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Jan/Feb 2013 Spotlight

Pablo, Pablito – a novella

Chapter Eight

by Steven Schutzman


Clutched at each arm by guards from behind, Pablo is being guided through ruins with walls stained by smoke and piles of rubble on the floors all around. Powerful sunlight slashes through holes in the ceiling, soundless and blinding. The day must be extremely bright outside, maybe a desert at noon, Pablo thinks to himself but has no idea of the truth. There was a moment stopped in time, a photo, and then the photo came to life with him being led like a prisoner. Important questions like, Where is this place? How did I get here? Why am I being treated like this? What's going to happen to me? What should I do? occur to Pablo without urgency as if he is also watching a movie of himself, rather than being part of what's going on, a movie that includes a more urgent yet subtler question, Why am I being shown these things?

He sees what looks like writing on the walls, the words partially obscured by stains and soot. When he tries to read them, the words come apart like smoke and their meanings drift away like water through a net.

The building is ruled by the man-slaughterer from the community pool also named Pablo, but this Pablo's name is spelled out with the numbers 4597. When his name is written, it is written simply 4597. When people read the numbers 4597, they say Pablo to themselves, though not aloud because speaking that name is forbidden in this place. As Pablo is being led forward, he remembers what Louis told him, a rule about the holiest name for the Jewish God: that this name was too holy to be written out or said aloud, that numbers must be substituted to stand for the letters. He figures, if this rule of substitution is applied, then the man-slaughterer is worshipped like a god here.

The rooms narrow and become a darkened corridor of sharp turns, odd angles and stairs going up or down with no logic or pattern whatsoever. No longer being guided, Pablo holds his hands out in front of him, feeling his way like a blind man. The corridor opens and Pablo enters a large, echoing hall where he is blinded in the opposite way, by sudden light.

Powerful sunlight streams through tall windows across the great room. Again, Pablo is reminded of the light of the desert and of the desert God his friend Louis rejects, but whose ceremonies he attends at his parents' house in order to make the rent. That's right, he says to himself, last night was the Passover Seder, as if this explains every single thing that's going on.

The blindness by light is much worse than blindness by darkness. His eyelids and hands useless against it, this light hurts like a headache and there is no getting used to it, no word like 'uncome' to make it stop happening. If it goes on, it will surely drive him crazy. Soon, as if in reaction to his entrance, the curtains are drawn over the windows. Pablo remains blind and dazed a long time, before he can see and start forward again in the subdued light. As he starts to walk, he sees that the curtains are moving tapestries of images, like video monitors at a rock concert, showing what's happening down below where he is walking the floor of the great hall.

At the far end, 4597 Pablo sits in a wheelchair as if it is a throne. He looks exactly the way he did at the community pool, jagged, tense, silent, like something made of sheered metal and shattered glass, except that now he has the misshapen head of a Mayan priest, tightly bound from infancy by strips of cloth until it took on the elongated shape of a loaf of bread. 4597 is served by people brought under his spell by the power of his presence and the intense concentration of his gaze even behind sunglasses. These servants wear hoods, shrouding themselves, too unimportant to show their faces to such a personage as 4597, though Pablo senses who the servants are without seeing them, people from his life, maybe everyone from his life, and that he has been brought to this place to share their fate.

The servants find 4597 impossible to resist. Ageless, he sits and rules in perfect stillness, his senses as sharp as an animal's. He can read minds and think a hundred thoughts at the same time. Nothing escapes his awareness as he sits with his body acting as a pedestal for his powerful brain. Those who serve him serve him gladly because he has solved their problems so they don't have to think for themselves anymore. Surrender to 4597 is such an attractive thing, even the shadows obey him.

Pablo, in front of 4597 waiting to be acknowledged, has only one question on his mind: Are you my father?

