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from the May 2005 issue

You Don’t Have to Reach Heaven

The sun reflects off the asphalt. For the hundredth time, Ishmael shades his eyes with his hand to his visor, and he sees the truck.

"Five!" calls out the amarillo.1

The couple climbs on, the old woman, the girl, and Ishmael, in that order. The old red Ford displays, thanks to its owner's inspiration, a faked coat of arms of the Transportation Ministry: a white headed eagle lifted from the Harley-Davidson trademark emblem. Rather than hunting for himself, the eagle is snatching the prey caught by other hunters. In his talons the bird holds a gold shield with MITRANS spelled out on a diagonal stripe, and around the shield, in more or less Gothic lettering: FLEET OPERATOR. Fleet operator, a pretty mysterious business in itself, murky, could mean anything. When he was a child, Ishmael used to like coats of arms and medieval things and the knights and castles and banners and broadswords and the crusades and honor and the Round Table. Under the emblem it says "I keep my hands off my friend's girl," and under that, "I don't have friends." The success of the joke depends on your attitude toward the girl, comments the yellow-uniformed man to the people who are still waiting for a ride. The truck used to transport cattle, but no longer does.

As the girl climbs up the steps, Ishmael takes a good look at her, focusing on her feet first. Her feet are white, the tanner stripes of skin and veins indicate that she was wearing sandals at some earlier time. Unpainted toenails, carefully trimmed, and smooth skin, hardly dusted with dirt from the road, suggest that she is a young woman of irreproachable hygienic habits, endowed with a certain degree of discernment.

Toes, heels, veins: it all looks good to him. Next, he takes in the rest of her. Tight jeans, green suitcase, breasts that test the elastic properties of the fabric. The girl wears her hair loose and colored red. Ishmael's experienced eye pulls down her zipper, slides off her jeans, underpants, tank top. Speedy Ishmael. Horny Ishmael. Poor Ishmael. The girl, naked amid the passengers, moves along holding onto the pipe that serves as guardrail, shoving her bag along with her feet. Ishmael moves along cautiously behind her. The space gets blocked and Ishmael's sack brushes against the girl's rump. Ishmael's body shivers and he's sure that she has sensed his riveted attention. Ishmael pulls back, the girl pushes her way forward. Again he unzips her and peels off the tank top. She shoves her suitcase forward. No space to move. Ishmael's got the rhythm of it now and pushes his way forward. This time an imperceptible movement forward presses his member against the delicious curve between her buttocks.

"Oops, sorry," says Ishmael.

The girl nods, her expression conveying, for now, that it can happen, in a truck, swaying from a railing pipe that's barely braced, and in the present scenario of shortages the country is living through, anybody could bump against her rear end, whether or not she or the involuntary aggressor likes it. Then she looks toward the road. They're going past one orange orchard after another, on both sides of the power line. She smoothes her hair. Ishmael can see her sweaty neck. His body hunger pushes him into inertia and its equations. Their speed and acceleration are interrupted in a new stretch of their journey. Ishmael's waist is at the height of the girl's hip as she stands facing the guard rail, her profile to Ishmael. For the first time he notices the hands holding onto the pipe. Her hands, just like her feet, are out of the ordinary. No polish on her fingernails either. Tiny islands of invisible blond down, delicate palms, lovely long fingers, hands curved around the pipe, and Ishmael sliding closer, his hand now very close to hers. The girl gazes at the road, counting the rows of orange trees one after another, the posts, the clouds. The Iberia plane is a slow white line against the blue. Ishmael watches her gazing at the road. Women are terrible at geography. It's all set up for them by their hormonal maps: no innate sense of direction: a vague limbo with no spatial orientation, he remembers hearing this on some radio program. He slides his hand along the coolness of the metal pipe, the edge of his palm brushes the girl's fingers. Her fingernails are right next to Ishmael's dark hands. Her eyes are fixed on the landscape. Ishmael undresses her again. The suitcase is on the floor and he can't see her feet. Does this girl have any idea that Cirilo Villaverde used to travel along here on his way to Vuelta Abajo? He can't tell from her expression whether she's aware of this at all. Ishmael moves his hand up; his knuckles are under her fingers. Ishmael squeezes his hand hard around the pipe, the girl barely manages to hang on.

"Five!" calls out the roadside monitor at the next stop.

In the shuffle of people getting on and off, her body gets pressed up against Ishmael's. Each one is aware of the other's heat.

