Class Was the Killer

Love was truer than evil
"We remain a colony. Have we grasped just how resilient imperialism is? It sprouts several new heads and limbs whenever we cut one off...." Tomasa Monte
Adela set the book down on her lap and rocked back and forth staring straight ahead at the matte, colorless squares on one more canvas where Noel had not painted her portrait. At her feet Clotilde lay asleep on her back. She stroked the dog's belly with her toe. Tomasa Monte hadn't lived long enough to see new heads and limbs sprout right inside the Partido Liberacion. The Party claimed Tomasa as its intellectual author, but would Tomasa consider Liberacion her heir? She'd want to shake Betzaida by the shoulders with her InfoDes agency and her familial ties to the national bourgeoisie who wanted independence so they could have the state for themselves. Tomasa would have Betzaida disciplined for being pictured in the centerfold of Dia sitting at the same round banquet tables with the Isla's bourgeoisie at Instituto de Cultura Isleno fundraisers. Couln't Enrique see she belonged more to them than to the Party? Yesterday she'd been in the paper in one of her blanquita spaghetti strap dresses walking into Violeta Silva's movie premiere. No matter how many clandestine cells Enrique set up he'd never make up for Betzaida.
She rocked. Clotilde sighed and turned onto her side.
Just moments before Adela had woken up shaking. Something was wrong. But what was it? Blue moonlight spilled through the slats of the persianas. She'd felt her belly. If only Pulgarcito's secret sea would protect him from her terror! She remembered her argument with Noel. He'd come home late. She'd waited one hour, one minute too long. An old rage rose up her windpipe, a volcano. She'd screamed at him. "Donde te metiste?" They'd gone to sleep not talking. When she woke up she watched his smooth breathing, his sleep smile. Un inocente. "You're not Leo." His head turned to her voice but he didn't wake. So many hours and days and weeks of her childhood she'd waited and waited and waited for Leo to come home. Pobre Noel had gotten Leo's rage. She wished she hadn't hurt him. She was ashamed. She lay alongside him trying to breathe herself asleep and at last gave up, eased away from Noel, picked up Tomasa's bio, and grabbed the latest La Mirilla from where she'd hidden it among the old Verdades. Clotilde rose from where she lay between their legs, jumped off the bed after her, and followed as she walked barefoot in the brilliant insomniac full moon glow to her rocking chair in Noel's studio.Adela curled into the rocker and Clotilde curled up at her feet.
She'd bought this issue of La Mirilla for the second cover story, headlined above the cover photo, on the opening of Violeta Silva's new movie about the tiempo de la colonia. Maybe Betzaida had also made La Mirilla's photo spread! Adela turned to the story on the bottom of page 3. In the new movie Violeta played the wife of a plantation owner. She fell in love with a slave. There were photos of Violeta in long dresses kissing a darker skinned than usual Tadeo Fermin. Sometimes Adela or Noel or the familia caught a glimpse of Violeta driving to her finca just beyond El Llano where urbanization was only now arriving. She was their local famous woman. More than once she'd seen Violeta walking with her daughters to the same helado stand Adela took Lydia and Tina. Adela had been surprised that Violeta looked better in real life than she did on film. Film didn't fully capture her vitality, her alertness,the way she focused her big, heavy lashed eyes on her child when she listened to her. She was for independencia for La Isla and was one of Betzaida's big donors. Her husband spent half the year in the City and had a film career there as well and still they'd figured out how to stay together for 20 years. Noel laughed at how Adela followed Violeta's life even though it wasn't often covered in La Mirilla. La Mirilla preferred celebrities like Tadeo Fermin. The cover photo was of his dark, beautiful, square, flare nostrilled face. The story wasn't of his iminent crossover to a City film career. SOSPECHOSO was the huge headline splashed across his white toothed grin. Tadeo, (La Mirilla couldn't be more delighted) was prime suspect in the murder of his wife.
Adela read stories of human decay which affirmed her father's truth she had devoted herself to proving a lie. People were evil. Leo believed this as historian, officially, professionally, as policy and theory. His entire professional life was devoted to telling this history of human evil over and over. He believed it in the deeps of his psyche where the wordless memories of his birth, and gestation, and conception were held. People, if left to their own devices free of the iron hand of god yanking them by the scruff of the neck, were evil. They were condemned to decay. Even if you didn't read Leo Ramos all you had to do was read La Mirilla and you would know. She hadn't chosen to read Tomasa's bio, or Verdades filled with reports of strikes, and rallies, and guerrilla actions in El Pico, and found desaparecidos. This was La Mirilla. This was los escandalos de los ricos and las desgracias de los pobres. One man murdered the whore he loved. Two brothers killed their parents with a shotgun as the half drunk couple returned from a cocktail party. One young man died while ranting, naked. He'd somersaulted at three am onto the road to La Morada. He'd waited for a truck to happen by. One man, unidentified, was found floating on the Rio Obayay. She'd probably spoken to his wife who would have called Infodes about his disappearance.
