GUSTAVO RIVERA - THE GUEST
The party his sister, Cantina, held that evening was meant to serve two purposes. First of all, it was a house-warming party. She and her boyfriend, Jovanni, of who knows how many years now, had just moved into their current two-story home, and felt themselves situated enough to share their obvious bliss with their community. The party’s second purpose was to celebrate, or at least to concur with, el dia de los Reyes, which is the final day that Puerto Ricans commonly celebrate in regards to the winter holidays, beginning with Christmas Eve. Abernardo had arrived a few days earlier, after New Year’s, because he refused to be trapped in the capitalist ritual of paying for over-priced airfare just to be able to be with his family during the holidays, so he had missed the major seasonal festivities, but because Puerto Ricans celebrated this additional day a lot of other Americans didn’t, there was a sort of loophole. Abernardo and his family could claim, with a sense of verity, that he had spent the holidays with them, and this sense was important.
With his mother driving, they were headed to Condado to pick up his cousin, Kristofer, on the way over to his sister's house. Abernardo had his backpack by his feet, containing Cutting Timber by Thomas Bernhard and his beach towel. He planned to excuse himself from the gathering after he felt he had fulfilled some undefinable amount of time socializing, to meet that certain expectation inherent in civil society. At some point in the evening, at least forty-five minutes in, but probably around two hours, when it was obvious that if there were to be any more arrivals, they’d be sporadic and of, in all probability, low significance - Abernardo knew he’d sense it - people would have had the opportunities to greet formally, and he’d caught up with those where catching up was merited, and he could, if he just tried, isolate himself from the ensuing communion and see himself missing and there being no difference in reality, and it was then that he could confidently exit the happening, avoiding any obstacles. He’d walk to the beach to later return home, either on foot or on bus. From the beach he planned to go to to where he was staying, in the extra room of his mother’s apartment, it would take him an hour at most, crossing through something different from his everyday life in New York City.
His mother said, once Kristofer had gotten into the car, “Tengo que meterle gasolina al carro y me pidieron que traiga hielo. Mira Kris, cuidado con la planta que está ahí. Eso es una mata de goma para Jovanni. El me dijo que le gustan, y pues pense que seria un buen gesto. El es tan bueno.”
“Vamos pal To Go,” Abernardo said. “Que Kris ponga la gasolina en lo que busco el hielo y las cervezas.”
She drove through Condado into Ocean Park, and up the street leading to el To Go, and drove into the gas station across from it. He got out and crossed the street to the convenience store, which was also a place where people hung out and passed their free time. There were people in there to get a quick fast-food snack, a hot dog, an empanada, some sort of pastry. There were people in there just conversing and drinking early in the afternoon. There were people there just being there for whatever reason. Abernardo crossed through the aisles and picked up two bags of ice, and then moved towards the beers, and got a twelve-pack of Medalla and a six pack of Modelo Especial. He paid for this, exited the store, and returned to the other side of the street, where his mother was ready to get going, and they drove off.
On the highway to leave Santurce, Abernardo realized he was mistaken about where Cantina was living. He couldn't figure out why he had understood this error as a fact, a confusion that had inspired him to get ready to go to the beach. He now regretted wearing these crappy plastic sandals he had bought three years ago in the States when he was struggling way more than he was struggling now, before he, in a sense, had gotten better work and could now afford to visit his family and the island he claimed as the location to present when asked that unavoidable question: “Where are you from?” on at least a yearly basis. He was willing buy a new pair of sandals in the States, so he had brought them to the island and was now wearing them. These sandals were alright to just be alone in the apartment, or to wear to the beach alone if you’re alone, but now he’d have to be at this party with them. There would be no escape. He wasn’t that badly dressed in general - he was wearing a fresh band T-shirt with intact colors, black linen pants that had cost him fifty dollars, a cool biker’s cap which referenced both tropical-lifestyle and urban art aesthetic principles - but the sandals, at this point a faded brown plastic pair, showed off his feet, the feet of a standard male, feet he didn’t particularly take care of. Damn himself. He should have definitely worn his nice blue, leather shoes today.
They were driving into Hato Rey now and his mother said, “Llamate a Cantina pa que te diga por dónde es que entró a su casa.”
He called his sister and she explained to him what to look for to know where to make a right to enter the first gate to her home.
“Mami, aqui, en esta,” he said.
