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Otras Casas

It was God this morning in Rio De Janeiro, singing.

I stood facing the brick wall where through a window Señora Absidiola Silva was washing the baby. Then I heard Natanael. He said this, "Why do you make me do this?" and I sat there a wilted flower, watching the man scrape his knees and I could not have said one word, nothing, no words.

Nereida is stupid, they all say. I hear them. Neireda is a slut.

Señora Silva knows that Natanael is no longer loves her as a child should love his mother, and so she plucked the newborn from the gutter. "Green eyes, this child must be made from white," she said, and still she loved him, but never as much. Now Natanael cleans her blood from their floor, straight off of her fat feet, her dirty fat calves. She pointed at him, the child wailing, fat and hungry, and he watches her like a mother. That is where he love is now.

"Natanael," she said to the baby, bumping and up and down,"no tears, no tears, não grita meu bebê," and then she even loved him with her hands and put her dirty finger in his mouth. His teeth were coming in.

I wore white because of the heat. My breasts were barely visible, but my body was discernible. Most men said, oh holy god, mami, oh come this way. I read that if I use my pointer and my little finger and stuck out my tongue, I could curse them. I wore hexes as gowns.

Most nights ended in prayer. I walked down the staircases and through the alleys, thinking of the America I had seen in photographs. The Americans have faucets. They wash their face for hours. They give birth to their children in white beds. They take the hair from their legs. Beautiful.

"Thank Jesus Christ that we now live in Rocinha," Alberta, the gown seamstress across the way, said. Some women walked the stairways as if there were not blood the evening before. They hung their white panties in the sunlight as though they loved the day. They handled the wooden clothespins as dandelions. Many people moved from Parada de Lucas and Turano because their families sold drugs and they found them the places here, the greatest of all death ranches.

The people of Rocinha have buses and plumbing and concrete. A few terrible women call the others favelados, favelados, favelados, and I hang my head and cry. We are no different, we are the people of the shanty. We see the same sun, we feed ourselves nothing, we hate the same things.

I was the Queen, then, of the favelados. The slut, the stupid slut, o cona, the girl with the white dress. I stain my lips red, and curse them, and run when in the bailes they come for me screaming. I wanted to shine. They called me stupid because I said I could not read. I could not tell anyone I knew how to read. I could never tell them I knew how to write, and this because Señora Silva found the book, and she told the others, and they scolded me and crossed their foreheads in fear.

I wrote about how Mama married my father and how he killed her, and killed himself because he was sad, and how a padre santamente said to me I did it with my eyes. "It is clear to me that you have been inhabited by the Devil." He would not bless me, not with my face in my fingers, in my tears.

If the devil were real, no the Catholics would not win. He would be a fool striking down a pretty girl in a white gown, and I left, down by the sea, weeping.

I spent every day on a stretch of grass in the sun, drawing letters into the clouds, leaving flowers on tombstones in heaven. In my dreams, I always dress as though I am to be married, and I carry the greatest bouquet, and some little chocolates and my hands are shaking but I am so happy. I bring this to Mama and Papa, and God is there, watching. I am welcome, but he sends me home, and I slip into bed in America.

I dreamed there on that grass that I brushed my hair in the mirror and they could see colors reflected in the light. How beautiful, Nereida! Look at those colors.

My hair was black.

Oh, Nereida, come dance. Come read books. Come do wonderful things you can tell all the world about! They take me into their hands, and I dream of believing in such beautiful ideas that I am given money to make my ideas true. I choose to end poverty, and I come to thefavelas, with my beautiful golden hair, and once I am there, I shudder.

I hold the hands of children I will never understand, and then I bring pictures of them back with me to show all of the world. I would be touched by the beauty of all things, and I would then be more lovely. Thefavelas were stinking, and dirty, and rotten, and I would know nothing of the mother who stares her baby in the face and cannot answer. I would know nothing of dreaming of water, and I would know nothing about living without the mirror.

I had my tits out, and some boys through rocks over the cliff. I went through my days, crying. I crushed my nipples as I turned onto my stomach. Sleeping in the sunlight was the purest of all sleep I could find. Outside, everything was the same: the little flowers and their colors, and the sky. The sky was the same everywhere. Do Americans see the blue much brighter?

I thought of all the letters I knew and all the words and all the things I would say.

***

Natanael came that Sunday when Señora Silva was asleep. He scratched at my door as a mouse would. The heat was terrible, and my hairs stuck to me in tiny swirls, and my breasts were warm and he could see them through my gown.

I let him in, watching him move. He was gentle, and hunched, and stunning. "The baby sleeps through the night now. I would have come sooner," he said to me, only staring at the floor.

I wanted to ask him to make love to me, but I did not want to be a whore.

"I came to bring you this." He said this, giving me a little piece of paper. His face was bright.

"Stand up straight," I said. I had never seen him walk; he was always on his knees. She had a problem, and she was always bleeding. "Why do you clean her blood? No, no. I am sorry. She is your mother, I am sorry . . . "

I placed my hands slowly on his shoulders and pressed him upright. His bones cracked and his face fell, sorrow fell all over me.