Some people think that names make people who they are, it's an idea as old as it is naïve, probably even fatuous or uncivilized, thinks Ishmael. But this woman could be named Blanca Felipe. That's pretty good, Blanca Felipe, the name suits her. Blanca Felipe evokes the protective rind that peels back dutifully when a fruit is ripe, the aroma of flowers at dusk after a rain shower. Blanca Felipe Blanca Felipe Blanca Felipe. Blanca Felipe's fingers on the knuckles of his clenched fist. Blanca Felipe walks nude from a room to the balcony, her swan's curve rump moves flexibly as Ishmael watches. Right when she crosses by the doorway, the breeze blows the transparent curtains and they cover Blanca Felipe's body. Her shoulders fall in distress. The girl moves her hand a long way from Ishmael's, closes her eyes and leans her head against her forearm. Ishmael reads this gesture as one of gentle fatigue rather than as one of rejection. Blanca Felipe open flower, juicy fruit offering itself, thick lips. Woman with half-closed eyes, head resting on her forearm. An old-fashioned title: "Image of Nude Woman Seen through Transparent Curtain that Enfolds Her Body." Ishmael sighs. He moves his hand along the pipe to the left. No one in his life has ever been named Blanca Felipe. It was the name he made up the night he made love on a stairway to a woman who trembled uncontrollably and wrote him letters she didn't mail from any post office or even put into stamped envelopes, because she herself was the mail carrier and the message, and Ishmael's chest was the distant mailbox. It only happened once. Ishmael read the letter, while on the second step she watched him with her hands intertwined. Ishmael moved up to the second step; she went up to the third. When he pulled her to him, he realized that she was naked under her dress. "I wore it for you." The white-painted stairway reminded him of an eighteenth-century painting of a court scene. Beside a staircase, a group of idling courtiers wearing wigs were gathered around a woman playing a clavichord. The picture hung on a dining room wall at Ishmael's house. That day Ishmael decided to call the unnamed woman Blanca Felipe. Eventually, the woman went off with her husband to a distant kingdom. Ishmael stayed on this side of the world with the letters and a name that evoked the soft rind of ripe fruits, the aroma and freshness of orange trees in blossom.

The girl, not named Blanca Felipe at all, feels under her fingers the hand of the guy who got on behind her. The man's hand is hot and sweaty. She pulls away from it, but their arms press together. His arm is aggressive enough to make her react and realize that, as so many times before, she is the victim of a subtle pursuit. She looks at the man out of the corner of her eye. Disgusting, not her taste, she could never sleep with a guy like that. To be even more sure, she looks at his hands. Small, hairy, short thick fingers. His fingernails aren't really filthy, but his hands are sweaty, his skin dark. His arm is sweating, too. She pulls hers away. Glancing at him, she can see how he's also peering sidelong at her. It's got to be the same guy who was pressing up against her bottom while she was hoisting the suitcase up. A guy like that-and here we have one of those bizarre coincidences unregistered by any form of memory-with dark skin, sweaty, short, low class, probably a real thug, insensitive, hateful, could only be named Ishmael. What an ordinary name, Ishmael. "Call me Ishmael," she'd never forget that book that began like that and was about whales, ships, crazy seamen. And as if that weren't enough, the main character was called nothing more and nothing less than Ishmael. That baffling book haunted her. The same ghoulish pleasure with which her boyfriend and some of his friends listened to the radio program "Point of View" had made her start reading that novel at least ten times in her life. Without ever getting beyond page twenty-five. The girl, not named anything like Blanca Felipe at all, hated the sea and the name Ishmael because hate for her father is the oldest and most deeply ingrained feeling she has. She looks at this other Ishmael's hands. "Call me Ishmael," the guy seems to be saying to her. What else could a guy like this with such repulsive hands be called? He probably beats up on his girl. What could this Ishmael's girl be like? And she imagines the man hitting some guy who sobs in a corner like a little fag. "No, please no, honey, no, don't be like this with me." But it could just as easily be . . . a helpless woman in that same corner, sobbing her heart out after a beating. Her good taste and liking for the tiniest details made her imagine the victims stripped down to their underwear. In both cases, they've been slugged for being unfaithful to Ishmael. "No, honey, don't be like this, it's not what you think," sniveled each one in turn. She's witnessed this scene, the general layout of it, thousands of times. Ishmael, her drunk father beating up her mother. By the time she was thirteen, she'd known for a while that her father was an alcoholic. One day in school when she was leafing through the biology textbook, she came across a chapter about the effects of alcohol on the body. The text was written with the intent of impressing and convincing a thirteen year old that alcohol was something truly poisonous. And she was convinced. She thought about taking the book to her father and showing him the picture of the liver of an alcoholic compared to that of a non-drinker. The diseased liver-said the words under the picture-was the color and consistency of a charred rock. That day Ishmael, obscene and brutal, took off from home as he did from time to time.