His mother said, “Estás seguro? Cantina me dijo que había un edificio amarillo donde tenía que entrar.”
“Si, mami, es esta. Acabo de hablar con ella. Me dijo que era esta. La estamos pasando.”
“Mami, si me acabas de ver hablando con ella. Si, es esta. Ay si ya es demasiado de tarde, ya lo pasastes, tienes que dar la vuelta.”
“Pero te lo juro que me acuerdo que ella me dijo que era por otra calle.”
“Mami, si acabo de hablar con ella. Dale vira aquí y ahora haces una izquierda.”
This time his mother listened to him, and made a left where he told her to, and they stopped by a station in which they told a guard that they were entering a home in the gated community. They were let in through this gate, and they drove further and made a left and a right to reach another left which led them to another gate. Here, his mother asked him once again to call his sister and ask her how to get in. He called his sister again and she relayed the code to him, and he relayed this to his mother and it took her three tries before the code worked for her, which made a call to his sister’s cellphone, which she responded to from wherever in her home she was currently at, and this gate into another community within the first community they had entered opened, and they drove in and parked.
There was a green area with banks to rest upon and seemed designed to foster social interaction although nobody was out and about in the area. There were lamp posts which would light up and provide illumination when the sun had faded. This was an area of corporate headquarters, businesses, and homes stuffed into where ever there was space left. Where they were now was a privilege in comparison to how many had to live, with no word in the matter, just the hard consequence of the island’s history, its passive role as the property of imperial nations. Nothing can be explained without this in mind, and despite the impression that the island was back to business as usual, in reality it was a gutted-out landscape, darkness had taken hold throughout it, and soon enough that would be apparent in areas unlike Cantina’s. Soon enough, the night in this city would be pitch black because large portions of it did not receive electricity, in this territory of the United States of America.
But it was still mid-afternoon, so that extra expense wasn’t relative, and the atmosphere was chilling in a quite unusual manner. This parking lot of a gated community which was inside another gated community was populated by some vehicles but there was still space for incomers. Abernardo entered his sister’s apartment behind his mother yet in front of his cousin, who was carrying la mata de goma his mother was gifting Jovanni. The front door led into a hallway, leading into the living room, that crossed by the kitchen to its right and a small bathroom to its left. Past the living room were glass doors which opened to a patio area, where Jovanni was already situated, organizing to get the grill going. There was also a flight of stairs which led to the second floor, where his sister’s and Jovanni’s room was. Abernardo saw the cooler in a corner of the living room and emptied out the beers he brought into it and smashed the bags of ice to break the ice within them on the ground and then poured the broken pieces of ice over the beers. Kristofer brought in the plant behind him, and his mother was saying hello to Jovanni and Cantina. Soon, his aunt arrived and she and his mother sat down and began to chat. Abernardo set up some of the snacks that were present on a table in the living room, opening a bag of chips and laying them out on a plate, opening a container with hummus and starting to munch on them. He grabbed three of his Modelo beers and took them to Jovanni and Kris, and they performed a cheers by saying “Salud!” and clinking the necks of their bottles together.
Soon, members of Jovanni’s family arrived. There were twice as many of them as of Abernardo’s family. There was Jovanni’s mother and father, his brother and his brother’s wife, another brother and his wife, and two teen-aged children of each of Jovanni’s brothers. They arrived with Medallas as well, and also a big pack of some beer not worth remembering, which they admitted: “Estos los trajimos porque estaban ahí en casa y nadie se los va a tomar.” These beers were put to the side of the cooler and wouldn’t be touched until much later, once all the other beers were exhausted. The members of the the families greeted each other in a friendly manner. They exchanged names regardless of the actual necessity of doing so. Abenardo offered Jovanni’s nephew a beer, and he accepted it gladly. Jovanni brought up a discussion he had had a few nights before with Abernardo, that in some way which he couldn't explain, Abenardo looked like the local recent sensation in the Puerto Rican music world, Bad Bunny, which Abernardo did not want to admit, could be true, if he still looked like he did when he was twenty-one, in an era when he obsessively listened to the Smiths and shoegaze music. He hated the fact that when he saw Bad Bunny he saw the face of his lost youth and that his lost youth was dressed like a clown, producing what was claimed to be “trap” music, but in reality was nothing but mindless pop drivel.
