I'm down in the kitchen cooking eggs for Adolfo when I see the image of Padre Navarro. At first, it's just a dark stain against the dry white plaster of the kitchen, about the size of a frying pan. Dark and grey and damp.
Adolfo comes down the steps as always, one by one, moving slowly to avoid putting weight on his bad hip.
"Hey old woman," he says grinning at me lopsidedly, "This is a four egg day."
"Coming, old man," I say to him, and open the door of the ancient refrigerator to pull out a couple more eggs. With his brown eyes and scruffy early morning beard Adolfo looks like a two-legged goat.
He's never awake for the first thirty minutes of the day. Not until he's eaten some eggs, and drunk two cups of thick black coffee. Then he'll slip outside, sit on the stone step which leads to the yard, and smoke a roll-up while reading yesterday's paper.
"Have you seen this?" I say, pointing at the mark on the far wall.
"Looks like a leak to me," he says pressing at the patch with his walnut knuckles. "Better look at it this evening."
Which is the same thing as saying that he'll never look at it.
He sits and eats his eggs straight from the pan in over-heaped spoonfuls, gripping the handle of the spoon between all four fingers the way you hold a stick. By the time he's finished the patch is even larger and has moved all the way down the wall.
"Shit," says Adolfo, grinding his final mouthful with his back teeth.
He's upstairs for fifteen minutes, his heavy feet knocking dust from the ceiling.
"Well, there's nothing leaking up there," he says to me, slowly wiping his hands on a rag.
The stain has changed while Adolfo was upstairs. It has darkened and widened, assuming the outline of a man. A man with no head.
As if in answer, my kitchen wall leeches another pool of grey just above where the shoulder blades would be. It grows most when you blink. When you're not looking at it directly. Moving slow, like the minute hand of a late night clock. The area darkens and splits into two egg-shaped spots which coalesce into large doleful eyes. Then what could be a nose and a thin mouth.
I know who this is.
I was one of the last people to see Padre Navarro.
It was the middle of summer ten years ago. I had been hanging some sheets up in the yard. It had been a beautiful afternoon, the sunlight playing on the topknot leaves of the piñonero trees at the bottom of our yard.
Navarro was walking along the road that led to the bridge, accompanied by Sergeant Vasquez, the lumbering bulk of Officer Diaz just behind them. One of Diaz's paw-like hands was wrapped around the narrow bone of Navarro's elbow, and every now and then a gust of wind would catch his gown so that it flapped in the breeze like the wings of a large black moth.
He was one of those priests who think that they have to save everyone. I remember him telling me once that he had prayed to be sent to the seminary and that God had heard him and sent his mother the money.
"Prayer and acceptance of sin was all that was necessary," he said.
Navarro had arrived from Spain a few years before the military had taken over, and then after that, he had helped hide agitators wanted by the militares. It was said that he had even procured papers to smuggle some of them over the border and on to Europe. After a few months the subcomandante had written to the padre telling him that he could no longer guarantee his safety, and so Navarro had gone into hiding himself.
Some said that he had escaped from the military police and had returned to Spain, while others said, only half-jokingly, that he had paid smugglers to get him across the border into Argentina where he worked playing the accordion in a bordello in San Telmo.
Adolfo and I had stopped trying to have children by then.
At ten o'clock it looks like the whole town is queuing up outside our house. The file of people leads out of the aluminum frame of the doorway, across the patch of scrub and orange trees in the front yard. It stretches more than half way to the old colonial house that used to be the mayor's but which now houses the subcomandante.
Alberta Vargas has pedaled her blue iced drink stand to just in front of our house. The bright blue plastic box hangs between two huge front wheels, overflowing with ice, and full of every available flavor of soda. Which is the same thing as saying Coca-Cola in old silver cans, or Sprite.
Adolfo stands in the frame of the doorway charging fifteen pesos for each person to enter, children cost five. He puts each thick flat coin into his money belt and digs slowly for change.
Some people leave notes and offerings in my kitchen next to the picture on the wall. I've pulled the curtains across the window, and a Santéria candle throbs blood-red next to the left-over candles from Semana Santa. I wrinkle my nose at the sweet smell of the incense; it's almost as bad as Adolfo's cigarettes.
Martha Saucedo has placed a photograph of her son Emilio next to the Santéria candle. The photograph was taken of him as he was coming out of his office at the town paper. He's smiling, frozen forever in the simple act of lighting his pipe.