"Five! As far as the compañera with the sack!"

Another group of people climbed into the truck. Ishmael in the midst of the brief jostle of humanity sticks as if casually to his place just behind his Blanca Felipe's rump. Blanca Felipe is sandwiched between the hunter and a passenger. Alert. In keeping with her role in the hunt, she feels Ishmael's prick against her bottom, and she thinks she can intuit the filth accumulated under there, between the glans and the foreskin. All calm, finally.

The closeness and the contact with the girl's body excite Ishmael. But Ishmael is timid and any effort to approach Blanca Felipe with words seems almost impossible to him. Out of habit, he briefly considers the trite gambit of asking what time it is. Wondering about the time always opens or closes doors. He concentrates, and instead of seeming really strained, the four or five essential words flow out naturally. Blanca Felipe answers that it is four fifteen. Ishmael says something to her about the heat. To discuss the heat in these latitudes is to broach a subject about which everyone has opinions, often very definite opinions. They talk about the heat. The heat continues, but as a topic it is exhausted, drops running down Ishmael's forehead that he mops up with a handkerchief. Blanca Felipe answers his new questions solicitously. Ishmael smiles, sometimes it happens that people are not what they seem. He never thought he was so talkative. Never? asks Blanca Felipe, and she tells him that that word "never" sounds like they've known each other for a long time. Ishmael smiles again. Actually, it is seeming to him, too, that they have known each other for a while. How odd, right? Without quite realizing it, they are talking about themselves. Ishmael asks her what things she likes, and, in turn, she asks him. As often happens, Blanca Felipe is impressed with the young man's quick wits: Ishmael knows something about every topic. It's as though the girl were constantly playing at an infinite crossword puzzle. Blanca Felipe is a nurse and is coming from the hospital, she feels tired. Ishmael invites her to his room for a cup of jasmine tea. Blanca Felipe's lips tighten for a moment. Ishmael with the score in his favor stops being timid for once and answers for her.

"Five! Back as far as the lady with the child."

