|Selbstroporträt mit gesenktem Kopt, 1912|
By Harold Kremer
Translated from Spanish by Jennifer Gabrielle Edwards
Today I go to the office at six in the afternoon. The secretary says that Carepasa wants to see me. I go up to his office. He tells me to sit down. My feet hurt. I have blisters on one of them. Without looking at me he asks for the invoices, without looking at me he looks at them one by one and he takes notes in an account-book.
“Only five boxes?”
“Only five,” I answer.
He scratches his head. He picks up his pen and then he leans back.
“I think I’ll send you to that training course. What did you do today, son?”
I spend the whole afternoon calling home from a payphone. It’s busy. I’m in the Santa Elena marketplace. I put down the phone and go to one of the stands. I present the product, give him the pitch: gelatin with a double dose of vitamin C. It doesn’t sell, answers an almost blind old lady. We’re here to serve. I leave my card. I go back to the phone. Busy. I go to another stand. I shake hands with a greasy old man. I still have the entire previous order, he points. And there are the faded boxes. I go back to the phone and dial slowly. An eternity goes by. Busy. I want to go home and kill Ana.
“I covered the entire Santa Elena marketplace,” I say. “About fifteen stands.”
Carepasa doesn’t take his eyes off of me. I stare back.
“Where do you think, son, the money to pay the employees comes from?”
I’ve never thought about it. It doesn’t interest me.
“From the sale of bakery goods,” I answer.
“Correct…When a company as important as ours launches a new product into the market, it has to make an investment. Generally, you don’t expect to make any money off of it for the first year. But, do you know how long we’ve had the gelatin out on the market?”
He makes a note in his account-book.
“Tell me, son…”
I hate the old bastard.
“Three years,” I say.
“You are mistaken. They’ve been on the market for five years and we are the second largest manufacturers of gelatin in Colombia. Bogotá has the highest sales figures, Barranquilla is second, Medellín is third… Do you know what place Cali is in?”
He makes another note in his account-book. He’s always making notes, he keeps statistics, he’s always making charts. And he always asks me questions that I can’t answer.
“Tell me, son…”
“Fourth place. We’re in fourth place.”
“You are mistaken. We’re in seventh place,” he taps his head several times with his index finger. “Think for a moment: Do you think it’s fair that the third most important city in the country is in seventh place?”
I say no with my head. But the old man wants to hear my voice and waits for an answer.
I’m tired and I shift positions in the chair. I think of Ana. I want to get home and hear her say that nothing has happened.
“That’s right, son. I have to send a report to Bogotá every month. And every month I am ashamed at our sales rate. Three years ago we were in second place. We struggled for every bakery, every shop, we convinced people that they needed our products… but first the salesman himself has to believe in the product. Tell me the truth: Do you consume Gelqueen in your home?”
He places his hands on the desk and observes me.
“We love it,” I say. “Especially my little girl. She loves the tutti frutti flavor. Sometimes I buy it right here.”
My daughter hates Gelqueen. “It looks like rubber and tastes like paint,” she says.
“That’s good, son. A good salesman starts at home. I dream of the day when people can’t live without Gelqueen. When that day comes we will be big. Understand?”
I move my head affirmatively and I again change position.
Then he gets up and goes to the small built-in bookshelf in the wall. He looks through a pile of papers and dusty books. He takes out a book and slaps it against the desk to remove the dust. The dust makes him cough.
“The Best Salesmen in America by Doctor Pedro Mejía Arana.”
On the cover is a map of North America and a smiling man, with glasses, holding a trophy.
“This book is our bible, son. You have to read it four or five times a year. I still read it.”
I open it. It’s a shitty little book with chapters like: What is a Product? What is a Customer? What Does it Mean to Sell?”
“Our bible,” he repeats.
He sits down and observes me. I continue to page through it, I read the titles out loud. Carepasa smiles.
“You’ll have time enough to read it, it’s a gift. I want to make you into a good man, a great salesman. Now tell me: You’re married? Right?”
“Yes, don Ismael.”
“How many children do you have…?”
“Just the little girl, don Ismael…”
“And your wife…?”