Abernardo said, “Pero como tu vas a decir una cosa así. Mira tu,” he said gesturing to the young man, having already mentally disposed of his name. “Tu sabrias, tu eres joven, sabes de estas cosas. Mira me.” Abernardo was lifting his arms while at once using his hands to direct focus on himself. “Mira me bien. Cómo van a decir que me parezco a Bad Bunny. Dime que tu crees, nene.”
Abernardo knew he no longer looked anything like Bad Bunny. Despite looking like a clown, Bad Bunny looked rich, because all the pieces of his costume were of prestigious brands that the masses worshipped.
Jovanni’s cousin laughed, a mixture of timidity and shock at the preposterous question, saying, “No.”
“Viste cabron. Si el nene se parece más a Bad Bunny que cualquiera aquí,” Abenardo said. “Eso es Bad-Bunny-wear.”
They all laughed, acknowledging that Jovanni’s cousin was rocking the modern urban swag popularized by current music industry trends. He was dressed in pristine sweatpants, a high-end T-shirt, and pastel pink sneakers of one of those popular brands. They were laughing and sipping beer, and people were talking the crap people talk at parties like these, where nothing is ever produced, there’s only consumption, and in this moment of social vacuum, Abenardo noticed how all of the members of Jovanni’s family were wearing sneakers similar in style to those Jovanni’s nephew was wearing, in either lighter or deeper shades of pastel pink, of the sort that Bad Bunny might wear, and it was in this moment, when Abernardo had tapped into a deep understanding of what he was within, that the first of his sister’s friends arrived.
Leonardo, who Abernardo knew from back in his teenage years, when his sister was too young to do anything without the knowledge of their mother, was the first of Cantina’s invited guests to enter. Abernardo knew Leonardo from the local DIY shows that kids into alternative music on the island participated in. Leonardo played drums in numerous bands while Abernardo struggled to maintain one going. Leonardo was always popular in the scene while Abernardo was known but not sought out. They commented on web pages such as Puerto Rico Hardcore or Pulso Rock. Leonardo grew up in the area of Bayamon, where a lot of the kids who played in the bands that other kids liked to check out, lived in, and Abernardo lived in Santurce. Kids played music in Santurce, too, but, at least that Abernardo knew then, they weren’t the bands playing in the shows he was trying to get into. Abernardo and Leonardo hung out at the same shows in random dive bars willing to give them the space for the night, or at the mall, at the book or record store. They’d run into each other, Leonardo usually a part of a crowd of other kids from Bayamon, and Abernardo alone or with Garrison, one of the few of his friends from back in the day who Abernardo still saw when he visited the island which was once his home. A few times Leonardo and Abernardo had shoplifted CDs from Spec’s Music together, cracking jokes about the thirty-two year-old skinhead who went out with seventeen year-old girls transitioning between their emo stage into their goth stage.
Now Leonardo and his sister were very close friends. Abenardo recalled her once saying to him that they were “Besties.” Leonardo was arriving with two young women, one of them wearing a light dress that was open to show she was wearing another tight piece under it, the other wearing short jeans and a dotted blouse, and two young men, both of whom Abernardo recognized from having hung out within the local creative scene or from online postings related to these happenings. One of these dudes was a bandmate of an actual friend of Abernardo’s, whom Abernardo had intended to invite to this gathering but hadn’t because this friend had told him via text that he was busy working that day, so Abernardo, at that moment still in the belief that his sister lived in Santurce and would be free to leave at his own will, had told him he’d hit him up later to hang out in Old San Juan. But this bandmate of his friend was just an acquaintance to Abernardo, a nobody, somebody popular to the people who were nothing to his own life but something in the life of his home country. He was in his country, but so what was his, this country or not, if anything at all was anything at all? This guy, definitely was a nobody of his life, and Abernardo was seeing him at his sister’s home, having actually, maybe the week prior, posted as a comment - on an image posted by another band-playing friend in common of theirs, on his Facebook page, of these two, both of these acquaintances of Abernardo’s who played in popular rock n roll bands of the island of Puerto Rico - a screenshot pic of worms. But Abernardo only somewhat felt that way towards this guy arriving at his sister's place on el Dia de los Reyes with Leonardo and some other people. Then more people Abernardo somewhat knew, or thought he knew, or had met at some point, or didn’t know but looked like people he might have well have known, arrived - more people who were part of his younger sister’s social life. Those people kept on arriving.
