I should’ve quit at the first danger sign – that is when he insisted on us driving in his own car and not taking a taxi. I should have just gone away then. But after all that struggling with myself to prove that I was not afraid and didn’t care if … well, I didn’t.
The real shit started, though, when he suddenly turned off the expressway, down a minor road without lighting that ended in a container lot of some sort. We had been talking fairly normally, albeit awkwardly, up till then – actually, we had been talking quite well from the moment we left hostal Peron:
Miguel had first asked if I wanted to come with him to someplace called “Tigre” where his brother owned an “acclaimed” restaurant. I had said yes, because what else should I say? I had gone this far with him. Why question the fact that a guy like Miguel really might have a brother with a restaurant that got stars in the local newspapers.
I mean, didn’t everyone have a life before a war? Why not him? Why was I so focused on seeing only stereotypes – like the young offenders from Boyle Heights or Mid-West small towns who so often sign up for the army because they got nowhere else to go.
Then we had reached his car, an old Sedan that looked like it was only running on good will. I hesitated. I discovered that I was still in the process of making my real decision. The problem was that I didn’t even know for sure why I had done this. I only knew I didn’t want to date him for real – you know go home with him and all that – or anything. Of course not! But this was kind of like a date, wasn’t it? The problem is always like that: If you have never made up your mind entirely, if you don’t know your own reasons, someone else will tell you what they are.
He put his hand on handle of the car door. Then he suddenly stopped:
“You really didn’t look in my bag?”
“You are very strange.”
“I just respect people’s privacy.”
“Do you want to know what was in the bag?”
“Not if you don’t want to tell me.”
“There was a manuscript of a book I’m working on.”
“I taught history in school, before the Malvinas War. When I came home from the war I wanted to write about that but … I couldn’t. So I started writing a historical novel instead. I chose a perfect setting: Another war, same place.”
Something in me lit up, when he said those lines. For a brief moment fear was gone and I thought that perhaps fate or whatever had given me one of those little weird magical signs… A coincidence that could not have been more profound …
“World War One … ” I say, almost in a whisper, as dark shapes of cars hurl past us out on the main street ” – The German East Asia Squadron, their only small force of ships overseas, running from their base in China, all the way over the Pacific, into the Atlantic – to get home. But their Admiral, Spee, decides to stop – to raid the British coaling station on Stanley … ”
” … Yes, yes that’s it,” Miguel says and nods ” – The Royal Navy was waiting for Admiral Spee and his small squadron. He was outnumbered and outgunned. And at the end of the day he was dead. You don’t try to fight the mightiest Navy in the world – even back then. And that’s my … story! I am surprised you know that very insignificant part of world war history? Most people have forgotten … ”
I hesitate, feeling the strangeness of it all and wondering if it really could be … in his book:
“My great-grandfather had … a family member, I guess you could call him. Dietrich, I think his name was. He was also a sailor from Hamburg. Anyway – Dietrich was the cousin, or something – I forget what – to one of the German officers who survived and later wrote a book about it. Dietrich signed up with this officer’s ship – and went down with it at the Falklands. I don’t think it was the Admiral’s ship, though.”
“Could it by any chance have been … Fregattenkapitän Hans Pochhammer, second in command of the SMS Gneisenau?” Miguel asks, but in a strangely measured way…
” – That’s the name,” I confirm hesitantly. “Uncanny .. And you write about … him?”
Miguel nods again, still very measured. “Shall we?”
I step into the car.
Half an hour later, on the expressway going north – moments before he turns. I have to ask:
Streaming shadows seem to run between all the little furrows in Miguel’s face, like small dark snakes.
“Why do you write about your experiences in the Falklands War in this way?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Please … if you want to tell me.”
“Is that why you came up to me the other day? You thought it was … exciting to approach a man who had been to war. A new adventure for you?”
I feel something writhe in my stomach. “No – i-it wasn’t like that. I just thought it was … rotten that you should stand there all day. Really.”
“Hm-hm … ” he gazes out into the dark, speeds up a little. Then he says:
“I write a historical novel because I can not – ever – write down my own memories about the war. I can not. I can only write it from a distance, through someone else. There’s … a shadow inside my mind. It seems to descend whenever I try to think about what happened that day – 2 May, 1982. You see, I was a sailor on the Belgrano … ”
“The warship that was sunk … !”
“By a British submarine, yes.” He nods grimly. “I was on it. So was Fher and Nestor – two of my best amigos. They didn’t make it. I remember trying to keep Fher up in the water but … he slipped away from me. He reached for me, called my name he … Anyway, I was in the water for a long time before I was picked up. It felt like a tomb … but that is life – ”
He punches it; sharp, aggressive over-taking of a huge truck; doesn’t even wait to see if there’s opposing traffic . Something in my stomach lurches.
” – it always ends sooner than we would like and we have no control about when, where how – no control whatsoever. We believe we live under an open sky but in reality we live in a tomb just waiting to be closed.”
He speeds more. The old Sedan lurches forward. I’m pressed back into my seat.