My wife is the biggest whore in America. Two weeks ago I discovered that she’s having an affair with some shyster lawyer. She doesn’t deny it but says that nothing has happened yet. According to Ana he is an interesting man with whom she talks about interesting things. And if nothing has happened yet it’s because she loves me. Meanwhile, I go around wearing out pairs of shoes, my feet are becoming deformed, my blisters torture me, my head is a piece of gelatin. Last night she got home at one in the morning. She denied she had been with the lawyer. She left the university with some classmates and went to the Casona Bar for a few beers. She was drunk, but I didn’t have the strength to keep her from sleeping, to start a fight, to wake up the kid.
“Her name is Ana,” I say. “She’s in law school…she’s wonderful, a perfect wife… she loves our little girl and me… I think that together we’re really going to get somewhere in life.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” says the bastard. “Later on, son, when you become a star salesman, the company will give you loans so you can buy yourself a house and a car. That’s how I started thirty-five years ago. At that time I was a young man just like you… skeptical and rebellious… and now I am convinced that the family gives us happiness, the company well-being and the State liberty.”
Reminding me of Ana makes me bitter. I want to get up and strangle him, throw him out the window, cut his throat with a knife. He’s been giving me this speech for three months now. When my wife stays out late and I can’t sleep I make myself think of nice things to avoid the bitterness. But few nice things have happened in my life. Then I hear Carepasa’s voice and I can’t avoid the bitterness anymore. Everything I hate begins to swarm around my head: gelatin, family, the company, the State. Then come my mother, my wife and then once again gelatin.
“Now go, son,” he says. “Your family is waiting for you.”
I go out into the street and go up San Nicolás to Fifteenth Avenue. Overflowing buses. Cars. Vendors. Thieves. Prostitutes. I clutch my knife and cross the avenue. My feet hurt.
Today I arrive at the office early. Carepasa wants to see me. I give the invoices and the briefcase to the secretary and I tell her that I’ll be right back. I go to the university. It’s Friday and I need to speak with Ana. I ask the guard where the law school is. He looks me up and down.
I don’t know. He tells me that there are seven first year classrooms. I try to go in and he stops me. He’s a puny Indian with a sly face.
“I need to speak with my wife. My mother-in-law is in the hospital and she could die at any moment.”
He claims that I need a student ID card. It’s an order from the rector’s office. There are rumors that the guerrillas want to take over the university.
“What about my mother-in-law?”
He speaks with another guard. He asks for my national ID card and he frisks me. He finds the knife, a switch blade that I always carry.
“To defend myself against thieves,” I explain.
The other guard also frisks me.
“Go ahead, but I’ll keep the knife here for you.”
I go to the classrooms and look inside from the doors. Sixty, seventy students per room: everyone is talking about family, laws, and society. I walk through the corridors, I read the notice boards. I want to barge in on her and the lawyer. Finally I go back for my knife and go to the cafe across the street. There’s nowhere to sit. They bring me a little stool. I don’t recognize anyone. Everyone is yelling, everyone’s getting ready to party, the stereo muffles the voices. I order a beer. They start to leave at nine thirty. I pay and stand by the door. I wait for half an hour. Ana is not at the university. So I touch my knife and go down to the Casona Bar.
The bouncer doesn’t want to let me in. He claims that there are no free tables, but I push him aside and go in. It’s dark inside. I go from table to table, I go up to the couples dancing. Suddenly someone grabs my arm: it’s the bouncer. I break free and clutch my knife.
“I told you there aren’t any tables!”
“I know, asshole!”
He leaves and comes back with two waiters.
“We would like you to please leave, sir,” says one of them.
I take out the knife and release the blade.
“Who’s going to make me?”
Two women coming out of the bathroom see us and begin to scream. Instantly all of the women are screaming. The tables are emptied. I move forward bracing myself with my feet wide. The waiters retreat. The music is turned off. I make a threatening gesture with the knife and they jump back. One of them takes a step forward and I strike him with the knife almost slashing open his belly. The man recoils and falls on his back. Someone is saying something next to me.
“What’s going on? What’s going on here? What does he want?”
He approaches with his hands in front of his chest. I turn slightly. They’re cornering me. He talks to the waiters.
“I’ll speak to him… come on, man: what do you want?”
I vacillate between the group of waiters and the man. I see the lights reflected in the blade of the knife. I turn it over in my hand.
“This asshole insulted me!” I yell, pointing at the waiter with the knife.
The guy looks at them, he signals them with his head.
“We’re very sorry, sir… anything you want is on the house, but I’m begging you to put away that knife.”