But, Pablo thinks, what could the answer possibly mean to me or my life? Since I never had a father, what should I do with one now? What should I do if I'm suddenly named the son of this man, change my life or my opinion of myself? Why should I let that happen? This stranger, this man-slaughterer, what does he have to do with me? I have become who I am without him, despite him, and nothing can change that. Why should I take an interest in someone who has never taken an interest in me?

Still, if this is his fate, he can't resist it. He must know the answer: Are you my father?

4597 sits in his wheelchair filtering humanity's thoughts through his powerful mind, looking for those that might be of use to him in his endeavor to regain the ultimate status he once had as Priest. Pablo feels a strange sensation when the mind of 4597 filters through his thoughts. The sensation is of electricity in his body, mild and persistent, a magnetism drawing his thoughts forward then vibrating through them like a current to separate out what might be useful to it, a mechanism that doesn't recognize him as an individual, a mind-fuck. Pablo realizes 4597 will never answer his question, for it is beneath him, too commonplace and unimportant.

Thanks for nothing, Papy, Pablo says to 4597 knowing that he will never use that name again, that he has said it for the first and last time, liberating the name from his body like a wild animal from a cage to freely roam the world again. A father who doesn't act like one is no father at all. Little Grandmother's story is Pablo's story. He knows that now. Thinking of the man-slaughterer as his father is a childish obsession inappropriate for a grown man. It's crazy. It makes no sense.

4597 stands up slowly and precisely as if he is trying to balance something on top of his head but it is his elongated head itself that must be so finely balanced else it make him totter and fall. His holiness, powers and position have also turned him into a vulnerable specimen and for the first time Pablo feels some sympathy for his name sake, the man-slaughterer.

It suddenly occurs to Pablo that he is more alive and more physically able than anyone in this place, that he can run away if he wants, that he is only a prisoner because he lets himself be a prisoner, another mind-fuck, self-administered. The thought is the action and he is gone from there, sadder but wiser and very calm. Sometimes when you're dreaming and you know it in the dream, you become transparent to yourself and traveling far way is as simple as turning around or thinking a single word.

The creaking of the opening closet door wakes Pablo in Louis' bed and back to his knowledge of this night. Moonlight through the window behind him shines on Dakota, wrapped in her towel, looking through the packed line of hanging clothes to choose from among the long sleeve button down white shirts Louis always wears. He wears them as if he is actually the lawyer he was supposed to become though he never irons them or tucks them in in his life. His closet is full of those shirts, hand-me-downs from his lawyer father which Louis likes to wear loose and wrinkled as a mocking commentary. Who can figure the alienated workings of his friend's mind, his perverse, superstitious, symbolic gestures with a foot in two separating worlds? Louis must choose soon or break apart.

Dakota unwinds the towel from her body and hangs it from the knob of the closet door. She is naked now, small and fragile, graceful and slow in her movements. As she leans her weight to one side, Pablo notices, the beginnings of burgeoning hips, her future as a woman. The moonlight shines like liquid on her copper back whose muscles tense as she reaches up to take a shirt from a hanger. She slides the shirt on, disappearing into it with a small laugh at how big it is on her and then she says Shhh to herself and then a word he can't make out, her real name Marina.

Pablo smiles.

When you're faking sleep or creeping around not to wake someone, he knows very well, the slightest noises seem intricate and loud. He remembers all the times he tried to fake sleep as a boy in the living room sofa bed when, after Little Grandmother started dating again, she and a date would come home to their small apartment. He remembers how she would always check to see if he was sleeping and how it was impossible to fool her, to keep from smiling when she stroked his hair. He remembers that when he did smile, Little Grandmother would say, I knew it. You can never hide from me. But you woke me with your hand, Pablo would tell her. No, I didn't. I can always feel when you're in the room with me. And soon she would send the guy home and join Pablo in bed.

