El Fuerte, Mexico, founded in 1564
This story could take place anywhere and anytime. But it doesn’t. In the first month of the year nothing really goes on. Oh, in the evening you could sit on a bench in the quaint Plaza de Armas and watch the old men commiserate about their losing football team, or the pretty teenage girls go by in groups of three or four giggling in a happy conspiracy, all quite tame and normal if you lived there, but…
All kinds of things happen in August. Dogs go insane. Husbands leave wives. People go away for vacations from vacations. Children discover nude photos hidden in the bottom of their parents’ bedroom closet in their summer bungalow. Snails barely budge at all in the late summer’s heat, staying under dark moist leaves. Even the cicadas give their rabid singing a break. The whole planet is captured in a torpor. Any movement at all, especially in the afternoons, is suspicious, as it is actually unnecessary. The only thing the world has an appetite for in August is the ridiculous. It’s the time for silly stories, for insanity, at least temporary insanity.
It was a day when the air felt unseasonably light and clear, and it was possible to hold contradictory thoughts in one’s head without discomfort. It was a day when he at last did not feel that painful, insistent, hopeless longing for Esperanza dela Vida. She, with the strange, round black eyes that echoed an innocence, a vulnerability he found irresistible. Those dark irises would rest at the bottom of her whites and jiggle a bit in wonderment whenever she listened intently to a tale, or a piece of racy gossip. Until this day, he had daydreamed of her at least once every afternoon, when things would be hot and slow. The fates had been against him, and Augusto Mariposa well knew it. He was years older than Esperanza, who still sported the blush of youth. He was married, as was she. And both of them to different people, neither of whom were dead.
Of course, it would be dishonest not to mention the increasing disaffection between Sr. and Sra. Mariposa, a long-standing condition. Enough to say they greeted each other in the hallway in mid-day, even though they slept in the same bed. The relationship was a frozen one, and this as much as anything else may have been the cause of Augusto’s yearning, just as a tree root seeks sustenance wherever it can find it. And as you know it may have to crack a water pipe to get at its life nourishment.
And so it came to him that if he turned instead to simple, direct action and cooled his desire, he could at least free himself of this paralysis. Only the brave deserve the fair, he reminded himself, remembering the line from Gilbert and Sullivan. Things would head one way or the other, thus ending this inhumane torture. And this is why all seemed so discernable this morning. He was now determined to exercise a reasonable effort, one that would meet with immediate results. This escapade would take place while his wife continued to sleep unperturbed in the shadows of their bedroom, the red bougainvillea crawling over their house from the inner courtyard like a rich brocade curtain covering this domestic intrigue with a floral hush.
The idea was seeded by Augusto’s memory of her knocking into him at the hardware store a few weeks earlier, where she actually did physically knock into him. When he mockingly scolded her for not being more careful, she laughed.
Then added, “Didn’t you know? I’m a regular wildcat. That’s what they say!”
“Who says?” He begged in defiance, as if volunteering to defend her honor.
“Oh, you are the curious one,” she laughed. And she wouldn’t say more. But Augusto’s appetite had been whetted in the most irremediable way.
So, at precisely 9:05 of this lovely morning, Gus, as he liked to be called, proceeded down the street of his small town past the eminent stuccoed haciendas, and walked three blocks, then turned left and went on another two and-a-half blocks, and there was her door. Oh, precious cruel door, be merciful this time! A newspaper lay several feet away on the sidewalk. He picked it up and knocked, knowing Esperanza’s husband was away. She had made no secret to half the town that her husband would be away for two weeks on an annual policeman’s convention, something her husband had always looked forward to.
The fact that Esperanza’s husband was a young handsome police officer excited Gus. Here was a rival for Esperanza’s affections worthy of Gus’s efforts, of Gus’s fears. The man might one day soon discover what Gus was up to, and in a fit of rage slap Esperanza with the back of his hand and set out to shoot Gus dead in the street. There was something indescribably delicious about it. After all, life was blood masquerading as manners. Gus actually savored such a consummation, assuming he could win Esperanza’s affections.
