I was stretched out on the mattress. Naked and soaked in sweat. The heat was unbearable. Even what the dilapadated fan blew out, in its fitful way, was a torrid steam. But I had the strange sensation of being afloat. Not in the air, but in an enormous ocean without horizons.
I felt the gentle swaying. The air even had the smell of salt. I did not want to break the illusion, so I did not open my eyes.
What might have been under the bed? A pair of shoes. Possibly another pair, a girl’s. And some other unmentionables. An ashtray full of cigarette butts. A glass of champagne. A news magazine, some newspapers, a couple of books and some porn, here and there. A box with the remnants of a pizza. And, of course, a crocodile. Why couldn’t there have been an ocean? The sea always attracted me. I drifted back (if it was possible to remember things in a daydream) to one of my first vacations in Mar de Ajo. I had a little bucket the yellow color of brass, and a little pail and rake to play with. I collected in the bucket some snails that I dug up from the sand. Or if not, already bored with making castles, I was covering the jellyfish with gravel.
In place of shorts I was wearing a pair of overall things that I used to hate. The bigger boys laughed at the ridiculous outfit. And my mother insisted on a pair of plastic sandals that hurt my sweaty feet. Don’t parents realize when their children don’t want to look stupid? Don’t they understand that these aren’t porcelain dolls whose little toy clothes they have to change?
Despite all that, I was happy. I was. But not the cat.
We had a tabby cat with sleepy eyes. He looked like Robert Mitchum. What did we call him? Paco or Pepe. Let’s say Pepe.
Ok, what happened was that poor Pepe had crossed paths with a savage. That is: me. My favorite pastime (I don’t understand how I didn’t lose an eye) was to grab him by the tail, and then swing him in circles a couple times before letting him fly to the top of the peaked roof of our weekend house.
It must have been a very tame cat. Or very old. Or really stupid. At any rate, I always caught him and zoom! The flying cat!
Why am I recalling this? Oh! Yes! The smell of the sea. The sway of my sailing bed. And the heat in my skin and my veins. Like that time I got sunstroke. Not only did they have to put creams on my burnt skin, but for a week they made me go around under a parasol and little straw hat. Wrapped in tunics even more ridiculous than the overall knickers I hated. I couldn’t go to the beach. Or to play with my little friends. Friends? Nice name for them! They came by and laughed at me. They called to me. They said:
“The water is awesome! Come on, stupid!”
“Don’t you want to play, dummy?”
“You can’t play! You can’t play!”
Anyway, it was quite savage. And vengeful.
One of them, the one who had laughed at me the most, I buried alive. With his consent. After all, it was a game. What happened was that I forgot to unbury him. I think his parents found him with his face as sunburned as mine had been when he laughed at me. All the same, it didn’t save me from a couple of good lashings by my old man, who was fed up with my repeat offenses. I should say, in his defense, that I was already an accomplished criminal.
The corrective of the belt did not have the intended effect. On the contrary, it was as though it incited me to be more and more daring. One time I almost killed my mother. Hidden behind a door, I jumped out at her and yelled “Boo!”
My mother had a bad heart. She turned white and almost passed out. The fit lasted for some minutes. My father didn’t say anything. He just took off his belt and pointed to the back room. I think that if I forgot about that part, it’s because of some sort of psychological defense mechanism.
Where did we start? Of course! My sweltering bedroom and the filthy, floating bed.
I stood up on the bed. In spite of the swinging motion. I had on my black trench coat, my blue suede shoes, twill pants, and a hat that looked like it had belonged to Frank Sinatra. I was not mistaken. Everything around me was water. An immeasurable ocean. It was sprinkling rain, but not on me. It rained out there. Over that strange high sea.
Where was the bedside table? Where were the pills?
For a good while I was surfing those foamy waters.
Surfing. That was another summer. I was already an adolescent with rebellious hormones. As treacherous as Veronika’s. Like that, with a “k.” She was a freckled blond of gringo descent. She had translucent blue eyes. It wasn’t just a summer fling. It was my first love.
She loved to surf. I taught her the place where the best waves were. The highest and most exciting. The best winds. But…one was too dangerous. It wiped us out completely. I woke up stretched on the beach. The sea never gave her back to me. Only her memory and this feeling of guilt lingered.
Why her, and not me?
I let myself fall in the water that surrounded me. I sank slowly. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hold my breath. Every time I opened my mouth, it filled with water. I tried to kick but a weight on my shoulders kept me from rising. I was dying. After all, it was what I deserved.
A hand took me by the hair, while the telltale signs of water remained on my face.
I took a mouthful of air. The guy who had me by the hair spoke:
“Son of a bitch! How many times have I told you not to take that shit any more?”
Ricardo Juan Benítez, Argentina © 2008
Click here to see this story in Spanish
Ricardo Juan Benítez was born November 28, 1956, in the Caballito neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he still resides. After a prolonged hiatus, he returned to his passion for writing in the middle of 2004. An admirer of the classic writers of short stories, such as Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar, Horacio Quiroga, Jack London, and many more, he dedicates himself to prose and has also written some poetry. He currently has work published in ALMIAR Margen Cero (Spain), Alma de Luciérnaga (Israel), Resonancias Org. (French-Argentine), Herederos del Caos (USA), Azul Arte (England), and Uchronicles de Giampietro Stocco (Italy).
His websites: www.agonia.net and www.sanesociety.org
His blog: http://cuentosyotrasficcionesricardojbenitez.blogspot.com
He collaborates assiduously with digital publications (Hotel Tomás, Los discípulos, Axxón, El Fausto).
In March of 2005, his story “Instrucciones para el sepelio de una mula” ran on Proyecto Sherezade, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.
He won second prize, in the contest organized by the Merlo Art and Cultural Association (Argentina), with “Noche de bruma y silencio.” In that same year, 2005, his story “El hombre de marrón del fondo de mi casa” took an honorable mention in the contest organized by El Grupo Fausto (Spain, http://elfausto.blogspot.com).
In December 2006, he published “De la vida de las cucarachas,” again with Proyecto Sherezade.
In December 2007, on the same site: “Hábitos nocturnos.”
Finally, his story “Insensatez” was included in the anthology Los rostros y las tramas, selected by the writer and poet César Melis and published by Editorial Dunken. His story “Noche de bruma y silencio” appeared in the anthology edited by the Merlo Art and Cultural Association. The present work, “Navegando Sueños” (“Sailing Dreams”), was published in the anthology Antología de la Casa de la Cultura (Arts Creativo) of Torrevieja, Spain.
At the beginning of 2009, the publisher Ediciones Irreverentes will publish the anthology “La agonía del nirvana,” which will include his story “Un noche habitual en la ciudad sin alma.”
Translation by Christine Neulieb © 2009
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