where the writers are
Stairways

Anna’s gaze roved over the tightly clustered zinc roofs glinting in the sunlight like fish scales on the beach or, Ted thought, pieces of armor left scattered on a battlefield. A bolero blared from the jukebox in a cantina across the way, where three or four dim figures lurked in the shadows, away from the overbright, overhot, unmusical squalor of the slum at eleven in the morning.  Ted jumped down to the pavement and turned to help her down, but she hesitated at the exit door, peering through the yellow dust raised by the bus.
“It’s huge!” she said, then leapt. She landed on the bolero’s downbeat, her skirt bouncing and her compact, muscled body quivering on impact.
“There’s so much you could do here!”
He grinned and blushed. The little gully where Anna was stationed, on the other side of Caracas, seemed like a toy compared to the massive sprawl of this barrio, Los Bosques. He watched her dark eyes sparkle as they scanned the jumble of lopsided new brick buildings, some already rising two stories above the highway, each with a store or workshop or little restaurant on the ground floor, the signs of the enormous, untutored, chaotic entrepreneurial energy of the barrio.
As the battered blue bus lumbered off, leaving a cloud of carbon monoxide and dust, Ted shyly touched her elbow and led her to the road that descended into the heart of the barrio. Only the first fifty meters or so had been paved, and where the concrete ended and the wide dust track began, an even steeper footpath led off to the right.
“It’s down there,” he said to Anna, pointing down the footpath.  
One of the putas was standing in her doorway in her slip, stretching and pulling a pick through her stiff hair, a naked little brown boy was examining something in the trickle of sewage alongside the road, a radio somewhere was giving out short, crisp news bulletins, probably a million things were going on in the twenty or thirty thousand lives of the barrio, but as far as anybody could see all was quiet.
“’S bigger than you guys’s in Sucre,” he said. “You’ll see. An’ we had to make some steps real wide, almost like landings, and some real narrow, because of the terrain, you’ll see.”
“Uh huh. What were you doing in Sucre?”
“Wanted to see you,” he said, as they picked their way down the dirt trail, passing the back yards of the little houses terraced into the hillside. “Just picked the wrong time, I guess.”
He stopped and raised his arm, gesturing over the new cement stairway that descended sharply before them, down the rugged slope.
“’Tsa brook down there. Little creek. Folks go down, women mostly, do their laundry, you know. An’ some of them bring their drinking and cooking water up from there.”
“Quite a job!” she said.
He didn’t know whether she meant hauling the water, which the women had to do, or building the stairway, so he took it as the latter.
“Why’d you want to see me?”
Her smile was patient, inviting. He let his upper body sway closer to hers, as though their chests were magnetized, then he turned his head away. He could feel himself blushing. She laughed, gently.
“I see,” she said.
“Well, let’s try them out!”
She jumped up and landed on the first step, then began running, almost skipping down, and he bounded giddily after her like a goat.
“The men,” she shouted over her shoulder, “they wouldn’t let me work on ours.” Leap bounce leap. “They were scandalized” – leap -- “when they saw me in jeans” – bounce -- “and with a bucket. I had to” -- bounce -- “go help with the” – leap --  “food detail.”
“And you let them,” boom he landed on a step just behind her, “stop you?”
She reached the bottom with a little leap, and he landed right next to her.
“It was don Amador,” she explained, panting. ”He’s like an Old World gentleman, very polite but very firm about what ladies can do. I have uncles like that. And I didn’t want to get him too upset.”
She smiled, indulgent of Old World gentlemen too old to change their ways. Her eyes were such a lovely dark brown, Ted wanted to plunge in and go swimming in them.
“Very nice,” she said, scanning the curving, steeply rising, uneven slaps of gray concrete she’d just skipped down.
“Yeah, a lot of work, too.”
She laughed and turned. “Uh huh. What’s down there?”
“Those houses? See? Made of mud? Thatched roof? And there through the trees, you see one of wood? People who want to be left alone, mostly, but some of ’em helped on the stairs.”
“And beyond that?”
“Donno,” he panted. “Thisizezfarzybin.”
She stood looking upstream for a moment. Then she took a deep breath.
“Smells so clean here!”
“Yeah, where they do their laundry.”
“I didn’t mean that, not like soap, clean like country. You can smell the plants.”
“Uh huh.”