The room looks inviting enough. At this hour in the afternoon it's flooded with oblique sun that reminds him of the unreal light of a school of Italian painting. Ishmael has exalted ideas. From the dizzying heights of aesthetic contemplation, he checks to see whether Blanca Felipe is following him. Yes, she's taken the bait; he's reeling her in now, even though she may lose a few of her scales in the process. Ishmael, satisfied, holds out the tray with cups on it to her. Just as he guessed, she doesn't like it too sweet. Blanca Felipe, seated on the bed, sips with her eyes closed. The jasmine, the tea, the aroma, the smoke and the rays of light braided into a wispy spiral. It had been a long time since he'd met someone with whom he has so much in common, says Ishmael. It had been a long time since she had met a man with whom she had so much in common, repeats Blanca Felipe. Ishmael looks at her. Blanca Felipe looks at Ishmael. Sparks fly, flames crackle. The ceiling is old, you don't find wood beams like that any more, and you don't see lamps like that. Ishmael asks her if she is still tired. From the floor, Ishmael sees her feet, the cloth of her jeans pulled tight in the crotch, the fullness of her breasts, her armpits, her neck. He stands up, tells her that the way she's reclining there reminds him of an old painting. Italian Renaissance, naturally. He repeats the painter's name twice. Florentine? "Smiling Angel-Woman with Mirror Reclining on a Red Bedspread." Ishmael changes the cassette. "Misa cubana a la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre." The first song begins? Let me have a seat. Blanca Felipe moves over and Ishmael sits down beside her. Thanks, tea has been a godsend but she is still tired. She'd never turn down an offer like that, yes, she'd really like to have him give her a massage. Ishmael takes off her sandals. Just a foot massage? Ishmael caresses her instep, her graceful heel, the arch over the abyss, her exquisite toes. He puts on lotion and begins to rub them. Blanca Felipe doesn't feel the tickle, just the pleasure of giving herself over. 2: Kyrie Eleison. Ishmael brings each of her toes up to his mouth and kisses them, hardly opening his lips. The lotion and the dust from the road blend into one flavor. Ishmael runs his tongue the length of her soles. Blanca Felipe doesn't feel tickled, exactly speaking. Blanca Felipe half closes her eyes. The ceiling is a low and heavy cloud. His tongue plays with her toes and the cloud lowers to nest in her belly with the rhythm of a silent waterfall. Waterfall where the cloth of the jeans pulls tight and halves her dangerous pubic smile. A wave of vertigo shakes Blanca Felipe's belly. Oh, my feet! Lord have mercy on me. 3: Gloria. These are the feet that will offer salvation to men and to my name. Ishmael kneels on the bed. Blanca Felipe pulls her knees up and opens them. Ishmael is between them. His forehead rests on the zipper of her jeans, his lips skim over whatever her open legs allow him to reach. His mouth on her cunt, up and down. Ishmael murmurs a fervent prayer that only the dangerous, vertical, mute smile can hear. Glory be to you. For you alone are the holy one. Warm rain, fountain and spring, where the seed is nurtured. 4: Mysterious transparency. Damp wound of agitation hidden behind the whiteness of the cloth. The sun between Blanca Felipe's thighs. The mysterious light piercing the spread body. Blanca Felipe is the ship that will be boarded by knights and the destiny of small gods. The cup will receive our blood and will be the grail sown by other grails. "Come board my ship." "Stamp your emblem on my skin." "Thrust your sword under my belly." Ishmael seeks the perfect angle offered by Blanca Felipe's restless legs. The spurs sink into the flanks. Ishmael soars over Blanca Felipe's ship's skin, over the white skin of his Barca Felipe. 7: Sanctus. 8: Agnus Dei. The lamb bleats, buries its nose in the sparse grass. The earth is warm and open. The damp grass of her pubis comes apart in his fangs. Blanca Felipe bites her lips. Ishmael gives a last mighty heave and feels that his boots and belt buckle are hurting Blanca Felipe's body. The sun bursts out: Oh, Hosanna! The blood of the lamb, the knight's sword, Ishmael's boots, the spurs in the flanks, the cup into which blood drips, ever the same, the only ending. Blanca Felipe twists around, hammers her weak fists on Ishmael's back: ecstasy that sounds like empty drum music . . . 10: Salve Regina, salve, salve, all one, all the prayers . . .

"Five! Just five!"

Ishmael, excited, presses against the girl, victim of an inevitable loss of control. It's a great erection, one of those that stiffens the rod accompanied by a tingling that takes over the scrotum and makes the glans swell up and the veins throb and then the excitement flows up out of the testicles and expands into the rest of the penis until the first drops spurt out.

What is Blanca Felipe thinking about?

Since today is a day full of little coincidences that come and go unremarked, the girl remembers a book, another book, that her boyfriend has read out loud to her. It was about some interminable journeys the author made to some places quite a way from Havana. Her boyfriend told her about how, over a century ago, people used to take this road out to an area or distant place they called Vuelta Abajo. She didn't even know which way was west, which her boyfriend always called-and who knows why-the Land of the Setting Sun. And somewhere there, Vuelta Abajo could be found, a place remote in time, full of sugar mills, slave barracks, sugar-cane plantations. The book was enjoyable: it told about a series of pleasure trips that a man from Havana took to his distant properties. The man from Havana, besides writing about journeys, had gotten himself into a snarl of conspiracies, and had written, either before or afterward, a very important novel about blacks and whites, that everybody had to read in school, but for the life of her, she couldn't come up with the title or the heroine's name. It didn't matter if she couldn't remember stuff like that. The story was pretty gloomy, a complicated tangle of incests, passions, dances, knifings in alleyways. That story wasn't important; she liked the ones in TV soap operas better. Reading books was a bore, except when someone, preferably the man she was rolling in the hay with, read to her out loud. The road took an unexpected turn and merged around a bend with a railroad track. Now she had it! The guy from Havana who used to go to Vuelta Abajo was named Cirilo Villaverde;2 she remembered it now, seeing the railroad track. The guy also used to travel by train . . .