I know the trick. Put away the knife, we’ll all be friends and then medley of punches and kicks. I hear a siren. I step backwards towards the door. There’s a group of people gathered on the other side of the street. The siren is getting louder. I leave with the knife in my hand and everyone screams and runs. The police car isn’t there yet. I run towards the university, three blocks up the hill. I jump over a fence and dive onto the ground. I wait for about an hour. The police car passes by several times. I wait for another hour. I walk alongside the university and I buy a bottle of aguardiente. I get home and, before opening the door, I know that the house is empty.
Today I get up at nine o’clock. I throw up and take four aspirin. The house is a disaster: dirty dishes, clothes strewn on the floor, trash everywhere. I open the freezer and there is no ice. Ana left me a week ago. She went to live with Angelita at my mother-in-law’s house. I try to talk to her every day but she’s never there. On Wednesday and Thursday I waited until late for her in the park across from my mother-in-law’s house. The whore now lives in motels, with the lawyer. She left me a note saying that she wanted to be alone for a while. She talks about the future, our little girl, my alcoholism. I know that she didn’t write it: the lawyer dictated it to her. I shower and dial the phone. It’s her.
“I’m going over there,” I say. “I need to talk to you.”
“I don’t want to see you. A friend of mine told me what you did at the Casona. It’s over.”
“I want you to tell me in person.”
“I don’t want to see you!” she yells. “If you come I’ll call the police!”
I hear her breathing. She’s frail.
“You’re going to keep me from seeing my daughter!”
Silence. She tells me to wait. I hear voices in the background. I think that one of them is a man. She comes back to the phone.
“You can come.”
Blood rushes to my head.
“That son-of-a-bitch lawyer is there!”
“No… what’s happening between us has nothing to do with him… he’s only a friend.”
“And since when do friends feel up their friends!”
She slams down the phone. I get dressed fast and run to flag down a taxi. There aren’t any taxis in Cali on a Saturday at 11 in the morning? When my daughter sees me she runs to hug me. I love my little baby. She’s five years old and I let her do anything she wants. My witch of a mother-in-law wants to pry her away from me. Angelita tells me about Ana: she sleeps late, she doesn’t feed her, she’s constantly on the phone. And if the kid demands something, like to play or to go out, she punishes her. I hate Ana. I’m always inventing games with Angelita. We go to the park. I ask her if Ana is at home. She presses her lips together and shakes her head. I see the curtain moving. I ask her again.
“It’s grandma,” she says.
And then she laughs. She lets go of my hand and runs to hide behind a tree. I lean against it and pretend that I’m crying for my lost daughter. Angelita appears with her arms open and we roll around the ground. We play that the park is a forest.
“Who am I?”
“You’re a rooster lost in the forest,” Angelita says opening wide her eyes, showing her little teeth as she laughs.
And I make like a rooster. The witch is still behind the curtain. I jump and yell more fervently.
“What do roosters do?” I ask.
“They help the hens make chicks.”
Angelita is very intelligent. She runs towards me with her open arms and we fall to the ground again. I sit her on my lap. An old man is watching us.
“An old man,” she says. She brings her little face up to my ear, she cups it with both her hands and whispers: “he’s watching us.”
I get up and yell:
“What the hell are you looking at, you old fag!”
The old man runs to other side of the park. Angelita laughs. We sit down and she tells me the story of “The Little Mermaid.” Then we lie down on the grass and find animals in the clouds. Suddenly the little girl whispers in my ear:
“I saw mama kissing a man.”
My heart jumps. I close my eyes. I feel like I’m drowning. I begin to sweat.
“Who is it?” I ask with a suffocating voice.
“Mr. Gerardo… and…and…and mama went away in a big car with him.”
I go into the house and tell the kid to pack her things.
“The girl is not leaving!” shouts the witch.
She grabs her arm and pulls at her until she cries. I push the old woman. The kid screams. I take out the knife and put it up to her face.
“Let go of her or I’ll cut you!”
She lets go of her. I take her to her room so she can pack. I go back to the living room. The old woman is crying. She wants to talk me out of it, she talks about clothes, food, education. She pays for Ana’s clothes, Angelita’s school and sometimes does the grocery shopping. I yell that my daughter can’t get a good education in a brothel, in a neighborhood full of fags.