He swayed close to her again. She looked at him, smiling, her eyes half closed like she was almost laughing at him, waiting, but he hesitated. The muscles around his eyes tensed and his breath became shallower and his head swayed, the life demon pushing at him to lunge at those lips and seize her totally with his arms, his mouth and his body, while the demon of inertia just as powerfully grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back. And while he was in mid twitch his quarry suddenly stiffened and raised her head, looking at something over his shoulder that he knew wasn’t either of his demons.
”Someone there,” she said.
He turned and saw Lucha, a perky, pretty mulata teenager from up the hill. He’d seen her around, but never talked to her.
“Bueno’ día’,” she said, frowning but her lips were smiling, almost laughing.
“Buenos días,” his muttered back, nodding. She was carrying neither bucket nor laundry.
“Bueno’ día’, señora,” she said to Anna.  
“Señora” made her sound like she was a million years old, Ted thought. Probably on purpose. He figured Anna was maybe twenty-six or possibly even twenty-seven, but that was okay, he liked older women. Lucha couldn’t have been more than seventeen.
“Bonito aquí, ¿verda’?” said the girl, in her barrio accent and with a playful catch in her voice.
“Muy bonito,” Anna replied.
“Me llamo Lucha,” the girl said, extending her hand with exaggerated formality and even a little curtsey. Anna laughed and grasped the brown hand in her slightly smaller white one.
“Anna,” said Anna. “Mucho gusto.”
“Yo vengo a veces nada más para oler las plantas, ¿tú sabes?”
“The smell is very good,” is what came out of Anna, in stiff phrase-book Spanish. The girl frowned, then repeated the statement approvingly.
“¿Ella e’ americana?” she asked Ted.
“Why?” answered Anna.
“No, porque usté no e’ catira como él.”
Anna looked at Ted. “Catira?”
“Blond.”
“Oh. No, soy, uh, greco, grego, gri-YE-goamericana.”
Lucha frowned, considering, then said, “Ajá. Ej lo que yo pensé.” Just as I thought. Now how could she have had such a thought as that? thought Ted. “Greek-American” must be a pretty exotic concept for a black teenager in a Venezuelan slum, like “Martian” or “Pleistocene.” Then she smiled with another curtsey. He watched as she sauntered off toward one of the mud and wattle houses, her hips and buttocks switching saucily through the thin cotton dress. He wondered if she really knew somebody in one of those houses, or had just chosen that direction to show off her backside. Bumpetybump, bumpetybump.
“I like her,” Anna said, when they had got back up near the road. “She’s full of spunk.”
“Guess so.”
Without thinking where he was going, and just rattling on without knowing what he was saying, he found he’d led her up the hill to his own little house, “La Cueva.”
Then, just inside the door, he put his hand on her bare shoulder and, not quite sure what he was doing or why, one of the demons took control of his arms and made him turn her forcefully into his own chest and press his mouth against hers. He must have caught her off guard, because he could taste a warm, sour belch rising to her mouth. She first tried to pull away, but then her lips returned some of his pressure before she broke the contact and whispered, “Ow! You’re squeezing too hard,” and he relaxed his tense fingers and felt her hands on his back, pulling him toward her still closer, and he moved his hand up and down the back of her sleeveless dress, up and down the furrow of the spine, tripping over the bra strap until he took a wiggle of her back as an invitation and reached through the wide armhole of her dress and, fumbling, managed to release the bra and work his hand back around to the front and cup her breast, feeling the large nipple tense as he tried to force his tongue between her teeth.
“It would have been nicer down by the creek,” she said in low, throaty tones. “I thought you wanted to kiss me there.”
He didn’t answer because his mouth was busy on the base of her neck. He had released her breast and now with one hand held her to him and with the other caressed the firm roundness where her belly tapered into her groin. She pulled him toward the bed and down onto it, next to her, and began opening his shirt.
“Uh, wait, I got rubbers. I brought some from the States.”
“No. Don’t use those. I have something. You can help me, if you want.”
She reached for the shoulder bag she’d flung onto the floor and pulled out a plastic case with a diaphragm and a tube of jelly.
“But first you’ll have to take off my clothes.”