In the backyard - where Abernardo’s mother was still sitting next to his aunt and some of Jovanni’s family, hanging around Jovanni at the grill while the rest remained on the sofa in the living room - Jovanni and his brother were grilling tenderloin. People were busy with each other, and Abernardo, not being able to either politely excuse himself from or just leave the party because he was stuck in this house trapped within the confines of urban residence, instead took this opportunity of being considered present but not necessary to take a smoke break. No one would notice he was gone. He climbed up the stairs, which led to the second floor of his sister’s apartment, where he was brought to a pathway of three doors, one of them obviously a bathroom, and to either side of the bathroom were a bedroom and a workspace. While arriving upstairs Abenardo was also preparing for his smoke, pulling out the pretty glass one-hitter his sister had left at his mother’s that first year he started visiting the island again, and had been using on his trips since, plucking out the piece of nug he would break into smaller pieces for a proper smoke once he was situated, tapping his pockets to make sure he had brought a lighter and where it might be. He first entered the workspace, where it was clear that two different people shared the space. He could tell which side belonged to his sister, the right side, which had plastic storage bins full of either clothes, materials for clothing, or other miscellaneous materials related to producing prints. Although Jovanni was lately getting involved in similar production, his side was mostly bike-related technology.
He crossed over to Cantina’s and Jovanni’s bedroom, which had a balcony. They had a queen bed which was made-up, and the room had quirky and colorful gadgets and figurines tastefully placed throughout it, on dressers and night tables. The balcony was narrow, but adequate to smoke at, and Abernardo smoked a few packings of the one-hitter, looking over the communal area of this gated community which was inside another gated community. The sun was about to settle and the landscape was being covered by a darkening orange hue, and still no one was out and about this area. Still there was parking available. Abernardo could imagine what the place would look like with life - people reclining on the various bank-like structures, maybe a cheap grill attached to some solid ground by a chain, children running through the patches of grass dotting the paths which led to the apartment entrances. He recalled having spoken recently to Cantina on the phone, and she was telling him how she had just moved into this place, and they were comparing their respective dues, and she was blown away that he was paying what he was paying for what he had, a small room in an apartment he shared with roommates, while she had what she had, this place he was experiencing right now, for what she was paying, just a few hundred dollars more a month, and while thinking about this he noticed a slim lady of average height carrying in two boxes of beers loaded with two bags of ice headed his way and then disappearing under him, apparently entering Cantina’s party. She was dressed in loose white pants and some type of top designed of straps, because the dark caramel skin of her shoulders, waist, back, and stomach were visible.
Abernardo returned to the living room and made sure as much of the beer remained in ice. His sister had brought out a couple cooler-packs not yet in use and there was more ice in plastic bags not yet dispersed because the pieces seemed to have melted some and then frozen back into a solid mass of hideous form. He took these bags and smashed this load against the floor and divided the chunks of ice between the two packs while also setting in cans of beer from the boxes on the ground. It was cooler than usual for the island of Puerto Rico, but not cool enough to keep the beer right without ice. People took turns changing the salsa record that was playing. Leonardo came up to Abernardo. They were drinking beer, eating snacks that Jovanni’s family had brought, some sort of fried rice or dough thing. There was also potato salad, arroz con gandules, and mac and cheese now.
Leonardo said, “Tu si que te venistes tirao,” commenting on the apparent lack of thought Abernardo had implemented when dressing for this occasion.
Abernardo internally cursed the sandals he was wearing. Leonardo was wearing dark pants, and a short-sleeved shirt under a light, navy blue jacket, his head topped by a suede hat. His hair was long and well-combed, shiny. He wore thin gold chains around his neck and silver rings on a few fingers of each hand. He wore new-looking sneakers, Nikes or Reeboks, one of those versions of those brands, some pair that yelled expensive.
Abernardo said,“Había entendido que Canti vivía en Santurce y pensaba ir pa la playa luego de estar acá un rato.”
Leonardo said, “Ay mi madre, estas jodido papa, porque aqui estas to la noche mi pana.”
The house was full of people and the sun was slowly setting, and plate after plate of grilled meat or vegetables were brought out and set on the table and people were eating, and drinking beer because more beer was brought, and records were being played and all in all it seemed like people were enjoying themselves.
Soon, Abernardo’s mother approached him and Kristofer, who were out in the patio, by the grill, drinking beer, talking.