I can see the note Martha has left. Just one word scrawled in felt tip on a yellow Post-It: "Devuelvemelo" - "Return him to me."
Who does she think is listening?
The Santéria candle flickers as a gust blows in from the open door. The room glows a deep red, and I remember what the midwife told me after the slick and sticky inevitability of the blood on the inside of my jeans. She'd trotted out her speech that Adolfo's sperm and my egg had not combined properly, that they had "lost information."
The bleeding had stopped after six days. More quickly than before.
"It's nature's way," she'd said, "of ensuring that when you have child it is healthy and strong."
And then she had packed up quickly, gave me a rudimentary hug and told me to stay in bed for a week.
"I didn't do anything wrong," I said to Adolfo after the midwife had driven off in her American car.
Perhaps it's just the candlelight, but the detail on the outline has become more intricate. Lines weave across what could be a broad forehead, two elongated marks merge to form lips upturned in an expression that might be terror, or a smile. The eyes, if you can call them that, have that quality that you see sometimes in old-time paintings. They follow you wherever you are.
"I didn't do anything wrong," I say.
The sun drags its way across the sky. By mid-afternoon Alberta has emptied her ice box and has to return to the store to refill it.
Evening comes and the bells ring in the church for evening Mass. We close the door, blow out the candles, sit in the kitchen and count up the money. Adolfo looks intently as he counts each dirty copper peso on to the Formica table in the front room.
His tongue protrudes from the side of his mouth as he does so, each peso adding to the width of his grin in the arithmetic of pure pleasure. Two hundred and twenty-five pesos.
"What's for dinner old woman?" he says smiling crookedly and rubbing his hands together.
I fry up some fish and boil rice on the stove.
Adolfo devours his food in great gulping mouthfuls, as though he thinks that it's going to escape. We say little but my gaze is drawn to the face on the wall.
"What do you think that is, old man?"
He looks up at me chewing savagely. It takes him a few seconds to finish and swallow. Then he wipes his mouth with his hands, his lips still greasy.
He rubs his chin a couple of times, as he does when he's composing his thoughts.
"Damned if I know, really. Whatever, we'll probably need to take the plaster off and repaint." His eyes flicker hungrily over the remaining rice on his plate, and he shovels in another mouthful.
"He was a great man, Navarro, in his way, so maybe, you know, this is a sign."
I lean back in my chair and look at him. He looks at his plate.
I think of how Navarro told me that perhaps I wasn't meant to have children, and that perhaps this was God's plan. I remember the creak of his vestments, and how he had smiled indulgently, as though in receipt of some secret that he could not share, then he asked me when he had last heard my confession.
"Navarro was a fool and troublemaker," I say.
I had sat in the pews for an hour on the Sunday after the midwife's visit. Adolfo had sat with me for a while.
A breeze blew through the empty church, rich with the smell of wood polish and dust, stirring the smug Madonna inlaid on the paraments.
After Adolfo had left, Navarro sat with me. He fidgeted in the wooden seat and looked at his manicured fingers.
"What you must understand," he said, "is that God has a plan for everyone, and this requires us to have faith in him, we must ... trust in him."
It was then that I'd noticed how young he looked.
After we've eaten Adolfo picks his teeth with his nails and pushes his chair back, along the worn lines in the linoleum. Just like I've told him not to do. He grins at me, daring me to say something. I smack his head with the drying cloth and go upstairs to fold the linen.
Adolfo is sitting on the back step when the first knock at the door comes. He's listening to football on a red plastic transistor radio. He's wearing his sandals and is banging the soles together at a steady rhythm. I've given up telling him to stop doing it. One hand holds the battery operated radio to his ear, the other cradles a cigarette, which he puffs greedily.
At first the knocking is gentle, hardly audible above the sound of the radio and the clack, clack of Adolfo's sandals. And then it comes again, louder and more insistent.
Adolfo turns from his radio and looks at me, the increased rhythm of his feet and a gentle nod suggesting that the football match has reached an important point. Which is the same thing as saying that he wants me to get the door.
As I open it the evening breeze blows the smell of jasmine into the hallway.
For a second I am unable to make out who it is, and then the pieces come together; the grey military jacket marked with single coils of heavy silver braid at each shoulder, a single row of square buttons that run down the centre, and the peaked cap with its strange red and yellow insignia, like a tree made of blood.
"Excuse me Señora," says Sergeant Vasquez, "but the subcomandante mentioned that you had some problems with your kitchen wall?"
