Kiko says a broken vessel doesn’t cling to the remaining droplets, but I strive to believe it’s so.
“Anything newly broken savors only the dew. It has nothing else to offer,” I explain, waving my tawny arms with the thick webs of hair in an angel’s arch above my chin.
“I relinquished the dew when I lost the sun,” she recites from her own poetry. She keeps pencils tucked behind her urchin ears, like miniature wooden benches astride conch shells. These are for emergencies only, to write in her journal, but she wears these pencils all day, forgets she keeps them there. When I enter her house, I remove them as deftly as a magician concealing his lust. I too desire the performance.
I come from a clime where the cumquats at noon burn a cylindrical hole in your scalp, and the smell of asphalt and motorbike fumes make you hope for a Grand Design amidst affliction.
Kiko does not believe in fate. Kismet is not in her personal lexicon. Nothing is ordained to happen in her world, everything has chanced its beginnings into her life. She is smooth, cracked porcelain, blue to the touch and a fissure to logic.
“When we met, you forget it now, but it is still so, I was a
transfusion of the impossible. I lazed in the sun and doused a smile on you, but not the errand boy.”
I had allowed myself to forget the tragedy of the slender errand boy who completed endless tasks for the tourists. He was raw and turgid from youth. His hair shown like an oil slick, greasy and obsidian jazz, without the aid of bought pomade. He had a quick eye, and knew the sound of money when he saw it jingling from the musicless hips of overworked charity-benefit wives glazing on deckchairs. Huddled together over glasses of sherry, they thought him a fawn at fawning. Husbands drank from their port and traded stock options, complaining about politics and children who didn´t know the value of a boarding school education. These dust-filled tomes and these women who were lush fruit beneath and dying husks of their former selves on the surface, these visitors to the island of humanity, could not relinquish him. They called out for him in their sleep. His name floated like a cloud of ingenuity ‘round their tennis club doubles matches. He was as infamous as a renaissance foreigner in their midst.
There was nothing he would not do for them. The errand boy drove the wife to the club and filled her head with empty secrets on the way, describing his first memory of his mother. He captured them with the scent of her hair, which she washed in banana peel and guava compote, her own concoction, massaging it into her scalp using the heels of her hands, until her hair shown like a glossy bowl of India ink. They could picture his first crush, his first sight of a woman alone in the garden, her hands brushing the chaff from the silk, deftly separating the worthless from the worthy, coral lips parted in concentration, forgetting the spilling curve, the aching silhouette of an unbeknownst admirer. Harmless memories, but they stirred something in each woman. His accent so charmed that she was scintillated by the touch of his mind on hers. She would not request her husband´s attention at night. She sat alone on the veranda with a tall, carved glass tumbler of mint tea and a platter of lemon cookies, recounting every last word of the harmless savage ingenue, whose youth reawakened diamonds sparkling between her thighs, children massaging her feet with heated oil.
The errand boy emptied the emerald pool of leaches and spiny bugs. The man of the house would not touch a creature who was not identified in National Geographic, but the errand boy would, even knew them all by name and design. He would hum an endless rune of rum-sounding syllables, elongated and rich in the afternoon heat. He did not seem to mind that the foreigners played while he balanced himself on the edge of a mote of water brackish and thick with brine. His chest was bared to a shining, tawny leather brown, the color of their Italian leather suitcases. He carried their baggage into the main house on their arrival day and then again, twice as heavy but higher above his head, on the night the family departed. The man of the house only had to flip him an oval coin sporting the image of some imperialist monarch, whose name he never figured out how to pronounce. The man of the house, he never looked the errand boy in the eyes. The errand boy was a Marrakech monkey hidden amidst treasure. He was a sultan astride feather pillows. The errand boy, he is my brother.
“We used to call him Hal, you know,” Kiko reminds me, her lips two curving hearts of salmon filets, honeysuckle left in the sun for its sweetness to grow.
“He is Alejandro,” I spit defensively; too defensively, I think. I remind myself she is the outcome and not the cause.
“I know who he is, but I also remember who he was to us.” She is not gloating. She knew him better than the rest of them. She was the only outsider who could crawl into his thoughts and resurrect an image that conformed to his soul’s truth.
I knew when I watched him at work that my brother was not bound for glory, as he supposed. I was knee-deep in my own work as gardener in the vegetables with names only a bland tongue could enjoy, potato, corn, squash, vegetables that cried for a temperate climate and not perpetual aridity, but I paused to observe. Alejandro fetched a smile as he carried a worn paperback novel, trash literature, from a freckle-faced daughter of one from the Consulate, and delivered the book to her friend sitting not three feet away; another Consulate daughter, in a polka dot bathing suit. The latter one carried on her shoulders an insouciant aura of come-do-my-bidding. She did not acknowledge his presence, nor utter a greeting of thanks. He dropped the book at the side of her creamy white toes, butter cream in a sea of cocoa butter, and turned to excite the freckled one with a sly bow. He walked to the kitchen, but I caught the moment´s hesitation flash across his face; he had never been ignored by one of them. This perplexed him. I put my hand to my forehead to shade my eyes, and noticed the beaming smile directed at me from the face of the polka-dotted eluder. That smile bore itself into me, made me uneasy without knowing why. I returned to the weeding, my eyes downcast.