The old woman runs to her room. I walk up and down the living room: imported porcelain, large, clean armchairs, rug under the table. I kick over a large vase. It shatters against the wall. I open the knife and plunge it into an armchair. I want to tear it but I can’t. However hard I try I only manage to make a small hole. Then I start to slash it with the knife. Then I continue with the others. I grab some soil from a flower pot and I throw it onto the rug. I go to the kitchen and bring back a jug of water: I pour half of it onto the rug and I rub my shoes in it. I pour the rest of the water into the vents of the television. Angelita still hasn’t come out of her room. I hear her screaming. The witch has locked her in her room.
“Papa, papa!” she screams behind the door. “Grandma locked me in!”
She’s with her. I tell her to let her out or I’ll break down the door. She yells that the police are on their way. I push it with my shoulder, I walk back two steps and I kick it in the middle. It shakes a little. I take a running start and smash against it with my shoulder, but I bounce off and fall to the floor. I get up and start kicking it again. I stop for a moment to catch my breath and then I see the policemen. One kneeling on one knee and the other standing, pointing their guns at me.
“Stop or I’ll shoot,” yells one of them.
Angelita is crying. I tell them that the girl is my daughter and that she’s been kidnapped. They hesitate for a moment.
“Against the wall!,” says the one who is kneeling. Angelita is still crying. The policeman insists: “Against the wall with your hands up!”
They frisk me and find the knife. The old woman opens the door and the kid runs into my arms. We go to the living room. I’m carrying my daughter. The witch screams when she sees the furniture. She says that I’m a degenerate, that I’m crazy. I scream that she’s kidnapped my daughter. My mother-in-law wants them to take me in for damage to private property.
“This torn furniture and the broken vase, were they like this before?” I ask the kid.
We all look at Angelita. She says, pointing at my mother-in-law:
“Grandma did it.”
“She did it so she could blame me for it!” I add immediately.
A small group of people forms outside: I see the old fag and I wink at him. They put me in the back seat. They don’t talk along the way.
Today I decide not to go to work. I call the office and tell the secretary, in a quavering and weak voice, that I’m dying of fever. She connects me to Carepasa. My voice shakes, for real, when I hear him. He wants to make a good man out of me. He gives me advice about the chills and the fever.
“Tell your wife to prepare you a hot toddy.”
Since my health insurance card still hasn’t arrived, he gives me the name of the company doctor. I pretend that I’m going to get a pen and paper, I cover the mouthpiece with my hand, and I listen. He’s talking to someone.
“It’s one of those salesmen… now he says he’s sick…”
He covers the mouthpiece and I can still hear.
“…What do we have to lose if he only sells five boxes a week…”
Then silence. I hear distant laughing. He tells me the address and tells me about the training course. He already enrolled me and it begins in a week. I use the trick of getting disconnected: as I’m speaking I hang up the phone. I get into bed. I haven’t slept in three days. There are days when I can’t even get to sleep drunk. I’m afraid. I hear the sounds of the night and I think that something terrible is going to happen to me, that the police are coming to get me or that some hit men are breaking in to kill me. My heart quickens. I pull the blanket up to my neck, close my eyes, and resign myself to whatever happens. When I manage to fall asleep I dream of scenes from my childhood, things that I can’t remember afterwards.
I go out at eleven o’clock and hire a cart. We load the refrigerator, the stove, the stereo, and the television. We go to a pawnshop. They give me two hundred thousand pesos. Then I go to 11th Street and ask for Chucho. They take me through tenement rooms, corridors, and holes in patio walls that lead to other tenements. It smells like crack, shit and urine. I want a pistol with a silencer, but I don’t have enough money. I negotiate for a revolver and twenty bullets.
Today is Wednesday. On Monday I went to Gerardo’s bar. A young whore sits down at my table. She looks good and I buy her a few beers. She’s twenty or twenty five years old and she’s missing a tooth. I like her like that, missing a tooth, with her big, black eyes. She’s short, well-built and when we’re on our fourth beer she asks me if I want to go to bed with her. I tell her that I don’t sleep with whores. She replies that she’s not a whore, that she does it because she needs the money and she tells me a story that includes husband, son, mother, brothers and sisters, rent money. It sounds like a soap opera. I smile. I order more beer and I repeat that I don’t sleep with whores. We chat for a while and she leaves. She goes from bar to bar searching for a place to crash. After a while she comes back and sits down. We keep drinking.
She looks at me with her big eyes and remains silent. I realize that she’s high. I tell her that I’m a salesman and I vomit The Best Salesman in America on her. I explain to her what a commodity is and how to sell it. She listens carefully to me, at least I think so. I convey to her that her problem lies in combining begging with prostitution.
