Translated by: Mary G. Berg
He was a famous salsa singer. She collected things and did occasional tattoos. He was married to a rich Japanese businesswoman. She had a French lover.
They met by chance. She was trying to convince a cafeteria clerk that five cents didn’t make any difference in the price of a pack of cigarettes. The clerk, for his part, responded with a big smile and a resounding “no.” A hand reached over her shoulder and gave her the five cents. She looked back, smiled when She recognized the face and said “Thanks” as She quickly put the pack of Marlboros away. He smiled and invited her for a beer. She preferred to walk, so they walked.
“I don’t like salsa much, but I recognize you. Everyone in the world knows you.”
Everyone in the world knew him because He was a famous star with an attractive smile and expressive eyes. She wasn’t famous. Her favorite pastime was collecting. She collected wineglasses stolen from different bars, corks of bottles opened on memorable occasions, sand from beaches, candles brought from churches around the world and some She had made, using medicines as dyes and eggshells as molds. She collected all sorts of things and did tattoos once in a while, when She was in the mood.
“I have a French lover who comes by every month and we drink wine, he gives me books and candles. He’s a writer.”
He wanted to know his name, in case He knew him, you never know, but She refused to tell him.
“Never tell anyone who your lovers are. Besides … he’s married, like you.”
famous people don’t have private lives. The whole world knew about his Japanese wife and He sighed, thinking how liberating anonymity would be. To walk along the street without anyone staring at you and admiring your new car, a recent gift from your wife, who’s a few years older than you – a woman who no longer interests you and spends almost all her time traveling, like you, but in different latitudes.
“Dubadubdub,” She said, thumping her heart. “You’ve been so quiet, throb throb, sad little heart, I thought all salsa players were a lot of fun.”
He wanted to be a lot of fun, so He invited her to a concert, but She detested salsa concerts and the whole rigmarole of glitzy high fashion outfits and stepping out of a car almost no one else could afford, and feeling everyone staring at her as she sat at the table.
“Tell me one thing: which do you like better, night or morning?”
”I’m a musician, a nocturnal animal.”
“Winter or summer?”
“We’ve got summer all year round, I like winter better and that’s enough questions, I’m fed up with journalists.”
“One more question, just one more, cats or dogs?”
“I have two cats at my mother’s house, Ochun and Chango.”
She smiled, biting her lips.
“OK, I won’t go to your concerts, but we could get together, just the two of us…”
So they kept seeing each other. She’d wait for his call after his concerts, and they would go to the beach, far from the city. He brought her wineglasses and wrote the date on the corks of the bottles they drank together. Then and during and before and after they made love. He’d sing ballads in her ear while She kissed the pores of his skin one by one.
The first month her French lover came, She warned him she’d be gone a week.
“Do you love him?” He asked. She smiled and didn’t say anything. “If you don’t love him, why don’t you leave him and stay with me?”
“Throb throb, egotistic little heart, my writer is coming to see me. When your Japanese wife shows up, you’ll take a vacation, too.”
He wanted to say something, but He kept his mouth shut. The next day He wrote a song for her and waited an entire week. The months that followed were made up of segments, a week for the Frenchman, a few days for the Japanese wife, concert tours, and the rest of the time was left for being together.
One time they crossed paths at a marina far from the city. She was drinking a tonic water with lots of ice, next to the pool. The French writer was reading, sunning himself by her side. He got out of his car and walked by with his wife on his arm. The Japanese businesswoman recognized the writer and stopped. He gazed at Her. His wife leaned over to him and whispered the name of the gray-haired man with the magazine. He nodded without comment, He didn’t recognize the name. The couple walked on and as they went past the other couple, the Japanese wife bobbed her head in greeting to the writer, who had just lifted his eyes. He lowered his gaze. She continued drinking her tonic water. The writer smiled, annoyed that he had been recognized.
They never talked about that encounter. He had no wish to bring it up. She kissed the pores of his skin and made love to him in Spanish.
“Throb throb,” He said, patting his chest. “You know what? I love you.”
She gave him a candle in the shape of a snail.
One night She showed up very happy. She had a book that her writer had just dedicated to her. It was on sale all over Europe and her name was on the first page. The book was about her and for her.
“He did it to please you,” He said. “I’d be glad to dedicate a recording to you, but my wife would want to know who you are and as you said, ‘never tell anyone who your lovers are’… “
She smiled in pleasure, kissed the book and then kissed her salsa singer on the mouth. Her lover started phoning her when he was on tour and talking to her about the cold and the nights and the bottles of wine that He was buying to drink with her. When he came back, he’d bring the newspapers and magazines where his photo appeared, press reviews, ads for his records and odd pencils He’d sought out for her collection. On one of these returns, He found her a little out of sorts, preoccupied.
“it’s nothing,” She said. “I need colors. I should do a tattoo but I don’t have the right ink colors. It’s really important, you know. “
He helped her find them and made her sadness go away. She was happy. Tattooing was something She only did on special occasions. Someday, if He wanted her to, She could do one for him. She didn’t have any on herself, but She did them really well. She liked doing it.