“Miguel, please – don’t – ”
He ignores me. Totally.
“So – ” he says with uncanny calm as he accelerates ever faster “- I’ve got to write about it through somebody else – it is the only way to get it … out. Hence, I chose the ship from another war, another sailor – a ship that was also sunk, like the Belgrano I was on. I always liked historic novels … Always liked them … ”
“It’s just so … so insane … that you write about this guy that … He’s kind of the reason I chose Buenos Aires as my end station. You see, back in Ohio … something happened with a friend of mine and I could not … could not f-forgive myself – so I wanted to – I wanted – ”
Then it dawns on me. I look at him and I know only horror.
“You never had a script in that bag – !”
And that’s when he suddenly brakes, hard, and hurled the car off the expressway, away toward the end of the world.
He brakes again to make the car stop between two gigantic, steel gray containers. Two seconds before, I try to tear open the door and jump out, but he grabs my arm and then hits me, fist right in the face – almost knocks me cold. Then he drags me out onto something that feels like wet concrete smelling of urine and rainwater.
“You thought you were clever, puta!” he spits as he spins me around, pushes me forward, hammers my head into the hood. I see black spots and white pain. He tears away my blouse, bra. Jeans take a few moments longer, but they come down.
“You … thought … I was some kind of animal in a zoo, that you could pity! You thought that, huh?”
“No … I … ”
“Callate, puta! Shut up!”
Then comes the pain. And now I struggle – wildly. At one point I manage to tear myself loose, twist myself around and hit him in the face. I claw at his shirt collar, rips it. He hits me again. Then he flings me around again, hammers my head once more into the hood and I almost go out.
“Puta!” he screams again. “You lie! You did think I was someone you could pity. You little gringa whore … coming down to Buenos Aires for a trip to the veteran zoo… wanted to go out and then just leave me somewhere – but with something to tell all your little girlfriends back home – puta!”
For those of you who haven’t tried to be raped .. I can tell you that it’s nothing like those porn-fantasies you sometimes read on the net. Or have yourself.
You don’t just panic. You become panic. It’s not that it hurts, or that his cock may stink of piss or that maybe he has a disease or anything like that.
It’s because your body is being invaded – YOU are being invaded. And that feeling is the most terrifying of all.
“Miguel – no! Please … !!”
“Shut up! Shut UP! Aaah – aah – aaaah … ”
It begins, and my mind begins to shut down … like I’m sinking into myself, sensing the old darkness from … a time long ago, opening itself up inside my heart again and trying to swallow me from the inside out. I don’t want to live through this. I just want … to run away.
Suddenly …. a small metallic clink … beside my bloodied, battered face. A necklace – his necklace … it’s got a small medallion in it … it dropped onto the hood. Must’ve been loosened when I tore his collar …
It’s a medallion of the Holy Virgin.
For some reason, though, I reach for it, clench it in my hand – hold on to it while he finishes. I don’t know if it’s that or if my body’s instincts somehow takes over and injects my brain with some of that morphine-like endorphin-whatever that you sometimes hear about people getting doped by when in acute danger … but somehow I relax more after I hold the medallion. The panic seems to recede … now there’s just a haze.
When Miguel comes inside me, he howls, like a wounded animal. The howl is guttural, dirty, crazed – and it echoes between the silent container blocks. Then he collapses on top of me; I hear the creaking of metal from the hood as both our weights press it down.
I lie very still for many minutes and so does he. I clutch the little hard oval-shaped medallion in my hand, feeling every millimeter of the fragile delicate chains that keep the necklace together. Then I feel him drawing away, finally.
I just lie there, sperm and blood all over my buttocks, clothes torn, feeling the chill of the night wind over my skin – as a skeletal hand.
I slowly turn around, still clutching … it.
I look at Miguel. He sways. He looks oddly sad, there in the dark, trying to pull up his trousers.
“My medallion,” he then blurts, staring fixedly at my hand. I open my hand. We both see it … her. Now … But he … doesn’t take it back. I stretch out my hand toward him.
“No … ” It’s almost a whisper on his lips. “Keep it.”
“It’s yours,” I say, feeling still in a daze, like nothing else matters. The surreality of it all. It doesn’t matter. Just give the damn thing to him before he decides to hit me again. Or worse.
But Miguel shakes his head, vigorously.
“No, I won’t have it.”
He turns, begins to back away, into the darkness.
“Who gave it to you?” I suddenly call after him, not really knowing what made me.
“Who gave it to you?” I ask again, still wondering. Maybe I still want to know … something?
“Mi madre … ” I then hear him whisper with his back to me. He turns again, towards me.
“My mother gave it to me. I… had forgotten it.”
I get on my feet, suddenly feeling something … I haven’t felt for a long time. In a moment, I’m going to hate him.
But not now …
I put the torn necklace in his hand, close his hand around it with both my hands. I don’t look him in the eye.
It’s like there’s just a big, white … silence … inside me.
Then I pull my trousers all the way up, and begin to walk back towards the freeway.
Towards the surface.