“If you lived in North America you’d have someone to manage your business for you, someone to tell you what you should sell, how to do it, and how much to charge…”
Maria lights a cigarette.
“…and that you can’t go around begging, giving discounts.”
She asks me how my salesman job is going. I think for a moment and I tell her the truth: badly.
“Gelqueen is pure crap. Whoever buys it for the first time never buys it again.”
I explain to her that I’m looking into a job in a dairy company. I drink beer. My mood has lifted after the story I’ve just invented. I have often dreamt of an important post as a salesman. Perhaps my problems would be resolved, perhaps I’d be able to get back together with Ana and my little girl, I’d have time to go back to school, it would be… Maria is speaking to me.
“I’ll charge you half-price.”
I don’t sleep with whores, I repeat. She continues to reduce the price. She’s drunk, a little more than me. Finally she says for free.
“You pay for the room.”
I pay the bill and take her home. When we arrive she falls asleep, with her clothes on. I undress her. She’s not bad. She has a scar just above her belly button and another on her back. They look like zippers. I lie down next to her and I feel good, calm. I bring over a bottle of Ana’s perfume and put some on her neck, her ears and her shoulders. I hold her hand and I fall into a deep sleep. I wake up at dawn. Maria is still next to me. It’s still dark outside. I go to the bathroom to urinate. Then I drink two glasses of water, go back to bed and immediately fall asleep.
I wake up sweating at ten. Maria’s gone. I look for her all over the house. I remember the revolver in the kitchen. It’s still there. I put it in my briefcase and run to shower. I’m hungry, I’m in a hurry. I go up to Fifth Street. The bus is late and I’m about to call the whole thing off. But the bus appears.
The house is perfect. It’s in front of a park and there are empty lots on either side. Neighborhood of the rich, property of the rich, streets of the rich, cars of the rich. I hate rich people. The guard goes to lunch at noon. I walk with my briefcase towards the mountains. I stop by a shop and drink a coca cola and eat two cheese bread rolls. I try to think of other things: of my little girl, of Ana, of Maria, of Carepasa, of the bond the police inspector made me sign to get out of jail. I could see my little girl for three hours every fifteen days until family court decided otherwise. I couldn’t go anywhere near my mother-in-law’s house. And the lawsuit for the kidnapping of my daughter? I asked. You have to file it in criminal court, he said. When they took me out of the cell I saw Ana in the other room, for an instant, with the lawyer. If I didn’t sign I would run the risk of being sued for making death threats and for damage to private property. I signed. They took me to the cell. Soon they let me go.
I go to the park and don’t see anyone. I walk to the house imagining Ana in bed with the lawyer, explaining to her her rights concerning our daughter. Then I’m filled with bitterness. I open the gate and ring the doorbell. The servant appears. I ask for doña Francisca as I take out a manila folder from my briefcase.
“These papers were sent by Mr. Gerardo.”
She wants me to pass them to her through the window. I tell her that the papers have to be signed, I have to take them back with me.
“Hurry up I’m hungry!” I say. “I’m expected out in Aguablanca for lunch.”
She hesitates for a moment. She opens the door. I push open the door with my shoulder and enter removing the revolver from my briefcase. The servant falls back onto the floor. I hit her with the side of the revolver and I crush my finger in the process.
“Keep quiet or I’ll kill you!”
I grab her by the hair but she twists out of my grip and takes off running. I pursue her to the servant’s room. There she starts to scream, calling to doña Francisca. When she sees me she gets up on the bed. She huddles in a corner, crying.
“Keep quiet or I’ll kill you!” I repeat.
My voice cracks when I ask her how many people are in the house. Suddenly I’m out of strength and I sit next to her. I calm her down: I only want to steal.
“No screaming,” I say approaching her face. “How many are there?”
Doña Francisca and her, she says. The mister gets home at 1. Could doña Francisca have heard her screams? I place the revolver between her eyes. She’s sleeping, she says. That’s very nice. It’s noon and she’s still sleeping. Fucking rich old lady. I get up and turn on the television at high volume. I toss her a blanket.
“You’re going to stay here and watch the soap opera while I go upstairs. Put the blanket over you.”
She pulls the blanket over her head. She begs me not to kill her, that the money, jewelry, and dollars are upstairs, that she won’t report him. I grab a cushion and put it on her head. I push it down on her.
