An Unexpected Interlude Between Two Characters


Jaqueline Herranz Brooks

Excerpts from the anthology Dream With No Name: Contermporary Fiction from Cuba, by Juana Ponce de Leon & Esteban Rivera.
Translated by Clara Marin
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 102 in 1999.

- Thank you, Ezequiel

Asmania, who is called Asmania here because of that Pailock* novel, amuses me, is completely drugged, and has left her friends. As she moves forward, the sky and everything around her turn leaden. Drugged, at the end of the afternoon, Asmania walks through an alley that leads to a bus stop. While her friends are still partying, makes out two meaningful outlines: a dark-skinned girl and a movable food stand. The girl, on her left. The stand, in front. Asmania picks the latter and tries to find change in the bag that hangs, zigzagging, from one of her shoulders.

*Pailock, Zequiel Vieta's novel published in Cuba in 1991, was received with great acclaim. Pailock, a mediocre circus magician, manages the ultimate feat: to make his assistant, Asmania, disappear - permanently. After this outstanding trick, he sinks again into mediocrity.

Asmania is drugged and her drugged gaze sways, examining the change. Examining sometimes the change, sometimes the girl. She's not cold, and the "coolest one" is the girl that says: "Me, I'll go after the man in the shirt with the orange stripes." Asmania has found the change, and now she's counting it; she is thankful, and crosses over to the stand, but not without first looking at the man with the now-drab shirt, since the stripes can hardly be made out in the darkness of the night.

It's night, and the man at the stand is packing up the merchandise: potato-filled potatoes, fried food in bread, and tamales - everything cold and probably dotted with flies, which the owner of the movable food stand doesn't mind shooing. In front of the stand, Asmania again counts her change, and buys one of everything, twice. She pays, crosses the street, and as she crosses, she peels the leaves of one of the tamales and brings it to her mouth, which is open long before the snack reaches it. Back at the bus stop, she looks over at the group of people - which increases in size by the second - and leans her body against the bent metal sign that indicates the bus number she is waiting for. Asmania's hands are disgusting, and the girl doesn't stop watching, and Asmania wonders if she should offer her part of what she bought.

Asmania is drugged and smiles a naïve grin, crooked and spotted with yellow flour, and she wonders if the girl wants… Quickly, the girl takes out a napkin from her dark jeans and hands it to her. Here, Asmania thanks her and asks. She asks a bunch of stupid questions that the girl answers, shaken, in her monotonous sequence of "yes," "no," and, now she is elaborating explanations that Asmania is barely listening to, because she's drugged and her perception is a little slow. They walk a little and at the corner Asmania offers a bit of… and here there's a short and deep silence, and then, talk, cigarettes… but up until then, the bus hasn't arrived, and the girl says that the movie theater is close and empty, and without making any noise, she begins to move.

Asmania - here she is Asmania because of Pailock, and because of the public explosions of her flesh, and because she is drugged just like Pailock's Asmania under hypnosis - feels that her fangs are getting long, and enters the movie theater. She looks for a corner where she can press up against the dark skin that is also pressing up against Asmania, as if it were a deep discomfort that is tolerated because it won't be forever. Someone lets out an intense ah, but this doesn't register, because Asmania is drugged and weak, and because of the sound of the nylon shopping bag with the bought rubbish as it slips off the seat and smashes on the floor.

Feeling each other up hasn't been comfortable, because they both have zippers and shoes, and the narrow seats with hard wooden arms hem in their contours. On the screen, bats are screeching and blood is flying in all directions, and the actors, carrying out violent acts, exchange laughter of panic and terror. Asmania moans softly, and the dark-skinned one, morena as it is called here, also moans, and probably a few other people in the movie theater moan or feel each other up, seeing that two girls - one of them looks drugged - are pressing up against each other in the discomfort of the movie theater seats.

This is a dingy neighborhood theater, and, luckily, Asmania doesn't come to these places often. Being here, now, is because the other one led her. That way, she justifies her tearing apart, her morbid imbalance, and her unexplainable loss of limits. The other one, who was spotted as the evening turned into night, is still holding one of Asmania's breasts, which pulsates, erect, under a careful caress. Asmania smiles and kisses her, with that mouth still filled with bought rubbish. The other straightens up and takes the first step, pulling Asmania by the hand, who is searching for her nylon bag between the seats.

All of this is done clumsily, and the knocking against the seat, and the sound of the nylon bag, and the "Come on, come on" of the girl, get the usher's attention - an old lady, grayed by the darkness and, luckily, very slow. Asmania is in the street and everything is spinning, and she gently puts the things she bought in her bag, and smells her hands, and grins stupidly again, with hypnotic laughter.

The other one has damp eyes, and the line of her jaw reminds Asmania, who is still smiling, of a story about horses; she can't associate it with anything else.

Asmania, who has literary preferences, is indifferent to ethical issues of irreparable mediocrity, just like Pailock could be - seen by those who are unaware of the origin of things, and its inevitable occurrence in time.