He remembers how good he felt when he finally learned to fool Little Grandmother, a victory over her keen probing. Finally he had a space that was his and his only, where he could be free of her and free her of him. After fooling her, he would listen to what was happening just ten feet away in the kitchen. Twelve years old, caught between the good boy he was and the bad boy he wanted to be, or between the bad boy he was and the good boy he wanted to be, Pablo couldn't help but listen to the low conversations and sometimes to the intricate fumbling in the confined space, the tall wooden stool sliding across the floor, the noises of dishes and pots and pans ticking together, the whispering and kissing, moans and love-words. Nor could he help himself that time he got out of bed and, peeking around the wall, saw Little Grandmother climbed up onto a man, her hands clasped around the back of his neck, her feet on the edge of the counter, banging her body back and forth against him and his thing unseen under her hiked up skirt. The guy, pants down around his ankles, his arms slack, his face aimed at the ceiling so Pablo couldn't even see what he looked like, didn't do much, as Little Grandmother swung herself back and forth on him like that, acrobatic and lithe and strong for a woman fifty years of age. Pablo went back to bed where he continued to listen to the rhythms of an event imprinted on his eyelids. He heard Little Grandmother have her orgasm, as softly as she could so as not to wake him. When she finally came into their bed, he smelled the animal smells and felt the subsiding animal heat coming from her body.

In a crazy part of Pablo's mind, his trick of faking sleep and seeing that forbidden act came with a price; he never grew taller.

It's crazy. It makes no sense.

Because Little Grandmother didn't let men stay over night, even after she got her own bed and bedroom, Pablo always felt secure of his place in her feelings. Little Grandmother enjoyed the guys then tossed them away like empty husks, never becoming attached. She had her work as a nurse, she had Pablo and various boyfriends. That was enough in her life.

Maybe she loves this new guy, odd as he seems. Maybe he is the one. Or it could be her age, a need to finally settle down. The thought makes Pablo both happy and sad because Little Grandmother has always been free and eternally youthful in his mind.

Dakota has buttoned the buttons and rolled up the sleeves of the dwarfing, white moonlit shirt. He wonders if she's getting ready to split at this late hour and where she will go and what she will do after his rough behavior. Back to her hated school to tell on him, or to bring the police down on his head? He doesn't think she'll tell the cops. Knowing it will do no good and that he has done the right thing in the wrong way, he won't try to stop her, whatever she does. Much as he wants to, he won't even let her know he's awake, the same as he used to fool Little Grandmother. Is he surprised when she slips into the bed with him? No. Is he glad?

It's me, Pablo. I want to sleep here with you, okay? Just sleep together, that's all. No fooling around. I promise.

Pablo remains quiet and turned away.

You don't have to say anything. Just listen. It was always the same. He would come into my room after everyone else in the house was asleep. I thought, when I got to the house of that family, that to have my own room would be the best thing in the world but it turned out to be the worst thing in the world. It was his house and he was allowing me to be there so I must have thought what he did to me was my rent. First thing he does is stand over me and look down but it's dark so I can't see the look on his face, only make it up in my mind. A blank wooden face, scarier because it had no expression. I was afraid to say a word. Later I thought he understood my silence as permission. I was only four when it started and didn't know any better. Nine years it went on. The worst thing was how I accused myself of his crimes, that I deserved them. In this way, he tried to make me marry him in fear and silence forever and, when I did finally say something, my foster mother refused to believe me and the only thing to do was to go tell this nice teacher at my school.

I'd like to kill that guy.

Shhh. He's already dead. Okay. Now you know. Let's just sleep now. No fooling around.

Okay.

And thank you for what you did.

What did I do?

You showed me me.

Dakota presses up against him from behind, lets her arm run down his arm. Her body radiates a lively heat and is never quite still, giving and taking messages to and from his body in many small exchanges. Her flesh has a slightly bitter odor. Dark wood and coffee. Her warm lively body reminds him of Little Grandmother, without the bombas, and how it used to feel in the sofa bed with her, so right then so wrong. Spirits aligned, Pablo can't figure out what to do with his body wanting Dakota's body. His cock is hard and throbbing again, connected like a root through his abdomen to the birthmark on his spine. So right yet so wrong, caught between, all Pablo can think about is the coming day of police, school principals and judging neighbors and what story he will tell them. What he wants more than anything is to fall asleep and then, miraculously, mercifully, sleep comes.