I position the revolver and shoot. Her body stops moving. From the door to the kitchen I can see the servant’s face. Blood drips down her neck. Her eyes are open, staring to one side. I go back and throw another blanket over her and sit down on the bed. There’s a commercial on the television. I hear a ring and turn down the television. I’m sweating. It rings again. It’s the telephone. Someone answers upstairs. I run to the living room and pick up the receiver. It’s the lawyer. He won’t make it home tonight, he has a lot of work to do. I know the work he does with Ana. I curse my bad luck. I sit for a few seconds and decide to go upstairs. The doors to the bedrooms are open. Doña Francisca is still on the phone. I go in when she hangs up. She’s lying down thinking about what a good man her husband is.
“This is a stick up!” I yell. “Keep quiet or I’ll kill you!”
She rubs her eyes. She’s well into her fifties, withered, stout.
“What do you want?” she says swallowing hard. “There’s money in my purse… and the jewelry is over there…”
She points to a small chest.
“That’s more like it,” I say. “If you scream I’ll kill you. I only want the money.”
I look through her purse. At least two hundred big ones. A bonus. I go to the jewelry chest: rings, bracelets, earrings. I ask her about the dollars.
“That’s…all there is…”
“Get up, you old hag!”
I grab her by the hair and I push the revolver into her ribs. I lead her to the wardrobe and make her open it.
“There’s only clothes,” she says. “The jewelry and the money is all I have.”
I push the barrel into her. I push it in hard several times. She’s cornered against the wall.
“You want me to shoot you?”
She doesn’t think I’m serious. I lift the revolver and hit her in the head with it. She hunches over a bit and lets out a squeal like a rat. I pull her up by her hair and I point the gun at her face. She points to a box. I throw aside the clothing and there, wrapped in plastic, is the wad, the dollars. Doña Francisca cries. I help her get up and lay her down on the bed.
“Don’t worry,” I murmur to her. “I’ll be leaving soon.”
I toss her the blanket.
“You just watch the soap opera while I leave.”
I turn on the television at high volume. The news is on. They’re reporting a massacre in Urabá. Seventeen dead. I sit on the edge of the bed and watch the news report. Doña Francisca is curled up into a ball wrapped up in the blanket. I shoot her from behind. I turn down the volume a little and go to the bathroom to wash up.
Today I get up late. I call the office and tell the secretary that I’m still sick. She thinks that they’re going to fire me. She wants me to talk to Carepasa. I hang up and get back into bed. Maria is asleep. Last night we drank at Gerardo’s until late. She wanted money, she wanted me to pay for the other night.
“I didn’t even touch you,” I said.
She doesn’t believe me. She gets riled up and I tell her to leave. I call Gerardo. He appears with a metal rod.
“I told you not to bother my customers.”
She promises to behave, bows her head and asks for forgiveness. She does the same with me. We drink a bottle and then we go home. Maria is drunk and yells in the street that she’s a whore, that I can fuck her whenever I want. For free. When we get home I take her to the bathroom.
“You have to bathe,” I say. “You smell like a whore.”
She doesn’t want to. I get under the shower with her and scrub her all over. I get Ana’s perfume. She can hardly stand up. I corner her in the bathroom. I dry her thoroughly, I put perfume on her, I make her put on some pajamas. We go to bed. I caress her and press against her body squeezing her tight. And I immediately fall asleep.
Maria wakes up at noon. I’m about to leave. I tell her that I have to deliver an order. She’s hungry. I go to the store for bread and soda.
“If you wait here I’ll bring you food.”
I buy the newspapers on the street. I go to Gerardo’s and ask for my briefcase. I take out the dollars, I put them into a bag and I give them to him. I say:
“This is hot, Gerardo.”
He looks into my eyes and winks.
“I don’t know a thing,” he says.
I go back to Chucho’s. Rooms, corridors, holes. The smell makes me vomit. He’s sitting on a leather armchair. In the semidarkness I can make out the silhouette of a woman. I only hear murmurs. Half an hour later they let me come in. Chucho makes a gesture and the two men who ushered me in disappear. The room is enormous, with high ceilings, full of boxes, televisions, stereos. Just below the ceiling is a small window through which a little bit of light enters. Chucho laughs. He’s missing several teeth. He’s short and skinny. He watches me for a few moments before speaking.
“What do you want?”
