all just part of the show. It was the buzz that mattered, the lights, the clamor shaking the stalls, the coarse elegance of combat that made an idol of him each and every Tuesday. On Tuesdays, he’d go out into the night glowing and triumphant.

Later, in a motel, The Heart let off steam with Marina and, pretty soon, driving her back, reality started to take the shine off: the house with its one room, and Marina’s old man there, bloated on cheap liquor and TV, wearing the submissive sneer of someone who knows he’s a loser, someone who broods on the idea of escaping but never dares take that step. This was when The Heart would start to become Pedro again. And the next day at work, pushing wheelbarrow loads of cement and piling bricks one on top of the other, he was entirely Pedro, and he was pissed.

This particular Wednesday he also saw a cop pushing a serving girl ahead of him into the hut where they kept all the hardware and equipment. It was late and Pedro was the last to leave. He heard the girl saying Please, no, we said last time was the last time, and as Pedro moved to the half-open door he saw how the pig was feeling her up, and she crying quietly and clutching at her skirt, and he saying We didn’t say shit, sweetheart, we said last time was the second to last time, hehe— What, he said, want me to go and tell your man? Come on, he said, you know you like it really, OK, OK, we’ll make this the last time.

Do you mean it? she said. You’ll leave me alone after this?

Yeah, sweetie, but how about we chat later? For now why don’t you just loosen up?

She turned away and, slow and subdued, started undressing. That was when Pedro went in, clamped his hand over the cop’s mouth and got him in a necklock. And squeezed. Squeezed like he’d never done before in the ring—not just because he and the other wrestlers were always careful not to hurt one another, but because a white-hot rage was rising up inside him now: he realized that this pig, without even knowing Pedro existed, had in fact offended him; they may never have laid eyes on one another, but all the same the insult had still been directed at Pedro—his family, his friends, everyone he cared about. Pedro squeezed, not allowing the policeman so much as a sob, until he felt the body go limp, and then deposited it on the floor. When the girl, by then naked, turned around, all she saw was a shadow vanishing, and she made not a sound.

Pedro threw the body into a ditch and set out walking the streets, on and on, like someone who had seen the light. His lungs were bursting, his arms almost floating; he was seeing the world through another lens, as if until then everything had been out of focus and now, suddenly, he held men and all manner of things in the palm of his hand. It became clear that his lucha libre moves weren’t just useful for playing out fake dramas in the ring, but in real life too. So many things made him want to piledrive them, so many lowlifes, he now saw, could do with a decent body press. He was The Heart. And he was strong.

The path took him to Marina’s place. He went in without knocking, led her to the one bedroom and shut the door. He took off her clothes, and began licking the salt off her body, and when he entered her she hugged her legs around his waist, pulling him hungrily in; they heard her old man get up and come and knock on the door: Marina! Marina! he said. What’s going on? But they ignored him—Marina was also discovering something then, and they made love as if they were all alone in the world, or as if they were the masters of the world—which they were.

I am The Heart, he said. Marina’s caresses were sweet. She asked no questions. A dozen names sprang into his mind, and he thought how he’d mete out his justice. His mind was utterly clear now.

He kept an eye on the site engineer’s routine, hoping, come Saturday, he wouldn’t disappoint him. And he didn’t: on payday he’d seen the engineer conspiring with the foreman, as they always did, about how to cheat each brickie out of a bit of pay. That was the way things were. Everyone knew his place, no one complained, no one seemed to bear a grudge. But The Heart wasn’t going to take it any more. He stayed on after work, just like every other payday, pissing away his wages on beer—but this time he left earlier than usual. He estimated what time the engineer would be getting home, when he would have eaten, had his siesta, woken up. And that was when Pedro left and put on his red mask to go and murder the bastard.

In spite of his alarm, the engineer still managed to ask Why? but The Heart got him in a hold, bent him over backward with his knee in his spine like the famous luchador Cavernario Galindo, and even when he felt the engineer’s back about to break, squeezed just that little bit more to make sure.

He sat on the engineer’s sofa for a little while before leaving. He didn’t even notice the expensive equipment that was lying around. He stayed just so he could savor the moment, so in the future he’d be able to remember that feeling of cleanness, that silence. Something akin to what a man would feel having just finished building a house for himself.

Unlike the euphoria of the first execution, this time Pedro just felt relaxed. He slept long and well. Then he went to see Marina; they took their time making love, while, beyond the walls, the news was spreading. Her old man must have opened the front door, because they heard the man selling the evening paper bawling out the news about the two dead bodies. And they won’t be the last, Pedro thought. And, as if she’d heard him, Marina said: What took you so long? And snuggled closer to him.

No, they won’t be the last: filthy old Soco, giving out loans at eighty percent and then repossessing everyone’s furniture; the kids with their flashy cars who only came down to the neighborhood to make trouble; and that guy who’d taken Pedro’s father-in-law’s repair shop off him, he’d deal with him too—maybe that would wipe away the hate-filled look the old man tried to conceal beneath that humble smile… A headscissors and a crucifix for each and every one.

He poked his head out of the bedroom as night fell. Her old man was sitting in front of the TV as usual. But the TV was off, and now it was him the old man was looking at, smiling grimly, and Pedro could tell he’d done something terrible. There was nothing submissive in the old man’s look now, but the hatred, that was still there. Pedro stayed standing, looking at him.

I’m the only one who gets to fuck in this house, said the old man. Of course, thought Pedro, who got it now, hearing the indecent fanfare of sirens wailing down the street. This fight wouldn’t last long. But he should have known: it isn’t about winning all three rounds, it’s about putting on a show. Those are the rules, and all you can do is obey. He grabbed the snitching bastard with his big wrestler’s hands, and had just enough time for one last neck breaker before they came in to take off his mask.

“Las llaves secretas del Corazón” © Yuri Herrera. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Thomas Bunstead. All rights reserved.

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