Older now, Pablo and Dakota are walking together on a path skirting the side of a green mountain poised above sparkling blue water. They have finally reached the mountain lake they started out for, a journey that has been going on simultaneously with Pablo's encounter with 4597 in the ruins. Events in time influence each other like rivers flowing into a greater river while never losing their distinctness, dreams alongside dreams and tales alongside tales, not the layers of an onion, but simultaneous, parallel expressions of a single reality that necessarily must remain a mystery to man. He was here and he was there. Nothing odd about it. And even now on this mountain path, Pablo is aware of being many other places and ages as well, including being in his friend Louis' bed with the schoolgirl Dakota. He is here and he is there.

Down below them, all along the curving shore of the lake is a Indian market, a bustling place of many encounters, a place as peaceful and colorful as it is poor and backward. Guatemala, a place he knows in his bones, a place he is from more than he is from the modern, gray city where he has lived his whole life. He thinks something like this to himself: In the marketplace of life, you bring what you have, make or grow, you earn one event with another and spend one event on another and buy one event with another, and all the exchanges happen simultaneously because a person is many people, not one person, here and there. Even as he stands in this beautiful place with Dakota, Pablo senses, with a sharp, unexplainable sadness, 4597 being laid to rest in his tomb.

Beauty and loss balance each other. Beauty and loss make each other possible. You can't have one without the other.

Pablo and Dakota gaze in wonder at the gentle curves and spectacular colors of the landscape, the incredible whiteness of the clouds like loaded ships floating away, the shimmering blue of the lake, the calmer blue of the sky, the dark green of the surrounding jungle dotted with flowers, fruit and birds, red and orange and yellow. It seems that shadows have been lifted like veils from the world so its colors shine with a new, almost painful intensity. But, if anything, it is the pain of cure, the landscape healing them through their eyes.

Dakota says, This place is so beautiful.

Yes, Pablo answers. Beyond words.

And nice and human and slow.

And small. I was born here. If you look close at the birthmark on my back, you will see a marketplace just like this one. Little people at stalls selling things to little people buying them.

They both laugh at the picture his words create in their minds.

I always thought, Pablo says, that I saw people's judgments about my height in their eyes. But it wasn't in their eyes, it was in my eyes first. I was doing it to myself.

If you look in my eyes, you will see through my eyes.

Pablo looks in her eyes and they both laugh again. Being profound seems a silly thing to indulge in for adults like themselves.

He takes her hand in his, in all the different places they are, a touch that means everything that has happened and will happen, but something is still bothering him, like a pebble in the shoe of this long journey, and before the future can happen he must make it right.

I'm sorry I broke the rules and tricked you into kissing me before, Sweetheart, when we were walking. Those black sludge animals taught me that it was a bad thing for me to do.

No, I liked that trick a lot, she says.

What?

Yes, I liked it and I hope you are using that trick again on me right now.

But patience, Sweetheart, and going slow and being ready is important. Who cares how long it takes? It wasn't right for me to break the rules like that and I'm sorry about it, Pablo says even as he realizes that Dakota is right, that this is another trick to get another kiss and that, no matter how hard he tries, there is no end to the tricks he will play to get what he wants. Like everyone else, he is a mirror of wanting reflecting itself in a mirror of wanting, hardly an unselfish person. Still he says: No more tricks, okay?

I accept your apology, Baby. It's all right, she says. I was tricking you too and tricking myself.

You were?

Of course, I was. I'm very tricky, much trickier than you are. And you're very easy to fool, you know, though I have to play slyer tricks on myself, to get over my fear. You can be married in love or in fear and I have to use tricks to cheat on my fear so I can love you. It's time.