“Pues mis hijos,” she said. “Sus tia y yo nos vamos ya. Quieren venirse con nosotras?”
Kristofer was the one who responded, “No no, váyanse ustedes tranquilas que nosotros ya hemos hablado de ir pa la placita luego de esto.”
“Es cierto?” said his mother, and Abernardo, being hit by beer and a little smoking was slow to respond, and initially only made a facial gesture, a subtle wave-like raising of his eyebrows, difficult to perceive in the darkness but signifying compliance with whatever was going on, but his mother remained waiting for a concrete reply, and he said, “Si mami, no te preocupes que yo le llegó con Kris pa alla en Uber. Eso es lo de menos. Te quiero,” and he kissed his mother and his aunt goodbye, as did Kristofer, and their older relatives left and Kristofer and Abenardo remained outside in the patio while slowly people were finding themselves inside.
Jovanni was with one of his brothers by the grill. A lot of his family had left, too, but not all of it.
“Mira y que paso con lo dominoes,” said Kristofer, bringing up the fact that they had asked Jovanni for these earlier and he had yet to bring them out.
“Dale,” said Abernardo, “yo se las pido otra vez,” and he went to Jovanni, who said, “Ay verdad, se me olvido!,” and he left the grill to his brother to go upstairs and bring down the dominoes.
Now with the dominoes set in hand, Kristofer and Abernardo discussed where to set up their game.
“Mira ahi, afuera pero al otro lao de las cervezas,” said Kristofer.
“Mira, puedo usar esta mesa?” Abenardo asked no one in particular but for the sake of having asked to do something in a place he did not live at. It was a table that was just holding garbage at the moment, and Abenardo trashed the garbage and wiped the table clean, and then placed it by the glass doors into the living room from the patio, and Kristofer dropped the dominoes, bringing up the thunderous rain of sound they produce as the pieces fall and bounce to their places to be used. This sound attracted one of the girls who had first arrived with Leonardo, the girl wearing that light white top thing, and at this point in the night Abernardo was more aware of what this light white top thing was framing, a tight underdress which supported her cleavage in a most amazing way, the top of her bulging breasts looking like routes to heavenly sensual bliss, her nice white skin shined brightly to Abernardo’s eyes. “Estan pa jugar en equipos?” she said, and Kristofer responded, “Claro que si. Acomodense ahi!”
This woman sat to one side of Abernardo and facing her sat a young red-headed man. The game didn’t last very long. Abernardo and Kristofer were playing to win; they were counting the pieces and giving each other signals via their eyes, coordinating moves to block their competitors, and once they’d reach the point of the game when it was clear that they were going to win, on his turn Kristofer dramatized his final act with a powerful grunt, commenting: “Para que veas con quien jodes.”
Abernardo internally noted Kristofer’s unnecessarily aggressive behavior but said nothing of it, not really caring, at this point finding himself a passive participant, or better said, an active spectator, slightly engaged but non-committal. Let Kris be an ass to this woman with beautiful breasts and her boyfriend, what did Abernardo care, they weren’t his friends.
Well the woman cared about how Kristofer was acting, and to Abenardo’s surprise, who was expecting another game, his head somewhere beyond the drama at the table, conspiring some meaning for the day, would anything make it worth his time alive, and if this was life was it worthy of his time?
She got up and said, “Vente tu,” to her boyfriend, granted she had actually said his name but Abernardo wasn’t paying attention to details, nor had he cared when it had been given, so a functional “tu” serves the purpose. This dude was a little surprised himself that they weren't about to play another game of dominoes but got up with her, and Abernardo and Kristofer were left alone at the dominoes table.
Kristofer now said, “Esa perra, ahora por ahí tratando de verse más joven por con quién anda.”
Abenardo acted as if he hadn’t heard what Kristofer had just said and started to flip over the dominoes and to shuffle them, saying, “Pues mano, aquí estamos con los dominoes. Vamos pa otra,” and while doing this he heard a voice say, “Solo en equipos juegan?”