The sound of the wheels and the continuous hammering of the machine's iron pistons made so much noise that even though it was a regular rhythm, it became more and more monotonous and deafening as they began to move faster and as they were beginning to ache from the lurching of the cars. All this, combined with the spellbinding view through the windows of the infinite variety of farm work, trees, factories and beautiful landscapes (more beautiful seen in a rush), lulls her into a meditative mood. It's a while before she can pay attention to her travel companions. When she turns to face them, they are all conversing about various things, except for the gentleman seated at her side. She notices that he is gazing at her and she pretends indifference and distraction, then it suddenly occurs to her that she may have been impolite. She turns her head and their eyes meet. The delighted gentleman makes note of her little straw hat, adorned with a garland of white roses, its brim framing her face. She wears a dark dress, buttoned to the neck, with long sleeves and dark gloves. The gentleman also notices that she has blue eyes, filled with ineffable tenderness, and very white skin, and that between the silk ribbons of her bonnet may be glimpsed some locks of auburn hair so soft and lustrous that they are indistinguishable from the silk. The gentleman, between serious and playful, whispers in her ear: "It is I, Don Cirilo Villaverde, indefatigable traveler." He says this to her and she feels herself fall into the vertigo of the gentleman's eyes, light as her own. Don Cirilo takes her hand and slips off her glove and admires the wisdom with which the Great Creator crafts his delicate creatures. She feels the impact of Don Cirilo's words down there below her navel. Her hand rests quietly between the gentleman's. Don Cirilo thanks her for coming to their appointment. Each time he sees her is a rediscovery of her divine attributes, and they will play at reenacting the circumstances of their first meeting. Today he has once again been surprised by her eyes and their tenderness, their blue mystery, he says, lifting her hand to his lips. Then a thread of saliva lingers after their first kiss until it runs into Don Cirilo's snowy beard. Just after they've crossed the bridge built over the river, they know they are approaching the Cave, as the train goes past the steep rock walls. From a mile away, it looks like a black dot, the size of an orange, with two parallel railroad lines running into its center; as one gets closer, it widens, and finally one can see daylight on the other side. The locomotive enters it, carrying the furtive lovers in its wake, as it snorts and shoots off sparks, belching great clouds of smoke from its black smokestack. Don Cirilo whispers to her that before their very eyes looms the landscape that poets descend to hell to seek. The loud cry of "Get down!" echoed by all the passengers barely makes them turn around. Then there transpires the miracle of blackness, silence . . . there is no journey; she's alone with Don Cirilo in the midst of an eternal and distant night. She remains seated, while, standing, Don Cirilo removes first her straw bonnet, then her other glove. She pulls him to her, embracing his waist. Don Cirilo fondles her curls. Her arms tighten around him and she feels, pulsing against her breast, the stiff erection of the gentleman who writes about excursions, black women, and knife fights. Don Cirilo is lost in a forest of fastenings and ribbons and she feels the sweet certainty of what will happen in the next hour. Meanwhile, the gentleman's erection between her breasts, and she, letting herself be carried away. Meanwhile, this other erection here against her buttock persistent and real. How long has Ishmael been pressing up against her, erect against buttock and flank?

The girl takes a step away from her Ishmael, but she's already noticed her own reaction and that the erection is a good one, one of those that really stiffens up the cock. No doubt accompanied by that tingling that men swear takes over their scrotums and makes their glans swell up and their veins bulge out, and then it moves up from the testicles to the rest of the rod. The image crosses her mind of this Ishmael's dirty prick spurting out the first drops . . . She pushes two steps farther into the truck trying to put an end to it. A slight wave of nausea washes over her. Without her realizing it, while she was far from the truck, riding on an old train, this other Ishmael has taken advantage, thinking of who knows what filthy act. No doubt Ishmael was thinking he could take her while she was immobilized after he'd beaten her so. She concentrates and now she's tied to the head of an iron bedstead, her body aching all over, injured by the metal and by Ishmael's leather belt. Where the leather strap hasn't raised welts, the marks of Ishmael's fists stand out. His fists have bashed her lips, her cheekbones, her back. Ishmael has also taken the wise precaution of tying her feet. In that position she can hardly move her body at all. Hands and feet tied, aching: this boy knows what he's doing. Barechested, Ishmael paces around the bed. He's still holding his doubled belt in one hand, slapping it against the other palm once in a while. Ishmael doesn't say a single word. The national coat of arms gleams carved in relief all over her body.