I'm sorry too that I was so cruel and rough with you before. I just thought I had to stop everything that was going on and then something bad came out of me, some bad part, Pablo says as he feels this part of him flowing in the same stream with 4597. I'm not really like that.

Maybe you are a little like that and it's better to know it.

I am like that. I have that in me but I'd never do anything to hurt you or anything you didn't want me to do.

I know.

I'm not your foster father.

And I am not Little Grandmother.

How do you know about her?

You told me all about her.

I did?

Sure.

I don't remember saying anything.

That's why we're here. Remember? And you said she gave us her blessing before she died.

Pablo takes the news of Little Grandmother's death calmly as if he had already known about it and had grieved a long time. Did he also tell Dakota of his superstitious belief matching her own: that seeing Little Grandmother fuck that faceless man years ago kept him from growing taller, just as her foster father's molestation had kept her from becoming a woman? Surely they are brother and sister, united in unaccountable ways, an ageless pair, holding doors open for each other.

He and Dakota shift, his front to her back now, fitting like spoons. He drapes his arm over and she clutches it.

An eagle sails the sky, the blue lake swells with light and shadow, the jungle resounds with singing birds, frogs and insects. In the beautiful country of Guatemala, unspeakable things are done to the Indians because they are Indians.

We should kiss again, like we do. Just kiss. It is our thing, Pablo says with much more than kissing on his mind, playing another trick. It feels so good we never have to do anything more than that. And no one in this world can say it is wrong.

They turn to each other and kiss again, on the mountain path, above the soccer field, in Louis' bed. They press their mouths together for what seems like hours, never losing contact, establishing a slowness with lips, tongue, teeth, shaping and being shaped, licking, tracing, nipping, melting, drinking, tasting, questioning, answering, aching, soothing, searching, finding, drowning, surfacing, opening, falling, floating, hiding, discovering love inside their bodies and their bodies inside love, eternity inside time and time inside eternity.

Can it be that this kiss will be the kiss all our other kisses recall? Something lost and found at the same time. Can it be that losing is finding, and finding losing? In sadness, a seed of happiness, in happiness sadness like a seed. In me, you. In you, me.

As we remove our clothes, we peel off the names given to us by other people. We will rename ourselves every morning. We will journey out on our own without fear to far away places to help those in need. She will become a doctor without borders. I will be a photographer of such suffering as there is in the world. We will be people of serious purpose who also know how to take pleasure in living, just as we are taking pleasure in kissing now above this market place. If we are together like this, our story can be whatever we want it to be. Two people as little under the sky as our spirits are big in the sky. Goodbye, Little Grandmother.

The miraculous, silken touch of her body against his own brings Pablo closer to full waking consciousness. Flesh flows into flesh, a river entering a greater river, never losing its distinctness. The jungle takes them down into its soft bed, a bed echoing other beds, a mirror facing a mirror, a sleeve being pulled through itself, outside coming in, inside coming out. From the high branches, an old red parrot looks down. In the pre-dawn light of a gray city, a whirring garbage truck works the block, cans are emptied and thrown by men whose lively voices resemble the shouts of school yard games.

Not sure when or where he will wake up or as who, Pablo enters Dakota. He eases forward and, to his surprise, comes upon a barrier, her cherry, finds she is still a virgin (What's that still doing there? he asks himself. If what she says about her foster father is true, she shouldn't be a virgin, she shouldn't have a cherry anymore). Now she is a school girl moaning in pain. He opens his eyes and sees her terrified, black eyes pleading back at him in the half light of Louis' bedroom at dawn.

My life is over, he thinks.

Do it, Pablo. Do it now.

We have to stop this, he says.

No.

With her hands grasping her wrists, Dakota locks her arms across Pablo's back. He can't seem to break her hold. It's not that he doesn't have the strength but something else; his reluctant spirit weak compared to her ready one. What is the weakness and reluctance? To use his full strength as a man; once you do that you never know what can happen.

