Rehabilitado (Vilma y Abi)

Vilma waved one of her regulars away. "Ya cerre." Why was he at the beach a estas horas? She was still shaky from the susto she'd had earlier. That had been quite a fright. No way she had really seen Burro. The sun had sunk a while ago and its halo of pink light was almost done falling into the sea. She thought of Burro and shoved the table with the two burners into the shed. Was she still that angry at Burro? She slammed together the two heavy plywood doors, and snapped the padlock shut. She walked as fast as she could to the showers for the beach people. She hated to get on the bus smelling of fried fish, fried land crabs, and hot manteca. She stepped out of her big, flowered dress. The cold water felt good on her hot skin. She felt like she herself had gotten cooked by the sun and all the frying and serving. "Me esta cocinando la vida." She spoke out loud and laughed at herself. "My life is cooking me up." She'd done well today. She might have enough to send Eloisa some money for La Granjita Permanente. Sometimes on a Friday there were more people than she expected. She'd pretty much run out of everything she'd bought at the mercado which meant she'd have to get there early tomorrow. She dried herself and changed into a clean flowered dress.
She ran. Maybe she could make the guagua de las 8. She got to the road out of breath. A beat up black car she recognized was honking at her. She saw the thin, dark figure of her nephew Abi bending over the wheel. He was calling out to her and waving his hands. "What are you doing in the Playa?" He motioned her to get inside. "Te llevo, Tia". They drove in silence past the row of shuttered kioskos.
"No me vas a creer." Vilma turned toward Abi. He looked away from the deserted Carretera Naval, and stared full and hard into his Aunt's eyes. "Tu tambien viste a Burro?" Her tears exploded. They were tears of rage.
Abi went on. "He showed up at Casa Rocio with Silvio. He didn't recognize me and I didn't say."
"You were just a boy entonces, cuando Burro se fue."
"Cuando lo fuiste tu. It was you who made him go away." Abi had been a little boy but he was always on her side.
"Did he say anything? I thought he was dead."
Silvio did most of the talking. "Burro has been in El Pico getting rehabilitado, is what Silvio said."
"Lo del Burro no tiene cura. Not even the rebels can cure Burro."
"Silvio swears he's cured. That with la revolucion batterers learn who the enemy really is and start fighting el imperio, instead of their women. They say Burro is their model, their great success. Fifteen years they've been working on him. Quince anos les cogio."
Abi turned off Carretera Naval and onto El Entronque.
"Why is he here?"
"Why do you think?"
Vilma screamed. "No, no, no."
Abi pressed her hand. "Si, si, si. He's here to see ELoisa.

They didn't need to discuss it. Abi took the left on the Entronque and headed uphill on the Carretera del Pico toward Eloisa's Granjita Permanente. They said nothing as they passed casitas built right by the road, some with kioskos on their porches with frituras and cervezas for the truckers, tourists, or rebeldes. Every so often Abi squeezed her Tia Vilma's plump hand. She thought he knew sweet, loving Vilma, but she was now possessed by Vilma la Rabiosa, the one who'd held a gun to el Burro and made him have no doubt that she would shoot him if he didn't go.
"Hablame, Tia." He pressed her hand hard. "Say something. Your silence is loud and dangerous."
"Que bien me conoces. I'm thinking about killing Burro before he hurts Eloisa. Before he tries to get into her life and fuck with her head. Me ayudas? It seems a part of me has been planning how to kill him for 15 years."
Abi said nothing. As a journalist he'd heard a lot of people say suicidal and homicidal things over the years. Nobody could survive this collapsing empire without having lots of both kinds of thoughts. His first strategy was to listen.
"I thought I'd forgotten him. I haven't had these thoughts fill the front of my mind for years. I thought my life was a mess, has been a mess, will be a mess, as long as that Burro is on planet earth. I thought the only way was to clean up the mess by killing him and I used to lie in my bed at night with little Eloisa asleep beside me in the place where Burro used to sleep, and plan in great detail the ways I would shoot him, or poison him, or tamper with his brakes. Sometimes I imagined myself very strong and I would beat him to death. Other times I would end his life with a sharp kitchen knife in his sleep." She looked at Abi and then looked away. "And one morning I was making my first batch of frituras and it was a beautiful day and I could see the flat, turquoise, waveless sea of Playa Coral meeting the deep blue sky and I thought, the idea that you need to kill Burro to fix your life is a fascist idea. It's the kind of idea that leads to Bases Navales like the one yards away from me here in Playa Coral, bases with a border between a colony and a Territorio Libre, running through their middle. The liberatory thought is to keep living in the middle, keep making a good life right in the middle of the mess."
Abi nodded. "Like Eloisa's Granjita Permanente is always a mess. One mess becomes the fertile ground for the next birth." They were in the LLanito now, passing one small farm after another, all of them like Eloisa's were figuring out how to do permacultura. Her daughter had found something to do en esta vida that was about total goodness, about reclaiming the agriculture that the empire had destroyed on their beloved Isla Karaya. Vilma couldn't let this Burro hurt, or disrupt, or even minimally distract her precious daughter.
"Burro was talking with Silvio and Rocio over a meal that wasn't for the huespedes but in their private kitchen table way in the back of the house. Yo me invite, as usual. I joined them and sat down, staring right at him to see if he would see the boy I had been in my face. But Burro kept talking about how he's changed. He said, "A cada cual le toca decidir hasta aqui llego la violencia domestica. The violence stops with me."
"Easy for him to say. He's on the receiving end of the forgiving."
Abi pulled up several meters from the archway of bent trees with the "La Granjita" sign swinging over it. The lettering had been done by the teens and the children and it was the kind of bubble style graffiti lettering the teens had brought with them from the City. There was an old beat up yipi parked ahead of them. They both guessed who'd driven it.
Vilma looked at Abi.
"Es mi destino. Es mi deber matarlo." She punched his arm and lurched toward her door. "It's my duty to kill this man." Abi leaned into her and held the door shut.
"Y es mi deber impedirtelo. My duty is to stop you. Hit me. Dame a mi. Trata de matarme a mi."
He held her wrists and she struggled against him with all her might. She bit him. She freed one hand and went for his eyes. He held her tight around her shoulders, chest to chest. He held her so tight that for one moment she felt as if she could no longer breathe, as if she was a breath away from her own death. She collapsed, sobbing against his chest." Just then, through a bank of bean poles not far from the road she saw Burro. My god he'd gotten older. He was just as strong as he'd been, but his face was softer. "He looks like he's been broken and remade." Vilma could barely hear herself speak. She caught her breath. Her daughter, just this very second, was letting herself be enfolded by her father, held close to his chest. Even from here she could see her daughter and her husband of so many years ago were both sobbing.
Slowly she eased herself to the car door, opened it and stepped outside. Abi put his arm around her and they both set off together toward Eloisa and Burro. They passed a pen with pigs. Eloisa had explained to Vilma many times, that the pigs would eat and shit there and that when they were moved into their next pen, they would have fertilized the soil and made it ready.
"Mi destino." She pointed to the pig pen. Both she and Abi were overcome by an ataque de risa.