It was that woman he had seen come in earlier, while he was smoking up on his sister’s bedroom balcony, who had carried in bags of ice on top of boxes of beer. Now he could clearly see what she was wearing, and it was even more revealing than he expected, reminding him of one of the costumes worn by Milla Jovovich in the movie The Fifth Element. Was the outfit he was thinking of the one Jovovich started the movie with, or does she end up wearing it? It had been so long since he had seen the movie, although when it had first come out he had seen it numerous times and would occasionally revisit it, as he had always enjoyed it as a film and had always had a crush on the supermodel Milla Jovovich, but at this point in his life he could not see the film linearly in his mind, so could not answer his own question. Yet here was this woman at this party, then therefore a friend of his sister’s, wearing a leather-strap outfit which looked a lot like the one Jovovich had worn at some point in the movie.
This dominoes table at the party had been a good idea, Abenardo acknowledged, remembering what Kristofer had said when he had first brought up the idea of asking Jovanni whether he had a dominoes set: “Una buena fiesta necesita algo en cual la gente se pueda concentrar e unir. Tu ves como estamos ahora? División. Ahí tienes la familia de Jio, tos con la compu viendo ese juego de fútbol americano, ahi ves los panas de Canti, comiendose la mierda, y luego estamos nosotros, lo que queda de nuestra familia, que ves? Nada. Necesitamos algo con que enfocarnos, para promover alguna síntesis orgánica.”
While Kristofer’s analysis was a little exaggerated, Abenardo wouldn’t mind some sort of organic synthesis if it related himself with this woman sitting next to him to play dominoes. “Si, claro,” he said, shuffling the dominoes.
She sat to his right, where the young redhead dude had been sitting, and they each took their seven pieces and positioned them to their preference. Kristofer had all of his in his hands, so you couldn’t keep count how many he had left; Abernardo merely paired his by common numbers; this lady viewed her pieces, but didn’t seem to have a method as to her arrangement, taking time to check her phone once she had verified what pieces she had gotten. No one had the double six, so Kristofer started out with the double five, and the lady followed him, and the turns moved rapidly at first, but then slowed down when they had to start contemplating what they had in relation to what was on the table. Abernardo noticed how the woman would take the time when either he or Kristofer were thinking of what to throw to check her phone. In this first game, Abernardo blocked each of them so they had to pick from the slush pile. Kristofer one time had to take three pieces from the slush pile in a row, putting him really behind. The lady checked her phone. Abenardo would win, soon being left with one domino, and Kristofer and this lady each had at least three pieces. Once Abernardo won he told Kristofer to shuffle with a laugh and Kristofer said “Con cuidado anda papá que tu no sabes que viene por ahí.”
No one was concerned with counting the points but the second game was quickly started, Abernardo playing first, but getting blocked early on. The lady was pressing her leg against his, them both sitting crossed legged on the ground, and Abernardo moved away. Kristofer was looking at him and her oddly, picking up from the slush pile, his face reddening, him taking a gulp of his beer, saying “Pues que es como te has llevado todo esto asi.” It was her turn and she was focused, not distracted by whatever that phone held for her. Abernardo and Kristofer were each at least two pieces behind, and she kept on dropping hers into the evolving form of the game on the table. She said, “Me encanta trabajar con tu hermana,” with her hand on his knee. “Yo trabaje con Canti hace poco en un set en el campo.”
Kristofer interrupted, the game clearly over, “Pues estoy ya listo para otra cerveza, si me permiten,” and then she said, “Pues dejame usar el baño y jugamos otra,” and they both left, and Abernardo was just there sitting, doing nothing for some time. He got up to get another beer himself. The cooler was full of those beers Jiovanni’s family had brought. He really couldn’t believe they were drinking these. He really couldn't believe he was going to drink it, but he did. What did it mean to believe then? There was no one waiting for him at the dominoes table. He was standing alone in the patio when Kristofer came to him.
They were outside in the patio looking in on the people who were left. The grill was off. They were looking in on the area of the living room where the couch was, where earlier Jiovanni’s family had been around a laptop playing the Sunday American football game. Now it was covered with friends of his sister's. The couch was covered by people who his sister knew from the local creative scene, people Abernardo knew from when he lived in the island but now time and distance had made their connection only memory while they were alive with his younger sister.
“Viste esa tipa,” said Kristofer.
“Si mano,” said Abernardo. “Se va.”
“Esta bien BDSM, no?”
“Si mano, de película.”
“De toas clases.”
“Esta escena me recuerda a algo como lo que eramos, cuando eramos una familia.”
“Todavia somos familia.”
“Tu sabes lo que digo. Claro que somos familia, pero no somos la familia que éramos. Y esto aquí, viste no digo exactamente, pero algo similar. Hay potencial.”
