The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories
The sky was hurtful to watch, a flat distension of grey steel threatening to hang over his head like a divine chastisement throughout the northern winter, eight months of unrelenting misery poisoning the hearts of England’s adopted derelicts.
Edelio Fosco, destitute Cuban in London, drew back the shabby curtains that hung askew from a narrow window above his mattress, then fell back on it with an exhausted expression. It was two in the afternoon, dawn to his internal clock. He needed a joint. Eyes shut, his hand hovered above the bedside table for a few seconds as if scoping the territory, before diving into a pile of Rizlas and knocking over a can of beer in the process. Since he was in the habit of ashing into half-empty cans, a pestilential mixture was now oozing onto the carpet, sluggish in its revolting tarryness, as if knowing that Edelio’s reflexes were too foggy for a swift intervention. A curse seeped through his teeth. Fighting back a wave of queasiness, he flung a newspaper onto the sticky puddle. Lejos de los ojos, lejos del corazon. Then he lit up, and with the day’s first carcinogenic breath he remembered that his predicament was hopeless: he was a pathetic loser. Thinking that some mindless yankee sitcom would lighten his mood he propped himself up against a pillow and fumbled for the remote, but the only programme that wasn’t murdered by the rusty aerial was a parliamentary debate. What a joke, he hated politics. With an angry, resentment-fuelled, labyrinthine logic he held governments, of whichever philosophical orientation, directly accountable for his undoing.
Back in Cuba he had regarded his then ambiguous attitude to the volatile political debates into which many of his contemporaries were sucked as a smart arse’s move to avoid trouble detrimental to the successful pursuit of his goal. What was the good of venting opinions nobody cared to hear, owing to a deadly combination of disillusion, cynicism and genuine fear, apart from the brutal monster that would take high pleasure in beating the living lights out of the idiot that couldn’t keep his mouth shut? Hell he was smarter, keeping his head down and attending every party meeting with religious zeal until the British broad he had been coaxing and cajoling for a painful year finally gave in to his marriage proposal. Sure she was twenty-three years his senior, but what man in his right mind would complain about getting hitched to a walking, if slightly rusty, cash point? He had demanded, with great subtleness and tact, incontrovertible proof of Ruth’s financial standing before kissing goodbye to his carefully groomed selection of part-time western girlfriends, few of them as decrepit as the Brit, but none even approaching the outskirts of her milking yield. No, it wasn’t a difficult choice. What presented more of a conundrum was leaving Yarenia, his beautiful, funny, sunny, leggy, full-time Cuban novia; or better, the difficulty was finding a way to temporarily disentangle himself from the relationship without having the young lady set her brutish brothers on him. In the end he left on the sly as he couldn’t think up a convincing limb-saving lie, and also because ultimately he was a bastard, yes, if perhaps one of a slightly cowardly variety. Actually, no, on second thought he was a rich bastard, a bastard who was going to become rich beyond his wildest dreams. Yet, for a whole week before his scheduled departure he had been unable to sleep properly, waking up in the dead of the night drenched in cold sweat.
As far back as he could remember he had always loathed Cuba, it’s a-historic backwardness, its people’s parasitic aboulia, to which nevertheless he dutifully contributed by joining the herds of bleating sheep cheering the Bearded One on command. But he also had the nagging feeling of being about to enter a tragic phase of his life, without, however, being capable of tracing the origins of the foreboding, nor succeeding to alleviate his distress by plunging into exhausting drinking binges lasting until darkness dissolved. When the sun was up and the ocean scintillated with promises of unlimited freedom Edelio’s unease subsided, melted by the warmth of the star, the dust from the alchemy blown away by a wispy breeze gathering up in gentle waves from the Caribbean. But as the colours of the city dimmed in the twilight his heartbeat would rapidly accelerate, unleashing mayhem through slumbering hormones and snoozing neurochemicals, pumping extra oxygen into cells and tissues as if in anticipation of a horrifying epiphany, like the sudden realisation of having jumped into a shark-infested sea during a shipwreck drill. With hindsight, with the wisdom that can only come from a hail of delusions, he could now see that his last days in Havana were laying bare a sign of danger as high as the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf, as bright as the billboards in Leicester Square, as clear as the teaching of the tyrant: capitalism is a dying illusion.