“I want something better…the nice one with the silencer…”
I hand him the revolver and the jewelry. He turns around to look at them under the light from the little window. I assure him that they’re worth more than five million pesos. Chucho laughs. He says that they’re worth ten times less. I take them back, ask for the revolver and say my goodbyes. Chucho continues to laugh.
“Who’s going to buy them from you?”
I tell him of a pawnbroker. He laughs again. There’s a policeman looking for them at every pawnshop.
“I know,” I say. “But at Joaquin’s they take them through the back door.”
He lights a cigarette, scratches his shoulder and stares at me.
“Do you know who Faunita’s servant was?”
I’m speechless. Chucho takes a puff at his cigarette. I swallow hard.
“What are you talking about?”
“… people tell you things, you hear things, you ask around and you guess the rest.”
“So who was the servant?”
“A policeman’s sister,” he says.
I look for a place to sit. There are no chairs. Chucho follows me with his eyes.
“Everything and nothing is known.”
“Who else knows about this?” I ask.
“No one knows,” he says. “Not even me.”
I want to go and I look for the way out. Chucho stops me.
“What do you want?”
I look at him. He’s still there, sitting, with the cigarette between his fingers. He gestures for me to approach.
“The nice one with the silencer…”
He gets it. He wipes it off with his shirttails. He removes the silencer and puts it back on.
“A real beauty.”
He asks for the jewelry, the revolver, three hundred big ones. He affirms that it’s hot. I ask him to lower the price.
“Not a peso less and I’ve never seen you before.”
I give him everything. The rest is with Gerardo. He shows me how to cock it, fire it, to remove the bullet from the chamber.
I go home. Maria is asleep. I wake her up and we eat. They called me twice from work. I lie down and turn on the radio.
Today I get to work early. I go up to Carepasa’s office. He tells me to sit down, asks for the doctor’s note. I explain that I don’t have it, that I didn’t go to the doctor, that I didn’t have any money to buy medicine. Carepasa scrutinizes me.
“That’s serious, son. Why didn’t you call me?”
I tell him about the messages I left with his secretary.
“I got them,” he points out. “But I’m talking about the medicine.”
I bow my head.
“I was too ashamed, don Ismael.”
He takes down a note and scratches his bald head.
“Go to work, son. Come to my office this afternoon. I have something for you.”
I go up to Fifteenth Avenue and buy the El Caleño tabloid. There’s the story. “Two Women Killed in a Robbery,” is the headline. I read the whole thing. There is an investigation under way and there are suspects. They don’t know anything, I think. I go to the Alameda marketplace. I give them the double vitamin C pitch, the exclusive tutti frutti flavor, the box with an extra fifty grams. They don’t even look at me. Maybe they know that Gelqueen is a piece of rubber that tastes like shit. Why do I persist? For Angelita and for Ana. If I make it as a salesman I know that they will come back home. I promise myself to sell ten boxes, raise my average. I go to the Siloé marketplace and go from stand to stand. And I finally manage to sell a box of assorted flavors. A dwarf tells me that only rich people buy gelatin. I put the briefcase onto the counter. I lean on one foot, then the other.
“It doesn’t fill you up,” he asserts.
I want to explain to him about the vitamins, the nutritional value, but I don’t even try. And he adds:
“There are people up the hill there who don’t even have refrigerators.”
I look at the mountain: houses clustered together, unpaved roads. I order a beer and offer him one. The dwarf accepts a shot of aguardiente. He takes the bottle from under the counter and pours himself a double. I leave the briefcase there and go to a payphone. Ana answers. I beg her not to hang up, I’m sorry and I’m calling to ask for her forgiveness.
“I want to see Angelita…I miss her.”
She says that she hates me, that I’m a degenerate and that she’s filed for a separation. I can see the kid in a week. I tell her that I love them, that I remember the good times. She answers that she remembers my drunkenness, the days without food, the unpaid rent.
“I’m getting better,” I say. “I’m the sales manager now and I might be working for an insurance company…and what’s more…I’ve put away some money for Angelita, for her clothes. I can bring it right over.”
“If you come here I’ll call the police,” she says.
Neither she nor Angelita need me. And if I go over there, she repeats, she’ll call the police. She hates me and I disgust her.
“Alright,” I say. “I know that I’ve behaved badly…”
Ana doesn’t respond. I hear the television. It must be a new one.
“…But I’m getting better. If you come back to me I’ll forgive you for the lawyer.”
