She knew how not to think
Adela, nauseated and dizzy from Pulgarcito's haunt, got into the white olds early in the morning because the moment for going back to die at work could not be postponed. She saw Zuleika by the driveway smoking her breakfast cigarette, waiting for Domingo who just that moment drew up alongside her in his black Lincoln with the tire shaped bump. He tipped his straw hat to Adela and stretched a long arm to release the passenger door for his bride to be. Adela drove past them and merged into the tide of cars. She forgot her cousin driving to the peluqueria with her fiancé, the man who has killed. She forgot Noel puttering in his studio. Forgot Nestor dipping his buttered bread into the cafe con leche Matilde has set before him, not speaking from bitter resignation. He can't stop his daughter's marriage beneath the station he imagined he had risen to. Can't stop her from sinking back into the station he imagined he had left. How did Nestor capitalize El Llano? How did he finance all those rows of little houses almost alike except for his own which had a bigger car port, a more intricate iron mesh caging the porch? She forgot even Pulgarcito swimming in her womb, un inocente.
She walked into the building out of body. Or she let her body walk in on its own to join the other wage slaves. Something had to die for her to come here but she couldn't remember any more what that something was. She heard heels clack behind her and around her. She wore flat shoes. The other women overtook her, smiling their buenos dias. The smell from their cardboard cafes con leche made her stomach turn. Their heels clacked on the tan tiles of the long hallway. She followed them onto the staircase not seeing the patio the stairs wound around, nor the steam rising from the huge flat leaved plantains. She half listened to the others' never ending birdsong about novios, maridos, and ninos.
She longed to seize her own story by a strand and weave it into theirs. My cousin's novio is the man who has killed. My cousin has sex with him every morning in the parking lot of the Club Marino on the back seat of his Lincoln Continental on top of the Enciclopedia Hispanica,before he drops her off at the peluqueria where she's a colorist, and begins his door to door rounds selling books. My marido wakes up and can't say one word until he paints or else he might jinx the painting, and painting is his work, imagine that. Last night my marido and I quit the Party except quitting is against the bylaws. And they refuse to expel us. My nephew nino is a happy boy who pretends to swim on his knees at the beach, but my nina cousin cries herself to sleep. I don't know what the difference between them is or how I can help her. My nino is not born yet, but his name is Pulgarcito, he swims in his own salty sea and I'm not ready to toss him out to you. But all her story strands tangled, clumped into secrets.
Betzaida's louder, faster heels approached and overtook the group. They responded in unison to her smile and her "Buenos dias" and made way for Betzaida to stride past them into her cubicle by the glass persianas overlooking the patio. Susana, Sonia, and Marina fell as silent as Adela as they each settled into her work station along a bank of partitioned telephone cubicles. Adela stared straight ahead at the wall plastered with hairlike bumps and painted a fading yellow.
She didn't want to think and she knew how not to think. She remembered the precise instant in second grade when she knew she could do this: hide her being, crunch it small, and let another entity carry her body where it had to go. It was her Mother who taught her by yanking her here and there by the wrist, that she could appear to go places without actually being there. Sitting on the second row seat close to the windows to the right of the classroom, a few feet from the desk of the tall, skinny maestra, Adela stared straight down into the scarred wooden desktop. She had understood that she could accomplish all by herself what her Mother Elsa's yanks accomplished. She could make herself sit perfectly still, and numb to her limbs urges to stretch and run, her voice’s yearning to scream out: look at me! Later she saw a man in a cartoon at the movies fold his car the size of a handkerchief. She recognized herself. She did that: fold herself small, smaller, smallest until she was gone. The maestra looked like an overgrown Adelita, the same short black hair, the same haircut with bangs. She almost never smiled. Had she folded herself small and then lost the handkerchief? Is that what had happened to Adela now that she was an adult?
She booted her computer. Once she crossed the portico to this other space and left her folded self behind she could concentrate no matter what was going on in Sonia's station to her left or Marina’s to her right. She pulled up the list of phone calls she must return before the invasion of incoming calls began after nine.
"Senora Ramirez, le hablan de InfoDesaparecidos. Acerca de su caso numero 3968341. Por el momento no tenemos informacion."
She paused for the tears, or screams. "Vayanse a la mierda." Senora Ramirez was a curser and Adela preferred the cursers. There was no additional information on the computer. The investigators had entered nothing. No updates since Senora Ramirez called in her complaint last month. "This is a tragic joke. Is the Presidio really going to investigate itself?" Adela listened. " I want to know where my husband is."
Or my son. Or my brother. Or my novio....Sometimes it was my daughter, my wife, my sister...Adela listened. If nothing else let them have one place where they could feel Gobernador Jerez was being forced to hear them scream, or cry, or curse.
This had been Betzaida's success, the creation of an oversight agency. “I don’t believe for one minute Jerez will really investigate his goons’ infractions of his own laws which are meaningless in the first place.” Senora Ramirez is right but Adela can not tell her so. The phone calls are recorded, “for training purposes.” Exposes in Verdades unearthed by Party reporters who had since been disappeared, were picked up in a Nuevo Mundo Sin Censura showing page after page of tortured bodies, eyes gouged, fingernails pried off, breasts sliced, faces melted off with acid. Page after page of bodies piled in underground wells, thrown on the road to El Pico...There had been a worldwide furor. Betzaida got Party approval to take the the lead of opposition by the Island's intellectuals, artists, even Adela's Father Leo Ramos, the renowned profesor de historia and her Mother Mirta, the follower of Leo, had signed the petitions printed in Nuevo Mundo. A civilian review board was constituted and InfoDesaparecidos was established. Adela wanted to tell the woman. "We're window dressing." Instead she listened. She listened until the woman's pain became too much to bear and then she slowly folded herself small, smaller smallest.
At lunch they sat in the patio, amid the plantains, on the red tiled benches. It was Marina’s turn to provide food, always a good thing because her Mother was a good cook. Pulgarcito, it seemed, liked frituras de maiz. "I’m going to the Ashram in El Pico for a silent retreat." In the silence that followed the shock of Sonia's news (nobody could imagine Sonia silent), Adela heard herself speak. "You know, I'm pregnant." It was done. She had given Pulgarcito over to them. He was no longer only hers, hers and Noel's. He had begun to be born. But their joy was electric. Already she wasn't sorry she'd told them. They recognized this story, a story about a nino. It joined Adela to them and she liked that. As they climbed back upstairs Adela guessed that, gathered behind her on the landing, out of her earshot, they were talking about her baby shower.