A week later his Japanese wife came back and He stopped
Seeing Her. His wife stayed around for more than a month. He only managed a few phone calls and one short visit, a real juggling act. his marriage had become a real bore; they barely managed to be civil when they discussed the next tours and contracts. The Japanese wife felt he was being too distant, and He blamed the heat. She noticed that most of his new songs were ballads and He alluded to “a creative spurt.” She found some strange candles on top of the wardrobe and He explained that they were in case of a power outage. At the airport, He embraced her, He kissed her forehead and wished her a good trip. Two seconds after He watched her disappear behind the glass, He jumped in his car and went looking for Her.
But She wasn’t home. They met the next night and were happy to touch each other’s bodies. She didn’t know that the Japanese wife had left and told him She wasn’t home because she’d met a Spanish filmmaker, an interesting guy She’d talked to for hours. He wanted to stay with her as long as possible and asked her when the Frenchman was coming.
“He isn’t coming again. It’s all over, ” She said. “He’s crazy. Last week he said his wife knew all about it. He told her himself because he wanted to leave his family and take me to Paris so we could live together, but I don’t want to. I don’t love him, so we broke it off completely.”
He sighed with a certain undisguised relief and hugged her tight.
“Throb throb, crazy little heart, now you’ll stay with me.” She smiled and licked his nose with the tip of her tongue. She said She wanted to drink tonic water and make love on the Japanese wife’s sheets. It was the first time they’d made love in that room. He didn’t want her to leave the next day. He wanted her to stay and wait for him to finish that night’s concert. And so She did. She waited for him naked, with incense burning in every corner. He got back very late and splashed rum onto her body and got drunk licking it up. In the morning, still naked and tired, he wrote another song to her and didn’t want her to leave. She didn’t leave. She watched the concert on TV at his house, as He premiered the music written for the most marvelous woman He’d ever met. She was happy and He came home full of love for her.
Next there was a short tour in Japan where his wife met him with a possible contract for six months in Europe to promote the recording he was just beginning to make. He was eager to do this, but He didn’t love the Japanese businesswoman, He loved Her. She, who greeted him with a bottle of Spanish wine and desire for his body, didn’t want to stay at his house this time. He began to record and spent long days at the studio. They agreed to meet when He had breaks in his schedule. He put all his energy into each song. With Her in mind, He’d make the whole world dance. He’d shake up old Europe.
The day he finished recording He went looking for her, flowers in hand. He bought a case of rum, two of tonic water and proposed a huge celebration. They holed up in his room. He switched the phone to the answering machine and turned the ringer all the way down. She lit incense and took her clothes off. When they’d almost finished the first bottle, He said He had a surprise.
“You’re driving me crazy. I’m crazy,” he said. “You changed my life, you spun me around in the opposite direction, and it’s not fair to hide how I feel… the recording is dedicated to you, and it’s about to hit the market. Your name will be blazed on the cover of a recording sold all over the world.” He smiled and patted Her hart. “Throb throb, I’m in love, crazy little heart, sweetheart…”
She hugged his neck and licked his ears. She shivered as his hands ran down her spine again and enveloped her. Their lips met.
“I’m happy,” she said drawing back a little. “I want to give you something very important. I want to give you something that will keep us united forever. I want to be part of you forever… let me give you a tattoo.”
He felt a strange emotion and bit his lips. He drank from the bottle, almost bursting with joy, and He accepted. The drawing was on the nape of his neck, a strange little drawing, very distinctive. When She finished, He was drunk and exhausted from holding his head in the same position and from so many hours without sleep. She caressed his face and stood up to drink tonic water, while She watched him fall asleep.
The six month tour through Europe was set to begin the next month. The record was about to be released. The Japanese wife came to deal with last minute details and left again, with his
Promise that they’d have a long talk, when things calmed down a little, about her husband’s recent strange behavior.
“This record will be a success, I know it will,” He said, stretched out on the sand watching the sunset.
“It will change your life, I can predict that,” She said, stretched out beside him.
“Change…” He said and turned his body to look at her.
“Throb throb, little heart of mine… I was thinking, what if you come with me? We’d be together. The devil with my marriage: you’re the one I love.” She sat up, and stretched out her back. She smiled.
“It’s over. I don’t love you.”
He closed his eyes and opened them again. He said something, but She interrupted him adding that, besides, She had another lover, She wouldn’t say who, just that he was a Spanish filmmaker. Plus She didn’t think it was a good idea to leave the Japanese businesswoman in the middle of such an important tour. He rubbed his chin. He couldn’t believe it.
“But, what about..? All this … every thing we had together. .. “
She caressed his face and stood up, brushing off the sand. She said He shouldn’t bother to come with her, it wasn’t late, and her Spanish lover would pick her up very close to there. He stood up to say something but couldn’t get the words out.
“Throb throb, silly little heart,” She said, patting him on the heart. “Did I ever tell you I loved you?” She kissed his sweaty cheek and took a few steps. “You know what? It’s just… I collect people, I enjoy it, it’s really my favorite pastime… as you travel around the world, you’ll recognize my mark. There are many out there with that drawing on the napes of their necks.” She smiled. “And they’re all famous….”
He was a famous salsa singer and his tour of Europe was a great success. She collected people and tattooed her mark on them. He was divorced from a rich Japanese businesswoman. She had a lover.
*This translation is taken from: Cuba on the Edge: Short Stories from the Island; Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2007.
Want to listen to audio editions?
Purchase a subscription and enjoy unlimited access to all features.
By subscribing you contribute and support authors, translators and editors.