It's just so nice, she says. You see, you know how to be nice and gentle and loving to me when you want.

What can Pablo say? That he was asleep? That he was enacting a dream? When he knows it isn't exactly true, that he was a sly trickster breaking the rules again, that he had a choice.

That was nice of you to stop, Pablo. But it really doesn't hurt all that much. Now, come on and finish what you started. Push through that silly thing that everyone makes such a big deal about. You know it's funny, for all the talk of those girls, I'll be the first one to do it or one of the first ones, at least. I'll be first at this too, like at everything else. What's wrong, Sweetheart?

I didn't mean to be doing this. I don't mean it. I'm sorry. It was so nice I just got carried away, you know. I don't want us to do it now. Patience and going slow is important, he says, echoing the dream. Respect. Now I'm getting out.

Respect?

Each of us being ready.

I'm ready, Pablo.

We have to be ready together and I'm not ready for both of us. So let's stop. Okay?

Okay. We'll wait, Dakota says but before he can roll off her, she thrusts her hips against him and, with a catch of her breath and a short cry, forces him through to the inside. Pablo, very much stronger than she is, easily breaks the lock of her arms and rolls off her body. Too late. He lays on his side facing away, noticing the books scattered haphazardly on the floor and, among them, the spoiled, sickly white cat, sitting still, aiming herself at him in a pool of moonlight.

Things aren't what they seem, he thinks. That cat isn't really a cat.

Jesus Fucking Christ, he shouts, as if to test his idea and the cat darts out the doorway, just like a frightened cat, serious about her cat business, just like the police will be serious about theirs.

Why the fuck did you do that for?

I don't know. Don't be mad at me.

Don't be mad? This is terrible. The absolute worst. You see why I can't ever trust you. You don't go back to your school, you do that. You follow me. You climb a tree. You lie. Who knows how many lies? What am I going to do with you? The cops, remember, the cops? They don't fool around. This isn't fooling around. This is serious, Dakota. We are talking about my life.

I already miss you in there, she says.

Oh my God. You're a crazy person.

Sorry.

Sorry?! Sorry?! Sure you're sorry now, after you did it. The thing is to be sorry before, and not to do it.

Right. I just got the order wrong.

This is no joke. Why should I even bother to talk to you anymore? Whatever I say makes no difference.

I'll listen. I will. I promise.

Pablo laughs a bitter laugh.

You just don't understand, she says and pulls the blankets over her head.

Pablo turns around, arranges the pillow and sits up against the wall behind him.

Come out.

Okay.

Stay on your side of the bed.

Okay.

Listen.

Okay.

She is sitting just like him now, against the wall.

We have already been married for twenty years, she says. Happy anniversary.

I don't know about you, girl, but I want a future. I like my life. I have plans for myself.

What plans?

That's not important now.

Do they have to do with your camera? Tell me about your plans for your camera.

Listen. First, we have to straighten this whole thing out with the police and they can't find any of me in you because of your age and mine. You know what I mean? And now there's evidence of sex, blood, a broken cherry. The police have doctors who know how to look to check for it. Jesus. What a freaking mess.

I just wanted to get it over with.

Why?

Because it scares me and I don't want to be scared.

So what are you going to do, jump off a bridge because it scares you?

Maybe.

I give up. You're a wonderful person, Dakota, but you're completely loco.

Well, now we can get married.

Married? I don't believe this. Two days, we know each other. You're fifteen years of age. And why did it hurt anyway, after what that foster man did to you? You're not supposed to be a virgin. Or was that another freaking lie?

He never did that to me.

He didn't?

No.

What did he do to you?

That's the last thing I want to talk about now.

Pablo can't help it. All he can see is this huge man in the dark hovering over little Dakota, ready to shove his thing places, an image that cancels out all other images. He has to know.