After a long minute, she opened the door. She stood there in a blue nightgown, appearing heavenly but confused, and stared at him in amazement.
“Good morning, Esperanza.”
“What, what is this about?” she managed to utter.
“Here’s your paper. I wanted to talk to you,” he responded.
“What are you doing here?”
“This is hard for me to say. May I come in?”
“Why? Has something happened to my husband?” She trembled momentarily.
“No. No, nothing like that.”
And now he noticed her foot beginning to tap the floor, as if counting. He had not rehearsed what he was going to say, fearing it would drain the spontaneity of his entreaty.
“This is hard for me to say,” he stammered, “but I have very strong feelings for you. And I wanted to—”
“To see you, that is for you to see me as—”
“Ugh, this is crazy. Are you for real? I’m a married woman. Do you have any idea what my husband would do if he found out? You’re crazy!”
“But life is taking chances,” he pleaded.
And with that, and before he could utter any more words in defense or explanation, she pushed her door shut, nervously but with deliberation, in his face.
He felt the whole sky had come down like broken glass in one thunderous crash, and he knew a judgment had been made, and he also knew he was now officially crazy, disgraced, and there was nothing more to do. He had come up against the oldest force in the universe, the law of non-attraction. Deep down he also had a premonition that his chances had been slim to begin with. Still, he couldn’t help but feel badly stung.
Gus noticed the light orange film of dust that had collected on his brown shoes from the little walk from his house to Esperanza’s, and he wondered if he could have made a better impression, if he could have wiped them just before knocking on Esperanza’s door. No matter, it was now too late and what was done was done.
The walk back to his house seemed unusually long and yet he felt he was soaring in the air, like the baby elephant he had seen in his childhood in the cartoons. Yes, Dumbo. But Dumbo wasn’t crazy, only naïve, and Gus was a little crazy and maybe a little naïve too. Maybe he would never be able to fly like Dumbo, but perhaps he could teach other elephants to fly.
He felt like a boy, when he was back in school and the master would gently tap his head with a ruler and pedantically, and with seeming patience tell him that there were once two diplomats, Kellogg and Briand, one was reputed to know everything and understand nothing, while the other was supposed to understand everything and know nothing. Augusto, he pointed out was like Kellogg one day and Briand the next. He then reminded him that all Augusto needed was to know and understand enough to survive, no more. And that when it came to mysteries there was no point in obsessing over one person or thing. Yet, Gus knew that Esperanza dela Vida was the absolute magnet of his life and that all things pulled from her, all things were measured by how far they were from her. To think otherwise would be like begging the air to blow in a different direction. Maybe, one day it would, but you simply had no control.
He could laugh, he could cry, either was possible. The only sound he heard was the low fluttering of a bed sheet drying on a rooftop, scolding him for his foolishness, and the wind starting up briefly before it took its siesta for the rest of the day.
“Hey friend, how ‘bout a cigarette? Blind Raul challenged him somehow coming out of nowhere just before Gus reached home.
Gus sidestepped him and kept walking without a word, trusting Raul wouldn’t be able to definitely say whom it was he ran into that morning.
He would be back home in a few minutes and could slip unobserved back into his self-made shroud beside his wife, into those still-morning shadows, and neatly tuck his tail between his legs, and wonder as he went off to sleep whether there ever was a chance for this madness, for this dog to find a new mistress who could wear a diaphanous nightgown like an angry blue angel. And all he could think of was maybe in the next life he could be with Esperanza dela Vida and lie beside her. Well, that was the next life. In the meantime, he had to live the remnants of this one.
Still it was August, and as everyone knows things are crazy in August, but it is only a temporary insanity.
Gene Goldfarb lives on Long Island, loves writing, keeps trying it, and sometimes succeeds. His poems have appeared in the very small press, among these being Cliterature, Lalitamba, Stoneboat, SLANT, Thin Air, Black Fox Review and Heavy Feather Review. His blogs have also appeared in Black Fox.