“Si, como dijistes, sintesis organica.”
“Exactamente. Ahora mismo pues la gente se trataron bien, pero en verdad que no compartieron. Pero si sigue así, en par de años algo podría pasar. Hace falta. Esos días eran buenos. Había familia, importaba. Ya nada importa.”
“Es que las cosas cambian.”
“Pero pueden cambiar hacia como eran antes.”
“Pero es que no se puede.”
“Obvio, pero de manera parecida. Estamos sin fundación. Ya no tenemos nada adentro.”
“Y qué quieres, que esta gente te llene tu vacío?”
“No se que quiero. De ellos nada. De la vida, tampoco.”
“No sabes na, habla mierda.”
“Mirarlos, ahi comiendo mierda, que vida que cómodos.”
At this moment, Abernardo noticed that the bandmate of his friend, the recipient of the screenshot of worms, was passing by them, apparently to smoke a cigarette.
Kristofer was still talking, “Pues mano esta lindo el espectaculo.”
Abernardo could hear this musician of a Puerto Rican garage-rock revival band, walking around behind them, but he wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of acknowledging him, so he egged Kristofer on, saying, “Si mano, que mierda to esto, aqui aprovechandose de Canti, estos cabrones.”
“Es que a ella no le importa. Es culpa tuya. Ella conoce to esta gente por ti.”
Abernardo could feel this hipster burning him with his vision. Abernardo wanted him to know how much he despised his existence, his presence in society, and that this hipster would share this knowledge with the rest of the people he might refer to as friends, but just other bodies with which to socialize, to appear in public with, to appear in photographs which would be shared via social media. Abernardo knew the cigarette was just smoke and mirrors for his desire for vengeance over the screenshot of worms. RIght now he was burning a hole in Abernardo’s back because he could only think of that screenshot of worms posted under a picture of him with his hipster rock n roll playing friend, and he wanted to know what the picture meant. Had he been been called a “gusano,” in the sociohistorical sense of the word? Or was he just being called trash, the organism that would grow from the decomposition of self?
“Cabron,” Abernardo said, “Vamos pa dentro ya.”
“Asique te rendistes?”
Abernardo didn’t answer and took the first steps towards the living room, and went towards the couch, where some of his sister’s friends were sitting on the ground around it because it was already packed. Kristofer went towards the armchair, where Cantina was, by the records. Abernardo sat down on the ground next to this one young woman he knew from when we went to shows when he was younger and she looked the same as then, full and plump, always smiling and positive. She had a bowl and passed it to him, and he smoked, and he pulled out his weed, and said, “Esto’s de la Perla.”
She said, “Hace tiempo no oigo eso. Ya la gente hablan del strain que tiene. Hace mucho tiempo no escucho nadie decir que su hierba era de la Perla”
Abernardo, breaking up his weed and mixing it with some of what was already in the bowl, said, “No lo dije pa guillarme. Solo estaba comentando.” He lit the bowl, inhaled his hit, and then passed the bowl to her and she did the same, passing it on to those on the couch. There was the couple that had played dominoes with Kristofer and Abernardo. There was that bandmate of his friend’s, and maybe one or two more people, he could remember a lot of voices in that moment.
“It’s refreshing,” she said.
The lady of the couple, sitting on the couch was massaging her boyfriend’s, who was sitting against the couch, shoulders. Abernardo wondered if anybody might be wondering if he was staring at her boobs while she did this bodywork. He could not stop looking at her breasts. He tried and tried not to, because he didn’t want to be what could be claimed of him, to distract himself from those tits with the woman he was smoking with, maybe he could chime in on what the others, further on this couch that seemed to go on forever, were saying, but it made no sense, but then there were her bulging melons, her skin, and he could just imagine how it all felt like, in her, her body and what it meant to have it, and he hated himself, because here he was in this party not really wanting to be here but interacting and participating, totally lacking any morals, all messed up drunk and high and he just wanted to be feeling all of himself on that woman, all this desire, but was that what he was, if so he despised himself, even if it was just a part of him, it was enough to be ashamed, the world had him on watch, and in it he was a criminal, an assailant, when really he was just trying to survive or maybe not, been survived or not be used or not be alive. God he had to move out from this spot.
He heard his sister, and she was saying good night to everyone, but they were still there, and he said, “Te vas a dormir?”