What did he do?

He couldn't do anything with his thing, I don't think. He was an impotent man who had to prove himself in other ways. That's why he did what he did the way he did.

What did he do?

He would come in and sit on the bed and stick his hand in me like I was a patient of his, stick his hand in and leave it, plugged in for nothing, maybe trying to recharge his limp thing, whispering to himself so I couldn't understand a single word. It was sad and pathetic, really, and I learned to sleep through it a lot.

He was a doctor?

Uh huh.

A real weirdo.

A really sad person who wanted what I had, my life and my spirit, but no matter what happened. No matter what he did to me, I wouldn't let him have my life. My life was mine, anyway, though I was always being shoved around. I vowed to myself that he would never turn me into a thing. He would never win.

What do you mean?

I don't know. Win. He wouldn't win. I wouldn't let him defeat me by turning me into a thing like he was, a dead wooden thing. No. I vowed he would never defeat me in my life and that vow has made me strong, no matter how lonely I get. I'll become a doctor but a doctor who heals people, not like him. I can do whatever I want to do and be whatever I want to be. That's the way to live. Not to be defeated by the bad things that happen but to take them as a challenge to your spirit. The bad things are not you. They're just what happened to you. You are still you.

But that doesn't give you the right to lie to people and play tricks on them.

I knew I could trust you. You're the best, Pablo. A truly good person.

No. I'm not. Really.

Yes, you are. First time I saw you, I already knew you in my heart.

Why do you say it like that?

What?

That's what Little Grandmother always says, First time she saw me in Guatemala, just a few days old, she knew me already in her heart, that I was the one she had to choose. So tiny and calm, good and accepting. But I don't know anymore, how good I am or how calm.

What do you mean choose you? You mean she's not your grandmother?

No, she rescued me from Guatemala when she was working as a nurse during the troubles down there. She made a harness to fit underneath her clothes, like a little hammock under her breasts, where I stayed and never made one sound as she crossed the border into Mexico.

But how could that happen if she's little?

Even though she's little, she has pretty big ones, and you know, under a serape there's plenty of space. You just need to be quiet and I was quiet as if I knew what was going on, Pablo says and turns to face her. Now two more questions.

Do you want to know my real name?

No, here's the first question: Are you done lying and breaking promises to me?

Yes. I swear.

One more lie and that's it for us. Next question: If you never kissed a boy in your life: How did you learn to kiss like you do?

You think I'm lying about that too, don't you?

I don't know.

Okay. Okay. I practiced kissing on myself, on my hand and my arm, waiting for you to come along. Pretty good huh? Look.

Pablo looks over, expecting Dakota to show him her kiss practice technique but she pulls her hand out from under the covers and shows him that her fingers are painted in dark red blood.

Look, Pablo. Blood. New blood.

Your period or the other kind?

Probably both.

Oh my God. They can't find that.

Right. It must be on you too down there. Let's take a bath together.

It's like five in the morning.

Don't you like a bath?

I love a good, long soak.

Good. Me too.

I know.

How?

From last night, Dakota. Why the heck took you so long in that bath?

I was shaking like a leaf, trying to calm my fear down in there.

What fear?

Fear of you touching me. Fear of anyone touching me again.

Oh. Really? That's kind of funny.

Why?

Because of people and their secrets.

What secrets?

The kind you keep for years out of fear, like you'll die if anyone finds out, but then when you tell it, you don't die, the fear dies. Like that.

Oh.

Pablo smiles.

The Chinese food I ordered went ice cold.

I know. I had some cold rice that was whiter than the cat in my lap, she says. Let's take a long soak together now, you and me.

And then what?

Then we'll go to the police and tell them the story of how you saved me from that giant in the woods. Like the story of David and Goliath, with you and your stone.

I don't know about telling them about that guy.

Sure. We'll tell them how he was keeping me captive and was going to rape me and kill me and cook me and eat me and everything.

