SWIM: STORIES OF THE SIXTIES
They have given my room to the American stewardesses who will be arriving for the night. I collect my things and go outside the gates to the bunkhouse. There I enter a clean, spare room that reminds me of my college boarding house in Austin. There is a woven coverlet on the bed, and on the small bureau are broken artifacts, part of the cache excavated when the bullring was built. There is a flashlight, which I flick on and off immediately to be sure the batteries are good. I listen for anyone else in the building, but it’s quiet. There is a room for Paulo’s pilot, who uses it for short stays when he does not return with the plane to the capital, where he lives. He is a dark, portly man who always seems vaguely disapproving of everyone except, of course, Paulo. The cook told me that there is a young fighter from Mexico City coming, someone who caught Paulo’s eye in a novillada, a kind of practice fight in a minor ring. They will put him out here, too.
I walk to the guardhouse. It is outside the gate by the high stone walls surrounding the house. The walls are topped by spires and gargoyles, like a medieval fortress. I will spend some time until lunch swatting flies and listening to country songs with Milo, the fat guard. The shack is a big room with screened walls and from there Milo sees everything. He is patient with my attempts at Spanish conversation, my endless questions about the way the ranch works and who all the people are who come and go. I have a repertoire of observations that I am able to make about the weather and activities at the ranch, and he comments or asks a few questions, extending my rudimentary language use with new vocabulary or structures, like a tutor. I’m sure he has no idea that he is instructing me. That doesn’t mean he likes me, only that he is bored and I am a diversion; that I am friendly and grateful for his company; and maybe the patron (pronounced pa-trone) would want me occupied. I have learned most of my Spanish in this way. I never speak it if Paulo is within hearing distance, but I think it pleases him that I try.
I step carefully. A wild cat is chained near the doorway. It is a jaguarundi the size of a house cat, related to the panther; it is rare. There is a kind of nasty joke in the way it is chained, as it could not reach the doorway but often terrifies guests. The cat is truly vicious, and Milo feeds it by scooting food--fruit or a freshly-killed rodent--toward it with a long stick. The cat lets Paulo scratch it under the chin as it rubs against his calves. All animals love Paulo.
Milo, with his pistol on his hip, is the main guard (although there is a river to be crossed to reach the ranch from the outside world) but also a kind of receptionist and manager of long distance calls, which often take hours to go through. He has a rickety board with intercom connections to half a dozen rooms and when he has to use it, he scowls and crouches like a bear and sometimes bangs his forehead with the side of his fist.
A parrot, perched on a dowel high in the room, shrieks and startles me. I ask Milo if he has seen Marcelo, and he says that he has gone to the city thirty kilometers away for some supplies. He went very early, Milo says, grinning. I don’t catch the humor, but I know it has to do with everyone’s amusement that I once had a big crush on Marcelo. Even Paulo reminds me now and then, though Marcelo doesn't speak to me anymore.
The house phone rings and Milo says that the patron wants me in his office. He always calls Paulo patron when speaking to others, but in direct address, he calls Paulo Matador. I call Paulo Paulo in all circumstances, most days the only person on hand to say his name.
He had He HOfelia has not arrived; the blinds are still closed and the office has a flickering yellow glow. Paulo pulls me into the room, pushes me against the wall and presses against me.
I’m going to be so busy later, he says. He grins boyishly and shoves his hand hard between my legs. I hear Ofelia’s heels clacking along the walk and onto the step on the other side of the door where we are standing, and I pull away with a shy whimper. She comes in with her usual officious air and greets him without a glance my way, then goes into the second room. We can hear her stomping around pulling blinds and turning on machines.
Paulo walks to his desk and pats it with the tips of his fingers. He has only been filling time until Ofelia came, and he says nothing about my retreat from him. I amuse him but I don’t think I am desirable to him, only proximate. Sex is like cracking his knuckles.
Then he says that he expects me to come to meals.
Paulo says I can come to watch the testing of the cows at the ring, of course, but in the evening, after Marcelo and Leonardo entertain the guests with music in the bar, and I have a beer and play cards with the other girls if I want to, I am to go to my room in the bunkhouse for the night.
I am not invited to the orgies.