She insults me. She repeats that I disgust her. Then I’m furious and when I begin to yell she hangs up the phone. I call back. Busy. I go back to the dwarf and order another beer. I invite him to another shot. My feet hurt. I hate being a salesman.
I spend the afternoon at Gerardo’s drinking beer. Every so often Gerardo says something like “it’s hot” or “look after the bar while I go to the bathroom.” I know that he was a tough guy once, that he had done time and then opened up this bar. He has a heart murmur and doesn’t drink or smoke.
“What are you thinking about so much?”
I smile. I’m getting drunk.
“Women,” I say.
I spend the afternoon thinking about how I will do it. It has to look like an accident. I could cut loose the brakes on the car, but I don’t know anything about cars. I ask Gerardo.
“What do you want to do?”
I don’t answer. He adds that it doesn’t work to cut loose breaks here. Not in Cali, because it’s flat. Maybe they would get in an accident, but that’s all.
“Never do things half-assed,” he adds. “Always take the surest path.”
I’m getting drunk and I order more beer. I think of Angelita when she was born, of Ana when we got married. I lay my head down on the table and I sleep.
I jump when someone shakes me: it’s Maria. It’s almost six o’clock. I wash my face. Maria wants to come with me. I grab her hair and shake her and she kicks me. Gerardo comes up with the steel rod. When she turns to look at him I slap her. I leave and flag down a taxi.
Carepasa comes down to open the door. He asks how my day went. I put the invoice on the desk.
“Only one box?”
He leans back in his chair and crosses his arms.
“Do you know how much it costs us to take a box of gelatin up to Siloé?”
I don’t intend to answer. I don’t know, it doesn’t interest me. He calculates gasoline, time, driver’s salary, car wear and tear: all of that costs more than the box.
“It’s not my fault!” I say raising my voice. “I was assigned the poorest neighborhoods in Cali!”
Carepasa makes a note. He looks at me and notes something down again.
“They don’t even have refrigerators in those neighborhoods!”
“Calm down,” he says. “You smell like alcohol… Were you drinking during work hours?”
I don’t answer. He puts down his pen. He opens the box to his right and takes out an envelope. Then he opens the box in front of him and takes out a few pieces of paper. He hands me the envelope. It’s addressed to me. They no longer need my services, says the letter, due to the downsizing of the company. I toss it onto the desk.
“I’m sorry, son,” he says. “I wanted you to stay but your sales rate hasn’t helped. And…”
He stops for a moment. He turns back pages in his account-book.
“…We checked out your reports. Some of the stands don’t even exist. Others never saw you before.”
He approaches and hands me the document of dismissal.
I sweep everything off the desk with my hand. Carepasa gets up, afraid. He picks up the phone. I go up to him with the gun in my hand and hit him over the head with it.
“No telephones, asshole!”
He’s bleeding. I push him onto the floor and I place my foot on his stomach. I aim the gun at him with both hands.
“You bastard, Carepasa!”
I press down my foot and bring the gun closer to his face.
“Say that Gelqueen is shit!”
He says it.
“Your wife is a whore!”
He cries. He begs me not to kill him. He swears that he understands me, that we can start over. He offers me a raise, home and car loans. I sink my foot in more.
“You can take what you want! The money is downstairs. I swear I won’t turn you in!”
I kick him.
“I’m not a thief, you moron!”
I hit him again. He crashes against a leg of the desk and goes still. Then he coughs. He looks at me. I fire three clean shots: one for the company, one for the family, and one for the State.
I sit in his chair and look through the account-book: telephone calls, sales figures, calculations, drawings. I sweep off everything that’s left on the desk. I put the gun down. The desk is made of wood, dilapidated. You have to push and pull to open the drawers. Paper and more paper. I throw everything onto the floor. I lay my head down on the desk. My breathing mists the glass. The gun is a few centimeters away. I pick it up and put it up to my head. I close my eyes and squeeze the trigger. Before doing it I want to speak with Ana. I dial the number. Angelita answers.
My voice gets caught in my throat. Someone is speaking in the background. I can’t identify the voice. Ana gets on the phone.
“Hello…Hello…Who is it? Hello…”
I can hear the voices again. I cover the mouthpiece. Ana says:
“It’s not him, honey. He would have talked to Angelita.”
I hang up. I get up and put the gun in my briefcase. I turn off the light. They are waiting for me.