"I will read it to you," he said. "But you can read. I know this, you can."

I stared at him; tears or sweat fell from my face, and I watched his mouth shift. He smiled quietly. "I think it beautiful that you know how to read, and it is very nice that you write."

I took one breath in and wanted to hex him, but he was good. He meant nothing but good for all things.

"I dream of you as you, and I would dream of you as the devil through the window if the women were right." He looked at me; I stood parlayzed. "Those are the kind that want to be all things they say you are."

The paper said to go to a shanty on the sea 33 miles from here. It had a room left and it was perfect because long stems grew into the windows: o girassol, o lírio, a margarida, little pretty Gods.

"This is not your dream, I know," he said, moving backwards to avoid the window where Señora might see. "What do you dream of?"

"America."

"That is barbaric."

I was aching then to tell him that I did think the sea shanty was a dream, I did. I was exploding, my eyes made of girassols, girassols, girassols, the magic of color.

"I want to be clean," I said. "I do not want to be the devil."

He coughed, held it in, pointed at the sink. I rushed over, keeping a finger over my mouth. I obeyed and was silent, too.

He swallowed a glass of water. His mouth shined. "Only devils are afraid of the devil. Devils are narcissism, they are loud and vast and they are hungry. Most people mistake this for passion."

Natanael had an honest, golden face. "Nereida. Listen."

The smell of aluminum followed him; her blood was everywhere.

"Devils want the world to fall in love with them. Not you, no, you are in love with the world."

I thought of all the other houses that I would love to have. I did not know why. "Quiero las otras casas. No sé por qué."

"No, tranquilidad. Speak in English to me. This is alright."

"Why?"

"You like the English language. I know you do."

"I like Portuguese. I like Spanish."

"Why?"

"I don't know this."

"It is foreign. You want to be away from here."

The baby cracked it's mouth open and wailed into the night. Señora grunted Oh deus, oh deus! Natanael and I stood three feet apart, still and quiet. He pulled from his pocket a cigarette and a crumpled matchbook.

"I am smoking, woke up. I was already gone." He started to leave.

"No. No. Why do you hide from her?" I stood before him. "You do not want to come with me to America? Why do we not leave? You and me, we could go, we could go there."

He stood and watched me, sweat dripped from his eyebrows. I did not say anything else, but I watched the moon fall into us, from the window. Beautiful.

"I am lighting my cigarette here."

His hands were shaking.

"You have shaking hands."

"I get it from my father."

"Where is he?"

"My mother told me that your father was going to take you away from here with all of his cocaine. I do not remember when she said it." He watched me closely. "You know that he killed my father, too."

I could not say anything, I did not know this. But I am sorry. I am sorry in all my ways I knew, Eu sou pesaroso, lo siento tan, I am so sorry. "I do not know this."

"My father shot your father in the leg, and I know this because my mother told Adelita down those stairs. She never could say this out loud where people could hear her. I think they were selling it all together. Their money went away. I think they had a deal, my father and your father. Mama won't let me talk to you because we are now enemies."

"But you are standing here."

"I am finishing my cigarette."

"She can see you. She knows that you are in here."

"I know what you said about America. We cannot go there. Someday, but we cannot go there now. And my father and your father, and the mystery. It was about money and it was about drugs. And they are the dead devils. They have dirtied this place and all the graveyards they have trailed us through before. We were left here, poor. So, Nereida, no we cannot go to America but we can leave the blood here and go to where it is not."

Natanael! Natanael. Come from that slut, now. Leave there, Natanael. Come now! The baby screamed, and she said over and over shush, shush, shush, baby, shush baby, and Natanael takes the cigarette into his mouth slowly.

"Just stop speaking," he says to the fat woman through the window that used to be his mother. I wanted to stick out my fingers and my tongue but that baby needs a mother.

"Why?" I asked. I pretended to not here her fat snort.

"I did not know if you would have me. I did not know if you wanted to speak with me. I would clean up the blood here and wait. Maybe you would say hello to me, no? I waited. I am here now. I found you the shanty. Not America."

I asked him to come with me, it would be alright, we would water flowers and make food and he could catch fish and sell them.

"It is a better dream," I promised. I meant it. But I confused the beauty of real things with the beauty of lies.

"You come from here, and the world comes from there." He pointed out the window. "I like this here, this. You do understand me."

We went from where we stood in the light and sat in the shadow. His mother shut his mouth, and we stood, broken, together. It was in all things broken together that as one they are repaired, how beautiful.

We sat now as loving strangers do near one another, and I told him I was not a whore, and I wore red lip paint so that I could feel like the women I see in photographs. I told him I may have been accidentally born here, poor and in the clusters of all the rest of the degraded.

We would wait for the sun to come, and then we would leave. We could hear nothing but God. Before the light, Natanael's perfection; he says to me everything I write in my head, the dreams, the art. But he is human, he is not on paper. "If a golden flower, una maravillo, uma rosa, is grown right here," he says, pointing to the crack in the floor, "right here. Is it not still the most beautiful thing you ever have seen?"