Translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster
I hate losing. And losing twice makes me madder still. So I should have known as soon as I saw you, but no, the rum went right to my head, because you’d come alone, so I left Enrique in mid-sentence and made a beeline for you, almost crashing into you in my eagerness to get started with the blah-blah of “Wow, it’s been so long” and “Man, where have you been hiding?” and planting an innocent kiss close enough to your mouth but far enough away too. It’s funny, because I can hear it now—what I said, I mean, because I don’t even know what you answered, I just know that it only took one second for me get all ga-ga again, so while you were talking all I did was pay attention to your lips, your teeth, and I’d already decided that I was spending the night with you, why not, I’d been holding onto that desire since college, when you dropped me for Gabriela. We were only together three or four times, but you left your imprint and I never could get rid of it. Every time I saw you go by with Gaby at your side, I could feel something eating away at me. You didn’t tell her you wanted to avoid commitments, you didn’t have time for a serious relationship, the way you told me. Not her, no, instead you bought her a ring and even presented it on Valentine’s Day, like how trite could you be? I wasn’t about to slit my wrists—why should I? —but it did hurt, it was like a knife in my heart to see you sitting on a bench with her or to cross paths in the dining hall. And Gaby never took you out, never paid for anything, while I even paid for you to get drunk in El Rancho, and I’m not sorry, because it was one of the best nights, though in the end I practically had to carry you back to the dorm, and shush you when you tried to should insults at the boys in the reform school, and then when we got to the dorm you started putting the moves on me again and if I didn’t go along it was only because you were drunk and it’s no fun that way. That’s why, today, I was very careful not to drink too much and to keep you from drinking either. I monopolized you, I didn’t care who saw it, all that mattered was not to let the opportunity slip. When you told me Gaby was out of town, bells went off in my head. I spent a while considering how to arrange the thing, because a hotel room on Saturday night, no way, and then when you told me you’d been given an apartment, that was too good to be true. Your place was at the far end of the housing project, but still, an apartment plus Gaby being away, problem solved. Right away I could tell it wouldn’t be hard to convince you, because you were as ready as I was, and I have to admit I was moved by that.
The first bucket of cold water came on our way up the stairs, when the noise from the second floor made you nervous, but okay, that was normal, after all this was the home you share with Gaby, where everybody knows you, and so of course this made me think about her again. Then there was the photo on the coffee table, one of those poses I hate, in full bridal gear, as if to announce “I’m married!” to all who enter there. And in this case it was saying that to me, which was still worse. Then you got out the bottle and I thought, okay, we’re going to have our own private celebration, but you were in so much of a hurry. Not that I wasn’t eager myself, but I wanted to enjoy it, I needed it to be the best night of my life, better than the ones I spent with Tony in Varadero, and I even said it was too bad the bathrooms in those project apartments were so small and uncomfortable, and you were shocked by that idea, so that was the third bucket right there. Still, when you pulled me toward the bedroom I didn’t yet know that everything had gone belly up. It was when I saw myself in the mirror on the dressing table, alongside the glass bottles of colored water, the orange plastic powder case — the same one she had in the dorm — and the little curtains ever-so-cute, that I knew, even before you folded back the bedspread, how the pillowcases were going to say Hers and His, and the sheet would be embroidered with your monogram. That’s why I started to laugh, because the anger was rising up to choke me, and then, yes, when you put your arms around me and said “quiet, love, these walls are paper-thin,” I told you to go to hell at the top of my lungs. You still had the guts to follow me and ask what was going on, peppering your speech with swear words to impress me, as if Tony hadn’t had the best repertory of curses that any woman could hope to hear, but I knew how to hit you where it hurt, so I got loose, and you weren’t macho enough to kick me down the stairs the way you threatened. I went down upright under my own steam and walked away as stiffly as I could until I was out of sight of the building, and then the anger was too much for me, I burst out crying, and I even wanted to run into some degenerate who was going to rape me, but no, by luck what came by was the late-night bus, which picked me up even though I wasn’t at the stop. The driver asked me was anything wrong, and the anger answered him, because I wouldn’t normally say out loud that I don’t like being taken for a whore. The old man—because he was an old man—looked shocked and said of course not, and then did his best to ignore me, the poor guy, he probably thought I was nuts, but that’s because he doesn’t know how much I hate to lose. And losing twice makes me madder still.