Shining beneath her breasts are the gorro frigio,3 the rays of the sun and the majestic palm in the middle of the sheet. On her navel, the central stanchion of the coat of arms, as immobile as she is. Mahogany and guava branches on her thighs. Three purple stripes repeatedly on her arms. Distant mountains on her back blur into a long mountain range. And between her buttocks and above her pubis: the single key that opens and closes doors, gulfs, mysteries, souls, secrets and inner recesses of women. As a child, more than respect or veneration, the coat of arms managed to overwhelm her with its incomprehensible accumulation of capricious details. The national coat of arms on men's belt buckles-then absolutely anything could happen! Ishmael lashes her body furiously with his belt. Once again the gorro frigio is stamped on her lower belly. The man lowers his pants. She knew it, she just knew it!. Under and around the glans that filth that consists of a kind of strong-smelling white scum that people call smegma is accumulating disgustingly. Said straight out, Ishmael is a hell of a dirty scumbag. And since it's up to her to call this scene, she decides on a truce. She redoes the previous scene. This time Ishmael tosses the belt onto her body and says "It's your lucky day; today I want to share you with a friend: I'm sure you'll love him." Don Cirilo Villaverde, the gentleman and bearded traveler who writes about trains and black women infatuated with white plantation owners, is standing in front of the bed, clad only in a top hat and holding a small box. His cock is boiling away like a locomotive at full steam. Don Cirilo stretches back his foreskin so his admirer can see the shaft's shine and splendid construction: the marvel of his turgid pillar. "You're a lucky girl." "Beside you, the muses would pale with envy." Then he gestures to Ishmael to prepare the desk. When all is ready, Don Cirilo opens the box. Inside it are the very white paper, the inkwell and pens in perfect order. This time Don Cirilo will not be using ink, at least not the sort that poets usually use on these occasions. He tells the girl that between her legs she has the necessary fount of inspiration and ink. She feels the gentleman's fingers toying with her dampened clitoris, with its half open labia, probing eagerly into her vagina. Her sex throbs flooded. Don Cirilo's member also spurts drops and the clear liquid runs over the gleaming glans. Then the storyteller gives himself over to his boring task. He moistens his pen in both fluids and the other, the serious story he's writing, spouts up in a feverish jet of spray. Now the black woman and the plantation owner are not going for an evening carriage ride through the palm groves. Now Don Cirilo describes in his ink, in her ink, how the white man and the black woman, siblings although they don't know it, grapple with each other in the darkness of a back street in the San Cristobal area of Havana. The plantation owner faces her, and his sister, her back to the wall, is astride him, flushed and innocent, in a repeat performance of their father's virile acts that endowed them both with their male and female juices. The black woman cries out shuddering and the girl touches the ceiling untroubled by the bindings and Ishmael's blows; she floats as if she were levitating from the pages that Don Cirilo has been extracting from his guts, "You're really a lucky girl." And she feels the hard bulk of the cock pressing against her side.

Ishmael has returned to the hunt and again Blanca Felipe lets herself be pursued for a few seconds. Her ears are still ringing with the cries of the black woman impaled in the alley. Ishmael presses against her aggressively. His swollen rod nestles against Blanca Felipe's hip. Ishmael doesn't understand Blanca Felipe's game: it's as though she's switching on and off, sometimes accepting his approach, and sometimes not. Maybe the best thing to do would be to tackle her directly. But there are things about her he doesn't understand. It takes a lot of nerve to let a woman know you desire her with body language that's both discreet and clear. But it's even harder to put it in words, formulate a question that anticipates and evades rejection. Blanca Felipe's buttocks and hips, evasive, playful, were worth more than a hundred obvious or subtle words. Nah, he thinks, Blanca Felipe and he are creatures who act in an inexplicable way. And explicably or inexplicably Blanca Felipe slips away from him again, dragging her suitcase. Ishmael's hands can't resist pursuit, they slide along the pipe until they almost brush against his victim's fingers. The girl hopes that this time the distance will be definitive and the man will finally understand that her body, although at times it has remained passive, is spurning his persistence. She looks at the suitcase on the floor. Suitcases, made for journeys, also imply other tales and hers is very simple. Just about the first complete story we remember from childhood. Her mother has sent her off to visit her grandmother, who is ill. The contents of the suitcase reveal the changing times and the scarcity of medicines. Bayer aspirin, Acetaminophen, oregano syrup, cotton, the prayer to Saint Lázaro, some clothing, and, of course, a bottle of natural honey. Now remember, dear, her mother has warned her to take care and stay away from detours and don't hitch rides with strangers. At that point Ishmael addresses her and asks her where she's going. She tells him about her grandmother, a story that doesn't seem to bore wily Ishmael. Very unobtrusively, he gets off at the stop before hers, hardly saying good-bye. Ishmael runs and runs and gets to the grandmother's house first and peers through the window. It's true, the old lady is ill and lives alone. Ishmael looks around carefully to make sure that there are no neighbors around, or anyone from the police or the Revolutionary Defense Committee, and he slips into the house. Ishmael has small hands but he's strong. With one slug he silences the old woman and hides her in the wardrobe. The close timing spares the old woman from having the landscape fragments of the national coat of arms imprinted on her body. Pretty soon the granddaughter comes along and seated beside the bed, she begins the litany of escalating astonishment. "Granny, what big ears you have!" "Granny, what a big mouth you have!" "Granny, what big eyes!" "Granny, what big hands!" "Granny, what is that rising up under the sheet that smells so bad?" "Granny!" The girl wears an expression of terror, sure that her end has come. Ishmael has tied her up and lifts his doubled belt. The electric light glints on the star and the gorro frigio. He knows what will happen next. But the story doesn't end there. Don Cirilo Villaverde is in the doorway armed with a long musket. A shot and Ishmael's head blows apart like a grenade. The writer drops the musket and she feels his fingers play with her clitoris, her labia, circle the opening of her vagina. Soon she won't be tied up and . . . she knows that Don Cirilo's cock is swelling under his fly and is hard enough . . . as hard as the indefatigable battering ram wielded by Ishmael the inveterate hunter.

