Sandra Esmeralda De Anda
“At 6:03pm today, another civilian found decomposed bodies on the southern shore of the Rio de La Plata, including two unidentified women and three men, one of which had a “Montoneros” patch sewn onto his jacket. All these individuals are yet to be identified by their loved ones. In the last six months, we have had similar cases, all the victims found on the Plata, all of which have been injected with a sedative and their bodies full of impact wounds. The autopsies are going underway and we should not begin to assume just yet that this is in correlation with the previous cases. Let us grieve with these families and for our nation.”
I heard the television broadcaster, but I couldn’t see her. I didn’t hear any remorse in her voice, just facts. I did see the upper half of my father. He was wearing a crimson shirt, rocking back and forth in his chair, hitting the arms of his wooden chair with his fists.
“This would have never happened under Peron. The Alianza Anticomunista Argentina wants us dead.”
“We’re here now Manuel, far from that. There’s no danger in sight.”
My father let out a sigh, turned off the television, and walked out the door of our hacienda. I imagine him looking at the pampas. I hear the pampas native to this area are cream-colored, but the only ones I’ve seen are the red ones my mother has artificially planted. She brought them from Santa Fe, so I knew what it was that my father looked out at at night. This is such a small gesture comparable to the great despair I felt leaving Buenos Aires.
* * *
On my 7th birthday, we chased each other in the apartment, some of us wearing red ascots, the others wearing burgundy wristbands. Sometimes I didn’t know who I’d catch when we played gauchos and military men. I despised my friends who took off their burgundy wristbands because I lost them entirely in the abyss where they used to stand.
“The Torito is fast, but he can’t see!” yelled Facundo, my older brother.
“He’s so angry. He’s running around in circles like a mad bull,” yelled another.
“Where’s the banderillas?” they all chanted.
I looked around. Copper red cupboards, imperial red sofas and ottoman, vermillion curtains, coquelicot colored table . . . every day looked like I dined in hell. My friends were experts at hiding where the red pigment didn’t persist. They’d lie down on our living room floor that my mother says is a nice brown tile, but I wouldn’t know. (It looked like I was traversing the sky; a sky without constellations or singular stars.) I extended my legs here and there hoping to find my friends along the floor. Their silhouettes were never available to me during this game but I got used to it. I started crawling on the floor looking for spots where someone’s foot was reclined on a table leg or an arm laid on the bottom of the sofa to find an interruption to the red pigment. I knew they were there in that room. I could hear them whisper. Alas, I gave up and I lied somewhere next to our wooden clock. I could feel the pendulum swing, and by the fourth or fifth swing the floor began to laugh, and extend its dark hands to me. I was being embraced by an upside down sky; my friend.
* * *
“What are we going do with these fascist assholes? They’re throwing innocent people out of planes, some of them not even involved with left wing militia groups. Innocent women, children … even the unborn!”
“And our comrades too,” interjected Felipe.
My mother set the living room table with alfajores, a small bowl of dulce de leche, butter, a baguette, and one mate cup with a bombilla. She sets the same dish for every guest that comes by. The rattling of these objects on her red food tray is always the same. If there’s a missing component, like the butter, I can see her walk past me with great agitation, her rosso corsa upper body stiff and rigid hoping my father and the guests won’t notice. My mother tells me to go join Facundo outside; I was too young for the conversations my father was having, and my brother was old enough, but stubborn. I followed the path from our door to my red pampa bush. I had grown to love it; one of the few things red in my conception of nature. Everytime I set eyes on it, I felt a great ecstasy, the ecstasy one would feel if they saw corn grow in Egypt. I held it in tussocks, and brushed it against my face. It felt like a thousand feathers; the way mother caressed my cheek after mass. I felt I wanted to embrace the bush even more, smell its thistles, and let them one by one march into my nose.
“What are you doing Martin? Stop being a faggot. Papa’s going to kick your ass if he sees you doing queer things like that.”