“She will come to love me, to adore my presence. She will beg for just one look at my face by the candlelight, lingering above her, and I will not let her! I will bring her to the point of anguish, but she does not deserve my affection!” His voice was a hollow gourd as he bragged to me on countless evenings, while we hunkered over the table, eating a meal made of chicken livers and avacados in a stew.
There are those of us who can accept what we are not and strive to fill what is left with perfection, but Alejandro, he could not. He coveted what was not his with a fierceness that meant an end, nothing but a shard for the future.
“Hush to let the truth whistle in your ears, foolish son,” our mother would scold, but I secretly saw her wrinkled mouth turn up at the corner, a flap of amusement flashing over her features and creating a golden apparition of the lovely woman she once had been.
“I don´t agree with this you-don´t-love-me-so-now-I-will-force-you belief of yours. It will ruin you, and it will probably ruin her. Is that what you want, brother?”
He worked at an orange with his pocket knife, a gift from a female admirer, shiny blade from a foreign country slicing with metallic ease into a half-ripe fruit.
“Brother, you may not believe, but watch, it is so.”
Kiko reminds me now of what he could not resist.
“The errand boy wanted to be one of us. His only barrier was geography.” She shakes her head, her way of expressing misspent sadness.
She takes a sip from a porcelain mug of tea at her side. It is heated tea, even though it is past comfortably warm in the room. She poured the tea from a small kettle she keeps on the hotplate by her bed. It is a custom from her college days, the two years when she was forbidden to own such an appliance in her room, but she had kept it anyway. She still makes tea with the hot plate, even though she has a modern electric stove now. She wants to keep this taste of the forbidden alive in her heart, much as Alejandro did.
“Maybe that is so,” I concede, “but what of his love? How can you explain that? Why would he love you if he knew you were incapable of loving him the way he needed?
Kiko smiles at me in the way that a Siamese cat smiles before it drives its paws into the flesh of a blinded mouse. Full of pity for the obviousness of the game.
“I was the only one not enamored with the vanity he offered us. The errand boy loved me because I kept him from my side.” She refuses to call her husband by name, her only way of keeping him from her side still.
“And now?” I challenge.
Kiko peers at me. She is looking at my features, but not observing me before her. Suddenly, her face softens. Her features curve into the lushness of the trees in the evening breeze. Her body is full, contemplative. I hear her breathing in the silence of the house. I can understand, in this moment, why Alejandro would allow himself to invade the life of this woman, this daughter of a Consulate.
“I stand him now only because he found love lacking and has retreated inside himself,” she answers simply.
I have visited here each night since Alejandro has lain by the fire, weating drops of sorrow. It is a house on fire with the stench of bitter decisions. I cannot say that a woman caused his undoing. Kiko did not ask for his affections, he forced them upon her in his haste. He was inexcusable. He cornered her and crouched upon her and huddled on the fringes of his sighs; all the while she exclaimed “no!” into the night, “no!” upon his neck, “no!” upon his determination to be what he could not be, and steal what he could never win for his own.
Alejandro has disappeared into the night. He has taken flight from himself, as he lies before the fire on a straw mat, protesting this life with inaction, the crickets climbing over his pallid foot to cross the room. He is Kiko´s husband; there is no denying it. My mother and I cannot undo a marriage done because the Consulate, finding out what had transpired, but not the way in which it had occurred, wished a marriage arranged immediately. Kiko cannot reconcile a crime that ate away her heart, shrouded her with the silence of what her lips could not admit to her father, while the perpetrator lies in her father´s house, forsaking the life he has consumed.
I bring my brother oranges the size of my fist, chicken liver and avocado stew, scrawled notes from my mother on bits of paper, snatches of what the girls say in the market, of what the old men prophesy about the storm that is approaching with its evil eye of cylindrical doom poised to eat our town rotten. I do this to induce him to respond, but the guilt in the house is palpable. The guilt of the parents rests on the child, swollen, high and ripe in Kiko´s belly; evidence to them both of what has been accepted.
I can hate my brother when I see the lust still churning in his eyes. I can hate my brother when Kiko calls me to her side and puts my hand on her stomach to feel his baby afloat in its fetal sea. I can hate Kiko for tempting me to love what is not mine, what is not yet with us over the people who are here with me now. I can hate them both for assuming a facade that will not last with time.
Kiko sips her tea halfheartedly. I can hear my brother in the other room. He has slipped into a troubled sleep and is muttering slurs under his breath.
Kiko´s voice suddenly bathes the walls. Her tone has changed, it is a creamy wash of buttery warmth.
“Marcelo, I have decided to name the baby after you.”
“Me? I am a gardener. Won´t you choose a better name for a child to aspire to than mine?”
Despite my protest, I am smiling. She knows it is only my wish to appear modest that keeps me from thanking her.
“I do not want my child to cling to the foolishness of his father.” As she speaks, her tone has fallen to the floor, cracked and splintered. I look away from her damp eyes, refusing my own sorrow, dewdrops slipping helplessly from the vessel.
Kiko is a broken woman. She refuses to cling to what she is left with; relinquishes the dew, for she has lost the sun.
Melanie Faith graduated in 1999 with a BA from Wilson College, where she majored in English, with a concentration in professional writing. While in college, she was a staff member of the school newspaper and literary magazine, and served as an intern at another small newspaper. She currently works as an English, French, and history tutor at The Mercersburg Academy, a college preparatory high school in Pennsylvania. One of Melanie´s stories appeared recently in The Dead Mule.