Blanca Felipe retreats again into the center of the truck satisfied with her ability to relate words to things. Ishmael stays where he was. For the first time he becomes aware that various people are following the progress of the hunt, with interest or disgust. Ishmael looks at the suitcase. Blanca Felipe's feet are under it. Ishmael feels ashamed; rather, Ishmael feels a little bit ashamed. BLANCA FELIPE BLANCA FELIPE BLANCA FELIPE, he repeats. BLANCA FELIPE, open flower, ripe fruit, soft rind, fresh aroma of twilight flowers after the rain. Still ashamed, he thinks that Blanca Felipe is a good name. He overhears-by chance, really-two women who are discussing his erection in a tone of disapproval: "People will do anything right out on the street. It's going from bad to worse"; that or something like that must be what they are saying, he senses. Ishmael looks at the suitcase. How can he slow down his rising excitement? He usually finds it useful in these situations to think about the question of whether God exists or not. He plunges into profound reflection. Who is God? Where can he be found? Where does he come from? What made him? What has he done? What does he look like? Is he liquid or gaseous? Is he someone created by man? Is he a psychological phenomenon, a product of the mind, the imagination? . . . His erection subsides a little. But it's got a ways to go, and, sure that the two women are still clucking about it, he gives up on the Creator and switches to platitudes: "The swallow is a bird that soars high and keeps an eye out for possibilities: we have to follow its example"; "my best quality and my worst defect are being me"; and something definitive: "no question about it, I like women who are the color of intelligence." The result is impressive: the spirit has triumphed over the body and shrunk it down. Blanca Felipe looks at the suitcase. What happens if this guy gets off right behind me and follows me along the embankment and grabs me by the hair and beats me and then he rapes me and when he's lying on me relaxed after the pleasure he's taken, then I tell him I have HIV and I'm just out of the sanitarium on a pass, then he'll hit me again and beg me to tell him it's a lie and I'll tell him it's the truth that he should look and find the sanitarium ID card and infuriated he pulls away and looks through my stuff until he finds my IDs and he finds the certificate from the sanitarium which lists my treatment and he starts hitting me again this time more furiously, but even so he can't keep me from bursting out laughing, seeing how the devil and death are in cahoots, and Ishmael (because Ishmael and none other is really the right name for this guy) gets to his feet and starts to run without knowing where and an ambulance is coming along the highway with Don Cirilo Villaverde himself at the wheel. Ishmael looks at the green suitcase, the green of surgical scrubs. The surgical green reminds him of hospitals, the "romantic statistics and the cold tinsel of wedding cakes," and hospitals make him think of AIDS. "Romulus and the Sabine Women," "The Rape of the Mulatto Women." Ishmael transformed into a hero yells threats as he mounts Blanca Felipe in the middle of a field, after licking her sexual parts with the singlemindedness with which one dog licks another. Because that's what Blanca Felipe is, a bitch in heat who repeats the word PRICK over and over again on their wild ride as she feels the thrust of his rod, its aim and hardness the essentials of their adventure. Macho-Ishmael shakes himself off, gets to his feet, enjoys the humiliation of the scene. But he hasn't finished enjoying himself when Blanca Felipe tells him it's AIDS she's got, not HIV but AIDS. Ishmael digs frantically through the suitcase until he finds the document, the certificate from the sanitarium, the treatment list on the pass. Enraged, he wants to kick her until he finishes her off and turns her into a bloody heap, but something stronger than him makes him abandon any resolve: it's not necessary to hit Blanca Felipe, it's too easy and useless to smash her diseased flesh. Something inside him has broken. In the distance the sound of an ambulance can be heard, announcing the Kyrie Eleison, the Agnus Dei, the Sanctus, the Benedictus.