I felt quite embarrassed, but even more furious that I couldn’t consummate my love with the idea of a lover. I followed Facundo to the stable ten yards away, his crimson shirt tight on his body outlining his shoulder blades, his gallant posture, and muscles that all the revolutionaries’ daughters admired. I couldn’t help but admire him, but also envy him. He was only three years older than me, but all the girls looked past me. Most of the time I couldn’t see them, because they were dressed in such mundane colors, but it still hurt. I followed him into the stable room where all the community’s halters, bridles, and saddles hung.
“Papa hides his ballester molina pistol here. He thinks I’m going to go shooting people, but I only shoot fascists. They’re not people; they’re animals. And he thinks you’ll come upon it somehow because you’re a meddling blind freak.”
I heard him swing the pistol around his index finger. I became afraid because I didn’t see the red tip on the end, like the toy guns we used to play with as small children.
“Let’s go to the stable to play a game.”
I felt a knot in my stomach. I hated playing games with Facundo. He never knew how to play games properly. He ran back and forth across the stable, I could see the silhouettes of the horses on the red box stalls throwing their heads back startled. In this contained portrayal of nature, he was the savage. Running back and forth through the stable, he appeared like an apparition; no feet just a piece of cloth being pulled on a clothesline back and forth at tremendous speeds by apparitions I couldn’t see.
“You don’t think I’ll shoot one of these? Look at how they look at me.”
Facundo slowed his running to slower movements, but he continued harassing the horses. He kept plunging at them individually, speaking to them, pretending they were our father’s enemies.
“Is that you Senor Redondo, snickering at me? Having a good time at the country club?”
“What about you Villar? Do you still feel powerful without your police force?”
“Videla, my boy, fancy seeing you here, too.”
I didn’t know what to do or say. I was perplexed that my brother had taken all the worst aspects of my father and the revolution and found himself here in this stable intoxicated with hatred. I told him I was leaving, that this was never fun for me to begin with.
“Torito, I was simply playing. But just imagine, how easy it would be if those scumbags were all here.”
We left the barn, his hand still heavy with the gun, my heart heavy like that hand. He positioned himself on the ground, behind what appears to be a bush. He skitters on the ground like a guerrilla troop; like Papa but with less dignity. We hear a noise come from another bush right behind him, my brother perking up like a sunflower or Judas. A medium sized bird, with cinnamon colored breasts, a bird the locals called the tinamou runs away into the pampas behind him. I hear the rustling of the pampas, growing more distant and distant, Facundo chasing the poor bird, ruthless in his pursuit. I step back and go into the stable room. Enclosed I feel safe, yet I peak to see if I can see that crimson shirt flutter back. I see no movement, but I hear three consecutive gunshots. I can hear a myriad of birds abandon the pampas grass, the sound of desperate air propelling these diminutive stars back into the sky. Such lovely creatures I can imagine who feel discredited by this free floating violence.
Facundo eventually emerges from the grass, a heavily panting crimson shirt, one hand appearing to be heavy from the gun, his shoulder slouching a bit, while the other shoulder is in sync with the horizon; there must be nothing in the other hand. I was relieved that his hunt was not successful.
“I’ll get it next time. Don’t you worry your pretty little face, Torito.
“Why’d you do that?”
“Oh, because I can.”
* * *
The teachers let us out early from school today, luckily before the beginning of the siesta. I overheard them talking about a national tragedy, but I figured that my Papa would know. He was always engrossed with the newspapers and the radio and local political meetings at the Avenida de Mayo. Both of my parents were professors at the University of Buenos Aires, my father a professor of literature and my mother a professor of Latin. My father often joked that if my mother could resurrect a dead language, she could resurrect a dead man like himself.
