Thursday, July 12, 2012
Two Worlds, One Great, One Small (1999)
Physics and climatology was standing on its head. Since when did a chilly Canadian jet stream influence weather in Puebla? But two-month-old Gabriel, chilled by the 5•C air, shoved through the flimsy windows of the makeshift apartment above the taller, was crying, and, Dios gracias, it wasn’t from lack of formula. Anna had plenty of that. One light bulb hung from the ceiling, around which one of Anna’s friends in the theater had fashioned a chandelier of sorts from wire hangers and crepe paper. The base color was lime green. At night or during naps, Anna could roll a layer of forest green crepe over any or all of the fixture and, using hooks adapted from hardware store junk, change the ambient color to approximate what she thought Nietzsche would have found in the Bavarian Black Forest. Today, Gabriel was having none of it. Anna couldn’t make phone calls. She couldn’t do her planeaciόn. All she could do was unbutton her flannel shirt, wrap it around her baby, and comfort him with the rhythm of her beating heart.
“Esto niño lindo
Que naciό en dia
Quiere se la lleven
A la dulcería…”
Gabriel, dry, well-fed, and now warm, stopped crying in a millisecond, and, puzzled with the change in his environment as much as comforted, focused upward on his mother’s face and started giggling. Baby and mother reinforced each other’s laughter until both faces turned ruddy with the increased flow of giddy blood. En esto momento no podría pensar en mis problemas. If sex weren’t enough to make people reproduce, moments like this would do fine.
¿Mande? What am I talking about? The fucking Maestro threw me out of his company for getting pregnant. I had to form my own company in order to sell tickets to pay for my senior recital. I can’t get a job; I have a baby. My father thinks that I pissed away my life already. My mom thinks that I drank it away. And I live in one room, above a taller, where my baby cries whenever they use the pneumatic wrench!
The baby noticed the change in his mother’s attitude and started to form another howl.
Hongos y castanitas,
Almendras y turrόn
Para mi niño son…”
Anna played patty-cake with Gabriel by slapping his cheeks with her breasts. While doing so, she formulated a plan.
She had surrounded herself with a troupe that would sustain itself. In fact, Sandrina was practically demanding the role of business manager, and everyone agreed that anyone who had graduated Maestro Garza’s program could direct a play. Somehow, the control diva herself allowed it, while always having her own production (which would be the best, the most influential, the most profitable, etc.) in mind. So this plan would not hurt her theatrical career. It might create some money, and maybe even bring in some sponsors for the company. But it would definitely entail a change in diet – she thought about the barrenness of her cabinets, and the one bottle of milk in the refrigerator downstairs that belonged to her, and decided that a few servings of crow would do nothing to harm the emptiness of the pantry. She reached out to the phone, on the floor next to the mattress, and made the call.
“Si, chica. Como estas?”
“Bastante bien. I have thought long and hard about your offer. I can, and will, sell the books. I have even arranged a public reading through my company to start the promotion.”
This last point was a little white lie, but it might get her father to ship an extra case of his business management text. Enrique had not become an MBA overnight, nor had he ever recovered from Fulgencia’s betrayal and early death. Yet, he had made good business habits into a kind of therapy which, beside restoring bounce to Enrique’s middle-aged step, had erased his debts and restored his practice to solidity. When Anna had begged him for money after she left Hector, he said no, that he no longer poured champagne down empty drains. When Gabriel was born, he bought a crib and a gift certificate good for a year of formula (he still thought of breastfeeding as a barbaric practice) and a case of newborn-sized disposable diapers (washing cloth diapers is for indios). He had offered her a case of books that she could sell and keep the profits. She hadn’t taken him seriously. At first, her pulse raced and her temples throbbed with shame and humiliation when she thought of his offer. In fact, when she called him, she could only hope that the offer was genuine. How humiliating would it be if the offer were withdrawn now!
“Okey, mi niña. Creo en ti. I believe in you.”
Anna checked herself for ear wax.
Details were exchanged. Enrique didn’t even know where Anna was living – she could have dropped dead without a trace, and he would not have known where to go to claim the body. She didn’t want him to come to the taller, so she arranged to meet at the space the theater company shared at the converted textile mill on 8va Norte and 4a Calle. And of course she would bring Gabriel. Do I have a wet-nurse? I will be your only sales rep with a baby as part of my business attire!