Ishmael, a fan of heraldry, wiped out and shamed by another short, useless battle, got down off the truck that was once used to transport cattle at the last stop. As the truck moves on, he sees before him the coat of arms with the Harley-Davidson white-headed eagle, the sign "I keep my hands off my friend's girl," FLEET OPERATOR. Once he gets home he will write a poem about a sinuous continent that will burn, masking the primordial deed, like the narrator of stories who told his compañeros tales about the hunt they themselves had gone on just hours before. The poem will say

I say:
even knowing it, I had
half of a city
shadows in contraband of subtleties
each one offered the beams of his own roof
blood-drained lanterns, faint marker in the range of reds
had the city
that each morning vomited me out
toward a beach where everything was in order
I had sex with you

your cunt was nothing other than the same taste of the only mollusk you had I had nothing when I could have been motor and sail in your pupils I stumbled across the bones on my way back to my beach.

At the moment when Blanca Felipe and Ishmael are face to face, one on top, the other underneath, Ishmael surprises himself by executing an involuntary salute that Blanca Felipe doesn't notice because she's rubbing her eyes with her hand in a gesture of fatigue. Blanca Felipe's real name, thanks to an act of folly on the part of Ishmael, her father, is Ladymary, or rather Leidimari. Leidimari exchanges a complicitous look with the women who are seated: "There's crime everywhere you go these days, it's going from bad to worse . . ." Tonight she'll ask her boyfriend to come to her bed in a top hat and naked, and get him to talk to her first about the brother and sister, the black woman and the white man, who went at it in an alleyway, and about the streams running along the edge of the palm groves. Don Cirilo will yank on her mane, that fog at the end of their wild gallop is Vuelta Abajo, girl, do you understand me?

"Six!" said the amarillo.

Ishmael's poem never had a final title. First he called it "M-C-M," for "merchandise-cash-merchandise." Then he thought that "Scrutiny" would be better, and more or less complacently he sent it to a contest organized by his town's cultural council every February fourteenth. Ishmael received the second prize and not the first because the judges decided that while the poem was salvageable, the title was a disaster. Second prize consisted of a dinner for two at the El Gallo restaurant. Since Ishmael didn't have a guest, he went by himself. He spent the interval before he was waited on trying to think up a better title. When the waitress appeared, Ishmael asked her what her name was and he explained why he was in the restaurant. She took an interest. He overcame his shyness and recited the poem from memory. The waitress liked it, but what did "Scrotiny" mean? That did it, women were wise about these things: the title was worse. They traded names and addresses. While he was eating, Ishmael imagined that the woman was named Blanca Felipe and that he fucked her on the stairs. When the image faded, he thought that the old man who was eating his soup making an infernal racket at the next table was Don Cirilo Villaverde himself, the novelist adventurer, who was gesturing to him, go for it man, don't miss your chance, go after her: she's hooked. Ishmael was sure: nothing would happen this time either. As time went by, Ishmael forgot the poem.

1Amarillo: the yellow-jumpsuited state employee at official roadside stops, whose job it is to stop all vehicles with room for passengers, and decide how many passengers may board.

2Cirilo Villaverde (1812-94), journalist, newspaper editor, author of some twenty romantic novels, including the well-known Cecilia Valdés o La Loma del Angel (1839-82), referred to here, in which the white son of a sugar plantation owner and his mulatta half-sister are lovers. Villaverde was very active in the movement for Cuban independence, and was arrested for taking part in a conspiracy in Vuelta Abajo and in other uprisings; he was sentenced to death, but escaped in 1849 and lived in exile in New York for most of the rest of his life.

3Gorro Frigio: the Phrygian cap with one five-pointed star on it (as on the Cuban flag) that is atop the Cuban national coat of arms, a very prominent and important symbol of nationalism.

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