Hey, slow down. We better not say those things. Liars are always overdoing it like that. I think it's better if we leave the guy out of it.

Why?

It's too far out a story and I broke his freaking head with that rock. They already think I'm a rapist so I don't need them thinking I'm a murderer too.

I'll tell them you're a hero, that you did it to save me.

We best keep it simple. We best say just enough to explain what we told Miss Pamela about being boyfriend and girlfriend.

Why would we say that to her if we weren't boyfriend and girlfriend?

Good point. I don't know. Christ, I'm a really bad liar.

And what about Captain Mike? Who knows what he saw?

Oh crap, that's right. Him.

What if we just tell them the truth, that I started kissing on you.

But then they'll want to know why you'd do something like that if you didn't know me?

Because I'm a nut and everyone knows it. I just do a lot of crazy things that come into my head.

Maybe I noticed, you think?

And they know it too at that school. Once, I got on the sound system and read this funny poem I wrote about what idiots the boys are with their hats backwards on their bald penis heads and their muscle shirts and their underwear showing and their pants around their knees so they can hardly walk, total detail like that, idiots from head to toe.

Why'd you do that?

To declare freedom of speech in the school and to make a public statement about the stupid boys and the stupid boy-crazy girls. They can't win. Stupidity should never be allowed to win.

Didn't you get in trouble?

A little. But they never do much to me because I'm number one in my class. I also wrote two skits about teenagers in love but they wouldn't let me put them on even after I cleaned up the language. That's censorship and I'm against it.

You're so weird, it's not funny.

I know it and they know it too. I always tell the truth. Even when I lie, I tell the truth. So let's tell the police the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because we really didn't do anything wrong..

You think that matters to them? If they have a crime, they need a criminal whether he did it or not. And that criminal is me.

They have no evidence. Just what we told Miss Pamela and a single kiss, maybe, seen from a long distance away by a fat, phony, out of breath policeman. If that's crime, anything is. We'll take a bath and they'll find nothing of you in me and nothing of me on you and only we will know what we did and did not do. We will know. Now be still. Don't move.

Dakota draws more blood up with her hand, surprising Pablo by how dark it is, like wine. He watches her thumb circle her fingertips spreading the liquid, watches her finger trace a heart over her heart in two quick joining curves and another one over his, an unaccountable thing, he unaccountably lets go on without comment, question or objection. Though neither of them knows it, she is teaching him something very deep; that this blood that once circled her body, pumped by her strong rebellious heart, isn't to be hidden but displayed as a sign over that heart, a sign of acceptance, a sign that life is to be lived without shame.

There and there, she says, getting up. That's how it is. Now I'll go start the bath.

Dakota puts Louis' white shirt back on. On her way out of the room, she stops in the doorway, with her back to Pablo and she covers her face with both hands like someone about to cry.

What's wrong? he asks after she has stood there a while.

Her face still covered, Dakota turns around. She lets her hands drop away to reveal, not tears, but a most serious expression.

My name is Marina.

Okay.

That's what you have to call me from now on.

But I thought you liked Dakota better.

I do. I love it. But I have to be brave and not run away from the old one.

Does it scare you?

Yes. That's why I have to keep it.

Marina.

Yes, Pablo.

Who kissed me, you or her?

Marina smiles at being unmasked and masked at the same time, known and unknown.

I did, she says.

If there is one last door, it unlocks and her spirit floods into his: He loves her.

Leaning back, Pablo closes his eyes and becomes absorbed in the many sensations of being there, in his feelings of love, puzzlement and fear, in the cool sensation of Marina's blood drying on his chest and the hot one of his hard root flesh that seems like it will never calm down, in the familiar warmth of the space beside him, presence and absence at the same time. Feeling as happy as he ever has in his life and as sad as he is happy, Pablo decides he will call Little Grandmother to come meet this girl and advise them as soon as the sun comes up.

 

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