And she said, “Si tengo trabajo temprano.”
“Pero aqui hay gente todavia.”
“Eso no es na. Cualquier cosa Jio brega.”
And she walked up the stairs and Abernardo took her seat by Kristofer, on a beanbag, making sure the music kept on sounding.
“Y como estuvo eso,” Kristofer said.
Abernardo said, “Pues, tu sabes,” and then went silent, and watched the group of his sister's friends hanging out on her couch while his sister went to sleep, all of them drunk and stuffed full of food and drink in her house, her boyfriend still in the backyard with the few of his family members left, this moment was his life yet utterly out of his control, this moment wasn’t real. This moment was a fiction because soon he’d back back in New York City, a poor worker under the throes of late capitalism, struggling to survive in a city on a dying planet, yet here was his family in apparent comfort yet also in crisis, pure banality.
“Quitate la mascara” from Ray Barretto’s genre-defining album Power was playing on the stereo, and the bandmate of Abernardo’s friend and Leonardo were together, performing a dance, maybe something they had performed dozens of times before, possibly even for this same crowd, possibly in very similar circumstances, possibly even for his sister, they were trading hats, locked at the arms, each hopping on beat on one leg, rotating, singing along to the lyrics, “Oye mi nuevo guaguanco, lo que te voy a decir,” in a full circle, kicking up their legs like dance-troupe tended to do, a reference to the history of entertainment, “Quitate la mascara, a-la-la-le,” the group of people on the couch, laughing, pleasuring in all of this, “Quitate la mascara, veni veni,” and Bernardo thought back his teenage years, watching Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in a bedroom provided by the hard work of his mother, that scene when the American actor, archetypally looking devilish, arrives and totally disrupts Marcello’s seduction of Sylvia, bringing on the Cha-Cha-Cha, and look at these clowns in his sister's living room, Fellini’s eye on the bourgeois pseudo-artistic trash that acted entitled to the world, “Quitate la mascara, bandolera,” and he wasn't sure if he was just as miserable as those he saw appreciating this crass display of leisure or worse than them, because this is what these people were doing with their time and energy and Abernardo could not escape it unless he decided to take an Uber to his mother’s place, a mode of transportation he never opted for in his real life, only taking one of these “share” rides when he was with other people who habitually paid for them, a solution which burned him at his core, because he realized no matter what he had done in his life, he was at the disposition of whim, of a reality that he did not want to claim.
Why was he feeling like this? Why was he allowing himself to feel like this? The people were enjoying themselves in his sister's house and his sister was done for the night but okay with them being there, so what was his problem? Why couldn’t he enjoy himself, too? he thought. A few more people joined in to kind of dance. There was the woman who reminded him of Milla Jovovich, and he thought to himself, Yeah, why don’t I try to enjoy myself. A bachata song was playing, and he felt this was his chance, a dance he could pull off, relatively simple, so he got up and went to her, and for about three steps they were dancing, but as he tried to do the one-two-three and stay in place, that rhythm he understood as the steps, she did something totally different, and he couldn’t understand what was wrong. He had done his part right, hadn't he? He felt he was no longer holding on to her, and he heard her say, “Antes aprendete los pasos,” which made no sense to him, because he had done the steps right, for all he knew, but maybe she was talking about something else, and he stepped back, and saw her excuse herself from the party and leave. Leonardo was looking at him, not exactly taunting but definitely acknowledging that it was something Abernardo had done which had sparked her to flee, and Leonardo found that funny in some way, and he was signalling this. Abernardo spinned around, and then did a few more body motions to the rhythm of the music, and made his way back to the armchair, and said to Kristofer, “Cuando estés listo pa irte me avisas.”
There was a mess of a commotion between Kristofer and Abernardo as they drunkenly tried to make their way to a spot in Hato Rey where an Uber driver could easily find them in the darkness of the night, a mess sufficient to produce its own brief story but for now all this is necessary is some sort of closure, the fact that they shared an Uber to Kristofer’s place, dropped him off, and Abernardo continued towards Old San Juan in that Uber ride, and while driving towards Old San Juan, the Uber driver asked Abernardo where he was from, commenting that his accent wasn’t that of someone from Puerto Rico. Abernardo responded by saying, “Acá me dicen que no soy de aqui y alla no me quieren, así que no se que decirte. No se de donde soy.”
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