It certainly wasn’t a dream for Edelio. His daytime job in London was as a janitor in a language school, the agreement being that he could sit in a class with paying students and get fed - one boiled egg, one sausage, two buttered toasts - in exchange for three hours of corridor sweeping. His evenings he spent in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant, a humongous chicken assembly chain which, as a formerly calorie-deprived boy, he still couldn’t stop marvelling at. From two o’clock to midnight he would stand and bend, up and down, left and right, over a steaming grill that opened his pores and swelled the veins in his forehead, laying down meat patties with the dexterity of a juggler, left hand dropping the frozen disks onto the burning surface, right hand scraping a spatula against their carbonised twins. Much to his surprise he had initially enjoyed the work, marvelling at the heaps of provisions howled every night into the store’s majestic freezer by the two Nicaraguan delivery boys, Marcel and Miguel, mentally converting every box of meat that passed through their hands into sterling and pennies. The honeymoon lasted three weeks. Being the smart boy he always knew he was, Edelio quickly realized that the only pounds he would ever become familiar with were weight measures, and that his English co-workers had a standing bet on which one of the latino mules would be the first to top himself.
When the clock struck five Edelio bolted out of his drug induced stupor with the realization of having unloaded poisonous meat, surely tons of it harbouring millions of invisible prions dying to be brought back to activity by a bit of warmth. He craned his neck upwards and noticed that the sky had darkened, assuming a sick orangey glow in the process. Tears welled up in his eyes and he began to roll another joint. Self pitying days were a shameful atrocity. He toyed with the idea of smoking himself unconscious until the following morning. He turned off the light, puffed away in total darkness for two minutes, then flicked the switch back on. Off. On. Now he could hear noises from the kitchen below, in fact, a hellish racket which he felt was more than an decent reason for a hysterical showdown: human contact, irrespective of its nature, seemed suddenly a better idea than toxic oblivion. Yet, he was seized by a tinge of anxiety as he opened the door to the kitchen, where his flatmate Martin, a lanky ginger he had known since Ruth’s unexpected demise, was tossing about random blunt objects in his quest to subdue a recalcitrant coconut. Edelio ducked, sighed in relief as a discarded hammer hit the wall above his head, and then sat a good ten feet from the battlefield. Martin seemed pleased at the interruption.
‘Fantastic mushies, maaaann! I tripped and I tripped and I tripped and I would still be swinging around that lamppost if Trixie hadn’t de-glued me. Saint woman.’
‘I missed work today.’
‘Exactly. Consistency is never a bad thing, is it?’
‘Dunno, somehow being a perpetual loser strikes me as a bit of a bummer, but hey, maybe it's just me. Anyways, I hope you did something constructive with your day, I mean, apart from smoking and filling that diary of yours with soppy hallucinations.’
‘Fuck off! The biggest acid head in London is calling me psychotic!’
‘Mushrooms I may like, but at least I leave Greek tragedy to the Greeks! “Oooohhh Yarenia, where art thou? The shiniest light in the dark valley I am forever condemned to roam in pain is now lost to the abysses of eternity!” Lost to lots of big dicks, that’s what it is.’
‘You are a shit poet. Where is Trixie tonight?’
‘At her mum’s. Get over it mate, move on. And think of the pain the poor Ruth must feel in that cold grave knowing that you never think about her. Ha ha! You have no heart!’
That wasn’t true. Edelio thought about Ruth a lot. In fact, he was plagued by the mental imprint of her puzzled expression as fate took mercy and crushed her latest delusional romance before he got around to doing it himself. Because it was only a matter of weeks before he would get real comfortable with his new surroundings and start hunting for a girlfriend to his taste. Ruth could then nurse her no doubt devastating emotional injuries in sullen prozac silences, snuffing midnight sobs in her goose feather pillows, maybe even staging the occasional threat to pacify her dignity. In any case she was never going to leave him, of that Edelio was sure. She would simply rationalise her weakness by ascribing it to the irrationality of love, while failing to attribute the paternity of this self-inflicted humiliation to a paralysing fear of loneliness, of failure, of heart-wrenching incubi that conjugal rituals, however perfunctory, could temporarily smother. Age: that merciless bitch. Or better, Edelio mouthed to himself with a bitter sigh, time: that backstabbing bastard. He felt like chocking every time he fast-rewound his European experience.