A bead of sweat trickles down from under his heavy peaked cap, tracing his forehead and running down his round cheeks before he wipes it away with a stubby hand.
"Please, may we come inside, Señora?" he says inserting one dusty boot into the door frame and smiling at me gently.
I look over his shoulder at the spot where Alberta was selling refrescos earlier in the day.
"What's this?" says Adolfo from halfway down the hall.
Sergeant Vasquez pushes his way into the hallway, smiling all the time, and removes his felt cap, his fingers rearranging the damp strands on his head for maximum effect.
Behind him the bulk of Officer Diaz lumbers into the room, like the pictures I've seen of a killer whale, his large head turned to one side, his small eyes wandering backwards and forwards focusing on Adolfo and I, silently pulling the door closed behind him.
The Sergeant situates himself to the kitchen; Diaz follows, his mass eclipsing the hallway.
The Sergeant looks at our kitchen wall, at the paper blossom of scribbled notes. Requests for favors, luck in love, lost things, and photos of different sizes and shapes, clustered around the candles and placed on the table, some embalmed in melted wax. Friends, relations, lovers, children, parents.
"My dear citizens," he says smiling even more deeply, "are you responsible for this?"
Adolfo stiffens, and the cicadas outside grow louder.
Sergeant Vasquez, coughs gently, one small fist delicately covering his mouth.
"Citizens," he says, "I really must insist on an answer."
His brown eyes are full of sympathy, and his hand returns to toy with the oversized insignia of his cap.
I look at the floor, and think of the day that I saw Navarro and Vasquez together, the Sergeant running his cap through his small hands as they walked between the piñonero trees. My heart begins to beat faster and I can't breathe.
I remember when I used to lie awake in the night, eyes clamped tight, listening to the sound of Adolfo snoring, sleeping contently. I knew that it wasn't my fault. I had done nothing wrong. Which is the same thing as saying I used to cry a lot, back then.
Adolfo turns to the Sergeant.
"We didn't do it," he says, "It just appeared here. It's a leak, or something."
The Sergeant pushes his cap slightly back on his head and his small eyes dart towards Diaz.
"Come now, Señor," he says. "We both know that you are responsible for this, and anyhow, it is much more than a leak now."
He pauses and scratches his shining head.
"If you did not create this, then who did?"
Adolfo shrugs his shoulders.
Sergeant Vasquez exhales loudly. I can smell albahaca and ham on his breath.
"Very well citizens. Regretfully I must ask you to accompany Officer Diaz and myself."
Diaz swings the door open.
"Please," says Vasquez, "if you would be so kind." He swings his arm towards the door and smiles at us once again.
Diaz breathes in and his huge barrel chest expands. It's as though he's sucking all of the air out of the room. Adolfo's body tenses. The calves and the toes first, a ripple that spreads upward, knotting his shoulders and slipping down his arms, investing each of his joints with captive energy.
Diaz's hand, the size of boxing glove, moves slowly to his pistol grip.
Something within Adolfo slackens and breaks, the tendons unknot, the muscles deflate, the feet flatten. He exhales and looks at the floor, and then slowly limps out into the darkness.
The police car smells of hamburgers and stale sweat. A stiff wire mesh separates the rear section from the driver. There are no handles on the inside of the doors. The one-way glass is smeared and dotted with dashes of dark dry liquid.
I start to shiver uncontrollably. Adolfo wraps his arms around me.
"Shush, shush," he whispers, "It will be all right. You'll see".
And I remember the nights that he would do this and tell me to forget and not to worry and that everything would be O.K. the next time, and I would hate him for wanting me to forget.
We drive through the dark, passing the black statuary of the piñonero trees, their tops outlined against the deep blue black of the sky. We drive out of the town through the rich irrigated vineyards. Out of the town and towards the bridge.
We round a hill. There's a drumming sound in my ears and I can't breathe. Adolfo is grabbing my waist tightly, staring out of the window over Vasquez's shoulder. I can see the bridge that juts out across the valley, lit in the moonlight like a black tongue, the ground falling away beneath into total blackness and the river below. It's a beautiful evening.
The Sergeant suddenly turns to me, his round face looking well fed and soft in the silver light.
"You must understand," he says, as though finishing a thought, "that one,"—he points with a delicate finger back in the general direction of our house—"that one, was not a priest. He was a Marxist."
He looks at each of us slowly, the uneven progress of the car knocking the felt of his hat against the ceiling.
