I Know Where We Can Hide
Minutes went by at the same rhythm raindrops fell into the bucket in the corner, the markings in the blue plastic the evidence of time gone past. The inside of the bucket starting to show evidence of living creatures as a thin green layer grows. All around me the water bottles dictated the passing of the days, their discarded labels thrown around, some torn to pieces so tiny that I hadn’t even bothered trying to pick them up. Others peeled with utmost care, laid perfectly flat on the coffee table.
Gabriel had gone out at sunrise. I had heard him outside briefly after two cups of coffee, chopping up some wood. The singing of the ax marking each passing second, my breathing synching, our worlds aligning. Once the chopping had stopped and he hadn’t come in I couldn’t help but marvel at his stupidity. Or arrogance. It was clear it was going to rain, and he was leaving the firewood outside? Did he think he knew better than the skies?
But the sun had set a beer and a half ago, and he still wasn’t back. Between the curtains I couldn’t see anything but the marks his boots had left in the mud, the sighing rain threatening to take them away too. The air was thick with rain, and though it was soft, it smothered the clearing, and from my spot at the window I could barely make out the tree line bordering the property.
The shell of our car lay in the small clearing in front of the house. The number plates were the first to go. We put them in a duffel bag and stashed them on board a bus leaving town towards Copiapó. The tires we exchanged at a car garage for two gallons of gasoline, and the seats we promised to some homeless people sitting outside a corner store if they would go in and buy food for us. Someone had stolen the doors on a clear night, and in a flurry of rage I had destroyed all its windows. I took Gabriel’s ax and hit the windows over and over again at the rhythm of the blood in my veins, rushing my ears, imagining his face in every new star born in the Corsa’s windshield. I’d always hated this car, the way the windows would get stuck and the doors creaked, the promise of freedom that only sixty miles per gallon can offer all stuffed and forgotten inside a glove compartment that fell open at the smallest inconvenience.
I walked three times around the cabin’s only room making sure to trace every wooden board on the floor, step over every piece of furniture. Still no word from Gabriel. The moon had been full the night we arrived, and it was threatening to do so again if we didn’t leave soon, but I didn’t want to leave Gabriel behind. Which I would do if necessary. If the time came and it was him or me, I would choose myself no questions asked, because I knew he would do the same.
I had already emptied the bucket twice, and it was beginning to overflow a third time when the wind started howling. Branches hit the window frames and the earthy smell of moist soil made its way through the cracks in the corners. Petrichor. Someone once said that and it stayed in my brain. The smell of the earth after the rain. I hated it. And it was a lie. It was still raining and the smell stunk up the room, cloying to every surface.
The cabin was Javier’s, who had been found in an alley in downtown Santiago on October 4, two nights before the full moon. That day I stopped measuring time in days, in hours. Minutes. I cherished each heartbeat I could spend with Gabriel, his big hands engulfing mine. I had a strange fascination with pulling at the hairs on his knuckles, maybe because Javier usually would pull on mine.
Gabriel never appreciated the times I compared him to Javier, especially because at this point the dead man’s fingernails were probably rotting at the bottom of his coffin, and some of his teeth too. The afternoon of October 3 we had waited for Javier outside Café Ipanema and followed him to his car. Just before he got into it we invited him to jump into ours instead. He just had to look at Gabriel once to figure out that he had no other choice.
I had been with Javier for three years, two of which were hard to remember. When we broke up, it was the first time I could take a deep breath in peace, and breathed I did directly into Gabriel’s arms, who had been a frequent customer at the Ipanema when I started working there. Not long after that, I stopped my shifts there and moved in with who I thought of as my savior. Just the way I liked it. I could be by myself during the day and indulge in him during the night, my only condition was him never going back to the café.
Neither the lamp nor the TV set made it unscathed the first time Gabriel saw the scars, tiny constellations peppering my arms and thighs, and later on he couldn’t stop looking at me with admiration. His burning rage had tempered to open eyed wonder at how I had walked out of that with a level head. Those days of utter starry eyes were the ones when I started thinking about them both, him and Javier. I would spend hours comparing them, like two raindrops in the car’s window, racing each other in the highway. One minute one was at the front, the next it would change, but in the end it was always the strongest — Gabriel — who would absorb the smaller one.