He felt as though all his blood had rushed to his ears and to the bishop, which all were throbbing as he pushed the sandals off her feet and worked the dress up. He saw her underarm stubble and sniffed its strong, perversely attractive rancid odor, as he pulled the dress over her head and threw it into the chair that already held his shirt. He reached for the loose bra to pull it over her shoulders and finally released her large, full breasts with the tawny nipples he had only dreamed about before.
“Everything,” she whispered.
He hooked his fingers into the waistband of her panties and slowly worked them down, over the hips and the roundness of her buttocks, down past the dark brown curls at the bottom of the triangle, over the round thighs, the knees, the stocky rounded calves, the strong, squarish feet. When he looked up, she opened to him, her raised knees far apart and her thighs rolling wide, so that the brown moist folds of her sex seemed to wink at him.
“Cuca,” he whispered, “that’s what they call it.” He had never before examined one so closely, had never dared.
“Kiss it,” she said, her arms reaching up to touch and pull his shoulders as he bent forward.
He was afraid to say no, but he was afraid to do what she commanded, too. It was a mysterious thing, this cuca. Piss came from it, or from somewhere near it, and blood too, things that made you want to throw up just thinking about them. And a baby could come through here. He had come through one like this, long ago, before time began. Her hands pressed his shoulders toward her. His nose was now against it, sour smell. His lips now. He willed down his nausea and his fear and explored it with his lips, then with the point of his tongue. She shivered. She tasted like, well, like nothing else, vinegary but not really like vinegar, and the naughty little folds of flesh ceded and opened to his tongue, and he was doing it, he was doing what he had read about and imagined, even had dared to imagine doing it to her, and here she was, and it was very strange but very exciting because it was so evil to be near it, the very center of life, that center we dare not touch.
She began squirming, but all the time holding his head to her, and gradually rotated her body until they were 69, his chin over her curls so he had to bend his head far over to probe inside her. He felt her pulling his underwear down over his hips, then felt her hands on his testes and then on the bishop. He winced when she nipped the bishop’s head, then pulled and sucked.
“Move your tongue around,” she ordered, and he did. Her hips were rocking now, the groin rising to meet him, faster and faster. Her movements came still faster, and she forgot about the bishop, and he, finding how to stimulate her, moved his tongue in those places that made her jerk most furiously. Her nails dug into his buttocks, she stiffened, then she stopped, panting and sighing. She laughed a weak, happy laugh.
“Now you can put in the diaphragm,” she said.
She showed him how, and he carefully smeared it with cream, he felt her watching as he folded it, inserted it, gingerly at first, then tested with his finger to see that the opened rubber disk was securely nested deep inside. He rotated his body so that his head, too, was toward the foot of the bed and he pressed against her and slipped inside. She moved cooperatively and he pumped, sliding like a trombone, and then, much quicker than he’d wanted, he came in jerking spasms. She laughed again, very softly, and held him to her, his ear against her breast. He heard the thum¬ping of her heart.
When he pulled himself away, he didn’t know how much time later, it was getting to be evening. He pushed his shoulders and chest back from the lumpy cot, his knees on either side of her hips, his limp and happy sex trailing over hers, and arched back to stretch and thought about lighting the lamp and whether he really wanted to mix these new, exhilarating odors with the stench of kerosene. His eyes half closed, he listened to his gradually slowing breaths, and to hers, and – What was that?
The window in the back wall of his little two-room house, glassless and curtainless, protected by bars cut from soft iron construction rods that a thief might easily have bent with a crowbar, faced northwest beyond the edge of the barrio, where there were no houses. Two heads were silhouetted in its frame, light-rimmed by the setting sun.
“Muy bonito,” said one. By the voice and the characteristic bobbing of the curly head, Ted recognized Lucha.
Ted felt Anna’s knee brush against his belly as she twisted to see.
“Ay, muchacha,” said the other girl at the window, dismissively. It was the one he had seen earlier, the puta, fighting her hair with a pick.
“¡Eso’ americano’ no saben ná!”
And she let out the loudest, cruelest laugh that he had ever heard.
Instinctively Ted tried to cover Anna, to protect her from this intrusion, but he felt her body rumbling and she began laughing too, and pushed his chest back.  He sprang back, unsure what to do, and looked up in terror at the window. The whore was laughing louder than ever at his expression, but Lucha just smiled at him, beaming. He glanced down at his nakedness, and at Anna’s, and at the tousled sheets. He knew he was blushing but he looked up again, and then began to laugh.