Five years earlier the newly wed Mr and Mrs Greenwood had called a carpenter to fix a stack of shelves in the living room of their Putney mansion. Edelio was thrilled. He could have done the job himself, but he was drooling at the idea of ordering around a qualified tradesman while he sat back and sipped cold beer. Less than an hour later, he was watching other professionals zip up a body bag. All those present when the tragedy unfolded were brought in for questioning, but even though the carpenter’s tale had more holes than Edelio’s ChickenWorld™ hairnet, the Cuban was the only real suspect in what remained a dubious death until the deposition of a peeping neighbour cleared him: by the time Ruth’s squeals cut short Edelio’s siesta the woman’s face was already a mushy pulp of battered flesh. He was flabbergasted. Shocked. Devastated. As he cradled her wife’s blood-soaked head while waiting for an ambulance he couldn’t stop thinking: and what about me, now? In effect, the possibilities where endless. He could have been framed for murdering his wife or inherited her millions. Alternatively, he could have been deprived of a wife altogether (he pictured his stepson gleefully mouthing ‘marriage annulled!’ over Ruth’s coffin), which was the worst of all the scenarios he could envisage given that as far as the Home Office was concerned a dead spouse was better than no spouse at all. Edelio had no burning desire to go back to Cuba. Enter Martin. Australian by birth and cockney by upbringing Martin had smoked his first joint aged eight, and after an abortive detour in the world of opiates he had eventually found tranquillity in the daily consumption of lysergic acid. That probably had something to do, he later conceded to himself, with the shiny cobra that darted out of the hole he was drilling in Mrs Greenwood’s wall. Trying to fend off the creature Martin let go of the B&D, which swirled up in the air with a gracious pirouette before plunging into the landlady’s jugular and causing a gruesome shower of arterial blood that kept him off hallucinogenic substances for a record four weeks. Of course, he had never mentioned any of this to a living soul and was immensely relieved when the police classified Ruth’s death as a freak accident. Yet, in spite of a grisly, if involuntary, murder on his shoulders he wasn’t a bad soul, and a devastating sense of guilt was the reason he had sustained an extraordinarily dull friendship with Edelio for years. They had hooked up at Mrs Greenwood’s funeral, and when he sussed out that the widower’s main concern was the maintenance of his uncertain marital status, he volunteered a retarded cousin as a bogus wife in substitution for the one being interred.
It was thus that six months after the Putney tragedy Edelio exchanged his status of illegal immigrant awaiting deportation for that of the proud owner of a permanent working visa. As he hopped out, three steps at the time, of the Home Office clutching the precious document in his hand, his eyes turned skywards: compact steel hung over the city, a remainder of the iron will he would need to make it on his own now that his walking ATM was out of service. He smiled. Piece of cake. He had fled Cuba first class, for God’s sake, while most of his compatriots paddled it to Miami on a floating shark bait. He was a smart guy and no one could stop his meteoric ascension to glory. He had it all planned out. He would get a job in some fast food joint and become a store manager within two years. No, one year. Then he would buy a franchise restaurant in, say, three years. Then he would set up his own chain of eateries, ‘El Cubano Fortunado’(™), to celebrate his business acumen by selling ridiculously expensive rice and beans. It would be a classy place, with complementary mojitos served by bikini clad girls with palm trees tattooed on their butts. Meanwhile, he was going to invest the profits of his franchise in international ventures, play the stock market… maybe one day he could even get ‘El Cubano’ listed on the London Stock Exchange. In five years time he would have a black motorcycle. And a red sports car. He would smuggle Yarenia out of Cuba and buy her Cartier diamonds and Tiffany rubies. And they would share a Victorian mansion like the one he never inherited. Edelio carefully slid the precious document in his back pocket, then patted his rear end affectionately and blew a kiss to the metallic sky. Under such a glistening, silvery dome failure seemed impossible, just the distorted nightmare of a pathetic loser.
© Barbara Torresi March 2011
Barbara's link: www.crazyabouthavana.com
Barbara Torresi in Cuba
While waiting for Mr Right to rescue her from a life of hardship she rarely passes up an opportunity to make a few bucks