On September 30 I told Gabriel I did not feel safe, that I was sure I had seen Javier cutting through the park in front of our building. On October 1 he returned home with a knife, towels, alcohol, and five hundred thousand pesos in cash. He displayed everything on the bed, claiming that it was my choice. That he would take care of him if that was what I wanted. I was surprised that he wanted to actually slay my demons for me. Not for you, with you, he’d replied.
We took Javier to the dank alley two blocks away from the Ipanema. I wanted him to feel the cold on his back, the wetness of the moldy bricks seeping through his shirt. Gabriel tied him up to a drainage pipe and gave me the knife. His hands on my shoulders and a kiss on my neck his only encouragement before leaving to stand guard at the alley’s opening. Javier stood there, defiant. Not even tied up did he have the decency to look at me how I deserved. He’d always been so sure of his position above me, that he never considered that the tables could turn.
I just stared at him. When I got bored I stared at the wall. The brick at his back damp from the rain that morning, moss growing at the bottom, and soot staining it black near the exhaust pipe in the corner. Each brick seemed to tell a story, declarations of love and good times etched onto them, painted over, and scrawled on again. I stood there, alternating between the bricks and the figure in front of me. His hurtful words losing their sting as he realized I would not let him go.
I took one step closer, letting my fingers trail down his cheek and pulling lightly at his sideburns.
His shirt became one with his flesh, each stab had been thought about ad nauseam, his arms and thighs crisscrossing with cuts mirroring the scars in me. Thirty-five. One for each month I stayed by his side. His throat grew hoarse with his pleas and cries, mocking each time I had asked for the same. For the pain to stop. I just stood before him, wondering if he saw the poetry in the reversal of our roles.
His breath grew more agitated as mine became even. He stuttered apologies and confessions of love, telling me that he would take me back. Take me back? I should be the one considering taking him back. But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t take a broken man back. A man who cried and soiled himself at some measly punishment. I only did this because I loved him, didn’t he understand that? This was an opportunity for him to learn to be a better man.
But all I said, whispered into his ear, was that I loved him, and that I was doing this for us. I took the knife one last time and ran it through his neck, the warm fountain of it spraying me, freckling my face.
We left him there with no afterthought. My bloody clothes were stashed into Javier’s car doused in alcohol, and we left in our Corsa. It was my idea to hide at Javier’s cabin. There was no reason to look for us here. The plan had been to lay low for a couple of days and let the heat of Javier’s passing fizzle out, but that had been wishful thinking. Mayor Andrés Merino had taken it like a personal strike and deployed all the police forces at his disposal. Blood will not run unpunished, he’d said in his first press conference.
The moon had risen and set, rain had fallen, and the sun had dried the mud and wood more times than I could count, and still it was not safe to leave. The radio in what was left of the Corsa would sometimes tune an AM station that would blare the atrocities of Javier’s demise. They were calling it cold blooded murder. But they did not understand that that was not what it was. It was just a new beginning. A chance to start over.
At first it had irked me that we had to stay here. Gabriel couldn’t go to work, so we would take every breath together. The absence of car horns or buses whizzing by had felt oppressive, until I found myself bathing in their calm. The tranquility that invaded me as life left Javier’s body was the same lingering between the trees bordering the property, and I embraced it. I sat on the front steps and watched the shadows make their way across the clearing. The oak on the corner, the tool shed, the car, then the cabin. Chasing each other, making their way to safety before the moon rose in the sky.
Maybe Gabriel had gone down into town to buy some more food; we were almost out of what we had traded the beggars for when we had arrived. Hopefully he would get some of the crackers in the blue package we had gotten last time.
The second time I woke up that night I refused to open my eyes. If Gabriel had been taken into custody it wasn’t my problem, he had decided to go out. I turned around to make myself comfortable and through my closed eyelids I could clearly distinguish the red and green flashing lights parked outside the cabin.