My friends and I walked down the Avenida Libertador, where there were open cafe shops, record stores where western music was blaring, giant red steel doors that were indicative of the milongas that were underground, pizzerias with flat-breaded pizzas showcased in the windows, and these dirty men who looked like they were lost at sea with their folded cardboard boxes serving as their driftwood. This is the vision of the street we all collectively compiled. Without each other we wouldn’t achieve a whole understanding of it; our favorite street. We stopped at a kiosk where they sold our favorite bonbons. At the kiosk we all unwrapped our bonbons, and I looked around at my headless visually impaired friends, all wearing different shades of red since the day we met at the Academy of the Visually Impaired of Buenos Aires. I looked at Kathia’s upper body, she was quite fond of scarlet turtlenecks, and she always made sure that the substitute teacher used red chalk so I could see the writing on the board. She couldn’t see the bonbon she was eating because her vision didn’t allow her to see round objects. She could only see four sided objects. She has stayed confident nonetheless; she says the world relies on four sided objects. Buildings, doors, tax forms. . . Next to her stood Miguelito, in his oxblood button up shirt. He can see everything like normal people, his vision almost perfect, except that words literally escape him. When he read words on billboards, on posters, on pieces of paper they’d vanish on the page taking up to 30 minutes to reappear again in their previous location. His whole academic career was dependent on extensions. Sometimes we thought he was making it up to get more time on his schoolwork, but we’ve seen him lose his mind trying to find conclusions of texts in the classroom. One day he even set out to find his words in the city asking every kiosk employee if they’ve seen the words of his essay around. Paloma, often reminded Miguelito to be patient; the words would return to him. She wore a fluffy red mohair sweater. Her sweater was welcoming to me. I wanted to embrace her, dig my face into her sweater fibers, and leave an imprint of my being in that sweater. I wanted to see her face, the way she could see mine in black and white. I made jokes that she had seen her whole life through the lens of film noir. I shouldn’t have joked like that. She was bullied so much in public school, that it just seemed easier for her to attend this institution. We were a league of super heroes who society never depended on. We were La Super Liga de Ciegos!
All full of bonbons we ran to my family’s apartment, me holding hands with Paloma using my lack of color perception as an excuse to be led by her and her fuzzy sweater. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor, my friends in haste to see if my Papa had something new on his bookshelf.
“Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Lobos, Simone de Beauvoir, Santiago Alegrias, Vladimir Nabokov, Maria Conchas, and even the recently recognized Uruguayan writer Pedro Piedra. . . your dad has it all.” Miguelito read the titles out loud.
I heard my father pacing back and forth in his study, obviously aware of our presence because we were boisterous individuals. We were interested in his activity, but his marcon red door was closed and knew we shouldn’t bother him. A bit restless we decided to press our ears against his door, the radio playing loudly on the other side.
“Fiat Manufacturing is confident that the attack taking place at 6:08am was perpetrated by a leftist terrorist group.This attack has the signature of the Montoneros, but that is just rumoured. Thirty-eight fiats were set ablaze in a manufacturing plant in Caseros, a provinciality outside of central Buenos Aires. Luckily no one was injured. The lot was vacant when the blaze began. This may be an attempt from radical groups to defy Isabel Peron’s investments in foreign companies that are said to exploit and drive down the wage of the Argentine working class. The CEO of Fiat asserts those accusations are inaccurate.”
My father must have lowered the volume of the radio, because all we heard was this lulling sound of muffled voices. We heard him pick up the phone, rotating the dial with his finger until he started talking to someone on the other end.
“This is just the beginning. Pablo. First, Fiat. Then Ford. I don’t doubt us for a second.”
* * *
My father died of pneumonia 10 years after the attack in Caseros, right at the cusp of violence and an almost restored sense of peace. The war was over and my father never saw his involvement come to fruition; I too felt the same way because I couldn’t see my father die. I felt the geography of his face for the last time. I knew it by heart. 6 upward thumb lengths, from the left eye to the right eye. Lips curving and chapped like the Andean cordillera. Emaciated cheeks, the left one with a dimple, a sinkhole. A nose that always had cotton ball residue because my father bled from his nose often. That’s the only aspect I ever saw come alive on his face, almost as if all the hot curdling blood could not be contained by his body.
I decided to stay and teach the children of the farmers and gauchos in the Pampas, taking care of my mother who was full of resentment because during the time my father was alive she came second to politics, Facundo and I coming third or fourth. We were interchangeable. We didn’t want to return to Buenos Aires to be accountable for my father’s past actions and our passive involvement, to this day we are quite unsure what they all were. I want to know but I don’t want to know. My father always said it was a gift to just see Red. I could see like a bull and therefore could act like one in the spirit of the revolution. That never happened for me. The war was over and that’s all that mattered. Bodies were still washing up on the shore of Argentina for more than a decade. That could have been us, my mother often says. We’re still dying, but at our own pace.