Writers for La Mirilla spun their mysteries. But they never caught the real killer. Class was the killer. If only Betzaida would let her write an article for Verdades about the real story behind the stories in La Mirilla. Leo had it wrong. This was not feudalism in the present this was imperialism's machine grinding us up. The whore lover had gone from working class to middle class and suddenly his secret sexuality threatened his fragile foothold. The murdered parents brutalized the children terrified that if they failed to control them with terror their sons would fall beneath them and drag the family down. The naked ranter La Mirilla said had been a brilliant student. La Mirilla didn't say despite his brilliance there was no room for him in La Isla's middle class. All seats at the Cultural Islenos banquet table were taken by people who had face lifts and intended to be the young. Enrique's Basta Ya column in Verdades had been devoted many times to showing how for the last 15 years the doors of the middle class had been slammed shut to young people. Little access to education, few entry level jobs, entry salaries that barely paid installments on student loans must have driven the brilliant ranter under that truck.
And the floater? No doubt another tortured rebel was tossed into the river after an interrogation at the Presidio. Its torture chambers spilled right into the Obayay so the corpses' missing eyeballs and fingernails could be blamed on the fish. How could she and Noel ever manage to love Pulgarcito enough to make it worth his while to be born into Leo's evil world?
What if Leo was right and she was wrong? Tomasa was wrong?
Leo's terror of decay had made him torment Mirta Elsa about keeping the house clean. Once she had passed out in the bathroom from fumes she'd made by mixing chlorine with ammonia to get the bathroom clean enough in a hurry for one of Leo's returns. The house was never clean enough for him. But it was worst after a trip when he'd just been sleeping in antiseptic hotels or in homes with many servants. Adela thought her Father had a seventh sense for microscopic beings, microbes and molds. He felt them as they ate away at the fiber of the world just the way termites she never saw ate through the wood of the little bookcase where she kept the dolls Leo brought back from his speaking tours. Leo was on the lookout for any signs of where the world was about to crumble the way the termite eaten side of the bookcase had turned to dust in Adela's hand. She shuddered. Sometimes the hidden decay caused Leo's breathing to seize up. There were whole towns in Ventura Leo wouldn't enter. His lungs wouldn't follow him. Even his body believed evil.
Once he'd returned from a lecture tour in el Continente right after he published Feudalismo en el Presente. "Mirta Elsa, que es este moho?." Adela heard him shout and ran into her parents' bedroom. Leo had taken his portable typewriter from the closet floor (his side of the conjugal closet had a place for everything and everything in its place), set the black case on his bed, and opened it. He'd screamed for Mirta when he discovered his typewriter keys were green. Adela stood behind him and peered around his knees as he bent over the portable in the middle of the bed. She sense the almost invisible tremor that ran through her Father and was terrified to confess. "Fui yo Papi." He turned to look at her. "I did it. I covered the keys with plasticine." He shook his head. She'd never seen him confused. Usually he understood everything, knew the answers to his questions even before she'd finished hearing them, so that before she'd answered he was already on to the next one, and the one after that. She'd never seen him completely still and quiet before. Was the look on him the same blank one on Mirta Elsa's face right before her eyeballs popped and her nostrils rose and she clenched a fist to beat Nati? Leo had never hit anybody. Not yet. But she had created evil mold. Adela looked up at his face high up there in grownup land and explained. In her child's encyclopedia,which he had given her, there was a typing lesson that called for covering up the typewriter keys. She'd wanted to learn to type very fast just like him. To practice typing she had covered the keys with her green plasticine. When she was done he shook his head again. He looked at her for a long moment during which she didn't know if he was going to scream again. She waited, braced for her first blow from her Father's hand.
Leo laughed.
She folded La Mirilla. She stared out at the moonlit ground and took a long, deep breath of the sweet scent of Matilde's jazmines. She felt an instant of pure longing for her Father, for that moment with the green mold typewriter keys when she had known he did love her.
Love was truer than evil. She turned to the back cover of Tomasa's book where she had copied her favorite thing Tomasa Monte ever said. "To be revolutionaries we have to believe that life is good. We must never be blind to exploitation nor to the ways our class enemy uses oppression to organize our plunder. We must not flinch when we look at the painful, shameful ways our people do our enemy's work for them. It's true that we collude, oppress ourselves and each other. But we can not be blinded by oppression for that is it's purpose. We have to know life is good. We have to know our people are doing well. We have to look around ourselves at the world and know which are the things our revolution must not change. The things that we will keep. For these are the things that make our revolution worth winning. And while we fight every battle to lose it, even if we lose it, when we see that life is good, we have already won."
There was a way in which despite his commitment to evil Leo knew this truth. Love was truer than evil. At least he'd known it that afternoon, for one moment, about one little girl. He'd laughed. He'd kept the plasticine on the keys until it wore off. He knew all the keys by heart anyway. He'd laughed and pushed away his terror of mold and said, "What a good way for a little girl to learn to type." This became one of his favorite stories about Adela when they went to visit la familia.
Adela took a deep breath. In the moonlight Clotilde's close fur glowed silver. She gazed through Noel's studio door at Matilde's garden, low clumpy flowers and tall lacy flowers, were both perfectly balanced, human intent had made room for nature's deeper order. As she walked back to her room she waved to Tomas who was coming home with his electric guitar under one arm.
Clotilde jumped onto the bed, and found her spot at Noel's feet. Adela snuggled into Noel. He spooned his sleeping body around hers, held his hand against her chest, and slept.