Anna had already read the book. She had already applied the full rigor of Enrique’s system to the business management of her company. She and Sandrina had established a morning meeting and a regular schedule of creative and business activities. She had adhered to the schedule herself, leaving her colleagues slackjawed to find her punctual, even for 9:30 am marketing sessions. She had even proven to herself that she could apply a negotiating tactic that her father had used to reduce his rent while rebuilding his practice, which was to create a desire in the prospect like a homunculus that would swell and take over the prospect’s mind and vision. She had sold the Asociacion Comercial of the Textile District to beg her company to accept free rent for a year instead of a cash contribution in exchange for ad space in the programs.
Anna bundled Gabriel, and bundled him again. She owned a number of hats, commercial and theatrical, and selected one which combined both. It was a teal masterpiece of fabric sculpture, sporting a fan where the tassel would be. Its brim turned up naturally in the front left, and slung over her right shoulder like a cowl. Anna had thought to stitch a ribbon to the forehead, but she decided that would be a bit much. Now, of course, it would be impossible. Under her tweed jacket, a teal and black silk scarf puffed out. Her calf-high leather boots matched the jacket. Only the snug blue jeans disagreed with the style impression, and then only as a matter of counterpoint. Thus attired, Anna clacked down the steps, placed Gabriel in the borrowed rear-facing stroller, and strode off to the theater.
“(!)Papi!” Anna called out as she saw her father emerge from his old but clean Mercedes. It may not be de modo, but it is a Mercedes and a classic at that. Always make a good first impression.
“(!)Chiquita! Y(?) quien es?” Enrique raised his voice in pitch, a near demand to be given his grandson to dandle.
“Papi, meet your grandson. Gabriel,” she paused, flipped the hood of the stroller back, lifted the baby to her lips, kissed him, and rubbed noses, “meet your abuelito!”
Enrique held Gabriel aloft as he had his firstborn, a boy, Hernando, who grew up to be a lawyer and later, a judge. The nine-pound bundle had no complaints, understanding at some unconscious level the meaning of familia. Gabriel began to coo and giggle when Enrique tossed him up and wiggled him in the air.
“Papi, it’s chilly. Let me show you the teatro.” Enrique handed the baby back to Anna and followed her lead.
They entered the massive rust-red door midway down the broad grey stucco wall. The first floor of the building held a clothing and textile shop, which by happy accident carried costumes and performed custom tailoring. Across the street the theatergoer could eat dinner before the show, and on performance nights, choose between a dessert menu or a nightclub.
“We paint feet on the street from our door to the doors of our advertisers,” noted Anna.
“You’ll do fine, chica,” returned Enrique.
Anna turned the hall lights on, and indicated the playbills and photographs that accompanied them up the stairs. “You would think that we’ve been performing here for ten seasons, not one, true?”
“Yes. I can understand the photos, but the playbills? Where did you get this? What if someone finds out…”
“There’s nothing to find out. We just took our college credits, and re-staged work that we had done with Garza. The hard part was writing the playbills, but these were real performances.”
“Muy lista, very clever. How much money did it cost you?”
“Okey, I like your professionalism. This will carry well into business.”
“I read the book.”
The theater held 132 for a sold-out performance. One of Hector’s friends had helped convert bleachers into passable theater seating by riveting a host of contoured plastic seats onto the aluminum row. Quirky, but cheap. For an ensemble edgy enough to use the pregnant status of its star to create a gender-bending Falstaff, quite natural. The fabric and costume store had supplied the stage curtains for advertising in the playbills. The theater (read: Anna) had bought some old drapery hardware from a cinema that was remodeling. Instead of a raised podium, the stage was at floor level, delineated from the audience with a painted yellow arc, like the goal area in futbol. The great failing of this space was its lighting. There was no dimmer on the house lights, and only three spotlights. But these cost money. With a good run of Christmas Carol, there would be plenty of that.
It was fortuitous that Anna had chosen to play Marley and not Scrooge for this production. While she would direct the production, she knew the script in more than one language, so there would be few extra hours. She would use the business hours to sell Enrique’s book. And maybe arrange a seminar or two?