"Our country, dear citizens, is infected... infected with the bacteria of communism," the Sergeant smiles at us toothily and somewhat sadly.
"When faced with such a sickness, drastic methods are necessary."
There's the sound of gravel churning under the tires of the car as we drive onto the bridge and then slowly roll to a stop.
Diaz eases himself out of the car, and Adolfo's hand tightens around mine, until I can hardly feel my fingers. I feel light-headed and I'm breathing shallow and fast.
This can't be happening, I think to myself, closing my eyes and trying to force my lungs to suck in more air.
Adolfo's other hand grabs my chin and I can smell the tobacco on his fingers. He turns my eyes to his, and they look so dark and watery and wide that they reflect the whole of the moon, and I can tell that he's as frightened as me. Diaz is at the door, his body blocking out the moonlight.
Then the door is open and I feel a large hand grip my shoulder. My body is limp and I can't feel my feet. I can't breathe. And suddenly I know that I'm going to die here. Here on this bridge tonight, under the moon. Next to Adolfo. I wonder what they will do with our bodies.
The Sergeant stands to one side of the patrol car with his service revolver unholstered and pointed at my belly.
Diaz pulls Adolfo from the patrol car and waves at him with his gun, the dark metal barrel glinting in the moonlight.
Once Adolfo is clear of the car and standing unsteadily, Diaz lets out a low sigh and clubs the gun into Adolfo's temple. There's a popping sound, and a spray of spittle flickers in the moonlight flecking the side of the patrol car.
I start to scream. The sound unreels from inside of me like a thread unwinding on a spindle, on and on it goes until it's not even part of me. The scream is out there, disembodied, an existence separate and parallel. If I scream loud enough, it will outlast me. I will live on.
Adolfo lays on the ground unmoving.
"Dear Señora," says the Sergeant soothingly, "I am truly sorry for this. You must understand that this hurts me as much as you. It is a terrible thing for any civilized man to have upon his conscience."
He waves me towards the edge of the bridge, the dull barrel of his gun glinting in the moonlight. My knees feel numb and my legs won't work.
"I must apologize for Officer Diaz's fervor. Now, if you will just move a little closer. I assure you that it will all be over very quickly."
I look up and can see the stars overhead, cold and distant.
I realize then that we are not far from the dense brush where Navarro hid from the militares. Where I would take him food, and sometimes the roll-up cigarettes that Adolfo used to make for him. He was dirty and thin by then, and the militares were offering ten thousand pesos for his capture.
He had stopped talking about destiny and God's plan.
Something starts to buzz in my ears, and then I'm on my knees unable to move, coughing, and I can taste my own saliva, like I'm about to vomit. I feel myself being pulled across the gravel of the roadside. My knees are being scraped raw and I'm retching. And then I'm laying perpendicular to the road with my face on the edge of the bridge.
I feel the cool wind blowing up from the river below and the moist timber joists on my face. I can smell the honeysuckle from the river bank, and when I open my eyes I can see the vague rolling dark blue motion of the tree tops below.
And then I feel a hand in mine and I look over and there is Adolfo, beautiful in the half light, smelling of piss, bleeding, and smiling. I hear the crackle of police boots behind us in the gravel.
I smell albahaca and ham and then a sigh of effort as the Sergeant crouches down next to us.
"Well my friends. As you can see, we have a problem here."
I can see his feminine hands as he grasps a small stone and rolls it in his fingers.
"Clearly, I have been forced to arrest you for your seditious behavior, and your husband here, has very regrettably, resisted arrest. But it seems that now, you have escaped from our custody." He pauses and selects a larger, flatter stone from the damp timbers. "Who knows what might happen to you?"
I look up and can see his well fed face looking morosely into the darkness. With a gentle flick of his hand he casts the stone out. It hangs there momentarily, reflecting the moonlight like a tiny planet before it plunges downwards.
I hear it splash into the river far below.
"The subcomandante says thank you for delivering Navarro," whispers Sargento Vasquez into my ear.
I close my eyes. Which is the same thing as saying nothing.
And then the police car coughs into life. It pulls across the bridge behind us. Its headlights penetrate the darkness, illuminating a cloud of insects. And then something larger, a bat or a huge moth, wheels into the cones of light and up into the blackness of the sky. The car drives away, leaving us lying on the bridge.
Copyright © Philip Suggars 2006. Title graphic: "Marching Orders" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2006.